The Downgrade Controversy of the 21st century
I have just finished reading Denis Alexander’s new book Creation or Evolution; do we have to choose? and have realised just how sophisticated we Evangelicals have become in justifying our disbelief. I have no doubt that Denis is sincere in his view that Genesis 1-3 is some sort of theological essay, but he is seriously in error regarding both the Scripture and the science.
Death before the Fall?
Like many before him, Denis Alexander tries to maintain that death has been with us since the creation of life, which he believes occurred some billions of years ago via some evolutionary mechanism under God’s sovereign control.
But this flies in the face of Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15 – which, of course, are predicated on the historicity of the Fall in Genesis 3. His treatment of 1 Corinthians 15 in particular is extraordinary.
In a chapter entitled ‘Evolution and the Fall’ he admits that Paul has to be referring to physical death in verse 26 (‘the last enemy to be destroyed is death’). But he then tries to explain away the obvious implication, namely, that just as Adam brought sin and physical death into the human race, so Christ (the second Adam) brings resurrection and eternal life to the believer.
Verses 21-22 of this famous resurrection chapter read as follows: ‘For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive’. Yet Alexander takes these important verses as referring to Adam by his rebellion introducing not physical but spiritual death. This allows Alexander to say that physical death was in human experience before the Fall.
But the seven-times repeated phrase ‘it was good’ in Genesis 1 (culminating in v.31 with ‘very good’) is highly significant and the New Testament passages cited above demonstrate that human physcial death was absent in God’s original created order.
If physical mortality did not really begin with Adam’s rejection of God’s command in Genesis 2:17, then neither can we have confidence that 1 Corinthians 15 means what it says when it asserts: ‘so in Christ shall all be made alive’. The hope of physical resurrection is lost.
Extraneous to God’s Word
How do we know when Scripture means what it says if we have to perform mental gymnastics to understand not just the text of Genesis but the New Testament as well? This is a serious matter and Alexander has followed many others who have wrenched the obvious meaning out of the passage to justify the assumptions of evolution.
If none of us had been exposed to the evolutionary philosophy that is pumped at us daily from every quarter, would anyone try to ‘read’ evolution into the Bible? The honest answer is no. Evolution is not in Scripture; the concept is foreign and extraneous to the Word of God.
That mankind knew no physical death in the beginning is integral with the gospel. Remove this and the gospel itself is weakened. Why did Christ die physically if the wages of sin is not physical death?
The author makes no reference to those who have written on the biblical arguments concerning this matter, such as Douglas Kelly in his book Creation and Change. By writing this book, Alexander has placed himself on the side of liberal theologians and, in this reviewer’s opinion, has departed seriously from the evangelical faith.
Creation by the Word
Creation occurred by the spoken word of God – a fact which Alexander skilfully sidesteps in the opening chapters of his book. Christ is the pre-eminent person of the Trinity involved in creation (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2-3) and elsewhere uses the same agency (his spoken word) to heal the sick, calm the storm and raise the dead. These miracles occurred immediately he spoke – no prolonged process was involved. Why, therefore, should we not accept that the miraculous creative acts of Genesis 1 were similarly expedited? It is as written – God spoke and it was so.
Significantly, Alexander does not believe in the worldwide Flood. Quite apart from the specific testimony to a global flood in Genesis 7, his stance puts him in conflict with Matthew 24:37, where Christ states: ‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man’. Christ’s second coming will be global, so by the same token the Flood was global.
What is astonishing is his bald statement on page 242 that there is no geological evidence for a global flood! Clearly, he is unwilling to engage with the great wealth of technical papers and books that have been written on flood geology.
The Grand Canyon; the vast Cretaceous layers across southern England and Europe; the fossils of the Jurassic north-east English coastline – where ammonites can be picked off the beach where they have been crushed by piles of sediment – all speak of catastrophe.
He may choose to interpret the sedimentary rocks as being laid down over millions of years, but to state baldly ‘there is no evidence’ for a world wide flood is blinkered. No creation scientist claims to have all the answers, but Alexander ignores the serious scientific work that has been done over decades, producing a good body of evidence that actually fits better within the flood-geology paradigm than into a uniformitarian scenario.
Alexander doesn’t even mention the RATE project in which geologists Steve Austin, Andrew Snelling and others have shown that helium in the zircons of biotite in granites contains significant amounts of radiogenic helium – which should all have diffused away if the rocks were millions of years old.
Neither does Alexander refer to other writers such as A. E. Wilder Smith who wrote the classic The natural sciences know nothing of evolution. He even fails to engage with creationist literature in his own field of genetics, there being no reference to John Sanford’s masterful book Genetic entropy and the mystery of the genome.
Though we may not yet have the answer to the author’s proposal that what he calls ‘pseudogenes’ and ‘retroviruses’ are evidence of our common ancestory with the apes, Sanford presents important evidence on the nature of mutations.
According to neo-Darwinian theory, random mutations are the source of variety on which natural selection works to select those that are advantageous, thereby gradually transforming a species.
But Sanford shows that the vast majority of mutations are deleterious and that the human genome, for example, is fast picking up serious deficiencies which affect the phenotype negatively rather than positively.
