Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

creation

May 04, 2012

Simply stated, creation refers to everything that exists that has not always existed. It refers to all that God has brought into existence, which is everything apart from God himself—including angels and, eventually, Satan and his demons—since God is the one and only thing that has never been created.

There are a variety of ways to understand how creation happened—or at least how it has come to look like it does now. While these views can differ slightly or substantially, all Bible-believing Christians will agree on the following points:

1) God created it by, through, and for Christ.

  • For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)

2) God created it by his word and out of nothing.

  • By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3)
  • And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

3) It was corrupted through man’s sin.

  • For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21)
  • And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life … ” (Genesis 3:17)

4) It will be replaced with a glorious, new creation when Christ returns.

  • For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17)
  • Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. (Revelation 21:1)

My understanding of Scripture leads me to believe that the world was created in a literal six days, putting me squarely in the traditional 24-hour calendar day view.

This is the third installment in a series on theological terms. See previous posts on the terms theology and Trinity.

December 28, 2009

Today, the second to last day of my vacation, I offer this little reflection on Bruce Waltke’s Old Testament Theology. It is a massive book and more than a little intimidating, but still very much worth the read.

After six introductory chapters, Waltke turns to Old Testament theology proper in a chapter entitled “The Gift of the Cosmos” and here, as we might expect, he discusses God’s work as creator. He argues here that it is critically important that we read the opening chapters of Genesis properly, acknowledging the author’s intended literary genre. Though he eventually argues that this section is meant to be read as “ancient near eastern cosmogony,” which in turns leads to supporting his views on theistic evolution (a view I do not support) I found something very useful in this section. He explains how a wrong reading of the creation account leads to further and deeper problems. He shows how culture’s refusal to acknowledge the creator necessarily leads to the anti-God worldview so apparent in society around us. “Christians now live on a mission field with worldviews that besiege the message of ethical monotheism.” He says that this new paganism has six faces, each of which proceeds from the one before it.

1. The common worldview of the Western world since the time of the enlightenment has been materialism. This philosophy says that matter and its motions constitute the entire universe. Everything in the universe has to be regarded as due to material causes.

2. There is an implication to materialism. Since everything is material, ideally and theoretically, everything is subject to empiricism. Here he quotes Alan Reynolds who says, “empiricism, which insists that all knowledge is based on observation, experimentation, and verification, has led to belief in a self-sufficient universe that can be understood on its own terms, without any need of the transcendent or of God.”

3. Together materialism and empiricism entail a belief in an inherent coherence within nature between cause and effect. This, in turn, has led to belief in determinism, which understands reality as mechanical and without inherent value. Life’s origins and the nature of humanity have natural rather than divine causation.

4. Secularism is a political or social philosophy that embraces each of these “-isms”—materialism, empiricism and determinism. It embraces natural causation and and rejects religious faith and worship in the public square. Nature, society, and government become instruments dedicating only to fulfilling our material desires which masquerade as “rights.” This is fast becoming the dominant worldview among Western intellectual elites.

5. Secular humanism is a system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values and dignity are predominant. This leads to a kind of intense pragmatism that calculates everything in terms of its benefit to humanity. There is no acknowledgment of God and his rule of the created order.

6. Post-modernism or New Ageism marks what is really a return to old-fashioned paganism, though with a distinctly modern twist to it. New Ageism takes distinctives of Eastern religion and distorts them with Western concepts. Post-modernism replaces the objective reality of God as revealed in special revelation with subjective deifications of individual expressions of spirituality. Waltke says, “it rejects the notion of a revealed moral code and instead tests truth by its therapeutic value.” In this worldviews there are no better or worse cultures but merely differences between them.

When you see these six faces of the new paganism you see how important it is that we get Genesis right! The irony, I suppose, is that I am not at all convinced that Waltke is correct in his views on creation. Still, he acknowledges the Creator, of course, and acknowledging God as He reveals Himself in the Bible is a safeguard against the post-modern, secular humanistic viewpoint that pervades society. Those in our society who refuse to admit the existence of this God are soon left with materialism and from there empiricism and all that these -isms entail.

December 22, 2009

I don’t often watch the extra features included on DVDs these days, but a while back I must have been bored, because I sat and watched a couple of hours of extras for a series I enjoy. I was interested to learn that the creators of this show, before they began creating episodes, spent a long time crafting the backstories of the main characters. For each of these characters they created a whole history including such details as their family situations, the schools they had attended as children, past relationships, past jobs, and on and on. All of this information is kept in giant binders, ready for reference purposes. They created all of this backstory to ensure that, as they show goes on, they do not provide contradictory details for any of the characters. Though it would be a small thing, it would still be an annoyance if in one episode the character mentioned going to one high school and then, three years later, she mentioned going to a different one. And so the writers go through this process of creating background information for all of their characters. As the show progresses they continue to update this backstory binder, adding to it as they invent new details. Though you and I might never be privy to such information, it is still important that they do this as it creates a more complete, more realistic atmosphere within the show.

In a similar vein, over the past couple of months I’ve been reading The Lord of the Rings to my children (we’ve just passed “The Taming of Smeagol” if you must know). J.R.R. Tolkien was a master of the backstory. He did not create just a story about a hobbit and a ring, but he created a whole world. And in that world were languages and mythologies and expansive histories. This is part of what makes reading The Lord of the Rings such an immersive experience. There are no loose ends in Tolkien’s world. Neither are there many elements that seem disconnected to some part of the wider world. I’m sure people laughed at Tolkien when he went on and on about the Elvish tongue, and yet without this language and others like it the book would not be what it is today. All of these elements work together to justly gain the book the complimentary adjective “epic.” The story truly is epic in every sense.

I was thinking about such things the other day when pondering God’s creation. I wonder sometimes why God needed to create a whole universe. Let’s assume that earth is the only planet that contains life forms. And let’s assume that even spiritual realities, the kind that concern spiritual creatures, are also centered around earth (safe assumptions, both, I think). Yet for some reason the universe is expansive beyond imagining. No one can conceive of an end to it and yet no one can conceive of what it means that it has no end. We cannot gaze to its furthest extents and cannot imagine what lies beyond what our eyes can see. The best of us are baffled by it. We are all in awe of it.

