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Creation or Development? Part 1

By Herman Bavinck

      Unless we are mistaken in our interpretation of the signs of the times, the twentieth century, upon which we have just entered, is to witness a gigantic conflict of spirits. Faith and unbelief, says Goeethe, is the deepest theme of the history of the world. This it has been in the centuries that lie behind us. This it was in that one which we have just closed and abandoned to the past. And this it will be above all things else and in an entirely special sense in the twentieth century, which has just disclosed itself to us. For the conflict of convictions and intentions has spread itself across an ever-widening domain, and has assumed an even more radical character. It is well known that at present this conflict is no longer confined to one or another article of our Christian confession, to the authority of Scripture or tradition, to justification or election; and not even any longer to the Deity of Christ or the personality of the Holy Spirit. But in the spiritual conflict which is now waging in every part of the civilized world, the points at issue more and more are the principles of Christianity itself, and the very fundamentals of all religion and of all morality. This conflict extends the whole length of the line. More serious and fiercer than ever before the conflict is between the old and the new world-view. For man has undertaken the gigantic effort of interpreting the whole world, and all things that are therein, in their origin, essence, and end, what is called purely and strictly scientifically, that is, without God, without any visible, supernatural, spiritual element, and simply and alone from the pure data of matter and force.

      Such effort, indeed, has been tried before. But then the men who undertook to do it stood isolated, and wielded only a limited influence in their own circles. Ordinarily also they succeeded no further than a few crude outlines of world- interpretation, but failed of furnishing the data from which to work them out and to apply them to the divisions and subdivisions of what exists. The systems which they offered did not agree; lame parts were soon discovered in them; they allowed too much room for accident. Even such a thinker as Spinoza was not able to establish other than a mathematical relation between the substance and its attributes and modes, and left the origin of the world altogether unexplained. But, it is said, all this is now entirely changed. Hegel's pantheism has furnished the idea of the absolute, eternal process of becoming. The materialism of Feuerbach has applied this idea to the world of matter and force as the only existing one. And in the struggle for existence, in the natural and sexual choice of propagation, in the inheritance of the acquired properties, and in the accommodation to surroundings, Darwin's theory of development has provided the necessary means to make this process of the eternal becoming intelligible in the material world. Thus with the change of the century there has been gradually a new world-view arisen which undertakes to interpret not merely the inanimate but also the animate creations, not merely the unconscious but also the conscious, and all this without exception independently of God, and only and alone from an immanent self-development.

      As a matter of course the followers of this doctrine of development do not all go equally far in the application. There are many who shrink from the inferences, who halt at a given point, and who in imitation of Kant abandon a lesser or greater domain to mystery. These are the agnostics, the dualists, who say, "We do not know," and also, "We shall never know," and who take it for granted that the realm which is accessible to science is surrounded by an unknown land of impenetrable mystery of the unknowable. While they limit the real, the strictly scientific knowing to the world of the sensually observable, and of the measurable and ponderable things, they seek to maintain round about this world an inaccessible domain which can be peopled by each individual with the representations of his faith or the creations of his imagination. Despairing of an all-embracing and all-inclusive world-view they leave faith and knowledge divided and irreconciled, and the keep two sets of books of truths.

      But it is readily perceived that this standpoint is untenable. All conservatism stands weak over against radicalism, with which it agrees in principle. He who fully accepts the theory of development in the sensual, observable world cannot dismiss it at once and without explanation when spiritual phenomena appear. Even though provisionally a small domain is then set aside for faith, this domain is bound to become ever smaller; even as it was with the domain of the redskins in America, as they were forced to recede from before the invading whites. One fortification after another must then be sacrificed, one line of defense after another be abandoned, and one concession after another be granted. There is no immovable conviction in these conservative dualists, no strength of faith, no enthusiastic courage. And hence they are ever bound to lower the flag before the radicals, who have the courage of their convictions, who shrink from no inferences, and who, beginning and continuing without God, are determined also to end without God. Hence these are the men of the future. Conservatives and liberals die out, but the radicals and socialists are to be the leaders of the twentieth century. They have agreed to hold a total and final clearing out of whatever of the old Christian world-view consciously or unconsciously still remains in our laws and morals, in our education and civilization. For they realize that in the long run man, who thirsts after unity, cannot live by the duality and amphibiousness of believing and knowing. They feel the urgency of the need of harmony between all our convictions, tendencies, and deeds. And therefore they exert themselves all the more strenuously by philosophic thought to erect upon the foundation of the materialistic natural science a well-finished and harmonious world-view which will put an end to the imperfect knowledge as well as to the foolish faith of former days and cause all things to appear before the soul's eye in the magical light of a world-embracing system.

