By the theory of evolution men attempt to explain not only the development of the universe, with all that it contains, including organic life and man, but also the origin of all things.
Interest in this subject may be said to have been more or less dormant among us for some years or decades. Our specialists in the fields of the physical sciences ‘were doubtless interested, but, generally speaking, “our people” were not. Such men as A. Kuyper, H. Bavinck, W. Geesink, and other’s expressed their opinions on this subject either at the turn of the century or shortly thereafter. To the satisfaction of practically all, they proved the inconsistency of the theory with Scripture. Kuyper did this in his rectoral address “Evolutie” delivered in 1899, as well as in other writings. Bavinck expressed himself in “schepping of Ontwikkeling” (1901), in an essay on “Evolutie” in his “Verzamelde Opstellen,” as well as in his monumental “Gereformeerde Dogmatiek.” Geesink treated the subject extensively in his “Van’s Heeren Ordinantien.” The subject was, therefore, not neglected—the theory had been evaluated, but found wanting.
However, recently the theory of evolution is threatening to make inroads among us. Attempts are put forth by men of Reformed convictions to harmonize this theory with Scripture. Dr. J. Lever of the Free University of the Netherlands may be said to be one of the foremost—if not the foremost—of such as have undertaken this attempt. In 1956 he wrote a book on the subject and entitled it significantly “Creatie en [and] Evolutie.” This publication has drawn much attention and is being discussed by many. On this side of the Atlantic, for instance, Dr. Peter G. Berkhout has produced a translation of Lever’s book. Moreover, Rev. Leonard Verduin, though he expresses himself cautiously, nevertheless appears to be sympathetically inclined to Lever’s ideas (cf. his “Toward a Theistic Creationism,” published recently).
Now, it is true that the men who condemned evolution at the turn of the century, some of whom have been mentioned above, argued against materialistic, mechanistic or naturalistic evolution. That is to say, they opposed a theory which excludes any concept or act of God in the explanation of the origin and development of the world and of the universe. It assumes that the universe is self-contained and wholly sufficient to itself, so that it must itself supply answers to questions concerning its origin and development. It might, therefore, seem as if the arguments of such men as Kuyper should not be used against those who seek to introduce God and his acts of creation and of providence into the picture of evolution. The theory is different and therefore the arguments, so it is said, are not valid or applicable.
However, attempts at harmonizing evolutionism and creationism, that is, attempts to establish so-called theistic evolution, are not recent, In fact these were made during the latter part of the former century in Germany and in England, as well as in our own country. Moreover, such men as Kuyper, Bavinck, and Geesink were acquainted with these attempts. While they rejected the theory of materialistic evolution, they certainly did not accept theistic evolution. Kuyper refers to this in his famous lecture “Evolutie” and states, “Though there be points of contact, which we should not neglect, the basic [principieele] antithesis between theory and theory remains unimpaired and irreconcilable. Man is and remains created after the image of God, and the nature of the animal has not determined Our human existence, but, to the contrary, the entire lower cosmos was determined, paradigmatically [i.e. as after a pattern], by the central position of man” (p. 49).
Essentially, therefore, such men as Dr. Lever am not producing anything that is new and which has never before been scrutinized by Reformed scholars. If anything is recent it is that men who claim to be of Reformed persuasion subscribe to a great number of the hypotheses of presuppositions of evolutionism and seek to harmonize them with Scripture.
The situation briefly described above calls for consideration, The two pivotal questions demanding answers are: (1) Just what is the theory of evolution and with what authority does it come? and (2) What is the Bible, what information does it supply and how must it be interpreted? Neither of these questions can be avoided, The attempt is made to harmonize the two. Hence we must know what they are and with what authority they speak.
Origin of Evolutionism
Evolutionism is usually associated with Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882) and especially with the publication of his book “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” in 1859.
However, Darwin should by no means be considered the father of the theory. Others preceding him held to the theory. In fact, traces of it may be found in ancient Greek philosophy. But let us confine ourselves to modern times, and mention the following, though the list is not complete.
