A few weeks back we held our Harvest Supper here in Stockport, and a similar event in Charlesworth. Stephen Lloyd spoke at both events and gave more or less the same talk: “150 Years On – Did Darwin get it right?”
150 Years since “Origin”
It’s 150 years since Charles Darwin published his book “On the Origin of Species” – a book that changed the way that countless people view the world. It was appropriate that we should be hearing a fine scientist discussing Darwin’s theory… and why he can’t endorse it.
Darwin argued that all the variety of life on earth could be explained by natural mechanisms. His starting point was that all the living creatures we now see on earth had evolved over millions of years from more primitive life-forms. This is how he put it:
“…probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed”.
He was reluctant to say whether he thought that the first primitive life form had been created by a personal God, but he was sure that once that first living organism had come into being, everything followed naturally from that point on, driven by the principle of “natural selection”. What does that mean?
Natural selection, what does it mean?
Well, it was summed up by Herbert Spencer in the phrase, “survival of the fittest”. Darwin saw living things as being in a continual struggle for survival. Some living creature may develop by chance a trait which makes it more fit for survival – in other words, a trait which increases its suitability for its environment, and increases the likelihood that it will have reproductive success. Its offspring have a chance of inheriting that trait and may in turn pass it on to their offspring. Meanwhile, other creatures, though related, never develop that trait. That puts them at a disadvantage and increases the possibility that they will die out. These favourable traits may in themselves be tiny, but in each generation those who have them to the greatest extent enjoy an evolutionary advantage. So over many generations, creatures may develop structures that their ancestors never had – feathers, eyes, limbs, lungs, the camel’s hump and the zebra’s stripes. Darwin acknowledged that it was unthinkable that a creature without wings should suddenly have offspring with wings, but he believed that tiny changes over thousands of generations could transform limbs into wings or scales into feathers.
What is man?
So, for Darwin, human beings are simply animals which happen to have developed capacities beyond that of other creatures. Our ancestors were fish-like creatures which crawled out onto the land, and slowly evolved into mammals. Small shrew-like creatures developed into apes and took to the trees. And among the different families of apes, through innumberable steps, Man emerged, walking upright, planting crops, playing music, writing books on evolution.
Since Darwin’s day, there’s been much debate about his theory. Scientists have modified some of his conclusions, challenged some of his arguments, refined the theory. But basically, Darwinism is still the accepted outlook of the vast majority of scientists today. It is taken for granted in our schools and universities that Man is the product of millions of years of evolutionary development, that we share a common ancestor with the apes, and that our origins are in the slime of the oceans. And most scientists are not afraid to say what Darwin hesitated to say, that even the first spark of life was simply down to chance – just the right chemicals coming together at the right moment – no need for a Creator, a plan, a purpose.
Many Christians – even some who call themselves evangelical – see no problem with Darwin’s theory. They ask, “why shouldn’t we believe that Man evolved in just the way Darwin suggested – but with God steering the whole process?” (Such Christians sometimes call themselves “theistic evolutionists”). They point out that the Bible talks about God creating Man out of the dust of the ground. Couldn’t that just mean that God formed us out of pre-existing animals which were made out of earlier animals right back to the first living cell, which was formed out of the chemicals of the earth?
They acknowledge that the early chapters of Genesis do picture God creating the world and everything in it in six days, making each group of creatures distinct from each other group, the plants yielding seed “each according to its kind” (Genesis 1:11); the sea-creatures “according to their kinds” (1:21); the winged birds “according to their kinds” (1:21); the land-creatures “according to their kinds” (1:24) and finally Man, different from all other creatures (1:26). But then they say, “We don’t have to take this literally do we?” They suggest that the early chapters of Genesis are a beautiful poem, or a myth, or an edifying story, written for people who were too primitive to understand how Man was actually made. But, they say, we should never take it as scientific or historical fact. As Derek Kidner puts it in his Tyndale commentary, “the interests and methods of Scripture and science differ so widely that they are best studied, in any detail, apart. Their accounts of the world are as distinct (and each as legitimate) as an artist’s portrait and an anatomist’s diagram…”
Our position as a church is clear
The 1966 Affirmation (which we subscribe as a church) says emphatically, “The description of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 is not myth but an accurate historical account of creation, given by divine revelation”. And I agree. I don’t necessarily agree with everything “creationists” have said, but one thing I’m sure of: the creation story in Genesis is not an edifying fiction. It’s describing what really happened.
But why is it so important? Does it really matter whether God created the world in the way that Genesis describes or whether he did it in the way that Darwin imagined? Is it worth arguing with those who want to have their Genesis cake but eat it at the same table as Darwin? Let me give you explain why this whole matter is important.
It is important because it affects the whole message of the Bible. Indeed, it affects our whole view of God. According to Darwin, as long as there have been creatures capable of feeling anything, they’ve been feeling pain. Millions of years before Man came on the scene, creatures were struggling for survival, fighting each other, devouring each other, drowning in floods, being buried in landslides. And according to Darwin, that is simply the normal state of affairs. As a very famous modern Darwinist put it,
“Nature is neither kind nor unkind. She is neither against suffering or for it… The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive; others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear; others are beings slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. It must be so.” (Richard Dawkins: River Out of Eden).
