A review of Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design by J.B. Stump (Ed.)
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2017
Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design is not the first ‘Counterpoints’ book on the origins debate published by Zondervan. The previous attempt, Three Views on Creation and Evolution, was an abject failure.1A more recent volume, Four Views on the Historical Adam, was much better, but still beset with some weaknesses.2 Plus, it only dealt with one aspect of the origins debate: Adam. Thus, there was plenty of reason for a new ‘Counterpoints’ volume on the origins debate. Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design attempts to fill that need.
Unlike previous attempts, all the essay contributors are among the best-known and most experienced expositors of their views. The young-earth creation view is represented by Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis–US. Old-earth (progressive) creation is represented by Hugh Ross, president of Reasons to Believe. ‘Evolutionary creation’ (more widely known as ‘theistic evolution’) is represented by Deborah Haarsma, president of BioLogos. And Intelligent Design is represented by Stephen Meyer, Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, who directs their Center for Science and Culture in Seattle. The format follows that of Four Views on the Historical Adam, with an essay from each contributor, responses to the essay from the others, and a short rejoinder from the essay author.
However, the editor, J.B. Stump, is a senior editor at BioLogos.3 This does not look so good, since it immediately raises questions about the editor’s partiality, which unfortunately surfaces in his conclusion.
Ken Ham: Young-earth creation
Ham’s contribution is the clearest and strongest defence of biblical creation to date in any ‘multi-views’ book like this.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of Ham’s essay is his presentation of the biblical issues. Ham ably defends the ‘historical week’ view of Genesis 1 against attempts to compatibilize it with deep time. He shows how only the young-earth view coheres with the redemptive historical narrative of Scripture: cosmic creation, cosmic fall, and cosmic restoration in Christ. He also defends well a global Noahic Flood, showing how it’s a fulcrum for interpreting the physical evidence in relation to the history of nature.
One thing that marks Ham out from the other contributors is his (correct) insistence that the young-earth view is the only one properly submitted to Scripture’s authority:
“The difference between young-earth creationists and all our Christian and non-Christian opponents is that we accept God’s eyewitness testimony in Scripture and use it to interpret the physical evidence that we see in the present. Our opponents either reject the Word of God or ignore many of the details of the Word and use the secular world’s naturalistic assumptions and interpretations of physical evidence to reinterpret God’s Word to make it fit with some parts, or all, of the evolutionary story about the past. Thus, I contend, regardless of any sincere intentions to the contrary, they are undermining the authority of the Word of God” (p. 34).
On the physical evidence, Ham points out that it’s not the physical evidence itself that conflicts with the Bible, but uniformitarian/evolutionary interpretations of the physical evidence. He then fleshes out the deistic/skeptical origins of deep time thinking in the 18th–19th centuries, focusing mainly on James Hutton and Charles Lyell. He then briefly touches on some basic reasons why a biblically based interpretation of the rocks, fossils, and living organisms works. And he concedes that we don’t have all the answers, one area of ongoing research being the ‘distant starlight’ issue. But whatever the questions we face, we explore them “within the interpretative framework of the eyewitness testimony of the Creator” (p. 43).
Finally, he spells out his view of the significance of this origins debate. He affirms that one can be a Christian and believe in evolution and/or deep time. Nonetheless, the Gospel is at stake, because the Bible’s ‘cosmic creation/cosmic fall/cosmic redemption’ history isn’t compatible with deep time. Specifically, death is an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26); Adam’s spiritual and physical death was the result of his sin. It also brought sin and death to us all, and ‘bondage to decay’ to the entire creation.4 Take this historical redemptive schema away, and Jesus’ death loses all meaning as a sacrifice for sins.
There is little to disagree with in Ham’s presentation. He sums up the issues well, explains and defends the young-earth position ably, and gives a fair statement of the significance of the issue.
Of all the discussions, this is the most focused on the Bible. Discussion centres around Ham’s accusation that long-age views automatically undermine biblical authority. All the other contributors decry this, but in different ways. Ross says his model better integrates Scripture and science than Ham’s. Haarsma insists on her ‘accommodation’ theory (see below) and accuses Ham of ignoring the authority of creation’s witness. Meyer is perhaps most conciliatory, saying that young earthers could support ID, but also that he finds the day-age interpretation suggested in Days 1–3 of Genesis 1. All say that Ham is conflating his interpretation of Scripture with Scripture.
