Book Review (continued): In the Beginning God, Chapter 3
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This chapter was probably the one I most liked and resonated with throughout the book. My sense is that Hoeksema’s own understanding and study of the topic shifted as he prepared for his speeches, but perhaps it also reflects a shift in my own opinion or expectation that made me increasingly favorable to Hoeksema's views and ways of expressing them. In any case, I had expected a lot of outdated arguments and poor apology for creationism, as well as a general skepticism of science, in this chapter. However, in most of the key points I am very much in agreement with Hoeksema.
A particular strength of this chapter, in my opinion, is Hoeksema's distinction of creationists, secular/unbelieving evolutionists and theistic evolutionists. I am very glad he does not simply lump the latter two groups together into one reprobate mass of ungodly scientists, which the PRCA is prone to do, to our shame. Rather, he points out that the mistake of theistic evolutionists is an inconsistent capitulation to secular scientists that blindly accepts the interpretations of those who hate and deny God. That is, they are not the same, but have given in to aspects that deny the authority and authenticity of Scripture.
On this note, Hoeksema makes a great point about secular scientists on pg 95: "Because he is spiritually darkness, the ungodly scientist does not want God, and because he does not want God, he rules God out of his own book." What I would add here is that the doctrine of common grace is very much to blame for the death of antithetical science. If one teaches that there is redeeming value in the works of reprobate man, and that God can actually reveal truth through such persons' efforts, it is very easy to capitulate to claims that science contradicts the Genesis account. Who are we, after all, to doubt the work of such knowledgeable people? God can use them to show us the way....right? An antithetical view of unbelieving mankind's prior commitments here would make us think twice and be very discerning about what he or she has to say with regard to interpreting scientific data about origins, anthropology or cosmological timelines.
There are naturally a few things that I would either disagree with or want to clarify. For example, on pg. 119 Hoeksema is clearly articulating some of the outdated arguments that evolutionary theory disregards the fundamental laws of thermodynamics. These arguments have long ago been debunked, and I would cringe a bit to unequivocally recommend this chapter because of this. But thankfully, he admits very early on that he is not a scientist, and doesn't try (too much) to argue against evolutionism on the field of scientific theory.
I am also somewhat uncomfortable with Hoeksema’s personification of science. He has a rather bad tendency of saying "science does this or that," which again tends to set up the false dichotomy of science-vs-religion. That being said, he thankfully balances this careless use of the word “science” with some very clear definitions, and a great deal of effort to make clear that there are Christian scientists, and that this is a realm that is not only open to, but honorable for the Christian to engage. Likewise, he makes a clear point that Scripture and science are not (cannot be!) at odds since they are a two-fold revelation from and about God. We can quibble about whether the distinctions of special and general revelation are appropriate terms, but whatever the case, I very much agree with Hoeksema's points regarding the primacy of scripture.
I would add one note of cautionary nuance to Hoeksema's insistence that scripture interprets itself, and that the findings of science may never be used to inform our understanding of the Word. There are very clear cases of a misunderstanding of scripture that has been corrected by scientific findings, which have provided us with a better understanding of the original text. The first case, to which I referred earlier, is the Copernican controversy in the medieval church. Another is a more recent example, in which the term "species" and the biblical "kind" were equated. With a proper understanding of science, one sees that this cannot be the case, though for many years conservative Christians (at least in the PRC for sure) insisted it was so in the face of very clear evidence to the contrary. Perhaps a third example we could point to is the concept that God created different ethnicities/races at Babel. Nowhere in the text is this a required interpretation; rather, a proper understanding of human genetics makes clear that this is unnecessary. All of these are examples of places where science helps to clarify understanding of scripture, but all within the bounds of the timeline that is also established by scripture in Genesis.
My concern here is two-fold. The first is that we not make supernatural miracles out of what is simply a providential mechanism in the creation order. Why does this matter? Not because I want to deny miracles in any way, but because it is important to see the explicit purpose of miracles, which always point to Christ. Miracles point to him directly and inescapably. When something in scripture is not easily explained, let us not quickly jump to the conclusion that some divine intervention in the normal order of providence is required. This tends to diminish the significance and impact of true miracles, making them mundane.My second concern with regard to this issue is a counterpoint to what Hoeksema warns about on pg. 96: "The practical significance of this is that as Christians we must not gullibly accept all that is presented in the name of science in this scientific age. We must evaluate critically and with spiritual discernment." At the same time, we must also not foolishly contradict every finding or claim of scientists as wrong just because the man was not a believer. Each and every point should be evaluated critically and with spiritual discernment in the light of scripture. If it is compatible, then it may be integrated into our understanding of the creation. It not, then it may be discarded. Such are the findings of evolution. We may accept many of the findings that show very real change in creation, so-called microevolution. But inferences from these findings that suggest a very different narrative than that of Genesis 1-2 are clearly wrong, and to be discarded. Throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater is foolish and destructive to the witness of Christians in this world.