Where is Lever Headed? (2)

Following is a continuation of Dr. Aaldert Mennega’s evaluation of the book, WHERE ARE WE HEADED?, by Dr. Jan Lever, Professor of Zoology at the Free University at Amsterdam (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., 59 pp. $1.65, 1970). Dr. Mennega is Chairman of and Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa. The third and final installment of his evaluation is scheduled to appear next month.

Lever’s wrong problematics – A good example of Lever’s wrong problematics is afforded us in the third chapter where he speaks about the question of the shape of the earth. As background to the problem, the author posits that our forefathers got their ideas about the shape of the earth as “notions and ideas from the Bible,” and that “the naive picture of the writers of the Bible is simply wrong” (p. 19).

Now it should be remembered that neither our forefathers nor the Bible writers were giving a scientific account of their theoretic activities or investigations. Both were speaking in terms of their experiencing life integrally, and spoke of the earth as having four corners, just as we today speak of the four directions of the wind, and as we speak of the rising of the sun or of the sunset. We may marvel at a gorgeous sunset, but would never express this as a concentration of certain segments of the light spectrum at the place at which the sun’s rays become increasingly more tangential. We simply do not experience a sunset in that way.

Similarly, the Bible writers were not giving their then-current scientific view, but also expressed themselves. just as we do today, in terms of how they experienced the earth, sun, moon, wind, and so forth. If we look at the Bible as giving us a correct view of the scientific status of those days, we arc superimposing an idea on the Bible which is foreign to it. And of course we would have to discard that kind of picture of reality, except that this is only a straw man and therefore we need not bother to knock it down.

Now it is very well possible that our forefathers, or even the Bible writers, thought that the earth was flat instead of round. But the scientific incorrectness of our forefathers’ view of the shape of the earth does not warrant our rejection of their entire picture of reality and their so-called “notions and ideas from the Bible,” because they were rooted in God’s revelation in His Word. Although we may be able to augment and alter some of the details which go into this picture, the picture itself must in essence always remain the same.

Age of the earth – That the earth is round is a notion which is accepted almost universally. And it is easy to establish that the roundness of the earth is a scientifically verifiable fact. It can empirically be demonstrated by anyone who wishes to do so. The problem with Lever’s presentation is that he makes it appear as though the age of the earth, and phylogeny (the evolution of one group of organisms into a “higher” group) are empirically demonstrable facts, just like the roundness of the earth.

This, however, is not at all the case. The age of the earth is a highly debatable and debated subject, and the stand one takes depends completely on which facts one chooses to align in which perspective. and on which assumptions one is willing to make. For any scientist to assert unequivocally that the earth is so many years old, is being unscientific. All one can say is that, given your basic convictions, and if your assumptions are right, then the earth could be so many years old. The currently posited age of the earth simply is not a scientific fact but is a particular interpretation of particular selected facts from a particular perspective.

Secondly, the supposed phylogeny which Lever would have us accept as a scientific fact is nothing more than a corollary of the doctrine of evolution. Tn all my years of zoologic studies I have never discovered any trace of a phylogeny, presumably because the phylogeny never occurred. What I did find was a conviction on the part of many unbelieving scientists that phylogeny must have occurred. But logical necessity is no compelling factor if the premises are not certain. The biological phenomena can be very well explained from a creationist perspective, and there is absolutely no reason why anyone should feel compelled to accept the evolutionary presuppositions.

A question of basic commitments – The author also cites death before the Fall as a reason for rejecting the earlier pictures of reality, hut this topic falls in a category which is not subject to investigation, for we cannot go back and duplicate conditions before the Fall. And the topic of the constancy of species is also a debatable one, for the created kinds are still, today, dynamically constant (not static); the Genesis kinds have been incorrectly equated with modern day concepts of species; and the very definition of the term species is not at all agreed on today by the scientists themselves.

When Lever, therefore, draws the conclusion that “in all honesty, then, we simply have to posit a new picture of reality to replace the old one of our forefathers” (p. 22). I feel that he comes to that conclusion because of his wrong problematics. Should he acknowledge a much closer relationship of one’s picture of reality with one’s world-and-life view, and with one’s basic religious commitments, he would be less likely to reject the entire picture of reality of the forefathers, and would also be more cautious about accepting the picture of reality which the unbeliever has been forced to accept.

