Monday, November 29, 2010

N.T. Wright on Why Christian Character Matters: A Book Review

In his well-known study Mere Christianity (Book Two), C.S. Lewis describes our world as enemy-occupied territory. Although the rightful King has landed and the ultimate victory has been assured, Satan, the “Prince of this world,” retains much of his power. The situation wherein the King’s followers find themselves today can be compared, Lewis suggests, to that of the people living in Europe between D-Day and VE-Day. Facing the enemy’s ever-increasing hostility, a hostility inflamed by desperation, they are called openly to acknowledge the rightful King and join his cause.

Anglican bishop N.T. Wright issues a similar call in his recent book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (Harper Collins, 2010). But whereas Lewis spoke to unbelievers, calling them to repentance and faith, Wright addresses mature believers, people who want show their allegiance to Christ in their day-to-day life but are not always sure about the path to be followed. Wright seeks to answer their questions by pointing out that the Christian life does not consist in a legalistic rule-keeping but in a transformation of character, one that turns attention away from the self and focuses it on Christ and his cause and kingdom. That manner of living can be summarized in the word “discipleship” and is therefore cross-shaped. It is by these means that Christ’s rule will be extended and the realm of Satan curtailed. In Wright’s own words: “The message that Jesus – the crucified Jesus! – is the world’s true Lord is to be made precisely through the church’s following in his footsteps” (2 Pet. 2:21-23).

Such a life and such a character, as Christians well know, are the gift of the Holy Spirit. But as Wright suggests – and here he refreshingly departs from an influential Christian tradition – it is also a process requiring the believers’ active participation. The virtues that shape the character of Christ’s followers – the virtues of faith, hope, love, humility, chastity, patience, gentleness, and so on – must be constantly pursued and daily practiced, so that in the end they become almost second nature.

With this practical, accessible, and thoroughly biblical study Wright makes an important contribution to the growing literature on Christian lifestyle and discipleship in an increasingly secular society. Those struggling with the challenges of living the Christian life will find it both helpful and encouraging.* For a review see our “Collected Papers”; a direct link is here.

*I realize that Wright’s views on justification (the “New Perspective on Paul” and so on) raise matters of concern among many of us, but these issues have no bearing on this book, or on many of Wright’s other studies. The message of the present work is unquestionably orthodox.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Absence of Mind: A Book Review

Marilynne Robinson, a committed Christian and an admirer of John Calvin, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist as well as a widely esteemed analyst of modern thought. Among the targets of her analytical writings is the abuse which latter-day atheists make of modern science in their attempt to denigrate both religion and the unique nature of humanity — that is, specifically, the reality of human consciousness and of the human mind.

Robinson’s target, then, is not modern science as such, but the fraudulent use of science by the enemies of religion and the cultured despisers of what Robinson calls human exceptionalism. She attacked this abuse in an earlier collection of essays (The Death of Adam, 1998, 2005), and returned to it in a distinguished lecture series at Yale University entitled Absence of Mind (Yale University Press, 2010).

We found Tim DeJong willing to review this study for us and thank him for both his careful, intelligent, and extensive analysis, and for drawing attention, in his conclusion, to the urgent need for a biblical ontology of the mind. Currently a Ph.D. student in English at The University of Western Ontario, Tim was raised in Hamilton, ON, where he received a B.A. in Comparative Literature and Philosophy from McMaster University. After spending a year in Spain to complete his M.A. in English at the Madrid Campus of Saint Louis University, he is happy to be back in beautiful south-western Ontario. He lives with his wife Biz in London, ON, where they attend Pilgrim Canadian Reformed Church.

The review can be found in our “Collected Papers”; a direct link is here.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A New Bonhoeffer Biography

Prominent among Christian martyrs of modern times is the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who in April 1945, just before the arrival of the allied armies, was executed on Hitler’s orders. Bonhoeffer became known not only for his heroic opposition to Hitler, but also and especially for the fact that this opposition was motivated by his allegiance to Christ. Resistance to the Nazi regime was for him a matter of following the Christ who (as Bonhoeffer writes in one of his books), when he calls a man, “bids him come and die.” His theology was a theology of discipleship and therefore not of triumph or worldly comfort, but of the cross.

The standard biography of Bonhoeffer was written shortly after the war by his friend and former student Eberhard Bethge. Since then many commentaries have appeared on Bonhoeffer’s life and work but no full-fledged new biography. That gap is now filled by Eric Metaxas (the author also of a recently published and highly acclaimed biography of William Wilberforce). In his Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2010), Metaxas makes use of Bethge’s work but comes with additional material and with new insights as well. In my review I draw attention to similarities between this biography and James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom, which I reviewed earlier. Although there are important differences between the two books, both have much to teach us about the Christian life in the world of today, and I hope that both will be read and studied among us.

For the review see our “Collected Papers”; a direct link is here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Poythress on Language: A Book Review

Where does language come from, and how does it develop? What does the character of language tell us about the Triune God, about the nature of created reality, and about us as human beings? What happens to truth when the words which convey it are translated? The field of linguistics, especially when done from a Christian perspective, digs into questions such as these. Vern Poythress, a Reformed academic and author of Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach (which has been mentioned on this blog here and here), recently published another book in his “God-Centered” series, this one on linguistics. We are grateful to Francine VanWoudenberg Sikkema for writing an in-depth review of In The Beginning Was The Word: Language—A God-Centered Approach. The book is also freely available online as a PDF.

Francine is a graduate of Trinity Western University, where she received an M.A. in Linguistics with a focus on Bible translation. She has also studied biblical languages at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary. She is currently working as a freelance editor. She lives in Hamilton, ON with her husband Tim and their pre-born baby, where they are preparing to do mission work in Lae, Papua New Guinea.

Francine’s review of In The Beginning Was The Word is listed in our “Collected Papers”, and a direct link is here. We invite your responses.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Book Notice: Calvin and Culture

We would like to draw our readers’ attention to a valuable wide-ranging new book relevant to every Reformed academic: David W. Hall & Marvin Padgett, Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview (P&R Publishing, 2010). A wonderful heritage of Calvinism, as compared to many other branches of Christianity, is that it has unpacked the breadth of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ: it is much more than the salvation of human souls, but is something for each of us (including the academic) to be involved in for the glory of God and the benefit of man as we shape and reshape culture.

The book, part of the Calvin 500 series, contains one 20- to 40-page chapter each on how Calvin or Calvinism relates to the academic disciplines:

Ch. 1. 1929 and All That, or What Does Calvinism Say to Historians Searching for Meaning?, by Darryl G. Hart
Ch. 2. Law, Authority, and Liberty in Early Calvinism, by John Witte Jr.
Ch. 3. The Arts and the Reformed Tradition, by William Edgar
Ch. 4. Calvin’s Contributions to Economic Theory and Policy, by Timothy D. Terrell
Ch. 5. Calvinism and Literature, by Leland Ryken
Ch. 6. Calvin’s Legacy in Philosophy, by William C. Davis
Ch. 7. Calvin, Politics, and Political Science, by Paul Marshall
Ch. 8. Calvinism and Science, by Don Petcher
Ch. 9. John Calvin’s Impact on Business, by Richard C. Chewning
Ch. 10. Calvin and Music, by Paul S. Jones
Ch. 11. Medicine: In the Biblical Tradition of John Calvin with Modern Applications, by Franklin E. (Ed) Payne, MD
Ch. 12. Calvin as Journalist, by Warren Cole Smith
Ch. 13. The Future of Calvinism as a Worldview, by David W. Hall

We know that there are members of the Canadian Reformed churches who have academic degrees in many of the areas represented in this publication. And so we sincerely invite your reviews of this book. By special arrangement with the publisher, we are able to send you a chapter of your choice at no charge, and would like to have your concise (three- to five-paragraph) review completed for publication here on the blog. To participate, please contact us at

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ideology and Science

The notion that not only facts but also personal and communal beliefs contribute to scientific knowledge has become commonplace. Christians such as Dr. Cornelis Van Dam have welcomed this notion, not because they want to acknowledge the social dimension of knowledge acquisition, but because it allows them arbitrarily to deny the truth of those parts of science that they believe are threatening to them and their community of faith (see his editorials in Clarion of January 29 and February 12, 2010). If the content of scientific theories is influenced by background beliefs, they argue, then this levels the playing field between, say, naturalism and theism. They do not realize that this move is very costly from a Christian perspective. For one, truth about nature is made to depend completely on the beliefs of the community with the most power. For another, truth no longer depends on what exists objectively as created by God. This raises important questions. How can people with different belief systems work together in science? Can scientific knowledge be trusted if it is shaped and sometimes distorted by beliefs operating in the background of science (background beliefs)? Is it possible to acknowledge the role of background beliefs in science (subjectivity) and avoid turning background beliefs into the sole source of knowledge of nature (subjectivism)?

