Science and CreationArticles on creation, science and 6 literal days in Genesis 1-2
Beyond Creation vs. Evolution: Taking the Full Measure of the Materialist Challenge by T.M. Moore
For the better part of the past century, evangelicals have become increasingly frustrated as modern science’s hold on crucial sectors of society has blocked certain of their most cherished aspirations. In recent years this frustration has swirled around the debate over the content of the science curriculum in public schools, a contest in which evangelicals have made an enormous investment of time, energy, and resources. It would be difficult to calculate the large number of man-hours or the huge amount of money that evangelicals have invested in their effort to achieve the goal of pluralism in the public school curriculum. And, while some evangelical leaders see progress in the not-unfavorable wording of a recent California law on the subject, evangelicals still have no real foothold for their viewpoint in the public school classrooms of the land.
The public school curriculum is a stronghold which evolutionists confidently occupy. They consider their position to be unassailable, and a series of recent court decisions has given them every reason to believe that they can withstand any future assaults as well.
What many evangelicals fail to understand, however, is that the creation/evolution battle in the schools is neither the only, nor indeed even the most important, front along which the struggle between the Christian worldview and that of modern materialist-science is being contested. Nor are the public schools the sole or even the main avenue along which the opponents of Biblical truth are trafficking their materialist propaganda. Much more is at stake in this struggle than whether or not children will be exposed to an alternative to the dominant evolutionary cosmology. Larger questions about the nature and purpose of human life, the progress of society, and the meaning of values and culture are being contested. And the evolutionary scientific community has not been content to assume a merely defensive posture in its determination to maintain its hard-fought ascendancy over the erstwhile Biblical consensus. In our day a sustained effort is underway from within the evolutionary camp to exalt the evolutionary and materialist paradigm, to eradicate from the public consciousness any lingering notions about the broad scope of Biblical authority, and to dispense with everything other than a merely personal need for God and religion.
Spearheading this attack is a new school of science apologists, armed with a panoply of lavish publications and televised productions; allied with societies and associations of science professionals, numerous publishing houses, and public television networks; and represented by articulate and prolific spokesmen, whose credentials, positions, and accomplishments leave no doubt in the public’s mind that these men know whereof they speak. The thrust of this initiative reaches far beyond the public school classroom to cut across every segment of our society.
At the forefront of this movement, three names stand out as men dedicated to the task of making the intricacies and subtleties of the scientific way of thinking the personal faith of the common man, and who are committed to the absolute necessity of ensuring the place of materialist-science as the paradigm within which all matters of public policy and human well-being are to be discussed and resolved. These men are Cornell University’s Carl Sagan, Harvard’s Stephen Jay Gould, and to a lesser extent, Cambridge University’s Stephen Hawking. Each is a respected member of his professional discipline. Sagan and Gould have published numerous popular books and appeared on television series, while Hawking is just beginning to emerge alongside these two as a recognized spokesman for this movement.
The purpose of this essay is to examine the broader challenge to the Biblical worldview of the new materialist-science apologetic as it is represented in the works of these three individuals and to suggest some avenues along which the evangelical Christian community may begin to mount a more concerted and effective response. We shall first examine the twin thrusts of this apologetic, in which Sagan, Gould, and Hawking make their ultimate objectives clear. We will then turn our attention to the specific areas in which the paradigm of materialist-science challenges the Christian worldview and the authority of Scripture before finally suggesting some rather broad outlines for a concerted evangelical response.
Outline of the New Materialist-Scientific Apologetic
We turn, in the first place, to an examination of the twin thrusts of this new science apologetic. Sagan, Gould, and Hawking are dedicated to the goals of firmly establishing the superiority of the scientific way of thinking in the mind of the public and, along the way, of eliminating the necessity of the supernatural as an explanation of life in the cosmos. These two objectives are never far from one another in the writings of these men. And, while the temperament with which they communicate these goals can vary from Gould’s subtle condescensions to Sagan’s outright scorn for matters religious, it is abundantly clear that, in the minds of these three men, the materialist and Biblical worldviews cannot co-exist.