Unsurprisingly, Ham isn’t swayed. He correctly points out that the young-earth view was unanimously held before deep time swayed opinions in the church, intrinsic to the scriptural narrative of redemption, and sufficiently clear that we’re culpable of undermining Scripture if we ignore or reject it. Ham closes by echoing Luther 500 years earlier: our conscience is captive to the Word of God.
Hugh Ross: Progressive creation
Ross has a fascinating way of looking at deep time history. He views it in overtly teleological terms. He thinks the whole history was designed for the rise of man and the history of redemption, right down to nutrient cycling and the sequestration of different mineral species in appropriate amounts. It’s quite creative, and perhaps the most overtly Christocentric view of deep time history around. Much of his essay expounds on this. It’s almost a pity his ‘model’ contradicts Scripture so blatantly.
The arguments against Ross’s views have been treated extensively elsewhere,5 so I will only touch on a few salient points in his essay.
The Bible: obviously old earth?
Ross believes “biblical evidence for a creation history much longer than ten thousand years supports, and I believe should compel, the old-earth interpretation [emphasis added]” (p. 79). Absurd. The whole origins debate is predicated on the Bible at least seeming to conflict with deep time. If it didn’t seem to at some level, there would be little debate.
Ross even finds his deep time ‘creation model’ confirmed at numerous places in the Bible. Most of his arguments focus on passages that describe the earth and features as ‘old’ and ‘ancient’, failing to realize that these are relative terms. In reality, ~6,000 years is extremely ancient; only the indoctrination into billions of years can make someone think that this is ‘young’.
Most old-earthers understand the Bible doesn’t teach deep time, much less prefigure accurately specific aspects of the modern understanding of deep time history. But Ross reads his model into the Bible so much that it would seem God was waiting for Ross’s model! He takes confirmation bias to a whole new level.
Multiple creation accounts?
Ross regards passages with diverse genres and purposes all as ‘creation accounts’ (p. 79), e.g. an actual prose narrative cosmogonic account (Genesis 1), a poetic celebration of the created order (Psalm 104), a poetic celebration of wisdom (Proverbs 8), and a polemical broadside using the created order (Job 38). Genesis 1 is certainly a ‘creation account’, but these other passages? Of course not! They all contribute to a biblical theology of creation, but not to a chronology of God’s creative acts.
In response, Ross charges: “Young-earth creationist leaders disagree with the day-age view that all the Bible’s books are equally authoritative with reference to creation and nature’s realm” (p. 98). Again, absurd. The issue is not the relative authority of these texts to the biblical doctrine of creation; the issue is their relative relevance to reconstructing the biblical framework of the history of nature. Job 38, Psalm 104, and Proverbs 8 don’t aim to give a chronology of God’s creative acts as Genesis 1 does.
Neandertal no man?
Ross’s ‘date ranges’ for Adam keep getting bigger; it’s now at “12,000–135,000 years ago” (p. 92). He keeps insisting that all ‘species’ in the Homo genus other than H. sapiens sapiens are not true ‘image of God’ humans (p. 89), despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.6 Even old-earthers such as C. John Collins have backed away from Ross’s anthropology.7
Ross advocates for something akin to species fixity:
“The Bible’s use of the Hebrew word min, for ‘kind,’ suggests that for the higher animals (Lev 11:13–18; Deut 14:12–18), natural-process evolution is limited to the species level, and for lower animals (Lev 11:22) to the genus level” (p. 90).
