The Christian View of Science and Scripture
BERNARD RAMM, B.D., M.A., Ph.D.
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapid., 1954. 368 pp.
In this book the author attempts to bring into harmony the ideas of present clay science and evangelical Christianity. He believes that since God is the author of the Bible as well as the creator of the universe, these two revelations should speak the same language. He finds, however, that there is a wide difference in viewpoint between the present-day scientist and the evangelical Christian with reference to many questions that deal with the origin of the universe including animals, plants, and man. Dr. Ramm contends that, “in view of the present antagonism of science to evangelical Christianity this situation will continue and perhaps grow worse if no reconciliation takes place. The movement of reconciliation may come from the scientist or from the evangelical…However, for any positive and successful reconciliation of science and evangelicalism the obligation is upon the evangelical. It is up to him to set forth the terms of rapprochement.”
The author is of the opinion that evangelicalism has been exceedingly slow in finding the way of rapprochement. He puts the blame for this largely at the door of those who support a type of fundamentalism which he calls “hyperorthodoxy” and which, in his opinion, has no real idea of the relationship of Scripture and science because it lacks such scientific knowledge as is indispensable to a knowledge of the Bible. The “hyperorthodox have developed an exaggerated sense of what loyalty to the Bible means.” Their position “makes the words of God and the work of God to clash.”
“Their efforts in the past have increased the gap between Christianity and science, have embittered the scientists, and have done little to provide a working theory of any creative dimensions for the rapprochement of science and evangelicalism.”
Dr. Ramm sets himself to the task of pointing out a better way. He suggests that the Christian will want to reckon with the following basic ideas: “1. The doctrine of creation is fundamental to Christian and Biblical theology. 2. Science needs the light of revelation. 3. Revelation needs the perspectives of science. 4. Both science and theology are fundamental human pursuits.”
These statements are acceptable when correctly interpreted and when given equal Significance. This the author does not do. He overemphasizes the third idea at the expense of the first and the second, and reveals a one-sided perspective which is not “the perspective of science” but that of a modem science which has no regard for special revelation. It is this perspective which determines the author’s view of creation. Neglecting to take into consideration the effect of sin and the results of the curse which followed it, he assumes that the creation with which science is concerned is creation as it came from the hands of the Creator. This leads him to consider the universe as inherently imperfect. “The universe,” says he, “must contain all possible ranges of goodness. One of these grades of goodness is that it can fail in goodness….The system of creation or the perfection of the universe requires that which is corruptible and that which can fail in its goodness. Creation is not the best in every Single part for animals are not immortal. But this creation is the best creation when seen as a whole, an entirety….Avenging justice could only be praised if there were injustice; and patient suffering could be a virtue only in the presence of injustice.”
“The entire system of Nature involves tigers and lions, storms, high tides. diseases, and parasites.” These, the author contends, were put into creation for probation and judgment even before the fall of man. “Man,” he says, “was not created in Paradise. but created and then placed there to know the marvelous place he was to inhabit. We cannot speculate too freely as to the nature of that existence. but we presume it was sheltered existence from the necessary violences of the system of Nature. His expulsion from the Garden back into the general system of Nature was a great judgment. The tiger, the thistle, the storm, and the plague are now problems directly in the lap of man. The imperfection of Nature now become part of the judgment upon man.” The author’s reasoning here is strictly along rationalistic lines. Professor Berkouwer in his book on “The Providence of God” points out that “Rationalism traces evil (i.e. physical evil. pain, suffering, etc.) to meta-physical evil (imperfection) and metaphysical evil to the necessary nature of God’s creation. Thus he views evil as an integral ingredient of finite existence. But the Scriptures never analyze suffering and death apart from the relation between sin and judgment.”
Dr. Ramm further makes the assumption that since the Bible does not tell us how God created, this information can be gained from science. In discussing a Christian philosophy of nature he states “…the Bible tells us emphatically that God created but is silent as to how God created.” This statement leads the author to the conclusion that. since the Bible does not give us scientific information about the how of creation, such information must come from empirical science. He says. “Only by the ponderous methods of science followed through centuries of time do we commence to unravel the how of the universe.”
I question whether one can still speak of “Creation” when the process can be explained upon the basis of observed natural phenomena. Is this not assuming that creation is still in progress? What becomes of creation as a distinct. unique. and completed work of God? Or what is the meaning of Hebrews 11:3: “By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the Word of God so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear?”
The author’s position leads him to a view which he calls “progressive creation” and defines as creation by law. In his amplification of the term he gives an explanation of the creative process which might well be designated as theistic evolution. But he does not want to call it that because he does believe in a certain amount of fiat creation. “This is not,” he says, “theistic evolution which calls for creation from within with no acts de novo...From time to time the great creative acts de novo, took place.” From a statement in the chapter on biology it appears that the author confines fiat creation to the production of the initial living organisms. He states: “We accept progressive creation which teaches that over the millions of years of geologic history God has been fiatly creating higher and higher forms of life. Progressive creation tries to free itself from loaded a priori assumptions. and tries seriously to be inductive and empirical.” It is evident that in the author’s opinion the processes which took place during the six days of creation were for the most part ordinary natural processes.
