Three Views on Creation and Evolution

J. P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds, eds., Zondervan, 1999.

This book contains three essays defending three positions on creation and evolution and responses from other writers. The Young Earth Creationism position is defended by Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds. The Old Earth Creationism or Progressive Creationism position is defended by Robert C. Newman and the Theistic Evolution or Fully Gifted Creation position is defended by Howard J. van Till. Responding to each of these essays are Walter Bradley, J.P. Moreland, John Jefferson Davis and Vern Poythress.


Moreland and Reynolds do a rather formal philosophical introduction.

p7 Interesting quote to illustrate the vast changes in the world, particularly scientifically, in the last century. "People who lived during the Civil War had more in common with Abraham than with us."

p7-8 General discussion of science.

p9 Five models for integration of theology and other disciplines.

p12 Three ways science is perceived to be a threat to the intellectual credibility of Christianity.

p12 George Gaylord Simpson quote, a fully materialistic perspective.

p13 Arthur Peacocke quote, suggesting that theology must examine the scientific evidence if it is to remain relevant.

p13-15 Discussion of theistic evolution, which they think concedes too much.

p15 " .. the fundamental issue in the creation-evolution controversy is this: How much of the acceptance of evolution - theistic or naturalistic - is merely the result of accepting scientism and materialistic, naturalistic philosophical assumptions and how much is really justified by the empirical evidence and relevant arguments?"

p15 "For many young earth or old earth creationists, evolution is basically applied materialist philosophy and theistic evolution is an unfortunate compromise not required by the evidence."

p15 Offers some suggestions for special creationists.

p16 They move to set up the framework for the dialogue and list the central issues to be addressed.

p16 Philosophical issues

p21 Biblical-Theological issues

p23 Scientific issues

p23 Phillip Johnson quote from "Defeating Darwinism".

p26 Historical overview, with a strong emphasis on a quote from Plato on p27-28. They certainly give a great importance to this particular quote, and paraphrase Alfred North Whitehead as saying that "most debates about the design or creation of the cosmos are a footnote to this discussion in Plato."

p30 Discusses design and then Hume's assault on design.

p31 Goes on to comment on how Hume's assault combined with Darwinism forged a powerful weapon used to wage war against faith. Cite's Dawkins "intellectually fulfilled atheist" quote from the Blind Watchmaker and the effect of Darwin on philosopher William James.

p32 Reaction to Darwinism in Christian community, more extreme among conservative Christians of the US.

p33 Discusses the American Scientific Affiliation on the academic side and the publishing of The Genesis Flood by Morris and Whitcomb.

p34 Comments on old earth creationism and Hugh Ross. Then on Phillip Johnson and his "Darwin on Trial" and "Reason in the Balance".

p35 Sets the stage for Nelson, Reynolds, Newman and van Till and points to focus questions that each is to address. Five sets of questions plus a "Letter to Susan", a hypothetical seeking student.

Young Earth Creationism

Paul Nelson, Biology and the history of science

John Mark Reynolds, professor of philosophy at Biola University, specialist in Greek philosophy and the philosophy of science.

p42 Lays out main distinguishing features of YEC: All creation of basic types in one week, global flood, fall affected all of nature.

p42 List of the main YEC organizations.

p46-47 Good discussion of the philosophical problems of theistic evolution.

p48 Argument for a global flood

p49 Interesting little paragraph "Natural science at the moment seems to overwhelmingly point to an old cosmos. Though creationist scientists have suggested some evidences for a recent cosmos, none are widely accepted as true. It is safe to say that most recent creationists are motivated by religious concerns."

p50 Part of the story of Kurt Wise, YEC paleontologist.

p51 "Recent creationists should humbly agree that their view is, at the moment, implausible on purely scientific grounds."

p51 Discusses "Did Adam have a navel?" problem.

p52 Arguments about apparent age.

p56 Interesting reflection on "Why do I need to be saved?" from Paul Nelson - a response to a fellow student who asked the question.

p59-61 Discourse on rulemaking.

p62 Barb thrown at TE in this context, TE has a rule that God will not "intervene in the natural world" and can be blinded to evidence to the contrary.

p62 Comments on Pearcey and Thaxton's "Soul of Science". Ideas that contributed to the birth of modern science.

p62 last paragraph. Danger of philosophical naturalism making an idol of nature

These ideas in these pages are discussed very well and increased my appreciation of Nelson and Reynolds.

p64 Philosophical naturalism as a mephistoplean bargain.

p64-65 "God of the gaps" discussion.

