Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The Failure of Biblical Revelation in the Creation/Evolution Debate

Last week, I spent two days touring the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky.  These are two Christian creationist theme parks designed and managed by Answers in Genesis (AiG), which promotes the young-earth creationism of Ken Ham, who argues that Genesis 1-11 clearly teaches that the universe was created in 4004 BC over six twenty-four-hour days, and that there was a Global Flood in 2348 BC that is responsible for most of the geological record that we see today.

This denies the modern evolutionary teaching that the universe is billions of years old.  This also denies three other Christian views of creation.  The old-earth creationists interpret Genesis as allowing for the universe to be billions of years old, so that God's creative miracles occurred over a long period of time.  The evolutionary creationists interpret Genesis as allowing for God having originally created the laws of nature billions of years ago, so that God's creative plan could then unfold from the beginning through the natural process of evolution as understood by evolutionary science.  Finally, the Christian proponents of intelligent-design theory argue that a purely natural science can prove the existence of an Intelligent Designer without any appeal to the Biblical story of creation, although identifying this Intelligent Designer as the God of the Bible is a matter of personal faith rather than scientific demonstration.

That the Bible provides no clear teaching about the history of creation on which Christians can agree suggests to me the failure of Biblical Revelation to resolve this disagreement among Christians in the creation/evolution debate.  So, when I visited the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter, I studied the exhibits to see if they could change my mind by revealing the Bible's clear teaching of young-earth creationism.  I had already studied the four AiG books that present most of the exhibits:  Journey Through the Creation Museum (2018), Creation Museum Signs (2021), Journey Through the Ark Encounter (2017), and Ark Signs That Teach a Flood of Answers (2017).

Ham's rhetorical arguments conveyed through these exhibits--and also through his writings--did not persuade me that he has found the Bible's clear teaching of creation history.  This confirmed my original thought that the disagreement about creation and evolution among Christians shows the failure of Biblical Revelation to resolve this issue.

I know of two serious efforts of Christian creationists to find a Biblical settlement of their disagreements.  I will begin by showing how they failed.  Then, I will show how Ham also has failed to do this in these two creationist theme parks.

If I am right about this, then one explanation for it would be that the Bible is not a Divine Revelation of God's truth at all.  But another explanation would be that the purpose of Biblical Revelation is to reveal the truths necessary for salvation, about which most Christians can agree, and that deciding whether Genesis 1-11 is literal history or figurative storytelling is unnecessary for salvation, and therefore Christians can disagree about that while agreeing about their salvation.

There is another problem with the Revelation of what is required for salvation, however.  The Hebrew Bible is accepted as God's Revelation by four major religions:  Judaism, Islam, Catholic Christianity, and Protestant Christianity.  Obviously, they don't agree about what this Revelation teaches about salvation, which again suggests the failure of Revelation.  


Six years ago, I wrote a post on a book edited by J. B. Stump--Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (Zondervan, 2017).  Four positions in the creation/evolution debate were represented by four leading proponents: Young Earth Creationism (Ken Ham), Old Earth Creationism (Hugh Ross), Evolutionary Creation (Deborah Haarsma), and Intelligent Design (Stephen Meyer).  This was the first time that these four people had engaged one another directly.  Each of the four wrote a chapter, followed by responses from the other three, and then a rejoinder by the chapter's author.

In John 17, in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest, Jesus prayed to God that all believers would be as one, that they would come to complete unity, "so that the world may believe that you have sent me."  It seems that Christians give witness to the truth of Revelation by showing their agreement about that Revelation.  In Stump's Introduction to Four Views, he said that a primary purpose of this book was to pursue unity in what Revelation teaches about origins (16).  But in his Conclusion to the book, he lamented that this had not been achieved: "I doubt that readers will come away from this book with the feeling that we are any closer to the goal of Christian unity on the topic of origins" (232).

There are three possible explanations for this.  Either there has been no Revelation (through the Bible or through nature) of God's teaching about origins. Or there has been such a Revelation, but it's so obscure that it conveys no clear message. Or the Revelation does convey a clear message, but human beings have a stubborn bias that blinds them to that clear message.  Hugh Ross says that "since most humans will choose autonomy over submission to God," most humans will refuse to see the clear evidence of God's creative activity in nature (166).  But this atheistic bias cannot explain why faithful Christians--like the four authors in this book--would refuse to recognize the clear teaching of Revelation.  

So, we are left with the first two explanations for why these Christians cannot come to agreement about origins: either there has been no Revelation about origins, or the Revelation is not clear enough to be understood.  All four of the authors believe that God has sent the Holy Spirit "to guide us persistently to truth" (71, 76, 107), but here the Holy Spirit has failed to guide them to agreement about the revealed teaching concerning origins.   

