Continuing the Evolution Dialogue

Today the Reformed community is discussing several controversial ideas. One of these ideas concerns the truth or falsity of evolution. Many have asked for dialogue, and so this article and another one to appear later arc attempts to contribute to that part of the dialogue which pertains to evolution.

These controversial ideas have usually originated outside the Reformed community, and some have come from unbelievers. Thus, if we could decide upon the answers to the questions posed by merely considering the source of the “new thing,” our controversies would often be short and simple. Yet even a Balaam can speak truth and even a David can lie.

Another possible short cut to obtaining answers to these questions is to use one’s emotions. Using emotion can even seem to be pious. Scripture gives us the normative example of the Bereans who examined “the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so.” No doubt more work was involved in being a thoughtful, reading Berean than in being a member of the Thessalonian mob which disturbed the Bereans.

We are left with one course. We must examine the idea itself.

When we ask the question, “Is evolution correct?” we phrase the question inadequately. “Evolution” consists of several propositions, and we must recognize that several evolutionary propositions are being seriously discussed in the Reformed community. A possible list of such propositions follows.

1. Matter has existed from eternity.

2. The earth and at least some stars arc billions of years old .

3. Life in the form of one~celled organisms evolved from non-living matter.

4. All animals and plants evolved from one-celled organisms.

5. Man’s body evolved from animals.

Three observations concerning these propositions must be made. First, these propositions do not stand or fall as a group. For example, one could hold that all animals evolved from one-celled organisms (thus accepting Proposition 4) and yet deny that these organisms evolved from non-living matter (rejecting Proposition 3). It would thus be consistent—although not necessarily Scriptural—to hold that God created all animals by way of creating one-celled organisms.

Second, these propositions must be discussed one at a time. Notice what can happen if we do not observe this rule. Some evolutionists point to the obvious fact of present changes in the earth’s crust to prove certain things leading to an affirmation of Proposition 2. They then make an illogical jump to Proposition 3. It is one thing to say that the earth is cooling and that present rock compositions indicate there was once a very different kind of atmosphere. It is quite another thing to say that these earlier, different conditions—assuming they existed—“allowed” the spontaneous synthesis of living matter.



Some anti-evolutionists have also confused these propositions. For example, proving from Scripture that matter is not eternal -thus refuting Proposition 1—does not really answer those evolutionary biologists whose primary concern is process—as it is found in Propositions 4 and 5—and not origin. Christians know quite well that the argument must eventually include both process and origin, and that answers to all of the evolutionary propositions must be included in a world-and-life view. Yet if the question of whether or not man descended from animals (Proposition 5) is related to the Christian faith, we ought to be able to find in Scripture an answer to this specific question.

Third, decisions concerning the truth or falsity of these propositions must be made by first consulting Scripture. Scripture must be consulted first in order that we be kept from the sin of contradicting Scripture. For example, it would be immoral to be a part of a scientific expedition which intends to search for the dead body of Christ. We may then look to scientific evidence for one of two reasons: either Scripture leaves certain questions unanswered, or scientific results taken along with Scripture give a grander, more complete picture of creation than does Scripture alone. As an example of a grander picture. we can see that “The heavens declare the glory of God,” means more now that we know from science about the many vast galaxies God created.

These considerations indicate that discussing evolution is a large task. We must examine ideas, and we may not be influenced by extraneous factors. The component parts of the problem, which are here called propositions, must be examined separately and carefully. Above all, nothing may be alleged against Scripture. Because of the magnitude of the task, only parts of the problem can be touched upon in these articles. Jn the present article we examine some of the aspects of the question of whether or not man evolved from animals (Proposition 5). In the next article we give a similar treatment of the animal—to animal and plant-to-plant evolutionary problem (Proposition 4) and the age-of-the-earth problem (Proposition 2).

Has Man Evolved from Animals?

