At the PCA’s upcoming General Assembly, Dr. Gregg Davidson and Dr. Ken Wolgemuth of Solid Rock Lectures will be giving a seminar on what the science has to say on the age of the earth, “The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?” Dr. Davidson and Dr. Wolgemuth are particularly concerned that relying on Young Earth Creationism has led to the acceptance of bad science and bad theology in our denomination. They are especially concerned about the negative impact denying the scientific consensus will have on our witness.
Questions were raised about whether or not Dr. Davidson and Dr. Wolgemuth were just interested in the age of the earth, or if they are also proponents of evolution. Some quotes from the Solid Rock Lectures seem to indicate that this is likely, but many were hesitant to be to quick to judge. In doing some research, I discovered that Dr. Davidson, a member and teacher of a PCA church in Mississippi, has written a book on how to reconcile evolutionary science and Christianity.
Dr. Davidson’s book, When Faith and Science Collide: A Biblical Approach to Evaluating Evolution and the Age of the Earth (Oxford, MS: Malius Press, 2009)Q, was written to give “a simple three-step approach for examining scripture and science any time the two appear to clash” (back cover). According to the back cover:
The approach honors scripture first, and addresses the strength of scientific evidence only after satisfying scriptural constraints. When applied to evolution and the age of the earth, the result reveals far more harmony than discord (back cover).
So from the cover of the book, it appears that Dr. Davidson sees “far more harmony than discord” between evolution and Christianity.
Dr. Davidson opens the book with the story of Carl the Scientist. Carl is not a believer but is curious about the Bible and faith. In the course of his research into the Bible he talks with Doug the Young Earth Creationist (YEC). Doug tells him that Genesis must be a literal account of creation and shares a YEC book with him that refutes evolution. Carl is dismayed by the bad science utilized by the YEC proponents. He decides that the god of Christianity must not be a god of truth (11-12).
Dr. Davidson goes on to explain the core thesis of his book:
It is my conviction that much of the clash between the Bible and modern science is not only unnecessary, but harmful to the cause of Christ (13).
As for his own beliefs, Dr. Davidson professes a belief in the Bible as the inspired, inerrant, authoritative word of God and also in a literal Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, and original sin (14). He also believes that:
The study of God’s natural creation, by virtue of its reflection of its Creator, will occasionally prove useful in discerning the best interpretation of scripture when more than one interpretation is plausible (14).
So, in the most obvious example, science can help us determine which interpretation of Genesis and the creation week is the most plausible. Dr. Davidson gives a hint here as to which interpretation he prefers:
It is my conviction that good science and good theology will never rest permanently at odds with one another. Apparent contradictions may arise, but ultimately God’s natural revelation (the material universe) will be found in agreement with his special revelation (scripture). There is a growing body of people who share this conviction who have been convinced that the scientific evidence for evolution and an old earth is unassailable (14).
Dr. Davidson next lays out his framework for evaluating science and Scripture. Each apparent conflict should be examined using three basic questions:
Question 1: Does the infallibility of scripture rest on a literal interpretation of the verses in question?
Question 2: Does the science conflict with the intended message of the scripture?
Question 3: Is the science credible? (22-23)
He spends some time, then, considering whether or not Genesis 1 and 2 must be taken literally. His answer is “no,” based on several problems he sees in the text itself (40-41). For example, Genesis 1 says that God created in six days, but Genesis 2:4 says “in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” So, if we read Genesis literally we must believe simultaneously that God created everything in six days and also in just one day (40).
He also mentions some apparent inconsistencies in the order of creation given in Genesis 1 and 2: Genesis 1 says animals were created before man, but Genesis 2 seems to say that man was created before the animals. And, how can there be light on Day 1 before the sun is created on Day 4?
For those that suggest that God was the source of the light before the sun, Dr. Davidson says:
This is not a defensible argument, however, for it requires that God was dark prior to Day 1, and not omnipresent thereafter. Morning and evening without a sun would only be possible if God first turned himself on, and then fixed his position on one side of the earth(42).
