Last semester, the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) made a major change in its policy platform. The NABT is a professional society for college and high school teachers in the field of biology. It holds substantial influence over what is taught in American science classrooms. The NABT “Statement on Teaching Evolution” used to include the following statement: “The diversity of life on Earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process.”
This policy had come under attack by, among others, prominent Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga asked the NABT to remove the words “unsupervised” and “impersonal” from its creed. His point was that such language is unscientific. If life is unsupervised and impersonal, then it is not ruled by God. The NABT “Statement on Teaching Evolution” thus amounted to a defense of atheism. But of course that is a religious conviction, not a scientific one.
Initially, the NABT was unwilling to make the change, but eventually they thought better of “taking a position on the religious question.” The executive director admitted that their position “was interpreted to mean we were saying there is no God. We did not mean to imply that. That’s beyond the purview of science” [First Things, February, 1998, p. 75]. The new NABT creed leaves open the possibility that a personal, intelligent Creator may have produced life through evolutionary mechanisms.
The policy change proves two things that critics of Darwinism have been saying for years. The first is that for many scientists, the evolutionary theory of the origin of life is a faith-commitment. The idea that there has never been a God, only matter, has become a religion. Harvard Genetics Professor Richard Lewontin admitted as much last year in the New York Review of Books:
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism… Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door [1/9/97].
One indication that the evolutionary account of origins has become a religion is the fact that some scientists argue that it is more than a theory. The late Carl Sagan went so far as to say “that the theory of evolution is as proved as is the fact that the earth goes around the sun.” Sagan made that highly unscientific statement because every society needs a creation story to explain its existence. The modern creation story was written by Charles Darwin in 1859 (The Origin of the Species). It is a myth without a god. It says that life arose spontaneously and without purpose.
The other thing the change in the NABT policy suggests is that some evolutionists are less confident than they used to be. Indeed, there are some signs that evolutionary account of the origin of life may be in trouble. Biochemist Michael Behe has shown that it is impossible for some cellular structures to evolve [Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Free Press, 1997]. At the same time, many evolutionary theorists are engaged in bitter disputes about fundamental tenets of their theory [See Phillip E. Johnson, “The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism,” First Things, No. 77 (Nov. 1997), 22-5]. Perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of the end of Darwinism.
Thinking Christians have always been open to whatever science has to teach about creation, including what it has to say about the diversity of life. God has revealed his glory in the book of nature as well as in the books of the Bible. What Christianity objects to is the godlessness of Darwinism, the way that it tries to turn the universe into a cosmic accident.
Although the Bible is not a science textbook, what it has to say about science is absolutely true and certainly to be believed. So what does the Bible say about the origin of the world? It insists, first of all, that God made everything there is. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). The universe is not the product of blind chance. God made it all for his glory.
Second, the Bible allows for developmental changes to take place among the land creatures. God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind” (Gen. 1:24). By having the land produce the creatures, this verse implies that natural processes played some role in generating the diversity of the species.
However, this verse also makes it clear that God himself is responsible for the diversity of life on earth. As the Scripture goes on to say, God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds (v. 25a). This is one place, incidentally, where the new NABT statement is misleading. It states that the “diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution.” Yet the most important thing to be said is that the diversity of life comes from the creative activity of God, however he happened to do it.
A third thing the Bible teaches is the unique creation of Adam and Eve:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them (Gen. 1:26-27).
The religion of evolution denies the uniqueness of human beings. In the famous words of Cardinal Manning, if Darwinism is true, “There is no God and the ape is our Adam.”
The Bible insists, however, that there is a God, and that Adam was no ape. Human beings are not simply smarter than your average chimpanzee. They are an altogether unique creation. Alone in all the universe, they bear the divine image. As the Bible goes on to explain in some detail, they bear moral responsibility for the fate of the universe.
These are a few of the things Genesis reveals about the creation of the world. The Bible does not reveal everything. What it does not reveal is left open to scientific investigation, provided that scientists do not confuse their science with their religion.
[Stephen Master (doctoral candidate, U. Penn.) helped to clarify a number of points made in this paper]
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