Darwin and the Days of Creation

John C. Rankin

(January 17, 2013)

In the debate over creation and evolution, four areas need focus:

  1. The nature of Darwinian evolution;
  2. The nature of “intelligent design”;
  3. The nature of the biblical days of creation; and
  4. The nature of scientific freedom in education and politics.

Here is a very brief synopsis.

The Nature of Darwinian Evolution

The theory of macroevolution begins with the Greek philosopher Democritus (born ca. 460 B.C.) and was advanced through his later disciple, Epicurus (341-270 B.C.). “Macroevolution” refers to changes that lead one species into becoming a new species. This is distinct from “microevolution” which refers only to changes within a given species. Biblically and scientifically, I see no evidence for macroevolution, but evidence for microevolution is clear.

In a protest concerning the pagan assumptions of the gods and goddesses, and a cosmos understood in that context, Greek philosophers began to move in a secular (“this worldly”) direction.

Epicurus was concerned with how to experience the “good life” in the face of a certain death that extinguishes life and hope. He is known for the “Epicurean swerve” that postulates how the universe began.

In his articulation of this theory, there were supposedly many atoms (the smallest conceivable solid particle in the Greek mind). These atoms were raining from top to bottom (though undefined in space and time), and in straight lines. Then for no known reason, one of these atoms “swerved,” and started a chain collision with other atoms that eventually caused an evolution toward life.

This is philosophy and not science, and it is a philosophy that does not address where the universe and these atoms came from to begin with. It rather begins with an assumption that there is no divine Creator. Such an assumption cuts intellectual inquiry and wonder off at that point.

In nineteenth century England, Charles Darwin provided a mechanism for this theory (descent with modification), though he did not reference Epicurus. He also had deep theological and personal problems with the question of evil and suffering. Like many of his peers in the Enlightenment, had a very poor grasp of the Bible on this subject, and thus moved away from believing that the God of the Bible was good.

But Darwin did something profoundly dishonest as he changed the terms of the debate to suit his presuppositions:

“The homological construction of the whole frame in the members of the same class is intelligible, if we admit their descent from a common progenitor, together with their subsequent adaptation to diversified conditions. On any other view the similarity of pattern between the hand of a monkey, the foot of a horse, the flipper of a seal, the wing of a bat, etc., is utterly inexplicable (The Descent of Man, 1871, p. 31).

First, Darwin changed the language away from “morphology” to “homology.” Morphology is “the branch of biology dealing with the form and structure of organisms.” But homology, though also a biological term, is rooted in the philosophical assumption of “a fundamental similarity based on common descent.”

In other words, morphology describes things the way they are – different species all have the similarity of having “digits” in their bone structures. This is straightforward science. But homology presupposes that these similarities are due to a common organic source – i.e., it presupposes the theory of macroevolution. This is philosophy.

Second, Darwin would not admit any counter theory to be explored. Indeed, for his whole professional life he was arguing against the long-standing idea of a “common Designer,” as articulated in his age by William Paley and others. So when Darwin says “any other view … is utterly inexplicable,” he never identifies the view he was challenging, thus not being accountable to its argument.

Had he been honest, he would have stated the arguments for the two competing views side by side, and then argued why his theory was better:

  1. Common Designer – morphological similarities are there because a Designer knew that various forms of life need their respective types of digits to function.
  2. Common descent – morphological similarities are there because they evolved from a common organic source, all the way up to mankind (the argument with which Darwin concluded Descent).

But he did not. He played a sleight of hand by changing the language to homology, thus making “common descent” a presupposition, not something to be proved. The problem for Darwin was this – whereas his theory could have some logical ability given its starting point, he still could not rise above the illogic of the Epicurean swerve. He would not look at the question of origins. Where did the first living cell come from? And this leads us to the debate over “intelligent design,” which is merely current language for a “common Designer.” It has always been the same debate that Darwin would not honestly admit or confront head-on.

