As I was reading Calvin's commentary on Genesis 1 as a part of my Torah study, I was reminded of the Creation/Evolution flap (actually Evolution/Intelligent Design flap) in Pratt several years ago. It just so happened that at the same time the Kansas State School Board passed changes to the Science standards, de-emphasizing the theory of evolution, the Pratt School Board was approached by a group of patrons urging the board to allow the teaching of Intelligent Design.
Well, our little community made national news, don't you know! And our humble little Pratt Tribune received a letter to the editor from Michael Ruse, world famous philosopher and defender of evolution. He made some rather astonishing claims that I just couldn't let go unchallenged. So I put pen to paper myself and formulated the following reply which was printed in the Tribune in September of 2000.
Last week noted philosopher Michael Ruse, a self-confessed “enthusiastic evolutionist” and “fanatical supporter of the theory of natural selection of Charles Darwin,” complained of being “misrepresented, quoted selectively and out of context” by creationists, “making [him] apparently say things the very opposite to that which [he] intend[ed].” And then he himself proceeded to misrepresent, quote selectively and out of context, Saint Augustine and John Calvin, and by implication the majority of Christian thinkers through the centuries.
Ruse argued that creationism is both “false science and bad religion.” His claim that creationism is “false science” is itself false. But since this point has already been ably defended by others, the point I am interested in now is his argument that creationism is bad religion.
Amazingly, Ruse states, “Creationism is…bad religion. It is not traditional Christianity, either Catholic or Protestant.” Further, he says, “Creationism…is a bastard invention of nineteenth-century America, primarily a product of Seventh Day Adventists…” These statements are, at best, uninformed (hardly possible for such a celebrated philosopher). At worst, they are disingenuous. Indeed, Michael appears to be pulling a “ruse.”
The fact of the matter is, belief in a literal six days of creation a la Genesis is traditional Christianity, as anyone acquainted with the history of Christian theology readily knows. It is true that a number of Christian thinkers through the centuries applied a figurative sense to the Biblical account of creation. But it does not follow that they thereby denied a literal sense. Barnabas (c. A.D. 100), for instance, held to a literal six-day creation, but also argued that the six days were intended by God to foreshadow six thousand years of human history, from creation to the consummation of all things (Ep. of Barnabas, XV). Irenaeus (A.D. 120-202) taught the same thing (Against Heresies, V.xxviii.3), as did a number of others.
Theophilus (c. A.D. 175), likewise, taught that “God made all things out of nothing” in six literal days (To Autolycus, II.x-xi). Other early Church Fathers who expressed their belief in a literal six-day creation in the recent past include Hippolytus (c. A.D. 230, in comments on Gen. 1:5-6), Archelaus (c. A.D. 277, in “The Disputation with Manes,” 31), Methodius (c. 300, in The Banquet of the Ten Virgins, VII.v), Victorinus (c. 300, in “On the Creation of the World”), and Lactantius (c. A.D. 325 in “The Divine Institutes,” VII.xiv).
It is indeed surprising to see Ruse claim that Augustine (354-430) “wanted no truck with Creationist miracle-mongering.” For, aside from the fact that Augustine affirmed the truth of the miracles of Scripture, and even reported in a personal correspondence a miracle with which he was acquainted in his own day (Letter 227, to Alypius), he also affirmed his belief in the doctrine of creation as revealed in Genesis. He taught, for instance, that God created matter “out of nothing” (Confessions, XII.vii). And though he believed that this matter might have existed as a formless void for a very long period of time before the six-days of creation, he nevertheless taught the Biblical account of creation much like modern Evangelical creationists. A notable exception being that rather than teaching there were six literal days of creation, he said there was a six-fold aspect to creation that took place on just one day. Further, he said, “we find that not 6000 years have yet passed” (City of God, XII.x). These things he elsewhere said we “must unhesitatingly believe” (City of God, XI.vii).
Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), also, apparently believed the six days of creation were literal days (Summa Theologica, Question 74, article 2).
Ruse’s comment that John Calvin (1509-1564) “stayed out of the business of reading the glory of God’s handiwork from the Pentateuch” betrays an appalling ignorance of an author he pretends to fairly represent. The fact of the matter is that Calvin did see the glory of God in the Pentateuch, and especially in creation, which he taught took place in “the space of six days” (commentary on Gen. 1:5), less than six thousand years ago (Institutes I.xiii.1). And he said, “In the creation of the universe he brought forth those insignia whereby he shows his glory to us, whenever and wherever we cast our gaze.”
Consistent with its Calvinist roots, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) speaks of both creation in six days, and the glory of God manifested in creation. It states, “It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days.” (4.1)
Shall we also speak of James Ussher (1581-1656), the Irish cleric who dated the creation of the world at 4004 B.C., and whose basic Bible chronology was widely accepted in the church for three centuries?
Much more could be said. But this is sufficient to put the lie to Ruse’s claim that “creationism is not traditional Christianity, either Catholic or Protestant.” The truth is that some 20th century Christians have defected from Biblical Christianity and traded in the trustworthy account of origins found in Scripture for the secular myth of evolution.