Keathley, Kenneth D., and Mark F. Rooker. 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution. 40 Questions, series ed. Benjamin L. Merkle. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2014. Paperback, 430 pages. ISBN 978-0-8254-2941-5.
In this book, a fairly comprehensive survey of debated questions related to creation and evolution, particularly as those questions are addressed by evangelicals, authors Keathley and Rooker (hereafter, K&R) survey and assess the various extant opinions in a manner that attempts, more successfully in some chapters than in others, to be “fair and balanced” rather than polemical. K&R’s efforts at fairness and balance notwithstanding, reading the whole 40 Questions text (hereafter, 40Qs) does give one a clear impression of what views K&R prefer in debates about how the early chapters of Genesis should be read, how or if the dominant opinions of contemporary scientists should affect biblical hermeneutics, how important it is to take or not take a strong position on these issues, and how this should all affect one’s approach to apologetics.
If the impression one gets from reading 40Qs is correct, K&R’s judgment is that, at present, the most natural reading of Scripture is still biblical creationism (BC). (This is the terminology I and others advocate because it places proper emphasis on what motivates BC: humble, childlike submission [Matthew 18:3, etc.] to the plain or natural sense of Scripture, even when considering historical and scientific questions. The authors, in agreement with dominant usage, call this young-earth creationism, or YEC. In this review, I will use the terminology I advocate.) The only biblical difficulty they agree exists for this reading (the only one not resolved fairly easily, at any rate) is the great deal of activity that seems to have taken place on the sixth day of the creation week. Most alternative readings of the Genesis creation account (such as the day-age, temple inauguration, gap, framework, and historical creationism theories) show themselves, in the chapters (“questions”) that discuss them, to be fraught with more significant biblical difficulties than BC’s too-much-stuff-on-day-six issue. Though the authors commend the more Bible-centered of these alternatives (historical creationism comes to mind), Scripture itself prevents them from claiming that any non-BC position fits Scripture so naturally and well as BC. Notably, however, a metaphor-for-literal-but-ineffable-pre-Fall-reality theory is not criticized, but only presented as a “mediating” view open to persons who are persuaded that the Genesis creation days must (because of the demands of biblical wording and context) be understood as normal-length days (164). (The lack of significant criticism of this “mediating” position suggests that it might be the OEC position that the authors presently deem most cogent. One must wonder, though: what exactly does a metaphor communicate if the literal reality it is alleged to describe is wholly beyond verbal description?) Also notably, K&R, like such past opponents of BC as Gleason Archer, do sometimes call the BC reading “cursory” or the like (I believe Archer’s term was “superficial”), even though their own chapters studying the various approaches show that BC has strong biblical justification on close reading, not just when reading is “cursory.” Since this is not a “Genesis debate” book, and since chapters are not specifically assigned to one author or the other, this inconsistency of tone is troubling. Readers are informed early-on (23) that each author “leans to” a different position, one (Rooker) toward BC (“YEC”) and one (Keathley) toward OEC, but nowhere is it suggested that either author disagrees with what they have chosen jointly to assert in their 40Qs collaboration.
While K&R generally (“cursory reading” inconsistency aside) seem willing to grant the Scripture-alone case to BC, they also clearly believe that scientific support for BC is scarce to nonexistent: they think that BC is and, one gets the distinct impression, should embrace being a “fideistic” position that is simply untestable because it relies on miracles like the global Flood and an initially mature creation with “apparent age.” Old Earth Creationism (OEC), on the other hand, has (they believe) very strong scientific support (even if various systems offered to go with OEC don’t seem true on biblical grounds alone). Evolutionary Creationism (EC), while it can claim the support of most of the scientific data that K&R believe supports OEC, has considerably weaker biblical justification than non-evolutionary OEC. In fact, the authors seem inclined to think that progressive creationism (God created intermittently over long periods, with limited “evolutionary” development of creatures occurring during times when God wasn’t creating) fits better with the scientific data than does full-on evolutionism (whether that of EC or Darwinism, the latter of which K&R judge an ideology unsustainable on either scientific or philosophical grounds). On related matters: (1) though they admit BC’s belief in a global Flood has good biblical support, they consider the local Flood theory rational and acceptable on biblical grounds, and they are unpersuaded by the scientific (geological) case for the global Flood (and seem to wish BC-motivated Flood geologists would just knock it off and admit their view is fideistic and impossible to support scientifically); (2) they endorse the idea that the Genesis genealogies contain gaps of unknown duration, ruling out strict chronology based on those genealogies.
