Friday, April 16, 2010

Ramm's Retrospective

Two of the most significant books, arguably, setting the tone for creationist debates in the last half-century, were produced just a few years apart back in the mid-20th century. Publication of Bernard Ramm’s The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1954) and The Genesis Flood (1961) by John Whitcomb and Henry Morris, set orthodox believers on diverse paths with respect to the meaning of Genesis 1-11. The fallout is still with us, helping contribute to the division of orthodox believers into “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” persuasions.

In 1979, a quarter-century after Ramm’s volume appeared, Walter Hearn, editor of the newsletter of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), interviewed Dr. Ramm. The ASA is an organization of professional scientists who share a common fidelity to the Word of God and a commitment to integrity in the practice of science. In his book Ramm had identified himself with progressive creationism. Russel Mixter, an early active member of the ASA, defined progressive creationism as “meaning that God created many species and after their creation they have varied as the result of mutation and selection so what was once one species has become a number of species, probably as many as are now found in an order or family.” Mixter later taught at Wheaton College. He died in 2007 at the age of 100.

During the interview, Ramm seemed to retreat from the naturalistic “mutation and selection” explanation for the diversity of species. He stated “… but the more I know of DNA and so forth, and the more complicated life becomes, the more I’m puzzled that it could ever happen on its own in such an intricate, complicated chemical way. Something of the order of 100 sets of Encyclopedia Britannica is coded into those molecules. I’m sure that people like Darwin had no idea of how incredibly complex the germ plasm is.” In 2006 a post by Gil Dodgen, contributor on Michael Behe’s weblog Uncommon Descent, stated “Now one might ask, What is the chance of producing, by random mutation and natural selection, the digital computer program that is the DNA molecule, not to mention the protein synthesis machinery and information-processing mechanism, all of which is mutually interdependent for function and survival.” Evolutionists, despite their very public, optimistic theorizing, have not demonstrated that mutation and natural selection really work together to produce a new species in large animals. This cornerstone of evolutionary theory remains an important question mark.

Ramm expressed concern about “how few evangelicals had ever reacted with the philosophy of science.” He also decried the tendency of some Christians, when science makes conclusions not in harmony with their presuppositions, to claim “Well, they’re unbelievers, so we can expect that of them.” Many creationists who insist on a hyper-literal, simplistic interpretation of the Genesis account, are unaware or unconcerned about how God’s word “does come to us in ancient languages and in ancient cultures,” and that “Genesis was the same kind of genre of writing as those ancient creation accounts and yet how, especially in its pure monotheism, it’s different from them.” Often missing in the discussion of what Genesis means is an understanding of the theology of creation. An understanding of this theology would overwhelm the concept of Genesis as a modern-day scientific account of creation events.

To close this discussion of the Ramm/Hearn interview, I will quote verbatim a portion which highlights one of my main concerns upon hearing some young earth creationists dismiss mainstream science as an agenda-driven, atheistic, creator-denying, biased discipline. Ramm states: “What disturbs me the most about the most rigid creationist views is that they drive Christians and scientists millions of miles apart. Some of them amount to a total denial of anything significant in geology…You can’t just pick out geology and say, ‘Science is all wrong there, but it’s right in all these other territories.’ Take the use of atomic materials, high speed atomic particles, X-rays, and so on; going to the doctor to get an X-ray is one piece of the science, but it spills over into geology. It’s odd if you have to say that almost 100% of the world’s geologists are wrong, but once you get away from geology the scientists are pretty right. This seems to be something creationists have to come to terms with.”