      Thus presently over against the old world-view there will be placed the new world-view thought out to its latest instance and consequently applied to every department of life, namely, the irreligious over against the Christian, the atheistic over against the theistic, the mechanical over against the organic, or as it has been named, the world-view of development over against that of creation. It is our purpose to compare these two world-views at three points, as the questions are put after the origin, essence, and end of all things, in order that the comparison may establish us the more firmly in the Christian faith and may gird us with strength for the conflict which, in lesser or greater measures of fierceness, awaits us all.


      There are many, many things whose knowledge is of little consequence to man. No slightest value attaches to the knowledge of how many drops of water there are in the ocean, how many grains of sand lie on the shore of the sea, how many leaves there are on one tree, or how many hairs there are on our heads. There are those who busy themselves with these things and seek pleasure in curiosities. Even science is sometimes in danger in our times of losing itself in all sorts of detail investigation, and by reason of the numerous trees to loose sight of the forest. Literature, for instance, is often bent upon tracing out the smallest particulars from the lives of the poets and especially to exhibit their chronique scandaleuse in broadest folds, without adding thereby the least help to a better knowledge and a broader appreciation of their art products. But science is not aided by all this. For science is no knowledge of all sorts of insignificant minutiae, but an insight into the essence of things, and an understanding of the idea, the logic, and the universal which is to be observed in things.

      But even then, on scientific ground there is a great difference in the value of knowledge. There is knowledge which is of highest importance to the school which tends to the development of the head, but which is altogether apart from the interests of the heart, and has therefore no significance for life. The saying of Schopenhauer contains a great truth; namely, You do not cease from praising the reliability and accuracy of mathematics; but what does it avail me to know with utmost certainty the thing which does not concern me? Thomas Aquinas has truly said that the least that can be known of highest interests is more desirable and of greater value than the completest and most accurate knowledge of futile and indifferent things.

      There is knowledge which is of highest interest and urgent necessity to every man, without distinction. These are questions of life, whose answer each man requires because it stands in closest connection with the temporal and eternal wellbeing. Whatever is said, all people are conscious of it in turn that the life of man is no play, but an awful reality, whose seriousness creates concern, since nothing less than an eternity hangs on it. Each man is convinced of this in the deepest parts of his soul, and shows it by seeking, even though in wrong ways, after a highest, enduring, and eternal good. Our heart is created for God, and it does not rest until it finds this at his Father heart. Hence we should know whence we come, what the source and origin of all things is, whether the last ground of all existing things is matter or spirit, force of person, unconscious impulse, or almighty will of God, he Creator of heaven and earth.

      The development theory of our times meets this question with the answer that in reality there is no origin and no beginning of things. All what is always was, though it be in other forms, and always shall be. The law of substance, that is, the theory the every equal quantity, of the indestructibility of matter and force, especially since the famous treatise by Helmholtz on Die Erhaltung der Kraft, published in 1847, is according to naturalists irrefutably demonstrated and established beyond all doubt. This is the great discovery of the nineteenth century. Said Professor Haga at Gronigen last year, in his rectoral oration on the development of natural science, "A particle of water can be traced from the moment it falls on the tops of the mountains as a snowflake, and as glacier-ice requires years to be pushed ahead, until it melts and in the brook is carried along to river and sea, where once more it evaporates and becomes fluid in the atmosphere as part of a cloud."

      This is taught of matter. But this same law is valid with reference to the power which can be moved and changed but never reduced or increased in quantity. The railway train, said the same professor, which has suddenly the brakes put on loses its capacity of motion, but the heat developed in the skid, wheels, and rails represents an equally great quantity of capacity of work.