In this essay I explain why background beliefs are required for the construction of theories in science. I argue that background beliefs do not normally distort scientific knowledge because God created an objectively existing reality that resists distortion. Therefore, the background beliefs of scientists do not dictate the content of scientific knowledge. The conclusion is that people with different belief systems, including Christians, can work together in scientific research.

This essay also aims at clarifying how to discern between truth and falsehood in science. The first thing to understand is that everyone — and that includes those with a lot of education — is a lay person in all domains of knowledge except one’s own specialty. This means that everyone’s knowledge is affected by what is available in the knowledge market. Thus everyone has to learn discernment. But especially Christians have to learn to separate the chaff from the wheat. Failure to do so results in an inability to give an account of one’s faith, or worse, it results in creating confusion.

The essay can be found in our “Collected Papers”; a direct link is here. We welcome your responses.

Note added 22 May 2013: A revised version was invited and is now published as Jitse van der Meer, “Background Beliefs, Ideology, and Science”, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith v. 65, n. 2 (June 2013), pp. 87-103.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Desiring the Kingdom: Book Review

“Preach the Gospel always; if necessary use words.” This advice, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, is often heard today, also in our circles. It is usually quoted to remind Christians of the need to combine verbal evangelism with a truly Christian lifestyle, but it is also used in attacks on what are seen as intellectualist tendencies in the Protestant tradition. St. Francis’ words then serve to show that practice must come before doctrine, knowledge of the heart before knowledge of the mind, and discipleship before abstract teaching.

In his book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Baker Academic, 2009), Calvin College philosopher James K.A. Smith joins the debate in support of the second usage. His thesis is that human beings are primarily desiring creatures rather than “thinking things,” and that Christian education must therefore focus not first of all on the inculcation of ideas, but on the development of the proper desires – that is, desires that are directed to God’s Kingdom. For a review of this informative and provocative study see our “Collected Papers”; a direct link is here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Science and Ideology: A Response

Clarion’s 29 January 2010 issue features an editorial by Dr. Van Dam, professor of Old Testament at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, entitled “Science and Ideology” (v. 59, n. 3, pp. 54-56) [online here]. He suggests that in the areas of global warming and the dinosaur dating there is more pushing of ideology than science. Rick Baartman (a world-renowned physicist at TRIUMF in Vancouver, Fellow of the American Physical Society, long time member of the Surrey Canadian Reformed church, of the Brazil Mission Board, and of the board of the Geneva Society for Reformational Worldview Studies at Trinity Western University) has carefully examined the physics of global warming. Last year, he wrote a primer on the topic for Reformed Academic (17 August 2009). Given his study of the science, he identified a number of serious problems with Van Dam’s approach, and sought to have these corrected by writing a Letter to the Editor of Clarion. The letter was rejected. It is a pity that an excellent opportunity to set the record straight was denied.

And so Reformed Academic is publishing Baartman’s response, in an extended form adapted for a wider audience. It demonstrates not only significant misunderstandings by Van Dam, but also his unfortunate dependence upon minority views and the popular ideas surrounding the so-called “Climategate.” Baartman’s analysis suggests that ideology, scientific dishonesty, and data cherry-picking are more likely found among those who deny global warming than in the mainstream. The article is provided in our “Collected Papers.” (Direct links: PDF | HTML; the latter may be most convenient in terms of following the links to other sources.)

One of the reasons given for the rejection of Baartman’s original letter was that it was considered too long; it was suggested that technical points should be removed. However, when writing about science, the technical points are essential, and so we agree with Baartman that removing technical points was not a satisfactory solution.

As with other issues, we at Reformed Academic do not have any desire to promote global warming science or to simply accept what secular science has to say. Neither do we have any joy in pointing out the scientific errors of our theological and ecclesiastical leaders.

In this particular case, Baartman’s conclusion is that Van Dam’s editorial “is based partly upon a misunderstanding of the phrase ‘statistically significant,’ and partly upon dishonest information from non-expert sceptics. As well, the editorial, taking both parts together, is self-inconsistent. Moreover, it contains uncharitable allegations against the experts, and these have been found to be incorrect.” Read the paper in full for the details: PDF | HTML.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Recovering the Reformed Confession: A Book Review by David DeJong

At Reformed Academic, we are interested in discussing topics in any area of academic study from a Reformed Christian perspective. Thus we here present an essay review on a recent significant volume in theology.

R. Scott Clark, professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, published Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice (P&R, 2008). We thank David DeJong, a graduate of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary and currently a theology doctoral student at Notre Dame, for writing the review, which can be found in our “Collected Papers” (see the sidebar); a direct link is here.

We welcome your responses to Clark’s book as well as to DeJong’s critical review.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Should We “Harmonize” Science and Revelation?

Dr. Peter J. Wallace, a minister in the OPC and pastor of a PCA congregation in South Bend, Indiana, tries to answer this question by means of a historical survey of Christian harmonization attempts. The essay is entitled “The Doctrine of Creation in the History of the Church” and can be found here.

Wallace reminds us that while much of the present discussion focuses on the interpretation of the creation account, this is only one incident in the history of the church’s interaction with science, and a recent one at that. It did not begin until about 1800 when geologists, many of them Christians, concluded that the earth must be older than the generally accepted 6000 years. Before that time the length of the days had not really been “an issue” among Christians. What had long been an issue was to what extent science should affect biblical exegesis, not just in Genesis 1 but also elsewhere. And that question, Wallace observes, has been debated ever since the early Christian centuries. He places the present discussion within that larger context and shows that an acquaintance with the past can help us understand and evaluate positions on the issue that are held today.

As Wallace points out, Christians have traditionally followed two approaches with respect to science and revelation, namely conservatism (the church hesitates to accept the science of the day), and concordism (the church attempts to interpret the Bible in terms of the current scientific paradigm). He gives several examples. Among them is the initial rejection and ultimate acceptance of scientific arguments against a flat, four-cornered earth, of a solid, dome-like heavenly structure (Hebrew raqi’a) that prevents the waters above from flooding the earth, and of a moving sun, a stable earth, and an earth-centred universe. In none of these cases did the church justify its decisions on exegetical grounds. Scientific ones were decisive.

Wallace does not believe that we can eliminate the need for concordism. His concern is with the hazards of a concordist approach that tries to interpret the Bible as teaching the current scientific paradigm. Firstly, he observes, this constantly places the church a step behind the science of the day and has more than once led it to back the “wrong” science. Secondly, it threatens to interfere with a careful reading of the biblical message, and therefore with a proper exegesis. Attempts at harmonization, he believes, should never precede the exegetical work of ascertaining what the biblical text is in effect saying. If they do, i.e. if we try to harmonize our exegesis with the current scientific paradigm, we may well miss the theological meaning of the passage. Indeed, “harmonization at the level of exegesis is potentially fatal to a true understanding of the text.”

And therefore, to quote the conclusion of his essay, “If we find that the scripture portrays the sun as going around the earth, we should not seek to repress this but acknowledge that this was the scientific model of the biblical authors – which accurately expresses not only the ordinary observation of humanity, but the biblical teaching that the earth is the centre of God’s purpose in the universe. Likewise, if we determine that the raqi’a is portrayed in scripture as a solid dome or tent, then we should acknowledge that this was the common observation of ancient thinkers, and that it expresses the biblical teaching that the world was formed as a tabernacle where God is worshiped [see, inter alia, Isaiah 40:22, Psalm 78:69, Psalm 150:1]. In the same way, if we discover that the days of creation are portrayed as ordinary days, we should acknowledge that this expresses the biblical teaching that God’s pattern of six days of work and one of rest forms the pattern for our labors. We should not seek to harmonize our exegesis with modern science.”

A similar point has been made by the Dutch theologian A. L. Th. de Bruijne (in C. Trimp., ed., Woord op Schrift, 2002); see on this my article “How Do We Read The Bible?”(Part 3) (under “Collected Papers”; direct link here). De Bruijne deals with the biblical account of Christ’s ascension. In the ancient world that account caused no problems. According to the biblical world picture the earth was below the heavens, and therefore Christ indeed “ascended” – that is, he literally moved to a higher place. In the modern picture of the universe, however, space is boundless, the earth is no longer at the centre, and there no longer is an up and down, an above and below. Some therefore suggest that we are justified in changing the biblical presentation of the ascension with one that describes Christ not as ascending, but as moving to another dimension. De Bruijne disagrees and insists that we read the text as it comes to us. Not to do so, he says, is to misjudge the uniqueness of the language God uses in revelation. The presentation of a literal ascension, for example, involves associations and incorporates meanings that will be lost when we replace it with a modern one. The association of heaven with height is found throughout the Bible, already in the O.T., and again in the New. Jesus receives the highest place; he rises above sin and misery; we can lift up our eyes to heaven; from heaven he looks down to oversee and govern all things; he will come down from heaven to take us to himself, and so on. The fact that God presents the ascension as he does means that this presentation has a particular fitness to be a vehicle of revelation, a fitness that our substitutes lack. Of course, after the text has been explained we can, De Bruijne says, supplement the biblical presentation with a modern one, such as that of a multi-dimensional universe. We should at all times be careful, however, not to absolutize our modern world picture. The Bible should be understood on its own terms.

