Evolutionists on the Bible
Philosophical naturalists ‘explain’ the Bible
He sat alone about three rows from the front, right in the middle with no-one in front of him, ensuring he was directly in front of me as I spoke to a church congregation. From his demeanour I was vaguely aware that he was likely not on-side. That he was largely built and dressed entirely in khaki was not that unusual seeing as the church was in a rural, farming town in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province.
Still, I was somewhat relieved when at question time, he immediately stood up and only pointed a finger at me. “Why don’t you let evolutionists tell us about the Bible?” he demanded. I asked him to repeat the question. “Why don’t you let evolutionists tell us where the Bible came from?” I answered that we know where the Bible came from. God had used about 40 writers over 1500 years to write down exactly what He wanted us to know in the 66 books of the Bible. We know who some of those writers were from the books themselves, or have an idea of their likely authorship from tradition, while others are uncertain.
He was clearly not satisfied with this reply and even more belligerently demanded that I allow evolutionists to tell us where the Bible comes from. At this point his meaning began to sink in. Here I was, a Christian believing in the historical account of a recent, six-day creation clearly given in the Bible, telling people about evolution. He was demanding that I allow a rhetorical quid pro quo; that evolutionists be allowed to tell us how we got the Bible. I started to tell him that evolutionists have attempted that many times, but he was not looking for an answer and turned toward the door, still muttering, in spite of my invitation to him to stay and talk to me afterwards.
The truth is that evolutionists have many times and in various ways, attempted to explain the Bible. Or to be more precise, the same worldview that gave rise to the theory of evolution in the Western world, also gave rise to a new interpretation of the Bible. By the eighteenth century, the West came increasingly to enjoy and appreciate the benefits of the scientific achievements of such biblical, creation-believing scientists as Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton, born mainly of the Reformation. Innovation, invention and observation of the universe in which we live were growing exponentially.
In the midst of this scientific and intellectual revolution, anti-theists such as Voltaire, Rousseau and Hume, emboldened by the achievements of science and their own hubris, began to reject all forms of authority other than ‘science’. Philosophers and scientists all over the western world began to apply their own definitions of science to disciplines as diverse as economics and anthropology. This intellectual movement became known as the Enlightenment. It gave rise to any number of ‘isms’. Rationalism held the notion that reason alone was the determiner of truth. Naturalism was a ‘rule’ subjectively applied to the definition of science that excluded the possibility of the supernatural. Positivism claimed that only empirical science could provide real knowledge about the world and universe, including origins. Note two important delusions inherent in these ideas. Firstly these statements are, by their own definitions, self-refuting. Try and think of how one would use the scientific method to determine whether positivism is true or not. Obviously it cannot be tested by its own criteria. Clearly, much of what came out of Enlightenment thinking was not so much scientific but philosophical. Metaphysical anti-theism began increasingly to drive the science; not the other way around.
The second downfall of these ideas is the lumping together of operational and origins science. While empirical methods of experiment, observation and repetition can be applied to phenomena in the present, they cannot be applied directly to the past, and thus not to the question of origins.
The origin of something (like life itself, or of say, parrots or the Milky Way Galaxy) is a once-off event that can never be repeated or observed. No conceivable experiment can establish what that origin was, either.
Thus, if the beginning of something has not been observed by an eye-witness, its origin is forever lost to the scientific method of observation and experimentation.1 The quest for an understanding of origins is best described as historical science, but many people still fail to see that this involves a far weaker and more uncertain methodology than what most people understand as science, which is the experimental/observational variety that has justly earned so much public credibility and yielded amazing benefits for mankind.
To highlight the limitations of historical science, consider someone attempting to provide an accurate account of WWI based solely on the remnants of bunkers, bomb craters and rusting tanks still around today, but without any eye-witness, or written or oral accounts from those who experienced it. All of one’s efforts would be little more than an exercise in futility. Given the obvious limitations of historical science when applied to even recent events, we ought to be particularly cautious when someone makes assertions about the origins of life and of the creation of the universe based merely upon observations made in the present (or recent past).
Anti-God philosophy masqueraded as science, and the confusion continues to this day with many unable to distinguish between empirical science, and the philosophical naturalism underpinning so much speculation about origins. Despite many profound weaknesses, Enlightenment scientists began to apply these philosophical ideas to the interpretation of the world in which we live. It was in this anti-God milieu that biblical authority was rejected a priori in the pursuit of answers in various disciplines. The biblical teaching about the common ancestry of mankind was replaced by polygenism (multiple origins), the idea that each ‘race’ had a separate, distinct origin. Together with increasing acceptance of long ages, this led to ideas such as soulless pre-Adamites.
In geology, men such as Hutton and Lyell rejected the perfectly reasonable explanation given in the Bible for much of the rock and fossil record, namely the Flood of Noah; and imposed their own interpretations. And of course, the origin of living things was increasingly separated from the all-powerful, supernatural Creator God and replaced by various evolutionary theories, leading to the one that trumped them all, as propounded in Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.
