John MacArthur’s reasoning in The Battle for the Beginning is simple: a straightforward, “literal” reading of the Genesis creation text, considered solely on its own merits and unencumbered by modern evolutionary scientific theory (and, by extension, philosophical naturalism), clearly and reasonably describes a period of six, 24-hour days. As such, the earth and all its inhabitants, animals and humans, were created within one solar week. He walks carefully through the text and explains what happened on each day, how it happened (to the extent that he can exegete and extrapolate), and why evolutionary science does not explain the facts of creation.
Along the way MacArthur critiques some scientific principles that legitimately need challenging, such as uniformitarianism, the assumption that natural processes have always operated in the ways we observe today (which is neither measurable nor observable). His approach of setting Scripture as the primary guide to his understanding and letting the chips fall where they may is admirable, and I affirm the principle in general. MacArthur also does a fantastic job explaining the destructive effects of philosophical naturalism, which often goes hand in hand with the methodological naturalism of evolutionary science. However…
MacArthur’s connection of methodological naturalism to philosophical naturalism, arguing that they are effectively two sides of the same coin, is a common one. And to the extent that a scientist (or anyone, frankly) allows the latter to inform the former, doing so is fallacious. The question unresolved for me was whether this pairing is logically required. Must philosophical naturalism, which MacArthur critiques ably and thoroughly, be entangled up with evolutionary science, or can they be affirmed or denied independently from one another? Since MacArthur assumes they are inseparable, he doesn’t address this, but I believe it is one of the fundamental questions that must be answered for the Christian looking to define what views are in the realm of biblical faithfulness.
A second, potential problem with MacArthur’s view is that he assumes the Genesis account is about material creation, as opposed to the divine assignment of function, as others have argued, particularly John Walton at Wheaton College. Walton’s perspective sidesteps the Young Earth Creationist arguments completely, and undercuts MacArthur at a fundamental level, all the while claiming the more “literal,” straightforward reading of Genesis in the context of its original ancient audience. Of course, Walton’s view is relatively new and MacArthur’s book was published first, else it’s likely the latter would have engaged it. I have my own concerns with Walton’s view, which I’ll address when I review his book next.
In conclusion, MacArthur’s argument is convincing and compelling if the following is also true: philosophical and methodological naturalism cannot be separated, and the Genesis account does indeed describe the material (physical) creation of the universe. On both of these points I remain unconvinced. Of course, as Chesterton said somewhere, the point of an open mind is to close it on something, and so I am committed to finding satisfactory answers to these questions. I just don’t have any yet.
Related Bookwi.se Reviews
- Luke by John MacArthur
- The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John Walton
- Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design by Stephen C Meyer