The Nature of Intelligent Design

In the universe we see the laws of cause and effect everywhere. There is no known “effect” that does not have a prior “cause.” This is how some trace the evidence back to a theorized “Hot Big Bang” of some 13.6 billion years past. Exquisite mathematical theorems point back to less than a nanosecond after the Big Bang, and then the math points toward eternity. However, many questions still remain as to the nature and speed of light, and whether the theoretical 13.6 billion years is established, or whether the time is actually much more recent, or even if time can be consistently measured from a human standpoint. Regardless, what is the prior Cause that precedes measurable space, time and number? We cannot reach into eternity here, but if we invest any trust in measurable cause and effect, then we cannot ghettoize the question of the first Cause. That is, unless we choose to limit our intellectual curiosity.

But the issue actually is not intellectual – it is emotional and relational. Once when I was speaking to some secularists at Harvard, I asked, “What preceded the Hot Big Bang?” There was a pause, and then one man said, “Eternal matter.” I liked the answer though I disagreed with it (Greek presupposition of eternal matter versus Hebrew presupposition that matter is finite). At least he was admitting there is something greater than the universe. So then I asked, “What is the difference, in intellectual terms alone, between believing in eternal matter on the one hand, and an eternal Creator on the other hand?”

He paused, then said, “Theological baggage.” In other words, as he continued to explain, he feared that if he admitted the possibility of “God” into the equation, then that would allow “religionists” to force religion on him, and it also would hurt good science. His answer was not intellectual, but emotional and relational.

This is the testimony of someone who has been burned by religion and/or relationships, but the Bible on it own terms never imposes itself, and it is the finest basis there is for science and the scientific method (as I write about elsewhere). Do we treat such skeptics the same way we expect to be treated? Theological baggage must be removed before there is true freedom to engage in scientific, philosophical and theological discussion in this or any context.

The Bible is the only place where the Creator is named as the One who is greater than space, time and number. This is the etymological reality of the Hebrew name for God – Yahweh Elohim. No other idea in history identifies such a concept, and all of us know that we cannot wrap our minds around the idea of space which never ends (what comes after the end of space?), time which never ends (what comes after the end of time?) and numbers which never end (what is infinity + one?). And if we take the cause and effect reality of the universe, and trace human life back to the Hot Big Bang (by whatever theory), and look at ourselves now, we realize that we are persons, and therefore personhood must have roots in a prior cause. And only the eternal Person of Yahweh Elohim can satisfy such an intellectual inquiry.

My good friend George Gilder writes concerning information theory, and how in every technical field, from quantum theory to molecular biology to computer science to economics, information is central. All biology is “irreducibly complex” and no materialism can understand the universe – the universe is a whole system to begin with, and it must be explained first. Content precedes and defines the need for a conduit – DNA carries the content, but is only a conduit of pre-existing information. Without a hierarchy of information programming, proteins are mere matter, impotent to produce life – life cannot be created from non-life, organic from inorganic, something from nothing. The brain is a material conduit, but it cannot explain the mind in which the information content is located. The computer is hailed as a model for the brain, but it is no more than what the designer and programmer put into it.

Kurt Godel was Albert Einstein’s close colleague and perhaps the greatest mathematician in the 20th century. In his two incompleteness theorems, he demonstrated that math is dependent on premises it cannot prove, i.e., 1 + 1 = 2 (in the world of positive integers), and yet on such an assumption we can calculate the material universe. This he did in disputing the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, arguing for truth over against the ability for proof from within a closed system (circular reasoning, as Einstein noted).

This all leads in one direction – intelligent design not chance, a common Designer not common descent. Genesis 1 assumes the Creator who spoke and there was light, as he breathed and there was life given to the first man. The apostle John says in John 1:1, 14: “In the beginning was the Word … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The Greek word for Word is logos, which also means communication, idea, expression, thought – indeed, the Source for information that puts content into the material world.

