This brings us back to the core issue; how can Christ the Creator have created by a method that is directly contradicted by his life and teaching? In the early church, a major emphasis was on Jesus as example and teacher, and the coming Judge of all. In effect, Jesus’ life was to show us what the standard of judgement was going to be – people should live like the Judge lived, and act like he acted. You can see the issue. If Christ the Creator spent millions of years creating in a process that directly violated his teaching (or that his teaching directly interferes with) then there is a huge problem. We rightly deplore anyone, particularly those in power, such as judges, who act hypocritically, who judge people adversely for doing what they themselves do. As Abraham said to God later on in Genesis: “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?”
If Jesus’ teaching blocks evolution by natural selection (notice I didn’t say natural selection per se) then how can he have created by a method his own teaching opposed? Ancient prophecies such as Isaiah 16.5 describe the Messiah as one who will:
rule with mercy and truth. He will always do what is just and be eager to do what is right.
We instinctively know that punishing before a wrong done is wrong. Locking people up to protect others is one thing, possibly justifiable, but punishing totally unconnected individuals (or, in this case, species) for someone else’s wrongdoing far in the future is without any possible justification.
And even if we exclude the New Testament and prophecies about Jesus, there is still a problem. Let us take what is probably the climactic moment of God’s revelation to Moses, in Exodus 33 and 34. Towards the end of chapter 33, Moses asks to see God’s glory (v18) and God replies:
The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.’
Notice that Moses’ request to see God’s glory is answered by God answering that all his goodness will pass before Moses, that it is linked to God’s name (name in the ancient world and especially here means more than a word designating a thing or person – it means a person or beings reputation and character, in the same way that we might say ‘my good name is ruined’), and that it is also linked specifically to God’s mercy and compassion.
Then in chapter 34, God does as he promises.
Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh. The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out,
Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations .
Moses immediately threw himself to the ground and worshiped. (v5-8)
All the same elements are there – God’s name, a direct linkage to compassion and mercy, unfailing love, faithfulness and being slow to anger. Does this fit with a God who chooses to create using a method involving aeons of pain? I would also point out that, in a fallen world, God’s judgement for sins involves implications for near descendants (as per the natural laws of causation), but not punishment for ancestors, whether near or far, which is the line taken, as we have seen, by some trying to square the circle (or circle the square) we are looking at.
However, we can be even more specific than that. Proverbs 12.10 says this (I give two different translations):
The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel. (NLT)
The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel. (NIV)
If godliness or righteousness, according to God’s word, involves people caring for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel, then what do we say to a God who – supposedly – created by a method intrinsically involving huge cruelty? Is that really the action of a good God? As we have already noted, Scripture itself says, in the words of the ‘father of the Faithful’, Abraham: ‘Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’. How can He judge people as wicked for doing the kind of things that He has been doing to billions of animals for 100’s of millions of years? Wouldn’t this be exactly the kind of hypocritical judgement Jesus himself warned us against – it would be God with a huge plank in his own eye, judging humans for relative ‘specks’ in their eyes.
So, we come back to the issue of God’s glory. According to God’s own definition in Exodus 33 and 34 it is his character – his justice, mercy and compassion. If we bring this back to the specific debate on creationism, let us examine the main arguments. Creationists will often say that God’s glory is displayed in his creation, and that God gains more glory by creating in a short period than by some huge time period. They might quote Psalm 19.1:
The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.
However, the counter argument is – aside from the fact that time isn’t specifically mentioned there – that God’s glory can be seen in a world created over long periods of time just as well as over a brief period of time. I’m not sure I particular buy that (if God’s glory is shown by things that point specifically and uniquely to his creative power, isn’t that undermined by holding to a view that was specifically intended to exclude a Creator and envisage a universe that came into being without divine creation?) but let’s allow it for a moment. Granted, God could have created by a slow gradual process (and revealed it in the bible by using analogies of wheat or plants growing in the field). But if he declares himself to be good, kind, compassionate, how could he have created by a method that was anything but, and how is he glorified by being, in essence, a two-faced, sadistic, psychopath – Jeckel and Hyde writ large, a hypocrite who commends kindness and compassion but spent huge swathes of earthly history doing just the opposite.
An analogy might be helpful here. Imagine that you saw publicity for an artist, an artist who trumpeted their ethical practices, say, supported causes such as veganism because of opposition to cruelty to animals, and so on and urged us to do the same. So you go to their exhibition, and many of that artist’s pictures are of beautiful red sunrises or sunsets. That artist gets glory – is glorified –as everyone says how amazing and beautiful those pictures are. The artists ethical stance is praised. But then, it comes out that the artist has chosen to get the red for all these paintings primarily by using animal blood. Not only that, but it wasn’t by getting animal blood from dead animals, but that the artist himself personally cut open living animals and bled them out over long periods of time, regardless of their terror and pain and suffering, for some mysterious reason. Would that artist get glorified then – except by sadists or mad people or similar? Someone’s character is revealed by how they create, particularly those who are resource rich and not constrained by limitations of finance and so on. If that artist really needed blood and lived as they professed, then they could have at least bled themselves, however much it slowed down their painting process, rather than inflicting cruelty on animals – a Christ-like act, you might say. The prophets condemned ancient Canaanite religions in part for their hideous practice of sacrificing living children to their gods, but how is a God who created by evolution any different in character to such idols?
So, we come back to where we started. If God is truly ‘one’, and if Jesus is both Creator and Judge, and also the exact image of God the Father, then how is it that he taught things that directly cut across and block his means of creation – if theistic evolution is true? How can a just judge condemn people for doing the same kinds of things that He has done on an immense scale over millions of generations? Merciful and compassionate such a One certainly isn’t. When a religious leader, a teacher, or a judge does not act as they teach or preach or judge, we rightly call a hypocrite, but how could an allegedly merciful and compassionate Creator escape that charge for creating with ages of cruelty, as required by theistic evolution and (to a very considerable extent) other long age positions?
God’s glory as revealed in his character in the method of creation is absolutely central to the biblical faith. This is why we do have to choose between creation and evolution, and why any thinking Christian should take another long look at the supposed scientific objections to (‘Young earth’) creationism. This article is not the place to go into them, but they are very much weaker than is generally assumed. We don’t have to pit ‘science’ against the Bible, but we do have to engage in a careful untangling of naturalist / materialist / scientistic assumptions and conclusions from actual fact in a wide range of fields.