p69 Interesting discussion of Rev 7:1 corners of earth, Isa 40:22 circle of the earth and Job 26:7 suspends earth over nothing.

p69-70 Criticism of Galileo's view of scripture

p73 "Presently, we can admit that as recent creationists we are defending a very natural biblical account, at the cost of abandoning a very plausible scientific picture of an "old" cosmos. But over the long term, this is not a tenable position. In our opinion, old earth creationism combines a less natural textual reading with a much more plausible scientific vision. They have fewer "problems of science". At the moment, this would seem to be the more rational position to adopt."

p76 Walter Bradley's response to Nelson and Reynolds

Walter Bradley, Texas A&M, natural sciences.

p77 References Dan Wonderly, (God's Time-Records in Ancient Sediments, Crystal Press, 1977), for fossils in Gulf of Mexico down to 25000 feet with many different types of sedimentary rock.

p77 One objection to "no death before the fall" wouldn't allow even bacteria in our stomachs to die before the fall.

p77 Objects to interpretation of Genesis 2-3 as referring to a physical fall. Problem that "in the day --shall surely die, yet died many years later". Spiritual death.

p78 Objects that "no death before the fall" forces to global flood and flood geology

p78 Overwhelming evidence in the Earth for old earth. Refers to Davis Young and Hugh Ross.

p80 John Jefferson Davis' response to Nelson and Reynolds

Davis is a theologian from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

p80 Affirms an "open philosophy of science" which entertains the possibility of supernatural acts.

p81 Takes issue with direct creation of all "kinds" and discusses primary and secondary causes.

p83 Discusses Romans 5:12 and "death came to all men" as applying the fall to men and not all of nature. Brings up massive fossil evidence of animal death. If warning was given to Adam "when you eat of it you will surely die", it would have been meaningless if he had never seen anything die. Discusses the "all the world" uses in scripture in contesting the global flood.

p80 J. P. Moreland's response to Nelson and Reynolds

Moreland: philosopher at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.

p85 Leans toward old earth, but more sympathetic with young earth than others.

p85-86 Argues that we should responsible respond to external conceptual problems - and the scientific issues should be considered seriously by recent creation models.

p86 Argues against appearance of age - would put God in position of creating non-functional features that falsely point to great antiquity.

p86-87 Argues agains TE rather passionately and against evolution in general.

p80 Vern Poythress' response to Nelson and Reynolds

Poythress: Biblical studies, hermeneutics, Westminster Theological Seminary.

p91-92 Interesting discussion of biblical interpretation touching on fixed earth and global flood and ways to interpret the text.

p95 Nelson and Reynolds Conclusion

Progressive Creationism

Robert C. Newman, PhD in theoretical astrophysics and professor of New Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary.

p106 Summary of old earth views of "days". Pretty much the modern scientific view.

p112 Discusses flood and continental drift.

p113 Definite beginning and fine tuning. Designer implication. Refers to Davies and also to Barrow and Tipler.

p114 Discusses TE. A little more sympathetic than the others.

p114 Discusses Adam, discusses irreducible complexity problem.

p116 Discusses transitional species and the Cambrian explosion.

p117 The Bible-Nature and Theology-Science as imperfect reflections thereof.

p121 Under broader implications, argues that both YEC and TE encourage setting faith against intellect. YEC position is stumbling block to seekers. TE weakens scripture, but a way in for seekers.

p124 Bible and nature not in conflict. Sounds like RTB.

p126 Providence and miracle discussion.

p134 Walter Bradley's response to Newman

p134 Pretty well in agreement, suggests bypassing to his comments on TE

p137 John Jefferson Davis' response to Newman

p137 Closest to Newman of three positions. The areas of agreement are nicely stated. Only caveat was that he sees more evidence of transitional forms.

p138 On geologic dating, besides Davis Young and Brent Dalrymple, he cites Alan Hayward and Dan Wonderly with references given.

p138 Literary framework view of Genesis

p138-139 Discussion of transitional forms. He spends the rest of his review expanding this discussion, so it is clearly important to him.

J.P. Moreland's response to Newman

p142 Admits to a division of loyalty between young and old earth, but puts highest priority on emphasizing theistic design and special creationism over against TE.

p144 Need meaning of 'procrustean' and examples of 'epistemic value' - conditions and examples

Vern Poythress' response to Newman

149 Enumerates 4 problems with Newman's approach

  1. 7th day still future
  2. Began with 24hr day
  3. Long creative process after 24hr day
  4. Caused lights to appear (Poythress wants 'made').

p150 Suggest that Newman go to "moderate concordats" view to solve some of the problems. I need to know what that means.

p150 Criticizes fact that Newman doesn't slam the door hard enough on self-contained "nature".

