A CONFUSED STATE OF AFFAIRS
In the preceding article it was stated that the situation is in a great flux in the Netherlands Gereformeerde Kerken. Movement and change are occurring in more than one respect. N. J. H. writes in the issue of Gereformeerd Weekblad of June 19, 1964, “Whoever knows anything about the tensions (in the Gereformeerde Kerken) as for instance between theology and the natural sciences, the problems (connected) with the exegesis of the Old and New Testament, (and) the totally new view (visie) concerning Holy Writ, must be convinced that we neither can nor may proceed any longer in the traditional harness.” One gets the impression that the entire system is being overhauled.
That in itself constitutes a critical situation. However, I have the impression that this is aggravated by the methodology employed. As well as J am able to discern, these attacks on the “traditional” system are being made piecemeal. No complete and fully developed system is offered as a substitute. Thus, for instance, Genesis 1-3 and also Genesis 1·11 are being re-interpreted according to the demands of evolutionism. However, I have failed to find a discussion of these sections in the light of all of Scripture and also in the light of basic Scriptural and Reformed doctrine. 1 am thinking of such texts as Exodus 20:11; Psalm 24:2, 104:5–9; Matthew 19:4–6; Romans 5:14; I Corinthians 15:22, 45; II Corinthians 11 :3; I Timothy 2:13, 14.
Moreover, the situation is all the more serious because Genesis 1–3 are involved. These chapters are so basic that, if they are neglected or misinterpreted, the entire system of doctrine is altered and may even collapse. Without their propel’ interpretation no one can arrive at a Scripturally sound doctrine of sin -its beginning, its spread and the responsibility for its occurrence. But the doctrine of sin is inseparably connected with that of redemption, which involves God Triune and especially the Christ. The one depends upon the other. For that reason one cannot refrain from desiring that the proponents of the “new approaches” supply us with a complete picture and explain how their “adjusted exegesis” affects all the rest. That, it seems to me, would be the proper and scholarly thing to do.
Meanwhile they should refrain from using labels in discriminately. Proponents of the “new approaches” are all too eager to attach the label of “fundamentalism” to their opponents. They appear to be at a loss to say just what this label indicates. Why use it then? Moreover, the label has been borrowed from those who deny the truth of Scripture. That origin makes it precarious for Bible-believing Christians to use against each other.1
THE CHRISTIAN REFORMED CHURCH
Until very recently the Christian Reformed Church (C.R C.) has set itself against evolutionism. The controversy issuing in the Synod of Assen in the Netherlands (1926) did not affect the church in America to any appreciable extent. If my memory serves me well, the pronouncements of the Synod of Assen seemed to meet with general approval among the constituency of the Christian Reformed Church.
However, this church did interest itself in the theory of evolution and in the interpretation of Genesis 1–3 shortly after World War II. In 1946 the first Reformed Ecumenical Synod (R.E.S.) was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Die Gereformeerde Kerk in Suid Afrika placed the matter of evolutionism upon the agendum, stating that it desired the synod to concern itself with “…the fundamental significance of the antithesis and the position of the Reformed faith over against evolution.” The committee of the Christian Reformed Church which prepared a tentative agendum for the Ecumenical Synod phrased the matter as follows: “No doubt this Church has in mind: God or Evolution, Plan of Chance? Perhaps also we should state plainly how the doctrine of creation or the philosophy of evolution basically controls all our thinking.” The synod at its sessions appointed a “Committee on Evolution,” consisting of Dr. S. du Toit, Dr. H. G. Stoker, Dr. G. Eloff and Rev. P. C. Snyman.
The R.E.S. which met in Amsterdam in 1949 received a report of their committee but did not act favorably upon its proposals. Instead it adopted three guiding principles, which it offered for serious consideration to the Reformed churches. These principles are:
“1. The historical character of the revelation in Genesis 1 and 2 must be maintained without compromise. These two chapters offer no data to justify a symbolical or visionary interpretation or to treat them as a meaningful myth.
“2. The true, completely trustworthy description by God of his work of creation is given to us in a humanly intelligible form, so that, although it does not constitute an adequate (i.e., full, exhaustive) representation of this divine act, it is sufficient for us to acknowledge and glorify him as ow Creator.
