The Doctrine of Creation and the Theory of Evolution

by Louis Berkhof

The question naturally arises in our day, How does the theory of evolution affect the doctrine of creation?

a. The theory of evolution cannot take the place of the doctrine of creation. Some speak as if the hypothesis of evolution offered an explanation of the origin of the world; but this is clearly a mistake, for it does no such thing. Evolution is development, and all development presupposes the prior existence of an entity or principle or force, out of which something develops. The non-existent cannot develop into existence. Matter and force could not have evolved out of nothing. It has been customary for evolutionists to fall back on the nebular hypothesis, in order to explain the origin of the solar system, though in present day science this is supplanted by the planetesimal hypothesis. But these only carry the problem one step farther back, and fail to solve it. The evolutionist must either resort to the theory that matter is eternal, or accept the doctrine of creation.

b. The theory of naturalistic evolution is not in harmony with the narrative of creation. If evolution does not account for the origin of the world, does it not at least give a rational account of the development of things out of primordial matter, and thus explain the origin of the present species of plants and animals (including man), and also the various phenomena of life, such as sentiency, intelligence, morality, and religion? Does it necessarily conflict with the narrative of creation? Now it is perfectly evident that naturalistic evolution certainly does conflict with the Biblical account. The Bible teaches that plants and animals and man appeared on the scene at the creative fiat of the Almighty; but according to the evolutionary hypothesis they evolved out of the inorganic world by a process of natural development. The Bible represents God as creating plants and animals after their kind, and yielding seed after their kind, that is, so that they would reproduce their own kind; but the theory of evolution points to natural forces, resident in nature, leading to the development of one species out of another. According to the narrative of creation, the vegetable and animal kingdoms and man were brought forth in a single week; but the hypothesis of evolution regards them as the product of a gradual development in the course of millions of years. Scripture pictures man as standing on the highest plane at the beginning of his career, and then descending to lower levels by the deteriorating influence of sin; the theory of evolution, on the other hand, represents original man as only slightly different from the brute, and claims that the human race has risen, through its own inherent powers, to ever higher levels of existence.

c. The theory of naturalistic evolution is not well established and fails to account for the facts. The conflict referred to in the preceding would be a serious matter, if the theory of evolution were an established fact. Some think it is and confidently speak of the dogma of evolution. Others, however, correctly remind us of the fact that evolution is still only a hypothesis. Even so great a scientist as Ambrose Fleming says that “the close analysis of the ideas connected with the term Evolution shows them to be insufficient as a philosophic or scientific solution of the problems of reality and existence.”[Evolution or Creation, p. 29.] The very uncertainty which prevails in the camp of the evolutionists is proof positive that evolution is only a hypothesis. Moreover, it is frankly admitted to-day by many who still cling to the principle of evolution that they do not understand its method of operation. It was thought at one time that Darwin had furnished the key to the whole problem, but that key is now rather generally discarded. The foundation pillars, on which the Darwinian structure was reared, such as the principle of use and disuse, the struggle for existence, natural selection, and the transmission of acquired characteristics, have been removed one after another. Such evolutionists as Weissmann, De Vries, Mendel, and Bateson, all contributed to the collapse of the Darwinian edifice. Nordenskioeld, in his History of Biology, speaks of the “dissolution of Darwinism” as an established fact. Dennert calls us to the deathbed of Darwinism, and O’Toole says, “Darwinism is dead, and no grief of mourners can resuscitate the corpse.” Morton speaks of “the bankruptcy of evolution,” and Price of the “phantom of organic evolution.” Darwinism, then, has admittedly failed to explain the origin of species, and evolutionists have not been able to offer a better explanation. The Mendelian law accounts for variations, but not for the origin of new species. It really points away from the development of new species by a natural process. Some are of the opinion that the mutation theory of De Vries or Lloyd Morgan’s theory of emergent evolution points the way, but neither one of these has proved to be a successful explanation of the origin of species by natural development pure and simple. It is now admitted that the mutants of De Vries are varietal rather than specific, and cannot be regarded as the beginnings of new species. And Morgan feels constrained to admit that he cannot explain his emergents without falling back upon some creative power that might be called God. Morton says: “The fact is that, besides creation, there is not even a theory of origins to hold the field today.”[The Bankruptcy of Evolution, p. 182.]

The hypothesis of evolution fails at several points. It cannot explain the origin of life. Evolutionists sought its explanation in spontaneous generation, an unproved assumption, which is now discredited. It is a well established fact in science that life can only come from antecedent life. Further, it has failed utterly to adduce a single example of one species producing another distinct (organic as distinguished from varietal) species. Bateson said in 1921: “We cannot see how the differentiation in species came about. Variations of many kinds, often considerable, we daily witness, but no origin of species. . . . Meanwhile, though our faith in evolution stands unshaken, we have no acceptable account of the origin of species.”[Science, Jan. 20, 1922.] Neither has evolution been able successfully to cope with the problems presented by the origin of man. It has not even succeeded in proving the physical descent of man from the brute. J. A. Thomson, author of The Outline of Science and a leading evolutionist, holds that man really never was an animal, a fierce beastly looking creature, but that the first man sprang suddenly, by a big leap, from the primate stock into a human being. Much less has it been able to explain the psychical side of man’s life. The human soul, endowed with intelligence, self-consciousness, freedom, conscience, and religious aspirations, remains an unsolved enigma.

