Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
Zondervan, known for its Counterpoints Series, has released its most recent one, Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, which updates and replaces Three Views on Creation and Evolution (1999). The format has been improved and a fourth view added, Intelligent Design. The volume reflects changes in the origins landscape with major scientific discoveries impacting our understanding of origins. While not emphasized in this volume, there have likewise been changes in the approach to and the understanding of Scripture in recent decades. The four views and contributors are as follows:
- Young Earth Creationism, Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis)
- Old Earth (Progressive) Creationism, Hugh Ross (Reasons to Believe)
- Evolutionary Creation, Deborah B. Haarsma (BioLogos)
- Intelligent Design, Stephen C. Meyer (The Discovery Institute)
It is a positive sign that these four were willing to appear together in one volume and interact with each other as they have. The General Editor of this volume is J. B. Stump. In addition to all the headaches faced by a person in such a role (space, time, format, and style), Stump had the added burden of being the Senior Editor of BioLogos, putting him on the spot relative to equal and fair treatment of all the contributors. The final product bespeaks his fairness.
Interestingly, none of these contributors is professionally trained in theology. The topics involved in the origins discussion are necessarily interdisciplinary, and it is consistent with the broader field of science and religion that many of the leading voices are scientists who have not acquired fluency in theological topics. Strictly speaking, evolution is not a theological topic. But one’s view on evolution and related scientific topics is often correlated with views on the interpretation of Scripture.
The new view that has been added in this volume, Intelligent Design, also impacts both a Christian understanding of origins and an approach to Scripture. This is in spite of its acceptance by agnostics and by persons of other faiths, such as Muslims and Jews. Meyer notes:
Though intelligent design is not based upon religious belief, it does affirm a key tenet of a biblical worldview—namely, that life and the universe are products of a designing intelligence—an intelligence that I, and other Christians, would attribute to the God of the Bible. (207)
It is indeed the willingness of Stephen Meyer as a theist and an evangelical to participate that prompted and justified the inclusion of Intelligent Design in this book, but he and other proponents of Intelligent Design have been criticized on the basis that the Bible (especially Genesis) is almost entirely left out of their arguments. The response to this charge is that such issues are beyond the scope of Intelligent Design.
Events that have shaped the origins conversation are not just in the realm of science. The Dover trial in 2015 shut down one avenue for the Intelligent Design move, inclusion in the public school movement, but raised its profile in the media and public discourse. The Young Earth creationists opened the Creation Museum (2007) and the Ark Encounter (2016), both of which have been visited by thousands of people. And in 2007, Francis Collins founded BioLogos to promote the view that evolution does not conflict with Christianity. Furthermore, many relevant books have been published from all perspectives about origins topics, and then there is the development of internet resources increasing the dissemination of the origins debate.
The above data, though somewhat tedious, is critical to the reading of this book. All the participants take positions which will come as no surprise once you have viewed their connections. While all are evangelical Christians and have a high view of Scripture, their deployment of the biblical data varies considerably. It is clear in this book that all those who hold a common view that the Bible is inspired will not necessarily concur on many issues related to origins. An acceptance of inspiration does not result in a common position. This perhaps suggests that no one takes Scripture as it stands, but rather as they understand it. As Stump notes, “the lack of unanimity should give us some pause about the certainty with which we hold our own views and it should encourage us to explore the ways other faithful Christians have articulated their belief in these topics” (9).
The format of the book is convenient and accommodating. Each original essay dealing with one of the topics is followed by a response from the other contributors and then a rejoinder by the author of the essay. The level and style of writing are often intense and involved, making the reading most difficult for the reader not already acquainted with the material. It is clear that the minds of the writers are not swayed by the claims and the arguments of their colleagues, but in fairness, such was not the aim of this book.
Given space restrictions, each topic is but a snapshot of the state of the conversation about origins. Indeed, instead of illuminating issues and enabling the reader to reach closure, the reader is left wondering who is right and how to determine which one to believe. Space permits only a brief look at the positions and arguments of the four writers.
Ham unequivocally advocates for a biblical literalism. He maintains that the scientific evidence, while increasingly hostile, confirms the literal truth of Genesis “that God created the universe in six literal, approximately twenty-four hour days about six thousand years ago” (18). The issue of the age of the earth comes down to the authority of the Bible as the inspired, inerrant word of God. Ham does concede that the age of the earth is not a salvation issue per se.
Ross is much more open to and supportive of science. He states:
Old-earth creationists anticipate God’s “two books” will prove consistent internally, externally, and mutually. One provides more detail on the redemptive story, the other more detail on the creation story, but they speak in perfect harmony. Neither negates or undermines the other.
Such a position qualifies for the designation “concordism,” which can be problematic. Ross notes that the more we learn from and understand God’s two books, the more solid our basis becomes for personal faith in Christ. Here he is vulnerable in seeing science as an appropriate tool for establishing the authority and truth of Scripture. This allows for the vulnerability of tacitly accepting the premise of atheist scientists who elevate science as the best kind of knowledge.
Haarsma observes that science is not equipped to address ultimate questions of God and meaning. She maintains that evolution is real and that the Bible is true, asserting that evolutionary creation is a faithful option for Christians and a reasonable option for scientists. She continues: “Evolutionary creation is the view that God created the universe, earth, and life over billions of years and that the gradual process of evolution was crafted and governed by God to create the diversity of all life on earth” (125). Haarsma cautions that one discipline should not drive the conclusions of the other. Science should not dictate the best biblical interpretation, and biblical studies should not force the conclusions of science. To the challenge that her scientific picture looks the same as that of atheist scientists, she maintains that the reason is that Christians and atheists are studying the same created world with the same given minds.
Meyer notes that while Intelligent Design has been the focus of a frenzy of international media coverage, mainstream science organizations have denounced it as “pseudo-science,” religion, or “creationism in a cheap tuxedo.” He stresses that Intelligent Design is not based on the Bible but rather on recent scientific discoveries and as such is not a deduction from, or an interpretation of, a religious text but rather an inference from scientific evidence. It does not offer an interpretation of Genesis, a fact that engenders criticism in some Christian responses to it. However, as noted above, Meyer states that Intelligent Design affirms a biblical worldview in attributing life and the universe to a designing intelligence, an intelligence that Christians would attribute to God.
As I read the tensions depicted in this book, I was reminded of a warning by Bernhard Anderson while he was treating Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Anderson notes that Genesis is confronted on two sides with challenges from the modern scientific world view and from the history of religions: “The history of biblical creation theology in the twentieth century may be regarded as a response to this pincers movement, whether in defensiveness, accommodation or retrenchment.”1 While Darwin appears to have the greater impact at a popular level, George Smith’s book The Chaldean Account of Genesis (1876) is more consequential in this regard. While these two challenges may seem quite different, they are both hermeneutical challenges of how to read Genesis. A biblical engagement with Darwin and/or Smith results in a kind of triangulation which impacts the questions we put to Genesis, questions well presented and debated in Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design.