Science and Spirituality: Is Harmony Possible?

Week 6: Can Creation and Evolution Both Be Right?

March 26, 1999

Loren and Deborah Haarsma

This is an extended version of the handout that was distributed at the seminar.

"Evolution" is a term with many different meanings.

Microevolution: Individual species change over time through mutations, environmental pressures, and natural selection. (All creationists agree that this happens.)
Macroevolution: Evolution above the species level. More broadly: The theory that all plants and animals share a common ancestry, and that all living and extinct species were produced through natural mechanisms such as mutations and natural selection over millions of years. (Disagreement is here.)
Evolutionism: An attempt to draw philosophical and theological conclusions from macroevolution, e.g. that there is no Creator and no purpose to human existence. (All creationists agree that this is wrong.)

History of the modern young-earth movement:

1700-1850: Geologists assume a young earth and a global flood, but new data convinces them otherwise.
1850-1900: Much debate about Darwin's theory of macroevolution, but few challenges to an old earth.
1900-1920: The fundamentalism movement begins, emphasizing a conservative interpretation of the Bible.
1920s: Increasing anti-evolution sentiment leads to the famous Scopes trial in 1925, but anti-evolutionists do not dispute an old earth.
1930-1960: The anti-evolution movement grows quietly.
1961: Theologian John Whitcomb and [hydraulic] engineer Henry Morris publish The Genesis Flood, attempting to explain geology with a young earth and a global flood.
1960-present: "Creation science" organizations arise, and YEC becomes common among fundamentalist and evangelical Christians in North America.
Recently: Current YEC strategy is to fight for "equal time" in schools for the creation science treatment, with students debating the issue on scientific grounds.

Despite how it is sometimes portrayed, young-earth creationism is
----not the common interpretation throughout church history;
----not the common interpretation in all branches of the church and around the world.

Young Earth Creationism:

(Our analysis of the arguments is in italics.)
Scientific arguments:
--Attempted scientific proofs that the earth is young. (ex: the "shrinking sun")
Failed. Careful scientific work has revealed flaws in all of these attempted "proofs."
--Flood geology: an attempt to recast geology in terms of a recent creation and a global flood.
We think supporters overlook some serious problems with this model, but do some good work on local scales.
--Challenges to scientific measurements of the age of the universe/earth.
Tend to ignore the error-checking methods scientists use and the fact that different independent methods give the same measured ages.
--Challenges to the scientific evidence for macroevolution.
Some arguments rightly point out the weaknesses in macroevolution, other arguments incorrectly claim that macroevolution has been disproven.

Theological arguments:
--The young-earth interpretation of Genesis is the best (or only valid) one.
It is a valid interpretation, but not the only valid one for Christians. Whether it is the best interpretation is debatable.
--God could have made the world with some appearance of age/maturity.
Yes, but astronomy shows not just maturity, but a detailed history over billions of years. In what sense does creation speak truthfully?
--Confront evolutionism by attacking macroevolution and the age of the earth.
We agree that evolutionism is wrong and must be confronted. We disagree that an old earth and macroevolution necessarily imply evolutionism.

Further reading: books by Henry Morris, The Creationists by Ronald Numbers.

Progressive Creationism:

Scientific arguments:
--The standard scientific picture about the physical history of the universe and the earth is taken to be correct. God used natural processes under his providential control and guidance for creating these.
--Progressive creationists disagree with macroevolution. They believe that in additional to natural processes, God also intervened directly and supernaturally at various strategic points, such as at first life, the creation of new biological forms, and the creation of human beings.
--Artificial selection is limited to pre-existing variations, so it doesn't prove macroevolution.
Mostly valid in animals, less valid in plants. Species can split from each other via pre-existing variations, but macroevolution does require new mutations, so artificial selection doesn't prove macroevolution. In plants, new species can form with just a few mutations.
--Genetic similarities between species support common ancestry, but that doesn't preclude intervention.
Valid. Genetic similarities do not prove macroevolution because God could intervene to make new lifeforms while using most of the gene sequences of older lifeforms.
--Appearance of some life forms in the fossil record is argued to be "too abrupt" to be macroevolution.
Doesn't disprove macroevolution. Much more scientific work is needed to know empirically how abrupt is "too abrupt for evolution."
--Increasing biological complexity is argued to be impossible/incompatible with macroevolution.
Doesn't disprove macroevolution. Evolution of complexity is an ongoing area of research. More work must be done before drawing definite conclusions one way or the other.

