Creation and Science: The Key Areas of Conflict
For the sake of this list, I’ve simplified dramatically (so the nuances of evolutionary theory and the exegesis of Genesis have been largely skipped), and I’ve taken the simple extremes of scientific and Christian interpretation, by talking in terms of “the Richard Dawkins view” and “the Ken Ham view”. This is obviously open to criticism on all sorts of counts, but I hope you’ll forgive me for wanting a simplistic way of personifying each line of interpretation.
1. Was God Responsible for Creation? Richard Dawkins: no. The full range of plant and animal life on planet earth has come about through an unguided process, with a cosmic explosion, followed by the chance emergence of life, followed by genetic mutation working alongside natural selection to increase the variety and complexity of living things. God had nothing to do with this process. Ken Ham: yes. God is responsible for creation, and as such all planets and living things exist, not because of an unguided process, but through his creative activity. Nothing in God’s world is random.
2. How Old is the Earth? Richard Dawkins: the earth is 4.6 billion years old, based on a variety of dating methods which overlap with one other. Ken Ham: God created the world in six twenty-four hour days, culminating in the creation of human beings on day six, which means that the earth is only around 6-10,000 years old.
3. In What Order Were Things Created? Richard Dawkins: the sun and the stars formed around 13.7 billion years ago, nearly ten billion years before the formation of the earth and the plant life on it. Ken Ham: God created the sun, the moon and the stars three days after the formation of the earth, and a day after the creation of plant life.
4. Was Creation Perfect Before the Fall? Richard Dawkins: the earth began as a lifeless, volcanic, turbulent mess, and has always had hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and so on. Ken Ham: creation was originally “very good”, and as such did not suffer from these sorts of afflictions until after humans rebelled against God.
5. Did Animals Die Before the Fall? Richard Dawkins: animal life has been dying on planet earth for over a billion years, with all sorts of creatures, including (famously) dinosaurs, becoming extinct tens of millions of years before humans ever existed. Ken Ham: animal death is an intruder into God’s good creation, and no creature died before the fall, a few thousand years ago.
6. Did Humans Die Before the Fall? Richard Dawkins: human beings have gradually evolved into what we are now, and our ancestors have always died; death has been part of who we are from the beginning. Ken Ham: human death is an intruder into God’s good creation, and no human being died before the fall, a few thousand years ago.
7. Was Adam Descended from Pre-Human Creatures? Richard Dawkins: human beings descend from a group of pre-human hominins, who were themselves the result of a long period of evolution. Ken Ham: Adam was created from the dust of the earth, rather than evolving from any previously existing living creature.
8. Was Eve Descended from Pre-Human Creatures? Richard Dawkins: all humans have the same origin: pre-human hominins, who were themselves the result of a long period of evolution. Ken Ham: Eve was created out of the rib of Adam, rather than evolving from any previously existing living creature.
9. Are All Human Beings Descended from Adam and Eve? Richard Dawkins: modern humans have a large group of ancestors, and we cannot all trace our lineage to the same human couple. Ken Ham: all humans who have ever existed trace our lineage to Adam and Eve, and in fact to Noah and his immediate family.
10. Is the Fall Historical? Richard Dawkins: the fall story, as narrated in Genesis, never happened in history, and there was never a time when human beings began to die physically. Ken Ham: the fall story, as narrated in Genesis, did happen in history – the land was cursed, human beings were separated from relationship with God and started to die physically, and the gospel was promised.
Those ten questions cover a lot of ground, and my guess is that most readers will agree with Ken Ham on some things and with Richard Dawkins on other things. The only deal-breaker for Christians is #1: there is no way that somebody can agree with Richard Dawkins on this point and remain an orthodox Christian in any sense of that word, since to be a Christian is to believe in creation by God. There may be a number of others that cause massive problems for different people, but Christians can hold – and have held – different views on numbers 2-10. For example, Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, would (as far as I know) side with Ken Ham on all of them; Peter Enns, formerly of Westminster Theological Seminary and author of The Evolution of Adam, would side with Richard Dawkins on all of them. Many of us will find ourselves somewhere in between.
In several cases, the problem of reconciling science and Scripture is more apparent than real. Any philosopher of science will tell you that science cannot adjudicate on the question of whether God created the world, for instance (#1). The idea of an originally perfect world, in which no animals died until the Fall (#4 and #5), involves (in my view) a significant overinterpretation of the text of Genesis, as I have argued here before. Then again, if a human being is a creature into whom God has breathed so that he becomes a living soul (Gen 2:7), there is no way of scientifically establishing that human beings have always died, nor that the account of the fall is not historical (#6 and #10); the most that could be established is that hominins have always died, since the spiritual state of fossils is beyond the reach of even the most diligent archaeologist. And of course there is no scientific basis for saying that the woman was not created out of the rib of the man (#8), any more than there is a scientific basis for saying that the Red Sea never opened or that Jesus never rose from the dead – that is simply beyond what science can reliably tell us. So on six of the ten key questions, resolving the issues is not as difficult as it might appear.
Nevertheless, that still leaves four important areas of conflict – relating to the age and order of creation (#2, #3), and the biological lineage of human beings (#7, #9) – which require more thought. The first two are prompted by Genesis 1 and geology, and the second two are prompted by Genesis 2-4, genetics and genealogy. See you next Wednesday.