The Late Great Ape Debate (Part 1)

By Bayard Taylor

What should a Christian believe about God and creation?

Some Christians hold firmly to one view, but not all Christians agree about which view is correct. Some have rejected God or the Bible as they’ve studied the science surrounding creation theories. And others, confused by the controversies, just try to avoid the subject.

Here, adapted from Bayard Taylor’s book, is a survey of five main creation views, with arguments for or against each of them. (The entire book is available for download from Standard Publishing’s website.)

Part 1: Two Kinds of Creation

Almost 90 years out from the Scopes trial, the creation/evolution debate is still selling newspapers, national magazines, and even TV specials. What gives all this monkey business such enduring sizzle?1

06_Ape_pix_JNWe might have thought this was old news, all out of proportion with events more than 150 years old. But the issues raised in 1859 by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species are no less important to our generation than they were to his. How we think about Darwin’s theory cuts to the heart of what we think about God, truth, morals, our place in the world, and the meaning of life.

Darwin himself was ready to provoke, ready to stir things up. Regarding the diversity of species he said, “God’s will . . . had nothing to do with it.” And with that neat little flick of his wrist, “science” had apparently overturned traditional, religious views of the universe. Humans, it would now seem, had arrived on the planet for no other reasons than “dumb luck and ruthless competition.”2

With claims like these being thrown around, it’s hard not to choose sides. In fact, we all have a dog in this fight. Neutrality is not possible.

And the stakes are not trivial. No one can avoid emotional investment in this controversy; it strikes so close to who we believe ourselves to be.

From a sales perspective, the beauty of this product is, you don’t have to create a need for it. It’s already hard-wired to our deepest hopes and fears. We can’t help but respond to it.

So how have people responded to the scientific data itself and to the massaging and spinning of that data? If it helps, think of this as a dramatic play, called Scientific Data (OK, the title could be more dramatic, but bear with me for now), with five major characters. Let the curtain rise!

 

06_Ape_chart_JNYoung Earth Creationism: Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Dinosaurs Roam3

Enter, stage right: Young Earth Creationism (YEC). YEC holds to a straight-ahead, literal interpretation of Genesis. According to this viewpoint, God created the heavens and the earth in six 24-hour days roughly 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, Noah’s flood covered the entire earth, and humans and dinosaurs once coexisted. Some young earth creationists might be willing to stretch the creation out to, say, 25,000 years ago, suggesting that the word day in Genesis 1 (the Hebrew word is yom) could indicate an era, or epoch. But compared to the other approaches, young earthers believe the earth came about very recently.

Regarding the vast diversity of life on the planet, young earthers teach special creation, the belief that God created all the different plants and creatures in that first week. Young earthers allow for microevolution, in which animals can change over time and develop traits within species that enhance their ability to survive, breed, and increase. But all young earthers reject Darwin’s idea of macroevolution, in which species gradually change into new species. Darwinian evolution could not have happened, they say, because:

• The Bible says that God created the heavens and the earth in six days, and we should accept the plain meaning of the text.

• An array of dating methods in mainstream science is unreliable because the methods require vast amounts of time for evolution to work, time spans that contradict the Bible’s genealogies, which can only be traced back a few thousand years.

• Most to all of the aged fossils were deposited in Noah’s flood (Genesis 6-8), and the Grand Canyon was formed by it.4

• There is the testimony of Jesus. Regarding Noah’s flood (which those in other camps may question as being a worldwide event), Jesus said in Luke 17:26, 27, “People were eating, drinking, marrying. . . . Then the flood came and destroyed them all.”

• Major gaps in the fossil record do not support the development of species from lower to more complex forms.

• The supposed missing links for common human and ape ancestry are misconstrued or have been faked, like the Piltdown man hoax.5

• Randomness and the principle of entropy (the second law of thermodynamics) weaken the case against life emerging from nonlife, order arising out of disorder, or living creatures advancing into higher and higher levels of complexity.

• The Hebrew word translated kind(s) correlates to the term species (Genesis 1:21, 24, 25); therefore God created the living creatures so they could develop within their species, but not beyond them.

• The Bible says God specially created Adam out of the dirt of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). Therefore, humans do not have a common biological ancestry with bacteria, fungi, plants, fish, mollusks, reptiles, and mammals. If humans and all the other living creatures do have a common ancestor, God is a liar (because what God said in the Bible is not true), and the idea of humans uniquely created in God’s image is fatally compromised.

