A Rough Guide to Creation & Evolution

Mr. Peter Stephen Williams, MPhil

A Rough Guide to Creation & Evolution

Peter S. Williams (MA, MPhil)

Whether or not there is an objective purpose to life obviously depends upon
whether or not life was created for a purpose. You can’t get purpose without
a purposer. It’s impossible to entertain the question of whether life might
be created for a purpose without raising the question of how a belief in creation
relates to scientific attempts to understand origins – and especially how a
belief in creation relates to the theory of evolution. A wise man once said
that “the best way to approach a problem of any kind is usually not to talk
or even think very much about the ultimate answer until I have made sure that
I am asking all the right questions in the right order.”
So I’m not offering a definitive answer to the question of Creation
and Evolution. Instead, I’m going to provide a “rough guide” to the subject,
some advice about mistakes to avoid, and some suggestions about asking the right
questions in the right order.

My first piece of advice is to start at the very beginning, with just the
first five words of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created…” If
you need more words to get your teeth into, go to John 1:1-3: “In the beginning
was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God
in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was
made that has been made.” “Word” is a translation of the Greek term Logos,
from which we get the word logic. Logos is equivalent to what scientists
like Stephen Hawking mean when they talk about “knowing the Mind of God”. The
belief that Logos came first, that Mind created Matter, is the
fundamental theistic claim about creation, and this is the place to
start when considering the relationship between Creation and Evolution.

It’s important to keep in mind the distinction between the doctrine
of Creation, which is something all Christians hold in common, and different
pictures of creation that Christians hold because they have different
interpretations of Genesis. As Phillip Johnson reminds us: “The essential point
of creation has nothing to do with the timing or the mechanism the Creator chose
to employ, but with the element of design or purpose. In the broadest sense,
a “creationist” is simply a person who believes that the world (and especially
mankind) was designed, and exists for a purpose.”
The place to start thinking about Creation and evolution is with the
doctrine of Creation, because once you’ve worked that out, you are
in a better position to evaluate different Christian pictures of Creation.
In other words, your first question should be:

Question One: “Is the doctrine of Creation true?”

Plato noted that “all things do become, have become and will become, some
by nature, some by art, and some by chance” (The Laws, book X), and
he argued that either Mind comes before matter (and the world is basically a
work of art), or matter comes before mind (and the world is purely the result
of chance and natural regularities). The doctrine of Creation says that Mind
came before matter – the cosmos is a creation, a work of art. To be an atheist,
on the other hand, means being committed to a “matter first” view of things
– the cosmos is not a work of art, and everything must, therefore,
be the result of nothing but natural regularities and chance. Darwin’s theory
of evolution is an explanation of biological reality in terms of a finely balanced
combination of natural regularities and chance working over long periods of
time. You can see that for atheism, evolution is not so much the result of an
objective assessment of the evidence as it is a necessary assumption brought
to its interpretation. Geneticist Richard Lewontin has let this cat out of the

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its
constructs… in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated
just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment to materialism. It is not
that the methods. . . of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation
of the. . . world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our… adherence
to material causes to create . . . a set of concepts that produce material explanations,
no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying…

“Moreover”, says Lewontin, “that materialism is absolute, for we cannot
allow a Divine foot in the door
…” 4
Lewontin’s rejection of the doctrine of Creation has nothing to do with science
and everything to do with his faith in materialism.

