Another Look at Lever

Fifteen years ago Reformed circles in The Netherlands, and also here, were disturbed in no small degree by views on creation and evolution advocated by Dr. Jan Lever, Professor of Zoology at the Free University of Amsterdam. Two years later, in 1958, Lever’s book was made available in English, having been translated by the late Dr. Peter C. Berkhout.

More recently, however, the name and the views especially of Dr. H. M. Kuitert, Professor of Ethics at the Free University, have come to occupy the center of discussion. Although these two men teach in different areas, they are obviously hand in glove in seeking to uproot the traditional view of the historicity of the Genesis account of creation. Two reasons prompt us to take another look at Lever at this time.

Why Discuss This Now

1. First, we now have access to a more recent book by Dr. Lever, clearly and frankly spelling out in popular fashion his rejection of the historicity of the Genesis account and the view of evolution to which he is committed. Dr. Walter Lagerwey, Professor of Germanic Languages at Calvin College, has translated the Dutch edition (Waar Blijven We?) of this new book by Lever under the title Where Are W e Headed? (Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.; 59 pp. $1.65). One need not be schooled or an expert in scientific terminology to read this book with little or no difficulty.

2. Next, this matter is timely especially now because it concerns an issue that will confront the approaching Synod of the Christian Reformed Church. Two years ago the Synod decided to “appoint a committee to study the nature and extent of Biblical authority, and in particular the ‘connection between the content and purpose of Scripture as the saving revelation of God in Jesus Christ and the consequent and deducible authority of Scripture,’ to evaluate critically in the light of the above-mentioned study and our confessional standards the manner of interpreting Scripture presently employed by some contemporary Reformed scholars, and to serve the churches with pastoral advice in these matters” (Acts of Synod, 1969, p. 102).

Last year the committee appointed to carry out this study reported: “We plan to submit a 6nal report to the Synod of 1971.” Members of this committee are: Dr. A. Bandstra, Dr. F. Klooster, and Dr. M. Woudstra of Calvin Seminary; Dr. D. Holwerda and Dr. C. Spykman of Calvin College; Rev. J. C. Groen, missionary to Mexico; and Rev. J. B. Vos of Chatham, Ontario.

We are eagerly awaiting the report of this committee, not yet available at the time of this writing. And because, at least in our judgment, this issue of Biblical authority is basic and second to none in importance, the Synod of 1971 will be at the crossroads in coming to a decision about this matter. The delegates to Synod are therefore urgently in need of our prayers to the end that they may not temporize, compromise, or seek to bypass this issue by resorting to deliberately ambiguous language. The time has come for the die to be cast—and may God give clarity, courage, and wisdom from above to the end that it may be on the side of the unimpaired inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible as the Word of God.

Lever on Genesis and Creation

That Dr. Jan Lever was one of the Dutch professors whose teaching gave cause for concern is evident in that he is mentioned in the overture that asked the 1969 Synod to institute an examination. With permission of the publisher (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) a few excerpts from Lever’s book (Where Are We Headed?) are presented to show how open and bold Dr. Lever is in rejecting the historicity of the Genesis account of creation and in advocating his brand of evolution.

About the Genesis account, Lever writes:

“The Bible was written in times when people had far less factual knowledge about the world than we have. They had no telescopes, no microscopes, no laboratories.” [But, being divinely inspired, they did have the Holy Spirit to tell them what to write and also how to write!] Lever continues: “They knew nothing about electricity or about radioactive substances. As far as factual knowledge of the world is concerned, they had little more to go by than daily experience. It constituted the picture of reality of that time, now thousands of years distant. And it need not at all surprise us that the writers of the Bible also shared this picture of reality, for their notions were completely embedded in it.”

Now a good question to which Lever gives what he thinks to be a satisfactory answer. He goes on to say: “At this point some will begin to object vehemently: ‘Yes, but the Bible is divine revelation, isn’t it? God inspired the writers of the Bible to write.’” To this Lever replies: “I also believe that. But the Bible definitely is not concerned with scientific knowledge. The entire Bible was written within the framework of existing notions about nature. The writers of the Bible did not have scientific knowledge about astronomy, geology, and biology” (pp. 16, 17).

So then, a la Lever we must abandon our old ideas about the Genesis account of creation giving us literal history. Why? For one thing, if we refuse to do so we will be a stumbling block for the non-Christian! Says Lever: “How can a non-Christian put any trust in the Christian faith if Christians deny the clear and plain findings of the natural sciences?” (p. 18).

Surely, no Christian wants to be a stumbling block in the way of the unbeliever. But we still have to be convinced that the acceptance of Lever’s “findings” actually do give occasion for more converts than casualties with respect to “the Christian faith.” Statistics could very well prove the exact opposite to be true.

Moreover, when Lever asks his question about being a stumbling block we may reply by asking him: “How can a Christian put any trust in the ‘findings of the natural sciences’ if those who embrace them deny the clear and plain teaching of the Bible?” Surely, when Scripture and the avowed “findings of the natural sciences” come to an impasse, there may be no question as to which must have the right of way.

“Theistic Evolution”

To doubt Lever’s sincerity in professing his faith that “God is the creator of the entire earthly reality” (p. 42) is unwarranted. Obviously. Dr. Lever wants to be numbered among the advocates of so-called “theistic evolution.” For a definition, and an evaluation of this kind of evolution we are well served by two quotations from Paul A. Zimmerman (Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Illinois) taken from his chapter in A Symposium on Creation (by Henry M. Morris and Others; Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Mich.).