Clearly, a good deal of research and thought has gone into this text. As a result, it does contain much useful information. Its identification by name of advocates of various viewpoints, and its references to key texts and articles promoting those viewpoints, are two examples that may alone make the book a worthwhile purchase for some readers and for libraries. Researchers will find the lack of a subject index annoying, I think, though the main topics can readily be located using the table of contents (9-10). No doubt the lack of an index of persons mentioned will also displease some. (These indexes are lacking in my complimentary review copy, at least. Perhaps some future printing will include them.) Nevertheless, persons desiring a comprehensive survey of currently debated issues might decide that 40Qs serves their purposes nicely. I can only give the book a mildly positive rating (three stars on the standard five-star scale), however, because (1) a fundamental aspect of its overall approach is deeply flawed; (2) its treatment of BC, and of the Bible-believing presuppositionalism (BBP) that often goes with it, is unsatisfactory (as to BBP and BC generally, and in failing to address a longstanding BC concern with terminology); and (3) it has other shortcoming that might be noted. ^
Fundamental Flaw in Overall Approach ^
A fundamental aspect of 40Qs that seems especially flawed is K&R’s attempt to frame the differences between advocates of BC, OEC, and EC as disagreements over “apologetic approach” only. These three viewpoints, which all adopt very different approaches to God’s infallible written Word, are included in a list of “apologetic approaches” along with Intelligent Design (ID), which takes no position at all on God’s Word (nor, in fact, on whether the “intelligence” inferred to lie behind certain phenomena in nature is the God of the Bible). Disagreements about how God created, or about what Scripture means when it touches on the subject, K&R maintain, are disagreements about “apologetic approach,” apologetic strategy, only. If it is a variety of “creationism,” it is apologetic approach, not doctrine. Only the question of whether God created is a matter of doctrine, “the doctrine of creation”; everything else is just strategy (“approach”). To be more precise, the “doctrine of creation,” as K&R describe it, includes the following propositions: God created the world out of nothing; only God is eternal, meaning creation began in, and includes, time; God is distinct from creation; God did not create out of necessity; God did not have to create this particular world, but chose of his own free will to do so; God created a world that is consistent with his nature and character; God is sovereign over the world; God continues to be actively involved with the world, being not only its Creator but its Sustainer.
Even on the expanded “to be more precise” description of “the doctrine of creation,” however, the idea that “everything else is just strategy” is neither persuasive nor plausible. Everything that Scripture teaches, all that is directly stated or that “by good and necessary consequence” may be inferred from what is directly stated, is doctrine. When people disagree about what Scripture may be claimed to teach or imply, as when people disagree about whether or not God really did create absolutely everything in the space of six days of the sort experienced in a normal week (Exodus 20:9-11), their disagreement very definitely is doctrinal. This is why many churches include specific positions on the issue in their doctrinal statements. If two BC advocates disagree with one another about whether they should (1) do an internal critique of an opponent’s worldview, pointing out how it takes for granted presuppositions that actually don’t fit with it but are “borrowed” from the Bible-believing worldview, or (2) draw upon ID arguments to show how the presuppositions that opponent takes for granted make God’s existence impossible to deny rationally, that is a difference over apologetic strategy. Disagreements about how scientific data should be explained in the Bible-first BC context may also be deemed differences over apologetic approach, as may differences between approaches of any two OEC advocates. If one Christian thinks the Bible must be humbly accepted in its most natural sense and the data of science interpreted in light of that sense (BC), whereas another thinks the data of science has a natural (objective, worldview-neutral) sense in terms of which an unclear Bible must be reinterpreted (OEC, EC), that is a difference over doctrine.
Even so, I appreciate K&R’ effort to show that Christians who fail to embrace BC do still agree with biblical creationists on the doctrine that God created. (All aspects of the “to be more precise” description of the doctrine noted above may be seen as implicit in the “God” part of the identifier “doctrine that God created,” since it is understood in context that the God of the Bible is in view, and the “to be more precise” points simply unpack what being the God of the Bible entails.) Where they disagree is on the doctrine of how God created. It is misleading to call either of these separate doctrines “the doctrine of creation,” but that is what K&R have chosen to do. Perhaps this is longstanding usage, but that doesn’t make it any less misleading. The debate here is definitely a matter of doctrine, not just apologetics. By adopting the usage they do, K&R bias their presentation in favor of those who, in complete disagreement with advocates of BC, claim the Bible doesn’t mean to say anything about how God created, only that he created. This biased and misleading framing of the issue makes 40Qs, for all its wealth of information and critical reflection, a deeply flawed book. It is also strange, since K&R do not themselves seem to believe that “the Bible doesn’t mean to say anything about how God created, only that he created.” When one’s desire to be irenic and make peace between disagreeing Christians (a laudable motive, no doubt) makes one introduce biases into one’s work that contradict one’s own convictions, might it be said that peacemaking has been carried too far? Of course, my impression that K&R do not themselves believe “the Bible doesn’t mean to say anything about how God created, only that he created” could be mistaken; perhaps one or the other of them believes exactly that. Were this the case, the bias would then be less strange, though no less objectionable.
Unsatisfactory Treatment of Biblical Creationism and Bible-Believing Presuppositionalism ^
The book is also flawed in its consideration of BC and BBP. K&R observe that “most” BC advocates are presuppositionalists, often to a degree K&R think verges on, or passes wholly over into, the “blind faith” of fideism. They write: “The presuppositionalist believes that the validity of one’s presuppositions must eventually be tested by using the laws of logic and be demonstrated by a consistency with the evidential findings. Fideism, by contrast, does not believe one’s presuppositions can be tested” (20). Were presuppositionalist pioneer Cornelius Van Til and his star pupil, Greg Bahnsen, available for comment, I think they would find this description objectionable. By insisting that presuppositions must be tested for “consistency with the evidential findings,” for instance, K&R disallow any form of “presuppositionalism” that is more than evidentialism with some presuppositional analysis thrown in. As for testing “using the laws of logic,” the stance of Van Tilian presuppositionalists (the only “real” presuppositionalists were one to ask the late Dr. Bahnsen) is that the Christian worldview with its BBP is the only belief system with which trust in the laws of logic makes sense, the only system that can account for those laws. Calling them “laws” or suggesting they be used to “test” anything before one has adopted BBP is, on Van Tilian grounds, nonsense.