Richard Dawkins, Oxford University’s professor of the public understanding
of science, is quick to dismiss religious belief. He calls anyone advocating
a creator God ‘scientifically illiterate”.
Dawkins” most famous book is The Blind Watchmaker, the title
of which comes from William Paley’s design argument from the similarities between
the complex workings of a watch, which we know has a designer, and the complex
workings of nature, which by analogy probably have a designer too. Dawkins admits
that living things are analogous to watches, and that they appear to be designed.
He even defines biology as “the study of complicated things that give the appearance
of having been designed for a purpose.” 6
Why is Dawkins so confident that design in living things is only apparent? Because,
although the subtitle of The Blind Watchmaker is “Why the evidence
of evolution reveals a world without design”, Dawkins “excludes design on philosophical
grounds.” 7 “The kind of explanation we
come up with”, says Dawkins, “must not contradict the laws of physics. Indeed
it will make use of the laws of physics, and nothing more than the laws
of physics
.” 8 Here, as philosopher
William Dembski notes: “we are dealing with a naturalistic metaphysic that shapes
and controls what theories of biological origins are permitted on the playing
field in advance of any discussion or weighing of evidence.”
To approach biology without Dawkins” atheistic assumption doesn’t mean
ruling out evolution as an adequate, or even the best available, scientific
account of biology; but it does mean letting the evidence speak for itself.

Dawkins fudges the issue here. According to him, Paley was right about the
complexity of nature, but wrong about its explanation: “The only thing he got
wrong – admittedly quite a big thing – was the explanation itself. He gave the
traditional religious answer. . . The true explanation is utterly different,
and it had to wait for one of the most revolutionary thinkers of all time, Charles
Darwin.” 10 It’s crucial to realize that
Dawkins has just “pulled a fast one”. He has just implied that either
Paley was right to argue that nature is a work of art, or Darwin was
right to argue that biological organisms are the result of nature and chance.
But of course, this is a false dilemma. It’s possible that Paley and Darwin
are both right. The theist, no less than the atheist, can acknowledge the existence
of a “blind watchmaker”, simply by attributing that “blind watchmaker” itself
to God’s design!

Dawkins thinks that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled
atheist.” 11 Before Darwin was that there
was no naturalistic candidate for an explanation to fill in the blank labelled
blind watchmaker”. Evolution fills that blank. However, Dawkins is
wrong to think that evolution undermines Paley’s watchmaker argument, contradicts
belief in the doctrine of Creation, or supports atheism. Darwin’s theory may
fill in a blank created by the assumption of atheism, but that doesn’t prove
atheism (or evolution). Father Christmas may fill in a blank left by the assumption
that “parents don’t deliver Christmas presents”, but that hardly proves the
existence of Father Christmas!

The theory of evolution does not “reveal a world without design”
as Dawkins claims, because science is incapable of doing any such thing. Why
is the coffee getting hot? Scientific answer: because the flow of electrons
through the element in the kettle is causing the water molecules to vibrate.
But why is this happening? Because I want my coffee hot! This is an
explanation in terms of design and purpose, and it doesn’t conflict with the
scientific explanation. You don’t have to choose one explanation over the other.

Moreover, the fact that we can give a scientific description of the physical
mechanism of a kettle doesn’t disprove the existence of a kettle designer! Similarly,
a scientific description of a physical mechanism that results in living organisms
would not disprove the existence of a designer of that system. Science doesn’t
“reveal” a world without design, atheism demands a world without design.
The theory of evolution is irrelevant to the doctrine of Creation. As philosopher
Keith Ward says: “The argument that the evolutionary process is incompatible
with design misses the mark completely.” 12
I suggest that the next question on your agenda therefore ought to be:

Question Two: “If we don’t assume that matter came before mind, is
evolution an adequate explanation given all the available scientific evidence,
or is there a better explanation?”

Someone who believes in Creation can afford to be much more
open-minded about evolution than the atheist can be. As philosopher Alvin Plantinga

a Christian (naturally) believes that there is such a person as God, and
believes that God has created and sustains the world. Starting from this position…
we recognize that there are many ways in which God could have created the living
things he has in fact created: how, in fact, did he do it? …Did it all happen
just by way of the working of the laws of physics, or was there further divine
activity..? That’s the question… Starting from the belief in God, we must
look at the evidence and consider the probabilities as best we can.

