My interest in biology predisposed me to take great interest in finding an explanation for the diversity and origin of life. The circumstances of my early life made it inevitable that I would seek to answer this question first by engaging the book of Genesis, rather than the theory of evolution. I was raised in an evangelical Christian home. We considered the concept of evolution a rival to the Bible’s explanation of the origins of biological diversity. We equated it with man’s attempt to deny the existence of God.
As I would explain it in adult terms today, we were taught that evolution proclaimed an “ateleology,” or absence of inherent purpose, in the created world. Therefore by implication and overt affirmation, anyone who espoused a belief in evolution necessarily had abandoned belief in the existence of God, and had a strictly naturalistic and mechanistic view of the universe. Within such a person’s paradigm, the universe and all living organisms had arisen simply by chance and natural selection. The appeal of evolutionary theory to the atheist, we were taught, lay in its apparent ability to absolve man of his moral responsibility to an almighty God who had created all that there is. For me and my family, God was the omnipotent creator of the world and its biological diversity.
My earliest personal encounter with an evolutionist came in grade one. One day while our class was in the library, a student teacher stated that we had evolved from apes. I was so shocked, I strongly voiced my objection to her claim. That evening around the family dinner table, after a discussion of the bizarre matter, we concluded that the teacher’s claim could not possibly be true, because if it were, then apes would be turning into humans today, and we knew that that was not happening. (This was, I recognize now, a misunderstanding of what the theory of evolution itself would have expected.)
My Dad also had an interest in biological origins and had a first-edition, hardbound copy of John Whitcomb and Henry Morris’s book The Genesis Flood. I recall reading through some of the text and looking at the pictures and being very impressed with its claims and conclusions. While I was still in elementary school my Dad took me to a creation-evolution debate at McGill University. All I remember is a discussion that centered on whether moths on trees in Great Britain proved the theory of evolution. As I grew, I continued to read literature and books from Morris’s Institute for Creation Research, and I received the society’s newsletter, Acts, Facts and Impacts, for a number of years.
My family was already disposed, because of our church instruction, to read the creation account in Genesis literally, and under the influence of creationist teaching, we adopted a young-earth paradigm for natural history. According to this model, the earth and the universe were no more than 10,000 years old, and perhaps only 6,000. Our world was created in six consecutive 24-hour days, in a “mature, fully functional” state, its appearance of greater age notwithstanding. If objects looked old, that was only an illusion. God’s creation was, in effect, an instantaneous one. There was no possibility of the earth having been formed through currently operating natural processes, for there was insufficient time for this to have happened.
How, then, were the sedimentary rocks that held the fossilized remains of once-alive animals to be explained? We were taught, and believed, that since the earth was very young, they must have been deposited as a result of Noah’s Flood. This Flood was understood as worldwide in its scope and proportions, so that all terrestrial life was swept into the ocean, and vast quantities of churned-up sediments entombed the bodies of these creatures, both plant and animal, creating the fossils I loved to collect.
But how was the great diversity of life forms — my lifelong fascination — to be explained, if, given their recent creation, there was insufficient time for one sort or “kind” (the term used in Genesis 1) of creature to have evolved into another? The explanation was simple: “microevolutionary” changes could occur within so-called “Genesis kinds.” Dogs provided an example of such changes. Although there is considerable anatomical variation within dogs, our understanding of the natural world stipulated that those variations had always been limited to the original parameters of the “dog” kind. Once the original created genetic variation had been exhausted, no new permutations could or would appear. Furthermore, disparate kinds couldn’t interbreed to form new kinds. Mutations were the only possible source of “macroevolutionary” genetic variation, but they were always bad, and so could never result in the creation of a viable new kind. Mutations were, in fact, the result of man’s sin. They thus resulted in the degradation of the genome, causing much of the pain and suffering seen today.
But if all this were the case, how had the notion come to prevail that the earth and universe were ancient? This, we explained, was merely a fabrication of “evolutionary” astronomers and geologists. Their presumption of cosmic antiquity was a position they reached by default because it was vital to their atheistic-mechanistic-ateleological evolutionary theory. Without the intervention of God, a great deal of time would indeed have been needed for natural forces to have shaped the universe and life on this planet into its present state. We dismissed estimates of the earth’s age based on the decay of radioactive elements because such dating methods, we were assured by the Institute for Creation Research, were subject to so many liabilities that their results were of no value whatsoever. I believed that the only way to determine the age of the earth was to count the generations within the genealogies listed in the Bible.