This then being the situation, the question must be put whether evolutionism can be harmonized with Scripture. Dr. J. Lever insists that this is possible. He rejects the theory of a mechanical or materialistic evolution. Says he, “…for a Christian there can be no question of an autonomous evolution of the one into the other, but [we] have emphasized that all changes have fallen under the force of God’s control and direction” (p. 171). Lever likewise admits the great inadequacies in the speculative structure produced by evolutionism. He writes, “Nothing is known to us concerning the first appearance of the main types which must be differentiated in flora and fauna [i.e. in plant and animal life], neither concerning the mutual relation of these phyla [i.e. the great divisions in the plant and animal kingdoms].” Again he states, “The origin of man appears to be a more complicated problem than it was thought to be initially. The relation of the fossil man-like forms is vigorously disputed (sterk omstreden), the criteria of human existence do not appear to lie in the area of fossils (fossiliseerbaarheid).” Also, “The evolution of the organism from inanimate material to man has not been proved” (pp. 168, 169).
However, these admissions notwithstanding, Dr. Lever makes the bold statements that, “…we may not reject the possibility beforehand that the origin of man has occurred by way of a being which according to its skeletal features and according to our norms and criteria was an animal” (p. 165). And likewise, “…that according to our opinion [i.e. Lever’s Qpinion] we as a Christian, the cardinal lacunas [gaps] in our knowledge notwithstanding, need not have a principal objection against the general hypothesis of a genetical continuity of all living organisms, man not excluded” (p. 169).
Dr. Lever is able to make these assertions because he restricts the area covered by Scripture to three “realities,” as he designates them. Genesis, so he contends, reveals to us first the origin of this world. Lever confesses that God created the world, but denies that the Bible tells us how God created the world and just what God produced by creation concretely. Next he claims that the Bible reveals to us what he calls “zin.” This term is not easily translated, but seems to indicate that the world is an incorporation of ideas. Things are not meaningless, but they have “sense.” Finally Lever mentions as a third “reality” revealed in the Bible the immanent purpose of creation. All creation is directed toward man, the image-bearer of God, who is to glorify God (cf. pp. 16, 17).
In these assertions Lever, to my mind, reveals a serious weakness of his book. There is a lack of proper and sufficient hermeneutical orientation—he fails to give due attention to the science and art of Scriptural interpretation. This appears especially in his generalization that the Bible does teach that God created the world, but not how God created all things. A sharp distinction is made between the fact and the manner in which it was produced. Creation is said to be God’s act—that is revealed in the Bible. However, Lever denies that the Bible tells us anything about the manner in which God performed this act.
Of course, all will admit that God works in a way mysterious to us, who are finite and, moreover, sinful and sin-stricken beings. This should be said not only in regard to the act of creation, but also in regard to God’s providence. Whenever God produces and touches things material, there is a contact which we cannot explain it is mysterious to us. However, God does know—the contact is not mysterious to Him. For that reason He is able to reveal it to us. God can do this. True, when God sees fit to do this, he employs all types of literature and figures in such revelations. Very frequently he uses the figure of anthropomorphism—he expresses himself in terms borrowed from human characteristics and experiences. However, whenever God expresses himself in such a figurative way, there must be a so-called tertium (third). That is to say, there must be a point in which the fact and its figurative presentation agree or compare. If such a tertium would be lacking, the revelation would not serve its purpose.
Dr. Lever appears to neglect this demand. So, for instance, the first chapter of Genesis certainly does present the creation of man as a separate and a distinct act of God, pertaining to him not only as a spiritual being, but as well to his material existence. Does the chapter give wrong information in that respect? Was the creation of man not a separate and distinct act? Is man the final product of a process running through millions of years, and is he organically related to all lower forms of life and, therefore, not the product of a distinct act of God? Suppose for a moment that man’s creation is to be understood as the end-product of an evolutionary process. Surely, if anyone, God would know this. But for what purpose does God then present it as an act distinct and separate from all his other acts of creation and as the realization of a distinct and divine deliberation and counsel? Granted that God employs anthropomorphisms, He does that for the purpose of making himself and his acts known to us.
It must impart information to us. Provided the tertium is grasped, the figure employed never leads us on a wrong track.