Gould suggests that the disciplined process of gathering, analyzing, and testing data, and then of providing only tentative explanations, procedures characteristic of the scientific method, must prevail over the glib “assertions of certainty” that are the tool of “preachers and politicians.” He criticizes those who reach their conclusions on the basis of an equal consideration of the facts of nature and the teachings of Scripture. Hawking gloats at having circumvented a papal directive on the limits of cosmological speculation, escaping in the process a fate similar to that of Galileo, while, at the same time, keeping the Catholic Church from making “another bad mistake” by curbing the activities of scientists. He sees science as occupying the “advancing frontier of knowledge,” and its mission to be that of leading men in discovering the depths of the mind of God, which he sees as embodied in the laws of nature. Sagan views science as part of the “common language that all technical civilizations, no matter how different, must have.” Unlike the proponents of doctrinal religion, scientists are not “threatened by the courageous pursuit of know- ledge.”  Whereas “religions can be so shamelessly dishonest, so contemptuous of the intelligence of their adherents,” the scientific model is “a powerful and elegant way to understand the universe.” Science has become sufficient unto itself as a way of knowing. It is a “self-correcting enterprise.” Unlike religion, science does not seek to suppress “uncomfortable ideas.” Instead, it welcomes any approach to arriving at new truth, “no matter how strange.” 
Gould asserts, albeit only indirectly, that proponents of a creationist cosmology are simply wrong. He suggests that recent scientific discoveries in the realm of paleontology have cut off the path of logic that led from a consideration of the natural realm to contemplation of the supernatural. Hawking thinks out loud about a God who has surrendered His crown rights to natural law and thus, as Sagan eagerly submits, may have rendered Himself obsolete. The Cambridge physicist’s reasoning leads him to a virtual apotheosis of matter in a world without beginning or end, leaving him to ask the question, “What place, then, for a creator?”
Carl Sagan assigns the role of religion to a place in man’s dark, uncertain past. Before mankind entered the age of scientific rationality, he maintains, it “made sense” to believe in a Great Designer, even a Creator of the cosmos and man. Yet that outlook is no longer necessary. As Sagan puts it, recalling the evolution of the modern scientific outlook,
And so it was that the great idea arose, the realization that there might be a way to know the world without the god hypothesis; that there might be principles, forces, laws of nature, through which the world could be understood without attributing the fall of every sparrow to the direct intervention of Zeus.
The Materialist Challenge to the Biblical Worldview
The apologetic for modern materialist-science that these men and others have launched is determined to make the scientific way of thinking the model for all other forms of human decision-making and to push religion and the supernatural out of the arena in which matters of truth and public policy are discussed. With such clear-cut objectives, the materialist mindset cannot help but clash with the Biblical worldview in a great many areas. We will examine four of the primary points at which the materialist worldview challenges the authority of Scripture.
1. The Cosmos as Creator
In the first place, materialist-science challenges the Biblical notion that the universe and everything in it are the results of the creative activity of God. Instead, the cosmos — “all that is or ever was or ever will be,” to quote Sagan — is merely the product of matter, time, and chance. The universe is without design or direction. Its existence is eternal, even if its present form was neither inevitable nor the only alternative that the process of evolution might have taken. Everything in the universe is explainable according to a materialist perspective. Not only the massive bodies and infinitesimally small particles in which are contained the great bulk of the mass of the universe, but also such things as life itself, our thought processes, our passions and our reasoning ability, and even our sense of history are nothing more than variations on the first law of thermodynamics.
In such a universe there is no need for the distractions that come from a commitment to the supernatural. Since everything that we are derives ultimately from matter, even our metaphysical sense must have its root in the chemical processes of the universe. Thus, as Sagan sees it, it makes sense to turn our “religious” attentions, if we must indulge them, on the universe itself. As he puts it,
If we must worship a power greater than ourselves, does it not make sense to revere the Sun and the stars? Hidden within every astronomical investigation, sometimes so deeply buried that the researcher himself is unaware of its presence, is a kernel of awe.