Notice also that these four people are all evangelical Protestants, which is a minority of Christians.  Around the world, the majority of Christians are Catholic.  And the Catholic Church denies the Protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of the Bible--that the Bible is so clear and easily understood by anyone who reads it that each Christian should be his or her own priest, with no need for an ecclesiastical priesthood to teach them what the Bible really means.  The Catholics believe that the Bible is a divine Revelation, but they also believe that the Bible is so obscure that they need the divine Revelation of the Bible's correct interpretation through the Holy Spirit working through the Church's tradition of priestly interpretation.

For example, as I have indicated in some past posts, the Catholic Church originally condemned Galileo's heliocentrism as contrary to the Bible's geocentrism; but later the Church apologized for its mistake and endorsed Galileo's biblical hermeneutics--rejecting the literal interpretation of the Bible when this contradicts what natural science has discovered about the natural world.  By this same principle, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis have endorsed theistic evolution--that God exercises His creative design through the natural process of evolution--but with the understanding that the creation of the human immortal soul requires an "ontological leap"--God's miraculous intervention into nature to create the spiritual soul in His image.  

In response to this, I have argued that no miracle is required here if we see the emergence of the human soul in the human brain that is unique in having 16 billion neurons in the cerebral cortex, which includes 1.3 billion neurons in the prefrontal cortex.  This gives human brains the capacity for symbolic thinking about imagined realities such as the supernatural creation of human beings in God's image.


The debate over whether evolutionary science is compatible with Biblical creation is one of many "culture war" conflicts that divide Christians and sometimes even drive their churches and schools into angry disputes between "us" and "them."  The Colossian Forum is an evangelical Christian organization designed to teach Christians how to think about and resolve these disagreements in a way that heals their divisions and brings them together into a loving Christian community.  The Colossian Forum directs its attention mostly to four kinds of disruptive disputes among Christians: "Faith and Politics," "Sexuality," "Origins," and "Women and Men."  The Biblical verse that captures the thought behind the organization is Colossians 1:17--"all things hold together in Christ."  According to the Colossian Forum, if Christians honestly discuss their disagreements, look to the Bible for instruction, and pray for Christ's help, Christ will bring them together in Christian unity through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in revealing the Bible's teachings.

To show how this could happen in the creation/evolution debate over origins, the Colossian Forum invited Todd Wood (an evolutionary biochemist who is a young-earth creationist) and Darrel Falk (a geneticist who is an evolutionary creationist who believes God created life on earth through an evolutionary process as understood by evolutionary science) to come together for a series of meetings over a few years.  Their discussions were then published in a book--The Fool and the Heretic: How Two Scientists Moved Beyond Labels to a Christian Dialogue About Creation and Evolution (2019).

I have written some posts about Wood, who is best known as a "baraminologist" who studies the "baramins" ("created kinds") that were created by God in the six days of creation, from which all species have evolved by natural selection.  Falk is a founder of BioLogos, an organization that promotes Christian evolutionism.  I have written some posts on BioLogos and its evolutionary creationism (or theistic evolution).

Wood and Falk actually agree about a lot.  They are both devout Christians.  And they agree that there is plenty of evidence supporting the theory of evolution, including the evidence for the evolution of humans from animals over millions of years.  

As opposed to Falk, however, Wood denies that all of this evidence makes evolution true, because Wood's Christian faith includes a belief in the creation story in Genesis 1-11 as literal history that began 6,000 years ago, which means that the evolutionary story of how all life evolved "from molecules to man" over billions of years must be false, despite the fact that there is so much evidence supporting it.  But since the Bible gives us few details about how the natural world has developed, Wood admits, we must use science to understand those details.  And that is what Wood tries to do in developing a creation science that should work better than evolutionary science.  Wood concedes that young earth creationists are mistaken in denying the evidence for evolution, and that much of what creation scientists have done so far is not real science.  But Wood has devoted his life to trying to develop a creation science based on testable hypotheses that will be true science (The Fool and the Heretic [FH], 29, 62-63, 105-106, 112-13, 151-56).

Wood's disagreement with Falk is not so much about evolutionary science as it is about the Bible.  They agree that the science of evolution is well-supported by the evidence.  But they disagree about what this means for our interpretation of the Bible's creation story in Genesis.  For Falk, this means that we must read Genesis 1-11 as a poetic story that conveys a theological teaching rather than as a literal history of the natural world, because this will accommodate the truth of evolutionary science as compatible with the Bible.  But for Wood, his faith in the Bible as literal truth means that he must read Genesis as literal history, and therefore if evolutionary science contradicts this literal history, there must be something wrong with the science, and it should be possible to develop a creation science that confirms the natural history of the Bible.

