Last week I had two significant experiences: I finished reading an excellent biography of Abraham Kuyper, and a friend and I took a four-day road trip through south-eastern Alberta’s “badlands,” stopping at the famous Royal Alberta Tyrell Museum of Paleontology. Among many wonderful exhibits, we saw “nature red in tooth and claw” in the form of a skeleton of a giant, carnivorous Tyranosaurus rex poised above a much smaller and fallen herbivorous Triceratops, both from the Cretaceous era, approximately 75 million years ago. The museum is a paean to evolutionary theory presented as uncontested science.
Visiting the museum and traipsing through some coulees looking for fossilized bone fragments brought back fond memories of my three summer seasons “digging for dinosaurs” as an undergraduate science student in the 60s. I was also reminded specifically of a visit I had in the summer of 1965 from some earnest creationists. They drove down on a Sunday afternoon from the Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alta., to the Red Deer River campsite where our paleontology crew was headquartered. Dr. Fox, the University of Alberta’s chief paleontologist and my boss, realized that these fellows wanted a creation vs. evolution debate. He immediately called me over and told them, “I have no time for your nonsense, but I’ve got a Christian field assistant here who might be willing to talk with you.” What followed was a lengthy discussion about Biblical inerrancy. They insisted that belief in the Bible could only lead to a rejection of any belief in evolution and be replaced by an alternative belief in a young earth and universal flood geology to explain the deposition of the fossils we were excavating nearby.
I’m not sure exactly what my response was; I’m ashamed to admit that I pretty much dismissed the visitors as know-nothing fundamentalists. I wish I had read James Bratt’s biography of Abraham Kuyper (Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat) earlier, to frame my response to these ardent and sincere Christian fundamentalists. But, since Bratt’s book was published in 2013, it was much too far in the future to be of any help to me in 1965.
Abraham Kuyper will be familiar to many CC readers as the brilliant reformed theologian/Christian apologist/university founder/politician and Dutch prime minister. In a lecture at the Free University of Amsterdam (which he founded), Kuyper demonstrated a masterful understanding of the then scientific literature on evolution, as well as a broad grasp of the philosophical and religious issues at stake. Bratt reports that Kuyper, as a consistent Calvinist, “did not insist on a literalistic reading of the relevant biblical passages, nor quail at the prospect of a very old earth and resort to fantasies about Flood geology” (284). Kuyper believed God to be the Chief Architect of the universe and this meant God was also supreme in the choice of style. “If that style turned out to be evolution over eons of time, the believer would find nothing in Scripture or theology that posed insuperable objections” (285). In fact, Kuyper found evolutionary doctrine to be compatible with Christianity on many key issues, which the interested reader can find in Bratt’s book. However, what Kuyper could not countenance was evolutionism, that is, the doctrine that the universe, including all life forms, is here simply as a random accident of molecules in motion with no apparent purpose or direction. Doctrinaire evolutionism was seen by Kuyper as a “newly conceived system . . . a newly formed dogma, a newly emerged faith . . . diametrically opposed to the Christian faith” (287). Kuyper rightly saw evolutionism as a system leading to a worldview of despair in which the stronger always triumphs over the weaker and which nullified any ethic of sacrifice and love that is at the heart of the Christian gospel.
While my 1965 visitors were wrong to think of the Bible as providing a scientific account of creation, they were right in their vague and poorly articulated suspicion that evolutionary doctrine could lead to an ethic of despair that has no room for “the Christ of God who seeks the lost and has mercy on the weak” (Kuyper in Bratt, 289).
By the way, not surprisingly, I found no mention of Kuyper’s critique of evolutionism during our visit to the Tyrell Museum of Paleontology.