      From this important law many present-day naturalists infer that substance is eternal. There is no origination and no passing away in any actual sense, no being born and no dying. What is was from all eternity and shall be to all eternity. There is change of form, of appearance, and endless transformation; there is an eternal process, an unbegun and a never-ending circular movement of matter and force. But the substance is indestructible; it is the only, absolute, eternal being, which penetrates and fills eternal time and infinite space. It is, if you please, the Deity of the newer world-view. There is no other god. It has no other properties, no higher virtues and perfections, no more exalted names than matter and force. And it is no blessed, glorious, and all-sufficient being, but a restless becoming, and eternal urgency subject to an ever-continuing process of motion.

      From this motion, which is taken as eternally belonging to matter and force, the origin of all things is to be interpreted. Development, evolution is the eternal law, which governs and directs everything that exists; with its blind fate and incalculable accident it displaces Divine Providence. The origin of our planetary system is explained according to this law. Our world in its present form was preceded by thousand others, which in turn came into being after this same law and have passed away. When the last preceding one had dissolved itself into a gaseous mass of mists, from which, according to a probable esteemed hypothesis of Kant and Laplace, the present world has appeared with its sun, moon, and stars, and also our earth, gradually by consolidation, rotation, and forming of the globe. But as everywhere else, upon this earth also development continues itself by the ceaseless motion of matter and force. Along long, immeasurably long lines of regularity the higher develops itself from the lower. By all sorts of evolutions the earth forms itself into a fit dwelling place for living things. First there is the inanimate, the formation of seas and lands, of mountains and streams, of minerals and layers of earth. Then matter organizes itself ever along finer lines and the operations of force become every more intricate, until at length under favorable circumstances from inorganic matter the cell originates, which is the bearer of life. And when it is once again come, then in the course of centuries there develop themselves the kingdoms of plants and animals, in every higher formation, richer variety, and greater numbers. There is no deep, broad chasm between the animate and the inanimate, but a gradual transition. There is only a more intricate construction, finer organization, a higher development. Along the same way at length man arrives upon the scene. He also is not brought by the hand of the Creator, bearing his image; but he is the higher development of that species of animals, whose next of kin still continue to live on in the orangutan, gorilla, and chimpanzee. In the fierce struggle for existence some animals, by acquiring and inheriting every more excellent properties, have gradually developed themselves in one or other part of the earth into men. There has not been a first man. No one is able to indicate where the animal ceases and man begins. There is a slow, gradual development spreading itself across many centuries; by the smallest possible changes in the largest possible spaces of time from the lower all the higher has come forth; and man himself is the result of a process covering many millions of years.

      This is the new and newest interpretation of the origin of things. There is something imposing, something which takes hold of one mightily in this view. There is contained in it unity of thought, boldness of conception, and sequence of principle. It is readily understood that it charms many. Yes, when one does not believe in revelation which furnishes another interpretation of all creatures, one is bound in a similar way to render the origin of things in some measure intelligible to himself. They must have come from somewhere and have originated in some way. The theory may still be incomplete and leave many phenomena in the physical and psychical world unexplained, nevertheless, according to Straus, Darwin is hailed as the greatest benefactor of the human race, because he has opened the door through which a more fortunate posterity will be able to cast out the miracle for good. An age which denies the supernatural and even shakes off all religion, cannot do other, all opposition notwithstanding, than expect all salvation from the reason, its own thinking, and to see the solution of all the riddles of the world in development.

      But however much this system may seem to be inwardly united and however readily we may account for its influence and popularity, it is not a product of science, but of the imagination; it is a play of conceptions on the part of the understanding which thirsts after unity. It is said to be built upon the foundation of empirical physics, aided by logical thinking; but it is a castle in the air, without any solid foundation, and without any severity of style, an air castle in the true sense of the word. With the laying of the very first stone it abandons empirics, the reliable results of physics. It is no science in any serious sense, no science exacte, as it is claimed to be, but a world-view with which the subject plays his parts, a philosophy as uncertain as any system of the philosophers, and individual opinion of as much significance as that of every other man.