A little while ago I saw an incredible photograph taken by the Hubble telescope. Hubble snapped a shot of distant space and in that single photo captured thousands of galaxies. And yet the whole portion of space captured in that photograph could be blocked out by holding a grain of sand at arm’s length. Recent estimates say that the observable universe has around 100 billion galaxies. And beyond that, who knows. The mind cannot conceive of such things.

I don’t know why God saw fit to create 100 billion galaxies and then center his redemptive work on just this one. To think that God created 100 billion galaxies and then allowed himself to be born as a tiny child on a tiny planet in a tiny galaxy is beyond the imagining of this tiny mind. All I can conclude is that all of these galaxies, this vast expanse of space, is a part of God’s backstory. That somehow it is crucial to the story he is telling here and now, the story that began long before Creation and that will never, ever end.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

July 31, 2009

Planet Earth is widely regarded as the greatest nature or wildlife series ever produced. Says David Attenborough in the opening moments, “A hundred years ago, there were one and a half billion people on Earth. Now, over six billion crowd our fragile planet. But even so, there are still places barely touched by humanity. This series will take you to the last wildernesses and show you the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen them before.” And it proceeds to do just that, finding and filming some of the most exquisitely beautiful locations on the planet. The scenery, the panoramas, the creatures are absolutely breathtaking.

While the producers of the series are not Christians (or do not claim to be Christians) and while the films were not meant to draw attention to God, as I watched them I was continually drawn to marvel in the greatness of the Lord. As the films provided a tour of so many beautiful locations and as they gave close-up shots of such incredible creatures, I saw the hand of a Creator. I saw it everywhere.

I’ve since often reflected on what I saw in the series and eventually wrote down a list of some of the things I learned about God through Planet Earth. And today I’ll share that list with you.

I learned that our God is…

…A God of Variety

jungle.jpgAs a web designer I know a thing or two about design. I know about the demands placed upon those who seek to design. I know that it is not nearly as easy as it may appear. Sometimes creating even just two or three variations on a similar theme taxes my creative abilities to the max. A few hours of design work on a theme can leave me tired and burned out. Design inspiration can go missing for long periods and may show up only in isolated bursts.

But God is not so limited. In Planet Earth we see stunning variety in plants, animals, and landscapes. There are animals we’ve grown accustomed to—the ones we see around us every day—and there are animals the likes of which we can barely even imagine. There are plants of every kind, every color, every size. From beginning to end, this series showcases diversity. It shows God as a lover of variety. God could easily have created just a few animals or a even just a few types of animals. But He went far beyond, creating far more creatures and plants than anyone has ever been able to count. The diversity is almost unimaginable.

God’s emphasis on variety in what He has created teaches me that He also loves variety in other areas. God has not created humans to resemble one another in gifts and talents any more than He has created all of us to look the same. God is pleased with who He has made us to be.

…A God of Beauty

God did not make a world that is drab and uninteresting. Instead He made a world that is dazzling in its beauty. Plants, animals, and landscapes can cause us to gasp in wonder. Who but God could have created such beauty? He created a world of untold beauty and created us so we could enjoy it with Him. He created this world and declared that it was very good. Planet Earth shows us the world’s beauty in ways that were previously impossible and unimaginable.

Humans are drawn to beauty, and little wonder as we are created in the image of the one who designed beauty. Beauty is something that flows from the character of God and in pursuing and enjoying beauty, we imitate the One who made us.

…A God of Detail

God overlooked no detail in creating this world. While humans like to declare that certain parts of our bodies are unnecessary or left over from some far-off evolutionary process, nature offers us no such hints. In Planet Earth we cannot help but see the beauty of God in the details—in the tiniest microbes and the largest mammals. God created this world to function perfectly, down to its tiniest and seemingly least significant parts.

whale.jpgIf God has seen fit to be involved in the tiniest details of the tiniest creatures He has made, how much more can we trust Him in the details of our lives. The same God who sees the sparrow fall is the God who is present with us as we seek to live our lives in accordance with His will. The God who has woven together this world is the same God who weaves together providence for our good and for His glory.

…A God of the Big Picture

While God has overlooked no detail, he has not done so at the expense of the big picture. The way the world works is so clearly seen as the tiniest creatures in the ocean become food for the larger creatures, who in turn become food for larger creatures still. Life begins in the oceans and filters out throughout the earth. Even with the advent of sin into the world, everything functions so well in the big picture. Planet Earth shows us the big picture in action.

As God watches over the sparrow and even the smallest details of our lives, so He weaves together the big picture. The big picture of creation and of history shows us a God who created us and, despite our sin, has redeemed a people for Himself. The big picture shows that everything in the world is unfolding exactly as God planned for it to. In the big picture as much as the small God will be glorified.

…A God of Pleasure

God takes pleasure in His creation; He takes pleasure in beauty. There are some places in the world and some plants and creatures that seem to exist primarily to display their beauty. Planet Earth takes the viewer to the deepest recesses of the world and there shows beauty almost unmatched in the world above. What purpose does such beauty serve except to allow God to reflect His glory through what He has made. The beauty is unmatched.

God is not a cruel taskmaster who wants only to push His people to do things they do not want to do. On the contrary, God takes pleasure in what He has made and He wants us to take pleasure in it as well. As we look at the world He has made, we can stop and look and ponder and delight in what He has done. We find pleasure in creation and ultimately in the One who made it all.

…A God of Laughter

Bird of ParadiseGod takes pleasure in His creation, to be sure. But He must also sometimes enjoy what He has made for the humor it displays. Who can but laugh as he watches Planet Earth and sees the bizarre and hilarious mating displays of the ridiculous birds of paradise? Surely God must have a sense of humor to create something so entertaining and something so funny.

God does not wish for His people to go through life solemn and sour. Laughter is a gift from God and when we laugh at the sublime and the ridiculous we honor the God who made us to be people who laugh. And He made certain aspects of His creation funny so that we could join Him in laughter and delight.