The exegetical principle of which Wallace and De Bruijne remind us is not new, but it is sometimes forgotten in the heat of the controversy. It does not resolve every problem the Christian church meets in its interaction with science, but it is well to be reminded that the Bible’s message stands, independently of ever-changing scientific paradigms.

Note: Also of interest is Wallace’s study “The Archetypal Week: A Defense of the Analogical Day View” available here along with his other essays.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Antony Flew: 1923-2010

English philosopher Antony Flew was born in a Christian family (his father was a well-known Methodist preacher), attended a Christian school, and until age 15 was a believer. At that age, however, he rejected the faith – mainly because he could not square the presence of evil with the existence of an all-powerful and compassionate God. He stuck to his atheism, and during much of the second half of the 20th century he was known as the leading atheist thinker in the English-speaking world. But in 2004, at age 81, he changed his mind and announced that he had come to believe that there is a God. Having renounced his atheism, Flew did not become a Christian, however, but turned to deism, although he did make inquiries about the faith and was for some time in contact with the well-known English theologian N.T. Wright. But as far as we know he never accepted divine revelation and remained, until his death in April 2010, a deist.

What caused his renunciation of atheism? Flew himself describes the process in his book There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (HarperOne, 2007). This publication shows that the main reason for his change of mind was the world picture produced by modern science – such as the Big Bang theory and the rapidly accumulating evidence of the fine-tuning of the universe. These scientific discoveries convinced him that the universe must have been designed, and that therefore a supernatural Intelligence must exist. Atheism simply could not explain the universe.

As I wrote in 2008, in my review of Flew’s book [Clarion, v. 57, n. 21 (10 October 2008), pp. 530-532, online here], “Intellectual arguments cannot by themselves lead to a saving knowledge of God. That is the gift of the Holy Spirit alone. Intellectual arguments can, however, move an atheist to reconsider his beliefs and conclude that he may have been wrong. This happened to the English philosopher Antony Flew (1923).” Christians, I pointed out, can learn from Flew’s experience that science-based arguments against a godless world picture can be intellectually persuasive. They should therefore make a proper use of such arguments.

For another brief but informative account of Antony Flew’s journey from Christianity to atheism to deism, see this blog posting by Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

PCA Geologists About the Age of the Earth

Modern Reformation is a bimonthly magazine connected with White Horse Inn, and has URC minister Rev. Michael Horton as editor-in-chief and a number of regular contributors who are ministers and professors from the URC. In addition, as their web page states, “The editors make an intentional effort to include voices from across the Reformational spectrum in Modern Reformation’s pages.”

The May/June 2010 issue of Modern Reformation contains an article (vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 6-8) by eight PCA geologists on the age of the earth. (One of the eight is Davis A. Young, a Christian geologist who is well known among us.) The authors introduce their article by stating that they wish to provide their brothers and sisters in Christ with a few general observations, some clarification of a common misconception about geology, and “two specific examples that speak convincingly that God’s earthly creation has been around for a very long time.”

Having described evidence for an old earth, the authors deal with the response of some young-earth advocates who explain the geological evidence by stating that “Creation had to have the appearance of age, without deception, because Adam, mature forests, and even flowing rivers would all of necessity have the appearance of age.” The geologists respond: “This confuses maturity with history. A miraculously created tree might well appear mature, but apparent age arguments suggest that if Adam cut down several of these trees, he may have found 50 growth rings with matching patterns of variable growth and burn marks at rings 21 and 43. These data represent not just maturity or age but history—a history that never actually occurred. This is not the Creator described in Romans 1. We may not always have a complete understanding of the history revealed in the earth’s layers, but Reformed theology should insist it is a real history.”

The report concludes as follows:

“If the PCA recognizes that mature believers fall on either side of the age of the earth debate, does it ultimately make a difference which side you fall on? We suggest it does matter for two important reasons.

“The first is a greater appreciation of God’s handiwork. If creation conforms to God’s trustworthiness and looks old because it is old, we are free to marvel at each new discovery that further reveals the incredible complexity and grandeur of his creativity. If the earth is old and we insist it is young, every new discovery can be met only with distrust and disdain—disdain of his creation!

“The second reason is of perhaps greater importance. If the earth is old and Christians insist it is young, we risk becoming a tragic obstacle to faith for those both inside and outside the church. Non-Christians who logically understand geology conclude that the path to Christ requires belief in an intentionally deceptive god and choose to place their faith elsewhere. Covenant children who are raised with the impression that a young earth is integral to Christianity have their faith needlessly undermined when they are later confronted with the overwhelming evidence of the earth’s antiquity, and many leave the faith. It is our prayer that no Christian would be such an obstacle!”

The article can be found here, and is also listed in our “Collected Papers.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Clarion and Young-Earth Creationism

Clarion, “The Canadian Reformed Magazine,” has apparently chosen for young-earth creationism. Although for years it had published work on both old- and young-earth creationism, in recent months the magazine has refused publication of old-earth articles and devoted itself single-mindedly to attacks on both old-earth creationism and theistic evolution. It began with an article by five Canadian Reformed pastors in the issue of 1 January 2010, entitled “Ten Reasons Why Evolution is Dangerous and Evil.” In addition, four editorials were published in the space of a few months, all of them rejecting theistic evolution and/or old-earth creationism. Since the attacks were obviously directed against Reformed Academic, we posted a series of answers to the “Ten Reasons.” Subsequently we submitted a more general response to Clarion, but the editorial committee, in accordance with its recently adopted policy, vetoed publication. We therefore now post it on the blog. (See “Collected Papers” in the sidebar for J. van der Meer et al. (2010) “Reformed Academic Responds to ‘Ten Reasons’”; direct link here.)

We do this in an attempt not only to respond to erroneous accusations at our address, but also to calm the waters. A good deal of alarm has recently been raised both at home and abroad about the dire threats posed to the CanRC by theistic evolutionists and old-earth creationists. We consider that alarmism unnecessary and regrettable, but realize how it could happen. While leading Reformed theologians have in the past generally accepted old-earth creationism as worthy of defence, and while even the possibility of some sort of theistic evolution appears to have been considered without raising alarm (let alone censorship), times have changed. During the past few decades scientific creationism, an American import, has slain its millions. (On this topic see the essay “Young-Earth Creationism: A History” on this blog, posted on 27 June 2009.)

This scientific creationism spread from North America to other areas, including the Netherlands. There, however, the much older Reformed (or “continental”) tradition on the issue survived. That tradition had of course been inherited by the Canadian Reformed Churches. In the past it was not uncommon for Canadian Reformed professors of theology to admit that they had no problems with old-earth creationism, and as mentioned, Clarion was allowed to write about it as well. Lately, however, American-evangelical influences have been growing among us, and by now it looks as if that position is to replace Reformed-continentalism. Not only Clarion, but the magazine Reformed Perspective also promotes it as the only biblical position, most schools, as well as the Theological College, appear to teach it, and neither pastors nor teachers publicly admit to a different position, no matter what their private opinion.

In short, the Canadian Reformed community is in this respect in tune with what is often called the fundamentalist wing of evangelicalism. As such they differ not only from the Reformed churches in the Netherlands but also from orthodox Presbyterianism in North America – both PCA and OPC. In these churches the issues, although considered sensitive, are openly discussed. We regret that this is no longer possible in the CanRC. In fact, it was this development – and specifically the censorship instituted by Clarion – that led to the establishment of Reformed Academic. In view of the measures taken by the powers that be, our work will have to continue.

Answers to the question why we believe we must address the question of the history of the earth and of life have been given in various entries on our blog. For the benefit of our readers, we will recapitulate them here:

1. We ask for a restoration of a balance in this area that was only recently disturbed. That is, we ask for the freedom of interpretation in the matter of Genesis 1 that has existed in the Reformed churches for well over a 100 years, and that had in both the Netherlands and Canada given little rise to controversy until the inrush and acceptance of American young-earth creationism. The traditional position implied the defence of old-earth creationism, as well as the idea of a regional Flood, the questioning of flood geology, and related issues.

2. We ask for an honest discussion of the effects scientific findings may have (and in the past indeed have had) on biblical exegesis. As one example out of several, we ask the reader to remember the acceptance of the Copernican-Galilean theory of a moving earth. While we realize the difficulties evolutionary theory raises for the understanding of Genesis 1, we are convinced that ostrich policies won’t help, just as they did not help in the past. They tend to be counter-productive. Although we have questions about evolution, we are all convinced that the matter must be discussed. The reasons why, and the manner in which, are outlined in our “Response to ‘Ten Reasons’” (Reformed Academic, 1-6 April 2010) and in other posts on our blog.