The German philosopher Leibnitz (1646–1716 )posited the principle or the law of continuity: all existing things are related. The French naturalist La-marck (1744–1829), who is said to be the pioneer of the theory of the evolution of species, taught that these adapted themselves to the environment. Another French naturalist was Cuvier (1769–1832), who is declared to have been the founder of comparative anatomy and whose knowledge, it is said, was so vast “…that he was literally able to reconstruct a whole animal from a single bone or tooth.” However, his history of the globe was “frankly catastrophic,” since he insisted “…that there was evidence for the occurrence in the past of cataclysms of world-wide extent.” The Scottish geologist Hutton (1726–1797) and the English geologist Lyell (1797–1875) developed the theory of uniformitarianism, which implies “…the general formula that the processes that have been at work on the earth in the past are the same as those now in operation and that it is not allowable to invoke any agent which cannot now be seen and proved to be effective.” Finally, it is interesting to note that Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802), the grandfather of Charles R. Darwin, wrote his “Zoollomia” and that in this publication he advanced the same evolutionistic ideas his grandson propagated years later.
This brief enumeration should indicate at least two things: First, these men, as well as others, helped to create the congenial atmosphere in which Darwin’s “Origin of Species” could receive such an enthusiastic reception. They prepared the world of thought for Darwin’s work. Second, the theory of evolution was not the product of a scrupulous observation of facts, but, to the contrary, a product of philosophy. It is a hypothesis or supposition which men have adopted for the purpose of trying to explain the origin and the development of things.
Charles Robert Darwin
However, with the publication of Darwin’s “Origin of Species” in 1859, this theory became immensely popular. It has been in control of and given impetus and direction to scientific investigations since that time. Who, then, was Charles Robert Darwin and what did he do? He was the grandson and son of physicians. He studied medicine for a little while but rusliked and ruscontinued it. Upon the urging of his father, who was a nominal member of the Church of Englanu, he took a course in theology in preparation for the ministry in the English Episcopal Church. However, he never took orders. Even while he pursued the courses in theology he spent much time in the study of nature, collecting insects and observing birds. Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield states, “Mr. Darwin himself doubted whether the religious sentiment [italic mine] was ever strongly developed in him…” ( Studies in Theology, p. 543). From 1831 to 1836 Darwin made a voyage around the world with the English brig, The Beagle and collected material for his “Origin of Species”…Darwin’s distinction was not that he produced the theory of evolution, but that he contributed the idea of natural selection to this theory. This idea was immediately hailed as a substantiation of the theory of evolution and as a method by which evolution occurs. Darwin’s idea of natural selection insists that plant and animal species are changing constantly. Moreover, these changes are retained when they are beneficial to the struggle for existence and life (survival of the fittest) and are, therefore, inherited by the offspring. At first Darwin is said to have hesitated to include man in this supposed process. However, his theory was accepted by Huxley in England and by Haeckel and Vogt in Germany. These men did include man in the process and Darwin yielded.
It should be understood that though the theory of evolution has succeeded in entering a great many fields of scientific endeavor, including theology, the two branches of science which may be said to nourish the theory are geology and palaeontology. Geology studies the structure of the earth, its rocks and strata, and seeks to determine their origin and the manner of their formation. Palaeontology deals with the remains of animals and plants (fossils) found buried in the rocks, which are either impressions left in the rocks during their formation or skeletal remains of animals—hence not the muscles and organs, but only the whole or part of the bone structure of these beings.
Moreover, evolutionists labor with hypotheses or presuppositions. These are the points of view from which its defenders approach the objects of their investigations. They seek to prove the validity of their assumed hypotheses and have labored intensively, especially during the latest century—that is, since the publication of Darwin’s “Origin of Species” in 1859. It goes without saying that these hypotheses are important for the proper evaluation of evolutionism. Hence some should be mentioned.
1. The “lex continui” or law of continuity of Leibnitz, which insists that there is an unbroken connection between everything that exists. Similarities are, therefore, to be explained by this supposed relationship.
2. The law of uniformity or the uniformitarianism of Hutton and Lyell, which insists that the forces now in operation have always operated. Hence one may and should reason from the present to the past.