2. The Mechanism of Chance/Law
Related to this is a second point at which the materialist worldview clashes with the teaching of Scripture. This has to do with the essential mechanism of the cosmos. According to historic Christianity the universe is what it is and functions as it does according to the decrees of God and His providence. At bottom, it is the Word of God that is actively at work to coordinate and sustain all the processes and interactions of His creation. But in the materialist worldview the place of God has been taken by chance and natural law. Gould, Sagan, and Hawking are all adamant on this point. In the materialist worldview the present state of the cosmos has arisen quite randomly, yet according to specific natural laws. But the universe is without design or predictable destiny. It has ever been and ever will be subject to the whims of contingency, and therefore the only eschatology that can be described is one of change and uncertainty.
3. Man as the Insignificant Caretaker
Yet, in the midst of the whirl of contingency and natural law, it has somehow fallen out that man finds himself in something of a caretaker role in the cosmos, by virtue of his superior reasoning abilities. Apparently the interaction of randomness and natural law has produced a creature whose powers of intellect allow him to assume a more active, less passive, role in the universe. By laboring to understand the laws of nature at greater depth, and by committing himself to a scientific approach to life, man can, it seems, rein in powers of contingency, anticipate the whims of chance, and manipulate the processes of nature for his own and for the universe’s well-being, at least to a point. In other words, he can assume the place that Christianity recognizes as belonging to God in the functioning of the cosmos.
This leads us to a fuller consideration of the materialist view of this marvelous creature. And, again, we find that materialism challenges the authority of the Bible when it comes to defining the nature and purpose of man. For, whereas the Scriptures teach that man has been created in the image of God, the noblest creature in the vast creation, vice-regent to His Creator in the management and development of the world, materialist-science views man as merely the chance product of time and matter, an enlightened animal, to be sure, but one whose only hope for meaning and purpose must be derived from a proper understanding of his relatively insignificant place in the cosmos.
I find it especially interesting the great lengths to which materialists go to assert the insignificance of man. With the psalmist they have asked, “What is man?”, but in seeking an answer they have not ascended to the heavens but have probed the mysteries of life only under the sun. Gould wants to debunk the idea that there is some “intrinsic meaning” or “transcendent importance” to human life. He glories in the fact that science has accomplished man’s “progressive dethronement from the center of things” and left him in a position of “increasing marginality in the uncaring universe.  He contends that mankind is a “`thing so small’ in a vast universe, a wildly improbable evolutionary event well within the realm of contingency.” The fact that we have become “large reasoning animals” we owe to nothing more than “our lucky stars.”  Without any intrinsic meaning or purpose to guide us we have been left alone to “establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes.”
In the same way Hawking, while he insists that man is but an “insignificant creature” celebrates our ascendancy over the other animals of the cosmos. He claims that,
we are rational beings who are free to observe the universe as we want and to draw logical deductions from what we see. In such a scheme it is reasonable to suppose that we might progress ever closer toward the laws that govern our universe.
This occurs until, one must suppose, we have achieved the mind of God and become at last a sovereign law unto ourselves.
Sagan declares that man is a rational creature who has arrived at his present state through the process of natural selection. As he puts it, “we are, all of us, descended from a single and common instance of the origin of life in the early history of our planet.” Since man has such random and inauspicious beginnings, there is no reason for him to believe that he is of any special significance in the cosmos. At best we are “only custodians for a moment of a world that is itself no more than a mote of dust in a universe incomprehensively vast and old.” Hence he concludes that “neither we nor our planet enjoys a privileged position in nature.” 
And yet, man is somehow “responsible” for his conduct in the world, responsible to act in accordance with the laws of nature in order to serve his own and the universe’s best interest. As Sagan puts it, “We are, each of us, largely responsible for what gets into our brains, for what, as adults, we wind up caring about.” “The welfare of our civilization and our species is in our hands.” Gould writes like a coach in a pre-game pep talk about the “challenge” that is before us to carve out some cosmic niche for ourselves, to explore the limits of our “moral responsibility.”  We possess, he maintains, “maximum freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way.”