Any Christian who accepts Darwin’s theory will have to agree. And he’ll have to say that that’s because God made things that way. This is the mechanism God has chosen to shape his creatures. The world as we see it – full of suffering, pain and death – is just the way it always has been.
It was very good?
But the Bible tells us a very different story. It tells us that the world as we see it now is very different from the world as God made it. It tells us that when God made the world he examined it at each stage and could say, “It is good” (Genesis 1:10, 12,18,25). And when he had finished, he could say “It is very good” (Genesis 1:13). In that world, animals did not devour one another: “To every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, to everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food…” (Genesis 1:30). Man did not live in a world of ferocious beasts. Every creature came to Adam to be named and “whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name…” (Genesis 2:19).
The Bible tells us that all the suffering in the world came after Man and because of Man. It was Man’s sin that brought a curse on the earth: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.” (Genesis 3:11). Paul refuses to see the suffering of the world as something natural and inevitable. The earth was subjected to futility, decay, groaning (Romans 8:20-22).
Read again Dawkins’ description of the world as it is. If God could pronounce that sort of world “very good”, what does that say about God?
And of course, it’s not just the animal world we’re thinking about. We have to think about human beings too. According to Darwin, the first human beings were the descendants of hundreds of thousands of generations of lower animals. They inherited from those ancestors every sort of illness and pain. From the time they emerged, human beings were subject to disease and suffering of every sort. They suffered with cancer, they grew old and senile, they were savaged by wild beasts, the women screamed in child-birth, countless babies died of hunger. Suffering and death was simply the inevitable fate of human beings.
How utterly different this is from the Bible picture of man created in the image of God, sharing God’s likeness! Genesis tells us that every fruit Man ate was good for him (Genesis 2:9); that he ate freely from the tree of life, that he had dominion over the whole earth and that nothing was a threat to him (1:26). The Bible insists that the pangs of childbirth are the outcome of Man’s rebellion (3:16); that hunger and exhaustion are God’s judgement on human sin (3:17-19); above all, that death came upon human beings only after the Fall. “…you shall return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (3:19). Some theistic evolutionists have tried to say that it was only spiritual death that came upon Man after the Fall. But the words couldn’t be clearer – “you shall return to the ground… to dust you shall return”.
The Bible – starting to unravel
Christians who try to find a way of fitting together Darwinism and the Bible will find that the whole Bible story starts to unravel. Paul tells us that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12). The Darwinist says, “no, death was always in the world”. Paul goes on to tell us that Jesus Christ came into the world to undo the ruin that Adam’s sin had caused. “By the one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience, the many will be made righteous…” (Romans 5:19). This is the gospel – that through Christ’s death at Calvary, the sentence of death on sinners can be reversed! “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive…” (1 Corinthians 15:22). But for the theistic evolutionist, there never was a sentence of death on Adam. And according to the Christian who’s swallowed Darwinism, Christ’s death can achieve nothing. Paul writes, “Christ died for our sins”. But, those words become meaningless. Death and sin have nothing to do with each other. Human beings die not because they’re sinners but because they’re part of the evolutionary chain – and Christ would have had to die for that reason too.
The Bible pictures the world to come as a new Eden – a world where death has been abolished, where God’s people drink freely of the river of life, where they pick the fruit of the tree of life, a world restored through the death and resurrection of Christ. But if Darwin’s picture is true, there never was such a world. So how can it be restored?
What’s left of Christianity when you adopt Darwin’s scheme? No Eden, no Adam and Eve, no Fall, no sin, no curse, no Christ, no cross, no resurrection, no Paradise. Everything crumbles away.
I’m glad that Stephen Lloyd (Biblical Creation Ministries) and other fine scientists are showing up some of the scientific weaknesses of Darwin’s theory and its modern refinements. It was fascinating to listen as he showed us some of the complexities of the living cell: could such a wonderful machine come about apart from an intelligent Designer? It was good that he showed us some of the weaknesses of modern geological theory. Darwinists are sure that the fossils of countless dead animals were laid over millions of years. In the light of the Bible, we are sure that they were laid after Man sinned and death entered the world. We’re glad that there are scientists who agree. And I’m glad that we had the opportunity to confront unbelieving friends with the evidence.
But in the end, I don’t want to spend all my time and energy debating about the scientific proofs of creation. It’s good to be have an intelligent grasp of the facts. But what I need is more than just an intellectual appreciation of the truth. I need to be awed by the wonder of God’s creating power; I need to be horrified by the reality of human sin and the ruin it’s brought on the world; I need to be thrilled by the readiness of Christ to take our curse on himself, I need to be overwhelmed with joy at the thought of the new Eden that Christ is preparing for us. And then I need to tell these things to others. The world may not listen to Christians who are wonderfully clued up on the latest scientific findings. But they’ll listen to Christians who show that they really believe the gospel they preach.
May God give us courage, wisdom and joy in His Word.