PLAIN TALK ABOUT GENESIS
Article by John Reed
Introduction: The Genesis Debate - What is at Stake?
The Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries saw the rise of a new worldview that
would rock the post-Reformation status quo in the west. Modern Naturalism,
cloaked for decades by a veneer of science, has gained a stranglehold on
the culture and reversed the fortunes of the church. The past years have
seen the world turned upside down. No longer is the church the dominant
social institution; it has been replaced by the school, the government building,
and the cinema. The church has fallen from its zenith of cultural power
and perhaps faces once again the status of its earliest days. We only have
to look beyond the sheltered shores of the United States to see that in
most parts of the world, it is already there.
How did this happen? What was the foundation for the success of Naturalism?
Many sociological analyses could be performed, but the Old Testament model
is more direct and less convoluted. God's people abandon His word at their
peril. The book of Judges provides a compelling template for spiritual failure.
God's people abandon His truth. They turn to idolatry. God judges their
insubordination with powerful enemies. Political and social strength melts
away, and God's people find themselves outcasts in their own land.
Few fundamentals of human nature change, nor does God's character. God's
modern people have followed the same path, often disguised by the different
rates of different denominations, but all in all, walking the same steps.
We all know that mainline Protestant denominations effectively discarded
the Bible by the middle of the Twentieth Century, and many evangelicals
have begun to follow the same disastrous path.
Desiring the respect of men, God's people have compromised the solid content
of the Bible, following after the gods of academic respectability, social
sophistication, and cultural acceptance. Historically, the first cracks
in the dike have occurred at the foundation - the book of Genesis. The following
series of excerpts from Plain Talk about Genesis show how the debate within
the Presbyterian Church in America over Genesis 1 is merely a variation
on a theme that has resulted in the ruin of many good churches. The series
will then dissect the challenge to the church, showing the competition is
not some phony 'religion vs. science' conflict, but is rather a clash of
worldviews. To compete in the right arena, we must rip the mask off of modern
Naturalism and expose its flaws and failures in the hope that a remnant
will stand firm on the foundation of God's truth against the tide of evil
that is bent on filling our days and drowning the voices of truth that remain.
PLAIN TALK ABOUT GENESIS: PART I
Between the end of the Reformation and the end of the Eighteenth Century,
most western people accepted the Genesis record as factual, literal, and
accurate. Although there were a few dissenting opinions, the orthodox consensus
was demonstrated by the paucity of discussion about these topics. This consensus
was no doubt encouraged by the hermeneutical principles developed during
the Reformation in opposition to the medieval schemes that emphasized allegory
and multiple levels of meaning. The Westminster Confession of Faith appears
to follow a literal interpretation of Genesis, using language very similar
to Exodus 20:11 in stating that God created 'in the space of six days''
[WCF 4-1; WLC Q/A-15].
Natural history was dominated by two supernatural events ' a recent creation
and a global flood. A prominent writer during that time was Thomas Burnet.
He focused on Creation and the Flood in his four volume work, Sacred
Theory of the Earth: Containing an Account of the Original of the Earth,
and of all the General Changes which it hath already undergone, or is to
undergo Til the Consummation of All Things, published between 1680 and
1690. Burnet's work was obviously influential; he is typecast as the standard
'anti-science' villain in many history-of-geology textbooks.
But the Reformation consensus did not outlast Enlightenment Naturalism.
Advances in geology and biology were developed in a culture shaped by men
like Voltaire (1694-1778), Rousseau (1712-1778), Comte (1798-1851), Hume
(1711-1776), Kant (1724-1804), and Hegel (1770-1831), and by events such
as the American and French revolutions. Science was not immune to these
influences. By the early Nineteenth Century, the new worldview of Naturalism
had shed its camouflage of Deism, and begun its cultural conquest.
This new worldview was attuned to the importance of history. Understanding
the essential role that history played in Christianity and wanting to deny
the immanence of God, its acolytes attacked the Christian understanding
of history at the points of the greatest manifestations of God's power and
interest in men. Since the focus of God's immanence was the New Testament
incarnation, the Nineteenth Century saw a plethora of 'Jesus heresies.'