“3. In maintaining the historical character of Genesis 1 and 2 the Church rejects all evolutionary teaching which either rules out God entirely. or conceives of God as dependent upon the process of a so-called creative evolution, or allows for him to enter into the process only incidentally.
“4. The human form of the revelation should prompt the Church to proceed with modesty and caution, and to refrain from making various kinds of pronouncements in the field of natural science.”
In response to these pronouncements of the second R.E.S. the synod of the Christian Reformed Church (1951) appointed a committee to study these “guiding principles.” The committee consisted of Dr. John De Vries, Dr. Peter C. Berkhout and the Rev. John Griffioen. It advised the Synod of 1953 “to accept these decisions.” However, the committee added certain “provisos and declarations.” So it was stated, for instance, that our people should understand that these “decisions” were not to be placed on par with our Forms of Unity. Though the decisions should be taken seriously, yet “…we should not consider the person a heretic who deviates from them in the slightest degree.” The expression “historical character” applied to Genesis 1 and 2 requires, according to the committee “further elucidation.” Besides, the committee emphasized “the difficulty of the problem of Creation and Evolution” and states, “Reformed theologians are constantly modifying their stand and re-evaluating their interpretations of Scripture, particularly of Genesis 1 and 2.”
However, this synod (1953) also received a communication of Dr. Edwin Y. Monsma, in which he urged synod “not to adopt the advice given by the committee on ‘Creation and Evolution,’…which favors the acceptance of the three ‘guiding principles’ adopted by the Ecumenical Synod…in 1949.” Dr. Monsma considered the first of these guiding principles “by itself acceptable.” But he felt that “…the term ‘historical’ needs further elucidation;” and continued, “Such an elucidation was set forth by principles 2 and 3 of the Ecumenical Synod but their statement of these principles is ambiguous and insufficient.” Monsma thereupon enlarged upon his objections (pp. 181–184 of the Acts of 1953 should be consulted for this information).
The advisory committee of the Synod of 1953 (to be distinguished from the study committee reporting to this synod) recommended, “‘That Synod concur in the decisions adopted by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod of 1949 re ‘Creation and Evolution.’” The second ground upon which this recommendation was based reads as follows, ‘These three principles embody the basic Scriptural and creedal principles which our Church has always confess” (sic).
However, Synod rejected the recommendation of the advisory committee and adopted the following resolutions instead:
“1. That Synod appreciates in the statements submitted by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod on the subject of ‘Creation and Evolution’ the maintenance of the Bible as the infallible Word of God, and the historicity of the Biblical account of creation.
“2. That Synod expresses its dissatisfaction with the second and third guiding principles in their present form because they do not distinguish with sufficient clarity between the Reformed position on the one hand and the positions of so-called theistic evolution and the dialectic theology on the other hand.
“3. That Synod suggests to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod that the whole matter be studied anew.”
These resolutions were forwarded to the Third R.E.S. meeting in Edinburgh that same year, 1953. After due consideration the R.E.S. decided as follows:
“In consideration of the objections raised by the Christian Reformed Church (U.S.A.)…to the decisions taken by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod of 1949 (Amsterdam) on the question of ‘Creation and Evolution,’ synod decides to appoint a committee to re-study the points objected to, and such others as the Committee may deem necessary; the Committee to report to the next Reformed Ecumenical Synod.”
The committee appointed for this purpose consisted of “Prof. J. Lever (Convener), Prof. A. D. R. Polman, Prof. Jonker, Rev. Dr. Oosterhof and Prof. W. H. Gispen.”
POTCHEFSTROOM AND THE SYNOD OF THE C.R.C.