Okay, I just threw around some terms I should probably clarify. First, I spoke of “the Christian worldview with its BBP.” Van Tilians will typically just say, “the Christian worldview,” and leave it at that, though the growth in popularity of that term among non-Van Tilians inclines me to think “with its BBP” must be specified. Words like “worldview” and “presuppositions” are used very freely in discussion of these issues, so perhaps I should clarify them also. Sometimes it sounds like the two terms are meant as synonyms. A worldview, however, is a comprehensive belief system: it includes and owes its existence and content to some set of presuppositions (or, as some, though not usually Van Tilians, put it, an unproven and unprovable set of axioms), of which adherents of the worldview may have little conscious awareness (prior to careful and uncomfortable reflection), but it is not limited to those presuppositions. The correctness of presuppositions cannot be tested by any worldview-neutral (“objective”) criteria because, simply put, there are no such criteria. All criteria express and function within worldviews. K&R’s suggestion that presuppositions must be tested for compliance with “evidence,” thus, misses a fundamental point of BBP. Presuppositions can be tested, but not by “evidence”: they can be tested for whether or not they cohere with the worldviews of which they are a part. When a worldview and its presuppositions cannot be brought into coherence, either through modification of the presuppositions to fit the rest of the worldview, or through modification of the rest of the worldview to fit the presuppositions, the worldview fails. The faith of Christians who advocate BBP is that every non-BBP worldview, including “Christian” worldviews that reject BBP in favor of the presuppositions of secular empiricists, Thomistic philosophers, or others, will fail upon analysis, whereas the BBP worldview will not. (Typically, as I’ve noted, BBP advocates speak simply of “the Christian worldview.” This usage is misleading, however, since persons who do not embrace BBP also speak of “the Christian worldview” as they incorporate limited presuppositional analysis into their non-BBP work. Since true Christians share many important beliefs in common, speaking of “the Christian worldview” is very tempting. As is clear from K&R’s text, however, Christians’ comprehensive belief systems, their worldviews, differ in ways that are not insignificant.)
Another term that requires comment is “evidentialism.” This is the term Van Tilians have typically applied to the approaches of those who reject BBP. This simple terminology doesn’t always satisfy those to whom it is applied since they, thinking solely in terms of apologetics, know approaches among them vary, from “minimal facts” historical apologetics, to basically Thomistic “classical” apologetics, to properly “evidentialist” apologetics that John Locke might have embraced. For Van Tilian BBP advocates, however, broader questions of epistemology, of how one can rightly claim to know anything at all and how one should go about managing one’s beliefs in view of this, cannot be placed in a separate compartment from one’s apologetics. When one adopts BBP, one cannot separate “doctrine” and “apologetic approach” in the way K&R do: doctrine is all that Scripture, rightly understood, teaches, and this is foundational to and determinative of one’s apologetics.
To highlight just how different BBP is from the empiricist-leaning way of thinking that is the automatic, seldom-questioned, default cognitive strategy in our post-Enlightenment culture, one only need survey K&R’s frequent use of phrases like “evidence indicates,” “evidence points in the direction of,” and “scientific data shows” in contexts of naïve acceptance, with no hint of uncertainty that data and evidence really do “indicate” and “point.” Such statements reflect what Van Til identified as biblically-unsound belief in “brute factuality.” This belief posits a realm of neutral or objective “facts” or “data” that “speak for themselves”: “data” or “evidence” that “points” in some direction. Adherents of BBP reject the idea that God’s creation contains any such brute facts. Facts and interpretations can be distinguished and talked about separately, of course, but facts are never free of interpretation. Every fact, or datum, or evidence any human person perceives or thinks about will inevitably be perceived or thought about in terms of some interpretation or other, in obedient submission to God, in rebellion against God, or (most commonly in the non-idealized real world) in an inconsistent mixture of submission and rebellion. In terms of BBP, the previously quoted phrases must be reworded if they are to be accurate: “evidence, as I select and interpret it in accord with my believing or unbelieving or inconsistent presuppositions, indicates”; “evidence, as I select and interpret it in accord with my…presuppositions, points in the direction of”; and “scientific data, as I select and interpret it in accord with my…presuppositions, shows.” To drive the implication of these statements home more clearly, they may be reworded as follows: “my presupposition-guided selection and interpretation of evidence indicates” or “…points in the direction of” or “…shows.”