Another way to explain this is that while Falk accepts Galileo's hermeneutics for interpreting the Bible, Wood rejects it (see Wood, The Quest: Exploring Creation's Hardest Problems [2018], 45-52).  As I have indicated previously, Galileo suggested that apparent conflicts between Biblical religion and natural science could be resolved by understanding that if the clear findings of natural science contradict the literal meaning of the Bible, then we must assume that the literal interpretation of the Bible is mistaken, because what the Bible says about the natural world has often been accommodated to the understanding of the audience.  So, for example, if the Bible speaks of the Sun moving around the Earth, that's because in ordinary human experience, we easily speak of the Sun rising and setting, as if it is moving around the Earth, but that is not literally true.  If the Bible had attempted to explain Copernican heliocentric astronomy, that would have been incomprehensible to the Bible's original audience.  After all, the Bible is not a science textbook but a divinely inspired theological teaching about salvation.  In Galileo's clever aphorism, "the intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how one goes to heaven and not how heaven goes."

Wood agrees that when the Bible speaks of the Sun moving around the Earth, this should not be interpreted as literally true, because we don't want to see the Bible as denying the scientific truth of Copernican heliocentric astronomy.  But Wood denies the Galilean principle that we should always read the Bible so that it accommodates whatever natural science seems to teach.  Particularly, when it comes to the creation story in Genesis, we must believe it to be literal history; and if this Biblical history contradicts the teaching of natural science, then the science must be mistaken, and we must look for a creation science that conforms to the Biblical teaching.

Galileo and Wood are attempting to resolve the debate between Reason and Revelation by synthesizing the two.  As with any such attempt at synthesis, they both fail because they cannot give equal authority to Reason and Revelation.  Galileo gives higher authority to Reason.  Wood gives higher authority to Revelation.

Falk accepts the Galilean principle in saying that we must not interpret Genesis literally if that literal meaning conflicts with modern evolutionary science.  We can see that the Genesis creation story is very similar to other creation myths in the ancient near east, and therefore the Genesis story was accommodated to the understanding of ancient people.  Like Galileo, Falk subordinates Revelation to Reason.  (I have written previously about Darwin's place in the Reason/Revelation debate.)

For Wood, this is a dangerous teaching that harms the church (FH, 30, 32, 35, 106, 174).  If Christians are taught that Genesis 1-11 is not literally true but only a poetic story similar to other creation myths, then won't they wonder whether other stories in the Bible--like the story of Jesus being resurrected from the dead--are only poetic stories?  If they can't believe the miracles in Genesis are true, then how can they believe the miracles in the New Testament are true?  Won't this tempt Christians to abandon their faith in the truth of the Bible?

And yet Falk thinks it is Wood who is harming the church.  To claim that Genesis is literal history--that everything was created in six days 6,000 years ago and that the Global Flood created the geological record of today--makes the Bible sound ridiculously contrary to all modern science.  And won't that drive people away from the church because of the perceived absurdity of the Bible?

Rob Barrett of the Colossian Forum has admitted that the attempt to resolve the dispute between Wood and Falk and bring them to Christian unity failed:

"We are stuck in a messy place.  I once asked our two scientists if they saw each other as friends or enemies.  I was confident, after all of our time together, that they would agree that they were friends.  Todd disappointed me when he answered, 'Not just enemies.  Mortal enemies.'  I looked pleadingly to gentle Darrel for the correction Todd needed.  He failed me too: 'Yes, Todd's right.'" (FH, 163-64)

Barrett reported:

"In one meeting, Todd expressed his frustration at the deadlock.  He had come to know that Darrel is a Christian, but then he said that this 'makes it a thousand times more awkward, because I wonder why the God who convicts me for my position isn't convicting him.  I don't know how to answer that question.  So it leaves me uneasy.'  Darrel answered, 'Like you, I puzzle a little bit: Why doesn't God sort things out for you and reveal truth to you in the way it seems he reveals it to me?'" (FH, 189-90)

Well, yes, that's the point, I would say:  The Holy Spirit has failed to convey the teaching of Biblical Revelation to Christians like Wood and Falk, even though they have made the most faithful effort to open themselves to that Revelation.

Or should we consider the possibility that while people like Wood and Falk have failed to accept the clear meaning of Biblical Revelation about origins in Genesis, Ken Ham has succeeded in uncovering the true meaning of Genesis?

Remarkably, even though Ham and Wood both identify themselves as young-earth creationists, Ham has criticized Wood for teaching "young-earth evolution," because Wood has conceded too much to evolutionary science by saying: "There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it."

Whether Ham presents the correct reading of the Biblical Revelation about origins at the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter will be the question for my next post. 

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