The reader should bear in mind that when I refer to “Evolution At Dordt College,” I am referring to the teachings of one of Dordt’s professors, Prof. Richard Hodgson. Secondly, I am referring primarily, though not exclusively, to Prof. Hodgson’s teachings in a debate with Dr. Duane Gish on “Creation vs. Evolution.” In the third place, the reader should keep in mind that Dordt College claims td hold to the truth of creation. However, after preliminary investigation . Dordt has allowed Prof. Hodgson to continue to teach, although the Dordt Trustees “have decided to appoint a committee to study and evaluate further Professor Hodgson’s position regarding creation and evolution.”
Reference has already been made to the fact that theform of the issue in this matter is not outright that of creation versus evolution, but rather one of attempted compromise between creation and evolutionism. Dr. Hodgson takes the position of “an old earth creationist” or “progressive creationist” in his opening speech in the debate, in his correspondence with me, and in his presentation to the Dordt Board of Trustees (a copy of which was sent to me by a correspondent). As I stated earlier, I because of this, the issue becomes complicated: 1) It is partly whether this “progressive creationist” position is compatible with the Reformed and Scriptural doctrine of creation. 2) It is partly whether this “progressive creationist” position is a shield, a shelter, for some form of evolutionist teachings—in other words, for an attempted compromise between creation and evolution.
With these matters in mind, let us look, first of all, at Prof. Hodgson’s presentation in his opening speech at the Hillsdale debate.
In his introductory remarks in his opening speech, Prof. Hodgson seems to belittle the significance of holding to evolution. Among other things he stated: “I realize that many of you, perhaps most of you, here tonight are confessing Christians, and you are disturbed about the possible implications of evolution for the Christian faith. I don’t know all you may have been told about evolution. But I do know that there are many who believe that if you hold to evolution, there may be a rather clear cut road to you in terms of spiritual decline. And I don’t think that that is necessarily true, but I think we need to talk about it.”
Further, he outlined different points of view. “Debates,” he said, “by their very nature tend to be two-sided affairs. In the topic which is before us it is easy to over-simplify the reality into a literalistic Christian creationism, on the one hand and a sort of secular humanist evolution on the other hand. This is a serious mistake. There are, in fact, not just two points of view here; but perhaps there: may be as many as four. I would like to outline them very briefly for you.” Notice already here the prejudicial language with respect to creation-faith.
Prof. Hodgson then mentions first “what we might call a young-earth creationism, represented here by Dr. Gish. It really is the view that the earth is only a few thousand years old, and it is based upon a particular line of interpretation of the Bible.” Notice here: 1) That Prof. Hodgson does, not really so much as touch on the fundamentals of this view. The essence of the view is not that the earth is only a few thousand years old. It is rather that God created heaven and earth and all that they contain by the Word of His power in six days, limited by morning and evening. 2) This is not based on “a particular line of interpretation of the Bible,” but on the plain and direct teaching of Scripture itself.
The second group which Prof. Hodgson mentions is the progressive creationists. He states in his opening address that “The progressive creation school holds that the earth and the universe is very old, and that the days mentioned in Genesis 1 are of long duration. Many progressive creationists accept the broadly based scientific evidence that the earth is about 4.6 billion years old. They believe the basic kinds of life on earth appeared because they ‘were created by the sovereign God, Who created and upholds the universe, and not because of some naturalistic accidental mechanism. Most accept the reality of some microevolution. Most progressive creationists are devout Christians who believe that the Bible is divinely inspired. I say this because I think it is important for us to realize that the “Christian position” in this debate should not automatically be interpreted to require a belief in a young earth,” In this connection he makes mention of Charles Hodge and Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, of old Princeton Theological Seminary, as examples of progressive creationists, who believed strongly that the earth was old. He also mentions that Charles Hodge was “open to the possibility of a certain amount of evolution being a reality.” This is true: Hodge made large concessions to evolutionism. Warfield believed that the earth could be millions of years old and that the days of Genesis 1were indefinite, long periods of time. The Westminster scholar, Edward J. Young, is also cited as such a progressive creationist. In his statement to the Dordt Board of Trustees, as well as in correspondence with me, Dr. Hodgson takes the progressive creationist position. I think it rather significant, however, that in describing his position to the Board, Dr. Hodgson makes no mention. of evolution in connection with progressive creationism. He states: “On the basis of careful Biblical study over many years, aided by the writings of leading Reformed theologians Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, and William G.T. Shedd, and by some of the writings of my former teacher, Old Testament scholar Edward J. Young, I have concluded that the Bible does not teach that the Heavens and Earth are only a few thousand years old. Indeed 1 believe some Biblical passages suggest an extremely old cosmos. One can believe the Earth is several billion years old (as an abundance of evidence from astronomy and geology strongly indicates) while remaining a staunch believer and defender of the Biblical account of creation. The aforementioned scholars are evidence of that,” Would Charles Hodge’s concessions to evolutionism be covered by “remaining a staunch believer and defender of the Biblical account of creation”?
