Last time I gave you some things I know which relate to the creation/evolution debate. This time I would like to talk about different views Christians have of creation. My goal here is to slowly work towards something as I work through the issues so you will have to be patient with me and don’t think I have given my final opinion till this series ends, if then.
Before I begin, I feel I should say the usual things about how there are true believers on all sides of this issue. I firmly believe that none of us will have everything right in this life. We are all mistaken about something theological. If I am wrong on creation, you are wrong in some other area.
Personally, there are some areas in which if I were to suddenly find that what I believe is wrong, my faith would be destroyed. In this category I would include things like belief in a triune God and that Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead. But if I find out that the things I believe about creation are wrong, this will not totally shatter my belief system. Some Christians do not seem to feel this way; they seem to feel that if their view of creation is wrong, then everything will fall apart. These people are mainly in the Young Earth Creationist camp (henceforth YEC). YECs seem to feel that they are the only ones who take the Bible literally and that all others do not and thereby cast doubt on the authority of all Scripture. I can understand where they are coming from. We cannot ignore parts of God’s Word that make us uncomfortable. We are not free to pick and choose, and once we begin to say “that was just cultural”, “that just applies to Paul’s day”, or “that bit was not meant literally” we erode our foundation and reach a point where we cannot rely on any of Scripture. This I think is how the YECs feel about the rest of us — we have all gone too far. But I do happen to believe that I take the Bible perfectly literally even though I do not believe in six 24-hour days of creation.
Christian Views of Creation, or When and How
But I am jumping ahead of myself. For now, I want to look at the range of beliefs that Christians hold to with regard to creation. I feel like I am covering well-traveled ground here. Many have come before me and done a much better job than I could do in giving the intricacies of all the possible positions. A few sites which have helped me are:
Reclaiming the Mind and particularly the post”Six Views on the Creation/Evolution Debate” by C. Michael Patton. Patton outlines six common Christian takes on creation. They are: YEC, Gap theory, Time-Relative creation, Old Earth creation, and theistic evolution, with or without a literal Adam and Eve.
J.W. Wartick’s blog which also has a long section on the Origins Debate. He discusses Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Theistic Evolution.
Rather than rehash each view, I would like to just look at some of the big questions and the possible answers Christians give. The two big ones are when and how. When is really the first question and seems to create the biggest divide. Christians fall into two basic camps here. Their answer to when is either “less than 10,000 years ago” and “a long, long time ago, like billions of years.”
Young Earth Creationism
If your answer is “less than 10,000 years”, you are a Young Earth Creationist. You probably talk a lot about taking the Bible literally, and you believe Genesis 1 is describing six 24-hour days. YECs don’t struggle much with the biblical text. But they do have to account in some way for the findings of modern science. I am sure for some people, there is really no struggle involved. They are happy to say “Science contradicts the Bible; I prefer the Bible; Science must be wrong” and that is the end of it. Personally, I believe God reveals Himself to us also through His creation and if creation is seeming to say something very different from what Scripture says, I am not content to just say science is wrong and walk away. Based on the amount of stuff there is out there by YECs to read on the fossil and geological evidence, I think many of them would agree.
The question for YECs is this: If the universe was created only 10,000 (or fewer) years ago, why does the scientific evidence seem to indicate otherwise? I have heard two answers to this question. The first says that the fossil evidence was planted. That is, dinosaurs never existed. All those layers of rock were not formed gradually over time, Rather, God created the earth with an age, with a built-in history. So when a paleontologist comes to them and says “How do you account for this million year old bone I found?” they can say “That’s lovely, isn’t it? God created that and placed it in the earth but it was never part of a living creature.” This explanation makes sense. One who takes this position doesn’t have to struggle at all, either with the biblical text or with science. The problem I have with it is that it seems to make God a deceiver. Why would God put such things in the earth? The only answers I can think of are to test us or to deceive us, probably both at once, actually — a test for believers, a deception for unbelievers. But this just does not sit right with me. It does not sound like the God I know who is a God of truth and not of deception.