Theological arguments:
--Confront evolutionism by attacking macroevolution.
We agree that evolutionism is wrong. We disagree that macroevolution necessarily implies evolutionism.
--Claim that evaluation of the scientific evidence is biased by pervasive philosophical naturalism and secular humanism within academia.
There are scientists who believe Naturalism, but there are also scientists of other religious worldviews. Be very cautious of claiming to understand "biased motives" in another person's decisions.

Further reading: books by Phillip Johnson, Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe.

Evolutionary Creationism

Scientific arguments:
--The scientific picture is basically correct. God used natural processes, under his providential control and guidance, to make the entire creation.
--The gaps in our understanding of macroevolution (origin of first life, speciation on a genetic level, origin of new complexity) are similar to weaknesses in past scientific theories: at the time, some claimed that God did a miracle in those gaps, but further scientific study showed instead the natural mechanisms God uses to govern that system.
Valid possibility. If scientific work cannot ultimately close these "gaps," evolutionary creationism will be in doubt.

Theological arguments:
--"Fully gifted creation" principle: God, as an expression of his creativity and generosity, generously gave creation every capability it would need to actualize, over the course of time, every structure which God intended. macroevolution is not a sign of God's absence. Rather, it is a sign of God's creativity, generosity to his creatures, and ongoing providential oversight. (Note that progressive creationists, especially the "intelligent design" movement, believes this is false for biological (but not necessarily physical) history, and is trying to prove that biological life is too complex to have evolved by natural mechanism.)
Valid possibility, but not clearly better than other possibilities.
--Confront evolutionism by attacking the philosophical connections some people draw between macroevolution and evolutionism.
All creationists should do this, not just evolutionary creationists.
--What about miracles? Evolutionary creationists agree that God might have intervened and could have intervened if He wanted to. However, they consider the current scientific evidence to support macroevolution and find little evidence for miraculous intervention in natural history.
More scientific work is needed in some parts of macroevolution (origins of life, origins of complexity and novelty). God can work through natural processes as well as miracles, so God is sovereign either way.
--Evolutionary creationism (and to some extent Progressive Creationism) raises some thorny theological problems that we'll deal with next week: natural evil and death before humans, the origin of the human soul, and the Fall of humans in Genesis 3.
Discussed next week.

Further reading: Howard Van Till et al. Portraits of Creation; Keith Miller et al., Perspectives on an Evolving Creation

Summary of positions:

--Evolutionary creationists see "weak areas" of macroevolution as targets for fruitful scientific research.
--Progressive creationists see them as evidence of divine intervention.
--Young earth creationists see them as evidence that we need a whole new scientific paradigm/model.


Spectrum of views on origins

Note: Many people don't fall into any one category below, but allow for some range of possibilities, and a mixture of scenarios.

1a. Ancient Near East Cosmology. A literal reading Genesis 1-2, and other Old Testmament passages, describes a flat earth with a solid-dome "firmament" above the sky holding back the "waters above the earth." This is how the Old-Testament-era Hebrews and surrounding cultures pictured the world.
1b. "Modern" Flat Earth. Genesis 1-2 and other scriptures are interpreted as requiring belief in a flat earth fixed in place, but words refering to the solid firmament and waters above the earth are interpreted differently than in Ancienct Near East cosmology.
1c. Geocentrism The earth is spherical, but Genesis 1-2 and other scriptures are interpreted as requiring the belief that the earth is fixed and doesn't move. The sun, moon, planets, and stars all move around the earth.