Mark Twain said,
"There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of facts."
In the highly ‘religious’ world of the time, it was inevitable that theology itself would also be subjected to the same reinterpretation by those infatuated with the scientism of the day. Theories abounded, ascribing purely natural, human agency to the origin of the Bible. Most of this ‘higher criticism’2 of the Bible began in Germany, once the rampart of reformation thought and biblical inerrancy. David Friedrich Strauss wrote Life of Jesus (1835) in which he sought to remove miracles and the supernatural from the historical Jesus.3 This was followed by a number of other publications on the life of Christ by writers who relegated the Gospels to mythical status, conjured up by the followers of Christ. Many of these writings referred to ancient texts which were increasingly being discovered and translated by archaeologists, and which contained clearly mythical accounts of the past. These were used as a basis for dismissing the Bible as myth as well. The logical fallacy of this approach is obvious.
A similar tactic continues to be used today based on many clearly mythical traditions of a global flood that are found in cultures around the world, to dismiss the biblical account of the Flood as mythical as well. All these accounts logically indicate a real, historical event in the past that have become corrupted in the re-telling. The biblical account is so detailed in for example the size, construction and stability of the Ark, that it provides compelling evidence of being the true account of a historical event. God supernaturally ensured that we have a record of that event written in a clearly historical narrative style. The other flood legends and traditions are corruptions of the true event recorded in the Bible.
Strauss’s naturalistic bias becomes clear from his reaction to the printing of Darwin’s Origin of Species,
“Darwin had demonstrated this force, this process of nature; he has opened the door by which a happier coming race will cast out miracles, never to return. Everyone who knows what miracles imply will praise him, in consequence, as one of the greatest benefactors of the human race.”4
Strauss had written his Life of Jesus with exactly the same intention; to “cast out miracles”.
These attempts to undermine the deity of Jesus Christ and the inspiration of God’s Word focused increasingly on the book of Genesis, particularly the first 11 chapters. Out of ‘higher criticism’ came many naturalistic theories of the Bible’s origin with impressive-sounding names, including the Documentary Hypothesis a.k.a. the JEDP theory. These now thoroughly discredited opinions about the Bible involved the invention of phantom editors and the roles they supposedly played in writing the Pentateuch.
Unfortunately these influences continue today in certain interpretations of Genesis. Possibly well-intentioned Christians, misled into believing that evolutionary, long-age interpretations of the origin of the universe are the result of empirical science, try and re-interpret the Bible to incorporate these notions of ‘deep time’. In doing so, they do violence to the natural, self-evident language of Genesis. This results in spiritualising or explaining away the very evident historical narrative of the first chapters of the Scriptures. The Framework Hypothesis, theistic evolution and progressive creation are some examples of this re-interpretation of the origins account.
In a sense, the philosophical naturalism that was the basis of long-age and evolutionary interpretations of the universe also corrupted the interpretation of the Bible. This ‘blind spot’ is manifest in the theology of people such as John H. Walton, a professor at Wheaton College and on the advisory board of BioLogos, in his ‘Cosmic Temple’ hypothesis. This is the idea that Genesis describes God’s ‘function’ of the cosmos, and not its creation. In a blog on the BioLogos website he writes,
“Most readers would realize that on the matters of science and Scripture, the Framework Hypothesis, which basically views Genesis 1 as a literary/theological construction, arrives at the same bottom line that I do: old earth and room for evolution in theologically qualified terms. We differ in how we get there.”
In other words, his ‘Cosmic Temple’ is just deference to the claims of those who would deny God’s supernatural, six-day creation of the universe a few thousand years ago. By doing so, they have introduced millions of years of death and suffering into the world prior to Adam, and therefore prior to sin. This in turn requires ever greater theological contortions in order to try and answer the challenge most frequently posed by atheists against Christian belief, “Why would a loving, all powerful God of the Bible allow death, suffering and cruelty in His creation?” A straightforward acceptance of the plain meaning of Genesis, allows the only logically coherent Christian answer to this challenge.
And so evolutionists’ beliefs have strongly influenced the manner in which sometimes insecure Christians have interpreted Genesis. They have submitted not to the authority of the Bible, nor even of empirical science, but indirectly to a philosophical definition of science applied to origins, that of naturalism or materialism which required vast time for the origin of the universe. These interpretations all amount to the same thing, “Did God actually say?” Doubt in God’s Word was first sown by Satan back in the Garden of Eden, in the mind of our ancestor Eve. Men insistently demanding a naturalistic account of origins resulted in many doubting God’s Word just like the man at my talk that day.
References and notes
- That observation might of course take place well after the event, in the case of something like a supernova. Return to text.
- The term was coined by John Gottfried Eichorn; see creation.com/double-trouble. Return to text.
- Butel, Clement, The history of the rise of materialism in Western society, Journal of Creation 14(3):16–23, December 2000. Return to text.
- Cited by Taylor, Ian T., In the Minds of Men, TFE Publishing, Minneapolis, p. 343, 1996. Emphases added. Return to text.