The other answer is that the scientific evidence is wrong, or at least misinterpreted. When I look online for defenses of the YEC view, what I find above all, more than theological arguments, is the YEC interpretations of the scientific evidence. Basically, for anything that science finds and says “this is really old”, the YECs have a contrary explanation that shows why the thing is not really so old but fits into their chronology. A lot of this Christian science can sound pretty convincing. Of course, when I read the evolutionists’ interpretations of the evidence, they sound convincing too. What it boils down to is I am not a scientist and I find it very hard to know whom to believe when one is saying “radio-carbon dating says this” and another is saying, “no, it doesn’t; it says this.” I did read an article recently which said that if you check all the references and studies that YEC books and articles use, you will find that they are almost always misquoting their sources in order to derive the interpretations they want (sorry, I can’t remember where I read this; is anyone familiar with it?). If this is true, it is very disturbing. because I hope Christians would not behave in such an intellectually dishonest way.
But at any rate, though they seem to spend a lot of time on the science (and always have more to explain away), the heart of YEC rests on the belief that the Bible says the earth was created in six days. This belief in turn relies on a certain interpretation of the Hebrew word yom, “day”, in Genesis 1. This is a topic I will return to in future posts. I am quite tickled actually to think that I get to do a post on one Hebrew word. And people might even read it!
A Longer Creation
The alternative answer to the question of when creation happened is “much longer ago than that.” This view has many different versions, but they all basically take the scientific evidence as an indication of the age of the earth. Personally, while I don’t think we should elevate science above God’s Word, I also think He gave us creation to teach us about Him as well and that He has revealed many truths through nature and through what we would call secular science, often through people who are quite ungodly themselves. As I have said in the past, all truth is God’s truth.
But if we are to say, we accept the scientific evidence about the age of the earth in some form, we must then do something about Genesis 1. The solution is to understand the word “day” to refer not to a literal 24-hour day as we know it. There are many ways to do this. Some take each “day” to be really an age or chunk of time so that there are six eras of creation of indeterminate but presumably quite extensive length. Others see a gap in creation, basically a pause during which a lot fo the other scientific stuff could have happened. My understanding is that this gap would have come between days 1 and 2. There is also the time-relative view, one which is new to me, which seems to say that time just does not work for God as it works for us. Patton says regarding it:
“This view, therefore, does not assume a constancy in time and believes that any assumption upon the radical events of the first days/eons of creation is both beyond what science can assume and against the most prevailing view of science regarding time today.” (Patton, “Six Views on the Creation/Evolution Debate“)
Others see the six-day description of creation as a concession on God’s part to our understanding. That is, God knew we couldn’t understand His ways very well so He put it all in terms we would understand.
Finally, there are those who don’t seem to even feel the need to explain away the six-day thing but tend to accept evolution whole-heartedly.
If, through one or more of these explanations, we do away with the need for a literal 6-day creation, we are then left with another question: how? The main question here is was there any evolution and if so, to what extent did it occur. Whether man himself evolved from lower life forms is a particularly thorny question.
Some, like Old Earth Creationists (OEC), see each day of Genesis one as a longer span of time but still basically accept the scheme that it presents. Therefore they are still tied to the order of creation given in Genesis 1 and believe that the creation of man was relatively recent. They do not accept evolution. Both the gap theory and time-relative theory allow for either opinion, evolution or no evolution.
At the other end of the spectrum is theistic evolution. As its name implies, these views accept the scientific evidence pretty much as it comes, but they see a divine creator behind it all. The point at which Christian evolutionists seem to divide into camps is when it comes to the creation of man. Some do not believe in a literal Adam and Eve. Some believe there was an Adam but that he was basically appointed by God at a certain point. I have also heard it said that perhaps God stepped in at a certain point and did not create a new being but put His image on one who already existed, thereby creating the human race as we know it. Others believe that God stepped in at some point in the history of the universe and by a special act of creation, made Adam. This last view does not see man as evolving from other species. Of course, any one who sees Adam as symbolic is taking a very non-traditional view of Scripture. The YECs think that everyone else is not taking the Bible literally and is on a slippery slope which will erode all theology. I don’t agree with them on that, but I do think if we don’t have one Adam from whom all humans are descended, then we have problems.
That’s my overview of the various Christian takes on creation. I am sure I have missed some; there are a lot of nuances here. The first big question, as I have said is the when. And when hinges on how we take Genesis 1, and particularly that little word yom. So in my next posts I will look a little more closely at the YEC view and at how we should understand the days of creation.