Opposition also arose to God's work of Creation and His judgment in the
Flood. The Naturalists chose their battles well. They made their first assault
on Christian history by a flank attack on the Flood, before charging Creation
head on. The new science of geology accomplished the first inroad into the
Reformation consensus by successfully questioning the catastrophic (and
therefore rapid) formation of the rock record. If the rocks took millions
of years to form, then doubt was cast upon God's judgment in the Flood,
and on the veracity of God's word.
That is why the links between the age of the earth and the Genesis Flood
are important. The early Naturalists believed that they could undermine
faith in the account of the Flood by advocating an old earth. No longer
were the earth's crustal features attributed to a cataclysmic act of divine
judgment. If all of the rock record was formed by the gradual action of
observable processes operating over eons, there could be no room for a universal
The change in thinking about the history of the earth that took place between
1800 and 1900 was nothing less than revolutionary. Christians before 1800
lived in a much different intellectual climate. Because Christianity ruled
the church, the universities, the sciences, and culture, believers held
their worldview with confidence. The invasion of doubts during the Enlightenment
started a cultural reversal that we still experience today.
Naturalism acknowledges the revolution. In the earth sciences, modern geologists
recognize the discovery of 'deep time' as one of the most significant events
in the history of science. A trio of famous geologists kicked off the revolution
at the end of the 1700s: Hutton, Playfair, and Lyell. James Hutton (1726-1797)
challenged the geological establishment in 1795 with the publication of
the book, Theory of the Earth with Proofs and Illustrations in 1795.
Hutton's book developed the thesis that the earth was extremely old, based
on the idea of uniformitarianism (a term coined in 1832 in a review of Lyell's
book). Uniformitarianism is the historical principle stating
that present processes have been uniform over time and are therefore sufficient
to explain the history of the earth. Its essence is captured by the famous
maxim, 'the present is the key to the past.' Hutton is remembered in the
earth sciences for his famous conclusion to his book:
If the succession of worlds is established in the system of nature, it is
in vain to look for anything higher in the origin of the earth. The result,
therefore, of our present enquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning,
- no prospect of an end.
Hutton's theory did not receive much attention until the publication in
1802 of John Playfair's (1748-1819) Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory
of the Earth. These early efforts paved the way for the man many consider
the father of modern geology, Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875). Lyell's three-volume
Principles of Geology published between 1830 and 1833 was the standard
for uniformitarian geologists for many years. It combined Hutton's theory
of static uniformitarianism with examples from Lyell's travels and observations
of geologic phenomena in a compelling rhetorical style (Lyell was trained
as a lawyer). As a result of his work, Lyell became internationally famous,
and a leader of the nineteenth century scientific establishment. Lyell's
geological ideas prevailed and by 1850 the idea of a global flood was widely
Once the Mosaic account of the Flood had been successfully challenged, the
stage was set to attack the established concept of creation of fixed species.
Although the Genesis 'kind' is not equivalent to our understanding of 'species',
this view was popular in the nineteenth century. This task fell to Charles
Darwin (1809-1882), whose biography is well known to most of us. The now-famous
voyage on the Beagle occurred between 1831 and 1836, and publication of
The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation
of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life came in 1859. Darwin completed
his work by publishing The Descent of Man in 1871, a book that asserted
the evolutionary development of man, a subject he had avoided in 1859. Darwin's
theory of evolution by natural selection stirred up great controversy
in the secular culture as well as the church.
Although Darwin himself was not a vigorous public advocate of evolution,
his ideas were championed by men like T. H. Huxley, Herbert Spencer, Ernst
Haeckel, and Asa Gray. These men presented the issue as one of enlightened
science vs. outmoded religion. This false representation was widely accepted
(as it is today) and was aided by such men as Archibald Geikie in his book,
Founders of Geology. Geikie presented Hutton, Playfair, and Lyell
as bold empiricists struggling to overcome a blind religious catastrophist
elite. Even though avowed Marxist and Harvard Paleontologist Dr. Stephen
Jay Gould has recognized Geikie's presentation of the 'empiricist myth'
as 'cardboard,' the myth still prevails. The spin on the Scope's trial (portrayed
vividly in Hollywood's Inherit the Wind), cemented this false impression
in the public eye.