The Nature of the Biblical Days of Creation

In the debate over the days of creation in Genesis 1, there are six basic understandings:

  1. Atheists believe Genesis 1 is myth, so what it says about the days of creation is scientifically meaningless.
  2. Theistic evolutionists represent many theological views, but generally read the days of Genesis 1 as metaphor, and not literal.
  3. Some biblical literalists believe in the “Gap” theory where there is a great amount of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, and this explains an ancient universe, an old earth, and a recent humanity descended from Adam. But the literary structure of the text suggests no such thing.
  4. Some biblical literalists believe in the “Day Age” theory where the days in Genesis 1 refer to long “ages,” as they translate the Hebrew word yom. But in Hebrew, word translation is determined by context. And Genesis 1:5 says, “And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.” This is describing not a long age but a 24-hour day in ancient near eastern reference.
  5. Some biblical literalists believe in the “24-Hour Day” theory, citing the above reality. But to measure a 24-hour day in the human experience as assumed by Genesis 1:5, there is the need for the earth on its axis circumnavigating the sun. But the sun, moon and stars are not made until the fourth day. Something else is at play.
  6. Augustine believed that the days of creation were earthly copies of heavenly days that are greater than the concept of 24-hour periods. He did not know Hebrew, but made the point that the sun, moon and stars, needed to measure human time, were not made until the fourth day. Something else is at play.

The first five of these views all make certain scientific assumptions about the age of the universe, the planet and humanity before they approach the biblical text.

I believe in a seventh understanding known as the “Framework Structure,” its exegesis precedes scientific considerations, and ends up liberating true scientific inquiry. It is not “literalistic” (which involves modern cultural myopias when approaching the text), but truly literal by grasping the Bible’s own literary genres on its own terms.

It is based on the Hebrew nature of poetic structure (which, by the way, always serves historical reality in the Bible), known as parallelism. Genesis 1 is a completely unique literary genre, combining prose and poetry as it does, and with the content it addresses.

Here is a summation:

  • Day 1 is parallel to Day 4;
  • Day 2 is parallel to Day 5; and
  • Day 3 is parallel to Day 6.

These parallel days set forth the content of the Framework structure:

Domains                                   Rulers
1. Light (1:3-5).                         4. Sun, moon and stars (1:14-19).
2. Sky and sea (1:6-8).             5. Birds and fish (1:20-23).
3. Land (1:9-13).                       6. Animals (1:24-25); Mankind (1:26-28).
7. Sabbath (2:1-3).                   7. God (2:1-3).

This structure in the Hebrew text does not focus on chronological order (that is an important secondary concern), but on theological order. Namely, in the first three days of creation, God sets forth domains, and in the second set of three days, he sets rulers over those domains.

In Day 1, God sets in place the “domain” of light, and in Day 4 he specifies the agents or “rulers” that give light. Days 1 and 4 are parallel. This can be seen dramatically in comparing the order of the language in both days:

Day 1: Let there be light. Day 4: Let there be lights.
Day 1: God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. Day 4: … and to separate light from light from the darkness.
Day 1: God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” Day 4: God made the two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the day and the lesser light to govern the night.
Day 1: And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day. Day 4: And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day.

The parallels are overwhelming, but there are also four major points of distinction:

  1. “light” to “lights” (i.e., from God’s definition of singular light to his chosen plural agents of that light);
  2. “he separated” to “to separate” (i.e., from God’s definition of separation to his chosen agents of separation);
  3. the introduction of “govern”; and
  4. “the first day” to “the fourth day.”

In other words, the language is carefully crafted to distinguish between domains and rulers in the same category, and the use of “govern” in Day 4 identifies this reality. The same is true with the subsequent two parallels. In Day 2, God set in place the domain of the sea and the sky, and on its parallel Day 5, he specified the agents that govern these domains, the birds and the fish. In Day 3, God set in place the domain of the land, and in the parallel Day 6, he specifies the agents that govern this domain, the animal kingdom.

Then man and woman are set as God’s image-bearers to rule over all of it. The parallel within the seventh day reflects God’s domain over which he rules, and into which man and woman are invited as they fill and subdue the earth. The Sabbath is the satisfactory and restful reflection of having completed a good task, both temporally and eternally.