Concerning “presupposition-guided selection…of data,” this doesn’t have to involve self-serving selectivity that intentionally ignores data that one hasn’t yet figured out how to fit into one’s way of thinking. Though evidentialists on every side of every debate invariably complain about the other side’s selective use of available data, the reality in the for-all-practical-purposes infinite created realm in which we live (finite from God’s perspective [Psalm 147:4], infinite from ours) is that there is always infinitely more data out there than any evidential “cumulative case” argument takes into account (K&R speak positively of cumulative case arguments in various places in 40Qs), and any item in that infinite mass of mostly-unknown data might confound even the most seemingly airtight evidential argument. To a few of us, “cumulative case” arguments, and induction (empirical reasoning) in general, seem to take advantage of the finitude of human awareness to make people feel like they “know” things it isn’t possible to know on empirical grounds—at least absent some big assumptions one isn’t entitled to make lacking a prior justifying revelation from God. Thus, a major problem with many uses of the book of Scripture / book of nature approach (according to which humans are to acquire and integrate knowledge from these “two books”), which K&R identify as the view of all who believe rightly interpreted nature and rightly interpreted Scripture must agree (“concordists”), is that, whereas Scripture is a finite collection of words breathed out by God for the purpose of communication, nature is a so-far-as-humans-are-concerned infinite collection of entities, phenomena, and regular patterns of activity (“laws”) meant to glorify God and to astound and humble his creatures, no doubt, and to make known some broad truths about God (he is powerful beyond imagining and so on), but not to communicate a specific body of verbal truths. Biblical creationists don’t mind the “two books” metaphor (they are concordists), but the typical approach of OEC advocates like Hugh Ross (whose name and arguments appear frequently in 40Qs), read too much into the “two books” metaphor, as K&R seem to recognize (126).
As persons with evident presuppositional commitments to some degree of worldview-neutral “brute factuality,” K&R find the uncompromising commitment of biblical creationists with their BBP irksome, likening it to the equally irksome bias of Darwinists: “Both [adherents of BC and Darwinism] refuse to let the empirical data cause them to step away from their original philosophical commitments.” On the bright side, they add, “Theistic evolutionists [EC adherents] and [non-evolutionary] old-earth creationists [OEC adherents], by contrast, most readily allow the scientific data to affect their respective interpretive models” (18). Why refusal to step away from an original philosophical commitment to belief in “brute factuality” and the empiricism that goes with it is more laudable than refusal to step away from primary commitment to God’s own words in Scripture in their most natural sense, without importation of extrabiblical information no original recipient could have known, is unclear. But such is K&R’s assessment of the situation.
For BBP adherents, in contrast, essential to both biblically correct doctrinal beliefs and God-honoring apologetics is the bringing of one’s intellectual life, in particular one’s presuppositional framework and the comprehensive worldview growing out of it, into conformity with—into childlike, trusting submission to—God’s verbally-expressed and infallible revelation, the Bible. On this view, one must not simply take for granted the epistemological assumptions and cognitive strategies one’s culture happens to have made the unquestioned defaults of most people including oneself. (I believe students of the Sociology of Knowledge call these a culture’s “plausibility structures.”) Believing Bible study (to borrow the title of an old book), and consistently faithful study of every topic, requires a thorough bottom-up reconstruction of one’s thinking. (Plausibility structures must be restructured to conform with Scripture, not taken for granted.) In my view, this process doesn’t rule out, as an apologetic exercise, engaging in evidentialist explorations of where the unquestioned defaults in a culture happen to lead; it does, however, rule out making such explorations the basis of one’s doctrine, of one’s interpretation of Scripture; much more does it rule out making such evidentialist explorations the basis of one’s faith.
Re: “this process doesn’t rule out, as an apologetic exercise, engaging in evidentialist explorations of where the unquestioned defaults in a culture happen to lead.” This would also apply to subcultures, such as those of historians and practitioners of “origins science.” (Origins science makes inferences about the past from evidence in the present. Operational science, based on present-day observations, proposes theories that make predictions that can be tested through repeatable experiments. The former gives us colorful stories about the evolution of stars, planets, and life; the latter gives us cars, airplanes, medicines, and other useful things. This distinction, especially favored by BC advocates, is mentioned at various points in 40Qs.) One can deny persuasive historical “proofs of the resurrection” by rejecting the presuppositions that make historical knowledge possible; if, however, one insists on holding on to those presuppositions, one is obligated to take seriously historical arguments favoring the claim that Jesus’s resurrection really happened. One can deny the persuasive force of ID’s fine-tuning argument (397-407) by jettisoning presuppositions essential to the practice of origins science (trust in the laws of probability, for example), but if one insists on retaining these presuppositions one must also contend with the inferences to intelligence they seem to demand. These arguments are no substitute for believers’ whole-person commitment to Scripture’s authority over their presuppositions and every thought and action, but I see no harm in their utilization as mental exercises when dealing with unbelievers who embrace the presuppositions of the relevant subcultures.
So, getting back to the topic at hand, on K&R’s account, one may only avoid being a “blind faith” fideist by embracing evidentialism. The only way for BBP adherents to not be fideists, in other words, is for them to become evidentialists who use analysis of presuppositions as part of a broader evidentialist approach. “Brute factuality” must be one’s ultimate authority or else one is a fideist. Personally, the label “fideist” doesn’t bother me since, freed of the scholarly pompousness of Latin, “fideism” is just “faith-ism,” and surely faith-alone Bible believers should find this label less offensive than “empiricism,” “rationalism,” or “scientism.” (It sure beats “agnosticism,” which is the label I’d still be applying to my own “belief” system had I never happened upon BBP.) Is faith that precedes and informs one’s approach to “evidence” rightly labeled “blind”? Only on presuppositionally evidentialist grounds. From the BBP perspective, considerations of “evidence” unguided by Bible-informed faith are what should be called “blind.”