However, the Bible doesn’t delineate clear boundaries between baramins.8
He also decries young-earth ‘rapid evolution’ ideas concerning post- Flood diversification (p. 100). Some examples in the creationist literature are open to Ross’s critique,9 but not the properly informed ones that Ross ignores.10 Still, Ross thinks far too gradualistically about diversification. The greatest diversification likely happened immediately post-Flood, and generally decreased through time.11
Moreover, how much post-Flood diversification we infer happened depends crucially on how high the Flood/post-Flood boundary is in the rock record. The higher it is, the less diversification needed. While it is a live controversy, I favour a high boundary in the uppermost Cenozoic.12
Ross has some rather creative ideas. But, his brand of progressive creation often blatantly conflicts with the clearest exegetical and empirical evidence in the origins debate.
This discussion has shown off most clearly the different perspectives and emphases of the views. The hermeneutical differences between Ham, Ross, and Haarsma are quite clear, and the unique focus of Meyer and ID is also quite clear.
Ross spends most of his rejoinder dealing with Haarsma and Ham, since there isn’t much from Meyer for him to disagree with (who, considering his broad agreement with Ross, used his response to argue against universal common ancestry). Ham is on point most of the time, as a telling admission from Ross shows: “I agree that Job 37–39, Psalm 104, and Proverbs 8 are not creation chronologies in the way Genesis is” (p. 122). The Haarsma–Ross exchange is rather weird—both are wrong, but often in different ways. Essentially, Ross can’t read the Bible, and Haarsma can’t believe it.
Deborah Haarsma: Evolutionary creation
“Evolution is real. The Bible is true.” (p. 124). Most people in America think Haarsma stated a contradiction. She sees that as the problem. Her solution? “Evolutionary creation” (EC):
“Evolutionary creation is the view that God created the universe, earth, and life over billions of years, and that the gradual process of evolution was crafted and governed by God to create the diversity of all life on earth” (p. 125).
Accommodating the Bible to evolution
Haarsma claims to endorse contextual exegesis. Her main exegetical conclusion? Genesis 1 assumes a ‘flat earth, solid sky’ physical cosmology (figure 1). But her point isn’t exegetical; it’s about hermeneutical method. She’s saying that God didn’t correct their “pre-scientific” (i.e. false) cosmology (pp. 130–132).
Haarsma effectively agrees that the Bible conflicts with ‘modern science’. But she doesn’t think that undermines the Bible’s authority. She thinks the Bible contains incidental references to scientific falsehoods, but since it never aims to teach them as truth, the Bible is still true in all it aims to teach. Her science doesn’t dictate her favoured biblical interpretation, but it does dictate what, in Scripture, she can believe.13
Next, Haarsma turns her attention to ‘reading the book of nature’. Christianity was science’s handmaiden, but should our science look different from atheists’?
“Well, we don’t expect our science to look differently, since Christians and atheists are studying the same created world with the same divinely given mind” (p. 133).
We expect our operational scientific picture to be empirically equivalent with atheists, but not our understanding of the history of nature. God upholds nature and acts within it. He does miracles. Atheists must view history through a naturalistic lens. Biologos uses the same lens in prehistory. They just baptize it as ‘providence’.
Haarsma briefly summarizes the standard ‘evidences’ for deep time. But they’re less ‘evidence’ and more ‘naturalistic interpretation’.
Haarsma focuses more on evidence for evolution. She describes the process of natural selection. But can that (and other non-intelligent processes) explain all life’s diversity? She doesn’t say. Instead, she provides evidence for a pattern of common ancestry. But life’s diversity looking like a family tree doesn’t mean the only plausible way to explain the pattern is apart from intelligent input.
Finally, she turns to human evolution. She gives chromosome 2 fusion as evidence for our relatedness to chimps. She also says population genetics shows “the scientific evidence does not rule out the historicity of Adam and Eve; it only rules them out as sole progenitors” (p. 147).
Creationists have done much work recently to answer such charges.14,15 But Haarsma said earlier: “Science should not dictate the best biblical interpretation” (p. 127). Yet, the best interpretation of e.g. Acts 17:26 and 1 Corinthians 15:45 could be that Adam was the sole progenitor of all humanity.16 She must rule out that interpretation because of her scientific commitments.