d. Theistic evolution is not tenable in the light of Scripture. Some Christian scientists and theologians seek to harmonize the doctrine of creation, as taught by Scripture, and the theory of evolution by accepting what they call theistic evolution. It is a protest against the attempt to eliminate God, and postulates Him as the almighty worker back of the whole process of development. Evolution is regarded simply as God’s method of working in the development of nature. Theistic evolution really amounts to this, that God created the world (the cosmos) by a process of evolution, a process of natural development, in which He does not miraculously intervene, except in cases where this is absolutely necessary. It is willing to admit that the absolute beginning of the world could only result from a direct creative activity of God; and, if it can find no natural explanation, will also grant a direct intervention of God in the origination of life and of man. It has been hailed as Christian evolution, though there is not necessarily anything Christian about it. Many, otherwise opposed to the theory of evolution, have welcomed it, because it recognizes God in the process and is supposed to be compatible with the Scriptural doctrine of creation. Hence it is freely taught in churches and Sunday Schools. As a matter of fact, however, it is a very dangerous hybrid. The name is a contradiction in terms, for it is neither theism nor naturalism, neither creation nor evolution in the accepted sense of the terms. And it does not require a great deal of penetration to see that Dr. Fairhurst is right in his conviction “that theistic evolution destroys the Bible as the inspired book of authority as effectively as does atheistic evolution.”[Theistic Evolution, p. 7.] Like naturalistic evolution it teaches that it required millions of years to produce the present habitable world; and that God did not create the various species of plants and animals, and that, so that they produced their own kind; that man, at least on his physical side, is a descendant of the brute and therefore began his career on a low level; that there has been no fall in the Biblical sense of the word, but only repeated lapses of men in their upward course; that sin is only a weakness, resulting from man’s animal instincts and desires, and does not constitute guilt; that redemption is brought about by the ever-increasing control of the higher element in man over his lower propensities; that miracles do not occur, either in the natural or in the spiritual world; that regeneration, conversion, and sanctification are simply natural psychological changes, and so on. In a word, it is a theory that is absolutely subversive of Scripture truth.

Some Christian scholars of the present day feel that Bergson’s theory of Creative Evolution commends itself to those who do not want to leave God out of consideration. This French philosopher assumes an élan vital, a vital impulse in the world, as the ground and animating principle of all life. This vital principle does not spring from matter, but is rather the originating cause of matter. It pervades matter, overcomes its inertia and resistance by acting as a living force on that which is essentially dying, and ever creates, not new material, but new movements adapted to ends of its own, and thus creates very much as the artist creates. It is directive and purposive and yet, though conscious, does not work according to a preconceived plan, however that may be possible. It determines evolution itself as well as the direction in which evolution moves. This ever creating life, “of which every individual and every species is an experiment,” is Bergson’s God, a God who is finite, who is limited in power, and who is seemingly impersonal, though Hermann says that “we shall, perhaps, not go far wrong in believing that he will be ‘the ideal tendency of things’ made personal.”[Eucken and Bergson, p. 163.] Haas speaks of Bergson as a vitalistic pantheist rather than a theist. At any rate, his God is a God that is wholly within the world. This view may have a special appeal for the modern liberal theologian, but is even less in harmony with the narrative of creation than theistic evolution.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY. What is the real alternative to the doctrine of creation? Wherein lies the importance of the doctrine of creation? Should the first chapters of Genesis be allowed to have any bearing on the scientific study of the origin of things? Does the Bible in any way determine the time when the world was created? What extremes should be avoided as to the relation of God and the world to each other? Should the Bible always be interpreted in harmony with widely accepted scientific theories? What is the status of the hypothesis of evolution in the scientific world today? What is the characteristic element in the Darwinian theory of evolution? How do you account for its widespread repudiation at the present time? How does Bergson’s Creative Evolution or the Neo-vitalism of Hans Driesch affect the mechanistic view of the universe? In what respect is theistic evolution an improvement over naturalistic evolution?

LITERATURE. Bavinck, Geref. Dogm. II. pp. 426-543; ibid., Schepping of Ontwikkeling; Kuyper, Dict. Dogm., De Creatione, pp. 3-127; De Creaturis A, pp. 5-54; B. pp. 3-42; ibid., Evolutie; Vos Geref. Dogm. I, De Schepping; Hodge. Syst. Theol. I, pp. 550-574; Shedd, Dogm. Theol. I, pp. 463-526; McPherson, Chr. Dogm., pp. 163-174; DabneySyst. and Polemic Theol., pp. 247-274; Harris, GodCreator and Lord of All, I, pp. 463-518; Hepp, Calvinism and the Philosophy of Nature, Chap. V; Honig, Geref. Dogm., pp. 281-324; Noordtzij, God’s Woord en der Eeuwen Getuigenis, pp. 77-98; Aalders, De Goddelijke Openbaring in de Eerste Drie Hoofdstukken van Genesis; Geesink, Van’s Heeren Ordinantien, Inleidend Deel, pp. 216-332; various works of Darwin, Wallace, Weissman, Osborne, Spencer, Haeckel, Thomson, and others on Evolution; Dennert, The Deathbed of Darwinism; Dawson, The Bible Confirmed by Science; Fleming, Evolution and Creation; Hamilton, The Basis of Evolutionary Faith; Johnson, Can the Christian Now Believe in Evolution? McCrady, Reason and Revelation; More, The Dogma of Evolution; Morton, The Bankruptcy of Evolution; O’Toole, The Case Against Evolution; Price, The Fundamentals of Geology; ibid., The Phantom of Organic Evolution; Messenger, Evolution and Theology; Rimmer, The Theory of Evolution and the Facts of Science.


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