In terms of BBP, then, a Bible-believing Christian should never grant that “evidence” or “data” could call into question the comprehensive Christian thought system grounded in Scripture (the BBP Christian worldview). The presuppositional framework that determines one’s worldview also determines what one labels “evidence” or “data” and how one may and should interpret that evidence or data. In the BBP system, the Bible is the ultimate authority, so the lesser authority of interpreted natural evidence (“natural revelation”) will always be understood in light of the Bible. (More precisely, the Triune God speaking in Scripture is the ultimate authority. Since in Scripture alone God speaks clearly, verbally to his people, it is Scripture alone that effectively functions as Christians’ ultimate authority.) For them, to force upon Scripture any interpretation not evident from Scripture itself as its original believing recipients could have been expected to understand it, such as an interpretation guided by contemporary secular interpretations of natural (scientific) evidence (as secular thinkers understand “evidence”), would be to set up something other than Scripture (in this case, “scientific evidence” as secularly construed) as the ultimate authority. (Direct “experiences of God,” by the way, would have the same epistemic status as the experiences yielding scientific evidence: one could not use them to justify reinterpretation of Scripture; instead, one would have to both validate and interpret them on the basis of Scripture.) Biblical creationists committed to BBP are quite capable of modifying their views on the basis of evidence, biblical evidence. Other “evidence” won’t do.
As already noted, BBP adherents believe that all worldviews other than the Christian (the BBP Christian) will prove, upon analysis, to fail, if consistently maintained, to provide the necessary grounds for rational thought or the intelligibility of anything. Often they will claim that this “proves” Christianity or the Bible true, or that this is “proof that God exists.” Neither of these claims is true, of course, since it is possible to embrace irrationality and unintelligibility. The choice one is presented with is between (1) the Christian system and all that goes with it (the Bible as ultimate authority, etc.), and (2) ultimate skepticism (skeptical even about itself), meaninglessness, chaos…madness. Showing someone that this is the choice they must make, which is all that presuppositional appeals can do (if one agrees that they can do this), does not “prove” anything. Unpleasant and impractical though it may be, impossible to live by as it clearly is, 2 is an option. It is intellectual and emotional suicide, true, and actual physical suicide is not unlikely to follow, but these undesirable implications following choice 2 do not “prove” choice 1 “true.” Ultimate authorities, and the presuppositional systems (and so worldviews) that arise out of them, cannot be “proven,” because they are themselves the basis and provide the criteria for all acts of proving conducted within them—and there are no acts of proving that do not take place within and in terms of a given worldview. If this is fideism, then we might all lament that the human condition is one of inescapable fideism, a state wholly repulsive to our prideful, would-be autonomous spirits. No amount of lamenting will change our situation, however.
K&R’s treatment of BC also proves unsatisfactory by failing to acknowledge an issue of terminology that many BC advocates consider very important. Though they identify Answers in Genesis (AIG) as the leading BC organization (16), K&R neither adopt nor comment upon that organization’s rejection of the terms “macroevolution” and “microevolution,” and in fact later adopt those terms (without mention of BC objections) in their discussions of evolution and ID (Questions 32-40, 313-407, opting for the hyphenated versions of the terms, “micro-evolution” and “macro-evolution”).
AIG repeatedly emphasizes the importance of avoiding these terms. On their “Terms to Know” page (accessed 17 April 2015) they identify each as “a term used by evolutionists,” clearly implying that non-evolutionists should avoid the terms: “Macroevolution is a term used by evolutionists to describe the alleged, unobservable change of one kind of organism to another kind by natural selection acting on the accumulation of mutations over vast periods of time”; “Microevolution is a term used by evolutionists to describe relatively small changes in genetic variation that can be observed in populations.” In a no-byline 2009 post (“When Do False Dichotomies Ever Mesh?” dated 04 July 2009, accessed 17 April 2015), objection to the terms is again emphasized. Describing how a reporter misunderstood both Creation Museum displays and explanatory remarks by Dr. Andrew Snelling, this post notes how the reporter’s article “imports something Answers in Genesis does not say and actually recommends against: the microevolution/macroevolution dichotomy. [Reporter Kenneth] Chang’s disproof of that dichotomy demonstrates just why we don’t use it: ‘If dog to fox is microevolution, then it seems that hominid to human would also be microevolution,’ he writes.” The next paragraph adds: “What really matters is not the size of changes, but rather whether changes add information to a creature’s genome. Observational science tells us that all the ‘evolutionary’ changes we observe either keep genetic information constant or reduce it. That’s the opposite of what molecules-to-man evolution would require.” The misleading terminology resulted in Chang “looking at all changes equally” and so failing to see that “the issue is the origin of genetic information, which has only been observed to originate from an intelligent source.”
2011 and 2012 posts by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell further emphasize AIG’s objection to the terminology (“Flies with Lice,” dated 28 May 2011, accessed 17 April 2015; “Salmon: Rapid Evolution,” dated 28 July 2012, accessed 17 April 2015). In the former, Mitchell objects to identification of “speciation,” formation of new species, as “macroevolution,” since it is within-kind variation that does not involve (so far as anyone has observed or can demonstrate) addition of useful genomic information. In the latter, Mitchell writes: “Implicit in the term microevolution…is the idea that the sorts of change observed in the salmon could eventually add up to produce non-fish, given enough time. As creation scientists, therefore, we tend to avoid the use of the term microevolution because evolutionists often say that macroevolution—the supposed evolution of one kind of organism into another—is just ‘microevolution writ large.’ In other words,” she clarifies, “they tend to use the observable and often rapid occurrence of genetic changes and variation within created kinds of organisms as evidence that new genetic information can be acquired to enable evolution of new kinds of organisms.” After noting how K. Giberson and F. Collins use just such reasoning (citing their The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions [Downers Grove: IVP, 2011], 45), Mitchell writes: “Macroevolution, however, has not been observed. Mutations may certainly contribute to genetic variation, but they represent a loss of information….And since the reshuffling of existing genetic information and its mutations does not provide the information to evolve new organisms, it is not logical to use observable microevolution [including speciation, as she notes in the 2011 post] as evidence for the occurrence of unobservable macroevolution. Such a ‘proof’ is analogous to…expecting to profit by selling all products at a loss but making up for losses in volume.”