So, what challenges does Haarsma see for her view? She canvasses several, the most important being Original Sin and death before the Fall. She commits standard errors. On Original Sin, she says the fact that we’re all sinners matters more than why it’s so, conveniently ignoring that the Bible teaches both that we’re sinners and why we’re sinners. On death before the Fall, she suggests a ‘spiritual death only’ view of the Fall. This founders on Genesis 3:19, as well as Paul’s clear connection of Adam’s death with Jesus’ physical death and physical resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.
So, is ‘evolutionary creation’ ‘a reasonable option for serious Christians and serious scientists’? No. It’s a mollifying muddle that makes a mess of both the Bible and evolution.
EC fares badly under cross-examination. The responses all have strengths. Ham is best on the biblical problems of EC. Meyer is best on the empirical problems with EC. Ross makes some good points about how evolution undermines general revelation. Both Ham and Ross explore the weaknesses of Haarsma’s accommodation theory.
Haarsma’s rejoinder is weak. Most of her rejoinder is focused on Meyer’s criticisms. But she essentially confirms Meyer’s point that EC is “vague and ambiguous” about God’s causal relation to the world. She ignores most of the objections to her ‘accommodation’ theory that Ham and Ross raise. Instead, she simply restates her view in response to Meyer (p. 174), who doesn’t raise the issue.
Stephen Meyer: Intelligent Design
The Intelligent Design movement (IDM) is an anomalous inclusion. The other organizations aim to integrate Scripture and the history of nature (in very different ways). IDM doesn’t. It’s not even explicitly theistic. It concerns itself only with physical evidence, and then only regarding the detection of design. Meyer outlines:
“The theory does not challenge the idea of evolution defined as either change over time or common ancestry, but it does dispute the Darwinian idea that the cause of biological change is wholly blind and undirected. … Design theorists … argue that living organisms look designed because they really were designed” (p. 180).
Design through history
Meyer traces the history of the design argument from Thomas Aquinas to William Paley. It was eclipsed in the aftermath of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. But, since the 1950s and the discovery of DNA’s structure, the design argument has been reinvigorated. Advances have revealed the amazing complexity and specificity of biological structures and functions, especially DNA. So, where did this information come from?
Meyer summarizes his arguments for design from his books Signature in the Cell17 and Darwin’s Doubt.18 Regarding new functional information arising within organisms, random mutation and natural selection can’t ‘find’ enough functionally complexifying solutions over evolutionary time to produce one functional protein, let alone whole organisms. With the origin of life, it’s even worse. DNA information isn’t a given, like it is with subsequent evolution, but rather itself is what needs explaining.
Design: the best explanation?
How do we reason to design? Meyer says that, typical of historical scientific argumentation, ID is an inference to the best explanation. Basically, some surprising fact B is observed: if A were true, B would follow as a matter of course; therefore, we have reason to suspect A is true.
But B could be true for a reason other than A. We need to do something else—compare different potential explanations of the evidence. Consider the question: why is the grass wet (figure 2)? It’s sunny, there are some suds on the ground, and there are muddy tire marks in the grass. We would suspect a car was washed on the grass. The additive effect of the observations renders one of several options the best explanation.
But it could be wrong. If we found other evidence, e.g. a car parked there during a storm the previous night, and the suds were only around a tap where people had recently washed their hands with soap, we’d conclude rain caused the wet grass. Arguments to the best explanation are always tentative and provisional.
So, why does Meyer say design is the best explanation? First, it’s causally adequate. Design produces information. Second, naturalism is not causally adequate. No causally adequate natural explanation for the origin of life or the diverse functional structures within life is known. Third, design and evolution are the only options available. Thus, design is the best explanation.
Challenges to ID
Finally, Meyer addresses a few common objections to ID. First, is ID an argument from ignorance? No, he answers. ID depends in part on negative assessments of proposed naturalistic mechanisms. But it also appeals to what we know: “we know that intelligent agents can and do produce specified information-rich systems” (p. 204). Second, is ID science? Irrelevant, he says: “Surely, simply classifying an argument as ‘not scientific’ does not refute it” (p. 206).
Meyer expounds the ID position well. There’s little to disagree with in his biological design argument. But the lack of scriptural, or even theistic, focus in IDM leaves the most important things about life’s origin unsaid.