This is a brief overview, and brief review of the text itself, as would a thorough review, yields these summary points:

  1. Genesis 1 is based on a theological order where God starts with the most remote and moves to the most immediate; he starts with the lowest forms of life and moves to the highest.
  2. God is a God of order, and he sets up domains and rulers – beginning with the inanimate, then the lower animate, then the higher animate, and finally with man and woman as his image-bearers set to rule and steward the good order of creation under him.
  3. In this order of creation, each form of life is made directly by God, and reproduces after its own “kind.” There is no concept of macroevolution.
  4. Man and woman are made directly by God after his own “kind,” he being infinite, we being finite. Adam and Eve were made directly by God, and we are all their descendants – there is no macroevolution.
  5. There is no intent for Genesis 1 to address the age of the universe or planet – the days of creation are a literary device to give eternal purpose to our literal weeks, and in view of the teleological purpose of the Sabbath. Just as the metaphor of the body of Christ is rooted in knowing how a physical body works, so too the metaphor of the creation week is understood by knowing how the literal week works.
  6. Chronology is very important in the Bible, but often served by prior topical concerns, which is what Genesis 1 does. The chronology from Adam to Jesus is meticulously detailed in the Bible, and Adam and Eve are as old as the biblical genealogies state, and as cultural anthropology confirms.
  7. In terms of the age of the cosmos and planet, and all related issues, we are scientifically free to explore where the evidence leads us.
  8. All that God made is good, and a further detailing of the biblical order of creation and the law of Moses show us that science and the scientific method are uniquely provided by the Bible, and not in any pagan or secular source.

The Nature of Scientific Freedom in Education and Politics

There is tremendous bias in education and politics against a biblical worldview (which too often is due to poor representation on part of the church), and against intelligent design. Here is a proposed resolution for the U.S. Congress and Legislatures of the Several States that would serve us well:

The Creator, Science and Public Education 

We recognize that according to the Declaration of Independence, the concept of unalienable rights is rooted in an appeal to the Creator.

These rights, as also enfranchised in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, are summed up in the concepts of life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.

When Thomas Jefferson, and those with him, composed the words of the Declaration, they needed the moral authority to declare independence from the arbitrary rule of King George III. They needed to define those rights that are unalienable – rights that cannot be taken away by arbitrary human governments.

Thus the appeal was made to the Creator who gives unalienable rights. The Creator referred to is the God of Genesis 1-2 in the Jewish and Christian Bible, and as appealed to by other religious traditions also. The Bible is the unique historical source that identifies the Creator who is greater than space, time and number, who is greater than the universe. It is the unique source that defines the unalienable rights given by the Creator to all men and women as created in his image.

Since these unalienable rights are crucial for the survival of our constitutional and democratic republic, the question of the Creator and the nature of the creation are equally crucial. Part of the nature of these unalienable rights is expressed in the First Amendment liberties of religion, speech, press, assembly and redress of grievances. The freedom of religion includes the freedom of non-religion to dissent from a biblical worldview within the boundaries of the rule of law. And the freedom to dissent from this dissent is also bound by the rule of law.

Thus, those who argue for a material origin of the universe apart from any concept of deity, and thus reject the Creator referred to in the Declaration, are free to do so. By the same token, those who argue for the Creator and a biblical view of creation are free to do so. And all positions in-between share the same freedom.

Accordingly, in matters of teaching science, religion and origins in the context of both public and private education, we affirm the following:

  1. Science and the scientific method celebrate the examination of all theories and facts on a given subject.
  2. A biblical worldview celebrates God’s gift of unalienable rights, and of science and the scientific method.
  3. Honest scientific inquiry that takes as a presupposition the Creator, should have equal freedom in public education to have its theories concerning the origin and nature of the universe and human life presented, debated and critiqued. As a matter of moral principle and civil rights.
  4. Honest scientific inquiry which takes as a presupposition a material and godless origin of the universe and human life, should have equal access in private and religious education to have its theories presented, debated and critiqued. As a matter of moral principle, consistent with having exercised the civil right to choose private education.
  5. Honest education always seeks to understand disparate viewpoints on their own terms.