…A God of His Word

The Bible tells us that God reveals Himself in what He has made. He reveals His existence, His power, His authority. He also reveals His wrath. In nature we see glimpses of what God created this world to be and glimpses of what it has since become. And we learn that God is a God of His Word. As Tennyson wrote so long ago, nature is red in tooth and claw. In Planet Earth we see the results of the fall into sin. We see animals destroying one another; we see humans destroying the creation. We see that God is not One to be trifled with. What He says is true. What He says will come to pass. God warned man of the consequences of sin, and man ignored the Creator. The world has been suffering ever since.

seal-shark.jpgCreation testifies to the truth of what God tells us about sin and its consequences. If this is the case, we can also trust God when He tells us how we can avoid the eternal consequences of sin. The same God who saw man plunge this world into sin is the God who has provided salvation to those who would believe in Him. He is a good and a kind and a trustworthy God. He is worthy of our trust.

…A God of Redemption

Nature cries out for redemption—for release from its bondage. We cannot even begin to fathom the amount of death and destruction upon this planet—this planet where death was once entirely foreign and unnatural. Every day countless millions of animals are torn apart, suffering in agony as they fall prey to one creature or another. No creature is immune. Some may live for centuries, but sooner or later they go the way of all the earth; they die and decay and pass away. In every glimpse of a baby animal being torn to pieces and in every scene of terror and bloodshed our hearts cry out that this is wrong, this is unnatural. Somehow we know that death is a foreign state. And we ask, “when will the last drop of blood be shed?” We long for the final redemption of this world and its return to a state of perfection. Nature attests to the fact that death is wrong; and it testifies to the end of all that is unnatural.

cave.jpgPlanet Earth vividly shows that the world groans as it awaits redemption. And as we watch we, too, cry out for someone who can stop all of the suffering and destruction. Our hearts long for a redeemer!

…A God of Adventure

This world will be fully and finally redeemed. And when that time comes, we will have the inestimable privilege of enjoying an eternity exploring the wonders of the world He has made for us. The wonders will only increase as the sin is removed from us and as we enjoy access to every part of this planet. We will enjoy eternal adventures exploring the deepest depths and the highest heights of this amazing planet.

While we may love to explore even today, we know that even the most committed explorers can catch only a glimpse of the world’s wonders. But the time is coming when we will have unending opportunities to see the hand of a loving creator in every part of this world. But even now we can praise Him for what He has made and what He has done.


Some time ago I reviewed Planet Earth and its predecessor Blue Planet. Click here if you want to read that.

February 06, 2009

I’ve been reading through Gregory Koukl’s new book Tactics (check back on Tuesday for a review) and came to a brief section dealing with theistic evolution. Theistic evolution is all the rage within Christian circles today and I thought it may be worth discussing the logic he uses to refute it. I’d be interested in your thoughts on it. Here’s Koukl:

*****

Some people suggest that God used evolution to design the world. They are motivated, I think, by two impulses. The first is a desire to affirm the Bible. The second is a suspicion Darwinism may have merit. Thus, they declare both true.

These two notions, however, seem incompatible to me. It may sound reasonable for God to “use” evolution, but if you look closer I think you will see the problem.

Suppose I wanted a straight flush for a hand of poker. I could either pull the cards out of the deck individually and “design” the hand, or I could shuffle the cards randomly and see if the flush is dealt to me. It would not make any sense, though, to “design” the hand by shuffling the deck and dealing. There’s no way to ensure the results. (I guess if I were really clever I could make it look like I was shuffling the deck when in reality I was stacking it, but that would be a deceitful kind of design called “cheating.”).

In the same way, either God designs the details of the biological world, or nature shuffles the deck and natural selection chooses the winning hand. The mechanism is either conscious and intentional (design), or unconscious and unintentional (natural selection). Creation has a purpose, a goal. Evolution is accidental, like a straight flush dealt to a poker rookie.

The idea that something is designed by chance is contradictory. Like trying to put a square peg in a round hole, this just doesn’t fit.

*****

So, is Koukl on to something here? Does theistic evolution contradict itself? Does it make God into a cheater? Has God “made it look like he was shuffling the deck when in reality he was stacking it?” Or perhaps neither…

November 20, 2008

This Sunday I’ll be preaching on the topic of Creation in an evening series at my church. Our Sunday evening format allows for only short sermons and I am trying to distill the broad topic of Creation down to the most fundamental points. I have no intention of defending Creation against evolution or of refuting the various views among Christians that conflict with the position of my church’s leadership (though I am sure some of that will arise in the Q&A that follows the sermon). But as I was thinking about the subject of Creation, my mind was drawn to this article I read a couple of years ago. It argues that Christians can and should embrace evolution and lays out the reasons we can do so while remaining faithful to the Bible.

Scientific American is a popular science magazine with a monthly circulation approaching 700,000. Including foreign language editions, the circulation increases to over 1,000,000. First published in 1845, it is the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States. Quite needless to say, it is not a publication that is particularly friendly to creationism. In the October 2006 edition is a column by Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic, a magazine produced by The Skeptics Society, which “engages in scientific investigation and journalistic research to investigate claims made by scientists, historians, and controversial figures on a wide range of subjects.” His column is titled “Darwin on the Right: Why Christians and conservatives should accept evolution.” The column is a brief attempt to lay out six reasons that Christians should embrace evolution. I’d like to take a brief look at each of Shermer’s six points. He begins with statistics:

According to a 2005 Pew Research Center poll, 70 percent of evangelical Christians believe that living beings have always existed in their present form, compared with 32 percent of Protestants and 31 percent of Catholics. Politically, 60 percent of Republicans are creationists, whereas only 11 percent accept evolution, compared with 29 percent of Democrats who are creationists and 44 percent who accept evolution. A 2005 Harris Poll found that 63 percent of liberals but only 37 percent of conservatives believe that humans and apes have a common ancestry. What these figures confirm for us is that there are religious and political reasons for rejecting evolution. Can one be a conservative Christian and a Darwinian? Yes. Here’s how.

One immediate observation is that he makes a distinction between evangelicals Christians and Protestants, yet does not define these terms. In theory, every Protestant is evangelical and every evangelical is Protestant. So I am uncertain as to how we are to distinguish between these two. Regardless, we will press on.

