"Creation or Evolution - do we have to choose?" by Dr. Denis Alexander - A critical review

A review of: "Creation of evolution: Do we have to choose?" by Dr. Denis Alexander, Monarch Books, Oxford, 2008. Download PDF version. Download Microsoft Word version.

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Chapter 2: The Biblical Doctrine of Creation

Chapter 2 is entitled "The Biblical Doctrine of Creation", and is intended to complete the broad overview that began in chapter 1 ("What do we mean by creation?"). The next four chapters are on the question, "What do we mean by evolution?" and answering objections, before going on to ask whether the accounts of creation given to us by the Bible and by the theory of evolution can be harmonised, and how. So this chapter finishes off the overview of creation. In this chapter, DA discusses the Biblical concept of creation in broad terms, setting the parameters for the later discussion of how in particular we understand Genesis and what it has to do with Darwinism.

The headings will give you some idea of how the chapter develops, the first four being offered as "four key points that emerge about God in relation to his creation"; "God is transcendent in relation to his creation", "God is immanent in his creation", "God is personal and Trinitarian in his creation", "The three tenses of creation", "Creation and miracles", and the longest section, "Does the Bible teach science?".

Looked at overall within the context of the question posed in the title of the book itself, this chapter is one enormous word fallacy. It does not deal with the doctrine of creation proper, i.e., the question of origins and what the Bible teaches about how the universe and everything in it began. Rather, it deals with the doctrine of God's relationship to the creation as it now exists, i.e. the doctrine of providence. DA attempts some kind of defence for this in the opening paragraph of the chapter. He says that the Bible's teaching on creation includes origins, but is much more than this, and we shouldn't become too fixated on it; the majority of the teaching on creation is not found in Genesis, but throughout the whole Bible. The language of creation is much broader.

If we're talking about "the created order", then this is all fine and dandy. But this is supposed to be a book about origins, not anything and everything to do with the created order. What we have here is simply a word fallacy. That statement would be going too far, if the next chapter was going to sharpen things up and be "The Biblical doctrine of origins" - i.e. if DA weren't simply going to discuss providence instead of origins. But in fact, that's just what he is going to do; this chapter finishes the overview of creation with scarcely a mention of origins. Under the heading "The three tenses of creation" we get only a few general words about the past creation; in a later chapter there will be some specific analysis of the early chapters of Genesis (there's none in this chapter, despite its title), but even that chapter will minimise the relevance of Genesis to the question of origins. That's why I call it a word fallacy. We use the word "creation" commonly to mean origins. But DA takes the word and then slides over into any concept connected with creation. Bringing in providence, DA basically avoids discussing at all the doctrine of creation proper as understood in evangelical orthodoxy. That's a fairly incredible procedure when you have a Bible whose opening sentence is "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth".

It's not, however, an incredible procedure from DA's point of view, because as the book unfolds one thing becomes clear; DA's doctrine's ultimate end is to fold creation into providence and obliterate it as a separate category. Whilst the Scriptures teach that creation is indeed a past event at the beginning, Darwinism teaches that it is an ongoing process throughout almost the whole of history that continues at the present time. In fact, as far as higher life forms go, it is an ongoing process in which the juicy bits are very recent - overwhelmingly nearer to the present time than to the beginning of time. DA himself will explain in a later chapter with impressive literary skill that, if we view the history of the universe as a 24 hour clock, then man only appeared on the scene 3 seconds ago, at 23:59:57. Man was not created in any meaningful sense "in the beginning", but in reality at the end. His creation is a result of the God working immanently in the created order through the Darwinian process - i.e., it is a result of providence, not of an original supernatural act.

That's why DA structures and proceeds in the chapter in the way he does. It's not simply that he wants to remind us that the vocabulary of the created order goes beyond origins. It's because his doctrines ultimately collapses the matter of origins and makes talk of it redundant.

Immanence and transcendence

DA's section on God's immanence in creation is almost 5 pages, whereas his transcendence gets only just over 1. It's all fine as far as it goes. In the context of the book as a whole, though, this bit is a softening-up exercise, and the one-sided emphasis is not a mistake. Where we're going is that God's immanence in creation is going to be DA's answer to the objection that Darwinism is essentially an atheistic doctrine. As God is immanent everywhere, that includes him being immanent in the Darwinian process or any other theoretical or actual process, so therefore it can't be atheistic. Working this out, though, is postponed to a later chapter. What we're really interested in now, are the two sections "Creation and miracles", and (next time) the longest of them all, "Does the Bible teach science?"

