My spiritual pilgrimage from theistic evolution to
MY SPIRITUAL PILGRIMAGE FROM THEISTIC EVOLUTION TO CREATION
I still had no answers to the really important questions that nagged me; questions such as: What is the purpose of everything?
A. J. Monty White
In Autumn 1963, at the age of eighteen, I found myself a fresher student at the Aberystwyth campus of the University of Wales, studying for a degree in what was then my favourite subject, chemistry. This was a discipline in which I had always been interested, for it was the subject which could explain such diverse things as colours, explosions, fireworks, paint, poisons, radio-activity, x-rays, and so on. I was over the moon, being able to attend lectures and perform experiments that would push back the frontiers of my knowledge of this fascinating subject. At that time, I was an atheist. In fact, my parents had endeavoured to bring me up as an atheist, and the only time that God’s name was used in our house was when my parents or I took the Lord’s name in vain. I had attended church for a few years when I was very young, but this did nothing to convince me that God existed and I cannot remember ever being challenged about the claims of Christ, with respect to his being the Saviour.
From Atheism to Christianity
At Aberystwyth, however, I met students who were willing to discuss with me the reasons for my atheism. Eventually they convinced me that there were good, sound and logical reasons for believing that there was a God; that the Bible was true; that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and that he had lived, had been crucified and had risen from the dead. None of this (what can be called an ‘intellectual assent’) had any effect on my life. I continued in my atheistic way of life: I did not attend church; I did not pray; and I did not read the Bible regularly. Furthermore, I still had no answers to the really important questions that nagged me; questions such as: What is the purpose of everything? Why am I here? and so on. However, in February 1964, all this changed, for I was invited to attend church, and that night, for the first time, I heard the gospel message – that Jesus Christ had come into the world to save sinners like me. Two nights later, by the grace of God I was converted as I repented of my sins and asked God to accept me in Christ. I have given a detailed account of my conversion on pages 25-31 of ‘The God Factor’, edited by Dr John Ashton, published in 2001 by Harper Collins.
I really changed when I became a Christian, just as is taught in 2 Corinthians 5:17. One of the strangest things to happen to me was that immediately I had a totally new belief-system. I no longer believed that everything was the result of a cosmic accident and that every living creature was the result of an evolutionary process. I now believed what the Bible taught, that everything had been created by an Almighty, all-powerful God and that all living creatures on earth were the result of God’s creative acts. One of the major turning points of my Christian life occurred a few months after my conversion. I failed a set of examinations and as a result found myself studying geology. The first geology lecture I heard was given by the late Professor Alan Wood, who was then Head of the Department of Geology at Aberystwyth. Professor Wood spent over an hour telling us what he believed concerning the origin and destiny of the human race. He informed us that million of years ago the universe came into existence when a highly dense mass – the so-called primeval atom – exploded. He did not attempt to explain where the primeval matter came from, or indeed what caused it to explode. The professor then continued to explain how galaxies of stars, each with its associated planetary system, evolved from that original explosion of matter.
Becoming a Theistic Evolutionist
Professor Wood then went on to tell us how life began by natural processes in what Charles Darwin had called ‘a warm little puddle’. He then told us that these first life-forms evolved into bacteria and then into the invertebrate animals, as well as plants. According to Professor Wood, some of the invertebrate animals grew a backbone and became a fish – a vertebrate animal; fish evolved into amphibians; amphibians evolved into reptiles; and reptiles evolved into birds and mammals. He then went on to tell us that some of the mammals evolved into primates, and some of the primates evolved into ape-like creatures, from which humans evolved. Without pausing, Professor Wood went on to tell us that in about 200 million years time, humans would have evolved into something else far more advanced than humans. He suggested that when these creatures found the fossilized remains of any of the students listening to his lecture, they would think to each other (for he proposed that they would communicate via telepathy), ‘How primitive!’
Although this final remark caused all the students in the lecture theatre (including myself) to laugh, I have to say that the whole lecture worried me, for none of it was scriptural. It completely ignored the biblical account of creation (especially the creation of Adam) and of the early history of the earth. This was the first time since my conversion that I had been made to think hard about what I truly believed concerning origins. I was quite confused when I came out of that lecture and that evening I discussed the creation/evolution question with my Christian student friends. Surprisingly, over the next few weeks, I discovered that none of these friends believed in a literal creation as described in the early chapters of Genesis. They all believed in evolution, and that God controlled the processes of evolution. When I asked how they then interpreted the early chapters of Genesis, I was told that these chapters had to be reinterpreted in terms of the evolutionary account of the origin of the universe, of the earth, of life, and of people.