4. The Tentative Nature of Truth
The final, and undoubtedly the main, point at which the materialist apologetic challenges the authority of Scripture is epistemological. How can we know that any of this is true? The Biblical answer is that we receive from God by way of written revelation His truth, which we strive, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to understand and to apply to every aspect of our lives. Received by faith, the Scriptures become the light in which we begin to make sense out of all our experience and to order our lives in a way that will reflect the goodness of God and cause His Name to be glorified.
For the materialist-science apologetic, nothing could be more archaic and therefore more absurd. Truth is only a tentative entity, arrived at through the laborious process of observing the cosmos, recognizing similarities, relationships, and tendencies, formulating hypotheses, and testing for validity. Since there is, as Gould might say, no preconceived meaning to life, only a vast sea of facts and occurrences, we must patiently labor at the inductive method in all areas of life until the truth for our particular situation comes to light. Since the laws of nature can be discovered, and since discovering these laws leads to our being able to use them for our purposes, we must continue to look to those who are at the “advancing frontier of knowledge” to show us the way to our salvation. We must gather unlimited observations, make predictions on the basis of what we see, and then test for results. Sagan sums it up as follows:
First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be. 
Most notably, we must not allow religion to gum up the works. All three writers indicate their desire to move beyond the restrictive barriers that have been imposed upon science by practitioners of doctrinal religion. There is no place for faith in the materialist-science worldview.
So we have seen that the materialist-science apologetic, active in a great many arenas and at a wide range of levels in our society, has set a determined course for itself. Its mission is to secure its judicial role in arbitrations of truth and meaning and to remove the threat of religion from discussions of morality and public policy. In order to accomplish this mission the materialist apologetic challenges head-on the major teachings of the Christian tradition. It encourages the public to reject the Biblical teachings on such important matters as the nature of the universe and the mechanism whereby it operates, the nature and purpose of man, and the way of knowing truth. Such a direct challenge, entered into so effectively on so many different fronts, must not go uncontested.
A Christian Challenge to Materialist-Science
I turn now to describe something of an outline for a Christian response to the challenge of materialist-science. Five essential components for an effective Christian response can be indicated. These are (1) Renewing our confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture; (2) Carefully defining the areas at which the materialist-science apologetic challenges the authority of the Bible; (3) Demonstrating the vulnerabilities of the materialist worldview; (4) Alerting, recruiting, training, and enlisting the entire Christian community at some level; and (5) Persistently monitoring the various avenues along which the materialist apologetic mounts its attack. In my remaining comments I want to try to touch on each of these aspects of our response.
We look first at the need to recover a sense of the sufficiency of Scripture. Something in our apologetic in recent years, indeed, in our whole way of thinking about our faith, has encouraged evangelicals to embrace the idea that we must believe and obey the Scriptures for reasons other than the fact that they are the very Word of God. We have argued for the truthfulness and reliability of Scripture based on the claim that the Bible satisfies the demands of reason. We have insisted that, since the findings of modern science can, with some imagination, be made to fit the Biblical framework, the Bible ought to be given a fair hearing. We have encouraged men and women to turn to the Bible because it will help them to find peace or happiness or meaning or solace, all of which, though they may indeed be found from the study of the Bible, are hardly reasons in and of themselves for submitting to the authority of Scripture.
In our engagements with the materialist-science worldview, to take a specific instance, we have argued that the teachings of Scripture are somehow “scientific” in a manner not dissimilar from the claims of evolutionists. This is as much as to say that we can trust the Biblical cosmology because it submits itself to the procedures of predictability and testing that materialists like to think they demand of themselves. Indeed, much of the creationist literature takes this tack, namely, of attempting to render in “scientific” terms or according to the demands of the materialist framework teachings which can only be understood by faith.
Each time we suggest that the Bible ought to be consulted or is reliable and true because it accommodates itself to some criteria beyond itself, we obstruct the work of the Holy Spirit in communicating, convicting, and converting; we undermine the integrity and authority of the Word of God; and we weaken our defense against the Bible’s detractors.
What is needed is an unashamed, unapologetic acceptance of the teaching of the Bible, whether or not it can be made to “make sense” to scientific minds or meet the demands of personal whims or needs. Without a response to the apologetic of materialist-science that begins with a ringing, “Thus saith the Lord,” our counterattack will lack the prophetic authority of an inspired message, boldly proclaimed and consistently lived.