For that reason it should be considered a serious mistake to assume an absolute difference between the fact that God does a thing and the manner in which he does it. One even wonders whether it is possible to state simply that an act has been performed without describing at least something of the manner in which it was performed. The act and the manner are integrated even when figurative language is used to describe that act. Professor M. H. Woudstra remarks, “For one thing, the that and the how of creation are so intimately bound up together that it would be most harmful, if not fatal, to try to separate them as drastically as has been suggested.
“As soon as the how of creation is made the exclusive province of natural science, the doors are open for a type of evolution which would destroy the picture of man created at the beginning of human history, living in perfect fellowship with his Maker, and disobeying his God by an act of voluntary and willful transgression of a divine command” (Some Exegetical Remarks on Origins, p. 80).
Indeed, if the hypotheses of evolution are imposed upon the Biblical account of creation, it does not only change the conception of man and of his origin, but it certainly also implies an alteration of the doctrine of man’s state of rectitude and, therefore, of his judicial and moral relation to God. In fact, radical changes must be made in orthodox and Reformed doctrines concerning man’s creation and his original state, and such an article as the 14th of the Belgic Confession of Faith must be subjected to forced interpretation. Of course, we admit that doctrines and Confessions are subject to change. Scripture alone is infallible and authoritative. Doctrines as well as Confessions are amenable to Scripture. But such changes may only be made upon the basis of a serious and scholarly responsible study of the Word of God.
Dr. Lever marks such as seek to gather information from Scripture in regard to the manner in which God created man and the world as fundamentalists. One wonders just what Lever understands by “fundamentalism,” and what to him characterizes a “fundamentalist.” It is plain that the term, to Lever’s mind, describes an approach to Scripture which he rejects. But does that warrant the author to label those differing from him with a term, which, I think, is American in origin, but which has a different and more comprehensive connotation than Lever seems to think. At any rate, it may safely be assumed that American Fundamentalism would disown the men marked as fundamentalists by Lever. Moreover, for what purpose should men of Reformed convictions be placed in another than their own category. One wonders whether that is the most charitable way of expressing differences of opinion.
In line with the preceding is the contention of some that Scripture is a religious book, written in non-technical and non-scientific language, and that the knowledge it supplies is restricted to the religious sphere. The two revelations of God—the general and the special—are frequently coordinated and it is assumed that the authority of the one is as great as that of the other.
Dr. G. C. Berkouwer shows the fallacy of this position in his “De Algemeene Openbaring” (cf. especially pp. 236–239). Among other things he writes, “…it will not do to place the knowledge of nature without further description on the same plane with the knowledge of God’s general Revelation, for in that Revelation one is interested in the knowledge of God Himself.” Again, he states, “…the Revelation of God in those works [the works of God’s hands] is concerned about God’s Self-revelation and this is not found first of all by the investigations of natural science, but by faith, as this already reverberates in the Psalms of Israel.”
Moreover, Dr. Herman Bavinck states, “…when Scripture from its point of view, exactly as book of religion, comes in contact with other sciences and sheds its light also upon them…then it does not cease to be the Word of God all at once, but it remains that. Also when it speaks of the origin of heaven and earth it does not supply us with saga, or myth, or poetic phantasy, but also then it gives, according to its plain intent, history, which deserves faith and confidence. For that reason Christian theology, with but few exceptions, adhered to the literal, historical conception of the narrative of creation” (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, II, pp. 527, 528).
The exclusive assignment of Scripture to a restricted religious sphere is forced and artificial not only, but it goes contrary to Scripture itself. The Bible is indeed the Special Revelation of God—it is a means of God’s grace to restore man to himself. But it has not been placed in a vacuum. It speaks concerning all relationships in man’s present situation. It also speaks of nature and of nature’s God in no uncertain terms. It enables man to have a Biblical view of nature as well as of himself.
It will, of course, be understood that especially the first chapter of Genesis is the center of interest in this dispute. Reformed theologians are presenting an interpretation of the chapter which departs from that which was held generally in these circles. Dr. A. Noordtzij did that in his “Gods Woord en der Eeuwen Getuigenis,” (pp. 77–81) published in 1924. More recently Dr. N. H. Ridderbos has presented such a departure in an article in the Dutch journal “Bezinning” (lIe Jaargang—1956—No. 2) and also in a Pathway Book, “Is There a Conflict Between Genesis 1 and Natural Science?” These men favor what is called the “kader-opvatting,” a term translated by Professor M. H. Woudstra as “the frame-work hypothesis.” This hypothesis considers Genesis 1 to be an artistic presentation of God’s act of creation. It is not meant to imply a denial of the fact that God created man and the universe, but it does insist that the manner in which creation occurred and the order of the events in the narrative of the chapter are not intended to be indicated. Genesis 1 is considered more or less as an epic poem in which the fact that God created all things is celebrated, but from which no scientific data or information are to be gathered.