Far from being an engine for beneficial change, mutations are a downhill slope. There are also implications in my own discipline of thermodynamics which (contrary to Alexander’s assertions on pp. 138-139) also shows that new biological machinery cannot simply arise by mutations.
Walter ReMine’s The biotic message and Thaxton and Bradley’s The mystery of life’s origin both address these issues in depth, and yet no reference is made to these books in the author’s cursory treatment.
The genetic code
Alexander argues for the origin of the genetic code entirely by natural means but fails to grasp that information in systems is not the same as the matter and energy involved. There is no reference to Professor Werner Gitt’s brilliant writings (see for instance In the beginning was information).
Gitt shows that information in biological systems – which is encoded by nucleotide triplets – transcends the matter and energy in the system. The code is not defined by the molecules of DNA/RNA, neither is the message (constituting instructions) defined by the code. A good analogy is that this article is not defined by the letters of the alphabet used to construct it, nor is the alphabet defined by the paper on which the article is printed.
Alexander also turns the design argument into a straw man, claiming that it simply amounts to a ‘God of the gaps’ hypothesis. But he fails to understand the design position.
Evolution is a paradigm within which evolutionary biologists seek to explain their findings. Contrary to Alexander’s assertions, the design position is also a paradigm – an alternative to the evolutionary framework and one which often provides superior descriptions of biological systems.
Design cannot be a god-of-the-gaps argument because it is based on what we know, not what we don’t know. Romans 1:20 states: ‘His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead’.
The design thesis now gaining ground in the scientific world is precisely the reverse of Alexander’s perception – the gaps arise in the just-so stories of the evolutionary camp. What can be understood from ‘the things that are made’ testifies to the awesome power of the Creator.
Creation and the Bible
In his postscript, Alexander weighs in heavily against Young Earth Creation and Intelligent Design, arguing that it is a waste of limited resources to give creationist lectures and build creationist museums. This money, he says, would be better used on direct preaching of the gospel.
I commend his emphasis on the gospel of the death and resurrection of Christ, but how wrong he is to disparage the creation issue and those who promote creation! If he were to join me in preaching the gospel in the open air in any city centre, it would quickly become clear that the issue of origins is much in the mind of young people.
Such questions as: ‘What about the dinosaurs?’ ‘Evolution has disproved the Bible, hasn’t it?’ and so on, are constantly asked by young people today. To give uncertain answers to these questions is to lose credibility.
To get a hearing for the gospel it is often necessary to first show people how creation fits the known facts of science. Rather than creation moving people away from the gospel, the reverse is true.
Many enquirers recognise the validity of a Bible-believing position where the early chapters of Genesis are shown to be entirely consistent with the scientific evidence. Added to this, many Christians have been blessed and encouraged to know that truth does not begin at Genesis 12!
Creation is such a foundational issue that it has become increasingly important to address it within our churches and our evangelism. The creation/evolution debate will not go away as long as we proclaim Scripture as the Word of God. Why not? Because Scripture is clear in its testimony to creation and silent about evolution.
The vacuous philosophy of evolution is an enemy to the gospel, and for believers to embrace and endorse it represents the re-emergence of the Downgrade Controversy of Spurgeon’s day – albeit on a different front. Genesis is inerrant and infallible history, including its chapters 1-11.
To stand by the veracity and authority of Scripture cost Spurgeon and other faithful pastors of his day much, in terms of ridicule, even within their own denominations. In a similar way, scientists today who believe all the Scriptures need to stand up and be counted on this important issue. It is the way of Christ, who calls us to stand for truth against error – to take up our cross and follow him.
Adam and Eve
To close, according to Alexander, Eve was not created out of Adam’s side but they were simply a pair of Neolithic farmers whom God called to follow his ways. What is more, he believes that some humans were around at that time who were not part of what he terms ‘Homo Divinus’.
He even suggests (p.275) that some Australian Aborigines may still languish outside the God-called community of humanity because they are not descendants of Adam and Eve! But Scripture makes it plain that ‘He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth’ (Acts 17:26).
Significantly, there is one verse Alexander never quotes, namely: ‘All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another’ (1 Corinthians 15:39). This verse encapsulates the harmony of the whole Bible on this subject. Any notion of a common descent of all creatures from some primordial soup of chemicals, not only contradicts Genesis but also undermines key statements in the New Testament.
I have every respect for Denis Alexander personally (we have debated each other on more than one occasion, the last being at the UCCF Word Alive conference in 2007). But in writing such a public denunciation of belief in creation, the Fall and the worldwide Flood he undermines foundational truths in Scripture.
There is no doubt in my mind that we are witnessing the Downgrade Controversy repeated in our day – hence my robust response to this publication. Denis Alexander needs to rethink both his theology and his science.
He is right in saying that true science can never disagree with the Bible, but he has failed to realise that there is much that claims to be science that is actually speculation.
When one separates out the scientific facts from their interpretation, there is nothing in the science that contradicts the straightforward statements of Genesis 1-11 – special ex-nihilo creation; the creation of animals and man without common descent; a real garden of Eden; the fall of Adam and Eve; and a worldwide flood consistent with the burial of fossils all over the world. Genesis is far, far more than a ‘theological essay’.
The author is Professor of Thermodynamics at the University of Leeds, and writes this in a private capacity.