3. The law of natural selection of Darwin, which insists that in the struggle for existence characteristics and organs either develop or atrophy, waste away, and that such acquired characterstics and organs are inherited by the offspring. There is, therefore, said to be a survival of the fittest.
4. Based upon the preceding it is assumed that there is an evolution, a development, from the lower to the higher forms of organic existence. The uni-cellular organism develops into the complex forms of existence the animal develops into man.
Only a Theory
It is, of course, a fact that the theory of evolution has held sway in practically all scientific endeavors during the latest century. It has controlled research and speculation. Moreover, those who dare to deny the theory are considered to be behind time. For that reason it is necessary to emphasize the truth that evolutionism, its great popularity notwithstanding, is only a theory, a hypothesis, a product of speculation. It is an assumed position upon the basis of which men reason and conduct experiments. These am not statements contrived by anti-evolutionists, but facts admitted by evolutionists themselves. The Encyclopedia Britannica states, “In modern geological work biological evolution is assumed [italic mine], either explicitly or implicitly, though no postulates are necessarily made as to how it is brought about” (Vol. X, p. 171). In evolutionism we are, therefore, dealing with a speculative approach to the universe and life; it is a philosophy. Such a speculative or philosophic approach may not be wrong in itself, but it is wrong to present such a philosophy as an undeniable and well-established fact. That is begging the question and taking for granted the matter in dispute.
Faith in the theory of evolution has been compared and even identified with the Christian faith in the Bible. It is said that when one chooses to subscribe to the hypothesis of evolution or when one exercises faith in the truth of the Bible, an identical act is performed—in both cases mere assumptions are made. Those at all acquainted with the Biblical teaching concerning faith will at once detect the fallacy of this misleading comparison. Faith in the Bible is different in character and its object is different. True saving faith is not an assumption but is wrought by God’s Spirit in men’s hearts and is preceded by regeneration, effectual calling, and it is implied in conversion. Moreover, the object of this saving faith is not creation, marred by the effects of sin, but the infallible Word of God, especially revealed for the purpose, not only to be a means of grace to restore man to God, but also to enable man to view all things in the light of this revealed truth. No comparison can, therefore, be made between “faith” in the theory of evolution and faith in the Bible. They are essentially different.
Basic Scientific Faults
In addition, though the defenders of evolutionism may perhaps unwittingly suppress this fact, it is nevertheless true that it labors under very serious scientific handicaps. Mention should be made of the method and the reasoning employed.
The method regularly employed by consistent evolutionists is highly precarious, to say the least. This method is unique in historical investigations. In such pursuits the historian invariably starts from the past and works towards the present. Early records are investigated and their development traced to the present. Evolutionists seek to establish the history of the earth and of organic life and am in that sense historians. However, their method is the reverse of that of ordinary historians. The evolutionists start from the present and attempt to work towards the past. Of course, this method is in itself legitimate, but it is exceedingly hazardous and its products of conclusions are ever insecure.
Moreover, the evolutionists are guilty of reasoning in a circle. As has been stated the two branches of science which al’e supposed to supply the evolutionists with information are geology and palaeontology—the rocks and the fossils. Now evolutionists will reason and draw conclusions from one to the other and vice versa. At times the rocks and their strata are used to determine the age of the fossils found in them and at other times the fossils are used to determine the age of the rocks. That is to say, evolutionists persistently seek to determine the supposed succession or evolution of organisms by a study of the formation of the rocks, while at the same time the ages of the rocks are determined by the fossils found in them. This is reasoning in a circle and an error which, I suppose, would not be countenanced in any other science. The method as well as the logic of evolutionism must, therefore, be challenged.
Again, the vaunted scientific method of evolutionism is not what many claim it to be. Present-day science insists upon the inductive method. That is, it reasons from particulars to the general, from observed and established facts to a common cause. However, evolutionism approaches the world and life with assumed ideas and hypotheses. Hence it reasons deductively—from an assumed cause to effects—and it seeks to prove its assumptions by observations. In itself such a method may be permissible. In fact, scholars must often work in that way—they adopt hypotheses and work by trial and error. However, this method is inconsistent with the positivism to which consistent evolutionists subscribe. They intend to reason inductively, but actually revert to the deductive method, all their intentions notwithstanding.