Dr. Davidson seems to be unaware of the Biblical scholars who have written on these issues since well before Darwin and evolution appeared on the scene. John Calvin addresses the issue of light before the sun in his commentary on Genesis:
It did not, however, happen from inconsideration or by accident, that the light preceded the sun and the moon. To nothing are we more prone than to tie down the power of God to those instruments the agency of which he employs. The sun and moon supply us with light. And, according to our notions we so include this power to give light in them, that if they were taken away from the world, it would seem impossible for any light to remain. Therefore the Lord, by the very first order of creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon.
Dr. Davidson also suggests that to hold to a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 is to believe that since God finished creating on Day 6, then God cannot be the one who causes the Himalayas to grow or babies to grow in their mothers’ wombs:
Adherence to a literal interpretation of Genesis 2:2 requires that God is not the author of these events [land formed by lava spills in Hawaii and growth in height of Himalayas] since he has rested from his creative efforts. Indeed, even you and I are not to be considered his creative handiwork (43).
If God finished creating on Day 6, then he also can’t be the one who made thorns and thistles appear after the Fall, by Dr. Davidson’s reasoning. Although, he offers a possible solution to this problem. Thorns and thistles must have existed outside of the Garden of Eden:
The Garden was a place of protection from an apparently less desirable existence outside. This is evident from the fact that the Garden had boundaries (why boundaries if all the earth was perfect for human habitation?), and an angel was placed at the entrance after the curse to ensure they would not reenter (Gen 3:24). If thorns and thistles already existed outside the Garden, man was blessed with their absence until cast out. The curse was not the creation of thorns, but the exposure to thorns (44-45).
Dr. Davidson concludes by answering his first question: Does the infallibility of scripture rest on a literal interpretation of the verses in question?
[O]ne cannot reasonably maintain a strict literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 and hold to an infallible view of scripture. The use of seven days in the creation account must be interpreted in a manner similar to the interpretation of the three sets of 14 generations in Matthew. A central message is conveyed through the identification of real people or events, and is illustrated with a memory tool where creation is divided into six days of work and ending in rest (46).
Having concluded that the infallibility of scripture is best supported by a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, Dr. Davidson moves on to address his second question: Does the science conflict with the intended message of the scripture? This is not about the credibility of the scientific claims, but rather whether “current scientific understanding fits or clashes with scripture’s intended meaning” (51).
Each scientific claim is compared with relevant Scripture verses and then a synthesis is suggested. Dr. Davidson starts with the origin of the universe. The Bible teaches that God created everything from nothing. Standard cosmology, the study of the origins of the universe, teaches that before the “Big Bang,” the pre-universe condition was a void. The synthesis, according to Dr. Davidson, is that standard cosmology is “remarkably Biblical” (53). There was nothing, and then there was something.
What about the origin of life? According to Dr. Davidson, the Bible teaches that God commanded the earth to bring forth life (Gen 1:12, 24). Science teaches that “life began on earth roughly 3.5 billion years ago” (54). While scientists aren’t sure exactly how this happened, they are certain that the non-living material on the earth gave rise to life in process that took billions of years and gradually moved from single cell organisms to humans (56). Dr. Davidson believes that there is an easy synthesis here:
According to Genesis, God commanded the earth to give rise to life. According to science, the earth gave rise to life. The parallel statements of creation are remarkable … (57).
Moving on to the origin of man, it might seem more difficult to achieve a reasonable synthesis between Scripture and evolutionary scientific claims, but Dr. Davidson sees no material conflict:
Materially, the Biblical account of man’s creation is no different from the creation of other life on earth. To create all life prior to man, God “commanded the earth to bring forth.” To create Adam, God “formed man from the dust of the ground.” According to scientific accounts, man was formed from the same earth-dust as all other creatures (61).
To those who find a conflict in the evolutionary scientific claim that man evolved from the apes, Dr. Davidson suggests first, that maybe we have an “inflated sense of self-worth:
Our first reaction may be that man is not like the animals. Man is unique and must have been specially created even if nothing else was. The concept that man might share a common origin with other life forms is an affront to our dignity and sense of value. One must ask, however, if the indignation comes from an understanding of Biblical truth, or simply from an inflated sense of self worth (62).