In spite of opposition to Darwin's theory, Darwinian evolution and uniformitarian
geology soon became the dogma of modern scientific education, advocated
by the professional scientific class ' a group wielding undeniable cultural
influence over the last two hundred years. Following the public relations
coup of the Scopes Trial, the evolutionary establishment became so firmly
entrenched that the Darwinian Centennial celebration in 1959 was primarily
an exercise in self-congratulation by the intellectual elite of the day.
The repercussions of evolution and uniformitarianism have extended far beyond
the earth and life sciences. Social sciences, economics, religion, and history
have been profoundly influenced by this revolution. Many of the most disturbing
aspects of our culture, whether social or political, find some direct or
indirect justification through evolution extrapolated beyond biology. Christian
arguments against abortion, homosexual marriage, etc. are hindered because
Genesis has been largely abandoned.
The Darwinian Centennial of 1959 may go down in history as the high-water
mark of evolutionary doctrine. Within two years, the modern creation movement
was triggered with the 1961 publication of The Genesis Flood, co-authored
by Henry Morris, an engineer, and John Whitcomb, a paleontologist turned
theologian. Within two years, the Creation Research Society was founded.
In 1972, the Institute for Creation Research was officially chartered.
Those of us who were educated during the Twentieth Century were fully indoctrinated
with the dichotomy between science (good) and religion (bad) with respect
to origins and natural history. And most of us were therefore surprised
to hear the new creationists arguing their case against evolution and uniformitarianism
not from Genesis, but from physics, chemistry, geology, and biology. The
sheer novelty of a scientific creationism aroused interest in the
creation movement. It also aroused intense antagonism among the intellectual
elite, who saw one of their best disguises penetrated.
What is the modern creation movement? It consists of a variety of organizations
and individuals, but is best known by three international organizations
that share several key beliefs: the Institute for Creation Research, the
Creation Research Society, and Answers in Genesis. All are committed to
(1) a literal (traditional) interpretation of Genesis 1-11 including creation
in six twenty-four hour days, (2) a young earth, and (3) a global flood
responsible for forming most of the rock record that uniformitarian geologists
believe took billions of years to form.
For example, the Creation Research Society is an independent, non-political,
professional research and publication society. It was founded in 1963 by
a committee of ten creationists (mostly scientists), including its first
president, Dr. Walter Lammerts, and is governed by a board of directors.
The Creation Research Society Quarterly is a technical journal that
publishes research in multiple scientific and academic disciplines pertaining
to creationism. Voting membership in CRS requires a Master of Science degree
in a recognized scientific discipline and a subscription to a statement
of faith. The statement of faith is reproduced below:
1. The Bible is the written Word of God, and because it is inspired throughout,
all its assertions are historically and scientifically true in all the original
autographs. To the student of nature this means that the account of origins
in Genesis is a factual presentation of simple historical truths.
2. All basic types of living things, including humans, were made by direct
creative acts of God during the Creation Week described in Genesis. Whatever
biological changes have occurred since Creation Week have accomplished only
changes with the original created kinds.
3. The Great Flood described in Genesis, commonly referred to as the Noachian
Flood, was a historical event worldwide in its extent and effect.
4. We are an organization of Christian men and women of science who accept
Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The act of the special creation of
Adam and Eve as one man and woman and their subsequent fall into sin is
the basis for our belief in the necessity of a Savior for all people. Therefore,
salvation can come only through accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior.
Late Twentieth Century creationism attracted attention because of its emphasis
on a scientific rebuttal of evolution and uniformitarianism - a method
that would prove impossible if the issue were truly one of science vs. religion.
But this scientific approach to the issue of origins has led to some friction
between creation scientists and professional theologians, particularly some
Divergent attitudes also create tension between theologians and creation
scientists. Many theologians are somewhat indifferent about the age of the
earth and the length of the creation days. This philosophical open-mindedness
has clashed on occasion with the mindset of creation scientists who have
been trained in the milieu of scientific positivism. This mindset and an
adversarial (and often antagonistic) relationship with leading evolutionists
leave creationists impatient with what they perceive as compromise positions.