Eventually, I, too, accepted the idea of theistic evolution. I believed in a theistic evolutionary method of interpreting the first chapter of the Bible and tried to make the days of creation fit geological episodes, or Periods. For example, I interpreted the creation of light on the first day of creation as a description of the Big-Bang beginning of the universe. I equated the third day of creation, on which God created the plant life, with the Carboniferous Period in which the evolutionary geologists believe that the huge coal measures that are found in Europe and the USA were laid down. I interpreted the fourth day of creation, on which there is the description of the creation of the sun, moon and stars, in terms of the Permian and Triassic Periods when the evolutionary geologists maintain there were desert conditions on the earth. I interpreted the fifth day of creation, when God created the avian (bird) and marine life, with the Jurassic Period in which bird and marine fossils are found. And naturally, I equated the sixth day of creation, on which God created humans, with the more recent geological time period, the Quaternary.
I really enjoyed studying geology and in two years I went from knowing nothing about the subject to passing a set of examinations that were of pass degree standard. At the time, I was happy about being a theistic evolutionist – such a view did not affect either my academic or spiritual life. As I was a better chemist than a geologist, I took an honours degree in chemistry and then I pursued a PhD in the area of Gas Kinetics. During the second year of my PhD research, I got married and it was probably on our honeymoon (in Lyme Regis in January, looking for fossils!) that my wife began to argue with me about my theistic-evolutionary beliefs.
Where Does Death Come From?
A few months into our marriage, she challenged me to answer a very simple question: Where does death come from? She correctly pointed out that, in 1 Corinthians 15:22, the Bible teaches unambiguously that death was the result of Adam. Adam’s sin caused, and still causes, death. I could see quite clearly that this verse of Scripture teaches that through Christ we have life and that through Adam we have death. Logic dictates that just as Christ is literal, so Adam is literal. In fact, in the very same chapter, Christ is called the second Adam, showing that the first Adam was as real as the second Adam.
I clearly remember thinking at the time that if God was asking me to believe in a real Adam, then I must also believe in a real Eve, a real Garden of Eden, and a real six-literal-day creation. At this point I said to God, ‘If you are asking me to believe this, then you are asking me to commit intellectual suicide!’ The reason for this was that, at the time, I knew no one who rejected evolution and who interpreted the early chapters of Genesis literally. The thought about committing intellectual suicide, however, made me want to look into how these chapters should be interpreted. As it turned out, far from killing my intellect, studying what the Bible teaches about the creation and early history of the earth actually challenged me intellectually more than anything else that I have ever studied.
Who Was Adam?
Although I had been happy to accept a theistic evolutionary interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, this was only from a scientific point of view. Like all other theistic evolutionists, I had real problems with answering the question: Who was Adam? The problem is that if you believe theistic evolution, then you rely on evolution to furnish you with the answer to the question of who Adam was. And this is the crux of the problem. According to evolution, the first people (not one person, note) evolved slowly over tens of thousands of years from ape-like animals. So the fundamental questions that arise are: When did these animals become human? Which one of these animals was Adam? Which one was Eve?
However, an even bigger problem is death. When did death arrive on planet Earth? According to evolution death is a part of life – you cannot have one without the other. According to evolution, death is what allows your genes to pass from one generation to the next. According to the Bible, however, death was the result of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12), and it is a temporary phenomenon that one day will be eradicated from the universe (1 Cor. 15:51-58).
The 22nd verse of 1 Corinthians 15, ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive’, with which my wife challenged me, concerning the origin of death, really made me think. This verse alone is convincing evidence that the early chapters of Genesis should be interpreted literally. However, before committing myself to such an interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, I decided to read through the New Testament. I wanted to be sure how the writers of this part of the Bible interpreted the early chapters of Genesis. I wanted to find out what their attitude to these chapters was. When I did so, I was not unpleasantly surprised. Every reference to events in the early chapters of Genesis interpreted the events as literally having taken place. In other words, the early chapters of Genesis were viewed as historical documents.
Attitude of Jesus Christ to the Early Chapters of Genesis
What was Jesus Christ’s view of these early chapters of the Bible? Did he interpret them literally, or did he believe that they were mythical, poetic or allegorical? Reading the Gospels, I realized that the Lord Jesus Christ himself accepted the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis when I read his response to the Pharisees who asked him the question about whether it was ‘lawful for a man to divorce his wife’. His reply is recorded in Matthew 19:3-9 and in Mark 10:2-9. The Lord Jesus Christ answered the Pharisees by referring them back to the first two chapters of Genesis. He told them that ‘from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female’, and he then quoted verbatim from Genesis 2:24, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife’ – something which Adam said when he first saw Eve and realized that she had been created from him. It can be seen therefore that the Lord Jesus Christ interpreted this part of the Genesis story of creation literally.
I realized that the Lord Jesus also believed and accepted the story of the Flood at the time of Noah as a literal historical event. We see from Matthew 24:37-39 and Luke 17:26-27, that Christ accepted that Noah was a real historical person and that the Flood was a real, historical, universal event. He did not consider Noah to be a mythical being, nor did he believe that the flood was a legend or a localized event.