• The Bible’s start-to-finish narrative of the creation, fall, and redemption of mankind fits together better if one takes the Bible’s creation account literally.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a school that trains pastors for the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., says:

Personally, I am a young-Earth creationist. I believe the Bible is adequately clear about how God created the world, and that its most natural reading points to a six-day creation that included not just the animal and plant species but the earth itself. . . . Evangelicals must absolutely affirm the special creation of humans in God’s image, with no physical evolution from any nonhuman species.6

In our politically polarized culture, Evangelicals often get a bad rap, so allow me to insert a definition that they would recognize and agree with: at the core of their beliefs is that the Bible is God’s authoritative written Word. They affirm the historical fundamentals of Christian theology, and they want to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world in word and deed.

Mohler acknowledges that some Evangelicals think “it might have taken longer.” But he asserts, “You cannot coherently affirm the Christian-truth claim and the dominant model of evolutionary theory at the same time.”7 His opinion is shared by many Christians; consistently large percentages of Americans polled say that God created humans “pretty much in their present form within the last 10,000 years or so.”8

Important books in the Young Earth camp include John C. Whitcomb’s The Genesis Flood (1961), Duane T. Gish’s Evolution: The Fossils Say No! (1972), Henry M. Morris’s The Modern Creation Trilogy (1996), and Ken Ham’s The Lie: Evolution (1987).

Two well-known organizations that support the Young Earth Creationism view are The Institute for Creation Research (“revealing the truth of creation”) and Answers in Genesis (“upholding the authority of the Bible from the very first verse”).

The Institute for Creation Research (headquartered in Santee, California) sponsors speakers, conferences, and tours; produces books and other materials; has a graduate school; and runs the Museum of Creation and Earth History.

Answers in Genesis (Petersburg, Kentucky) sponsors magazines, provides online education, and curates the high-tech Creation Museum and Family Discovery Center, just outside Cincinnati.

 

Old Earth Creationism: Starlight Monkeys9

Enter, stage middle-right: Old Earth Creationism (OEC). Old earthers take their name from the belief that our universe could be very, very old indeed. They bear no objections to the various dating methods used by mainstream science, accept mainstream disciplines of geology and astronomy, and might even say that the Bible came up with the idea of the Big Bang before scientists did.

They accept current theories that the earth is about 4.6 billion years old and the universe around 15 billion years old. They would say Big Bang meshes quite well with the theological doctrine of creation ex nihilo (which is Latin for “out of nothing”) and this statement in Hebrews 11:3: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

Old earthers think that the earliest chapters of Genesis do not have to be read in a strictly literal way. For example, young earthers say the “days” of Genesis 1 were literal; Old Earth says the word day could be a literal day, an indefinite time (“in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,” Genesis 2:4, King James Version), or even eras or epochs (“With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day,” 2 Peter 3:8). Another example: young earthers believe that everything was perfect prior to man’s sin; only after the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden did death and disease come calling. Most Old Earth proponents would say that death existed before Adam and Eve sinned and that the fall is about how spiritual death infected humanity (see Romans 5:12-21).

Old earthers read in Genesis a faithful, sequential report of what happened in the beginning, through the perspective of the narrator. Hugh Ross, a preeminent voice on Old Earth Creationism in recent decades, displays the distinctive OEC approach when he compares Genesis to creation accounts from other cultures:

Instead of another bizarre creation myth, here was a journal-like record of the earth’s initial conditions—correctly described from the standpoint of astrophysics and geophysics—followed by a summary of the sequence of changes through which Earth came to be inhabited by living things and ultimately by humans. The account was simple, elegant, and scientifically accurate.10

According to this chronology, Day 1 is the creation of matter; Day 3 is the creation of life; and Day 6 is the special creation of humans, thus denying common descent of humans and apes.11

Most old earthers believe that God specially created Adam and Eve a few thousand years ago. On the other hand, many would not feel the need to try to press modern geology into the mold of Young Earth’s worldwide flood.12

One portion of old earthers find themselves having no problems with many of the findings of modern physics and astronomy; they call their position progressive creationism.

They separate their position from other old earthers who subscribe to what has been called the gap theory. According to this theory (sometimes also called “ruin and restoration”):

• In Genesis 1:1, God created matter and life millions or billions of years ago; a great expanse of time (“the gap”) followed before we ever get to Genesis 1:2.13

• During the gap, multiple catastrophes caused massive extinctions that left behind lots of fossils (such as those of the dinosaurs), and in creation events God created new living organisms.