Nor is this objection to the terms at all new. In a book excerpt dated 1994, Dr. Gary Parker writes: “in an attempt to be as ‘nice’ as possible, I used to say I accepted ‘micro-evolution’….But then a friend cautioned me that that could be confusing. Saying I accept micro-evolution, a ‘little evolution,’ might make some think that if only I believed in enough time, a little evolution (‘micro-evolution’) would lead to a lot of evolution (‘macro-evolution’). Nothing could be further from the truth”; rather, “great variation within kind (‘micro’) by itself could never, even in infinite time, lead to macro-evolution.” He adds a bit later: “God seems to have endowed the first of each created kind with dazzling genetic variability and the Hardy-Weinberg Law, the fundamental law of population genetics, acts to conserve that created variability.” Further along, he adds (now speaking specifically of humankind’s potential for variation): “To the extent that these things depend on gene combination….God’s plan at creation is still unfolding before our very eyes. That’s not evolution (adding something not there before), that’s ‘entelechy’—creativity written ahead of time in the fabulous genetic code of DNA!” (“Chapter 2: Mutation-Selection in Biblical Perspective,” dated 01 January 1994, part of Parker’s book Creation: Facts of Life: How Real Science Reveals the Hand of God, accessed 17 April 2015).
If K&R really want to present the BC position fairly and accurately, and if they really consider AIG the leading BC organization, it’s difficult to see how they could simply ignore this longstanding concern with terminology. Also, K&R adopt objectionable definitions of the objectionable terms. “Macro-evolution is understood to be significant innovations which produce new species,” whereas “Micro-evolution occurs within prescribed limits” (313). Note how these definitions fail to address biblical creationists’ concerns: they focus solely on the size of changes, not on the fundamental nature of them (whether changes involve introduction of useful new genetic information); also, they suggest that speciation equals macroevolution, something specifically objected to in Dr. Mitchell’s 2011 AIG post. By rejecting or ignoring BC’s focus on created kinds in favor of the secular focus on species, K&R introduce a notable bias into their presentation. Since one can fairly easily imagine a detrimental mutation in an isolated population yielding a “new species” incapable of breeding and producing fertile offspring with others of its kind, speciation seems a pretty low bar for “macro-evolution” (nor am I sure taxonomists limit their application of variant “species” identifications to populations that could not interbreed if they were relocated to a shared environment). Of course, K&R require “significant innovations which produce new species,” so “new species” not resulting from “significant innovations” could be said not to qualify. Still, the way the definition is phrased will suggest to most readers that production of “new species” just does involve “significant innovations.”
Other Shortcoming that Might Be Noted ^
Additional reasons for dissatisfaction with 40Qs might be noted. For instance, K&R suggest that BC advocates who utilize “mature creation” arguments are being inconsistent when they also point to “evidence” of the global Flood or a young earth. This suggestion grows out of the assumption that any maturity in the initial creation requires comprehensive maturity in the same. The only support offered for this assumption is that the first person to propose a scientifically motivated “mature creation” theory (Philip Henry Gosse, writing in 1857) held to such a comprehensive view. This argument isn’t at all persuasive. Why should the initial creation have had to be “mature” in all respects? Why should a BC feel bad about invoking the “mature creation” idea as a possible explanation for only some data? Is there no biblical basis, or Bible-based philosophical basis, for believing certain aspects of creation are more likely to have been created mature than others? K&R’s all-or-nothing approach seems entirely unjustified.
As an increasingly committed adherent of BBP (albeit BBP of a somewhat idiosyncratic and still developing form), I do confess to dissatisfaction with the evidentialist tone of some biblical creationists. As I’ve noted, evidential appeals within a presuppositional framework, conducted as exploratory exercises for apologetic purposes, are not problematic. Even Bahnsen allowed for evidential “debris clearing,” so long as it did not involve setting aside one’s BBP. Still, I admit I would prefer that BC adherents, and everyone else for that matter, make their presuppositional commitments more clear when they enter into debates.
Alas, BC advocates vary in how presuppositional or evidential they sound when presenting BC. Among such advocates, Flood geologist Andrew Snelling tends more toward the evidential side of things. Some years back, when I was transitioning from the evidentialism-fundamentalism of adolescence into the agnosticism-sometimes-atheism of early adulthood, I sent a letter to the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) expressing doubt about the possibility of making the Bible the foundation of all one’s thinking, something Henry Morris (I believe) had urged readers to do in an Acts & Facts or Impact article. I believe it was Dr. Snelling who wrote back to me with a complimentary letter expressing agreement with my generally evidentialist sentiments (if I do not misremember the letter or misconstrue its meaning). The big problem with maintaining “faith” on evidentialist grounds, I found, is that the strength of such “faith” never exceeds the confidence one has in one’s own intellectual powers and in the comprehensiveness of one’s facts and arguments. For my part, I’ve since decided that the widespread commitment to evidentialism among evangelicals like K&R indicates just how prevalent intellectual pride (I Corinthians 8:2) is in evangelicalism, particularly among its leaders and in the halls of Christian academia. What else but such pride would make apologists think “reasonable faith” something deserving greater emphasis than “faithful reason”?