Creation and miracles

Here's DA's argument in this section, summarised. It's good to put it in short form (which DA doesn't), because then its sheer fallaciousness is much more quickly apparent:

The section starts with a feature that becomes increasingly frequent as the book goes on - the anonymous bogeyman. Some Christians, we are told, view God's creative actions as being equivalent to miracles. Fair enough; everything came out of nothing, and that's pretty miraculous I think; that's not really negotiable amongst Christians. Then, this: "Other Christians invoke miracles to explain the existence of those aspects of the created order which they believe can never be understood or explained by science." Well, that's fair enough in one sense - understood one way, it's pretty much the standard definition of a miracle, if by "science" we mean those things we study which are the regularly and orderly actions of God, and by "miracles" we mean those things which are extraordinary acts of God. That would basically be a tautology. But who exactly are the "some Christians" and "other Christians"? Because I don't think DA wants us to interpret him in this way. He's suggesting that there are some group of dullards out there who are indulging in the "God of the gaps" fallacy - I don't understand this, therefore it's a miracle; "God did it", or if you're one of those very high-brow atheists we come across on el Internet, "goddidit". This kind of "some Christians believe..." line keeps cropping up in the book when DA wants to distance himself from the creationist position, but it seems that he knows that the thing he's suggesting isn't actually the position of any mainstream or representative creationist. Hence, he hides behind the "some Christians believe..." trick, which gets him out of having to document what he says, or show that reputable creationists actually believe it, but still allows the suggestion to linger in the air for the undiscerning.

Putting that aside, though, we need to actually look at the argument itself. It's another word fallacy, after that embodied by the chapter as a whole (see last time). DA picks out various words which are used in the context of miracles, signs, wonders, and so on. Then he observes that these words aren't used in the creation account; then he concludes that therefore, creation is not a supernatural event. This, of course, then leaves the door open for us to accept that creation is through the Darwinian mechanism, which involves the outworking of predictable processes over a very long period of time.

This kind of abuse of word studies is what gives study of the original languages a bad name. The root error in this case, is that DA makes the arbitrary restriction that only a certain group of key words is allowed to signal the world of miracles; if those words don't appear then it doesn't matter what words are used - we don't have a miracle. So even if the Bible were to say, "this was a supernatural event, you dummy!", it still wouldn't be a supernatural event, because the word "sign", "wonder" or whatnot doesn't appear in the sentence and "supernatural" wasn't on the list we drew up. The words which DA chooses are those which are used especially in connection with the miracles performed at the time of the Exodus, and those performed by Christ in his fulfilment - the greater Exodus he achieved through his death. They are the words to do with signs of redemption. Creation, of course, is not an act of redemption, and hence it's not a shock to find that the vocabulary to do with the highlighting of acts of redemption through wonders and signs isn't used in connection with it. Creation and redemption are theologically distinct; to insist that the vocabulary of the supernatural in one category must be the same in the other is an assertion without any necessity behind it. DA, though, makes the ultimate argument from silence by asserting that this very absence is, rather than being because creation isn't redemption, instead definite teaching for us that the creation event was through predictable processes instead of an immediate act of God.

Surely we have here one of those places where a truth is clear to every child who picks up a Bible, but obscure to the man who's buried himself in technical arguments, word studies, and the desire to rule our special creation a priori. A small child would know that if you want to establish whether or not creation was a supernatural event, you should read the language of Genesis 1, and what the rest of the Bible says in reference to those early chapters. Alexander, though, manages to establish that Genesis 1 doesn't describe a supernatural event merely by noticing that the word group to do with signs of redemption isn't used in that chapter, and without any examination of what words are actually used and more importantly, how they are connected to each other in sentences (as if the mere presence of this or that word decides what doctrine is or isn't taught). I grieve at this chapter, because many naive readers will surely be wowed and impressed - "look, the man mentions words in Greek and Hebrew; he must be right!" But the fundamental structure of the argument is entirely bogus.

Does the Bible teach science?

The longest section in this chapter is under the heading "Does the Bible teach science?", and rounds off the two chapters which aim to give us an overview of the Biblical position, before we go on to get an overview of Darwinism. (The chapters after that then ask how the two can be integrated.)

There are some good points scored here against those who have a naive, Richard Dawkins-style take on how religious belief and scientific research can interact. Alexander aims some shots which hit the target in criticising some modernist assumptions. Here, we're talking about the idea that science is the primary arbiter of all truths - any kind of "truth" which isn't a "scientific truth" is an inferior species. This is the empiricist fallacy. The set of justified beliefs is much larger than the set of beliefs subject to verification via repeatable experiments. How much does my wife love me? I'd say quite a lot, but I can't measure it with the love-ometer and give you a score on a scale from 1 to 10.

DA also seeks to explain something of the principle of "accommodation"; that the language of the Scriptures is designed to be intelligible to its readers, who were to read it according to its purpose, not according to any arbitrary whim they should entertain. It is not to be read as if it were an edition of The International Physics Monthly. The words should not be interpreted as if they have coded technical and scientific meanings to demonstrate to us that in fact Moses was familiar with how mobile phones work. Just because modern secularists think that "science" is a superior kind of truth does not mean we have to bend the Bible to show that it's science in order to stop it coming off second best.