This viewpoint determines his interpretation of Astronomy. Geology, Biology, and Anthropology. In the chapter on Geology he defends a moderate concordism which partially identifies the six creation days with the long eras of geologic time. However, in his opinion, the six days are not actual days nor long periods of time but “pictorial days.” “We believe,” he says, “that creation was revealed in six days, not performed in six days. We believe that the six days are pictorial revelatory days, not literal days nor age-days.” In all his thinking, however, the author assumes the correctness of modern geology with its uniformitarian principle which makes no distinction between creation and post-creation and which leads to a belief in extremely long creation days.
In sections devoted to a discussion of evolution and theistic evolution, in the chapter on Biology, Dr. Ramm fails to distinguish between secondary creation and providence, two ideas which should be kept clearly distinct in our interpretation of Genesis according to Professor Aalders. “It will not do,” says Aalders, “to differentiate so sharply between primary and secondary creation that only primary creation is considered as a unique work of God, whereas the secondary creation is in reality identified with providence.” In Dr. Hamm’s book we find not only an identification of secondary creation with providence but a further identification of secondary creation with evolution. Although evolution, in his opinion, can never be the actual or primary cause of the universe, it could be its secondary cause. He says, “The only possible status, which evolution could have is that of any other scientific law, viz., that of mediate or secondary causation.”
The author concludes the section of evolution by saying; “evolution may be entertained as a possible secondary cause or mediate cause of biological science. When he comes to the question, “What is there at issue in evolution,” Dr. Ramm states that the answer depends upon your answer to two other questions; “When is any scientific theory anti-christian?” and “Is evolution in essence anti-christian?” His answer is: “A theory is anti-christian when it denies something in Christian metaphysics, i.e. when it attacks the very roots of the Christian faith.” If it can de demonstrated, therefore, that evolution is contrary to Christian metaphysics it should be rejected. But if, as the author holds, “evolution is purely a secondary law, if it is derivative creation, then it has no profound metaphysical status, and can be tolerated in Christianity. If it is a secondary law in biology, and not the metaphysics of creation, an element in providence, then evolution is as harmless as, say the relativity theorie.”
It is clear from these quotations that Dr. Ramm is not averse to the idea of theistic evolution. He claims, however, that he is not a theistic evolutionist but a progressive creationist because “that theory of the relationship of God’s work and God’s Holy Word make the most sense” to him. There appears, however, to be very little if any difference between the author’s idea of progressive creation and that of theistic evolution when defined as secondary creation. The most serious objection to the author’s position, in my judgment, is that he makes of creation, at least of secondary creation, a process which can be identified with the processes of nature as we sec them today. In so doing, he fails to do justice to the distinctive character of God’s work during creation, to the cosmic significance of the fall, and consequently to the cosmic significance of Christ’s redemptive work. These are matters of vital importance to Christianity.
The author’s consistent faith in modern science and particularly in the principle of uniformitarianism, which implies that past events can be determined by the study of present changes because it is assumed that the causes for such changes have always been the same, is once more evident in his chapter on Anthropology. He says, “We believe that modern science has demonstrated a great antiquity of man, relatively speaking. His antiquity of somewhere near 500,000 years is large compared to Ussher’s 4,004 B.C. but recent compared to the 500 minion years ago when life is abundantly detected in the rocks.” Dr. Ramm recognizes that this presents certain difficulties; for instance, we re.”l.d of Adam and Eve in the garden in the third chapter of Genesis; in the fourth chapter we read about significant cultural developments. The science of anthropology tells us that man originated some 500,000 years ago and that civilization had its origin from 8,000 to 16,000 B.C. It is hardly justifiable to place hundreds of thousands of years between the accounts of Genesis 3 and 4. This the author calls the most vexing problem, the solution of which must await more information from science and exegesis before we can come to a harmony between Genesis and anthropology. He reminds his readers “of Torrey’s excellent advice about Bible problems: ‘The fact that you cannot solve a difficulty does not prove it cannot be solved, and the fact that you cannot answer an objection does not prove that it can not be answered’.”
Such advice is small comfort in this situation. Likewise the author’s reasoning when he caUs attention to the fact that there is a certain amount of agreement between geology and the Scriptures, i.e., that man is the latest major form to appear on the earth. “If we grant the anthropologist his 200,000 or 500,000 or 900,000 years, man is still a very recent creature in view of the 3 billion years of geologic history, and the 500 million years since the appearance of life in the Cambrian rock. Fossil man occupies the upper crust of the earth, the Pleistocene. In this Scripture and anthropology concur.” How little such concurrence means in the light of the great difference there exist between the two viewpoints.
The author’s consistent acceptance of the uniformitarian principle leads him to other conclusions which are out of harmony with the orthodox interpretation of Scripture. In the section on “Paradise, the Fall, and the Curse” he says, “Outside of the Garden of Eden were death, disease, weeds, thistle, thorns, carnivores, deadly serpents, and intemperate weather.” Why does he come to this conclusion? Because it is so today; it is part of the economy of nature at present that there should be death and destruction; he cannot conceive of a different economy before the fall or during the creation days.
It is my humble opinion that we cannot follow Dr. Ramm in his interpretations in order to arrive at a greater harmony between modem science and Christian faith. His “terms of rapprochement” are in the nature of capitulation; his concessions affect important Biblical truths. In his earnest desire for reconciliation, Dr. Ramm has set himself to an impossible task: he has tried to reconcile two inherently opposite views. The ideas of creation and evolution are based on different fundamental presuppositions. He accepts the evolutionary presuppositions and tries to adjust his interpretation of Scripture to them. The result is not “the Christian view of science and Scripture” as the title of the book indicates. It is at best a compromise.