If I had to pick one book that concisely gives an overview of the controversy over human origins, Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design would be it. Part of Zondervan’s Counterpoint series, this book manages to pull together four of the leading Christian thinkers, about science and faith issues, to have them dialogue with one another in a spirit of charity and mutual respect (…for the most part).
I have been looking forward to this book for some time, as the writers are the most visible representatives of their respective positions in the evangelical Christian world today. Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum and Kentucky’s Ark Encounter, defends a Young Earth Creationist position. Hugh Ross, president of Reasons to Believe, defends an Old Earth Creationist position. Deborah Haarsma, president of Biologos, defends an Evolutionary Creationist position. Stephen C. Meyer, a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, defends an Intelligent Design position. Each contributor wrote an essay for the book, and the other three contributors wrote a response to that essay, followed by a rejoinder, by the original essayist.
There is simply no other book resource available today that gathers these differing points of view together in one volume, on this difficult topic. That, in and of itself, is a major accomplishment. A verse in Proverbs makes the point: The first to state his case seems right, until another comes and cross-examines him (Proverbs 18:17 CSB). Sadly, many Christians only hear one point of view, failing to consider other perspectives, leading to mistrust of other believers who might see things somewhat differently.
This is not to say all points of view are correct. They are not. There is but one truth. But it is difficult to properly uphold the truth, if you have not taken the time to consider other biblically responsible options. Proverbs suggests that we should hear one another out before making a firm judgment.
An Excellent Four Views Discussion, On A Controversial Topic
Ken Ham’s essay illustrates the difficulty of the topic rather well. Ham lays out a very simple and jarringly direct narrative. The formerly Christian West is undergoing an accelerated moral and spiritual decline. The sexual revolution, relativism, and cultural pluralism threaten to unravel the cohesive truth of the Christian faith. Ham’s answer to the crisis is found in Psalm 11:3 (KJV): If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?
For Ham, the foundation of Bible truth is built on a traditional, “natural reading” of Genesis 1-11, emphasizing that God created the world in six, literal 24-hour days, about 6,000 years ago. God cursed his “very good” natural world, after Adam’s disobedience and rebellion. God even destroyed the world with a global flood, because of man’s wickedness, in the days of Noah. Then he dispersed the survivors of the flood, in judgment, into different people groups and languages, following the incident of the Tower of Babel.
The Christian church’s failure to hold to this teaching of Scripture corresponds to the decline of Gospel-pervading influence in Western culture. For Ham, Christian colleges and seminaries have compromised the integrity of the faith. As a result, young people growing up in our churches are unable to defend the authority of the Bible.
What is Ham’s answer? Christian children should be armed with solid Young Earth Creationist apologetics, in order to confidently defend God’s Word. The mission of the Kentucky-based Creation Museum and Ark Encounter is to persuade people that science is not at odds with a traditional, Young Earth interpretation of Genesis.
For Ken Ham, families that do strongly teach Young Earth Creationist apologetics stand a better chance of standing firm in their faith, when they become adults. From pages 30-31, Ham states, “The scientific evidence confirming the literal truth of Genesis 1-11 is overwhelming and increasing with time as a result of the research of both evolutionists and creationists.” Therefore, a strong commitment to the biblical inerrantist position regarding a Young Earth is the key to helping young Christians survive the onslaughts from a hostile, unbelieving world.
If you were to read just this one essay, with little background in the discussion, you might be drawn to conclude that the case is open and shut. After all, Ken Ham is right about the challenges faced by Christian families who try to raise their children in a world that disparages Christian values. Ken Ham is also right that a Young Earth Creationist view is the primary, traditional interpretation held by believers, over the centuries, that honors a high commitment to the authority of the Bible. Many of my Christian friends, most of whom have very little interest in the sciences, hold to a form of this view, that simply states God did this creation miracle, 6,000 years ago, and that the claims of modern scientists are irrelevant. So, what could be wrong with that?
