Copyright (c) 2000, David A. Duncan

Is Evolution Incompatible With a Belief in the Bible?

Some are saying no. "Most theologians no longer believe that the doctrine that God created the world and made man in his own image and the theory of evolution stand in each other's way."[1]

One of the basic tenets of evolution is that the earth is very old.  Those today who are accepting that view while holding to a belief in creation are called "Old Earth Creationists".  Others are being called "Progressive Creationists", and others "Theistic Evolutionists".  These terms all refer to those who are seeking to reconcile today's scientific beliefs with what is found in the Bible.

Demonstrations of the popularity of these movements to reconcile the two are found in the statements given by the catholic papacy.  In 1950, Pope Pius XII put out an encyclical citing no objection to discussing evolution.  Pope John Paul has endorsed the 1950 document, stating that "if the human body has its origin in living material which pre-exists it, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God."[2]  He goes on to say that "Today, nearly half a century after appearance of the encyclical, fresh knowledge leads to recognition of the theory of evolution as more than just a hypothesis."  Various news agencies, such as Reuter's, have reported this as "Pope accepts theory of evolution".  As part of this attempt by the papacy to reconcile the two, Pope John Paul stated "In order to delineate the field of their own study, the exegete and the theologian must keep informed about the results achieved by the natural sciences."  This amounts to stating that correct exegesis must be bounded by the results achieved by science -- a very dangerous compromise.

The catholic papacy is not alone in attempting to reconcile these two.  The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society has also attempted this in their interpretation of the Genesis account as figurative. In their book "Creation" is stated:

The first part of Genesis indicates that the earth could have existed for billions of years before the first Genesis "day," though it does not say for how long.[3]

The Watchtower account interprets the "days" of creation to be figurative and lasting for thousands of years. This approach allows them to agree with science about an earth that is very old, and creation being spread out over a vast period of time.

The Genesis Account

At the heart of this controversy and compromise is the true meaning of the Genesis account of creation.  Was there a long gap between the creation of the earth and the other parts of creation? Was creation accomplished in six 24-hour days? Is the account to be taken literally or can it be taken figuratively?

Rules of Exegesis

If one can "interpret" any writing in a figurative sense without regard for what was intended by the one writing, then the meaning of any writing can be destroyed or shifted.  Rules of reliable communication require that:

(1)   the intent of the author be taken into account,

(2)   the author's words must be taken literally unless there is clear evidence that the author intended a figurative meaning either in the description furnished (such as Rev. 1:20 -- "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: …") or in the impossibility of it being taken literally (such as Is 51:9 -- "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD;" -- since the Lord is a spirit (John 4:24 KJV)  "God is a Spirit: …"), and

(3)   the meaning suggested must be consistent with the remainder of the writing.

It is item (2) -- "… the impossibility of it being taken literally …" that leads many to interpret Genesis figuratively.  If one is convinced that the evidence of the evolutionist is true, then the earth must be very old, and therefore either Genesis is wrong, or it must be taken figuratively.

Was It Just A Good Story?

Some argue that the story is not necessarily literal, and that it is just a good story given in a way that we can understand to help us understand in perspective the things which God chooses for us to know.  However, the intent of Genesis was to communicate the things which occurred at the beginning of the earth, and so it was understood by Jesus himself as this explanation was used to understand God's plan for man in marriage: (Mark 10:6 KJV)  "But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female."  There is no evidence in the scriptures that any writer understood the story to be figurative.  Since the story is given with the intent of informing man as to how the world came into being, and the communication is given without any indication that it is anything but literal, then the logical conclusion is that if it is not true, then either Moses has falsely transmitted the story as truth, or if the story originated from God, then God has given us a lie.

Was there a Gap of Time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2?

According to this theory, the statement of Genesis 1:1 preceded the 6-days of creation by an unspecified period of time (perhaps billions of years).  In this time is included the first creation, which included the heavens, the earth, plants and animals. God then judged and destroyed the earth so that it was then "formless and void" (this accounts for “old” fossils!). According to Walt Brown:

"The gap theory was proposed in 1814 by Thomas Chalmers, a leading Scottish theologian. Some geologists of his day had argued that the earth was much older than the Genesis account implied. Chalmers, therefore, proposed the gap theory to harmonize Genesis with the demands of contemporary geologists. There is no clear record of anyone prior to 1814 interpreting Genesis 1:1-2 in this way. .. Apparently, the sole motivation for advancing the gap theory was to accommodate the demand for long periods of time."[4]

The primary reason for promoting a gap is to explain the fossil record.  However, to do this would clearly call for life prior to Genesis 1:3 and also a Sun (and heavens) to support that life.  This plainly contradicts the account given of the creation of the heaven in Exodus: ((Exo 20:11 KJV)  "For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.")