3. We ask for an awareness of the predicament in which the official proclamation of scientific creationism as the only acceptable position places many believers, and especially Christian scientists and students. Whatever the theological, philosophical, and even scientific problems associated with evolution, the scientific evidence for such matters as common descent is strong. Teaching that this evidence must be ignored, and even that it is spurious (inspired by the devil, as some believe) is not convincing.

4. We ask that our churches cease distancing themselves from the orthodox Reformed ecumene by their association with evangelical fundamentalism. In this respect we draw attention to the need to engage our culture and to stop raising stumbling stones for outsiders. A literalistic hermeneutic constitutes such a stumbling block. Realizing this, an increasing number of orthodox Christians (theologians and others) who take their cultural and evangelistic tasks seriously have, even in “creationist” America, publicly declared to have accepted either old-earth creationism or theistic evolution. We do not ask our churches to follow the latter example. We do, however, believe that it is high time to devote a serious discussion to the issue. To forbid such a discussion, as is presently done in our churches, and to present an interpretation of Genesis 1 that differs from the young-earth creationist one as unbiblical, is erroneous and dangerous.

We invite your careful reading of, and comments upon, our concluding response to “Ten Reasons” (direct link here).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Response to “Ten Reasons” – 10

This is a continuation of our response to an article entitled “Ten Reasons Why Evolution is Dangerous and Evil” published in Clarion in January. See this introductory response for the context and our approach. In the interest of clarity, and to avoid further unnecessary polarization, we presented these responses in advance to the authors of “Ten Reasons” to provide an opportunity to identify any misunderstanding or misrepresentation. No response was received.

Original from Clarion [numbered for our responses below]

Evolution falls outside the tent of the Reformed confessions

One of the great things about the Three Forms of Unity (TFU) is that they provide a big roomy tent under which Reformed confessors can discuss, even argue, theological points. For example, TFU subscribers can either believe there is such a thing as a covenant of works or that there is not, and have the room under the tent to discuss it. TFU subscribers can hold to either the Puritan or the Calvinian view of the application of the fourth commandment and have room to discuss their differences. This, alone, makes the TFU superior to some other Reformed confessions, which insist–to use the aforesaid examples–that one hold to the covenant of works doctrine and the Puritan understanding of the fourth commandment. The TFU get it right. They exclude Roman Catholic, Anabaptist and Arminian heresies and errors, but do not push fellow Reformed confessors out into the cold and rain. But what about “theistic evolution”? Can that discussion take place under the big tent?

Someone who holds to a teaching of evolution, “theistic” or other, has brought the discussion outside the tent.[37] By way of our confessions, we say that we believe scripture to teach that Adam was a direct creation of God; we reject that Adam had human and/or animal ancestors.[38]

One example from each confession should suffice to demonstrate the truth of this:[39]
  • Article 14 of the Belgic Confession says, “…God created man of dust from the ground and He made and formed him after His own image and likeness….”
  • Lord’s Day 3, referring to “our first parents, Adam and Eve,” says that “God created man good and in His image.”
  • Canons of Dort, III/IV, I says, “In the beginning man was created in the image of God.”
Whether or not we have animal ancestry is not an intramural discussion. (GVP)

Responses by Reformed Academic

37. Many who have been gifted and called to study and serve in the field of biology (or even geology or astronomy), and who are fully committed to the Reformed faith, have difficulty discussing openly in the church community what they are discovering about the way the world is. These brothers and sisters raise challenging questions, but they can be encouraged that there are also answers being given within the broader community of the Reformed faith by those who give careful attention to the interpretation of Scripture and of the scientific evidence. Suggesting instead that entertaining any support for the biological theory of evolution puts them outside of the Reformed community is not serving them, or Christ, well.

38. This argument assumes that God-directed evolution excludes the direct creation of Adam by God. But God-directed evolution does not exclude the direct creation of Adam, because everything that happens is under God’s direct control. Therefore, theistic evolution is not outside the boundaries of the TFU.

39. We at Reformed Academic all affirm all of these points.

Response to “Ten Reasons” – 9

This is a continuation of our response to an article entitled “Ten Reasons Why Evolution is Dangerous and Evil” published in Clarion in January. See this introductory response for the context and our approach. In the interest of clarity, and to avoid further unnecessary polarization, we presented these responses in advance to the authors of “Ten Reasons” to provide an opportunity to identify any misunderstanding or misrepresentation. No response was received.

Original from Clarion [numbered for our responses below]

Evolution is incompatible with the biblical doctrine of marriage and family

According to Scripture (Gen 2:18-23), God created a wife for Adam and then officiated at the first wedding ceremony. The Bible teaches that marriage and family have their origin with God’s creation in Genesis. Evolutionary theory[33] teaches, however, that marriage and family are social conventions that developed among evolving animals. This theory would suggest that family and marriage relationships are not written in stone, and therefore we can expect them to continue to evolve. It is not a significant step from accepting evolutionary dogma to embracing the validity of homosexual relationships, polygamy, or even bestiality. If there is no essential difference[34] between man and the animals, then man may certainly behave like an animal. The Bible teaches one thing and evolution[35] something completely different – this is the antithesis established between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. If we are to maintain the Biblical doctrine of marriage and family, we do well to see evolution[36] for what it is: an attack on the truth of God’s Word. (WB)

Responses by Reformed Academic

33. It is true that the biological theory of evolution has been used to account for social, moral, and religious behaviour. However, both Christians and non-Christians have shown that such use does not follow from that theory; instead, it is the teaching of evolutionism. We certainly do not hold the views attributed to philosophical evolutionists in this section. There is a revival of the so-called “nature-nurture” debates of the past. Materialists reduce social behavior including marriage and religiosity to phenomena determined by biological causes. Others, claiming to be anti-reductionists, reduce the same to socio-cultural factors. There are some, including Christians, who try to acknowledge the biological as well as the social and the religious aspects of, say, marriage. In these fields there is a crying need to develop a Christian interpretation of the biological facts. It is difficult to separate theory and ideology in this case, and this calls for careful thought. Dr. Jitse van der Meer has contributed to this Christian perspective by arguing that materialism shapes sociobiological theory in his article, “The engagement of religion and biology: A case study in the mediating role of metaphor in the sociobiology of Lumsden & Wilson”, Biology and Philosophy v. 15 (2000) pp. 669-698.

34. The biological theory of evolution does not make any ontological claims regarding the status of human vis-à-vis animals. Evolutionism indeed claims there is no essential difference. Christians, including us, certainly affirm the uniqueness of humanity (see previous remark).

35. Evolutionism, not evolution.

36. Evolutionism, not evolution.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Response to “Ten Reasons” – 8

This is a continuation of our response to an article entitled “Ten Reasons Why Evolution is Dangerous and Evil” published in Clarion in January. See this introductory response for the context and our approach. In the interest of clarity, and to avoid further unnecessary polarization, we presented these responses in advance to the authors of “Ten Reasons” to provide an opportunity to identify any misunderstanding or misrepresentation. No response was received.

Original from Clarion [numbered for our responses below]

Evolution cannot account for the uniformity of nature

The fact that the universe is orderly and regular makes science possible – this is the “uniformity of nature.” Evolutionists believe in the uniformity of nature, but it is inconsistent with the foundations of the theory of evolution. Those foundations cannot account for the world in which we live. Therefore, evolution and its associated worldviews cannot provide an adequate answer to the question of why we should believe that the future will reflect the present or the past. If all that exists is only matter (as most evolutionary worldviews claim), there is no basis for the uniformity of nature, and therefore no basis for science.[30]

Appealing to some form of theistic evolution does not help. The Bible teaches that the uniformity of nature has its basis in God and his decrees. The same Bible also teaches that God created the universe in six normal[31] days. It is inconsistent to accept one while denying the other. It is inconsistent to regard Genesis 1 and 2 as mythical or poetic while regarding Genesis 8:22 as literal.[32] Like his secular counterparts, a theistic evolutionist has no credible way to account for the uniformity of nature and the foundations of science. (WB)

Responses by Reformed Academic

30. Certainly, the only solid foundation for science is the covenant faithfulness of God toward His good creation, as discussed by Dr. Arnold Sikkema in his “Laws of Nature and God’s Word for Creation”, Fideles v. 2 (2007) pp. 27-43 (see remark 18).

If God had a plan for the Israelites in the Old Testament that included a history of redemption, so God can have a plan for his creation that includes historical development.

