In the October issue of the Reformed Journal, J. K. Van Baalen writes an article entitled “Evolution and the Bible.” The purpose of this article is to show that evolutionism (not in its mechanical sense, but in its theistic sense) is perfectly compatible with Scripture. The article mocks the literal interpretation of Genesis 1and the idea of a universal flood. The author scoffingly speaks of the defenders of these views as “some old-time literalist theologians” and claims that those who hold to these views “meet with the most disastrous difficulties and find it impossible to adhere to the sacred Scriptures.”
I am not an admirer of the light-handed way in which the Reformed Journal has recently written about items of current doctrinal interest. It seems to me that (although this may be a literary style to give articles readability) the issues discussed are too serious to be treated in this fashion. But, be that as it may, Van Baalen’s argument here is a switch to say the least. Usually the argument made in support of the period theory is that those who maintain a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 cannot find an adequate explanation for the facts of science. But Van Baalen goes another step. He insists that these people cannot explain the Scriptures. It is his contention that anything else but an evolutionistic interpretation of Genesis 1 makes it impossible to interpret rightly the Word of God. One must commit himself to evolutionism if one is to be in a position to exegete Scripture properly.
We have no intention of answering all Van Baalen’s arguments, arguments which have been adequately answered before. But there are some remarks which we shall make as we quote parts of the article.
The first chapter of Genesis informs us that God created “the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them” in six days
and 2:1 and then calls the six days one day
The Bible tells us that on the fourth day God made the sun, moon, and stars to “rule over the day and over the night”
,17,18 so that the duration of the first three “days” with their “evening and morning” most certainly could not have been determined by the setting and rising of the sun.
In connection with the creation of animals, Van Baalen finds it impossible to believe that “800,000 different animals and 250,000 plaits appeared within, 24 hours, whereas nowadays it takes the earth a great many years to ‘bring forth’ a tree out of a seed.” To my knowledge, no responsible defender of the creation narrative has ever maintained this; although why this is impossible, I cannot see. Whatever the number of different plants and animals is, God surely could (and did) do this by His creative Word which called the things that were not as though they were. The number makes absolutely no difference.
In writing about the creation of man, Van Baalen mocks the Scriptural narrative and puts words in the mouths of those who believe God’s Word which they have never spoken.
On that same day (that is, the sixth) God also made the body of Adam “of the dust of the earth.” According to a popular representation He did this by making a mud doll and breathing into it thousands of nerves, sinews, and the circulatory system; thereupon He “breathed into its nostrils the breath of life,” and, lo, there was the first man, created in the image of God.
I have no idea at all where Van Baalen got his popular’representation of man’s creation; no one that I know maintains such a view. But the whole presentation borders on the blasphemous in describing this glorious work of God which He performed when He formed man in His own image.
In further support of the period theory, he points to the fact that Scripture uses the expression ” ‘the last days’ to denote the entire period from Christ’s first advent to His second coming, and that ‘the last hour’ to which St. John refers has already encompassed nineteen centuries !” Precisely what this has to do with the argument, Van Baalen does not make clear. Does he mean to say that the expression “the last days” is erroneous? Does he want to imply that if nineteen centuries can be called “the last hour” in Scripture, that this is proof that a day in Genesis 1 limited by morning and evening can refer to some 2 billion years? What kind of exegesis is this?
He insists that “our anti-evolution literalists have hard going in reading Genesis 1 and 21 Is it not easier to believe that the many species have slowly developed within each separate genus?”
He is sure that because the Bible is not a textbook on science, it is also not a textbook on arithmetic. And this somehow means that the days of Genesis 1 cannot be taken literally. I have some difficulty following this rather strange argumentation. Surely the question is not one of arithmetic. It is a question of the origin of this creation. And the question is not even one of literal days or figurative days; but one of the miracle of creation vs. evolution. Did God create all things? or not? Scripture tells us He did. Van Baalen is quite insistent He did not.
But there are more arguments. He finds a very strong argument for evolution in Hebrews 11:3: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Hebrews 11:3? Proof of evolution? Yes, that is what Van Baalen says. Once again the argument gets a little fuzzy, but it goes like this:
…No mention is made at all in the text of “worlds,” but of ages, rather, ‘of aeons. Now aeons are not days of 24 hours, but very long periods of time. Eternity is the aeons of aeons! And God is the Aeonios, the Everlasting One. And those aeons are not said to have been made, far less, created, but directed, controlled by the Creator, so that the results of these aeons are not worlds that have been there from eternity, as the eternal body of the eternal soul — no pantheism, and no matter from eternity.