Attitude of the New Testament Writers to the Early Chapters of Genesis
When I read the genealogy of Jesus meticulously recorded by the beloved physician Luke in chapter three of his Gospel, I noted that he traces Jesus’ lineage back through Abraham to Adam. Luke accepted the names of the people whose names are recorded in the early chapters of Genesis as being real and historical. When Luke came to mention Adam, the first man, I noted that he had been led of the Holy Spirit to call him ‘the son of God’, as God had indeed given existence to him when he fashioned and formed him from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. In other words, he interpreted the creation of Adam, recorded in Genesis chapter two, as having literally taken place.
When I turned to the writings of the Apostle Paul, I noted that he referred to Adam on a number of occasions (as in Rom. 5, 1 Cor. 15 and] Tim. 2). A reading of these chapters convinced me that Paul believed and accepted the historicity, not only of Adam, but also of his wife Eve. As far as he was concerned, these two human beings were created and made just as we are taught in the second chapter of the Bible. Paul did not doubt it, and actually gave an instruction regarding Christian congregational worship based upon the creation and subsequent fall of the first human pair. He also compares and contrasts what we inherit in Adam with what we can obtain in Christ; he also compares the disobedience of Adam with the obedience of Christ. I was amazed at how much Christian doctrine was based upon an acceptance of the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis.
As already noted in the paragraph above, Paul not only compares and contrasts Adam with the Lord Jesus Christ, but he also compares what we have spiritually in the Lord Jesus Christ with what we have naturally in Adam. This made Thomas Goodwin, the seventeenth-century President of Magdalen College, Oxford, remark: ‘In God’s sight, there are two men -Adam and Jesus Christ – and these two men have all other men hanging at their girdle strings’ (Quoted in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Romans, by Professor F. F. Bruce, Tyndale Press, 1963, p. 127). There was now no doubt in my mind that Paul accepted the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis.
I realized, too, that the Apostle Peter revealed his belief in a literal universal Flood when he wrote in his second epistle that ‘the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water’ (2 Pet. 3:6).
Finally; the Lord Jesus Christ’s half-brother, Jude, accepted a literal, historical Adam when he wrote concerning Enoch (in verse 14 of his epistle) that he was ‘the seventh from Adam’. This verse showed to me that Jude not only accepted an historical Adam, but also the historicity of those people who are recorded in the genealogy from Adam to Enoch. My Paradigm Shift
Reading through the New Testament convinced me that the doctrine of sin and death was based on a literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. I came to see that if there was not a historical Adam, there could be no original sin, and what then of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on Calvary’s cross? If there was not an historical Adam, then the Genesis account of the cause of death (Adam’s sin) was untrue, and what then of the teaching of the conquering of death by the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? The Lord Jesus Christ himself, and two of the foundational Apostles, Paul and Peter, as well as Luke and Jude, believed and interpreted the early chapters of Genesis literally. I realized that theologically I had no argument against this interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, and so at this point I became a creationist. I now accepted the orthodox Christian doctrine of Creation.
What argument, then, did I have for being unorthodox and believing theistic evolution? I saw then, and I see now, that I had none, other than the fact that I had been told that evolution was true and that I should believe it. At that time, 1969, I had no scientific evidence with which to reject the idea of evolution or with which to support creation. This was to come over the next two years. That is another story. I have written about it on pages 239-245 of In Six Days, published by New Holland in 1999. I have also given reasons why I reject evolution and accept creation in Why I Believe in Creation, published by Evangelical Press in 1999.
A. J. MONTY WHITE (Banner of Truth magazine, May 2002).
As Christians we must constantly be on our guard not to be conformed to the world but, rather, to be transformed in our every thought. We must work out the full consequences of our faith in fear and trembling, resisting pressures to compromise. Also, in scientific matters, we should be careful to uphold our Christian values and epistemology [theory of knowledge], thoroughly examining scientific claims before accepting them… Christian scholars need to examine much more critically the methodology; epistemology and contents of their various disciplines. Each discipline should be dismantled, and, starting at the foundation, purged of unbiblical notions and rebuilt in accordance with biblical values and givens.. . If ultimately we will be fools in the eyes of the world anyway, why not at least be consistent fools, and uphold God’s Word in its undiminished entirety?
In this life we must acknowledge our human limitations, particularly with regard to scientific knowledge. Since the Bible is our only source of absolute truth, it is better to take it too seriously – if that can ever be done! – than to risk compromising it, however good our intentions may be.
John Byl “God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe” (ISBN 0 85151 800 1, Banner of Truth, 256 pp., paperback, £6.50/$12.99, pp.224-5.)
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