Question two is an interesting and important question – but it isn’t a crucial
question for everyone to answer. You could quite happily be a Christian, or
become a Christian, without having an answer to this question.

Evolution may be a wholly adequate theory, a partially adequate theory, or
an inadequate theory, but the right way to find out – whether you believe in
the doctrine of creation or not – is to let the evidence speak for itself without
support from the assumption that the natural world must be able to
account for itself.

If you have decided your answers to our first two questions, you are now
in a good position to ask a third question:

Question Three: “Which picture of Creation is the most plausible one?”

This is an interesting and important question – but it isn’t a crucial question
for everyone to answer. You could quite happily be a Christian, or become a
Christian, without having an answer to this question. Christians certainly shouldn’t
elevate belief in any particular picture of Creation into anything more than
the peripheral issue that it is.

If you do pursue this question, there is no shortage of interpretations
you could adopt. In-between the extremes of a completely literal “young-earth”
creationism and an essentially non-literal creationism (often associated
with “theistic evolution”, but compatible with other theories), you might adopt
an essentially literal “old-earth” or “progressive” creationist interpretation.
But as Professor J.P. Moreland warns: “there are sufficient problems in interpreting
Genesis 1 and 2 to warrant caution in dogmatically holding that only one understanding
is allowable by the text.” 14

Giving a responsible (but non-dogmatic) answer to our third question involves
asking a whole bunch of subsidiary questions. As theologian David Winter explains:
“The phrase “The Bible says . . .” begs a lot of questions . . . What does
the Bible say? To whom is it saying it? What is the context, background and
literary form of the passage in question? Is it to be taken literally, or figuratively,
or allegorically?” 15 With Alvin Plantinga
I will merely say: “the proper understanding of the early chapters of Genesis
is a difficult area, an area where I am not sure where the truth lies.”
What I am sure of is that there can’t be any conflict between
God’s Word and God’s World, although there can be conflicts between incorrect
human understandings of Gods Word and God’s World. As Charles Hodge warned:
“Theologians are not infallible in the interpretation of Scripture.”
Nor are scientists infallible when they think about nature.

For anyone who believes in the doctrine of Creation, the fundamental question
is not “what is the best scientific account of reality” (let alone
“what is the best naturalistic account of reality”) but “what is
the best account of reality given everything we know?” This only seems
odd on the assumption that, as Richard Lewontin asserts, ‘science is the only
begetter of truth.” But of course, the claim that ‘science is the only begetter
of truth” isn’t something that science can establish as being true!
It’s a philosophical claim, and a self-contradictory one at that; in which case,
there must be more truth than can be known through science, and Christians are
right to seek to understand reality by employing what we think we know from
thinking about God’s Word as well as what we think we know from thinking about
God’s World. Our picture of creation (as distinct from the doctrine
of creation) is not the best place to start this project of integration, but
it shouldn’t be excluded from the process. To do so would be like a
jury deciding a murder case purely on the basis of the forensic evidence, without
taking into account the testimony of witnesses: “we cannot… pursue theology
without bringing to that study all that we know about the world, nor can we…
pursue science without bringing to that study all that we know about God”


Let’s go back to the beginning: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through
him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
(John 1:1-3) This is the Christian doctrine of Creation: we are here
for a reason, life does have an objective purpose because – through
whatever means – God created us for a reason. But John goes on to tell us that:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory,
the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
(John 1:14) Whatever you make of the scientific merits of the theory of evolution,
and whatever you make of the relative merits of different pictures
of Creation, so long as the doctrine of Creation is true, then John
1:14 might be true as well. “Is it true that “the Word became flesh and made
his dwelling among us… full of grace and truth”?” is a question that trumps
all the other questions we’ve asked, because if it is true, it’s a truth that
dwarfs every other truth and which can change your life forever. Why? Because
it would mean that our purposer has personally come to us to tell us exactly
what the meaning and purpose of life is and to help us embrace it:
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

For references to this article, click here.