      That this assertion is correct is shown by the fact that though this system has been more broadly worked out in this century just closed and furnished with data from physics, in principle it has been thought out and recommended by philosophers long ago. Neither in former centuries nor in this has materialism been the result of severe scientific investigation, but the fruit of philosophical thought. Indeed, from the nature of the case physics can never go back of nature. It stands on the ground of nature, assumes its existence, and hence cannot answer the question of origin. As soon as it undertakes to do this it leaves its lines, ceases to be physics and becomes philosophy, on an equal standing with the other philosophical systems which as grass and flower of the field may bloom today but wither tomorrow. Physics may have discovered in this century the law of the conservation of work- capacity, but with no logical possibility can the inference be drawn from this that matter and force are eternal. What exists now has for this reason not existed always. And what human power is not able to destroy is therefore not indestructible. The word "eternal" has no place in the vocabulary of physics, for it has only to do with the finite and the seen things and is limited to the relative. It steps across its own boundaries when it speaks of eternal matter, eternal force, infinite space, and time without end. Whenever it does this it plays with words whose meaning it does not understand and whose copulation is as contradictory as that of a wooden iron and a square circle.

      It is more foolish still when it speaks of eternal motion. An eternal motion would also have been run down eternally and this be a standstill. For what falls in time is transitory, and what is eternal does not fall in time. Motion assumes a moving force, which gives the impetus, which produces and maintains it. Greek philosophers were so convinced of this, that from the motion of the world they concluded a first mover. It may, indeed, be said that the universe moves itself, that it is a perpetuum mobile; but aside from this being a miracle equally great as the creation, it is as little possible to think this of the world as a whole as of one of its parts. For it is always the same substance, the same matter and force which dwells in the whole universe and in each of its parts. And motion is not everything. There is no motion without direction. What is the force, which not only moves but also leads the motion in a given direction? What is it owing to that motion takes such a direction, that it results in the formation of sun and planets, of heaven and earth, of minerals and plants, of animals and man in an ascending series? An appeal to the blind force of substance by way of explanation is equally absurd, as when, after the example of Cicero, one accounts for a book such as the Iliad from an accidental cast of a thousand letters.

      But, apart from all this, what does physics know of the substance of things? Because it moves continually in the world of things that are seen it asserts that there is nothing else than matter and force contained therein. Always dealing with matter it disregards and denies spirit. Theology is accused, and justly so, of having usurped, in early times, all the sciences. But no science has ever done this more entirely than physical science of the present day. It claims to be the only science and even outstrips English and Russian imperialism in its ambition for annexation. It declares consecutively biology and psychology, theology and philosophy as incorporated with itself, it forces its method upon all the sciences, and considers the mechanical interpretation the only one that is warranted to the claim of being scientific.

      And, after all, it does not know what to do with all the phenomena which constitute the object of these several sciences. She does not know what substance is, and when she claims that it is nothing but matter and force, she cannot tell what each of these is, nor how they are related. Such a man as Haeckel, who shrinks from no riddle, was bound to confess that the inner essence of things is unknown. And little as she is able to penetrate the essence of matter and force, she is still less able to analyze the innermost being of life. Life, all life, is a secret which is to be reverenced but not explained. He who analyzes it kills it. All tracings and investigations have not lifted a corner of the veil which hangs across this mystery of creation. By the studies, especially by those of Pasteur at Paris, it has been shown that even with the lowest organic beings, namely, the infusorien, life does not originate of itself by mechanical changes of matter; there is no generatio aequivoca. Despairing of a mechanical interpretation, others, such as the English naturalist Thomson (Lord Kelvin), sought refuge in the supposition that life-germs had fallen in meteor stones from other planets upon this earth and thus had imparted existence to organic creatures; and this, as is seen at once, merely puts the problem off, while, moreover, it ascribes the origin of living creatures in the earth to a pure accident. With Haeckel it was held that life needs no interpretation, since it is equally eternal as matter and force and motion--which is no better than a mere play of words and is equivalent to a confession of weakness. With younger investigators, such as Bunge, Rindfleisch, Driesch, Ostwald, Reinke, Pictet, etc., returns were made to the at first disdainfully rejected life-power and alongside of a mechanical, an organic, energetical principle was also adopted in the world-view. Omne vivum ex vivo, all the living comes forth from the living, is still the latest word of science.