As the contact and conflict between orthodox Christianity and evolutionism are not recent, so this “framework hypothesis” is in essence not a newly discovered approach. Genesis 1 has always been a subject of controversy. Dr. H. Bavinck mentions four theories concerning the interpretation of this chapter, in his Gereformeerde Dogmatiek (Vol. II, pp. 521–527) . They are the idealistic, the restitutionary , the concordistic, and the anti-geological theories. The “frame-work hypothesis” should, it appears, be classified with what Bavinck calls the idealistic theory. He describes it as follows; “…it is so called, because it adheres only to the idea, not to the letter, of the narrative of creation. This theory sees no historical account in Genesis 1, but a poetic description of the creative acts of God. The six days are not chronologically arranged periods of longer or shorter duration, but only different points of view, from which the one created world is viewed each time, in order thus to supply to the limited view of man a better survey of the whole. Hence it is left entirely to palaeontology to determine the time, the manner, and the order of the origin of the various periods. It can be said that this theory was prepared by the allegorical exegesis, which from ancient times has been employed by the Christian church concerning Genesis 1.
“Closely related,” so Bavinck continues, “to this idealistic theory is the vision hypothesis…According to this hypothesis we are dealing in the narrative of creation with a prophetico-historical tableau, which God showed to the first man in a vision…”
In evaluating the various theories concerning the interpretation of Genesis 1 Dr. Bavinck states, “It is true that revelation can employ all types of literature, even fables, but whether a section of Scripture contains a poetic portraiture, a parable, or a fable, may not be accepted arbitrarily, but
must appear from the text itself. The first chapter of Genesis, however, contains in no sense a basis for the idea that we are there dealing with a vision or a myth; evidently it bears a historical character and constitutes the introduction of a book which presents itself as history from beginning to end. Neither is it possible to separate the facts themselves (the religiOUS contents) from the manner in which they are expressed, because, as for instance with Lagrange, the creation itself is held as a fact, but the days of creation, as form and outward manner of presentation -in fact, the entire order, in which creation came into being, collapses therewith, and the basis is removed for the institution of the week and of the sabbath, which according to Exodus 20; 11 is very definitely based on the six days of creation and the following rest of God” (p. 532).
These quotations from Dr. Bavinck, the eminent and erudite scholar, do not only warn us to be exceedingly careful, so that the history of dogmas as well as that of exegesis should be studied diligently, but they also indicate that Reformed scholarship should adhere to the approach to Genesis 1 as a historical account. Surely, the speculative and tillstable hypotheses of evolutionism may not control our interpretation of the infallible Word of God and, therefore, not of the first chapter of Genesis.
The following remark of Dr. Abraham Kuyper, made in his lecture on “Evolutie” (p. 47), has been quoted in support of a position which seeks to harmonize evolutionism with Scripture (or the reverse); “If it had pleased God not to create the species themselves, but to cause species to come forth from species, so that he would have adapted the preceding species to the production of the following higher [species], Creation would have been just as wonderful.” Aside from the fact that this statement should be read in the context of the entire lecture, which certainly denounces evolution, and aside from the fact that Kuyper does not say that he believes that there is a succession of species, it must be remarked that the reverse of this statement is likewise true; Creation is wonderful even though God has not been pleased to cause species to come forth from species, but to create the species separately and distinctly.
We conclude by quoting Professor Dr. J.J. Duyvene De Wit (Die Paleontologie as “Openbarende” Wetenskap, Kampen, 1957), who, I have been informed, is a natural scientist, trained in the Netherlands, but now teaching in South Africa, and who according to his own admission formerly subscribed to evolutionary conceptions, but now states, “As Christians we must not only reject this evolutionary faith, but to use a word from Abraham Kuyper’s classical lecture on Evolution of 1899 we must attack it. And since this attack on the part of Christians has to the present not been radical enough, a heavy guilt rests upon our shoulders, [namely] that we have to the present taken the task of a truly Christian philosophy of science with sorely little earnestness.”