To this position of Prof. Hodgson we shall return later.
The third point of view to which Prof. Hodgson calls attention is that of “theistic evolutionism.” About this he states: “This point of view is held by some religious people who basically accept the scientific evidence for evolution of life on earth over, perhaps 3 or 3 l/2 billion years’ time, but who believe that although from a human perspective the process might seem naturalistic, a divine mind has been behind the scene, guiding to some extent what was going on, governing the unfolding of life upon the earth throughout this long history. They feel for various reasons—some may say good, some may say weak reasons—that the Bible does not authoritatively speak against such an interpretation. Some theistic evolutionists must be regarded as convinced, confessing Christians . . . . A weakness of theistic evolution may be that they do not do justice to some of the Biblical creation passages that we find.”
We should bear in mind—and Prof. Hodgson does not bring this out—that there is little fundamental difference between “progressive creationism” and “theistic evolutionism.” The main difference is that the former term may sound more palatable. Both views agree in denying the literal account of the days ofGenesis 1 and make these days millions and billions of years. Both views agree in making concessions of varying degrees to evolutionism. Both views agree in compromising (not with science) but with unbelieving, evolutionistic science.
The fourth view which Prof. Hodgson describes is that of “humanist evolution.” About this he says: 1) That this point of view accepts the overwhelming scientific evidence for an old earth and for increasing biological diversity over time which the theory of evolution teaches. 2) Its proponents argue that the origins of life were the result of accidental combination of the right chemical elements. 3) That it teaches that all life forms probably had a single ancestor which was the result of accidental genetic variation over a span of about 3.5 billion years. 4) That they need not invoke some deity in order to ,explain the process. 5) That in most cases these scientists are probably not confessing Christians in the meaningful sense of the term.
Now in the debate Prof. Hodgson states that he intends to represent “‘as accurately as I can the three points of view which Dr. Gish does not represent,” i.e., progressive creationism, theistic evolutionism, and humanistic evolutionism. And he states that “These three points of view, while they have some significant differences, nevertheless are agreed upon the point that the earth and the cosmos are very old—billions of years old, in fact—and that: micro-evolution is an observable reality in the world and has probably been operative throughout: the earth’s history.”
From all this it is already plain, first of all, that Prof. Hodgson certainly holds to some form of evolution, and that this is, according to him, implicit in his progressive creationism. To what degree he holds to evolution may be another question; about the fact there can be no doubt.
In the second place, Dordt’s Board of Trustees is confronted by the question—even apart from evolutionism as such—whether so-called “progressive creationism” is in harmony with Dordt’s own statement concerning creation. That statement is, in my opinion, surprisingly lacking in specifics when it comes to the doctrine of creation; and it is particularly lacking in negatives, or exclusions, in a day when various forms of evolutionism abound even in so-called Christian colleges.
In the third place, I must insist that “progressive creationism” even in its mildest form is plainly in conflict with Scripture. Mark you, not with my view of Scripture or my exegesis of Scripture, but with the testimony of Scripture itself in Genesis 1. Progressive creationism does not explain the days of Genesis 1; itexplains them away!
Finally, I wonder how Prof. Hodgson squares his progressive creationism with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, to which he subscribes as an Orthodox Presbyterian minister. Wherever they speak of creation they make a point of saying that it took place in six days. And no matter how anyone may twist and turn exegetically, six days are not billions of years. There are 365 days in one year. How can one of those days (limited, mind you, by morning and evening) constitute a billion years? Don’t cite Hodge or Warfield or Young. Give me Scripture!