In the presence of these criticisms of modernist errors, then, it is ironic to see that ultimately DA takes a position which involves one of the biggest and most damaging to Christianity of them all. In his zeal to stop us from reading the Bible as science, DA comfortably avoids driving his cart into the ditch on the left hand side of the road. Sadly this is at the expense of making a bee-line into the ditch on the right side instead. The position which DA leaves us with is one right at the top of the list of modernist axioms. Ultimately, modern scientific journals contain objective science, and the Bible contains religious truths, and never the twain shall meet. The Bible is not intended to, and does not, teach us anything about the concrete world that you can see and touch; it contains spiritual truths for salvation. Hence DA approvingly quotes other writers with words like "the Holy Spirit did not desire that men should learn things that are useful to no one for salvation" and " [Scripture is] a Rule of our Faith and Obedience, [but not] a Judge of such Natural Truths as are to be found out by our own Industry and Experience" and "You receive no instruction on physical matters [from the Bible]. The message is a moral one".

This is ultimately a false dichotomy, and a rank modernist one at that. The God who has acted to save us is one who has acted in the world of space and time. His intervention is a historical one, involving real atoms and molecules. It is not an other-worldly salvation that only exists in an intangible spiritual realm, but in the concrete one that we live in. In this part of the chapter, DA continues to employ the strategy that has already been noted in this review. He sets up the question upon his own terms, with his own choice of dubious dichotomies, and then brings in the "some Christians believe..." straw-man to set the backdrop that he'll paint his own views against. The clear implication, given the purpose of the book, is that creationists believe that Genesis is to be read something like as if it were a copy of Newton's Principia, science written ahead of its time. Alexander writes, "A question that is often raised when thinking about the biblical doctrine of creation is whether the Bible itself presents its teachings on the subject as if they represented some form of modern science" and "There is a certain irony in the reflection that the keen atheist Prof. Richard Dawkins shares with some Christians their idea that religious and scientific truths belong to the same domain." Here are those strange bogey-men, "some Christians" again. Who are they?

The intention of the suggestion is to put into the reader's mind that this is what creationists think. That impression is confirmed because such hints are the only false suggestions that Alexander contrasts his own view with. The book is meant to refute creationism; yet DA's descriptions of creationism are off-the-wall. Ultimately this is simple intellectual dishonesty. The briefest survey of creationist literature from any kind of mainstream source would show that DA has set up and shot down a legion of flaming straw-men. No mainstream creationist thinks that Genesis is intended to be interpreted using the paradigm of modern science. The real question, which they raise again and again, is one of history. Genesis is not an other-worldly narrative, "written in timeless narratives" as DA says. It is very much time-bound. There is no "spiritual core", for example, to Genesis 5, such that we can dispense with the long, detailed genealogies of how Enos lived ninety years and gave birth to Canaan, or how Jared died aged nine hundred and sixty two. This is real-world history, because the Saviour who was coming was to be born as a real flesh-and-blood man, with a real human ancestry going back to Adam. The Son of God came as a real person in the real world to redeem real people in the real world. Genesis has to be real history, precisely because contrary to secularism, the salvation which was coming was to be a real and historical one, not just a set of private ideas. The Saviour and his apostles, taught us to read Genesis as accurate history; but all questions of that kind are conveniently ignored by Alexander in order to arrive at the neat scientific truth / spiritual truth divide that he leaves us with.

In conclusion, then, we see that Alexander totally side-steps all questions of history. He sets up the neat dichotomy, "is Genesis modern science", answers negatively, and conveniently entirely ignores what creationists actually teach. Is this deliberately dishonest, or just ignorant? Either way, I again came away sad because the clever method of setting up the debate on your own terms whilst ignoring what your opponents actually say, and then displaying a lot of skill and cleverness in your answer, will probably be persuasive to many naive readers. But to anyone who thinks that a case is only established when you represent your opponent on the strongest possible terms, this part of the book can only be judged as very weak indeed.


This review plods through the whole book. If you have time only to read some, look at the chapters on the theology of the Adam and Eve, the fall, suffering, evil, etc. These are the ones that most clearly reveal the non-evangelical methodology and resulting theology. Logical and scientific mistakes in other places are interesting, but the fundamental issues come out most clearly in the more theological chapters.
  1. Introduction to the review
  2. The Preface
  3. Chapter 1 - What Do We Mean By Creation?
  4. Chapter 2- The Biblical Doctrine of Creation
  5. Chapter 3 - What Do We Mean By Evolution? Dating, DNA and Genes
  6. Chapter 4 - What do we mean by evolution? Natural Selection and Reproductive Success
  7. Chapter 5 - Speciation, Fossils and the Question of Information
  8. Chapter 6 - Objections to Evolution
  9. Chapter 7 - What about Genesis?
  10. Chapter 8 - Evolutionary Creationism
  11. Chapter 9 - Who were Adam and Eve? The Background
  12. Chapter 10 - Who were Adam and Eve? Genesis and science in conversation
  13. Chapter 11 - Evolution and the Biblical understanding of death
  14. Chapter 12 - Evolution and the Fall
  15. Chapter 13 - Evolution, natural evil and the theodicy question
  16. Chapter 14 - Intelligent Design and Creation's Order
  17. Chapter 15 - Evolution - Intelligent and Designed?
  18. Chapter 16 - The origin of life
  19. The revealing postscript!
  20. Appendix: A synopsis giving a "big picture" overview of the philosophy/theology of this book.

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