1. Evolution fits well with good theology. Christians believe in an omniscient and omnipotent God. What difference does it make when God created the universe—10,000 years ago or 10,000,000,000 years ago? The glory of the creation commands reverence regardless of how many zeroes in the date. And what difference does it make how God created life—spoken word or natural forces? The grandeur of life’s complexity elicits awe regardless of what creative processes were employed. Christians (indeed, all faiths) should embrace modern science for what it has done to reveal the magnificence of the divine in a depth and detail unmatched by ancient texts.

I will be the first to affirm that the Bible is not a scientific text. Neither was it intended to be such. However, if we are to believe that the Bible is God’s word and that what God has spoken is true, we must also believe that what God says about science must be true. When God says that the world was created by His command, we must believe it to be so. Shermer asks, “what difference does it make how God created life—spoken word or natural forces?” The difference is that the Bible tells us God created the world by His spoken word. We are not able to believe in the Bible as God’s word and reject Scripture’s clear teaching that life was created from nothing and at God’s command. I agree that “Christians … should embrace modern science for what it has done to reveal the magnificence of the divine in a depth and detail unmatched by ancient texts.” But science has not proven evolution. It has not proven that the world was created in any way other than at God’s command. I embrace modern science, but only so far as it is compatible with Scripture and plain reason. Evolution does not fit with good theology, for evolution and Scripture are wholly incompatible. If we are to embrace evolution, it will be at the expense of the Bible.

2. Creationism is bad theology. The watchmaker God of intelligent-design creationism is delimited to being a garage tinkerer piecing together life out of available parts. This God is just a genetic engineer slightly more advanced than we are. An omniscient and omnipotent God must be above such humanlike constraints. As Protestant theologian Langdon Gilkey wrote, “The Christian idea, far from merely representing a primitive anthropomorphic projection of human art upon the cosmos, systematically repudiates all direct analogy from human art.” Calling God a watchmaker is belittling.

Calling God a watchmaker is clearly belittling, but I do not know of any Christians who believe that God fills this role. God is not a mere garage tinkerer who pieces life together from available parts. Rather, God is the one who not only created life as an idea, as a concept, but who created the available parts and who then assembled them in an orderly fashion. To suggest that God is only slightly more advanced than we are is to ignore the vast gaps that continue to exist in human knowledge. Humans may have been able to map the genome, but a great deal of work remains; an infinite amount of work. The more we conquer, the more we realize we still need to conquer. And one thing humans have never been able to do and will never be able to do is create life ex nihilo, from nothing. We may be able to arrange and rearrange the building blocks of life in some semblance of order, but we are not able to make something from nothing. That is the realm of God alone. Creationism is not bad theology, but is the theology of the Bible. It is not an optional doctrine, but something we must believe if we are to be men and women of the Bible.

3. Evolution explains original sin and the Christian model of human nature. As a social primate, we evolved within-group amity and between-group enmity. By nature, then, we are cooperative and competitive, altruistic and selfish, greedy and generous, peaceful and bellicose; in short, good and evil. Moral codes and a society based on the rule of law are necessary to accentuate the positive and attenuate the negative sides of our evolved nature.

This third point begins with a premise that is accepted only by evolutionists. As Christians we do not believe that humans evolved at all, but that we were deliberately placed on this earth and were made to rule it. To attempt to explain original sin through between-group enmity is to completely misrepresent original sin. Between-group enmity is unable to explain why it is that every human being, no matter his age, culture, race, or gender is sinful. It is unable to explain why we all do things that are wrong and why we all delight in doing wrong even to our within-group. It is unable to explain what is clearly spiritual. Evolution cannot explain original sin or the Christian model of human nature. It cannot explain the conscience, the soul, or sinful nature.

4. Evolution explains family values. The following characteristics are the foundation of families and societies and are shared by humans and other social mammals: attachment and bonding, cooperation and reciprocity, sympathy and empathy, conflict resolution, community concern and reputation anxiety, and response to group social norms. As a social primate species, we evolved morality to enhance the survival of both family and community. Subsequently, religions designed moral codes based on our evolved moral natures.

Attachment and bonding, cooperation and reciprocity, sympathy and empathy, conflict resolution, community concern and reputation anxiety, and response to group social norms” are all characteristics of families. However, all of these characteristics are as easily and even more easily explained by creation rather than evolution. Could God not have given us the desire to attach and bond? Could he not have made us sympathetic and make us desire to resolve conflicts amicably? Even a brief overview of the Bible will prove this to be true. To suggest that religions designed moral codes based upon moral natures is to put the cart before the horse, for is it not more likely that a moral code existed with God before creation was begun, and that our natures were created in a way consistent with this code? Is it not likely that God, whose moral nature included moral codes, designed us in His image and built that code into us? Is this not an explanation for the laws that seem so clearly to be written into the hearts of all humans? Evolution cannot explain family values and can certainly not explain more codes. A glance at the conflict over the right of homosexuals to marry will show the vast difference between an understanding of family as rooted in naturalistic evolution and of family rooted in God’s creative design.

5. Evolution accounts for specific Christian moral precepts. Much of Christian morality has to do with human relationships, most notably truth telling and marital fidelity, because the violation of these principles causes a severe breakdown in trust, which is the foundation of family and community. Evolution describes how we developed into pair-bonded primates and how adultery violates trust. Likewise, truth telling is vital for trust in our society, so lying is a sin.

Christian morality has to do primarily with imitating God who is true and who is faithful. The violation of these principles may case a severe breakdown in truth, but far worse, violation of these principles causes a growing rift between creature and Creator. Christian morality involves human relationships, but only secondarily to the relationship between God and man. Evolution may offer some description of how humans developed into pair-bonded primates and how adultery violates trust. But the Bible offers an answer that is far more clear and far more likely: God created marriage so that human beings could emulate the relationship of Jesus Christ to His people. Truth telling is vital for trust, but even more vital to maintain relationship between God and man. Lying is a sin because it makes a mockery of God who not only tells the truth, but is the very source of truth. Evolution absolutely cannot account for specific moral precepts in a way that is satisfying. And, ironically, evolution is the worldview that underlies the acceptance of non-traditional relationships such as homosexual marriage. Could it be that evolution can be used to explain anything?