Just what does the evolutionist teach when he claims that man evolved from animals? We limit ourselves here to the teachings of the so-called theistic evolutionist. (Some suggest “theistic” and “evolutionist” are contradictory terms; without deciding that question, we use the phrase here for convenience.) The theistic evolutionist emphasizes that man’s body, not his soul, evolved from animals. Eliminating the soul from the question eliminates much which the Scripture-believing anti-evolutionist would like to use in this discussion. Thus, the anti-evolutionist insists that man is created in the image of God. The theistic evolutionist says—correctly—that “image” refers to knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, which are all matters of the soul. In suggesting this limitation on the kind of refutation the anti-evolutionist may use, there is no intention to promote an un-Scriptural dualism of soul and body. Rather, it is proposed that we are not on firm debating ground when we put the weight of the argument on the mysterious unity of soul and body. Let us carryon an effective dialogue on this proposition by limiting the discussion to “body.”

We turn first to Scripture. The key passage is one we shall refer to several times. And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Gen. 2:7) Theistic evolutionists maintain that the word “dust” in this verse refers to an animal, and that after man’s body was in existence—as an animal—God put a soul into that body to make man. From an examination of various parts of Scripture, three statements concerning this teaching are suggested.

(1) Nothing else in creation is like the body of man. A superficial examination of the whole problem might lead us to suspect that the very opposite of this statement is true. We could even come to such a conclusion by taking out of context certain Scriptural passages. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes says,

I said in my heart, It is because of the sons of men, that God may prove them, and that they may see that they themselves are but as beasts. (Eccl. 3:18)

Can it be that we are beasts? The Preacher gives this evidence:

For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; and man hath no preeminence above the beasts: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. (Eccl. 3:19–20)

What about life after death? The Preacher continues:

Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast, whether it goeth downward to the earth? (Eccl. 3:21)

At the end of his argument the Preacher says

…And the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. (Eccl. 12:7)

What of the body of man which turned to dust at death? Is it in the dust in the same way as the bodies of the beasts are in the dust? The Holy Spirit also inspired Daniel to write

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake. some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Dan. 12:2)

Man, and not the beast, rises from the dust. Man rises not because God makes him perfect—for some rise to shame and everlasting contempt—but rather because his body is the body of man.

Paul also differentiates between the body of man and the body of the animal when he says in connection with the creation account

All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is the one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fishes. (I Cor. 15:39)

The flesh analogy is one of the analogies Paul uses in discussing change from the earthly body, which goes to the dust, to the risen body. He says the various kinds of flesh are as different from each other as the earthly body of man is different from his risen body.

By considering the treatment of “dust” in Ecclesiastes and Daniel, and by considering Paul’s resurrection analogy, we are forced to conclude that the body of man differs from everything else in Creation.

(2) God gave man life after he gave animals life.

Proof of this statement is derived from the central statement concerning the creation of man, Genesis 2:7, quoted above. To understand the meaning of “living soul” in this passage we note that the corresponding Hebrew term is a general term. It means “living creature,” referring in Genesis 1:20 and 1:24 to animals and in Genesis 9:16 to both men and animals. The end of Genesis 2:7 can therefore be read, “…and man became a living creature.”

Genesis 2:7 also says, “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” This passage teaches twice that man was given life at this time. The theistic evolutionist cannot be correct in maintaining that man evolved from animals. For it is not possible that a descendant of an animal could be given life, life which the descendant already possessed.

(3) The account of the creation of man is not “symbolic.” If the Genesis account teaches that man was given life after animals were given life, then it is quite obvious that man did not evolve from animals. The theistic evolutionist answers this by stating that the account is “symbolic.” not historical. How can we be sure the account is historical?

We examine Genesis 2:7 in its context. The passage containing this text is introduced by

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth…. (Gen. 2:4)

The word “generations” implies history—in this case, the history of man. The history so introduced includes Genesis 2:7, and therefore Genesis 2:7 is not symbolic.

The three statements which have been developed are shown by Scripture to be true. Taken together, the quoted passages show that man did not evolve from animals.

While it is unnecessary to discuss the scientific aspects of this problem—since science cannot contradict Scripture—we will later allude to the scientific aspects of biological evolution, of which the supposed evolution of man is a part. In the concluding article there will be discussed certain aspects of the questions concerning animal and plant evolution from one-celled organisms (Proposition 3) and whether or not the days of Genesis 1 were long periods (related to Proposition 2).

On these pages Russell Maatman, professor at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa, begins his two-part discussion of the compatibility of the evolutionary hypothesis with the Scriptures. After emphasizing the necessity of precise definition, he considers the question of man’s possible evolution from the animals.