A regular commenter, Joel Duff, a professor at the University of Akron, also maintains his own blog, Naturalis Historia. Dr. Duff is a theistic evolutionist who has written for the organization BioLogos, which I have extensively critiqued. While Dr. Duff and I vehemently disagree on many issues, we generally can have a pleasant disagreement which is better than I can say for most atheists who comment. As a professor and as a contributor to BioLogos, Dr. Duff has a status within the evangelical community which, obviously, we don’t, nor would we expect to. Thus Dr. Duff was asked by the website Christian Post to respond to a question which we have reproduced in full below. Christian Post ended up not using Dr. Duff’s response, so he posted it on his own blog, which prompted us to respond. We will respond both to the question he was posed and to his response.
“My Christian school taught that the earth is 6,000 years old but what’s taught in public schools is that the earth is millions of years old. How do I reconcile the two? Is it a matter of choosing science over the Bible?”
This question is very good and frankly, it saddens me how poorly Christian Post responded to it. They presented only the theistic evolutionary view and did so in a manner that was not particularly convincing. They did not grapple with any of the theological issues in play, nor did they even evaluate the scientific ones. In fairness to these individuals, one of whom works for BioLogos, Dr. Duff pointed out in a comment on his blog that they had a fairly severe word restriction of 1000 to hit. To adequately cover this topic and grapple with the huge theology problems theistic evolution has, they would have needed more space than that.
When it comes to reconciling secular science with the Bible, the answer really depends on your starting point. There is no “science vs the Bible” dichotomy. There are solid geologists, biologists, astronomers, etc on both sides of the issue. Both sides are looking at the same sets of evidence. The differences come in how they choose to interpret them. The methods of interpretation reliant on a staring point.
Those who believe in a young earth do so because they believe the Bible teaches it. The Bible is the foundation of their science. Because they accept all of what the Bible says about science, including that God created in six literal, twenty-four-hour days and that there was a global Flood in the days of Noah, they interpret any evidence they are presented within this framework.
The secularists, theistic evolutionists, and old Earthers, by contrast, come to the table viewing science as the authority, rather than Scripture. They talk highly about Scriptural authority but in practice, they are guided by science, independent of the Scriptures. Anything the Bible says regarding origins must be interpreted through the framework of a secular scientific community dominated by atheists, rather than the other way around. This is key to understanding the difference. To the secularists and Christians that accept their perspective, the Bible is optional when it comes to science. To those who take a young earth view, the Bible is a requirement to understand the science.
It is also important to note here that this issue has no bearing on a person’s salvation. People can believe evolution and still be sinners saved by grace just like they can believe in creation and be sinners saved by grace. However, these two vastly different worldviews have radically different outcomes.
Because of differing opinions, those who believe in theistic evolution often struggle to condemn abortion. After all, if as secular evolutionists claim, the baby is recapitulating its life history in the womb, why not murder it before its born if it’s not convenient? It’s not human yet anyway, at least in their view. By contrast, those who hold to a more Biblical view can readily and easily hold a pro-life view because the Bible tells us the baby is alive in the womb and science has repeatedly confirmed life begins at fertilization. There is no inherent conflict here.
In fact, between a young earth view and empirical science, there is no conflict and never has been. God wrote the Bible and God is the author and upholder of science. If there were an inconsistency, then God Himself would have to be inconsistent which would make Christianity false. Therefore the straightforward meaning of Scripture must match empirical science.
However, this is where it is important to draw a distinction between empirical and historical science. Empirical science is that which can be observed, tested, repeated and falsified. It is empirical science that gives us our cell phones, computers, space programs and so on. Historical science is analyzing things in the present and making guesses or inferences about what they were like in the past. The two are very different from one another, yet are often carelessly lumped together.
Theistic evolutionists like Duff and John Walton deny that historical science exists, but in so doing they are either being deliberately deceptive or simply are ill-informed of the facts. Evolutionists such as Jonathan Losos, an evolutionary biologist and author of numerous books, including college textbooks, freely admit to the difference between empirical and historical science. Losos said in a 2017 book “But evolutionary biology is a historical science. Like astronomers and geologists, we evolutionary biologists try to figure out what happened in the past. And like historians, we are bedeviled by the asymmetry of time’s arrow-we can’t go back in time to see what happened. Moreover, evolution occurs notoriously slowly, seemingly making it impossible to watch as it occurs.” Losos not only admits to evolution being a historical science but lumps geology and astronomy in alongside it. Astronomy and geology are the two major fields that are used to attempt to prove the old age of the earth.