My digression aside, I do find that a fundamental BBP manifests itself even in Dr. Snelling’s writing. “So why would hundreds, indeed thousands, of highly-trained scientists,” he asks, “not only believe Genesis to be reliable history, but base their scientific research on the details and implications of that history? Their acceptance of the Bible in its entirety as a record of the true history of the world,” he answers, “stems first and foremost from their Christian convictions” (Andrew A. Snelling, Earth’s Catastrophic Past: Geology, Creation & the Flood, v. 1 [Dallas: ICR, 2009], 3). In Dr. Snelling’s case, the undercurrent of BBP is subtle and (in the portion of his book I’ve so far read) unacknowledged as he reviews “the scientific evidence that has convinced many today…that Genesis must be taken seriously as literal history” (Ibid., 10). Noting that “science cannot directly observe what happened in the past, so all we can do is infer from the evidence we observe in the present,” he seeks to show only that we are “entitled to conclude that evidence we observe today is consistent with what has been faithfully recorded for us by God in Genesis 1-11” (Ibid., 10-11). Had he yet committed fully and consciously to BBP, he would say instead that “evidence we observe today may be interpreted in a manner consistent with…Genesis 1-11,” since raw data or evidence is entirely meaningless, neither consistent nor inconsistent with anything, until it is given significance and relevance through interpretation. (Technically, since everything is exhaustively interpreted by God, it all does have meaning. However, until we learn and embrace God’s interpretation for ourselves, any piece of evidence we deal with is meaningless to us.)
Snelling’s emphasis on how “science cannot directly observe what happened in the past,” which reiterates above-quoted remarks by Mitchell, brings up another disappointing bias in 40Qs. This bias is relatively mild compared to biases already noted, but it does add to the cumulative case (!) that K&R fail in their effort to be fair and balanced. They write: “Astronomy is unique among the natural sciences. Unlike geologists or paleontologists, astronomers do not merely use empirical data to construct theories about the past. When they look into their telescopes, astronomers do empirically observe the past” (215). This is not true, as I’ve heard biblical creationists point out on more than one occasion. K&R have here uncritically adopted an assertion OEC advocates, like unbelieving scientists, frequently make, but which a moment’s reflection shows to be untrue. Astronomers do not “observe the past”; they observe the effects that arriving light (electromagnetic radiation) is having on their telescopes in the present. They observe light reaching us now; they do not observe where and when the light originated. Both belief that events viewed in the night sky really occurred at some point in the past, and belief that those events occurred at a time in the past inferable from their distance and the speed of light (taking for granted that the speed of light is and has always been constant, this being a “law of nature” repeatedly confirmed and never falsified by human observers), are both inferences about the past from observations in the present. Many may think it silly or irrational to question these inferences, but surely clear thinking is not helped by refusal to admit that they are inferences.
One might also object to K&R’s suggestion that rejection of BC poses no threat to Christian spiritual life because so many prominent Christian leaders and scholars of the past and today endorse other viewpoints (201-2). Whenever the trends of thought in a culture or time tend in a direction other than a consistently biblical one, as they certainly have done in the West since the Enlightenment, the possibility must be entertained that Christian thinking, even the thinking of generally (even impressively) consistent believers, goes astray. A certain “secularism” in the thinking of B. B. Warfield (one of the examples K&R mention), for instance, was nicely documented by the late Dr. Theodore Letis (Van Tilian Lutheran) during his tragically-shortened academic career (Theodore P. Letis, The Ecclesiastical Text: Text Criticism, Biblical Authority and the Popular Mind, 2 ed. [Philadelphia: The Institute for Renaissance and Reformation Biblical Studies, 2000], 1-29, 50-8). Hero worship and misplaced trust, where respected leaders and subject-matter experts are treated as more certain and reliable authorities than God’s own Word, have been problems in the Christian community since the beginning (1 Corinthians 1:12). K&R’s “name dropping” refutation of biblical creationists’ worries can only contribute to the problem.
Persons with theological convictions similar to my own might also object to the book’s apparent endorsement of the “free will” answer to “the problem of evil,” at least to one aspect of it. While discussing the role of creation in the overall narrative of Scripture, K&R summarize a set of arguments or assertions offered by Augustus H. Strong in support of Christian optimism. The second of Strong’s four points they summarize as follows: “Second, sin has its origin in the free choices of the creature. God is in no way the origin of moral evil” (53, citing Strong’s Systematic Theology [Valley Forge, Judson, 1907], 405). Countless debates and texts indicate that most Christians find such an assertion perfectly acceptable. For better or worse, I do not. Moreover, were I an atheist or agnostic (both of which I professed to be at one point), I would find it an outrageous cop-out. If A is the origin of B, and B is the origin of C, then A is necessarily the ultimate origin of C, isn’t it? As comprehensively sovereign Creator and Sustainer of everything, God is the ultimate origin, and so ultimately responsible, for everything, moral evil perpetrated by his creations not excluded. Trying to speak of the God who creates, sustains, and sovereignly directs all things as merely “allowing” or “permitting” moral evil while not being the ultimate origin of, and person ultimately (though not directly) responsible for it, either implicitly compromises the “Godness of God,” or is fundamentally incoherent.
