In an article published online by Slate,1 another swipe has been taken at the idea of teaching biblical creation to children and teaching them a false view of science. Positioning the biblical truth against the evolutionary view of the history of the universe and life here on Earth, the article opens and closes with a question made popular by Ken Ham. The author grew up in a home and church family that taught her biblical truth. Sitting in her biology class, she felt uncomfortable when the topic of evolution came up, knowing that it conflicted with what she had been taught from God’s Word.2
A Change in Foundations
Being faithful to what she believed at the time, she waited for the appropriate time to ask her biology teacher “Were you there?” as he presented the ideas of deep-time evolution to the class. Her question was sincere, and she was pursuing what she had been taught—the Bible as the Word of God refutes the idea that evolution happened and affirms special creation. Whether the cosmological evolution of the big bang, the slow and gradual development of Earth’s geological evolution, or the biological evolution that formed all the living things from the nonliving chemicals that made up the primordial Earth. She knew billions of years didn’t align with the Bible, which teaches the universe is approximately 6,000 years old. Clearly, 6,000 is a far cry from 13,700,000,000—these are incompatible teachings.
But as she grew older and heard the evolutionary view taught, her thinking shifted. The Bible became an untrustworthy relic and “Were you there?” now seemed like a silly question. But that doesn’t mean she is correct in dismissing this as a silly question, and I am not sure she really understood the intent behind the question based on what she has written in this article. So how should we use “Were you there?” to engage and challenge the evolution story of the universe and promote the biblical creation view?
Sincerely Avoiding Straw Men
There is something telling in the author’s explanation of how she approached challenging the teaching in her public school—she doesn’t seem to have cared to really understand the evolutionary view.
During one of Wortman’s [her science teacher] lectures on natural selection—involving different types of bacteria—I was doodling. Normally an attentive student, I deliberately tuned out of the class. The subject made me uncomfortable because the process of new species coming about via natural selection directly contradicted what my church and parents taught me about the origins of life. . . . We were encouraged to confront anyone who seemed to assume that evolution is true with a simple question meant to stump them: Were you there?3
This attitude is lamentable, and it is not one we should promote as we teach our children to understand the creation evolution debate. If we take what she presents on its face, the way she was taught to defend her faith was not biblical. Natural selection is a real process that we can observe, and there is nothing unbiblical about new species arising through natural selection. The biblical boundary is of one kind of animal or plant changing into another kind—like a fish changing into an amphibian. In fact, the way God has designed bacteria to adapt to varying environments in the fallen world is a testimony of His power over and care for His creation.
If we simply tell the evolutionist that we think his idea is silly and he wasn’t even there to witness what he is claiming, he is going to dismiss our arguments as superficial. And rightly so since we would not really be dealing with what he believes. Likewise, if a Christian speaks to a skeptic who dismisses Christianity by telling us he doesn’t believe in a bearded man who doesn’t want us to eat pork and who committed child abuse to save us from our sin, we would dismiss his argument as a straw man—he isn’t arguing against what we really believe. If we are going to challenge evolutionary views and train our children to do the same, we need to do so sincerely, seeking to understand the false views so that we might compare them to the light of Scripture, exposing the darkened philosophies of human reasoning that deny God as Creator (Romans 1:18–23; Colossians 2:1–10).
Pointing to God as Creator
“Were you there?” is a great question, but it can’t be left at that, as the author describes being taught. The intent of the question is not to simply dismiss a historical claim out of hand, but to point to God as the Creator. The clever skeptic will respond to the question by turning it back on the Christian, asking them if they were there to witness God creating the universe in six days. And that is where we turn the conversation toward God and the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Another common response might include something like the following from the evolutionist science teacher in the article:
He said that he didn’t need to witness evolution to know it occurred; fossil evidence shows us that humans evolved from a common ancestor with apes.
This type of response exposes the commitment to the underlying philosophy and assumptions of naturalism. While they claim they can “know” evolution occurred, if they were honest they would say they “believe” evolution occurred. If they were honest, they would admit that the charge they level against Christians who believe in biblical creation—“You just believe that because it is what the Bible says”—could be directed right back at themselves. They believe humans evolved from ape-like creatures because they are committed to the evolutionary worldview.
Another important point to help them recognize is that evidence doesn’t “show” evolutionary progression. Evidence doesn’t speak for itself—it must be interpreted.
“Were you there?” is not intended to ask a question of personal presence, but to point to God, who was there. It is to expose the worldview and the presuppositions through which the past is interpreted. Of course we know that the person promoting the evolutionary views was not there billions or millions of years ago to witness a fish changing slowly into a land-dwelling creature. The question is intended to help the evolutionist recognize that they are making a historical claim apart from any eyewitness testimony. But Christians do have an eyewitness testimony. But a witness is only as good as his character. The witness we point to is the very Creator Himself—the Triune God of the Bible. The Father, Son, and Spirit were involved in the Creation (Genesis 1:1–2; John 1:1–5; Hebrews 1:1–4).