The author of this section does not explain what he means by uniformity and this makes it hard to respond. Uniformity may apply to process, law, causes, or rates, or any combination of them depending on the requirements of the circumstances. He seems to assume that the order of creation is static, which is (of course) inconsistent with a changing creation. We see sociological, meteorological, ecological, geological, astronomical processes occurring every day. If God has created the world such that it can change on these scales, and on those depicted in the theory of biological evolution, then change is consistent with God’s faithfulness. Change can be orderly and lawful.

31. We believe there was nothing normal or ordinary about the days of creation; they were extraordinary; after all we are talking about the creation of the universe! Furthermore, there is no consensus even among Reformed theologians regarding the precise interpretation of the days of Genesis 1.

32. There need not be a dichotomy between poetry and truth. Many authors have recognized the poetic and truthful character of both Genesis 1 and Genesis 8:22. It’s not clear what the point is here.

Response to “Ten Reasons” – 6 and 7

This is a continuation of our response to an article entitled “Ten Reasons Why Evolution is Dangerous and Evil” published in Clarion in January. See this introductory response for the context and our approach. In the interest of clarity, and to avoid further unnecessary polarization, we presented these responses in advance to the authors of “Ten Reasons” to provide an opportunity to identify any misunderstanding or misrepresentation. No response was received.

Original from Clarion [numbered for our responses below]

Evolution devalues human life

In the early part of the twentieth century the province of Alberta and other Canadian jurisdictions enacted eugenics laws on the basis of evolutionary theory.[24] Those with congenital disabilities were regularly sterilized to promote the development of the human race – in Nazi Germany, they were euthanized. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, built her pro-abortion ideology upon an evolutionary foundation. Even in the history of the Christian Reformed Church, an embrace of evolutionary dogma has often been associated with a denial of what the Bible teaches about the value of the unborn. Evolution[25] teaches a materialistic view of humanity in which we are essentially bags of chemicals.[26] Such a view, consistently held, results in the devaluation of human life from conception onward. (WB)

Evolution requires death before the Fall

The process of natural selection within the theory of evolution requires thousands, if not millions, of generations of our ancestors, many who were not quite human. They all lived, reproduced and then died. In this process, dominant characteristics developed only by chance[27] and others disappeared. It all led to progressively higher forms of life until human beings finally appeared on earth.

What the Bible teaches us is that not only did God create man, He created him very good. Then, in Genesis 2:17, He warned the first man and woman that if they disobeyed him and sinned, this would lead to their death. The testimony of Romans 5:12 is that since sin entered the world through the one man Adam, death came to all men after him.

If death has no basis in sin (as the theory of evolution says[28]), then what is the role of Jesus Christ as our Redeemer? Romans 5:17 tells us that He came to bring righteousness and life to those who die because they are descendants of the one man Adam.

When those who believe in the theory of evolution reject what the Bible teaches us about the origin of death as the consequence of sin, it’s not just a matter of whether to take the first three chapters of Genesis literally.[29] This actually throws into doubt the truthfulness of the rest of God’s Word, including what he did for us through Christ as our Mediator. (WG)

Responses by Reformed Academic

24. That some distort the biological theory of evolution and claim it as a foundation for their godless philosophies does indeed call for discernment, as discussed in earlier remarks.

25. The biological theory of evolution says nothing of this sort; this again is the naturalistic philosophy of evolutionism.

26. We join WB in opposing reductionism in all forms (see remark 19).

27. The nature of “chance” was discussed in previous remarks (15 & 16) as well.

28. The biological theory of evolution cannot account for the special character of humanity. Christians who support the theory generally acknowledge that human death is a consequence of human sin. Scripture nowhere claims that animal death is a consequence of human sin, or that animal death is evil. Life was promised for obedience, and this was rejected by man. Some of these matters are discussed at length by Dr. Jitse van der Meer in his paper, “God, Natural Evil, and Biological Evolution” (Reformed Academic, 6 October 2009; see this blog posting).

29. Again, we at Reformed Academic affirm the historical character of Genesis.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Response to “Ten Reasons” – 4 and 5

This is a continuation of our response to an article entitled “Ten Reasons Why Evolution is Dangerous and Evil” published in Clarion in January. See this introductory response for the context and our approach. In the interest of clarity, and to avoid further unnecessary polarization, we presented these responses in advance to the authors of “Ten Reasons” to provide an opportunity to identify any misunderstanding or misrepresentation. No response was received.

Original from Clarion [numbered for our responses below]

Evolution surrenders the historicity of Adam and Eve

Many people who hold to the theory of evolution don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve. For them we today are simply[19] the result of millions of years of evolving from lower forms.

However, God’s Word in Genesis 2:7 tells that He created the first man out of the dust of the ground and the first woman from a part taken out of the man. They were made specifically by God and in his image.

If there was no literal Adam and Eve,[20] then what about the fall? Where did sin come from? Without a fall into sin, do we still need a redeemer? Without Adam and Eve, then who is Jesus Christ?

What we learn from 1 Corinthians 15:22 is that not only was there a first Adam but that because of his sin, the sin that affected not only him but all his descendants too, there had to be a second Adam.

If we start with God’s Word and if we believe the testimony that it gives us about what He did in creation and in redemption, then there couldn’t have been development from pre-human ancestors. If we begin with God’s Word, common ancestry with modern primates is out of the question.[21] (WG)

Evolution eliminates the antithesis

Our first parents’ tragic fall in Paradise destroyed the unity of humanity. When man fell, the united, God-honouring human race was permanently divided into two groups – the “seed of the woman” and the “seed of the serpent.” “I will put enmity between you and the woman,” the Lord told the serpent in Genesis 3:15, “and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

In subsequent history, that antithesis became clear, as the history of the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent is recounted on the pages of God’s Word. At many points in the history of God’s people, this antithesis has come under attack, as God’s people have attempted to make peace with the enemy, or have simply forgotten about the importance of this “great divide.”

“What does all of this have to do with the issue of Darwinian evolution[22] as it relates to the Christian faith?” you ask. And the answer is, “Everything!” In Romans 1:18-25, the Apostle Paul informs us in no uncertain terms about the nature of those who reject the one, true God: “For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”

We must never forget the antithesis, the vast chasm that God has placed between his people and unbelievers for our own benefit, and for his glory. Scientists who begin by denying God and his role in the creation and preservation of the universe are, to use the words of Scripture, “the seed of the serpent.” Claiming to be wise, they are actually fools. Beginning with the presupposition that there is no God, they become futile in their thinking. There is no middle ground; we must maintain the antithesis in every area of our lives, for the sake of God’s people, and ultimately to the glory of the Almighty Himself.[23] (JW)

Responses by Reformed Academic

19. The “simply” which WG cites is an example of reductionism, and reductionism is part of the overarching worldview of evolutionism, not part of the biological theory of evolution. We fully oppose all reductionistic forms of anthropology, which make such claims. For more on reductionism, see this blog posting. Certainly the human person is far more than whatever processes or materials were used by God in his/her development, and that is true for Adam as well as for us today.

20. We at Reformed Academic accept Adam and Eve as historical. See this blog posting (comment dated 4 June 2009).

21. Better put, as Calvin would have it: one who wishes to investigate questions of common ancestry, not addressed by Scripture, “let him look elsewhere.”

22. At the risk of being somewhat repetitive, it is not Darwinian evolution which is “the enemy,” opposed to Christianity, but evolutionism. The issues raised in the section are otherwise exactly on the mark.

23. We glorify God also by exploring the works of His hands, as He has revealed Himself in the “creation, preservation, and government of the universe” (Belgic Confession, Article 2). We deny Him glory if we care not one whit for the evidence of processes which He has ordained and overseen. We are perplexed by the enormity of the accusations (“Scientists…denying God…the seed of the serpent”) among people who confess the same faith, but we will take them as well-intended. It is clear, though, that there is a significant degree of misunderstanding, and hence misrepresentation, of what has been posted on Reformed Academic.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Response to “Ten Reasons” – 2 and 3

This is a continuation of our response to an article entitled “Ten Reasons Why Evolution is Dangerous and Evil” published in Clarion in January. See this introductory response for the context and our approach. In the interest of clarity, and to avoid further unnecessary polarization, we presented these responses in advance to the authors of “Ten Reasons” to provide an opportunity to identify any misunderstanding or misrepresentation. No response was received.

Original from Clarion [numbered for our responses below]

Evolution requires pre-Adamite human beings - Luke 3:38 disallows it

The genealogy of the Lord Jesus, as Luke gives it, ends with saying that Seth was the son of Adam, and that Adam was the son of God (Luke 3:38). In the Greek, the word “son” occurs only in v. 23 (“[Jesus] was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, of Heli, of Matthat, etc.”). But “son” is clearly implied every time. Our English translation, supplying the word “son” in every instance, is not incorrect.

To be a son of someone is to have your existence from that person. Seth had his existence from Adam. To use an old expression, he was the fruit of Adam’s loins. Adam had his existence from God–of course, in a way different from how Seth was of Adam. The point of comparison is that as Seth was directly of Adam, so Adam was directly of God.