The Fully Gifted Creation (Theistic evolution)

Howard J. van Till, professor of physics at Calvin College.

p161 "I think that the creation-evolution controversy among Christians is the outgrowth of a serious misunderstanding both of the historic doctrine of creation and the scientific concept of evolutionary development." He develops this idea through pg 166, objecting to creation being treated only as special creation and to evolution being treated as purely naturalistic evolution.

p166 His distinctive views begin to show when he starts resisting "special creation", characterizing it as God "imposed a new form on the raw materials to which he first gave being - forms that the raw materials could not possibly achieve by using only their own capacities."

p167 Begins building support for his preferred view of an "evolving-creation picture in which God is envisioned as giving being to a creation in an initially unformed state but gifted with all the capacities for self-organization and transformation that would be needed to bring about, in time, the full variety of structures and forms that have ever appeared."

p167 He reacts strongly to naturalists presuming that evolution supports a naturalistic worldview.

p168 Interesting paragraph in which he denies that "randomness rules out purpose."

p169 "So, what's the point to be taken from this reflection on the creation-evolution debate?

  1. it is a debate in which "creation" seldom means the historic doctrine of creation, but is most often restricted to mean the special creationist picture of God's creative action
  2. it is a debate in which "evolution" is seldom limited to the scientific concept of evolution, but is most often broadened to represent the worldview of evolutionary naturalism
  3. the debate has therefore functioned to hinder open and fruitful discussion of evolutionary pictures of the creation's formational history within the Christian community."

p170 outlines his perspective

p171 "Has the creation been gifted with all the capabilities that would be necessary to make something like biotic evolution possible? Special creationists are convinced that it has not. I am inclined to believe that it has. I believe that God has so generously gifted the creation with the capabilities for self-organization and transformation that an unbroken line of evolutionary development from nonliving matter to the full array of existing life-forms is not only possible but has in fact taken place."

p173 reiterates the point that the creation has been "fully gifted" "has been given all the capabilities for self-organization and transformation necessary to make possible something as humanly incomprehensible as unbroken evolutionary development."

p174 discusses the "domain of competence" of science and theology.

p175 Seems to get pretty close to Gould's NOMA with his statement "Since theology and the natural sciences generally focus their attention on different aspects of reality, authentic conflict is, in my judgment, quite rare. .. Each has the competence to address a list of substantive questions, but the two lists have little, if any, overlap."

p175 He then immediately denies that they are in noninteracting compartments and restates what he considers to be "central issues": "How can we best describe the character of divine creative action? By reference to occasional interventions in which a new form is imposed on raw materials that are incapable of attaining that form with their own capabilities? Or by reference to God's giving being to a creation fully equipped with the creaturely capabilities to organize and/or transform itself into a diversity of physical structures and life-forms?" The latter statement is a summary of his "fully gifted" view.

p175 "Theology done in isolation from the rest of the intellectual enterprise is unlikely to promote growth in our knowledge of God and even more unlikely to promote growth in our knowledge of his works."

p179-192 A discussion that shows that he has thought about it carefully for a long time. Agree with it or not, it is an outstanding discussion.

p188 Having described the process of creation as a "formational economy", he describes some of the implications of assuming that this economy was sufficiently robust from the beginning to accomplish its purpose.

  • no gaps in the economy
  • like a seamless tapestry
  • Augustine's richly gifted creation applies, even if science fails to find it
  • evolution may be our most accurate picture of it

p189 "We are gifted beyond comprehension. We even have the capacity to reflect on who we are and whose we are. We are gifted with the ability to commune with our Creator-Redeemer. We are gifted with the capacities to know right from wrong and to choose the right. How could it be that the outcome of the universe's formational history is so fruitful as to include morally responsible creatures? Could anything less than God's blessing suffice?"

p190 Interesting response to Dawkins "intellectually fulfilled atheist" statement in "Blind Watchmaker". I reproduce it with Dawkins.

p192 "Why I reject all forms of special creationism."

p196 Laments that the "robust formational economy principle" has been ceded to the naturalist in an upside-down scoring system.

p203 Comments on intelligent design and Paley. Includes Behe's "Darwin's Black Box". Although in agreement with the intelligent design part, he pulls back from the fact that "Intelligent design means both thoughtfully conceptualized and assembled by an extranatural agent."