Historical science is making inferences from the present into the past. However, as Losos rightly pointed out, we can’t go back in time and watch what happened. That means any claim we make about the past is based on inferences from present materials…unless you have an eyewitness account. The Bible is that eyewitness to history. God told us what He did in very plain language. So it comes down to a choice of who do you believe a man who wasn’t there or God who was? Pretty easy choice when phrased that way isn’t it?
Yet theistic evolutionists like Drs. Duff and Walton will object saying they are listening to God, not man. I think they sincerely believe that. That just makes them sincerely wrong. If you handed a Bible to a tribesman in Papua New Guinea who had no knowledge of science, he would come to the conclusion that God created everything in six literal twenty four hour days about six thousand years ago. Walton himself admits this is the surface meaning of the text and is only altered to fit mainstream science in his commentary on the NIV! It is only by eisogeting the desired ideas into the text that you can force the Scripture to agree with an old earth position, all the while destroying important doctrines like the goodness of God, penal substitutionary atonement (which BioLogos has flirted with denying and contributor N.T. Wright openly has), original sin, Adam and Eve as first humans and so on in the process.
Duff argues in his blog that people like Ken Ham and Bill Nye are both polarizing the issue of origins to profit from their base audiences. I would argue the issue itself is polarizing. Further, there is an inherent conflict between evolution and the Bible. Evolutionary biology denies core truths about man, such as Adam and Eve being the first people, or even existing (something BioLogos has flirted back and forth with), man being created in God’s image, man being sinful by nature and the existence of God. Any attempt to harmonize the two is attempting to bridge an unbridgeable gap. Either there is a God or there is not. Either man is basically sinful or man is basically good. Either Adam and Eve existed as the first people or they didn’t. There can be no compromise between these positions.
Duff goes on to point out that numerous Christian leaders in the past have accepted evolution and an old earth. He is correct, though that has been a very recent phenomenon, starting only in about the early 1800s in any meaningful way. The reformers certainly did not, nor did the early church. Duff suggests based on this that the question of the age of the earth be left for further study. I think I see what he’s going for here. It is an attempt to promote unity. While noble, I strongly disagree with any attempt to promote unity on this issue. If you reject what the Bible plainly teaches about origins, starting in Genesis, then what else are you willing to reject to save face with the world? Were Genesis the only issue, I suspect I would be more forgiving, but rejection of Genesis, particularly in a theistic evolution vein, links so strongly with the more progressive trend in doctrine in the evangelical church that it is a compromise that cannot be permitted. Compromising on Genesis inevitably leads to heresies like those of N.T Wright and potentially even further to a purely social, acceptance, false Gospel. That is why there can be no compromise on this issue. Genesis is not standalone. Your view of Genesis will affect your view of every other doctrine in the Bible.
The next section from Duff is much better, in that he points out it is not necessary to hold a particular origins view to be saved. Here we agree and I love the verses he cites to back this up. Romans 10:9 and Acts 16:31 are verses I use for witnessing frequently.
Unfortunately, the statement about salvation might be the only place where Dr. Duff and I agree. In the next paragraph, he makes the statement that dogmatic statements about creation hinder people from coming to faith in Christ. Given his reformed persuasion, I find this statement peculiar since he likely believes in irresistible grace (ie that God draws whoever He chooses to salvation and that man cannot resist it). I agree with him to a point, though. If all you do is shout creationism at an unbeliever, then yes, odds are, they won’t come to faith in Christ. However, it does make me question how frequently Dr. Duff has the opportunity to share the Gospel because when I talk to people about Christ, the most common questions I get are related to creation science in some way, be it evolution, millions of years or what have you. Perhaps we simply meet different types of people. I would argue that, to many people, it is evolution that is a stumbling block to the Gospel, not creation science.
Duff closes by appealing to natural revelation as informative on this question and quoting one of Darwin’s mentors, and later critics, old-earth geologist Adam Sedgwick. Curiously, Duff does not mention Sedgwick’s relation to Darwin, though this may have been due to word limits. His brief comments about natural revelation are nothing we have not seen or refuted before so I will pass them by without further comment.
Duff is right in saying that, this side of glory, we will not have all our questions answered. And really, as he points out, that is a good thing, as it gives us areas to explore, grow and learn. However, it is important to do so within the Biblical framework, rather than the secular one. Ultimately the question is not “science vs the Bible”. Creationists are capable of good empirical science and frequently perform it. The question is: who will be your ultimate authority, God or man?
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.