The committee appointed at Edinburgh and consisting, I think, exclusively of men from the Netherlands, reported to the fourth Reformed Ecumenical Synod assembled in Potchefstroom, South Africa, in 1958. This report consists largely of a defense of the “guiding principles” adopted at Amsterdam, 1949 against the objections of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church (1954). However, one or two amendments were made and “decision” IV is significant. It states, “…that it is not advisable for the Reformed Ecumenical Synod to pronounce judgment on the theological and scientific concepts which, while professing to observe the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2 have still to be elaborated…”
Moreover, the report of this committee, which seems to have been “duly adopted” in toto by the Synod, contains some striking statements, as for instance,
“The Reformed Ecumenical Synod in Amsterdam suggested three general principles for serious consideration by the Reformed Churches. We consider it relevant to stress this point. The wording indicates that these principles were not laid down as confessionally binding. Although submitted for serious consideration, there was no suggestion that these pronouncements would be endorsed by the Synods of the participating Churches. There was, in fact, not even a suggestion as to how they should be studied. When the statement of the Christian Reformed Church refers to ‘guiding principles,’ the intention is given stronger emphasis than the Reformed Ecumenical Synod had apparently intended…Careful scrutiny reveals that Synod (of Amsterdam) was reluctant about peremptorily rejecting any concept of evolution as such. Similarly, Synod has refrained from intimating what concept of evolution would be acceptable. Synod has merely directed the attention of the Churches to the fact that acceptance of the ‘historicity of the revelation in Genesis 1 and 2’ implies that a Reformed scientific researcher should observe the fact that Divine creation should be the starting-point of scientific investigation.'”
I am afraid that these assertions have not clarified the situation. If anything they have made it still more murky. However, this Synod (1958) also decided,
The delegates of the Christian Reformed Church to the Ecumenical Synod of Potchefstroom (1958) gave a full report to the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church (1959) concerning the decisions made at Potchefstroom. Upon the recommendation of the advisory committee the Synod of 1959 decided to “…receive as information the answer of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod to objections raised by the Christian Reformed Church to the second and third guiding principles on Creation and Evolution previously adopted by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod.” The fact that these decisions were “received as information,” indicates, it seems to me, that Synod decided “to withhold action” (see Rules for Synodical Procedure, p. 18). Hence the resolutions of 1953 still stand, so that the objections to the second and third guiding principles of Amsterdam have not been removed and the first of these principles must be considered in force, “The historical character of the revelation in Genesis 1 and 2 must be maintained without compromise. These two chapters offer no data to justify a symbolical or visionary interpretation or to treat them as a meaningful myth.”
That appears to be the position of the Christian Reformed Church—it insists upon the “historical character” of Genesis 1 and 2. Of course, I realize that there will he quibbles about the term “historical,” but let us not forget that in plain English this means an accurate representation of facts or events which have occurred. There certainly is no reason to doubt that both the Ecumenical Synod and the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church meant to say just that when employing the term “historical.” In view of this position of the Christian Reformed Church it is strange, to say the least, that evolutionism, be it theistic, is being taught in Calvin College. As a matter of fact it may be noted that neither the views of the committee composed of South African men, nor the views of the Christian Reformed Church of America have been upheld by the R.E.S., but that the views of the men of the Netherlands have been supported consistently.
DR. MARCEL AND HIS QUESTIONS FOR STUDY
As stated above the R.E.S. of Potchefstroom decided to urge the International Association for the Reformed Faith and Action to interest itself in the matter of evolutionism (Acts, p. 61). The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church endorsed this decision in 1959. In the International Reformed Bulletin (the official Organ of the Association) of May, 1961, Dr. Pierre Ch. Marcel of France responded to this request of the R.E.S. by publishing a questionnaire on evolutionism. As many as 91 (ninety-one) questions are put forth by Dr. Marcel covering seven fields. These he entitled, “Geology and Paleontology,” “Biology and Associated Sciences,” “Theories Concerning the Appearance of ‘Life’,” “The Dogma of the Two Natures,” “General Questions,” “Internal Criticism of Fundamentally a-Priori Ideas,” “Facts, Hypotheses, and Science.”
It is impossible to reproduce all ninety-one questions here. However, I submit a few samples:
“Are the lines of descent a scientific reality? Are they observable on the paleontological level? Do we not rather find ‘major systematic discontinuities between the orders’?” “Is it possible to make the animal descent of man plausible on the level of paleontology?”