This does not mean that God is morally evil. If God sovereignly ordains that beings he has created should perpetrate moral evils (by their own free choice, not under compulsion, but still by eternal decree), all that is needed to free God from the charge of moral evil himself, or of approval of moral evil, is that he have a morally sufficient reason for ordaining what he has. The old Calvinist way of parsing matters, by speaking of God’s decretive will (what God actually foreordains, being all that comes to pass, including moral evil) and preceptive will (what God through his revelation shows to be right and good and desirable according to his holy character, the standard after which all creatures who would serve him should strive and by which all shall be judged), is perhaps as good as any. For those of us unwilling to make created beings more sovereign than God in any sphere, such as by making them rather than their Maker the ultimate origin of moral evil, the various “free will” evasions of God’s ultimate responsibility for absolutely everything ring hollow and invariably prove unsatisfying. They strike us as just one more manifestation of the contemporary tendency of Christians, particularly of those who consider themselves apologists, to emphasize reasonable faith (faith based upon and directed by independent, autonomous human reasoning) at the expense of faithful reason (reason based upon and directed by Bible-based Christian faith). Rather than seeking a Christian worldview foundation for their philosophy and science, such persons often believe they must have a philosophical or scientific (empirical) foundation for their Christian worldview.
This particular “shortcoming,” mentioned only in this full-length version of the review here on the Pious Eye site, has not affected my rating of the book or my willingness to recommend it. It does seem to me to merit comment, however, mainly because it is an issue I’m personally obsessed with—er, I mean, greatly interested in.
Closing Thoughts: A Suggested Rule of Thumb & Review Conclusion ^
A persisting difficulty for Bible believers trying to sift through works on Genesis, scholarly and otherwise, is that a large percentage of such works rely upon presuppositions contrary to those consistent Bible believers must embrace. One Bible-believing presupposition often contradicted is that our God who is truth and cannot lie must have breathed out his words in their original context intending that those who originally received them, if they were obedient to him and truly wanted to understand, would understand. The meaning of God’s communications through Scripture could be missed by the original recipients due to hardness of heart, due to sinful inclination to believe what God’s own Spirit was telling them was not so, but the original recipients would not misconstrue God’s meaning because they lacked some special knowledge, such as that provided by modern science, that would unlock a meaning they’d missed. (The sole exception would be communications originally given with the understanding that they were to be explained later; perhaps some prophetic passages fall into this category. Note, however, that faithful original recipients would understand the to-be-explained-later status of such communications, and that it is the completed Sacred Text itself that provides the keys to understanding these communications correctly when the time comes.) Many superficially plausible and persuasive theories, whether concerning interpretation of Genesis or other issues (interpretation of passages in Scripture addressing the roles of men and women in the family and church, say), may be quickly dismissed by simply taking a few moments to perceive that they reject this fundamental presupposition. It is neither possible nor desirable for Bible believers to give every theory a fair hearing and detailed analysis: If a theory contradicts fundamental presuppositions of Bible belief, it may rightly be dismissed without further study.
On the subject at hand, then, it seems to me that any proposal for interpreting the Genesis creation account, and the later worldwide Flood account, must be able to answer “yes” to the following question: “Can I believe everything the original recipients of this account (in Moses’s day) would have believed upon hearing it and still hold to the interpretation I’m proposing?” It also seems to me, given this, that any analysis of proposals for interpreting the Genesis creation account and worldwide Flood account must address this question for each of those proposals, rejecting as unworthy of Bible believers’ consideration all proposals for which a sincere “yes” answer is not possible. A great deal of confused insertion of post-biblical notions and information into one’s Bible reading might thereby be prevented. Would any hearer of the worldwide Flood account in Moses’s day have thought the Flood Noah faced was only local? Would any hearer of the Genesis creation account in Moses’s day have though that a long gap fell between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, or that the “days” of the creation week were very long periods of time, or that the story was just an instructive “literary framework” that could not be taken to speak of real past events? If it cannot be plausibly argued that a proposal is compatible with the original recipients’ understanding of God’s communication to them through these accounts, the proposal in question needn’t further concern the sincere Bible believer. It is dead on arrival.
Had Keathley and Rooker adopted this rule of thumb before writing 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution, it would be a much shorter book, and one more consistently useful to committed Bible believers trying to bring all their thinking into alignment with Scripture as their ultimate authority. Of course, that isn’t how academic publishing works. Since it is an academic rather than popular or devotional work, I can only fault 40 Questions for its failure to be as impartial as is might have been, for failure to present the biblical (“young-earth”) creationist perspective as well as it might have done (though it does make more of an effort to do this than many books on the topic), and for other imperfections I’ve noted (and some I haven’t mentioned). Purchasers will find it interesting reading with quite a bit of useful information. Provided they read it critically, the book might also serve as a decent (though maybe not the best) introduction to the creation/evolution topic for persons new to the topic or new to books espousing views on the topic other than their own.
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