• Those holding to the gap version of Old Earth Creationism believe a huge flood wiped out most living things about 6,000 years ago.14 After the flood, restoration began with the six days of Genesis 1.

Like young earthers, old earthers accept microevolution but reject Darwinian macroevolution—for them, species were specially created by God apart from evolution. They deny that life can come from nonlife; they reject the idea of order coming from disorder; they dispute that the fossil record demonstrates evolution; and they counter assertions that DNA studies show the common descent of all life. For old earthers, people are created in God’s image, and that idea excludes the possibility that people and apes have a common evolutionary ancestor.

Theologically, old earthers hold to a literal reading of the larger biblical narrative of creation-fall-redemption.

Other leading Old Earth Creationists are J. P. Moreland of Biola University, Gleason Archer of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Walter Kaiser, president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.15

 

Go to Part 2: Design & Evolution

 

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1Some examples: David Van Biema, “Reconciling God and Science: Genome mapper Francis Collins is also an Evangelical Christian. His new book says that’s not a contradiction,” Time magazine (July 17, 2006). See also Jim Vadehei’s poison-pill debate question for the Republican presidential candidates, “Do you believe in evolution?” See page 18 of the debate transcript on the New York Times website at www.nytimes.com/2007/05/03/us/politics/04transcript.html?ex=1189828800&en=492a506aa38a7c1e&ei=5070 (accessed September 12, 2007). See also President Bush’s 2005 response to teaching Intelligent Design in public schools: “Both sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about.” See also John Derbyshire, “Teaching Science: the president is wrong on Intelligent Design” on National Review Online at www.nationalreview.com/derbyshire/derbyshire200508300823.asp (August 30, 2005); and Peter Baker and Peter Slevin, “Bush Remarks on ‘Intelligent Design’ Theory Fuel Debate,” Washington Post (August 3, 2005). See also Brian Cabell, “Kansas School Board’s Ruling Angers Science Community” (August 12, 1999) on the Kansas Board of Education’s efforts to outlaw or diminish the teaching of evolution in public schools, found on CNN’s website at www.cnn.com/US/9908/12/kansas.evolution.flap (accessed September 12, 2007). See also Claudia Wallis, “Evolution Wars,” Time magazine (August 15, 2005; in all notations afterward: Wallis, 28).

2David Dobbs in Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral (Pantheon, 2005), quoted in a book review by Anthony Day, “A Family Grudge Against Darwinism,” Los Angeles Times (January 3, 2005), E6.

3The name comes from the Young Earth Creationism belief that dinosaurs and humans coexisted.

4A typical treatment of this subject is Steven Austin, Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe (Santee: Institute for Creation Research, 1995).

5An entire BBC website is dedicated to this famous hoax at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/sci_nat/03/piltdown_man/html/default.stm (accessed September 27, 2007).

6Wallis, 35.

7Ibid.

8See the report of a 2007 Gallup Poll on the topic at www.usatoday.com/news/politics/2007-06-07-evolution-poll-results_N.htm?csp=34 (accessed October 1, 2007).

9The name comes from the Old Earth belief that most starlight hitting the earth comes from objects many thousands of light-years away.

10Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993) 15.

11“The gap” theory was first widely spread in the 1909 edition of the immensely influential Scofield Reference Bible.

12Greg Neyman, “Old Earth Creation Science: Noah’s Flood” (May 29, 2003) on the Answers in Creation website at www.answersincreation.org/flood.htm (accessed October 1, 2007).

13According to the Creation Report of the 71st Assembly of the orthodox Presbyterian Church (2004), “the gap” theory became prominent among pre-World War II fundamentalists after having been promoted in the Scofield Reference Bible. It continues to be held by some. See www.opc.org/GA/CreationReport.pdf (accessed February 9, 2008).

14See Rich Deem, “The ‘Gap’ Creation Model,” on the God and Science website at www.godandscience.org/apologetics/gap.html (accessed February 9, 2008).

15Other well-known Evangelicals holding this position are John Ankerberg, Charles Colson, William Laine Craig, Norman Geisler, Hank Hanegraff, Jack Hayford, Greg Kouki, Mark Noll, Nancy Pearcey, Vern Poythress, and Lee Strobel. See the “notable leaders” link at the Reasons website (accessed June 4, 2007).

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Bayard Taylor has served as an editor for a Christian publishing company and as a campus minister.

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