Just exactly what Van Baalen’s point is, is difficult to say. Does he mean that Hebrews 11:3 should read: “Through faith we understand that long periods of time were controlled by the Word of God, so that things which are seen were not made from things which do appear?” This doesn’t make very much sense.
But be that as it may, it is true that Hebrews 11 uses the word aeons; and this word is different from cosmos. No doubt there is also good reason why the Holy Spirit chose this word in this connection in distinction fromcosmos. But obviously the reference is nevertheless to the creation which God formed. The author explains that this work of creation took place “by the Word of God” and in such a way that “things which are seen were not made from things which do appear.” A brief session with a concordance will show that the wordaeons means far more than “long periods of time” and that the use of it in connection with creation is not foreign to Scripture.
Further, the verb katartizo is used to describe the work of creation. Now Van Baalen knows that this verb comes from the adjective artios which means complete or perfect. The verb therefore means “to render complete.” And this is the meaning here. God made complete the worlds by His Word. And He did this in such a way that the things which we see were not made from things which do appear. In fact, this last negative expression is precisely the bane of evolutionism; for the evolutionists teach that things which are seen do come from things which do appear.
In a similar fashion, the author speaks of the flood. He is certain that it is only “stark literalism” which prompts anyone to believe in a universal flood. For one thing, when Scripture says that the waters covered all the mountains, this must surely not be taken literally, but only “from the viewpoint of the beholder.” In proof of this, Van Baalen points out that many times the word “all” is used in Scripture when “all” is not meant. E.g., the “all have sinned” in Rom. 5 excludes Jesus.
And so he goes on, finding other reasons why we cannot believe in a universal flood; and finding in this reason why we cannot believe somehow in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. Here again his argument is a bit obscure, for it is not clear how his arguments against a universal flood support the period theory. Unless his point is that this same method of exegesis which he follows must be applied to many other passages of Scripture. But if this is the point, then this is also the evil of the whole view. Already many are finding it impossible to believe in the literal interpretation of Genesis 3 which records the narrative of the fall of man. This also must fall under the hammer blows of unbelief. But with this, the whole truth of Scripture collapses.
But one further paragraph strikes our attention:
Next. It is our duty not only to read the Bible correctly, which can be done only by comparing Scripture with Scripture; we must also read aright natural and physical facts. Surely, God does miracles. But miracles are supernatural, i.e., they go beyond the laws of nature known to us. They are never counter natural. When God does a miracle He brings into work forces unknown to us, but never forces that are contrary to His own laws of nature. A miracle is excluded in driving back by a wind waters from one part of the globe if all the globe is covered with a sheet of water six miles high.
One has the distinct impression that here we really come to the heart of the matter, for here a fundamental rule is laid down. This rule is that a miracle never goes counter to nature, never uses forces contrary to natural laws; but always only goes beyond nature and uses forces in nature unknown to us. This is evidently a fundamental point upon which the whole argument swings.
But, apart now from the question of whether this is an accurate description of a miracle (which, most emphatically, it is not), I find it extremely difficult to understand what Van Baalen has in mind by this distinction. Especially when he insists that a wind blowing waters off the earth if the whole earth were covered at the time of the flood is something counter to nature.
This, it seems to me, brings up the inevitable question of the other miracles. Is it not true that the sun standing still upon Gibeon and the moon in the valley of Ajalon at Joshua’s command is, by Van Baalen’s definition, also “contrary to nature?” Hence, not a miracle? Hence, not literal history? Did forces unknown to us, but nevertheless, forces of nature, operate in the miracles of raising the dead? In the miracle of Jonah alive in the whale for three days? And what about the virgin birth of Christ? Were natural forces unknown to us operative here? Something beyond the laws of nature known to us? Or the resurrection? Are not these miracles “contrary to nature?”
This is, to me, extremely serious business. And it is precisely at this point that we find the insidious evil of the period theory. If one denies the miracle of creation and falls back upon evolutionism, then one is inevitably led to deny all the miracles of Scripture and find a natural and “scientific” explanation for them.
But the question is finally one of the authority of Scripture itself. We may come again and again with all sorts of “scientific” reasons why Scripture must be interpreted differently from its obvious meaning. But in doing so, we deny Scripture. And this denial is only a refusal to bow before Scripture’s supreme authority. This is the only issue.
I have not always agreed with what has been written in the Reformed Journal, but I have enjoyed reading it because the articles were well written and worth reading. But such an article as this makes one wonder if the quality of the articles will remain high.