The context of this verse is very instructive. The genealogy of Jesus is preceded by the account of his baptism. There the Father calls Jesus “my Son.” Context is king. As the eternal Son of God has his existence directly from the God the Father, so Adam had his existence directly from God.

Those who believe that man and chimpanzees have a common (animal) ancestor will have difficulty with the position that Adam was the direct creation of God. They will suppose that Adam had ancestors, possibly human, assuredly animal. Luke 3:38 would contradict that supposition.

The only way to get around the conclusion that Luke 3:38 teaches that Adam was the direct creation of God (and not the offspring of another creature) is to take the position that Luke 3:38 is mythological.[12] (GvP)

Evolution challenges God’s self-revelation in Scripture

The scriptural doctrine of creation is not an issue that can be pushed to the side as a “non-essential” of the Christian faith. Many will claim that Darwinian evolution and the Christian faith can co-exist as partners, or at the very least as peaceful neighbours, that the matter of “how” God created is not as important as the fact that He created. However, Scripture repeatedly reveals that God’s act of creation by the awesome power of his Word is intimately related to, and indeed one with, the central doctrines of our faith.

Why is our Lord and God worthy to receive glory and honour and power? Because He created all things, and by His will they existed and were created” (Rev 4:11).

How can the Lord have the power to call his people, and to redeem us? He is the One who created us; He is the one who formed us (Isa 43:1).

What is the true nature of the Son of God? Through Him the Father created the world and He upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb 1:2,3).

In Isaiah 40, the Lord speaks through his prophet, detailing the close relationship between his creative power and his personal work of redemption. His power in creating the world and sustaining it, an infinite power and authority that had no need[13] for millions, or billions, of years of evolutionary development, is intimately connected to his power to know his people personally, to save us, and to give us all that we need. The God who created the world in an instant,[14] who arranged and filled the universe in an unimaginable, awesome show of power and might, is also our Redeemer (Isa 40:25-29).

The Darwinian doctrine of evolution takes[15] the awe-inspiring creative power of God Almighty and places it in the hands of genetic mutations, chance,[16] and aeons of natural selection and development. It creates a distance[17] between God and his creation; it detracts from the power of God’s creative Word; it subtracts from God’s glory, and it paints a picture of the one true God that does not at all line up with his self-revelation in Scripture.

Who is our God? How should we live in the presence of such a God? “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps 33:8,9). This is the God who has revealed Himself. This is the God we worship and adore.[18] (JW)

Responses by Reformed Academic

12. The assumption in this “Reason” is that, in the case of humans, animal ancestry and direct creation by God are mutually exclusive. No reasons are given why God could not have created Adam from animal ancestors. The Bible characterizes all things as the result of God’s creative activity irrespective of whether the things created come about supernaturally or naturally. In both cases God creates. Therefore, the conclusion that Luke 3:38 must be mythological does not follow. We understand the concern about a possible denial that Adam was the son of God. We certainly do not take that position because we take Luke 3:38 to be true.

In the case of Adam, this section seems to posit a dichotomy between being a son of God and having any other ancestors, but in the case of Jesus, it acknowledges both “opposites.” But we are all sons of God (Galatians 3:26), as well as sons of our parents. Jesus was the son of David, David the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1), etc. There is thus no need for the dichotomy, and so this section seems irrelevant.

13. Certainly God did not need millions or billions of years to create the world. He could have created the universe yesterday, with all memories and historical records in place. But since scripture does not speak about the age of the earth (or of the universe), then, as Calvin says, “He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere...Astronomers investigate with great labour whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For as astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God” (Commentary on Genesis 1:6 & 16). Taking time to make something does not detract from God’s glory either; it is a false dichotomy between fiat and process. After all, why did God let the Israelites suffer through a history of redemption if He could have redeemed them in an instant? Because it was in God’s plan. If that history can be in God’s plan, why would that not apply to the history of the Earth as studied in geology?

14. The claim that creation was instantaneous cannot be supported from Scripture. Even those who affirm a literalistic interpretation of Genesis 1 see God working through processes over time.

15. No explanation – scientific or otherwise – ever takes away the power of God and replaces it with natural causes. That view would be the position of an atheist or a materialist such as Dawkins. As Reformed Christians, we believe that God is involved in everything including what are called “chance” events. The notion of “chance” is often misunderstood as referring to fate, but no Christian is bound to that atheistic interpretation. The scientist who is a Christian acknowledges the God of creation and providence while also investigating the lawful patterns of regularity by which the Trinitarian God speaks the world into being and behaviour.

16. A Reformed doctrine of creation and providence acknowledges a place for “chance,” as seen from the human perspective, without implying this is hands-off for God (Proverbs 16:33). In all things, God’s decree is sovereign.

17. The Reformed doctrine of creation and providence holds to both the transcendence and immanence of God. God forming and filling creation is an intimate personal process.

18. In case there is any doubt, we at Reformed Academic fully accept all of Scripture, including (especially) the texts cited here. In fact, Dr. Arnold Sikkema has written a paper entitled “Laws of Nature and God’s Word for Creation”, Fideles v. 2 (2007) pp. 27-43 (accessible at our “collected papers” in the sidebar; direct link here), which cites many of these same passages in support of a Reformed Christian understanding of the character of natural laws.

Response to “Ten Reasons” - 1

This is a continuation of our response to an article entitled “Ten Reasons Why Evolution is Dangerous and Evil” published in Clarion in January. See this introductory response for the context and our approach. In the interest of clarity, and to avoid further unnecessary polarization, we presented these responses in advance to the authors of “Ten Reasons” to provide an opportunity to identify any misunderstanding or misrepresentation. No response was received.

Original from Clarion [numbered for our responses below]

Evolution must regard Genesis 2:8 as mythical

In Genesis 2:4-7 we read that God formed man from the dust of the ground and then He breathed the breath of life into his nostrils and man became a living soul.

God created man (in Hebrew:
Adam) from the dust[6] of the ground (in Hebrew: adamah) and he became a living soul. This account of the creation of man resounds with the special character of this creative act of God.[7] On the previous creation days, God said, “Let there be…!” And it was so. And it was all very good. But now in Genesis 2:7 we read of the Lord God, the covenant God, who in a special creative act, gives the breath of life to Adam formed from adamah.[8]

Now, if evolutionists are right, then this is figurative language.[9] Some biblical scholars have rejected a literal “potter” interpretation because they see this as close to disrespect of God: “Did God fashion the liver, the lungs of clay?” they might ask. “God was not concerned with creating a scientific text when he told us of his creative work; He just wanted to communicate that man did not descend from the gods, but that He was part of this creation,” they would say.

However, if this creation story is figurative, allegorical, mythical or some other kind of story, other than history, then at Genesis 2:8 we have a problem. For God put that man he had
formed into a garden. There, together with the woman, he was tempted to rebel against his Creator and fell into sin. Any literary approach to the narrative would make no distinction between the forming of the man in verse 7, and the formed man in verse 8. So if this is an allegorical myth, it must continue into the following verses. It would seem disingenuous to claim verse 7 to be myth, and verse 8 to be history.[10]

Of course the story of the fall, and the record of historical Adam are foundational to the New Testament doctrine of redemption and atonement. Paul and the Lord Jesus accept the historical reality of Adam. Paul, in Romans, works out the doctrine of substitutionary atonement based on the historical Adam. The doctrine of the covenant also is tied into a historical Adam.

Evolutionists, who claim that the human race descended from pre-adamite primates need to be clear and honest: the Reformed doctrine of atonement and covenant would need to rewritten, for there can be no real Adam formed from
adamah.[11] (JvP)

Responses by Reformed Academic

6. In this context, thought must be given as to what “dust” means. Considering Psalm 103:14, we know that even we today are created from dust. (See also Genesis 18:27; I Kings 16:2; Job 10:9; Job 34:15; Psalm 90:3.) Thus, comparing Scripture with Scripture, we see that Adam’s creation from “dust” does not necessarily mean that God pushed around some mud and formed a humanoid shape. Instead, “dust” has a range of acceptable interpretations including “the material Adam is made of,” “the humble status of Adam,” and “the clay used by the divine potter to fashion Adam.” Contrary to this, many other religions assume humanity was formed out of divine substance.

7. Christians who lend credence to the theory of common ancestry fully affirm that the creation of man is a special creative act of God; they also affirm the clear Biblical teaching of the soul, and that the human person is made uniquely and specially in the image of God. (Among others, these include Denis Alexander, Denis Lamoureux, Francis Collins, Jitse van der Meer.)

8. We fully affirm the main point of this paragraph, namely that man is a special creation. This point, though, is grounded in the fact that God breathes the breath of life into Adam. The precise meaning of “dust” in this context does not affect the clear fact of the special creation of man.