6. Evolution explains conservative free-market economics. Charles Darwin’s “natural selection” is precisely parallel to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” Darwin showed how complex design and ecological balance were unintended consequences of competition among individual organisms. Smith showed how national wealth and social harmony were unintended consequences of competition among individual people. Nature’s economy mirrors society’s economy. Both are designed from the bottom up, not the top down.

This sixth point does not seem to fit with the rest of the list. While the other five have dealt with principles that are distinctly Christian, this one turns to free-market economics. Shermer may as well have said “Evolution explains the American obsession with team sports.” I know little of economics, free market or otherwise, so will leave this point as-is, except to point out that simply because two theories parallel one another does not make either true.

The article concludes with an exhortation and a passage from Scripture. “Because the theory of evolution provides a scientific foundation for the core values shared by most Christians and conservatives, it should be embraced. The senseless conflict between science and religion must end now, or else, as the Book of Proverbs (11:29) warned: ‘He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.’”

There does not need to be a conflict between science and religion. In a perfect world, there would be no conflict, and, indeed, when the world is remade there will be no conflict. What we see in this debate is not a competition between science and religion, but a conflict between worldviews. These worldviews are wholly incompatible. Michael Ruse, a well-known evolutionist, speaks truthfully when he says “evolution came into being as a kind of secular ideology, an explicit substitute for Christianity…Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and is true of evolution still today.” Evolution is not mere science, but is religion dressed as science. Evolution, and the naturalism that lies behind it, is a full-blown worldview, and in reality, is a religious system that stands in direct opposition to Christianity. The true conflict, the conflict between evolution and creationism, is a conflict of truth and error, a conflict of God and man. Creationism embraces God as the Creator and Sustainer of the world; evolutionism rejects God replaces Him with time, chance and opportunity. The debate between creationism and evolutionism is by no means senseless, for it is a defense of the truth and a defense of the One who is Truth.

July 03, 2008

As I mentioned in a brief post yesterday, I have begun making my way through Bruce Waltke’s Old Testament Theology. It is a massive book and is perhaps just a bit intimidating, but I have been enjoying it a lot. It is my first attempt to read an Old Testament theology and even through the opening chapters I can see that there is much to learn.

After six introductory chapters, Waltke turns to Old Testament theology proper in a chapter entitled “The Gift of the Cosmos” and here, as we might expect, he discusses God’s work as creator. He argues here that it is critically important that we read the opening chapters of Genesis properly, acknowledging the author’s intended literary genre. Though he eventually argues that this section is meant to be read as “ancient near eastern cosmogony,” which in turns leads to supporting his views on theistic evolution (a view I do not support) I found something very useful in this section. He explains how a wrong reading of the creation account leads to further and deeper problems. He shows how culture’s refusal to acknowledge the creator necessarily leads to the anti-God worldview so apparent in society around us. “Christians now live on a mission field with worldviews that besiege the message of ethical monotheism.” He says that this new paganism has six faces and one proceeds from the one before it.

1. The common worldview of the Western world since the time of the enlightenment has been materialism. This philosophy says that matter and its motions constitute the entire universe. Everything in the universe has to be regarded as due to material causes.

2. There is an implication to materialism. Since everything is material, ideally and theoretically, everything is subject to empiricism. Here he quotes Alan Reynolds who says, “empiricism, which insists that all knowledge is based on observation, experimentation, and verification, has led to belief in a self-sufficient universe that can be understood on its own terms, without any need of the transcendent or of God.”

3. Together materialism and empiricism entail a belief in an inherent coherence within nature between cause and effect. This, in turn, has led to belief in determinism, which understands reality as mechanical and without inherent value. Life’s origins and the nature of humanity have natural rather than divine causation.

4. Secularism is a political or social philosophy that embraces each of these “-isms”—materialism, empiricism and determinism. It embraces natural causation and and rejects religious faith and worship in the public square. Nature, society, and government become instruments dedicating only to fulfilling our material desires which masquerade as “rights.” This is fast becoming the dominant worldview among Western intellectual elites.

5. Secular humanism is a system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values and dignity are predominant. This leads to a kind of intense pragmatism that calculates everything in terms of its benefit to humanity. There is no acknowledgment of God and his rule of the created order.

6. Post-modernism or New Ageism marks what is really a return to old-fashioned paganism, though with a distinctly modern twist to it. New Ageism takes distinctives of Eastern religion and distorts them with Western concepts. Post-modernism replaces the objective reality of God as revealed in special revelation with subjective deifications of individual expressions of spirituality. Waltke says, “it rejects the notion of a revealed moral code and instead tests truth by its therapeutic value.” In this worldviews there are no better or worse cultures but merely differences between them.

I was able to see through these six faces of the new paganism how important it is that we get Genesis right! The irony, I suppose, is that I am not at all convinced that Waltke is correct in his views on creation. Still, he acknowledges the creator, of course, and acknowledging God as He reveals Himself in the Bible is a safeguard against the post-modern, secular humanistic viewpoint that pervades society. Those in our society who refuse to admit the existence of this God are soon left with materialism and from there empiricism and all that these -isms entail.

June 04, 2008

Planet Earth is widely regarded as the greatest nature or wildlife series ever produced. Says David Attenborough in the opening moments, “A hundred years ago, there were one and a half billion people on Earth. Now, over six billion crowd our fragile planet. But even so, there are still places barely touched by humanity. This series will take you to the last wildernesses and show you the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen them before.” And it proceeds to do just that, finding and filming some of the most exquisitely beautiful locations on the planet. The scenery, the panoramas, the creatures are absolutely breathtaking.

While the producers of the series are not Christians (or do not claim to be Christians) and while the films were not meant to draw attention to God, as I watched them I was continually drawn to marvel in the greatness of the Lord. As the films provided a tour of so many beautiful locations and as they gave close-up shots of such incredible creatures, I saw the hand of a Creator. I saw it everywhere.

I’ve since often reflected on what I saw in the series and eventually wrote down a list of some of the things I learned about God through Planet Earth. And today I’ll share that list with you.

