Science, Evolution, and Abraham Kuyper

Although Dr. Abraham Kuyper certainly was not always right in all he said. he was endowed with a sense of direction for the Christian community which since his time has not been equalled. It was with real vision that he founded the Free University exclusively on Reformed principles.

Kuyper saw that there are only two kinds of people, the Christian and the unbeliever, who differ greatly in their respective life commitments. Because there are two kinds of people, there are two kinds of human life, and therefore two kinds of science. Kuyper recognized that both the regenerate and the unregenerate have the impulse for scientific activity, that their activities arc of the same character, that they do the same kind of work, hut that their activities run in opposite directions because they have different starting points. They view things differently and therefore build a different science, the results of which must be different.

The idea of absolute unity of science denies the fact of regeneration; for, although the more primary observations and investigations are common to both, their paths separate as soon as deductions and interpretations are made. The regenerate sees the task of science not only as the obligation to investigate and understand the object, but also to banish false representations of it. The subjective factor in science is dependent on the antithesis between falsehood and truth, so that a different structure results even when the same data are used.

The antithesis between truth and falsehood exists because one recognizes sin, while the other denies it or doesn’t reckon with it. Therefore each has an entirely different standard, resulting in an entirely different science for each. Two entirely different and mutually exclusive representations of the object will at length come to dominate whole series of subjects. Basic to this is the fact that our world-and-life view marks out the fundamental lines in our consciousness and thus influences all our views of life.

In a recent article in The Banner, Dr. Henry Pietersma states: “The ideal of a peculiarly Reformed or Christian science, however, has proved to be mistaken. The difference between the sciences developed by Christians and those developed by non-Christians seems to be more a matter of the different attitudes of the persons engaged in scientific work.” On the basis of this kind of evaluation, Dr. Pietersma reports, the statutes of the Free University have now been changed.

But was Kuyper’s ideal really mistaken? Was his insight a wrong vision, and was he in principle incorrect? I do not think so. I strongly believe that his vision was a biblical vision, and a clear recognition of the true state of affairs, and that the direction he indicated was generally the right direction, although in matters of detail I take issue with him in more than one instance.

Many of Kuyper’s contemporaries shared his vision and worked within that framework in the early establishment of the Free University. What has happened subsequently in the history of that school has, however, not always been in the Kuyperian tradition, and the indictment that Kuyper’s ideal was “mistaken” should be redirected to Reformed scholars because what they did with science has proved to be untrue to these principles. Reformed scholars in the last century have not developed a truly distinctive Christian science as a testimony to their regeneration. Instead, having been trained mostly in secular universities and having been exposed to accounts of origins almost exclusively from mechanistic viewpoints, their science is not what Dr. Kuyper envisioned, but has become nearly indistinguishable from that of the unbeliever’s science.

Consistent with his Christian view of science was Kuyper’s stand on Evolution. Anyone who has read Kuyper’s Evolutie address, given at the Free University in 1899, will know how strongly he denounced any compromise with Evolution, and how uncomplimentary his epithets were for those who tried to acquire some scientific respectability by mixing a little evolution in with their writing or preaching.

For us it is imperative to stand in the perspective of Kuyper because his was a biblical perspective, but we must also go beyond Kuyper because his is not the last word. Only Scripture can be that.

Since Kuyper’s time many things have happened, many discoveries have been made, and many new insights have been gained which have a bearing on the issues with which he was and we arc so intimately involved.

Certainly, in the light of today’s developments in Science, Kuyper’s views on natural selection, genetics, embryology, and comparative anatomy are completely inadequate, and they must be augmented and refined by current Reformed scholarship. Although the science of genetics was not yet properly on the historical map until Mendel’s paper on the heredity of peas was rediscovered in 1900, we must give Kuyper credit for seeing correctly that the phenomenal findings of horticulture and animal husbandry in selecting and breeding improved strains of plants and animals were always within the existing species, and that no species had ever been directed into a higher species. Therefore it may not be fair to hold Kuyper as being favorably disposed to theistic evolutionism, by quoting his statement regarding Genesis 1:11, 12.

Of course, Kuyper’s views on this may be conflicting with other statements, for Kuyper is known to have made a number of conflicting statements. I personally feel that a different interpretation of that passage would be much more consistent with his position, and with the actual text of Genesis. God spoke and said, “Let the earth bring forth . . . : and it was so.” And then follows the explanation of what was so: “And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, . . .”

Clearly, God spoke and the plants were there, and it is specified that they were from the beginning sustained by the earth and that they reproduced after their kind. To read into this passage the meaning that the forces of the earth caused the plants to come into being is highly inconsistent with the entire message of Scripture and is a mechanistic misrepresentation of the state of affairs. Even today a field brings forth corn or other plants, after their kind.

That God is absolutely sovereign, and that He docs everything according to His wise counsel, is emphasized by Kuyper when he says that “we may not force our style on the Master Architect of the universe”; and that, therefore, “even if it had pleased God not to create kinds Himself, but to make one kind to arise out of another by implanting in the earlier kind the ability to produce the next higher kind, even then Creation would have been equally marvelous.”

Now Kuyper did not say this to encourage people to compromise with evolution, but this statement arose out of his concern with respect to the topic, then current in England, whether religion, as such, allows for a spontaneous development of kinds (or species) from a stem-cell. To which Kuyper gave an affirmative answer. But the question was not whether this has happened or is so described in Genesis, but whether there is anything compelling about the created world (i.e., in religion) which would have prevented God from using evolution as a means to call things into being.

And Kuyper, of course, maintained the absolute sovereignty of God. And so do I. Therefore the statement “even if it had pleased God . . .” is very clearly a contrary-to-fact statement and Kuyper meant it to be that, as is consistent with the entire content of his long address.

There is, of course, absolutely no reason why God could not have used evolution as a means of calling into being the entire array or living organisms. But the real question is whether there is any reason why we should hold that God actually did use that method. And the testimony of Scripture is much to the contrary.

Had God used certain processes operating according to “natural laws” He could easily have conveyed this in His Word, even in non-scientific terms. But there is no trace whatever to indicate this. To the contrary, we read again and again that God spoke, and it was so. So it was by the power of His Word that God, created, rather than by “natural” processes.

How this could ever be, will, in the nature of the case, be forever beyond our comprehension, regardless of how much progress we make in science. But this basic understanding of the beginnings of things must be the starting point of our Reformed scientific activity, and is sufficient basis on which to build a truly distinctive Christian science. From this perspective we can start pulling together the great mass of data acquired by the natural sciences, and start building the edifice of Christian science which Kuyper envisioned in the previous century, in which the antithesis will be evident between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness.

Not that we should now become very active again in disputing whether Creation days were twenty-four hours or long periods; or whether plants, or animals, or man could have evolved by means of the mechanistic conception of origins.

Although the evidence is much against the theory of evolution, we ought not to concern ourselves exclusively with defenses, for in principle the origin of the universe, of the earth, and of living beings is not amenable to scientific investigation, and is not capable of being verified. Our stand on origins is totally dependent on our faith, on our basic commitment; and the only thing we can know about the origin of things is that which is revealed to us by God in Scripture. Which means that there is nothing we can contribute by scientific endeavors toward uncovering more details about these origins.

There are great areas for us to uncover in science, and great challenges to put to use our knowledge and technology in a way that may be beneficial to mankind and glorifying to our Maker. It will be a tremendous, but not impossible, task to compile the data of natural science, to reinterpret them, and to direct our efforts into channels of proper concern. Therefore we must marshal our forces and stand united in the Word, for in our unity as Christians lies our strength.

Aaldert Mennega of Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, is chairman of Dordt’s Department of biology.