9. This assertion is correct for adherents to evolutionism as a worldview, but not for those who work with the theory of biological evolution while rejecting the worldview. The latter are not forced to accept a figurative or mythical interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. Instead, just like each of the Gospels offers history written from different perspectives, so they can take Genesis as offering history with a religious perspective. While a religious perspective does not remove the historical reality referred to in a text, it also does not conform to modern scholarly standards for history writing. In the words of C. John Collins [Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2006) p. 13, n. 17]: “…if we say that an account makes a historical truth claim, that does not settle every question we might ask about whether, for example, things are narrated in the order in which they occurred; or whether the description is complete; or whether we must interpret the account without reference to metaphor, hyperbole, literary devices, etc.” Christians who take the Bible seriously can take Gen. 1 & 2 as history while not taking it as a “photographic report” as the five authors appear to suggest. Their view that evolution forces a figurative, allegorical, or mythical interpretation on the text of Gen. 1 & 2 is overly simplistic and does not stand up to criticism.

10. From what we just wrote it will be clear that a straw man is being set up. This strategy is constantly repeated against our protests and does not promote the neighbour’s good name. Instead, it carelessly identifies us as evolutionists and then raises all the concerns that they think apply to evolutionists. Only they do not apply to us. We at Reformed Academic affirm the historicity of the Genesis account, while many seem to think that we seek to deny it, consider it a myth, or force upon it a new interpretation to fit modern science. Instead, we wish to use sound Reformed hermeneutical principles, including letting Scripture interpret Scripture, emphasizing the redemptive-historical approach, and considering the cultural, literary, and textual, historical context, especially seeking to recognize how modernist and enlightenment thinking has in recent centuries clouded our interpretation of what the original author(s) and readers and hearers meant and received. An important aspect of this is to recognize that our understanding of the world does and indeed cannot but influence our understanding of the Word (and vice versa of course). After Galileo, most Reformed believers had no difficulty in correcting interpretations of passages such as Psalm 93:1 and Joshua 10:12,13 which had earlier been taken, on a so-called “plain sense reading,” to oppose the developing sun-centred model. However, note carefully that it is not science which brings an interpretation to Scripture, but new scientific understandings can be the occasion for more careful hermeneutics and exegesis in cases where even a long-standing traditional interpretation, though likely not an original understanding, of a passage is called into question.

11. Neither do we join with those who regard Adam as a-historical.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Creation Science Misuses of Scripture

In this post I would like to comment on two passages of Scripture that are commonly used by the Creation Scientists to support their interpretation of Scripture, but upon careful reading can be shown to be quoted out of context.

Job 38:4
The first passage is from Job 38:4ff., which begins, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” This text is commonly used to say that since nobody but God was present at creation, we should listen to what he said about it in his Word e.g. here. Certainly, if it’s a question of God’s Word against ours, the choice should be obvious but it isn’t that simple.

This interpretation of Job 38:4 misunderstands the point that God is making to Job. Since a text without a context is a pretext, let's look at the context. Job 38:1 states that God answered Job, but in response to what? For the answer we need to go back to chapter 31, where Job defends his innocence before God, stating that he does not deserve the calamity which God has allowed Satan to inflict upon him. Job’s defense is in response to the accusations of his "friends" that he must have done something wicked. The younger Elihu gets the point though, and chastises Job for trying to understand why God has allowed these things to happen to him, that Job in a sense is accusing God of being unfair.

Thus Job’s challenging of God’s ways is the context to chapter 38, where God tells Job that he darkens counsel by words without knowledge (v. 2). Yes, chapter 38 speaks of creation, but it is described in the context of God's wisdom compared to that of Job. The next chapter speaks about God's wisdom in making things the way they are (incidentally, this chapter and chapter 41 are strong evidence against the notion of a gentle and death-free world before the Fall, because it is clear that God made fierce creatures as we find them today e.g. 39:30). In chapter 40:8 the Lord returns to the theme by asking Job, “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”

In short, the purpose of Job 38-41 is not a warning for us not to look into the history of creation; rather, it is a warning for us not to question God's ways.

Isaiah 11
The second passage I would like to address is Isaiah 11:6-9, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them...” This passage is commonly used by Creation Science supporters to describe a return to Eden-like conditions in the new heavens and new earth (or by some dispensationalists, in the millennium) e.g. here. However, a careful study of this passage will show that it's not talking about Eden-like conditions or animal behaviour, but as C. John Collins explains in chapter 10 of his book Science & Faith: Friends or Foes (Crossway Books, 2003), it's speaking about the church.

In the previous chapters of Isaiah we read a series of pronouncements of judgment against Israel and against the instruments God uses against Israel, including Assyria. In these chapters we see punishments and promises of restoration.

Chapter 11 gets back to restoration but in this case we see not only restoration after the captivity but in this prophecy’s double fulfillment we also see the promise of the Messiah and the future of the church. Using beautiful word-pictures Isaiah describes the church, but in words that fit the context of the previous chapters. Assyria is an instrument of God's judgment but will be punished for its sin (10:12), but the Messiah will judge justly (11:4).

In chapter 11:5-9 we read about the future of the church when the Messiah will reign i.e. the present time. Note the back-reference to these verses in verses 10 and 11, "in that day" when the church will be gathered from all over the world. The Israelites would be dispersed but God’s people would be gathered from all over the world (v. 12) as the church of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Paul quotes verse 10 in Romans 15:12 in this exact context.

So how do verses 5-9 fit into this picture? We've had military descriptions of judgment and battles in the earlier chapters of Isaiah but the reign of the Messiah will be a striking contrast, with otherwise unthinkable associations: wolf/lamb, leopard/goat, calf/lion, child/cobra etc. This is a direct contrast with the actions of the wolf, leopard and lion that Jeremiah describes (Jeremiah 5:6).

Isaiah's description is a picture of the new heavens and earth, but it’s also a prophecy that is being fulfilled already today. Christ is gathering his church from all over the world. We are brothers and sisters in Christ with people who, in the minds of Isaiah’s original readers, would otherwise be enemies. The church is filled with unthinkable combinations of people, not tied to any nation or ethnic group. Thus this passage is not about biology, it's about Christ building his church.

To sum up, a careful study of Scripture does not support the Creation Science argument for an idyllic pre-Fall animal world, nor does it support the idea that we cannot determine anything about the creation of the world. If we are to use Scriptural arguments, it is important that we understand the context to use them correctly.

Readers interested in learning more about this would do well to read the Collins book mentioned above.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tim Keller on Evolution and the Bible

Many secular and many evangelical voices agree on one ‘truism’ – that if you are an orthodox Christian with a high view of the authority of the Bible, you cannot believe in evolution in any form at all. New Atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins and creationist writers such as Ken Ham seem to have arrived at a consensus on this, and so more and more in the general population are treating it as given. If you believe in God, you can’t believe in evolution. If you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.

This creates a problem for both doubters and believers. Many believers in western culture see the medical and technological advances achieved through science and are grateful for them. They have a very positive view of science. How then can they reconcile what science seems to tell them about evolution with their theological beliefs? Seekers and inquirers about Christianity can be even more perplexed. They may be drawn to many things about the Christian faith, but, they say, ‘I don’t see how I can believe the Bible if that means I have to reject science.’

This is how Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan, introduces a paper entitled “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Lay People.” [This paper is listed in our “collected papers” (see sidebar) and a direct link is here.] Herein he looks for possibilities of reconciling faith and evolutionary science. He begins with a discussion of the four main problems orthodox Protestants have with evolution, namely (1) the authority of the Bible, (2) the tendency to equate evolution as a biological theory with evolutionism as an anti-Christian worldview, (3) the historicity of Adam and Eve, and (4) the problem of violence and evil. The most difficult one, he remarks, is number 3, the historicity of Adam and Eve. Unlike some theistic evolutionists, Keller refuses to deny this historicity, which, he shows, is clearly affirmed in both the Old and the New Testament. He emphasizes that in the discussion about science and faith it is not science, but the Bible that has to have the final word. As he writes at the end of his paper, “Psalm 19 and Romans 1 teach that God’s glory is revealed as we study his creation, yet in the end both of those passages say that it is only Scripture which is the ‘perfect’ revelation of God’s mind (Psalm 19:7). We must interpret the book of nature by the book of God.” He continues, quoting O.T. scholar Derek Kidner, “It cannot be said too strongly that Scripture is the perfect vehicle for God’s revelation… To read it with one eye on any other account is to blur its image and miss its wisdom.”