I learned that our God is…

…A God of Variety

jungle.jpgAs a web designer I know a thing or two about design. I know about the demands placed upon those who seek to design. I know that it is not nearly as easy as it may appear. Sometimes creating even just two or three variations on a similar theme taxes my creative abilities to the max. A few hours of design work on a theme can leave me tired and burned out. Design inspiration can go missing for long periods and may show up only in isolated bursts.

But God is not so limited. In Planet Earth we see stunning variety in plants, animals, and landscapes. There are animals we’ve grown accustomed to—the ones we see around us every day—and there are animals the likes of which we can barely even imagine. There are plants of every kind, every color, every size. From beginning to end, this series showcases diversity. It shows God as a lover of variety. God could easily have created just a few animals or a even just a few types of animals. But He went far beyond, creating far more creatures and plants than anyone has ever been able to count. The diversity is almost unimaginable.

God’s emphasis on variety in what He has created teaches me that He also loves variety in other areas. God has not created humans to resemble one another in gifts and talents any more than He has created all of us to look the same. God is pleased with who He has made us to be.

…A God of Beauty

God did not make a world that is drab and uninteresting. Instead He made a world that is dazzling in its beauty. Plants, animals, and landscapes can cause us to gasp in wonder. Who but God could have created such beauty? He created a world of untold beauty and created us so we could enjoy it with Him. He created this world and declared that it was very good. Planet Earth shows us the world’s beauty in ways that were previously impossible and unimaginable.

Humans are drawn to beauty, and little wonder as we are created in the image of the one who designed beauty. Beauty is something that flows from the character of God and in pursuing and enjoying beauty, we imitate the One who made us.

…A God of Detail

God overlooked no detail in creating this world. While humans like to declare that certain parts of our bodies are unnecessary or left over from some far-off evolutionary process, nature offers us no such hints. In Planet Earth we cannot help but see the beauty of God in the details—in the tiniest microbes and the largest mammals. God created this world to function perfectly, down to its tiniest and seemingly least significant parts.

whale.jpgIf God has seen fit to be involved in the tiniest details of the tiniest creatures He has made, how much more can we trust Him in the details of our lives. The same God who sees the sparrow fall is the God who is present with us as we seek to live our lives in accordance with His will. The God who has woven together this world is the same God who weaves together providence for our good and for His glory.

…A God of the Big Picture

While God has overlooked no detail, he has not done so at the expense of the big picture. The way the world works is so clearly seen as the tiniest creatures in the ocean become food for the larger creatures, who in turn become food for larger creatures still. Life begins in the oceans and filters out throughout the earth. Even with the advent of sin into the world, everything functions so well in the big picture. Planet Earth shows us the big picture in action.

As God watches over the sparrow and even the smallest details of our lives, so He weaves together the big picture. The big picture of creation and of history shows us a God who created us and, despite our sin, has redeemed a people for Himself. The big picture shows that everything in the world is unfolding exactly as God planned for it to. In the big picture as much as the small God will be glorified.

…A God of Pleasure

God takes pleasure in His creation; He takes pleasure in beauty. There are some places in the world and some plants and creatures that seem to exist primarily to display their beauty. Planet Earth takes the viewer to the deepest recesses of the world and there shows beauty almost unmatched in the world above. What purpose does such beauty serve except to allow God to reflect His glory through what He has made. The beauty is unmatched.

God is not a cruel taskmaster who wants only to push His people to do things they do not want to do. On the contrary, God takes pleasure in what He has made and He wants us to take pleasure in it as well. As we look at the world He has made, we can stop and look and ponder and delight in what He has done. We find pleasure in creation and ultimately in the One who made it all.

…A God of Laughter

Bird of ParadiseGod takes pleasure in His creation, to be sure. But He must also sometimes enjoy what He has made for the humor it displays. Who can but laugh as he watches Planet Earth and sees the bizarre and hilarious mating displays of the ridiculous birds of paradise? Surely God must have a sense of humor to create something so entertaining and something so funny.

God does not wish for His people to go through life solemn and sour. Laughter is a gift from God and when we laugh at the sublime and the ridiculous we honor the God who made us to be people who laugh. And He made certain aspects of His creation funny so that we could join Him in laughter and delight.

…A God of His Word

The Bible tells us that God reveals Himself in what He has made. He reveals His existence, His power, His authority. He also reveals His wrath. In nature we see glimpses of what God created this world to be and glimpses of what it has since become. And we learn that God is a God of His Word. As Tennyson wrote so long ago, nature is red in tooth and claw. In Planet Earth we see the results of the fall into sin. We see animals destroying one another; we see humans destroying the creation. We see that God is not One to be trifled with. What He says is true. What He says will come to pass. God warned man of the consequences of sin, and man ignored the Creator. The world has been suffering ever since.

seal-shark.jpgCreation testifies to the truth of what God tells us about sin and its consequences. If this is the case, we can also trust God when He tells us how we can avoid the eternal consequences of sin. The same God who saw man plunge this world into sin is the God who has provided salvation to those who would believe in Him. He is a good and a kind and a trustworthy God. He is worthy of our trust.

…A God of Redemption

Nature cries out for redemption—for release from its bondage. We cannot even begin to fathom the amount of death and destruction upon this planet—this planet where death was once entirely foreign and unnatural. Every day countless millions of animals are torn apart, suffering in agony as they fall prey to one creature or another. No creature is immune. Some may live for centuries, but sooner or later they go the way of all the earth; they die and decay and pass away. In every glimpse of a baby animal being torn to pieces and in every scene of terror and bloodshed our hearts cry out that this is wrong, this is unnatural. Somehow we know that death is a foreign state. And we ask, “when will the last drop of blood be shed?” We long for the final redemption of this world and its return to a state of perfection. Nature attests to the fact that death is wrong; and it testifies to the end of all that is unnatural.

cave.jpgPlanet Earth vividly shows that the world groans as it awaits redemption. And as we watch we, too, cry out for someone who can stop all of the suffering and destruction. Our hearts long for a redeemer!

…A God of Adventure

This world will be fully and finally redeemed. And when that time comes, we will have the inestimable privilege of enjoying an eternity exploring the wonders of the world He has made for us. The wonders will only increase as the sin is removed from us and as we enjoy access to every part of this planet. We will enjoy eternal adventures exploring the deepest depths and the highest heights of this amazing planet.