Brown lists as the best defender of this position, Arthur C. Custance and quotes him as follows:

"Furthermore, if a vast antiquity far beyond the 4000 BC traditional date is demanded [for the date of creation], there are other ways in which a great antiquity for the world prior to the creation of man can be allowed for. For example, the days of Genesis might be viewed as days on which revelation was given to Moses; or they might be taken to mean ages; or we may introduce a hiatus between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, and so on."[5]

Were the days longer than a 24-hour period?

The argument made by the Watchtower is that the word "day" can refer to an indefinite period of time (such as (Isaiah 11:10 KJV)  "And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.").  In addition, the Watchtower argues that the terms evening and morning can be used to refer to portions -- such as "the morning of a man's life".  In this manner the Watchtower argues that the 6-days of creation could cover thousands of years:

6 Genesis chapter 1 uses the expressions "evening" and "morning" relative to the creative periods. Does this not indicate that they were 24 hours long? Not necessarily. In some places people often refer to a man's lifetime as his "day." They speak of "my father's day" or "in Shakespeare's day." They may divide up that lifetime "day," saying "in the morning [or dawn] of his life" or "in the evening [or twilight] of his life." So 'evening and morning' in Genesis chapter 1 does not limit the meaning to a literal 24 hours.

7 "Day" as used in the Bible can include summer and winter, the passing of seasons. (Zechariah 14:8) "The day of harvest" involves many days. (Compare Proverbs 25:13 and Genesis 30:14.) A thousand years are likened to a day. (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8, 10) "Judgment Day" covers many years. (Matthew 10:15; 11:22-24) It would seem reasonable that the "days" of Genesis could likewise have embraced long periods of time-millenniums. What, then, took place during those creative eras? Is the Bible's account of them scientific? Following is a review of these "days" as expressed in Genesis.

This explanation makes nonsense of the text.  For example, this would have plant life being created thousands of years (i.e. third "age") before the sun needed to support that life (i.e. fourth "age").  To counter this, some argue that the "light" of Genesis 1:3 could support the plant life.  However, the mutually beneficial symbiosis between plant and animal life is a significant contradiction to this theory.  "Animals produce the carbon dioxide plants require, and insects are important for reproductive fertilization, especially for flowering plants. Obviously, insects, other animals, and probably the sun must have existed within days or weeks of the first plants."[6] Many birds (created on 5th day) eat only insects (created on the 6th day). Could they have survived a thousand years or a billion years while waiting for their first meal (waiting for insects to evolve)?

In Gen. 1:14, the term day is used to distinguish between days, years, and seasons. (Gen 1:14 KJV)  "And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: …"  Clearly the term day here must refer to a 24-hour day with the lights of heaven to divide the day into a light portion and a dark portion, with these same lights as the divider of seasons.  Any attempt to make this day figurative would also deny that the sun provides the seasons for the earth, and would deny any useful meaning for this passage.

The use of language in subsequent verses has as its primary focus the alternating periods of light and darkness:

(Gen 1:18-19 KJV)  "And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. {19} And the evening and the morning were the fourth day."

It is in this context (of alternating light and darkness) that the terms "evening" and "morning" are used, and they must be understood in light of this context then as the periods of alternating light and dark.  The logical conclusion then, is that if the "day" is composed of a period of light and dark and is also a billion years long, the period of light must have been 500,000 million years long -- An inescapable conclusion, and also unacceptable by anyone.

Conclusion

The proponents of the different attempts to reconcile evolution and the Bible have a very good point -- in our reading of the Bible we must not require the text to say something that it does not in order to promote our own beliefs. However, the different attempts to re-organize the Genesis account to fit what scientists believe, forces the produced arguments to disagree with what the remainder of the Bible says, and therefore cannot be accepted.  Genesis 1:1 [(Gen. 1:1 KJV)  "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."] must agree with Exodus 20:11 [(Exo. 20:11 KJV)  "For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it."]  If the heaven and earth were created "in the beginning", and the creation of the heaven and earth was included in the six-day period (Ex. 20:11), then there can be no "gap" between Gen. 1:1 and the rest of the creation account.  Any attempt to make the days "figurative" likewise requires the text to say something that it does not.

What Is Compromised In The Reconciliation

The Inerrancy of the Scripture

The Genesis account several times notes that each "kind" bears fruit according to its kind -- e.g. (Gen. 1:11 NKJV)  "Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth"; and it was so."