Defining “theistic evolution,” Zimmerman states: “By ‘evolution’ we mean the complete theory of evolution from the so-called first gaseous plasma which is said to have preceded the formation of the elements down to man. By ‘theistic evolution’ we mean that instead of being governed by the rules of chance and natural selection, as held by evolutionists, that this process is directed by God” (p. 56).

As to an evaluation of this “theistic evolution,” we are indebted to Zimmerman (p. 75) for the following: “He [George Gaylord Simpson] examines the so-called attempt to inject vitalism or mysticism (his words for the supernatural guidance of God of the process) on the part of three famous men: Le Comte Du Nouy, Edmund W. Sinnott, and Theilhard De Chardin. He concludes: “Three great men and great souls, and all have flatly failed in their quest. It is unlikely that others can succeed where they did not, and surely I know of none who has. The attempt to build an evolutionary theory mingling mysticism and science has only tended to vitiate the science. I strongly suspect that it has been equally damaging on the religious side, but here I am less qualified to judge” (This View of Life, New York: Harcourt Brace Co., 1964, p. 232).

Whoever contemplates making the concessions concerning Scripture that Lever believes to be required of us had better first stop to count the cost. Where Are We Headed? (the title of Lever’s book) asks a highly necessary question, but one that calls for an altogether different answer than what the Amsterdam professor has to offer. Those who embrace such “theistic evolution” lock, stock, and barrel should not be surprised to find their faith in jeopardy and the place of God as Creator tenuous indeed.

Lever’s “Christian Perspective on Evolution”

The subtitle given to Lever’s book in English is: “A Christian Perspective on Evolution.” By permission of the publisher we once more quote at some length so that it may be seen what Lever would have us believe about origins instead of the Genesis account as a historical record.

“About five billion years ago, through some astronomical event in the solar system, the earth came into existence. In the course of time the continents and oceans were formed. There were seasons and tides, weather and wind. But living creatures did not yet exist. The earth was uninhabited and barren. Sea water was sterile from top to bottom. The composition of the atmosphere was different from what it is today, lacking oxygen and carbon dioxide.

“Then over the course of millions of years something began to change. Sunlight and lightning and radioactive rays brought about chemical reactions that caused some very specific organic substances to develop. These organic substances, because of their properties, were combined into larger units. In all likelihood this process took place along the coasts, where at low tide the temperatures are high because of the sun’s heat and the occasional flow of hot lava from volcanoes into the sea. In the course of millions of years ‘little things’ finally originated, able to grow and divide, to absorb materials out of the sea water, and to give off other substances. In short, in a marvelous manner an entirely new and higher facet of creation appeared: life.

“Life differentiated itself, depending on all kinds of circumstances, into a variety of forms. A few billion years ago bacteria and algae, comparatively simple organisms, existed, as we can tell from fossils. The first forms of life fed on all the organic substances that had developed during the preceding centuries. It is very likely that the composition of our atmosphere also changed during this period. Metabolism, to which we just referred, must have been a form of fermentation. Thus the oceans fermented and carbon dioxide, which we still find in air and water, originated.

“Thereafter small green organisms developed which, like the plants of our day, caught and used a portion of this carbon dioxide with their green leaves. Rising from the sea water in little bubbles, oxygen also got into the air, and thereafter it was used by many of the newly developed organisms as breathing processes appeared.

“The organisms that had developed up to this point were all herbaceous, but then in some way that we still do not wholly comprehend, animals also developed in the sea. There are many fossils of numerous kinds of marine animals, dating back from 500 to 600 million years ago . . .

“A very important type of animal, the vertebrates, was still lacking. These originated about 400 million years ago, very likely in the form of lawless creatures in fresh water . . . Then followed, about 100 million years later, the fish . . . Still later followed the amphibians.

“About 200 million years ago another still higher stage of evolution was reached in the development of reptiles . . . .

“About 70 million years ago the reptiles were pushed out of their dominant position by the new groups of birds and mammals . . . Among the mammals the group of the so-called primates is very important indeed. It is made up of the prosimians, monkeys and anthropoid apes, man being classified with this latter group . . . .

“Then, at the end of this long evolution, within creation, from a branch of the primates, there emerges man, a creature who lives on an entirely new level . . .”

Believe it or not, this is what is taught in Amsterdam, at the University founded by Dr. Abraham Kuyper.

What Shall We Say?

However much Professor Lever may think that we can accept all this and still have and hold to the Bible, to us all this is a far cry from the authoritative and straightforward account of creation we find in Genesis.

Read Genesis 1 with its 31 verses once again, and take note of this: God is mentioned there over and over again, in no less than 26 of the 31 verses! Let’s not sell God short and deceive ourselves by exchanging this majestic and precious record for what Lever would have us believe!

Are we not entitled to be concerned, to investigate, and to be reassured that this Lever teaching is not infiltrating our own Christian schools and colleges committed to instruction based on the Bible? Even more, are we not also entitled and duty-bound to know that they are actively repudiating this evolutionary propaganda?

May God grant that the Christian Reformed Synod of 1971 in its decision on Biblical Authority may not evade this crucial issue with which it has been charged to deal but rather that it may spell out and reaffirm in no uncertain terms the historicity, authenticity, and absolute priority of what the Bible says also in answer to how man and all things came to be.

Where are we headed? Whoever gets off the track of divine revelation in Genesis had better beware lest he lose all sense of direction as he stumbles from one error to the next further and further away from the “Thus saith the Lord” in the fest of the Bible as well.