While we may love to explore even today, we know that even the most committed explorers can catch only a glimpse of the world’s wonders. But the time is coming when we will have unending opportunities to see the hand of a loving creator in every part of this world. But even now we can praise Him for what He has made and what He has done.


A couple of months ago I reviewed Planet Earth and its predecessor Blue Planet. Click here if you want to read that. If you are interested in buying the series, I’m pretty sure the best prices are at Amazon (or they were when I bought it).

February 17, 2008

Planet Earth and Blue PlanetThe Blue Planet and Planet Earth are among the finest nature documentaries you could ever hope to see. Produced by the BBC and narrated by David Attenborough, the first looks to the world’s oceans and the second primarily to its land masses.

The Blue Planet (first broadcast in 2001) is comprised of eight 50-minute episodes. As Attenborough explains in the opening moments, “Our planet is a blue planet: over seventy percent of it is covered by the sea. The Pacific Ocean alone covers half the globe. You can fly across it non-stop for twelve hours and still see nothing more than a speck of land. This series will reveal the complete natural history of our ocean planet, from its familiar shores to the mysteries of its deepest seas.” The first episode is something of a summary and each of the other seven looks to a specific aspect of the planet’s water—from the strange life that lurks in its deepest depths to the life that crawls from water to land with each receding tide.

There are several extras on the DVDs and they are of varying quality (though none rises to the standards of the actual episodes). Several of them are of feature length—50 minutes or so. The most interesting of the extras are probably the short “how it was made” clips which explain how the filmmakers managed to capture some of the incredible shots, many of which recorded behavior that has never before been captured by cameras.

Planet Earth (first broadcast in 2006) is comprised of eleven episodes and follows a similar format. Says Attenborough, “A hundred years ago, there were one and a half billion people on Earth. Now, over six billion crowd our fragile planet. But even so, there are still places barely touched by humanity. This series will take you to the last wildernesses and show you the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen them before.” The first episode journeys from the top of the world to the bottom and stops many places in between. Further episodes narrow in on specific features or terrain. As with The Blue Planet each episode is around 50 minutes in length and is followed by a 10 minute “Planet Earth Diary” which follows the filmmakers as they record the incredible shots.

The series is supplemented by three episodes which together are known as Planet Earth: The Future. This is a mixture of helpful environmental whistle-blowing and silly near-panic about overpopulation and global warming. While enjoyable as bonus features, they are not of the quality of the featured presentation.

Whether these are films you’d like to enjoy with your whole family will depend on how comfortable you are with seeing lots and lots of animals eating other animals and lots and lots of animalian hanky panky. If your children have grown up on a farm, there will be nothing new here; if they’ve grown up in suburbs you may have some explaining to do from time-to-time. And, of course, there is the unspoken assumption throughout that Darwinian evolution best explains the origins of all of this planet’s life.

Both series are excellent and often breathtaking. I watched them with my wife and we were both left gasping at times. The quality of these productions is unparalleled. I do not know what more to say—I have never seen anything like these. Where the filmmakers may have seen and announced the triumph of evolution, we saw the hand of a Creator who lovingly and painstakingly built this world with an abundance and a stunning variety of life. I could not watch without voicing praise to the Creator whose handiwork is so evident in all of creation. This series is an incredible testimony to His power.

While the series are sold separately, I chose to purchase them together in the “Special Collector’s Edition.” Those with top-notch home theaters may want to purchase Planet Earth in HD-DVD or Blu Ray. If you are going to purchase only one of the series, I’d recommend Planet Earth. But either or both will make excellent additions to your collection. You’ll watch them time and again.

August 02, 2007

Christians are accustomed to treating evolution as an account of the world’s origins that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and something that a person could only believe in the absence of God or in the absence of faith. But this is not quite fair. There are now many Christians—Christians who treasure the Bible and who affirm the truths of the historic Christian faith—who do believe that the evidence for evolution is too compelling to ignore. It is telling that, as far as I can see, the vast majority of Christian scientists (not to be confused with Christian Scientists) hold to evolution. In the face of modern science, those of us who still cling to a literal six day creation may seem to be increasingly stubborn and outdated. Certainly the world perceives us this way. So, too, today, do many in the church. There is very real pressure to conform.

The stakes are high. As Christians we believe that God is honored when we honor the truth. Hence if God did not create the world from nothing in six literal days, we dishonor God by clinging tightly, even in the face of evidence, to a view that is wrong. Of course the opposite is also true. If God did create the world in six days, we dishonor Him by believing in evolution. Only one view can be right.

In his book The Language of God, Francis Collins, who identifies himself in the book as an evangelical Christian, neatly divides the realm of science and the realm of faith. Faith is given to answer ultimate questions about meaning and purpose where science is God’s way of speaking about the physical world. He sees a complete harmony between them. Collins says there are four options when we consider possible responses to the interaction of the theory of evolution and belief in God.

The first is atheism and agnosticism which he describes as science trumping faith. In this view people place their ultimate trust in science and have little to offer when it comes to ultimate questions about meaning and purpose.

The second is Creationism and he describes this as faith trumping science. He says that if the views of creationists are true, “it would lead to a complete and irreversible collapse of the sciences of physics, chemistry, cosmology, geology and biology.” “Ultra-literal” interpretations of Genesis are wrong and must be adapted to fit with what science tells us. Collins makes no distinction between “old earth” and “young earth” Creationists. There are, after all, some Christians (and though I am not among them I do have some sympathy for their beliefs) who would hold to something a little bit different than a six day creation, believing that God has created ex nihilo (i.e. out of nothing) and that He has been doing so progressively over millions or billions of years. He created man ex nihilo 6,000 or 10,000 years ago almost as described by a literal reading of the first few chapters of Genesis. Collins does not distinguish because he feels evolution is simply to clear to ignore and whether we believe in an old earth or a young earth, to ignore evolution is folly. Evolution and divine non-intervention are the keys, not the age of the earth.