In defense of the creation scientists, their perception of fighting on the
front lines without much support from the organized church and Christian
academic community has often been accurate. In defense of the theologians,
they hesitate to endorse criticism of stalwart fathers of the church (such
as Warfield, Hodge, Schaeffer, and Machen) from those outside of the reformed
None of the mainline denominations officially support the creationist position,
and many conservative denominations are openly ambivalent about the issue.
This ambivalence has been especially evident in reformed churches, even
conservative reformed churches, and may be attributed to the traditional
reformed desire to maintain a strong intellectual position in the culture.
This might explain why various alternative positions (e.g., theistic evolution,
progressive creation, old earth uniformitarianism, local flood, etc.) have
been popular with the academic leaders in reformed denominations, even though
they are much less popular with the lay membership.
Two aspects of the reformed heritage led to a general acceptance of the
new concepts of evolution and uniformitarian geology. The first was the
reformed tradition of academic excellence, and the second was the conviction
of an intrinsic harmony between science and religion. In the northern churches,
many leaders accepted the interpretations of uniformitarian geology and
explicitly abandoned the traditional young earth position, thus implicitly
abandoning the traditional understanding of the Genesis Flood. Charles Hodge
of Princeton Seminary typified the response of many. He accepted an old
age of the earth via the day-age theory, but rejected Darwinism per se
as atheistic. Hodge occupied the conservative end of the spectrum at Princeton.
Others in the northern churches moved rapidly to a position of theistic
In the southern churches, significant skepticism toward both Darwin and
Lyell was typified by Dr. Robert L. Dabney. Southern Presbyterians differed
significantly from their northern brethren by resolving the issue in their
church courts instead of in their classrooms. The court battles were triggered
by Dr. James Woodrow, a theistic evolutionist on the faculty of Columbia
Seminary. The resulting legal fight eventually affirmed a literal view of
Genesis in the denomination as late as 1924, but completely overshadowed
the academic debate. The literal view was overturned in 1969.
While it is likely that most PCA laity and many ministers believe in a literal
six-day creation and a young Earth, many faculty members of various conservative
reformed seminaries and colleges express a view similar to that of the prominent
old-school northern theologians like Dr. Benjamin Warfield. That position
rejects Darwinian evolution (and presumably modern variants of Neo-Darwinian
and Punctuated Equilibrium models), but maintains the old earth position
of uniformitarian geology and modern cosmology. In Nineteenth Century terms,
they reject Darwin (to a varying extent) and accept Lyell. This seems to
be the position of prominent recent non-theological critics of evolution
from the 'Intelligent Design' view, like Dr. Phillip Johnson and Dr. Michael
The PCA has chosen to accept a wide latitude of views about the meaning
of Genesis. Many questions remain. Should a prospective minister who holds
an old Earth position take an exception to the standards? Should such an
exception be the basis for refusing ordination? On the denominational level,
wide exposure was given to Covenant Seminary's position, as stated by President
Bryan Chapell in 'President's Goals and Report.' This document reported
wide latitude toward the interpretation of Genesis among the seminary faculty,
and generated a number of responses. The opposite side was reflected by
the symposium held at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1999,
which included presentations by proponents of a variety of positions. The
presentations of this symposium were published in the book, Did God Create
in Six Days?, edited by Dr. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr. and Dr. David W. Hall.
The General Assembly affirmed many theological truths, but fell short of
addressing all of the issues, especially the most divisive one of the young
earth vs. old earth position. The study committee's charter precluded a
direct consideration of the historicity and extent of the Genesis Flood.
As we have seen, that issue was the opening salvo of Naturalism two hundred
years ago. What they failed to understand was that the length of the days
of Genesis 1 and the extent of the Genesis Flood cannot be logically separated
because both are anchored to the more central question of the age of the
These issues are challenging because they cannot be avoided. Although the
PCA has lived in apparent harmony with a variety of learned opinions about
these subjects, God will not allow us to pursue an easy neutrality in anything
related to His glory and His truth. While we fumble with shades of gray,
God knows absolutely and perfectly. Jesus stated in Matthew 12:30 that we
are either for or against God - no other position is possible. The questions
are difficult, but we must persevere in seeking true answers instead of
taking the easy way out by shrugging off their importance.