And second, that maybe we don’t understand God’s character:
But would God really create in such a prolonged manner, making small changes from one generation to the next and spinning off myriads of life forms, many destined for extinction? Is this consistent with God’s character? … If our creative nature is truly a reflection of God’s nature, then it is entirely consistent that God would start with a lump of clay (earth materials), and begin to form and shape life through myriad generations until he arrived at what he was ultimately after. This in no way suggests that all forms prior to man were mistakes or castoffs (62-63).
Referencing God’s selection of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, Dr. Davidson sees no problem with the theory that Adam was simply one hominid out of many that God selected to be the first human:
The idea of God choosing one individual out of many is also consistent with what scripture tells us of God’s character. … It is thus at least within God’s character to chose one hominid from among many to endow with a soul and initiate the human race. …
[I]t is conceivable that the Eve and Adam of scripture are genuinely mitochondrial Eve and her mate, selected by God from a population of hominids and endowed with a soul (63-64,65).
Dr. Davidson next considers death and the Fall. Evolutionary science teaches that death and decay must have existed from the very beginning of time. What does the Bible teach? According to Dr. Davidson, the Bible teaches that spiritual death came as a result of Adam’s fall (68), but that physical death could have existed from the start outside of the Garden:
It makes more sense that material death existed from the start, but initially outside of man’s experience. … [T]he description of Adam and Eve’s stay and eviction from the Garden of Eden suggests that life outside the Garden had always been more harsh than life inside. … Thorns, thistles, and material death may have always existed beyond the Garden’s borders (70).
He also believes that creation was not necessarily without death and pain from the start:
Romans 8 does not say that the creation was subjected to futility by sin, but by God, perhaps from the very start of creation. The implication is not that God created the world flawed, but that it was created, from the very start, with a yearning to see the Messiah (emphasis original, 68).
The idea that heaven is a return to creation as it was prior to sin is a human concept, not an undisputed scriptural concept. If Isaiah says the wolf and lion will eat grass and straw in heaven, it does not necessarily follow that they did so at the start of creation (69).
And he warns that:
It is presumptuous to dismiss material death before sin with the claim that God would not call such a world “good.” God’s ways are not our ways (71).
One of the common objections to a literal interpretation of Genesis comes when considering Cain. Who was Cain afraid of if there were only a few people around? According to Dr. Davidson, the Bible teaches that Cain was only one of three humans in existence after the death of Abel (76). Science teaches that there were other non-human hominids, Neanderthals, around during the first days of mankind (76). Dr. Davidson speculates that Neanderthals might be what Cain was afraid of, and that Neanderthals might also be the “sons of God” who intermarried with the “daughters of men” and gave rise to the Nephilim (79):
If it is unsettling to think of God choosing one hominid from among a population to endow with a soul, it will likely be more so to consider that the children of Adam and Eve may have interacted with a species that looked and behaved in ways we would consider human, but were not human. The only response that can be offered is that God often operates in ways that mystify us. When we think we have God figured out, we will inevitably find we have been presumptuous (76).
For those who would suggest that Cain was afraid of his own family, Dr. Davidson does not believe that answer to be in sync with what the Bible teaches:
At the time of Cain’s banishment, he was the second [sic] child of the first humans in existence. Who else was there to fear? The most common explanation is that Adam and Eve had other children that populated the area into which Cain was to wander. … Indeed, Genesis 5:4 does say that Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters, but there is a serious timing problem. The first three sons of Adam and Eve are explicitly named. Cain and Abel were the first two, followed by Seth after the murder of Abel (77).
Dr. Davidson also believes Noah’s flood to have been local or regional, but not global:
In the Flood story of Genesis, the literal occurrence of an immense flood and the rescue of Noah and his family are not in question. The question is whether the description of the flood covering the whole earth must literally mean the entire planet, or if it can mean the entire area of human habitation and experience: the known earth (82).
And why does Dr. Davidson believe that the flood was not global? Because he believes there is no “convincing evidence” that the flood was global:
Though much evidence exists for floods of immense proportions in different places around the globe at different times during the history of the earth, no convincing evidence has been found that the entire world was immersed at one particular time (82).
Finally, Dr. Davidson addresses the age of the earth. Science teaches that the earth is billions of years old. Dr. Davidson believes that the Bible is mostly silent on the age of the earth. He believes that the genealogies in Genesis do not give an approximate age of 6,000 years because there are gaps:
The likelihood that names were skipped in the lineage from Adam to Moses means that the ages included can only be used to set a minimum age on the creation (emphasis original, 85).