      This new world-view involves itself still more in a net of contradictions when it handles the question of the origin of man. It is indeed stated, as the consistency of the starting point claims, that man descended from the animal. But it has not been demonstrated by a single phenomenon. It was known in earlier times that all sorts of relationships exist between animal and man, it is taught in the Scriptures, and at most has been indicated in our age in several particulars. With the animals man was created on the sixth day. His body also was formed from the dust; of the earth he is earthy. But all the features of relationship give no right to the conclusion that man and animal belong to one family and that they are blood relations. For greater far than the undeniable points of similarity is the far-reaching difference between man and animal indicated by the vertical position, formation of hand, skull, and brains, and still more by the reason and self-consciousness, by thought and language, by religion and morality, by science and art. Moreover, no single sample has been produced of the transition forms which with a common descent must have existed in great numbers. Some finds of human bones and skulls have been hailed enthusiastically as remnants of the so ardently longed-for transition forms. But a more accurate investigation brought ever again to light that all these remnants were original with common people, men of like movements with ourselves. In spite of diligent and zealous investigations there is nothing in advance this day of the word of Rudolf Virchow, that every fossil type of lower human development is wanting. No one has thus far demonstrated where and when and how the animals have developed themselves into men. As far as we can go back into the past, animals have been animals and men men. The descendance theory of Darwin may be an indispensable link in the doctrine of development; it finds no support in facts. Man always has and still does form a distinct species in the world of creatures.

      For this reason there is still room in science for the wondrously beautiful narrative which the opening chapters of the Bible contain concerning the origin of things. We, too, acknowledge a unity which holds and binds together all created things. But we do not take this unity to lie in a cold, dead substance, but in the living God, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. It lies in his consciousness, in his will, in his counsel. In the beginning it was not chaotic matter, the unconscious force, the impulse devoid of reason, but the conscious, spoken and at the same time speaking Word, which called all things into being. The creatures do not owe their origin to an emanation from, or to an evolution of the Absolute, that is, God. For both are contradictory to the conception of the Absolute, which is in itself unchangeable, eternal, and perfect being, and admits of no emanation of development. Creation alone, which harmonizes with the being of God as well as with that of the creatures, interprets the origin of things. And thus the Scripture states it. In an ascending series, covering a period of six days, by the word of his power the Almighty brings all things to appear from the unseen world of thought. He spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. He calleth those things which be not as though they were. Heaven and earth, firmament and clouds, mountains and streams, sun, moon, and stars, grass and herbs, creeping and four-footed animals. He forms them all by the breath of his Spirit from the chaos of being. And he crowns his work with the creation of man after his image and likeness. Hence everything is of divine descent, allied to the Son, animated by the breath of the Spirit; everything is resting upon thought and will, upon understanding and counsel; and therefore everything mutually allied is one world, one cosmos, which receives its crown and glory, its lord and master, in Man of God's own family.

      What an insight into the origin of things! What an exalted simplicity! Here is poetry and truth and religion all in one. This is both natural science and philosophy. Experience and thought, head and heart are here reconciled. Here is a view of the world which satisfies both consciousness and conscience and responds to all the aspirations of man. From the other side, it may be said, better be an ennobled ape than a degenerate Adam, or, better be the highest of animals than the lowest of gods; but these very sayings betray the pride of man, who will be his own creator and in science also fails in the temptation of equality with God. They not only reject the Word of God, and are therefore devoid of wisdom, but they also extinguish the light of reason, saying in their heart, "There is no God," and are darkened in their understanding and vain in the thoughts of their heart.

      Originally published in Methodist Review (1901). Translated from the Dutch by the Rev. J. Hendrik de Vries, M.A., pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, Princeton, NJ, and translator of Dr. Kuyper's Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology, and several other writings.

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See Also:
   Creation or Development? Part 1
   Creation or Development? Part 2
   Creation or Development? Part 3


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