Well, unfortunately, in his essay, Ken Ham makes certain assumptions that fail to seriously engage other Christian perspectives. Furthermore, and more disturbingly, Ham makes claims that misrepresent the data at hand. I know Ken Ham is an earnest Christian, but this aspect of his essay is disappointing. I know that there are more responsible and articulate Young Earth Creationists out there. It would have been better to have engaged someone like a Todd Wood, the intellectual force behind the Core Academy of Science, Dayton, Tennessee, or the Is Genesis History? film creator, Thomas Purifoy, Jr., to write the Young Earth Creationist essay in this book. Alas, Ken Ham has more popular appeal than Todd Wood, and more name recognition than Thomas Purifoy. In this review, I will address only one problematic assumption and one (embarrassingly) misrepresented claim made by Ken Ham.
First, the problematic assumption: While it is true that many young people, who grow up in Christian families, where Young Earth Creationist apologetics are strongly taught, do flourish in their faith, this is not universally true. Most of these young people have a relatively low interest in the sciences, and so, they never wrestle with the type of questions your typical college student wrestles with in the modern university today. Those young people, from Young Earth Creationist backgrounds, who do have an interest in the sciences, invariably, in my experience, go through some type of crisis in their faith. I worked in outreach with teenagers and their parents, for about 16 years, and one of the greatest hindrances for the Gospel, has been the nagging doubts raised in the minds of young people, when they realize that the kind of Young Earth Creationist teaching they received growing up, was not telling them the whole story about the controversy regarding human origins. Likewise, in the nearly 35+ years of being a follower of Jesus, I have never met a Christian-turned-skeptic who believes, “If only I had a more concentrated dose of Young Earth Creationist apologetics, when I was growing up, I might never have lost my faith.” In fact, the most vocal opponents of Christianity, that I have met in my life, with respect to science, have been people who were reared with a steady diet of Young Earth Creationist teachings, and have since become disillusioned.
Now, the (embarrassingly) misrepresented claim: None of the other contributors to the Four Views book would agree with Ken Ham’s claim, quoted above, that “the scientific evidence” supporting a Young Earth view is “increasing with time.” Just the opposite is the case. The empirical evidence supporting the antiquity of the earth, currently estimated at 4.54 billion years old, is continually increasing. Since the beginning of the modern Young Earth Creationist movement, in the 1960s, there have been no documented cases of any scientist, anywhere in the world, who has come to adopt a Young Earth interpretation of the science, unless that scientist already had a predisposition to interpret the Bible in a Young Earth manner.
The evidence supporting biological, Neo-Darwinian evolution is more complex. The evidence for micro-evolution is well established, whereas evidence for macro-evolution, as an all-encompassing theory, is still very much debated, as the essays, by Hugh Ross, Deborah Haarsma, and Stephen Meyers, adequately demonstrate.
Ken Ham is surely right to stress that there are some really smart, PhD-credentialed scientists, doing work as Young Earth Creationists. Furthermore, not all Young Earth Creationist scientists share the same exact perspective as Ken Ham. But these creation scientists, as a group, are in a very small minority, and they face a really strong uphill battle, and they know it.
True, modern science does make the assumption that the structure of physical laws today, that enables us to predict future events, also enables us to look into the past. This assumption can not be proved, as no one can go back into the past and make the type of scientific observations we can make today. So, philosophically speaking, Ken Ham does have a point in saying that there is a difference between experimental science; i.e. science done today to predict future events, and historical science; i.e. looking at the past.
But the overwhelming majority of practicing scientists do not draw such a sharp line between experimental and historical science. As astrophysicist Hugh Ross has in his response to Ham, on page 50, when we look at the stars, in the night sky, we are seeing things, as they happened in the past, millions of years ago, as it takes millions of years for the light of those distant stars to reach our planet.
Ken Ham goes onto boldly assert the validity of creation science as real science. However, he asserts that because natural revelation is nonverbal in God’s communication to us, it is less clear than what we find given to us in the Bible. The latter assertion appears to go against the words of the Apostle Paul, who states that “God’s invisible qualities” in creation “have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20 NIV).
But when you take both assertions together, the contradiction is extremely difficult to avoid. Does God’s creation adequately demonstrate the glory of God, such that Young Earth Creation science can make a convincing case concerning earth’s origins? Or is the glory of God obscured in nature, thus making any scientific examination of the earth’s past a fruitless endeavor?