According to Dr. Davidson, the Bible only teaches that the earth is at least 6,000 years old (85).
Dr. Davidson’s answer to his question, “Does the science conflict with the intended message of the scripture?” is “No.”
Before he moves on to his third question, Dr. Davidson pauses to explain that there is no reason for a Christian to deny evolution. Some may be tempted to argue that evolution gives a different answer than the Bible as to “how” and “in what order” God created, but Dr. Davidson does not believe that this is the case:
Many argue that God has already answered the question of “how” and “in what order,” therefore any attempt to find natural explanations is evidence of a commitment to materialism, a direct denial of God. If the only plausible interpretation of the days of creation in Genesis was a literal one, this might be a fair claim. If the message of the creation days is authorship rather than process, however, then the search for natural explanations is nothing worse than an effort to see the details of God’s handiwork (88).
Since evolution, then, is just “an effort to see the details of God’s handiwork”, then there is no conflict between evolutionary science and Christianity:
As a science, evolution is merely the name given to a study seeking to fit pieces of the life-history puzzle together in the most sensible way. … Rather than defining evolution as Darwinism, evolution should be defined as the name man has given to the study of what God’s creativity looks like. God does not guide, mimic, prod, or adjust evolution as if it is an independent force that God must rein in. God creates. Evolution is merely the physical, chemical, and biological description of what that creation looks like (90-91).
In the next section, Dr. Davidson addresses his final question: Is the science credible? His objective in this chapter is to:
provide simple, concise overviews of both the development and current evidence for scientific claims most relevant to Creation in language that non-scientists can grasp (97).
In order to be brief, here are some of the scientific claims that Dr. Davidson believes are credible: the “Big Bang” theory (99), the age of the earth is roughly 13.7 billion years old (107), the fossil record shows the obvious progression of life forms from simple to more complex (132), the Flood cannot explain the fossil record (132), and the common descent of man from animals (142).
Dr. Davidson explains that despite common misperceptions that transitional fossils are rare or even non-existent many transitional fossils are now accepted by science:
Transitional forms are now recognized for a large number of evolutionary pathways representing both large scale changes (e.g. amphibian to reptile; land mammal to marine mammal) and small scale changes (e.g. leaf eating mammal to grass eating mammal) (148).
The general evolutionary pathway leading from reptiles to mammals, however, comes through clearly (151).
These transitional fossils also prove the common descent of man from apes:
It may come as surprise even to those who accept human evolution that there are now fossil remains from over 5000 different individual creatures that exhibit features intermediate between modern humans and ancient apes. … Well over a dozen different hominid species have now been identified that represent a broad spectrum of transitional forms (156-157).
Dr. Davidson is careful to explain, though, that his belief in the evolutionary development of life does not come from a belief in materialism, that all that exists is what is seen, but from the scientific evidence:
The belief that life originated from non-living materials is not derived exclusively from a commitment to materialism (recall that scripture tells us that the earth brought forth life at God’s command). Rather, the belief rises from the observation that the earth contains a distinct record of life forms through time that starts with very simple single-celled organisms that did not even have a cell nucleus. Give this record, it is logical that there may have been some natural, God-instituted processes at work that could have produced these first cells (152).
Having answered all three of his initial questions and determined that there is no conflict between evolutionary science and Christianity that he can see, Dr. Davidson moves on to why Young Earth Creationism is both bad science and bad theology:
Young earth proponents start with the presupposed truth that the days in Genesis 1 were intended as a literal rendering of the creation events. As such, evolution must be false and the earth must be young. All examination of evidence must demonstrate this position. Two types of people emerge from this starting point. One type honestly argues scriptural or scientific evidence, though in my opinion make mistakes based on a faulty understanding of both scripture and science. … There is a second type that is more disturbing. To this group, the truth of special creation is of such importance that the truthfulness of arguments used in its support can be justifiably twisted if it leads toward belief in the ultimate truth of creation. The loose affiliation shared by these people make up the membership of a creationist cult, where the God of creation has been replaced by worship of creation events rather than the Creator. All is done in the name of Christ, but employing methods grossly inconsistent with Christian character (emphasis original, 165).