We know that we can trust what God has said because He is a faithful and truthful God who cannot lie or deny His own perfect character (Titus 1:1–3; Hebrews 6:17–18). Further, God has revealed to us through human authors how He created the universe and the world we live in (Genesis 1–2; 2 Peter 1:20–21). We have an eyewitness testimony that explains the historical claims we make about the age of the Earth, the origin of plants and animals, and the first humans to walk the planet.
The skeptic might protest that the Bible is not trustworthy, that God hasn’t spoken clearly, or that He doesn’t even exist. Rather than trusting the Bible’s eyewitness testimony, they prefer to trust the reasoning of other people. Here is the crux of the matter—this is an issue of authority. “Were you there?” should be used to call people to acknowledge that they are placing their trust in one of two places—the ideas of fallible men or the eyewitness testimony of the perfect Creator God.
Worldviews and Authority
Underlying this issue is an idea that is evident in the author’s presentation of how her thinking shifted from believing the Bible’s account of history to the evolutionary view. Her thinking shifted from looking at the world through the lens of Scripture to looking at the world through the lens of humanism and its underlying tenet of naturalism—a form of atheism. The starting assumption in this religious and philosophical view demands that man can use his own reasoning to determine truth and only natural explanations are allowed to answer questions in historical science (origins science).
No one needs to directly observe an aquatic species slowly evolving the ability to crawl onto dry land in order for scientists to surmise that mammals evolved from a fish. As Wortman said, we can observe the evidence in the fossil record and draw reasonable conclusions.
We must not forget two important points—facts don’t speak for themselves and everyone has the same evidence. Knowing these two things, we should never say that there is evidence for creation or evidence for evolution. The fossil evidence mentioned in the article is common to everyone and must be interpreted to present arguments and explanations for how old it is, how it died, what it ate, and other historical questions that are not able to be directly observed, repeated, or tested.
In her new thinking, the evidence is interpreted through the lens of naturalism rather than Scripture—but she doesn’t seem to see the hypocrisy of her own statements. She says it is proper for the evidence to be interpreted from a naturalistic philosophy that denies God exists or was involved in creation, but not from a supernatural view. But why is one philosophical foundation appropriate and the other inappropriate in a scientific investigation about the past? If matter is all that exists, how do they account for the existence of logic or the laws of nature? They rely on these ideas to inform their scientific study, but they have no foundation to explain why these ideas should exist.
To choose natural, evolutionary processes over a supernatural explanation is merely an arbitrary preference, not a demand of scientific investigation. When approaching the topic as a Christian, we have the only true and reasonable starting point—the existence of the Creator God and His revelation to us. If God does not exist, as the atheist demands, we have no reason to believe that logic or the laws of nature should exist.
Historical and Origins Science
It is evident that the author does not understand the distinction between historical science and operational science. Biblical creationists involved in scientific endeavors can agree with much of the scientific study that happens in the laboratories to understand how things work and apply that knowledge to technologies like computers, medicines, and transportation. We can agree with the sequence of the DNA in different organisms and the structure of biological molecules. We part ways when those facts are used to interpret events in the past—historical or origins science. Because God has revealed to us that He created distinct kinds of organisms from the beginning, we must reject the idea that a fish evolved into a frog. A worldview based on evolution is not using science that is observable, repeatable, and testable, but simply surmising how that fish changed into a frog. The worldview determines the interpretation. Naturalism or atheism demands a natural mechanism of accidental interactions over billions of years of evolution.
If that is all this author was trained to do, those who taught her did a poor job.4 We need to teach a fair representation of the unbiblical views so that there is a clear understanding and ability to communicate and challenge false ideas. If we teach a false view of evolution that mocks and dismisses evolutionists, how will a child or young adult respond when they hear an evangelist for evolutionary views present a case that seems orderly and logical? It is no surprise that those students who have heard a misrepresentation of the evolutionary view respond with sincere questions and intrigue about the validity of the ideas when presented with a persuasive argument for evolution. As Christians, we would expect the same as we share the truth about Christianity with someone who has only heard partial truths or misrepresentations about what the Bible really teaches.
Don’t be afraid to challenge those who believe in evolution, whether Christians or atheists, with the question “Were you there?” But also be prepared to use it to point to the eyewitness testimony of the God who has created us, reminding them that the God who created us also stepped into history as our Savior (Genesis 1; John 1). Jesus Christ is Creator, Savior, and Lord, so let us use these opportunities to call those who believe in evolution to repent and look to Christ as Lord.