Where is Lever Headed? (3)

Following is a continuation and the final installment of Dr. Aaldert Mennega’s evaluation of the book, WHERE ARE WE HEADED?, by Dr. Jan Lever, professor of Zoology at the Free University of Amsterdam (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 59 pp., $1.65, 1970). Dr. Mennega is chairman of and associate professor in the department of biology at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.

What a letdown! – When Lever comes to the Origin of Life, he has a real opportunity to speak as a biologist, because, after all, biology deals with life Being a biologist myself, I had high expectations of this chapter, especially after the promising introductory remark that “the new non-literal reading can make us more open to modern science and the present-day picture of reality,” and that we may “quite possibly become very eager to know the view of present day scientific thought concerning the origin of this earthly reality” (p. 31). But what a letdown!

There is first a brief mention of the topic of spontaneous generation of living organisms, where Augustine is blamed for his incorrect views (why not Charles Darwin whose ideas about heredity were far worse?). That the idea of spontaneous generation was a Greek notion, taught by Aristotle, and held in esteem by everyone for centuries, Lever docs not seem to realize, or otherwise completely ignores it. We must credit him, however, with realizing the correct final solution to spontaneous generation, namely that “none of our present-day organisms can develop from lifeless matter. Only life produces life” (p. 32). But no sooner has Lever said that only life produces life, but he goes on to say that the origin of the first life on earth is not from life, but arose from lifeless matter, due to the innate properties of matter. Although he provides his own historical lesson, he is unable to apply it to his own situation.

Now, Lever may feel compelled by his peers to accept their way of looking at things, but the empiric evidence is not compelling. His arguments are the usual ones, with no better explanation or perspective than any other. Similarity between animals to Lever means that they are genetically related and descended from each other or from a common ancestor. He thus overlooks the fact that God created them all according to a basic plan, with thousands of variations on the same theme, and that this accounts for the many similarities.

The new discoveries about DNA and similar compounds Lever accepts in the perspective of the “new” view, and speaks of it as the basic life principle. But DNA is no more the basic life principle than the supernatural vital force of the Vitalists. And the presentation of what is considered “the scientific view of the origin of life” is already outdated. It has been shown conclusively that the origin of living organisms from inorganic matter, by natural forces as we know them today, is impossible, and to hold this view in spite of the contrary evidence is simply being unscientific.* When, in summary, he says that “it cannot be denied that the natural sciences are presently tracking down the origin of the first life on earth,” he is merely repeating a favorite but meaningless journalists’ cliche.

What remains of God as Creator? – Lever does ask what the implications of this view are:

Perhaps you have been reading this with mounting alarm and concern. For if we must conceive of the origin of life on earth as taking place through natural causes by the sun’s impact on substances that can be bought at any drug store—or to go even further, if man may succeed in making life in a test tube—then what remains of faith in God as the creator of life? (p. 34)

But in his answers he does not really come to grips with the problems. He merely reiterates his opinion that the classical interpretation of Genesis is wrong, and therefore God could not have created living organisms instantaneously. Again he confesses his faith in modern science when he says, “it is becoming clear to us, in view of our increased knowledge about living organisms, that this earthly reality is one, also in its origins.”

Next Lever states that “The Creator does not intervene locally or temporally; on the contrary, the whole of it is always and everywhere his creation. The primal (sic) oceans were the source from which life could come forth because the Fountain of Life held the oceans and life in his creative hands” (p. 35). Here the author clearly fails to distinguish between Creation as the act of God and creation as the product of God’s creative activity. These might be distinguished profitably by the Latin terms creatio and creatura, respectively.

We all agree, I think, that God constantly maintains his creatura always and everywhere. But that His creatio would be the same as the forces of the ocean is a gross misconception, and can be maintained only from a mechanistic position. We may not reduce creatio to natural law, nor equate creatio with God’s providence, much less reduce it to the laws governing structural reality which we have been able to discover. After reducing God’s incomprehensible creative acts to mere natural laws, Lever inexplicably, somehow, jumps to the “conclusion” that “‘Creation’ is, therefore, much more powerful, much more a1lembracing than we used to think when we reduced and diminished it to acts that occurred at a particular time and place” (p. 35). But as a Christian and as a biologist I would not trade his position with mine of instantaneous Creation, that God spoke and it was; that things, both living and non-living, came into being by the power of His Word; and of God’s constant upholding of all things by means of his hand.

In this chapter Lever again does not speak as a biologist; he is unscientific in the views which he holds; and he goes beyond the boundaries of his own field and can, therefore, not speak with authority. He is not building on the Reformed, Scriptural foundation on which Calvin, Kuyper and Bavinck stood. They have made their mistakes, but Lever has sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.

Unscientific reasoning – The following unit, on the Origin of Man, follows in the same vein as the previous chapter. Man is seen as an evolved animal, on the basis of what I, as a zoologist, think are not good scientific reasons. Similarity in structure and or function are insufficient cause to make one see man in that light. It is Lever’s prior commitment to the doctrine of evolution that makes him take that position.