This discussion focuses more on IDM’s strategy than its truth. Only Haarsma broadly rejects Meyer’s conclusions. She espouses methodological naturalism, and raises the ‘god of the gaps’ spectre.19Ham and Ross take little issue with Meyer’s arguments for ID. But all three complain that ID doesn’t address the science–Bible dialogue. They also point out that it’s not evangelistically oriented. Meyer replied that ID is purposefully limited in scope.
As the others allege, ID’s scope is too limited. Plus, ID strategy seems doomed to fail. It failed apart from Scripture against Darwin, and now mainstream biology stakes it legitimacy on having defeated design in Darwin. ID by itself can’t successfully critique such a legacy; only the Bible can.
J.B. Stump (editor): introduction and conclusion
Stump was a poor choice for editor of this volume. He is an editor for BioLogos, so that one of the contributors (Haarsma) is his superior, creating a clear conflict of interest. He acknowledges this, and says he tried to make the editorial process as impartial as possible:
“ … in my day job, one of the contributors is my boss! I worked very hard to allay those concerns” (p. 232).
Did it work? In part, yes: the essays and responses are a fair representation of the current state of the origins debate. This is what the book aims to do, and it achieves its aim well.
Moreover, Stump’s introduction gives a workable overview of the different positions on offer in the book. His categorization of the views, though, reveals his preference for scientific consensus, since he defines each view by how much of the mainstream ‘scientific’ consensus they accept (p. 13).
But, in another sense, no. Stump singles out Ham for censure in his conclusion:
“The most obvious discrepancy that remains is in the initial essays, where Ham’s is noticeably longer than the others. He was unwilling to cut anything further, believing it only fair that he should be given more space than the others since he was the only one defending the young age of the earth and ‘the authority of Scripture vs. the authority of the scientific majority.’ Of course each of the other contributors could come up with reasons why they should be entitled to extra space too. But my rationale did not persuade, and I was committed to giving contributors the final control of their words. Readers can judge for themselves what effect this has on the book” (pp. 232–233).
Is Ham’s essay several pages longer than anyone else’s? No. Meyer’s essay (pp. 177–208) spans the same number of pages as Ham’s essay (pp. 17–48), and Ham and Meyer both lack figures in their essays. So, ‘noticeably longer’ for the reader is rather dubious, to say the least.
Was Ham unreasonable? Without Ham’s side of the story, it’s foolish to judge (Proverbs 18:17). Still, editors have to deal with ‘unreasonable’ authors all the time; it goes with the job. But editors also have a duty of care to be as impartial as possible. Stump’s reputation for impartiality was already suspect. He knew this. But he destroyed his credibility by needlessly exposing the difficulties of the editorial process with the one author he disagrees with the most.
Stump’s contributions paint theistic evolutionists as ‘reasonable’ and young-earthers as ‘arrogant’ and ‘intransigent’. If Ham’s words alone had done that, so much the worse for Ham and young-earthers. But when the editor needlessly gives that impression, it prejudices the audience against one of the contributors, and thus the view of that contributor.
This book has strengths. Considering the essays and responses from the contributors alone, it provides a fair representation of the state of the origins debate. This, refreshingly, included the young-earth view, since an experienced expositor of the view wrote the essay, unlike previous ‘multi-views’ volumes. If someone is looking for a summary of the main positions in the origins debate and a basic idea of how they might interact with each other, this volume does a good job. However, the editor’s conclusion is clearly prejudicial against biblical creation, and serves to undermine, rather than foster, the unity he claims he wants to see.
References and notes
- Kulikovsky, A., A balanced treatment? A review of Three Views on Creation and Evolution, Moreland J.P. and Reynolds, J.M. (Eds.), J. Creation 14(1):23–27, 2000. Return to text.
- Doyle, S., Debating the historical Adam and Eve: A review of Four Views on the Historical Adam, Barrett, M. and Caneday, A. (Eds.), J. Creation 28(2):35–40, 2014. Return to text.
- See for example Price, P., Stumped by biblical creation: BioLogos takes a cheap shot at biblical creation … and misses, 24 November 2015. Return to text.