Dr. Davidson then lays out the ways in which Young Earth Creationists (YEC) employ misleading arguments:
The purpose is to demonstrate the different ways in which information is presented to make something true sound ridiculous, or something false sound quite plausible (166).
First, he argues that YEC proponents misuse terms in order to make evolution “appear weak or indefensible” (166). For example, when creationists confuse evolution with Darwinism, they wrongly suggest, according to Dr. Davidson, that evolution denies the existence of God:
This example promulgates the false assertion that creation and evolution are inherently opposite worldviews between which one must choose. … If God created through a series of generations, evolution is simply the name scientists have given to the study of God’s workmanship (167).
Dr. Davidson believes that it is also misleading for creationists to say that evolution can’t be proven by science since we can’t test what happened in the past (167). He explains that there are many hypotheses related to evolution that are testable by scientific study, including the hypothesis that humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees:
Hypothesis: Humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees, human and chimpanzees share a more distant common ancestor with gorillas, and all apes and humans share an even more distant common ancestor with monkeys. If true, DNA markers consistent with common ancestry should be more prevalent between humans and chimps than between chimps and monkeys (171).
After explaining the advances in the study and comparison of human and chimpanzee DNA, Dr. Davidson concludes:
Result: The greatest similarity (number of similar disabled sequences located in the same positions) is found between humans and chimps, less between humans/chimps and gorillas, and least between apes and monkeys. … The result of this test offers strong support for shared biological ancestry with the rest of God’s creation (172).
Other ways in which Dr. Davidson believes YEC proponents twist the truth include: misapplication of scientific laws or principles (175), use of half truths (180), misuse of probability calculations (194), and playing games with fossils (198). According to Dr. Davidson:
Life obviously changed in a step-wise fashion over time, but the complexity of the developmental pathway and the incomplete nature of the fossil record means it will not always be possible to firmly establish exact lineages between ancient and modern organisms (emphasis original, 199).
If life didn’t begin this way, then God must have deceived evolutionary scientists:
If God truly created as young-earth proponents insist, we are left with the conclusion that God must have intentionally created in such a way that the story told in the earth’s layers would appear different than what actually happened. Yet God assures us in Romans 1 that his character is evident in his creation (206).
Dr. Davidson concludes his book with what he believes the consequences will be if the church doesn’t accept evolution:
If the best interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 is consistent with what modern science now tells us about the age of the universe and the adaptive development of life over time, what could be the consequence of rejecting it? At the very least, there are three (233).
One consequence will be a failure to recognize and be awed by the magnificence of God’s creativity when we see it. With each new fossil discovery, we should be captivated by and enjoy the incredible artistry manifest in the ability to bring life from non-life, and to create new creatures from old. … Instead, each new find is met with reactions that may range from disinterest to disdain (233-234).
As each new scientific discovery is revealed that fits the evolutionary model, there will be a growing sense that God’s creation does not adequately reflect his authorship. God appears to be allowing his natural creation to tell a very convincing story that is entirely wrong. This cannot help but influence our view of God’s character. We will be forced to rationalize the the righteousness of a God who designed his natural creation to intentionally lead astray all but those willing to deny the story it yields (234).
The third consequence is the most sobering. When talking with questioning materialists, we will unwittingly become an obstacle to their path to faith. They will be looking at God’s workmanship while denying the Creator, and we will insist that to acknowledge the Creator they must deny his workmanship! Can there be a more ineffectual witness? How much better to simply open the door to show how the very work they see carries the signature of its author (234).
In conclusion, Dr. Davidson sees no conflict between evolutionary science and Christianity. He accepts the scientific claims for the origin of the universe, the age of the universe, the evolutionary origins and development of life, and the common descent of man from animals. He believes very strongly that YEC represents both bad science and bad theology. According to him, it is not merely another equally valid way to interpret the Scripture and the scientific evidence, but rather a “stumbling block to the faith” and a “failure to recognize and be awed by the magnificence of God’s creativity.” The logical conclusion of Dr. Davidson’s arguments is that there is no room for YEC in evangelical churches.