The more pressing issue for the average Christian, however, concerns how we are to handle Scripture, apart from science. This is where Ken Ham does have some advantage, in that he is defending an historic, Christian view. The burden of proof is placed on those who would otherwise seek to reinterpret the Bible. But the Bible has a way of overturning traditional views, that do not conform to a more studied approach to Scripture, as the history of the Protestant Reformation demonstrates.
Ham sadly confuses the inerrancy of the Bible with the inerrancy of his interpretation of that Bible. Ross, Haarsma, and Meyers all make the case that a commitment to the authority of Scripture does not implicitly require a particular, traditional interpretation of the Bible, as Ken Ham argues. Tradition does stand on Ken Ham’s side, but is there a better, more robust view, that accounts for all of the data at hand?
. . .
Ross, Haarsma, and Meyers are agreed that a rigid commitment to Young Earth Creation is not required by a high view of the Bible, but they disagree amongst themselves as to how best the Scriptural text should be interpreted. As an Old Earth Creationist, Hugh Ross argues the case that the inerrancy of Scripture can be reconciled with what can be observed, scientifically, in nature. But to do so, Ross has to rethink some traditional interpretations of Scriptural texts, in a manner that some biblical scholars might not find agreeable. Ross, however, draws upon a wider breadth of Scripture, ranging from Job to the Psalms, to reinforce his case, in a way that both Young Earth Creationists and Evolutionary Creationists typically ignore, or find unconvincing.
Hugh Ross is rightly considered to be a concordist, someone who believes that there can be substantial agreement between science and what we read from the Bible. For example, the Big Bang theory is rejected by Young Earth Creationists, as such a theory requires millions of years for it to make proper sense. Hugh Ross, on the other hand, finds the Big Bang theory to be an aid to Christian apologetics, scientifically affirming that there is indeed a beginning to the universe, just as the Bible teaches.
Significantly, Ross makes a strong case that the Bible does not rigidly require a Young Earth, six 24-hour day, interpretation. He suggests that “yom,” the Hebrew word for “day,” may have a legitimate variety of meanings, not limited to designating a 24-hour period. At the same time, Ross holds a firm line against full-blown evolutionary theory, as he argues for a supernatural, special creation of Adam and Eve.
The appeal of Hugh Ross’ argument is that he is able to unswervingly embrace a commitment to biblical inerrancy, as defined by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, while still embracing a large part of today’s scientific consensus. How well Ross ties his interpretation of Scripture, without distortion, together with contemporary scientific understanding of creation history is something beyond the scope of the book’s essays to adequately adjudicate.
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Deborah Haarsma, as an Evolutionary Creationist, stands alone in affirming that full-blown, biological evolutionary theory, as taught in most colleges and universities today, can be reconciled with a high view of Scripture. Haarsma cites a recent Pew Research survey, that 99% of today’s biologists believe that humans evolved from other life forms. Essentially, in Haarsma’s argument, there is nothing in contemporary science that can seen to be in conflict with the Bible, when properly interpreted. While this argument may provide comfort to those who seek a type of peace between advocates of science and advocates of Christian faith, it may not convince everyone. How does Haarsma explain the teaching of the Bible?
Haarsma’s Christian critics believe that she is giving away too much to those who would otherwise seek to undermine the faith. She herself admits that Biologos, the organization she represents, does not take any particular stand on the historicity of Adam and Eve, or on biblical inerrancy, though there are definitely folks in Biologos who clearly affirm both. Haarsma is tentative in her conclusions, but she is not without something challenging to consider. Haarsma nicely summarizes the leading proposals, offered by different evangelical Christians, as to how the historicity of Adam and Eve might be reconciled with modern science. Yet the main concern that drives Haarsma is that the supposed warfare between science and faith is merely a social construct, and she is committed to refuting those on either side, both atheist and Christian, who wrongly view such conflict as unavoidable.
But Haarsma does this at the cost of encouraging Christians to significantly rethink the interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis, in a much more fluid way, than what even Hugh Ross would allow. Haarsma leans towards accepting those interpretations that emphasize Genesis as being primarily a polemic against competing Ancient Near East views of the origins of the world. For not only has the scientific revolution of the last two hundred years changed the way Christians think, we also know a lot more today about Ancient Near East culture, than what the fathers of the early church knew.