How then can the difficulties be overcome? In trying to answer that question, Keller refers to relevant studies by several Christian scientists, theologians, and philosophers. He considers a number of possible models and in the end expresses preference for the one proposed by Derek Kidner in Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (IVP, 1967). Kidner’s model admits of human evolution but nevertheless holds that Adam was the first creature into which God breathed human life, and that Adam and Eve are the ancestors of all humankind. What are we to say about Keller’s paper? Are Keller and Kidner convincing? Neither of them states that he has spoken the last word on the issue. Keller tells us, “When Derek Kidner concluded his account of human origins, he said that his view was an ‘exploratory suggestion…only tentative, and it is a personal view. It invites correction and a better synthesis.’” That, Keller adds, “is the right attitude for all of us working in this area.” (Readers of this blog, incidentally, will notice that our blog partner Dr. Jitse van der Meer sees eye to eye with Dr. Kidner in the matter of human evolution, the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the descent of all humans from Adam, and that he affirms the same tentative approach as Kidner and Keller.)

In conclusion: I realize that some (many?) of our readers will take Keller’s approach as yet another attempt to “fit” evolution into the Bible. I want to urge these people to resist that temptation and to take Keller at his word when he says that the Bible has the last word. I also realize that I run the risk of being criticized for drawing attention to this paper. Such a reaction will not surprise me. I myself have questions; and I much appreciate Keller’s (and Kidner’s) statement that we have to look at their arguments as explorative and tentative. Theirs is indeed not necessarily the last word.

The reason for the decision to introduce the paper is my conviction, shared by the other members of the blog, that we should acquaint ourselves with attempts made by orthodox, well-informed Christians to deal with one of the most difficult problems that Christianity meets today in the realm of ideas. Rather than dismiss these men as by definition apostate, we should join the discussion. I hope that our scientists, theologians, philosophers and others will do so. To facilitate the conversation we have posted a link to Keller’s paper at our blog.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Response to Clarion’s “Ten Reasons” – Introduction

In past years Clarion, the semi-official magazine of the Canadian Reformed Churches, used to publish articles by both old- and young-earth creationists. In fact, several old-earth pieces written by Dr. F.G. Oosterhoff were published in 2002-03 and are listed in our collected papers. Early last year, however, the editorial committee refused, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, to publish a response by old-earth creationist Dr. Tony Jelsma to an article by Dr. C. Van Dam, which promoted the young-earth theory (Clarion, 27 March 2009). Jelsma was told that the editorial committee had instituted a moratorium on any articles about origins. The reason given was that such articles caused unrest and that a cooling-off period was needed. Various appeals having been rejected, we started this blog in April 2009, beginning with the publication of the Jelsma piece.

Subsequently, contributors heard that the moratorium would be lifted by 1 January 2010. Nevertheless, a series on the history of young-earth creationism, written by a regular contributor to Clarion and submitted for publication at the conclusion of the moratorium, was refused. Instead, Clarion celebrated the lifting of the moratorium by publishing an article by five authors attacking evolution (a topic that had nothing to do with the moratorium). Subsequent issues contained articles by Dr. Van Dam, attacking, as before, old-earth creationism (Clarion, 29 January and 12 February 2010). Meanwhile the article by the old-earth creationist continued to be vetoed as unsuitable. (It had been published in different form on this blog under the title “Young-Earth Creationism: A History.”)

Members of Reformed Academic have reacted to the new policy by means of private correspondence and letters to the editor. They will continue to do so, and they intend to continue to deal with the issue also by means of this blog. The present series of postings concentrates, however, on the article by the five authors. We promised to do so early in February. This article is by W. Bredenhof, W. Geurts, G. VanPopta, J. VanPopta, J. Witteveen, and was entitled “Ten Reasons Why Evolution is Dangerous and Evil”, Clarion, v. 59, n. 1 (1 January 2010), pp. 6-9 [available electronically here - link provided here; our quotes are from the printed edition].

We are now ready to fulfill this promise. It is our intention to deal with the introduction and the “ten reasons” one at a time. The Clarion comments will be given first, followed by our responses to numbered items. These responses are co-authored and also use material contributed by those who have written us privately. After we have finished responding to each of the reasons one at a time, dealing with specific details, we plan to post a concluding general response.

Original from Clarion [numbered for our responses below]

“Over the years, people in the Canadian Reformed Churches have traditionally viewed the theory of evolution as an enemy of the Christian faith. However, recently there have been voices encouraging us to reconsider this stance.[1] This deeply concerns us. Now, just as in the past,[2] we need to be firmly convinced that this theory stands opposed to the clear teachings of Scripture and that it has no place in a biblical worldview. In this article, we want to outline ten reasons why evolution should still be regarded as dangerous and evil and why it should be taught as such in our Reformed homes, schools, and churches.

Before we begin, we need to be clear about our definition of “evolution.”[3] We understand it to refer to a theory about the origins of life and the diversification of that life into various modern-day organisms, including man. According to this theory, all forms of life are related in common ancestry through an evolutionary process thought to have taken place over billions of years. Evolution teaches that all life is descended from a single-celled organism which in turn evolved from inert chemicals.[4] Finally, we note that evolution is not merely a scientific theory but a foundational component of many unbelieving worldviews.[5]

Responses by Reformed Academic

1. Although the authors do not mention us, it is clear that we are the ones they believe are responsible for this encouragement to reconsider the anti-evolutionary stance; in fact, they include some of the contents of our blog without citation. We therefore begin our commentary by quoting from one of our earliest blog postings (29 April 2009): “Concerns have been raised about an article on this blog which appears to promote theistic evolution, i.e., an evolutionary process which took place under God’s guidance. We want our readers to know that the contributors to this blog are by no means in agreement on the scientific and theological validity of theistic evolution, and we further assure them that its promotion is not a ‘hidden agenda’ of this blog.
     “Theistic evolution is accepted, however, among an increasing number of Bible-believing, orthodox Christians. For that reason we believe that we must discuss the theological and scientific issues surrounding the theory among ourselves and also on the blog. It is an issue that we may not be able to resolve adequately but that we also do not, for that reason, want to censor or ‘run away from.’ Informed readers will be able to appreciate the difficulties faced by biologists who encounter what appears to be scientific evidence for evolution but wish to remain faithful to Scripture and the Reformed confession. We do not want to ignore this difficulty and we hope that on our blog the matter can be discussed publicly, in a brotherly way, without acrimony.”

2. It is unfortunate that the authors seem unwilling to address the clear history of our own heritage in which men like Kuyper, Bavinck, Schilder, Ohmann, Faber, while clearly opponents of evolution, all considered the possibility of an older earth. Furthermore, it is unfortunate the Clarion refuses to publish the careful historical study of Dr. F.G. Oosterhoff, an earlier version of which appeared here despite claiming to have lifted a moratorium which lasted (with two lapses) from March to December 2009 on topics regarding origins and Genesis.

3. We applaud the authors’ stated intention to clearly define evolution. It becomes apparent, however, that two different definitions get conflated, as some authors address evolutionism, the naturalistic philosophy and worldview, rather than the biological theory of evolution; furthermore they focus on the application of the theory which addresses human evolution.

4. The biological theory of evolution does not, strictly speaking, include a theory of the origin of life, but just its subsequent development. It is indeed a common misconception, shared even by many scientists, that origin and development are non-problematically of a piece. A Christian necessarily separates origin from development.

5. It is vitally important in any Christian discussion of evolution to make clear distinctions between evolution and evolutionism. It is true that many atheists use the theory of evolution as “proof” of their denial of God, but this denial is not scientifically founded. Evolution is no more than a scientific theory. Evolutionism, on the other hand, is an all-encompassing naturalistic philosophy and worldview which goes far beyond the theory of evolution. It claims that nature is all there is, was, or ever shall be. In particular, it claims that there is no God who has created the universe, who governs it or interacts with it or with anything in it in any way. Adherents to evolutionism hold that all that exists evolved, even if no scientific theory exists or is within reach. They believe that material composition exhausts ontology; i.e., that the only valid thing one can say about anything in the world is a scientific description of what it is made of, what its material origin is, and that any discussion of purpose, value, meaning is simply superstition. They claim that there is no discontinuity between molecules and man; i.e., that there is only a purely naturalistic connection, without God-ordained distinctions, between all things within creation so that ultimately humans and hills and humus are essentially the same, each being just purely natural. They argue that morality and religion are purely human constructs. Often proponents of evolutionism will (illegitimately) tout the theory of evolution as if it supports their philosophy. This is similar to how moral relativists in the early twentieth century imagined Einstein’s theory of relativity as lending scientific validity to their notions. His response – wishing he had entitled his work a theory of absolutes – clarifies that it was semantics, and not the scientific content of the theory, which was being misappropriated.

As will become clear in further remarks, while some regard the biological theory of evolution itself as a danger, the real opponent is instead evolutionism. Evolutionism can be immediately rejected as un-Christian since it claims there is no God. Christians who give serious consideration to the biological theory of evolution, however, fully acknowledge the activity and sovereignty of God in creation, providence, and redemption.