Lever starts from the assumption that the origin of man is capable of being researched by natural science, while I am convinced that man’s origin can only be revealed in Scripture, and that in principle this topic is beyond the domain of scientific scrutiny. Lever may think that the traditional Christian view is incorrect, and of course it has never been perfect, nor will it ever be, but he makes the mistake of his life when he considers the currently held mechanistic view of origins as the only alternative.

This chapter is probably the poorest one of the book, in content as well as in the manner of argumentation. And making a pious statement at the end to the effect that it is more beautiful to conceive of God as having made man come forth from the highest living organisms rather than out of the dust of the earth, cannot be considered as a redemptive feature. After all, it is not for us to say which method of creating would be more beautiful. God’s creative acts are incomprehensible and unsearchable. Is it possible in this case to be plus royal que le rai (more royal than the king)?

An unacceptable synthesis – The caption of the seventh chapter is “Consciousness.” This consciousness refers to the awakening of organic matter in the form of man, at the end of the process of evolution. Lever begins the chapter with another repetion of his assertion that the picture of reality of the Bible writers “has proved to be wrong on nearly every point.” And again he asserts that he is speaking as a natural scientist, but again, he is not. In essence, he does two things in this chapter. On the one hand he states his religious belief, and on the other hand he shows what he believes on the basis of science. Regarding the former he says:

As concerns the Christian faith, I simply take my stand on the most basic Christian beliefs that God is the creator of the entire earthly reality, that mankind was infected with evil, beginning with our first parents, and that the way to the Creator and to peace on earth can be found in Christ in whom God has revealed himself (p. 42).

Regarding the latter, Lever simply gives a re-run or extension of the fifth and sixth chapters on the origin of life and of man. He is trying to show here that there can be an acceptable synthesis between the basic Christian beliefs and the mechanistic view of reality held by the majority of our modern scientists. It turns out, however, that he merely accepts in toto the apostate “scientific” view of organic evol1ltion and appends a Christian faith statement to it. This kind of synthesizing and compromising is hardly worthy of the name of Reformed scholarship.

Lever must sense, even if it is subconsciously, that there is something wrong with what he is doing, for he says: “If we adopt the present scientific picture of reality, will there be anything left of our Christian faith; and, if there is, can it still be of any significance?” (p. 42). As Lever presents it, only the “scientific” view is compelling, and the Christian faith must adjust to whatever current science dictates.

Lever’s view of man – But back to the topic of the chapter. What of this evolved consciousness? Lever says that it puts man into a special position. Man is the end-product of the 10llg process of evolution; and, in essence, this man is defined by him in the following terminology: man is the summit of evolution; man is a ruling creature; man is characterized by his freedom to choose his course of action; man, on the basis of his experience. forms rules for his conduct. which in turn become norms within the context of freedom; man is conscious of his existence; in man this earthly reality has fully awakened; find the highest characteristic of man is that he “stands, as it were, face to face with the Creator of this earthly reality. Thus man can become aware who gave him the task of ruling the world, and who placed him in this responsible position.” “Evolution thus terminated in this revelatory encounter with God” (p. 47).

I doubt that very many people would recognize this as a Reformed, Christian, biblical view of man. Whatever happened to man’s being created in the image of God, as the crown of creation? And what is the place of this humanistic concept of freedom? Since when does man form his own norms for conduct? And did man slowly grow into the realization that God has a task for him, or did God give man a specific mandate to subdue the earth and rule it as His vice-gerent? I doubt that in this presentation there is anything significant about whatever is left of a Christian faith.

Neo-Darwinian Humanism – In the chapter on The Dominion of Man, Lever pictures for us what he believes to be the evolution of man into the later stages of his development, where man first lives in groups and just hunts animals and then evolves into the agricultural stage where he learns to subject nature to himself by raising crops and cattle. Next he goes through the stages of building cities, and developing government and religion. In later civilizations there arc the beginnings of natural science, especially in medicine, mathematics, and astronomy. Finally, the Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian influences gradually merge into the European civilization. And after the middle ages there comes the new phase of evolution: “The great pacemaker on this new level of evolution has been natural science” (p. 50). Through man’s “discovery” of the scientific method, together with the parallel development of technology, man eventually came, in the 20th century, to know and control inanimate matter, and has now acquired nearly unlimited possibilities for the technical control of life. “In biology,” he claims, “we now also have knowledge about many of the factors that guided evolution in the past, . . .” And now comes the “new phase”:

The new phase to which this earthly reality has come since the rise of modern science is therefore characterized by the fact that its highest component, man, is now busy analyzing, learning to know, and especially to control, this reality, its inanimate components, the plants and animals, and himself (p. 51).

Not only does Lever recognize man’s skills in breeding and selecting when he says,

Through his knowledge of life processes man has been able to improve all kinds of organisms for the benefit of agriculture, horticulture, and animal husbandry, and to combat harmful organisms, . . .

but is also willing to go as far as to say,

The so-called quality of the coming generations is also increasingly becoming a matter of technical control (p. 52).

