Darwin, Creation and the Fall – A review article
All evangelicals must accept that if science contradicts the Bible, then science is wrong. But we must also recognise that if science contradicts my interpretation of the Bible, then it could be that my interpretation of the Bible that is wrong, and science, in fact, that is correct. We must therefore be constantly reviewing our interpretation of Scripture in the light of new theological, archaeological or other scientific discoveries.
Often scientific discovery increases our understanding and appreciation of the Bible’s message. But some scientific theories seem opposed to Christian teaching, and, if Richard Dawkins is to be believed, none more so than Darwinian evolution. How we view evolution will have an incalculable impact on how we understand the Bible’s message. It will change not just how we read Genesis, but also our thinking about sin and the fall, and consequently our beliefs about redemption and the work of Jesus Christ. We must therefore be extremely careful in assessing whether Darwinian evolution can be compatible with an evangelical interpretation of the Bible.
Although several books attempt to reconcile Genesis 1‑2 with Darwinian evolution, very few attempt to do so with the doctrine of the fall. A book which wrestles with these issues is therefore to be welcomed. Darwin, Creation and the Fall is a collection of essays by respected theologians and scientists that attempts to demonstrate that a belief in evolution is compatible with an evangelical understanding of scripture. It does so insisting that the fall was a real, historical event.
The book starts with an affirmation of God as creator, and a reaffirmation that Christ is at the centre of the doctrine of creation. Several essays roundly reject various atheist or liberal viewpoints for neglecting or rejecting Christ leading to a failure to understand God’s purpose in creation at all. A major contribution that the essays make is to remind us that it is not only the doctrine of God which is at risk from scientific atheism, but equally the doctrine of man.
Of all the essays, T.A. Noble’s careful exploration of original sin, is perhaps the most stimulating. After surveying historical approaches to original sin, he insists that a Christian understanding of the fall must be understood from the vantage point of the New Testament and in the light of the second coming. Considering the return of Christ can only be done “through revelation and is unknown to human insight… it is not accessible to human science and critical history” (pg 119). But Noble goes on to add that just as the return of Christ will cause monumental change that science cannot know, so also the Fall may have caused an equally radical change that science and historical enquiry are equally incapable of investigating.
Ultimately, however, the book is a disappointment. R.J. Berry’s insistence that the death brought about by the fall is only spiritual and not biological is particularly unsatisfactory. It means he is forced to view the “bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:21) of creation simply as the problems of pollution and man’s lack of praise to God. Surely the death, disaster and disease which so afflicts our planet demands a more robust response? Equally Berry’s arguments bring into question the significance of the promise of physical resurrection, and the reality of Christ’s bodily resurrection, and even whether Scripture is teaching us that heaven is forever when it tells us there is no more death there. Too much is lost, and too little gained. Yet this lead is followed – albeit less dogmatically – by Blocher in a later essay.
It is equally disappointing that there was no discussion on the nature of scientific investigation itself. Since the enlightenment a lot of science has proceeded from the false premise that what we can scientifically test and measure is all that exists. The existence of a spiritual dimension in our world and in ourselves is ignored or rejected by most scientific enquiry. This means that much scientific thinking has literally rejected reality, and is built on a foundation of what is false. Much of the science that came out of the godless Middle Ages would be considered an embarrassment to scientists today, and it is not a coincidence that science advanced rapidly during those periods where a biblical worldview was predominant.
Can you imagine what a difference it would make if most scientists believed that the physical universe was not a closed system, but that there was also a spiritual reality that transcended and affected what we can see and measure? It is of course possible that despite the last century’s slide away from biblical thinking, God in his common grace has redeemed scientific inquiry to the extent that it can largely be relied upon. But that is by no means clear. And, until most scientists take the biblical worldview seriously, many Christians will need far better arguments than those provided in Darwin, Creation and the Fall to persuade them that the Scriptures should be re-interpreted in the light of Darwinian evolution.
A shorter version of this review will appear in the November 2009 edition of the Evangelical Magazine.