The third option is Intelligent Design, which tries to find harmony but which does so only by looking for areas science cannot explain. As science progresses it inevitably finds a way to explain these gaps, thus keeping Intelligent Design advocates always scrambling and always on the defensive. While I enjoy reading of the world of these people, I find Intelligent Design an unsatisfying explanation for reasons I may discuss at another time.

The final option is theistic evolution or what Collins prefers to call “BioLogos.” This is the view he holds to and the view of an increasing number of Christians. This belief rests of the following premises:

  1. The universe came into being out of nothingness, approximately 14 billion years ago.
  2. Despite massive improbabilities, the properties of the universe appear to have been precisely tuned for life.
  3. While the precise mechanism of the origin of life on earth remains unknown, once life arose, the process of evolution and natural selection permitted the development of biological diversity and complexity over very long periods of time. Collins seems to hold that life arose naturally (or at least that it could have arisen naturally) and not through supernatural intervention.
  4. Once evolution got under way no special supernatural intervention was required.
  5. Humans are part of this process, sharing a common ancestor with the great apes.
  6. But humans are also unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature. This includes the existence of the Moral Law (the knowledge of right and wrong) and the search for God that characterizes all human cultures throughout history.

I think these six points accurately summarize what most theistic evolutionists believe. I don’t have an exhaustive list of Christians who are theistic evolutionists, though some of the names I’ve heard are a bit surprising to me. But as I said at the outset, the names do include many Bible-believing Christians.

As for me, I am still an old-fashioned, out-dated, six day Creationist. My reasoning is simple: I believe we have to give the position of supremacy to the Bible. While I certainly admit that the Bible is not meant to be a scientific textbook, if we affirm its inerrancy we need to believe that where it does comment on science, it does so truthfully. Thus, until it can be proven to me otherwise, the creation of the world, as outlined in the Bible, is meant to be read literally and accepted as fact. Further, the creation of the world is not merely a scientific question but also a theological one, so it is not something we can consign entirely into the realm of science. Thus we have to arrive at a solution that is consistent with both science and Scripture, all the while knowing that we are imperfect and our eyes are clouded by our limitations. Where science and Scripture clearly disagree, we must hold fast to God’s Word. And to this point that is where my conscience has directed me.

There are several areas where I feel theistic evolutionists allow science to trump Scripture and I’d like to point out just four of them. Francis Collins is certainly no theologian and, unfortunately, does not address these in his book. I really would be glad to receive recommendations for a book written by a conservative Christian explaining how we can reconcile science with Scripture in these points and others.

First, if we decide that the biblical account of creation is simple allegory or a metaphorical description of what actually took place, how are we to determine where allegory ends and reality begins? If the description of the creation of the world is either just a vague metaphor for what actually happened or perhaps some kind of allegory, where do we determine that historical narrative actually begins? Certainly we cannot read much into the fact of God resting on the seventh day. We have to see that God did not create Adam from the dust of the ground and did not form Eve from Adam’s rib (putting to rest the age-old controversy of whether or not they had belly buttons). Was there a literal tree of life and tree of the knowledge of good and evil or were these, too, mere metaphor? Did God really create Eve specifically to be Adam’s helper or did woman arise by the process of evolution? Were gender roles part of God’s creation or did they arise only through natural selection? Was there a serpent who tempted Adam and Eve? Did they really eat fruit God told them not to eat? Was there a real Garden of Eden? Did Adam and Eve really get banished from it? Was there really a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life? Did God really create Adam and Eve clothes (foreshadowing the death of Christ in the death of the animal He used to cover them) to cover their nakedness? And finally, do we not see throughout the Bible that the other authors seem to understand the Biblical account of creation in a very literal way? It seems to me that the metaphorical reading of the first few chapters of Genesis if fraught with peril. This, in itself, is not a sound argument as much as it is a caution. Those who hold to theistic evolution tread upon portions of the Bible that are absolutely foundational to our faith.

While I will admit that this next argument, an extension from the last, may fall into the realm of fallacy, I will state it anyways. Is there not a danger in handing someone a Bible and saying, “It is important to note that the first three chapters you read really aren’t meant to be taken literally!”? Does it seem likely that God would give us His description of the world’s origins in a way that, by most measures, seems to be meant literally, when in reality it is merely figurative? What are the wider implications of reading these early chapters in a way that is less than literal?

Second, the Bible tells us that Adam, as the first man, stands as our federal head. He represented us before God in such a way that when he fell into sin, so did we. The Bible makes it clear that this position was assigned by virtue of Adam’s position as the first man. If we hold to evolution we have no way of knowing if, how or why Adam is our federal head. Was he perhaps the first person who was truly a sentient being? Was he the first person to whom the moral law was given? Did God somehow intervene in his life to give him something that made him human while the rest of the species went on as animals? We are forced to believe that God somehow chose Adam out of the mass of humanity (or near humanity) and conferred on him a special privilege. While this is something God is known to do (think of Abraham as an example) this is certainly not clear from the Bible. In fact, I don’t know that anyone would have thought of this until evolution began to make us rethink Genesis. We would also do well to consider the implications to the federal headship of Christ, the Second Adam.

Third, how did the fall into sin actually happen? I touched on this in the first point, but if we believe in evolution, it is difficult to then believe that the story of man’s fall into sin happened exactly as the Bible describes it. And so I ask, how did sin come into the world? And how can we explain its pervasiveness?

And finally, was there death before Adam? Romans 5:12 says that death entered the world through the sin of Adam. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” Yet evolution is impossible without death (and without death being an agent of good, rather than evil, for death causes the stronger to supplant the weaker, driving the innately beneficial process of natural selection). So did death really enter the world through Adam or was there death already? And is death a curse, as the Bible says, or is death also a good and necessary force that causes the stronger to survive?

I have found these four questions (or series of questions) impossible to reconcile with Darwinian evolution. Thus I have to give supremacy to the Bible. Am I asking you to answer these questions? Not necessarily, though if you have answers or can refer me to a place that they’ve been answered satisfactorily I would be interested in the learning experience. In the meanwhile, I’m content to continue believing that God created the world, from nothing, in six days, and that He did so not too long ago. My understanding of Scripture and my love for it just doesn’t allow me any other option.