Here of course, the author is prophesying, and not speaking as a biologist. The same can be said of his own summary:

In summary, we are living in the midst of a transition to an entirely new period, in which man will know and control in a very detailed and fundamental manner the functioning of matter, the inanimate environment on the earth, and in part even outside of it, of living creatures, and of himself. Increasingly, man holds in his hands the future development of this earthly reality (p. 52).

This is the gospel of Neo-Darwinian Humanism. To this the author adds that the mandate of Genesis 1, to subdue the earth and have dominion over it, has th1ls been fulfilled in the past few decades.

What of the future? – What will the future bring, besides organ transplants, nuclear warfare, pollution, scientific brainwashing, etc.? Will man be able to be a proper steward in these times? The author presents The Answer in his last chapter. In the light or his science-oriented world picture and the message of the Bible he wants to concretely answer this particular question, “What is man’s role in the present world and what are his prospects for the future?” (p. 54). After leading up to this with eight previous chapters, let us see what his answer is to this question.

Before coming to the answer, the author first has to augment his position on what man really is. We can only have the “proper perspective on man,” he says, if we realize that because man evolved from the primates he has a great resemblance to animals, not only in his structure but also in his behavior. This he demonstrates by citing territoriality, hierarchy in animal groups, aggressiveness, the “bestiality” of wars and concentration camps, and social iniquities. In other words, the animal core is still largely there and the “human” veneer layer is still extremely thin. And in this mass of evolving humans, believe it or not, “we also still find Christians” (p. 58). And where do the Christians fit in? They have been a . . .

. . . deterrent in the early development of the modern sciences. Christians insisted that the sun revolved around the earth; Christians opposed the idea of evolution. And not only did Christendom cling tenaciously to an antiquated picture of reality, but it also identified itself with the established, conservative view of social and community relations. It often sanctioned social abuses. What is more, Christendom often lost credibility because of its pernicious splintering into sectarian groups (p. 58).

A far cry from the Christian gospel – Would not Abraham Kuyper, who so clearly showed how great an impetus Calvinism gave to the rise and growth of science, be aroused if he could see this warped version of Reformed scholarship? And can the author really claim to be truthful when he paints this picture of Christianity? Is this what Christianity is? And how does the gospel of Christ become relevant in these times? This is his view:

The more our knowledge of the reality about us increases, the more clearly we understand that we are living in a world that is caught tip in an all-embracing process of evolution. The more deeply we learn to know man and ourselves, the more clearly we begin to see that Christ’s message can really assist us in our search for solutions to the great problems of today and tomorrow.

For Christ teaches us the universal equality of all men without distinction of race or color. Christ teaches us social concern, love of neighbor, peaceableness and personal responsibility. Following him therefore means the arresting of aggression in all its forms, and the realization that brute force should be replaced by a real solidarity, each of us being prepared to make sacrifices to his fellow man (p. 58).

This then is Lever’s answer to the big question. But this is a far cry from the Christian gospel! The Scriptures tell us that man is sinful and that through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ we can be restored to a true relationship with God, and that thus we can find new life. To replace this with Lever’s alternative of reducing the animal core in man by reducing aggression and curbing brute force and of substituting the universal equality of all men, is totally unacceptable.

Is Lever really answering the question which he set out to answer? Is there really room for a Christian message in his picture of reality? And is there really room for the Christ in his gospel of evolutionism? If Lever’s answer to the question of where we arc headed is the one he set forth in these nine short chapters, then there is only one possible response to this, and that is that he is headed in the wrong direction. How Lever can be so sure of the correctness of his “answer” that he is willing to broadcast it over the radio and publish it in book form he himself answers as follows:

I know that the central thrust of this answer is right, simply because I believe in it (p. 54).

Secular instead of a Christian perspective – What, in summary, can J as a reviewer say about the book? I do not think that Lever knows where we are headed I know that in this booklet he is not speaking as a biologist. He is here giving us a secular, instead of a Christian, perspective on evolution. His picture of reality is grounded in a non-Christian world-and-life view. His view of the origins of life and of man is purely mechanistic. His view of man, of man’s place, future and responsibility in the world is determined outside of the perspective of Scripture. And his answer to the problems of mankind are strongly tainted by humanistic moralism.

Lever is obsessed by guilt feelings about the mistakes made by the church. He is overawed by the progress of the natural sciences in the last several decades, without being able to grasp the significance of the direction it is taking us. He fails to see that the knowledge which Scripture imparts to us is not so much unscientific as pre-scientific. To him the Christian faith enters into science only at that point where science cannot give the answer, and has thus been reduced to a stop-the-gap tool. At the root of this lies the fact that he is biologizing, i.e., he allows the current biological perspective to dominate his world-and-life view and religious commitments.

Although this booklet has apparently received wide acclaim in The Netherlands, it is my wish that our Christian brothers on this continent will recognize this booklet as a confession of a faith which cannot be admixed with the Christian confession.