Two of the most important and serious questions people ever ask are surely, "Who or what am I?" and, "How did I come to be here, on earth?" In adulthood they tend to become snuffed‑out by the pressures of everyday life; and for many, life ends at last like a tale which is told, with a sigh1, and without any satisfactory answer having ever been found. Two sources which claim to give us such an answer are the Judaeo‑Christian Scriptures, and evolutionary science; in other words, the Bible and the experts in Darwinism. The latter currently get very good publicity through the highly exciting and confident writings of biologists like Richard Dawkins and philosophers like Daniel Dennett, backed‑up as they often are by secular cosmologists and the authors of science fiction. The answers they give invoke many ideas outside the stock‑in‑trade of the ordinary man or woman, and are usually at a specialist level above their ability to challenge; the listener is accordingly left with conclusions only half‑believed because he is out of his depth and because they often run counter to deep intuitions.
On the other hand the Bible, concerned with the ethical and spiritual facts of life rather than the genetical and physiological ones, expresses itself in everyday terms about many things (such as married faithfulness and financial honesty) which involve these same intuitions in a sometimes disconcerting way. So many people are left with a rather comfortless sort of semi‑persuasion. We are surrounded today by the evidence of vast scientific and technical achievements and we confidently expect more. This puts the Bible at a disadvantage. It holds out nothing to flatter human pride and self‑confidence; rather the reverse. It is ancient too; neo‑Darwinian insights are up‑to‑date. Surely therefore they are a safer bet? Furthermore, familiarity with the Bible today is pitifully small, even among the well‑educated (a recent survey showed that a majority of clergy could not repeat the Ten Commandments). These things justify a discussion like the present one. It is obvious that the answers we give to the two questions we started with will lead to very different evaluations of life and how we should live it, and will raise many matters worthy of very serious attention.
It is only right to make plain the ultimate ground on which my own convictions rest. It is the supremacy of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, over every other figure who has appeared on the stage of world history. His life and death exhibit a consistent glory no other can approach. Not only so, but it was followed by an event, his bodily resurrection and reappearance among His disciples, which is too well‑attested by the evidence available to historical judgement to be lightly brushed aside2. However, my argument cannot start with this because the information we have about him is provided almost entirely by the writings we call the New Testament, with the highly important backing of the Old. This therefore is my reason for beginning the discussion with the Pentateuch, in particular with Genesis. Such a beginning is consistent with faith in Jesus Christ who himself appealed to it3. (If this savours of reasoning in a circle, reference should be made later to Appendix I).
There are three other points of importance. The first is to explain my plan in this book. It is not primarily to present as many faults as I can lay hands on in the structure of neo‑Darwinism, though it will be necessary to touch on some. That could in any case be done better by others more expert than myself. It is rather to face the question. Are there any irreconcilable differences between the Bible's account of things and neo‑Darwinism's? If so, what are they? I think of course that there are, and shall attempt to justify this view. Some of the conclusions reached may be unexpected.
The second point is a very important one, often alas, overlooked. It is that the Bible must be recognised as free to define its own terms and to declare its own standpoint. These will clearly govern its correct interpretation. One very important example is the declaration of Deut.29.29, which says that the reason why the Bible has been given us is to teach us and our children the sort of life God would have us live, for in that we shall find true happiness and fulfilment (the life it calls 'blessedness' ‑ see Ps.1; Ps.36.7‑9; Isa.48.17ff, 22; and the Beatitudes in Matt.5). It was emphatically not to introduce us to physical cosmology or the specifics of DNA! For these things, God has given physical senses for observing phenomena and minds for figuring things out.4 Our forefathers understood all this well. "What is the chief end of man?" asked the famous Shorter Catechism of 1647. "To glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever" was its profoundly biblical reply
Finally, some colleagues have suggested that naming opponents as I have been done may appear an unfriendly gesture, and detract from calm objectivity. If so, that would be a disaster. I have no intention of being personal, and have as often as possible expressed appreciation of what Prof Dawkins and others have written. Dawkins' expositions have a brilliant style which makes them not only highly instructive, but very enjoyable as well. I have often used 'antitheism' of his position and his friends' to avoid the pejorative flavour of the 'atheism' he has used himself. But he (in particular) has poured such fierce and intolerant scorn on the biblical notion of Creator, his books have had such phenomenal success and they have won him such outstanding public praise, that it was felt they needed a clear public challenge. The message he tries to spread moreover will be to many a highly depressing one. "The universe we observe", he writes5, "has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference". But the logical standing of his 'neo‑Darwinian Fundamentalism'6 is rickety in its very foundations! Bring these things together, and they explain why it has been felt almost a duty to write as plainly as possible. No doubt I have made mistakes of my own in this; they will merit their own correction.
