Origins: Setting the context

Author: Dr John Watterson

Jesus is Lord

Who is Lord: Caesar or Jesus? This has always been, and always will be the core of the conflict between the world and the church; it is only the manifestation of the conflict that changes. The offering of incense to the genius of Caesar; participation in the Roman Catholic mass; the authority of the king to determine the limits of the freedom of the church: these have been the battlegrounds at different times and in different places. We don’t fight these battles anymore; but as Martin Luther is reputed to have said, the soldier who is faithful in everything, yet who fails to stand where the battle lines are actually drawn, is in reality not faithful at all. Where, then, are the battle lines drawn today? Where is faithfulness to the Lord Jesus required of us?

One area of strategic importance is the controversy that surrounds what the Bible says about the creation of the universe in general, and mankind in particular. Is this an exaggeration? Consider this: in October 2007, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 1580 on “The Dangers of Creationism in Education.” This document opens by declaring that, “the Parliamentary Assembly is worried about the possible ill-effects of the spread of creationist ideas within our education systems and about the consequences for our democracies. If we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights, which are a key concern of the Council of Europe.” Further on, the authors claim in strident tones that “the war on the theory of evolution and on its proponents most often originates in forms of religious extremism closely linked to extreme right-wing political movements. The creationist movements possess real political power. The fact of the matter…is that some advocates of strict creationism are out to replace democracy by theocracy” (italics added). It is probably the case that the last statement, concerning the replacement of democracy by theocracy, refers to the character of Islamic creationism; nonetheless, as it is not explicit, it conveys the impression that Biblical Christianity poses a real and grave danger to the spirit of the European Union, and that there is a genuine and urgent need to take action.

So there is an officially recognised dispute about creationism. What are the details? At rock bottom, the argument is about the prerogative of the Bible to pronounce authoritatively on the origin of humanity, the role and present condition of humanity and the future of humanity and the cosmos.

The Origin of Humanity

Origins matter to us. We like to know where we came from. Who were our ancestors? Where did they live? What were the significant moments in their lives? The origin of our world, the origin of humanity: these are matters of very great importance to us. Almost every culture, primitive or advanced, ancient or modern, has its origin accounts. The religious and the non-religious alike value explanations for the cause of the cosmos. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we inhabit a universe of space, time and matter? Why are the relationships among space, time and matter governed by physical laws that we can describe with mathematical precision?

For practical purposes, there are only two answers on the market: Biblical creationism and naturalism. They make diametrically opposed, totally incompatible claims. Naturalism asserts that the universe appeared for no reason a long, long time ago, that life arose by chance from non-living matter, and that we are the result of an evolutionary process. “Caesar is Lord” has been replaced by “naturalistic-process-operating-on-brute-material-over-long-periods-of-time is Lord”. This is the confession of modern humanism. It is a confession that is assuming the proportions of a shibboleth. Against this, faithfulness requires us to affirm that Jesus is Lord: he is the Son through whom the world was created; who upholds the universe by the word of his power; who is heir of all things (Heb. 1:2-3). The Son of God is “the radiance of the glory of God, the exact imprint of his nature;” as a creaturely copy, Man was made in God’s image. Consequently, within the Biblical framework, humanity’s primary relationship is upwards to God. It is fundamentally against this that the humanist chafes: he wants to avoid the consequences of being an image-bearer.

The Role of Humanity and Our Present Condition

Man is an essentially covenantally conditioned creature, not only in his upward relationship to God, but also horizontally as he relates to the creation. God has woven covenant into the warp and weft of creation, and Man is, therefore, in all his actions, either a covenant-keeper or a covenant-breaker. We are not bystanders in the universe.

The desire to engage with the creation, to investigate it, to describe it, to paint and sing about it is ubiquitous. We cultivate the soil and we paint landscapes; we harness some animals, and others we nigh on humanise; we write computer codes and poems. Why? When we look through telescopes and microscopes we gain information and we feel awe. Why? As Richard Dawkins has observed, “The world and the universe is an extremely beautiful place, and the more we understand about it the more beautiful does it appear.” Yes, but why? Naturalism is unable to provide coherent and consistent answers. It claims that we are self-replicating machines; the impression of purpose is an illusion. In contrast, the Genesis account tells us that Man, male and female, was made in the image of God and mandated to fill and subdue (reciprocal actions of “glorify and enjoy”) the earth. So, awe at the sight of the heavens is appropriate: they display God’s glory. And the construction of telescopes is also appropriate: the heavens pour forth knowledge.

Of course our present condition is not good: “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Has naturalism an explanation? Dawkins has written, “This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous – indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.” In other words, pain may be real enough but it is ultimately meaningless. Not according to the Genesis account. There we learn that pain has a moral cause (sin) and a moral purpose (judgement and redemption).

Our Future and that of the Cosmos

Just as naturalism cannot explain our origin or our role, so it can only guess at our future. Unimaginably long ages after the death of the human race, the universe itself will end in either a “Big Crunch” or “Heat Death”. We arose out of the void (chance is ultimate), we pass through the void (life is meaningless), and we fall back into the void (the end is absolute and all-devouring annihilation). How different is the vision we are given in the Bible. We are of God (he is the source of the universe and the author of its history); we are through God (he sustains us and invests our lives with unavoidable significance); we are to God (whether or not we submit to him, we will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father). The imagery of Revelation is particularly striking: the whole cosmos is seen gathered around the throne of God and of the Lamb, united in worship and submission, and suffused with glory.


Since the publication in 1961 of The Genesis Flood by Whitcomb and Morris the debate between creationists and naturalists has been growing hotter. The argument has, perhaps, seemed peripheral to many Christians; to others, the creationists have appeared simply wrong-headed. However, the issue at stake (whether or not Jesus is Lord) has been of one piece with the changes that we have observed during the intervening years in the value placed on people, as expressed, for example, in sexual and reproductive ethics, education, the practical applications of science, and government. It has rightly been called a culture war. We are to be thankful for the fact that this issue has come to the fore: it is an opportunity for the Church to define more clearly what it believes concerning the creation of the universe, the role of humanity in the world, and the future state.