Not in Kansas Anymore

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken September 5, 1999

Now that summer has ended, it is time to reopen our Window on the World. Every week at this time—from September through June—we take seven or eight minutes to look at our world through the window of biblical truth. God's Word not only gives warmth to the heart, it also gives light to the mind, helping us to see things clearly, the way God sees them.

This is the week many American children go back to school. Students in one state will find that things are a little different this fall: By a margin of 6 to 4, the Kansas Board of Education voted this summer to remove one kind of evolution from the proposed new state science curriculum, which means that this type of evolution will not be included in the statewide standardized tests used to evaluate students.

It is important to emphasize what the Kansas school board decision does not do. It does not prohibit Kansas educators from teaching evolution; it simply removes one kind of evolution from the official state curriculum. The other thing the Kansas decision does not do is deny that small evolutionary changes do occur within a species. This is an important distinction, which most evolutionists tend to gloss over. Indeed, most media reports about the Kansas decision have been highly misleading.

The term “evolution” can be used in more than one sense. One type may be termed “microevolution.” Microevolution is evolution on a small scale; it refers to the little adjustments which can and do take place within a kind of animal or plant. An example of microevolution is the way bacteria gradually develop a resistance to particular antibiotics.

Another type of evolution may be termed “macroevolution.” Macroevolution is evolution on a grand scale; it refers to the comprehensive evolutionary changes which are purported to explain the biological relationship between all living things. An example of macroevolution is the rather speculative family tree which is supposed to show how apes turned into humans. The Kansas Board of Education does not deny the reality of microevolution. What it has taken out of the state-mandated curriculum is the theory of macroevolution, especially when it is used as an explanation for the origin of human life.

As one might expect, Kansas has suffered no end of ridicule at the hands of the secular media. What many people object to is not so much the Kansas Board of Education as it is Christianity, which they consider to be irrational and anti-intellectual. In the words of one evolutionist, “The road of the newly adopted Kansas curriculum can only spiral inward toward restriction and ignorance.”

It is almost always useful to know what others really think of you, because their criticisms usually contain an element of truth. The way Christians are portrayed in popular culture is not very flattering. Rather than getting angry about this, we should be reminded how important it is for us to develop our Christian minds, which are much flabbier than they ought to be. We should make it our goal not only to act biblically, but also to think biblically. In the sciences, as well as in the humanities, Christians should aspire to think and to say the very best that can be thought and said.

The irony, of course, is that in their own way, many evolutionists are as anti-intellectual as some Christians are. Consider this summer's editorial by Stephen Jay Gould, who is a leading spokesperson for the evolutionary world view. Among other things, Gould asserted that evolution is “a fact as well documented as any phenomenon in science.” To cite but one of his examples, evolution is as factual as the periodic table of the elements.

Now if Gould is talking about microevolution (evolution on a small scale), then no one disagrees with him, least of all the Kansas Board of Education! Microevolution can be observed scientifically. But if Gould is talking about macroevolution (evolution on the grand scale), then he is making one of the most basic scientific errors of all—confusing a fact with a theory. The difference between macroevolution and the periodic table is that the periodic table can be demonstrated through scientific experiment. Macroevolution, on the other hand, is a theory based on a fair amount of guesswork about how one fossil turned into another fossil, without any evidence to show that it actually did. To mistake macroevolution for a proven fact is to be thoroughly unscientific.

It may be encouraging to know that our own denomination—the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)—is presently involved in a careful study of the biblical account of the days of creation. In its preliminary report, the Creation Study Committee issued an important statement that has a bearing on the question of creation and evolution. It reads, in part:

The committee unanimously affirms the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2 as a self-consistent and true account of God's creation of the universe and of mankind in six days… . God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo, out of nothing (Hebrews 11:3), and denies that the universe or anything in it was eternal, existing alongside the eternal God. We affirm God's special creation of Adam and Eve as real, historical individuals (Romans 5:12-14; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49), and deny that Adam and Eve were the products of evolution from lower forms of life.

After discussing this report, the PCA General Assembly went on to affirm the following resolutions (among others):

• That God made Adam immediately from the dust of the ground and not from a lower animal form and that God's in-breathing constituted man a living soul, in the image of God.

• That God made Eve directly from Adam.

• That each of the kinds resulted from separate creative acts, and that any genetic development is only within these kinds, thus denying macroevolution.

Like any other pronouncement of the church, the PCA statement needs to be evaluated according to what God has revealed in his Word. It also needs to be evaluated according to what God has revealed in his world. But by dealing with these issues in a carefully-reasoned way, the Presbyterian Church in America encourages us all to think as well as to act biblically.

[Material for this Window on the World came from the proceedings of the 27th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America and from Stephen Jay Gould, “Dorothy, It's Really Oz,” TIME (August 23, 1999), p. 59. Stephen Master, who is a doctoral candidate in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, corrected several errors in the original draft.]

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