As a result, Haarsma is less inclined to consider the narrative of Genesis as giving us details of science or history, though she does not rule out that Genesis gives us at least some scientific and historical data, broadly speaking. Nevertheless, Haarsma seeks to reassure readers that such rethinking of Genesis does not in any way impinge upon fundamental Christian doctrines. As with the previous essays, the reader must evaluate Haarsma’s argument, and come to their own conclusions.
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Stephen Meyers’ contribution, as an Intelligent Design theorist, is curious, in that “Intelligent Design” does not easily fit into either a Young Earth, Old Earth, or Evolutionary Creationist camp. Intelligent Design is more of a particular apologetic strategy than a comprehensive view of human origins and creation. Intelligent Design theorists take no official position regarding the age of the earth, though Meyers leans towards an Old Earth. Furthermore, Intelligent Design takes no specific position on the Bible, though Meyer clearly is a Christian. In this sense, Intelligent Design is not really a specifically Christian position to take, regarding human origins and creation. The Intelligent Designer that Meyers postulates could be the God of the Bible, or it could be some superior extraterrestial life form.
As a result, Meyers essay makes little or no appeal to Scripture, a weakness that other essayists, such as Ken Ham, rightly critiques. On one level, this is fine, in that an argument for Intelligent Design would be like a “first step” to try to persuade a skeptic that there is indeed a Creator. Many skeptics today assume that science explains all we need to know about human origins, etc., and that “the God hypothesis” is really unnecessary. The Intelligent Design apologetic strategy rightly critiques this assumption as being more of a philosophical move, than as something derived solely from empirical data. But whether or not the Intelligent Design argument itself can use empirical data to disrupt a philosophical commitment to materialism remains debatable. Nevertheless, Meyer’s does his best to present the case for Intelligent Design, as a scientific theory, in a succinct manner, in his essay.
Intelligent Design, however useful, is ultimately an inadequate strategy, in that Stephen Meyer’s proposal does not directly point to the God of the Bible, as that Intelligent Designer, or Creator. Furthermore, Intelligent Design does not adequately explain why some patterns found in nature possess apparent design flaws, a topic that the Bible arguably does address, in some manner, with respect to the problem of natural evil.
Intelligent Design can help people get to where they need to be, part of the way, but not the entire way. A most famous example will suffice (noted by both Ham and Haarsma): philosopher Antony Flew was for many years a committed atheist. In his later years, Intelligent Design led him to become a deist, or some other type of theist. But this did not make him a Christian. A more comprehensive view is required to integrate Intelligent Design arguments into a Christian perspective on human origins.
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The editor of this Four Views book, Jim Stump, makes a very cogent observation in his concluding essay. For someone unfamiliar with the details of the scientific debates, or biblical interpretation subtleties, reading a book like this comes down to one question (p. 233): “Whom do I trust?” All four of the views represented differ in significant ways, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed if you do not have a lot of background in the sciences or in the Bible. Thankfully, the book is packed with thoughtful content, and loaded with helpful footnotes, that point the interested reader towards other books and Internet resources, where you can gain more information.
These information rich essays, for the most part, are relatively short and well-contained. But the most difficult part of the book is that achieving a friendly tone among the various participants was, at times, a real challenge. As someone who has deeply wrestled with these issues before, and knowing good friends of mine, who have “ditched” their faith in Christ because of unreconciled thoughts in these matters, reading this book is more than just a mental exercise. Thinking about these topics can either bolster someone’s faith in the God of the Bible, or blow it apart. Thankfully, the essay participants were able to engage in a form of dialogue, though strained at times, that has become extremely rare in evangelical Christianity today. I was strengthened and encouraged by the book’s robust dialogue, in my own faith.
Four Views of Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, is an important book, because it does uniquely manage to bring these four different perspectives together, in one volume. We need this in the church. We need to know Scripture better, and we need to better understand the concerns that others have, in a world where scientific progress fast outpaces the average person’s ability to keep up with the changes. Seekers and skeptics can benefit, too, from the dialogue in this book, in their pursuit of truth. But most importantly, we need to learn how to listen to and learn from one another, in a more kind and charitable way, and this book is a giant step towards realizing these goals.