And it certainly is not a matter of honesty or dishonesty when one accepts a certain picture of reality, but it is a matter of being consistent with one’s basic commitments. And if some Christian scientists cannot accept the current mechanistic view of reality, then it is only because they arc aware of the inconsistencies which acceptance of that view would imply for them.

Lever’s faith in science – When the author states that Genesis is “a confessional document” which “does not give us any scientific, historical, astronomical, or biological information” (p. 23), he is right in the sense that Scripture is not a textbook of science, but incorrect in that Scripture does speak correctly about many historical and biological events, within the covenant-redemption perspective. But Lever’s assertion that matters such as “the exact way the creation of the world took place . . . belong[sl to the domain of science” (p. 23) is simply a confession of faith in science. This presupposes a mechanistic view of reality, and a confidence that one can go back in time and investigate the creative acts of God, on the assumption that God must have used only “natural” forces to call all things into being. From a biblical point of view this is completely untenable. Neither is this good science.

Furthermore, it is only because of his wrong problematics that Lever can hold that “Christian and non-Christian alike can and indeed must have the same time-contingent picture of reality even though their respective world-and-life views, and thus their faiths, may vary greatly” (p. 23). Only by denying that your faith and your world-and-life views directly determine what your picture of reality can and must be can one say that everyone must share the same picture of reality. Now I think that Lever would limit those things which would be part of every person’s picture of reality to those things which are established scientific facts, and up to that point I would agree. But he goes on to include a number of things within the category of facts which are not at all facts but extrapolations, interpretations, and deductions, which Christians and non-Christians cannot share.

A big If – In the last paragraph of the third chapter Lever says:

If on the basis of sufficient evidence, one were to conclude that his picture of reality must include the idea that man is the product of an evolutionary process, then a possible though not necessary proposition of a non-Christian life-and-world view might he that man was an accidental product in the evolutionary process and that conceivably he might not have come into existence at all. Conversely, a Christian will posit, following Genesis 1, that man is the focal point of evolution. This idea governs the Christian’s perspective on all that relates to the origin and development of this earthly reality and gives it a distinctive coloration.

This if is indeed a big IF, for even today there is not enough evidence to come to such a conclusion. And the posited “Christian” position is nothing short of baffling; that man should be the “focal point of evolution” is merely a compromise position and is as far from a distinctively Reformed, Christian position as any. Is that really all there is to the antithesis? If Teilhard de Chardin should say this, I would have expected it, but for any Reformed scholar this should be unacceptable.

In chapter four the author speaks of Paradise, and again takes as his starting point that the picture of reality of Scripture is wrong. Again Genesis is denounced as merely a “confession about God,” rather than revelation from God. And Lever assures the reader that if one will only accept his new view then the message of Genesis “can now be experienced in faith without the old tension between science and the Bible” (p. 25), not realizing at all that you do not need any new view to be free from such a hypothetical tension. The tension is not at all between science and the Bible, but between the Christian interpretation and the non-Christian interpretation of the natural phenomena. The conflict is between the view of reality and of life as portrayed by Scripture, and the mechanistic, so-called scientific view of reality which vainly attempts to pose a valid alternative to the Scriptural position.

Lever on Paradise – With this starting point it is not surprising that what the author has to say about Paradise is very disappointing. On the basis of questionable exegesis, which does not take into account the sound Reformed position of, for example, Schelhaas, Lever rejects a “double creation account” (another straw man; not really a problem in Reformed circles) but also denies the Fall, and the garden of Eden, as being historical, and cannot accept the Genesis account of Creation as having literally happened. Here he again asserts that he wants to speak as a biologist, but, again, hc is simply making a confession of what he believes.

As an alternative Lever presents to us what he calls his . . .

newer insights into the creation story, and the rest of the Bible, including the New Testament [which will] free us from many pseudo-problems and ‘pseudo-solutions, from endless and fruitless discussions that only waste time, and in general from an atmosphere of dissatisfaction and suspicion. By removing: the obstacles caused by our shortsightedness, these new insights once again open the way for all to see the far-reaching significance of the biblical message for the world of today and tomorrow (p. 29).

This new gospel is nothing but an empty promise, a wishful thinking, a confidence, or faith, in Lever’s new insights. We have, as Christians, been shortsighted in many instances, and will be again in the future, but our faith in the trustworthiness of God’s Word has not been the obstacle to progress, understanding, or reaching out. God’s Word, indeed, has been the only factor which has kept us from straying completely away from Him, and from driving ourselves to utter ruin.