- Smith, H., Cosmic and universal death from Adam’s Fall: an exegesis of Romans 8:19–23a, J. Creation 21(1):75–85, 2007. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Refuting Compromise: A biblical and scientific refutation of “progressive creationism” (billions of years), as popularized by astronomer Hugh Ross, 2nd edn, Creation Book Publishers, Atlanta, GA, 2011. Ken Ham himself said about this: “Well, I believe, personally, that your book, Refuting Compromise, is a classic on the same scale as The Genesis Flood. … I personally believe it’ll go down in history as a turning point in the creationist ministry worldwide. I see it as that important. I see it as that definitive. … I really see it as a modern creationist classic. And I really believe that every single person needs a copy of this book to show the positive aspects, that we can defend, logically, the book of Genesis, and that God’s word is authoritative right from the very beginning, and we can confront compromise, like Progressive Creationism … ” (AnswersLIVE, Refuting Compromise, live broadcast 27 April 2004). Return to text.
- Line, P., Progressive creationist anthropology: many reasons NOT to believe: A review of Who was Adam? by Rana, F. with Ross, H., J. Creation 20(3):31–38, 2006. Return to text.
- Biblical creationist Wood, T.C., Who were Adam and Eve? Scientific reflections on Collins’ Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? JCTS Series B 2:28–32, 2012 presses Collins on the scientific and theological problems with his prior favourable mention of Ross’s ‘RTB human origins model’. Collins, C.J., Replies to Reviews of Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? JCTS Series B 2:43–47, 2012 is much more circumspect: “Dr Wood observes, ‘Or perhaps, considering his otherwise humble approach to the scientific evidence, Collins would not have a definite opinion about Neandertals.’ Well, he can be the judge of whether I am truly humble, but this is indeed where I land.” Return to text.
- Lightner, J.K., Hebrew Scriptures as an aid to developing a creationist taxonomy, J. Creation 24(1):77–81, 2010. Return to text.
- For instance, Wise, K.P., Mammal Kinds: How many were on the Ark?; in: Wood, T.C. and Garner, P.A. (Eds.), Genesis Kinds: Creationism and the Origin of Species, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, p. 143, 2009. Wise speculates that cetaceans may have been derived from fully terrestrial pre-Flood ancestors. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Trilobites on the Ark? Hugh Ross’s latest bungles on the created kinds, creation.com/trilobites, 30 July 2004. Return to text.
- Wood. T., Mitochondrial DNA analysis of three terrestrial mammal baramins (Equidae, Felidae, and Canidae) implies an accelerated mutation rate near the time of the Flood; in: Horstemeyer, M. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, 2013. Return to text.
- Clarey, T.L., Local Catastrophes or Receding Floodwater? Global Geologic Data that Refute a K-Pg (K-T) Flood/post-Flood Boundary, CRSQ 54(2):100–120, 2017. Return to text.
- For more in-depth refutations, see Holding, J.P., Is the raqîa‘ (‘firmament’) a solid dome? J. Creation 13(2):44–51, 1999; Holding, J.P., Is the ’erets (earth) flat? J. Creation 14(3):51–54, 2000; and Doyle, S., Ancient cosmology and the timescale of Genesis 1, J. Creation 32(3):115–118, 2018. Return to text.
- Sanford, J. et al., Adam and Eve, designed diversity, and allele frequencies; in: Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Creationism, Whitmore, J.H. (Ed.) Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, pp. 200–216, 2018. Return to text.
- Jeanson, N. and Tomkins, J., Genetics confirms the recent supernatural creation of Adam and Eve; in: Mortenson, T. (Ed.), Searching for Adam, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, pp. 307–312, 2017. Return to text.
- Sibley, A., Adam as the protoplast—views from the early church in response to the archetypal view, J. Creation 28(3):86–91, 2014. Return to text.
- Meyer, S.C., Signature in the Cell, HarperCollins, New York, 2009. Return to text.
- Meyer, S.C., Darwin’s Doubt, HarperOne, New York, 2013. Return to text.
- Weinberger, L., Whose god? The theological response to the god-of-the-gaps, J. Creation 22(1):120–127, 2008. Return to text.