Walter Bradley's response to van Till

p219 As I fully expected, Bradley jumps right on him with "Since van Till's belief that matter is sufficiently "gifted" that it can self-organize and transform itself from simple, innate molecules to highly complex living forms such as Homo Sapiens cannot be substantiated empirically (or scientifically) at this time, it is difficult to understand why he claims that abandoning the debate helps him maintain his intellectual integrity. It is universally recognized by origin-of-life researchers that the formation of the simplest living cell under realistic, early-earth conditions seems almost impossible to imagine." So with Bradley, co-author of "The Mystery of Life's Origin" as one of the reviewers, van Till certainly walked right into the lion's den.

p220 Cites Cambrian explosion. Throws in Dawkins' "Climbing Mount Improbable" as complicated by Behe's irreducible complexity.

p220 Bradley sees other ways around the "God of the gaps" and asserts that just seeing God as primary cause is sufficient to do it. Raises possibility that God might work by his patterned laws sometimes, and occasionally outside them - that is, there is not sufficient empirical evidence to support a "fully gifted creation".

p221 Highly critical of presumption of initial "giftedness" as origin of all the observed complexity as being too deistic and not taking into account the information problem. As an engineer, he poses a trajectory problem and notes that it is not only the physical laws but the initial conditions that determine the success of the experiment. I see this as ultimately pushing things beyond "chance and necessity" by requiring the input of information to set initial conditions.

I wouldn't be quite as critical of van Till as Bradley is, but it does appear that he hasn't fully appreciated the information problem and hasn't fully credited the incredible efforts of origin of life researchers that have come up empty. Seems too tightly tied to chance and necessity with front-end loading and not enough open to an imminent God who can "speak" into his creation.

John Jefferson Davis' response to van Till

p226 Beautiful and gracious statement of his areas of agreement with van Till.

p227 Points out "bara" creation of something that didn't previously exist and differs from van Till who perhaps overemphasizes the continuity when there appears to have been points of discontinuity.

p228 Examples of discontinuity - origin of life, Cambrian explosion. Inadequacy of Miller-Urey. Inadequate recognition of the discontinuities in Earth's history.

J. P. Moreland's response to van Till

p231 "I remain convinced that theistic evolution is both inadequate in light of all the relevant evidence and is a very dangerous compromise in light of the scientism that characterizes the contemporary intellectual climate ."

p232 Expresses skepticism about whether the relevant scientific establishment is as unbiased as van Till thinks.

p233 Thinks macroevolution is accepted for other than scientific reasons.

p233 Chides van Till for not taking his own advice about respect for the professionals in the field and taking a position at odds with the majority of philosophers, theologians and Biblical experts.

p234 Tackles van Till on intelligent design. Criticizes him for just making the analogy with Paley when modern information theory is being employed as well as other tests.

Vern Poythress' response to van Till

p236 Concedes that evolution might have been a means used by God, and that such a means would point to creation rather than naturalism.

p236 Thinks he makes a serious error by not allowing God to make exceptions. Also thinks he makes the deist error.

p239 refers to Denton's "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis".

p239 Bottom line: too deistic by not allowing exceptions. And TE not doing so well on scientific grounds.

van Till's conclusion

p240 Much more forceful than the other's conclusions, and he doesn't give an inch! Defends the biological community of scientists. Defends his "fully gifted" model as consistent with anthropic fine tuning. Edges away from the kind of inerrancy that conservative Bible scholars would like. Bridles at the deism charge and rebuts that critics only see the Creator's activity in the discontinuities. "presence of such gaps is not required to "make room" for divine action, then the absence of such gaps is no loss whatsoever."

Richard H. Bube's Reflection

Scientist, professor emeritus of materials sciences, Stanford.

p251 General reflection on science and its ways of knowing, but doesn't respond or take sides with the principal positions.

Phillip Johnson's Reflection

Professor of Law, Berkeley.

p267 Starts with interesting story of Lewontin, including Lewontin's famous "can't allow a divine foot in the door" quote. Paints Lewontin as harsh critic of Dawkins. As others have done, also paints him as a materialist for philosophical reasons, not scientific ones.

p268 His brief summary of the positions of the main authors is very good and concise.

p271 Comments on methodological naturalism. Pushes theism out in academia because it is built on a foundation of philosophical naturalism.

p273 Comments on why TE opposes ID - talks about Behe's "Darwin's Black Box", reacting favorably to it.

p275 Quotes Shapiro to emphasize a "widening rip in the supposedly seamless fabric of evolutionary naturalism".

p276 Expresses some dissatisfaction with all the answers we have at present and leaves some open questions. Johnson is an impressive writer.

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