This year is the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s seminal work “On the Origin of Species.” At the time he wrote it, few people realized that the hypothesis that Darwin proposed in this book would sweep across every continent and change the way that even most church bodies think about God’s role in creation. Most church bodies try to harmonize Genesis with evolutionary theory by promoting some type of theistic evolution. Confessional Bible-believing churches, on the other hand, such as the ELS, have held to what God’s Word says about creation in six days as reported in Genesis, chapter 1.
This year’s ELS convention essay took up the issue of God as Creator. The goal was to show that things are not as clear-cut as evolutionists often say they are. The essay addressed four different issues about creation vs. evolution. We will briefly discuss three of these issues in this article.
1. Can Scripture and Evolution be harmonized?
This depends upon what is meant by evolution. Many times, when scientists talk about evolution, they are talking about small changes within a particular kind of animal or plant. These types of changes can occur because animals in different living conditions have different needs. God placed a great amount of genetic variation in the plants and animals He created for just such circumstances. These small types of changes are not a problem for Bible-believing Christians.
Macroevolution, however, is another story altogether. Macroevolution says that one very simple form of life came into being by natural chemical processes about two billion years ago. All other living organisms have descended from that one very simple life form over the last two billion years by a process of mutation and natural selection. This understanding of evolution definitely conflicts with Scripture.
A mutation occurs when the DNA of a living organism is accidentally changed. Evolution says that sometimes mutations are harmful, but sometimes they are helpful (in truth, helpful ones are extremely rare). But when a beneficial mutation does happen, then it will give the animal or plant that possesses it an advantage over its neighbors. The one with the advantage will then outcompete its neighbors and its offspring will tend to be the ones that survive. After millions of years, each individual of that kind of animal will possess the better gene because the ones without it were all outcompeted. When animals with an advantage survive more than those without the advantage, it is called natural selection. So these two conditions, beneficial mutations and natural selection, are the engine that powers evolution and caused all life forms to come into existence according to the theory of evolution. As you can see, it is impossible to remain true to Scripture and also believe in evolution. The most problematic issue is that Adam and Eve couldn’t be real people according to evolutionary theory. Therefore, according to this theory, there was no fall into sin and thus no original sin from which we need redemption.
Some people try to harmonize Scripture and evolution by saying that the days of creation are figurative. Yet after each day of creation, God defines a day for us by declaring that “the evening and the morning were one day.” This makes it impossible to harmonize the Bible with evolutionary theory
2. Some Evidence Supports Evolutionary Theory, But Are there Other Explanations?
Lots of evidence is cited in support of evolutionary theory. One bit of evidence is that when fossils are found, they are often found in a certain order. The simplest organisms are found down in the bottom layers of the fossil record while more complex animals are found in the top layers. This corresponds to evolutionary theory because over the millions of years that the rock layers were supposed to be forming, animals were supposedly evolving to become more complex.
There are big problems with this explanation, however, because in many places around the earth, fossilized footprints in shale rock are found with no trace of the animals that made them. What is interesting is that the footprints continue as you move up higher in the layers of shale, but still no animals. Often, though, several (40 or so) feet higher than the bottom prints, you can find the animals that made them. How can it be that footprints in mud would last long enough to be preserved if each layer of shale took thousands of years to be deposited? And why are the animals found in layers that are higher than their footprints? It would take only one good rain to wash footprints away. A better explanation is offered by Kurt Wise, a creationist geologist who wrote the following about trilobite footprints:
What if, when the “fountains of the great deep were broken up” (Genesis 7:11), the spreading waters surprised the trilobites living on the ocean bottom? As the water became muddy, trilobites scurried about in terror, leaving their tracks behind them. Then as a layer of mud covered their tracks, they climbed through the mud and left tracks on the next layer repeating this process until they finally succumbed in exhaustion and were themselves buried and preserved.
This not only explains trilobites, but much of the rest of the fossil record. Those animals that were able to move the fastest as floodwaters were climbing would be able to move to higher ground. Slower ones would be buried in the lower levels. This is but one example of how the evidence for evolution has another, better explanation if we will just take the time to look for it.
3. Have the Events of Genesis Left Behind Evidence of God’s Handiwork?
The clearest evidence we find would be evidence of the great flood. Sure enough, we see evidence all around us of a catastrophe of a kind that doesn’t happen anymore. We see canyons carved out quickly by water. We see fossil graveyards all over the world. This is evidence of the flood. We even see fossilized fish on the tops of mountains, evidence that water once covered them. In fossil dinosaur bones, soft tissues have now been found. Cells with some intact DNA has even been discovered inside dinosaur bones. This is evidence that dinosaurs didn’t live millions of years ago as evolution teaches because DNA doesn’t last for millions of years in nature.
Some exciting news involves recent evidence from the DNA of people who live in different places all over the world. It turns out that if we examine some special DNA, called mitochondrial DNA, we can piece together the ancestry of people. Scientists back in the year 2000 did a study from 53 individuals from different countries all over the world. By using their mitochondrial DNA, all of those individuals can be traced back to three individual women. Now, we might ask the question: “Using Bible history, do we ever see a time when there were just three women of childbearing age, whom we know had children?” Yes! We know that on the ark there were three women, married to Noah’s sons, who became the ancestors of all living people. This study was repeated in 2014 with over 200 people from all over the world. The results of this study are the same. This is amazing affirmation of what we already knew to be true based upon the Scriptures. This same kind of study can be done with the Y chromosome of males. Once again, when that study was completed, it showed exactly what we would predict based upon Scripture. We can trace the Y chromosome of all living men back to one Y chromosome. This is just what we would expect because all the men on the ark had identical Y chromosomes (Noah’s sons would have gotten theirs from Noah).
Those of us who believe the Scriptures would expect that the number of mutations in humans would be far fewer than those expected by evolutionists. This is because evolutionists believe humans have been on earth far longer and every generation of humans receives about 100 new mutations. But sure enough, the results of new studies have shown that the number of mutations in the human genome is what would be expected if we have been on the earth between 5000 and 6600 years.
Much of the evidence that is coming to light affirms what those of us who believe the Bible have believed all along. God has purposely made His creation, and this emboldens us to say with the Psalmist:
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well (Psalm 139:14).
Rev. Dr. Doyle Holbird
2019 ELS Convention Essayist
Bethany Lutheran College