Second, we need to show the Christian community the ways in which the materialist-science apologetic throws down the gauntlet to the Church’s most basic convictions. The creation/evolution debate has helped in this regard, to a point. However, it has also created the impression that the battle between Christianity and modern science is one to be waged primarily in the classroom. Therefore, it is rather broadly perceived as a battle for experts and scholars. Yet this is emphatically not so. When the issues at stake are shown to involve not just whether or not a creationist cosmology will be allowed in the science curriculum, but also deep and critical questions relating to such things as the dignity of man, the nature of morality, the purpose of society and culture, the future of nations, and the way to truth; and when the outspokenness of unbelieving, materialist voices is shown to be flourishing in the popular magazines, book clubs, and television programming that have become so much a part of the materialist apologetic, then every member of the evangelical community will be forced to acknowledge that the battle is being engaged all around us, all the time. And then we will be in a better position to take our places in helping to turn back this tide of unbelief that even now threatens to overwhelm us.
Third, we must demonstrate the vulnerabilities of the materialist-science worldview. And these are considerable. First, materialist-science is vulnerable at the level of internal consistency. Its own most basic assumptions do not cohere. We must be prepared to challenge the materialist to explain to us, for example, how order and chance can exist together in the same universe. Is not one of these unknowable, uncertain, unpredictable, and uncontrollable, while the other is precisely the opposite? At which point does chance yield to order, and on what ground? In the same way the materialist must explain his contradictory beliefs about the nature of man. How can he be both insignificant and responsible? If we do matter so very little in the great cosmic scheme of things, then what’s all the fuss about, and who is anyone to say anything about how any of us should or should not behave? If there is no final meaning or purpose to our lives, then why all the striving to discover the mind of God which materialists understand to be embedded in the laws of nature? And if only brute factuality and rugged testability are to be allowed in the arena of truth, then how does the materialist explain the inescapability of his own presuppositions, when he knows that none of these is amenable to confirmation according to any of the criteria he insists upon?
The materialist apologetic is also vulnerable when it comes to its operational consistency. As suggested above, materialist-science cannot meet its own criteria for truth. How, for example, does Carl Sagan demonstrate through quantification and testing the truth of a statement such as, “There are no sacred truths”? Or, “Arguments from authority are worthless”? How can materialists speak so confidently about the events and conditions of the beginning of life when, as they maintain, we can only speak with tentativeness about those things which we can verify through testing? How is the materialist to account for his own dependence upon specific presuppositions in an epistemological framework that disallows all acts of mere faith?
I suspect that a broad-based pressing of these and other such issues on the followers of the materialist worldview would elicit large quantities of silence, a condition, by the way, for which we are commanded to labor in our efforts on behalf of the truth of God.
The materialist apologetic is vulnerable, in the third place, when it can be shown that much of what it requires to make sense out of its own viewpoints derives ultimately from the teaching of Scripture and thus tends to support the Biblical perspective more than its own. Such notions as the orderliness and knowability of the universe; the real significance of man as the caretaker of the world; the reliability of reason as an avenue toward truth; and the nature of man as a responsible being are not inherent in the materialist worldview. They have been imported from the cumulative heritage and lingering effects of the Biblical consensus in which Western civilization and modern science have their roots. Even the growing conviction among paleontologists that life on earth appeared almost all at once and that decimations of whole populations of animals occurred relatively closely together and almost always in conditions of flooding hark back more to the teachings of the Bible than to the pioneers of evolutionary materialism. Christian leaders need to know how to recognize these areas of vulnerability and how to mount a response to them.
And, fourth, Christian leaders need to begin to alert, recruit, train, and enlist the entire Christian community in fighting the battle against the materialist apologetic. Every man, woman, and child in the evangelical community needs to be prepared for battle at his or her own level. Whether it is in the classroom, at the office, over afternoon coffee, at school board or PTA meetings, in reviews of textbooks, or in response to publications, the individual members of the Christian community need to stop looking to the experts alone to fight this battle. But if they are to become properly engaged, making the most of every opportunity, they will have to be trained and sent into battle with a certain degree of accountability that both encourages and rewards them in their individual skirmishes.