Not only the speculative chamcter of evolutionism bitt also the impatience of its advocates is brought out by the scarcity of infonnation at hand.
In regard to palaeontology, the Encyclopedia Britannica states, “much still remains to be done in the remoter and less developed regions [of the earth]…” (Vol. X, p. 171 ). In “The Story of Creation” (reprints from Christian Life Magazine) we read, “To date only a fraction of one percent of the earth’s fossiliferous layers have been examined. How can we safely make a family-tree when we do not have a large enough sample of organisms that have lived in the past?” (p.11 ) It is reasonable to demand that all, or at least most, information should be at hand and properly classified before conclusions are drawn. Evolutionism is impatient in seeking to establish its assumed position.
Moreover, evolutionism does not present a united front. Scholars do not only disagree in regard to opinions concerning the age of fossils discovered, but likewise concerning their nature (whether they are remains of man or not), and even concerning the certainty of the operation of the laws they have assumed. So, for instance, the Hutton-Lyell law of uniformitarianism, a bastion of evolutionary science, is being undermined. The Encyclopedia Britannica states, “It has also come to be recognized that in past ages processes probably were, at certain times at any rate, more active and intense than they are now though there is no proof that processes ever differed notably in kind from those now in operation.” This is a cautious acknowledgment, but an acknowledgment nevertheless, and important. This same source states that Cuvier “…rejected entirely all ideas of organic continuity and postulated fresh creations of new forms of animals and plants. It is interesting…to find that after a century of the quietistic uniformitarianism of Hutton and Lyell, there are now signs of a return to a form of catastrophism, though without a complete destruction of life.” And also, “…there is now a growing feeling that it [uniformitarianism] has been pushed too far, though true in its main features…” (See Vol. X, pp. 156, 157). It is a known fact that evolutionists are by no means agreed among themselves concerning the results of their investigations and concerning the significance of the information gathered.
It should also be remarked, though without a chuckle on our part, but as a matter of fact, that evolutionistic scientists can be deceived, as in the case of the well-known Piltdown man. A skull of a man was discovered in England in 1912. Experts considered this skull “to be not less than 100,000 years old.” However, in 1954 this proved to be a hoax. In this instance evolutionists had been deceived for a period of some 40 years!
Warfield and Bavinck
What then should be said in regard to this? In “The Story of Creation” the conclusion is drawn, “Obviously then, all that science has developed so far on the origin of life is speculation” (p. 7).
In addition, two eminent theologians may be quoted. It is true that these are not natural scientists and may for that reason be considered disqualified by experts in this field. Yet, I trust, these experts will be interested in knowing how others see them and evaluate their methods and products.
Dr. B. B. Warfield writes, “What most impresses the layman as he surveys the whole body of these evolutionary theories in the mass, is their highly speculative character. If what is called ‘science’ means careful observation and collection of facts and strict induction from them of the principles governing them, none of these theories have much obvious claim to be ‘scientific.’ They are speculative hypotheses set forth as possible or conceivable explanations of the facts” (Critical Reviews, pp. 184, 185).
Dr. Herman Bavinck, a most erudite scholar, who is known to bend over backward to do justice to the views of his opponents, states, “For the time being it should be recommended t hat geology, which is, relatively speaking, still such a youthful science and which, though it has investigated much, must yet investigate such an endless amount, would restrict itself to the gathering of material and would refrain from the construction of conclusions and the positing of hypotheses. She [i.e. geology] is as yet absolutely unable to do that and must exercise patience for a long time before she is competent and able to do that” (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, II, p.529 ).
Though both Warfield and Bavinck wrote these things some years ago, yet no radical change has occurred in the situation since that time. Their evaluations and advices should be taken to heart today.
*In the second installment, to appear in the November issue, Mr. Monsma will discuss Dr. Lever’s views.