“Is not the dogma of a ‘progressive evolution’ (macroevolution) refuted today on the paleontological level, and do not the facts point rather, in every domain, to a ‘regressive evolution’?,”
“What authentic facts are opposed to the transmissibility of acquired characteristics?”
“Do not the observable facts lead to the confirmation of the stability of the lines?”
“Does (the theory of evolution ) not proclaim that which has never been founded on scientific facts, but which was and still is a ‘dogma’?”
“Is there any scientific probability of a ‘physico-chemical miracle,’ a ‘spontaneous generation’ producing a unicellular organism? A molecule of albumen? A protein of high dissymetry? A Virus?”
“Could the hypothesis of general organic evolution survive without the dogma of the autonomy (deification) of theoretical reason?”
“Are not the resemblances established by morphological comparisons most frequently purely geometrical, while they neglect to take into account the complete sphere of the animal constituted as a living organism with its ‘specific organic excitability’?”
All these and similar questions are pertinent and call for answers. Considering the situation and the many unanswered questions it is still proper to remind ourselves of the statement made by the late Dr. B. B. Warfield, “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).
THE CREATION RESEARCH SOCIETY
No one will deny that evolutionism is popular today. Neither can it be denied that evolutionists rather frequently assume an attitude of superiority, as if those differing from them are not qualified to speak with a degree of authority on matters pertaining to the natural sciences. In other words, the opponents are frequently considered to be behind the times and out of step with modern trends.
For that reason it is no wonder that scientists who cannot subscribe to the theory of evolution and are “creationists” have recently organized the Creation Research Society. “Active membership (in this society) at present is limited to scientists having an M.S. (or equivalent in experience), Ph.D., Sc., Ed.D., or M.D. Degrees.” The “inner-core steering committee” of this society includes two members having a B.S. degree, three having an M.S. degree; ten having a Ph.D. degree; one having an M.D. degree; one having an Ed.D. degree and one a B.S. degree. Among them are found two geologists, one biochemist; one nuclear physicist; one archeologist; three geneticists; one medical doctor; four biologists; one specialist in science education; one specialist in hydraulics and hydrology; one geophysicist; one specialist in the philosophy of science and one chemist.
There is also a “sustaining non-voting membership,” which is open to those who subscribe to the “statement of belief” of the society. Hence “non-scientists” may in that way support the society, but, I assume, have no voice in the shaping of the policies or the procedures of the organization. The Statement of belief is as follows:
“1. The Bible is the written Word of God, and because it is inspired throughout, all its assertions are historically and scientifically true in all the original autographs. To the student of nature thiS means that the account of origins in Genesis is a factual presentation of simply historical truths.
“2. All basic types of living things, including man, were made by direct creative acts of God during Creation Week described in Genesis. Whatever biological changes have occurred since Creation Week have accomplished only changes within the original created kinds.
“3. The great Flood described in Genesis, commonly referred to as the Noachian Flood, was an historic event worldwide in its extent and effect.
“4. We are an organization of Christian men of science who accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The account of the special creation of Adam and Eve as one man and woman and their subsequent fall into sin is the basis for our belief in the necessity of a Savior for all mankind. Therefore, salvation can come only through accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior.”
For those interested it may be added that the address of the society is 4090 Geddes Road, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
HUGHES – CHRISTIANITY AND THE PROBLEMS OF ORIGINS
Finally I would mention that Dr. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes of London, England, has this year published a sizeable pamphlet entitled Christianity and the Problems of Origins, in which he exposes the fallacies of evolutionism. This booklet is to be reviewed in this periodical soon. However, mention of its publication is made at this time and in this connection to indicate that the matter of evolutionism, including “theistic” evolutionism, is not a settled issue. Not a few seem to think so. But thereby they fail to face the problems which the theory of evolution produces for Bible-believing Christians.
1. After writing this article 1 received Gereformeerd Weekblad (July 3, 19(4) in which there appears additional evidence of confusion existing in the Netherlands churches in regard to the interpretation of Genesis I , cf. art. in that issue by Dr. J. L. Koole of Kampen on “Vragen over Genesis 1.”