This contribution, the result of many years' study and thought, expresses mature convictions. I have been a lifelong reader of the Bible, and have tried to allow it to mould my thinking and my living. My chair in the University of London was in Plant Biophysics. Five years before retirement in 1978 I was ordained to the non‑stipendiary ministry of the Church of England, and so can view from a reasonable angle both the ill‑judged arguments of many would‑be upholders of the Bible's authority as well as the untempered self‑confidence of opponents claiming the authority of science. My own convictions are of the God‑givenness of Holy Scripture on the one hand, and of the God‑givenness of Science as a discipline on the other, each in its own sphere an avenue to understanding, or what the Bible calls 'wisdom'. The problem is their right use7. A number of specialized topics, important in themselves, have been relegated to Appendices to avoid cluttering up the main discussion.
To speak more personally, I owe much to the constructive thoughts of others, mostly members of the Research Scientists' Christian Fellowship (now 'Christians in Science'). If I had to single out one name it would be that of the late Prof. Donald MacKay, to whose faith, integrity, insight and lucidity I owe a great deal. But I have benefitted greatly from many others: Dr Oliver Barclay, Prof Sir Robert Boyd FRS, Prof R J Berry FRSE, Prof Malcolm Jeeves FRSE, Prof Colin Russell, Michael Poole, Dr Keith Blundell, Dr Gwyn Jordan and many more too numerous for a now‑failing memory to recall. In fact for few of the ideas expressed can I claim originality; most of them I owe to others.
Two profoundly different understandings of our whole existence are locked in uncompromising warfare in the intellectual world today; neither offers much quarter to the other. Many men and women never bother to make a decision between them; there are too many pleasurable (and other) distractions on offer. But to those who will pause and think the matter through, the rewards can be tremendous.
Douglas C Spanner
1 Psalm 90.9 (AV, RSV)
2 J N D Anderson The Evidence for the Resurrection IVP. , Leicester
3 For example, see Matt.19.4‑6; Mark 13.19; Luke 24.25f; John 5.39,46f
4 Prov.20.12 REB: An attentive ear, an observant eye, the LORD made them both: Job 35.10,11 REB: God my Maker. . Who grants us more knowledge than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the air; Ps.111.2f. The works of the LORD are great; sought out of all them that have pleasure therein (This latter, the great physicist Lord Rayleigh put up at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge ).
5 RIVER OUT OF EDEN p.133
6 This title is accurately descriptive if 'fundamentalism' is used with its early meaning. It is not intended pejoratively: in the same sense I am a 'fundamentalist' myself. But my fundamental basis is not "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" (cf. Daniel C Dennett's book referred to later), but the witness of the 'Word made flesh', JESUS CHRIST (John 1.1,14; 1Cor. 3.11).
7 The Bible with brief profundity sets the scene for man's existence in Job 28.20‑28. Verses 25, 26 refer to the physical sphere where science appropriately seeks knowledge (with a view to power); and verse 28 to the spiritual sphere where faith seeks wisdom (for authentic life). Both spheres, it implies, are under God's wise and sovereign dominion, and both therefore must be consistent with one another.