2a. Young Earth Creation: Appearance of Youth. The modern scientific (sun-centered) picture of the solar system is accepted, but the scientific picture of geological and biological history is disputed. Genesis 1-2 is interpreted as recent literal history; the earth and the universe are a few tens of thousands of years old. (References to the firmament and waters above the earth are interpreted in a variety of ways.) Although some "appearance of age" may have been included in creation (e.g. active stars, light from the stars "on its way" to earth), proper scientific measurements would yield ample evidence that the earth and life were recently created.
2b. Young Earth Creation: Created with Apparent Age. Genesis 1-2 is interpreted as recent literal history; the earth and the universe are a few tens of thousands of years old. However, the universe and the earth were made to "appear" several billion years old, so scientific measurements measure only apparent age, not actual age.
2c. Young Earth Creation: Apparent Age Due to the Fall. Genesis 1-2 is interpreted as recent literal history; the earth and the universe are a few tens of thousands of years old. However, due either to the fall of man or the fall of Satan, the earth was made to appear "old."

3a. Progressive Creation with Special Creation of Each Lifeform. The earth and the universe are several billion years old. At various times during the creation period, God performed a distinctive miraculous creation to produce each new lifeform. (De novo creation or supernatural transformation of an existing lifeform.)
3b. Progressive Creation. The earth and the universe are several billion years old. At various times during the creation period, God performed distinctive miraculous acts to produce lifeforms with certain new features or increased complexity. (Microevolution can produce some amount of species diversity, but novel biological or biochemical structures were specially and miraculously created at the appropriate times. (e.g. perhaps through miraculous genetic transformations in zygotes.))
3c. Progressive Creation through "Miraculous" Evolution. Creation occurred through evolution, but the success of evolution is "surprising;" that is, one would not have expected the evolutionary process to be as successful as it has been. Thus God must have been "directing" the evolutionary process, perhaps arranging (or pre- arranging) for the process to travel along preordained paths, leading to much better-than-expected outcomes.

4a. Evolutionary Creation with Special Creation of First Life. Creation occurred through evolution and there is nothing surprising about its success -- we would expect evolution to produce something like what we see. Nevertheless, creation occurred at God's hand and evolution was the tool. However, the fact that biological evolution got started in the first place is surprising, and that suggests a miraculous creation of first life.
4b. Evolutionary Creation. Creation occurred through evolution and there is nothing surprising about its success; nor is it surprising that life got started in the first place. We should expect abiogenesis and evolution to produce something like what we see. God designed the natural laws of the universe to be just right for successful abiogenesis and biological evolutionary. God's governance of those natural processes is pictured in a variety of ways:
4b1. Evolutionary Creation with Programmed Outcome. The laws which govern biochemistry and biological evolution are designed to ensure that life will "self-organize" into certain kinds of lifeforms. God ordained and intended our existence, and designed the process to achieve it.
4b2. Evolutionary Creation with Chosen Outcome. Biological evolution could, in theory, have followed many different paths with divergent outcomes. However, the exact path which evolution took on earth, and the final outcome we see today, were entirely ordained by God, since every event which appears to be "chance" to us is actually determined by God.
4b3. Evolutionary Creation with Flexible Outcome. The exact path which evolution took on earth, and the final outcome we see today, were not entirely predetermined by God; rather, God gave his creation a certain degree of "freedom." God also knew that this process would eventually produce intelligent, personal creatures to whom he could reveal Himself.
4c. Evolutionary Creation Known only via Special Revelation. The fact that "the natural laws of the universe gave rise to a successful evolutionary process" is not really surprising, and this is not by itself very good evidence for God's design. Nevertheless, we believe that creation occurred through God's hand because of God's special revelation.

5. Deistic Evolution. God created the universe and the laws of nature, "set them in motion," and let them "do their thing" without any intervention or meaningful governance.

6. Atheistic Evolution. The universe is self-existing; there is no creator. (There are, of course, many philosophically different varieties of atheistic evolution. They would require yet another "spectrum" to differentiate.)


Copyright 1999 Loren and Deborah Haarsma


Return to outline of the series:
"Science and Spirituality: Is Harmony Possible?"
lhaarsma@calvin.edu, Last updated November 13, 2003