Finally, as a community we need to monitor the attacks of the materialist apologetic and to be prepared to respond wherever our adversary stands to further his devilish plans. Whether he mounts his claims in writing, in public, or on television, he needs to know that there are people who are prepared to stand up and challenge his heretofore unquestioned authority and to strike at his vulnerability with firmness and grace. What’s more, when those who have thoughtlessly followed the teachings of materialism because they have never been led critically to analyze the evolutionary position come under the influence of a broad-based and persistent Christian counter-apologetic and begin to turn their backs on the materialist elite, then we will begin to see the kind of movement toward the truth of God that the Scriptures encourage us to look for in these latter days.
The challenge the materialist-science apologetic presents to evangelicals extends far beyond the classrooms of the nation’s schools. We need to be prepared, and to prepare the people of God in the churches, to analyze, meet, and overcome this challenge wherever and whenever it raises its head.
 Carl Sagan, Broca’s Brain (New York: Random House, 1979), p. 38; Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life (New Your: W.W. Norton and Company, 1989), p. 16; Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), pp. vi. 168.
 Cf. the subtlety of Gould in Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 21; the questioning and generalizing of Hawking, Brief History, pp. 1,9,11,13; and the contemptuous, dismissing tone of Sagan, Ibid., pp. xvi, 290.
 Gould, Wonderful Life, p. 282.
 Gould, Time’s Arrow, p. 27.
 Hawking, Brief History, p. 116.
 Ibid., p. 168.
 Ibid. p. 175.
 Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), p. 296.
 Sagan, Broca’s Brain, p. 290.
 Ibid, p. 284.
 Sagan, Cosmos, p. xii.
 Ibid, p. 91.
 Gould, Time’s Arrow, p. 194.
 Gould, Wonderful Life, p. 262.
 Hawking, pp. 10,11,122; Sagan in Hawking, p. x.
 Hawking, Brief History, pp. 136, 140.
 Sagan, Cosmos, p. 29.
 Ibid, p. 176.
 Ibid. p. 4.
 Cf. Sagan, Cosmos, pp. 32, 277; Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden, (New York: Random House, 1977), p. 210; Broca’s Brain, p. 8.
 Sagan, Cosmos, p. 232.
 Gould, Time’s Arrow, pp. 190, 208.
 Hawking, p. 136.
 Cf. Sagan, Cosmos, p. 24; Carl Sagan, Comet, (New York: Random House, 1985), p. 21. Broca’s Brain, p. 286.
 Cf. Westminster Confession of Faith, III, 5.
 Cf. Gould, Wonderful LIfe, pp. 288, 290; Sagan, Cosmos, pp. 30, 31, 232, 282; Dragons of Eden, p. 27; Hawking, Brief History, pp. 56, 122.
 Gould, Wonderful Life, p. 51.
 Sagan, Dragons of Eden, p. 62, Broca’s Brain, p. 40.
 Cf. Hawking, Brief History, p. 175.
 Gould, Wonderful Life, p. 43; Time’s Arrow, p. 1.
 Gould, Wonderful Life, p. 44.
 Ibid, p. 191.
 Ibid, p. 318.
 Ibid, p. 323.
 Hawking, Brief History, p. 140.
 Ibid, p. 12.
 Sagan, Cosmos, p. 38.
 Sagan, Comet, p. 367.
 Sagan, Cosmos, p. 190.
 Sagan, Ibid, p. 279.
 Sagan, Ibid, p. 320.
 Gould, Wonderful Life, pp. 44. 291.
 Ibid, p. 323.
 Ibid, p. 52.
 Hawking, Brief History, p. 9; Gould, Wonderful Life, p. 282.
 Sagan, Cosmos, p. 333; Broca’s Brain, p. 62.
T.M. Moore is the President of Chesapeake Theological Seminary, Maryland, a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary, author of numerous books and articles, and has previously served as Executive Pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Florida. Copyright © by Covenant Community Church of Orange County 1990 1-23-96