A fundamental tenet of evolutionism is that each "kind" can bear fruit not according to its kind.  The primary mechanism for evolution demands transitional forms through genetic mutation.  These two then are in basic conflict -- either each kind brings forth (as a natural law) according to its kind or not -- it cannot be both!

The inerrancy of this scripture along with many others, must be declared wrong in order to accept the theory of evolution.  Any attempt to reconcile the two must compromise the accuracy of the scriptures and leave us with a God that cannot be trusted with an accurate account of our beginning and nature -- and the end result of that will be a God that cannot be trusted with an accurate account of our future.  A fundamental claim of God is that he cannot lie.  His word stands then as either all true, or else untrustworthy:

(Num 23:19 NKJV)  ""God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" -- and --

 

(Titus 1:2 NKJV)  "… in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, …"  -- also --

 

(Heb 6:17-18 NKJV)  "Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, {18} that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us."

Exegesis

It sets a precedent, that if followed, allows us to mold any text into anything we want or desire.  If we can take Genesis 1-11 as "figurative" without any evidence that it should be taken so, in clear violation of the obvious meanings and in contrast with the N.T. writers who quote Genesis with clear regard for it being an accurate record of the beginning, then it becomes impossible for us to be sure of the understanding of any passage.  Without a certain understanding of God's word, we have no assurance of salvation. 

(Mat 7:21 NKJV)  ""Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."

The Design of Man

A basic belief of evolution is that of "design" by "chance."  Organisms change for the better by random mutation caused by radiation.  If the process is by "chance" then God cannot have been behind it, for then it would not be by chance, but by design.  In Gregory Koukl's article, he quotes one of the famous apologists for evolution:

'Richard Dawkins begins The Blind Watchmaker by making a stunning concession. "Biology," he writes, "is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." Dawkins admits that living things appear to be designed.  In his most recent work, Climbing Mount Improbable, he even calls living organisms designoids."  Dawkins then warns us not to be deceived by appearances. Design is an illusion, he says. Living things were actually crafted by the "blind watchmaker" -- mutation and natural selection.'[7]

The Fall of Man

One of the basic tenets of evolution is that as time goes on, the complexity of life increases.  This has to be the case in order for evolution to explain the fossil record.  With this approach, the "golden age" of man is yet to be.  However, the Bible teaches that the "golden age" of man was when he walked with God in the beginning.  The fall of man brought about death and a lowering of his condition.  These two are in basic conflict. In their book on Christian Evidences[8], Thompson and Jackson make reference to the following quote:

"When a theologian accepts evolution as the process used by the creator, he must be willing to go all the way with it. Not only is it an orderly process, it is a continuing one. Nothing was finished on any seventh day; the process of creation is still going on. The golden age for man -- if any -- is in the future, not in the past …. Moreover, the creative process of evolution is not to be interrupted by any supernatural intervention .. The spiritual aspects of the life of man are just as surely a product of the processes called evolution as are his brain and nervous system"[9]

Conclusion

The Christian has a lot to lose by attempting to reconcile the Bible and evolution.  He gives up truths that guide his life and promise eternal life based on tremendous evidence, in order to embrace something that is uncertain, not proven, and destroys all confidence in his God.  And for all this, what does he gain?  He gains nothing among evolutionists; they will still disagree with any belief in the supernatural placement of a soul in man.  His only gain will be that he will not be called on to defend his faith in Genesis 1-11 against evolutionists.  However, he will be called upon to defend how he can believe the rest of the Bible, when he cannot depend upon the first few chapters. He has begun the long journey from trusting in God, to trusting in man.

This unhappy conclusion is similar to that given for idolatrous ones who do not glorify God:

(Rom 1:21-25 NKJV)  "because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, … {22} Professing to be wise, they became fools,  … {25} …who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen."

 



[1] Reuter Information Server, Thursday 24 October, 1996 "Pope accepts theory of evolution"

[2] Ibid.

[3] Creation (1985), Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Chapter 3

[4] Walt Brown, "In The Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood," Center for Scientific Creation 1995, page 187

[5] Arthur C. Custance, "Two Men Called Adam" (Brockville Ontario: Doorway Publications, 1983), p. 246

[6] Walt Brown, "In The Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood," Center for Scientific Creation 1995, page 201

[7] http://www.str.org -- "Why the Pope is Wrong about Theistic Evolution"

[8] "Christian Evidences", by Bert Thompson & Wayne Jackson, Apologetics Press, Inc., 1992, page 95

[9] "Science Ponders Religion", Harlow Shapley, editor, Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1960, pp 37-38