While some apologetics issues remain the same through the ages, such as, ‘Did Christ rise on Easter morning?‘ or ‘Does God exist?‘ many depend on specific challenges Christianity is facing at a specific time. This article aims to equip you to answer one of the hottest apologetic topics Christians face today, creation vs evolution. And, this topic can often be as heated (or more so) between Christians than between the Christian and unbeliever.
Yet, it does not need to be this way. With a bit of education on the subject, everyone should be able to discuss it without all the heat, even if they ultimately disagree. Sadly, because of this heat, many have chosen to avoid the details, focusing only on what Genesis 1 is ultimately about. I think this is a crucial mistake for Christian apologetics.
By the time you finish this article, you should have a basic foundation on which to build, as well as have a bit respect for the positions others hold.
That said, a few points need to be made before digging in. First, this issue should NOT DIVIDE Christians. It simply is not a mark of whether someone is a Christian or not. The real debate here is between creation (or theism) and naturalism, not different possible methods of creation. Part of the reason this discussion does get so heated between Christians, is usually that they think the other group isn’t taking the Bible seriously enough. This could be the case, but should not be assumed. I have met people from each camp who take the Bible VERY seriously.
Much of the importance of understanding this debate is to be able to clarify it to people outside of Christianity. Most assume a Christian will be a ‘Creationist’, and by that, they mean Young Earth Creationist. Many believe these Christians are opposed to science, progress, technology, etc. They also often fear that Christians want to take over the science classroom to train students about Christianity. If these fears were true (and they sometimes are), these people have a legitimate concern. By properly understanding the positions, you can explain your position in an intelligent manner. Even if you end up being one of those ‘feared’ Young Earth Creationists, you can distance yourself from the main things these people are afraid of: you are fine with science, properly understood; you don’t want to force Christianity on anyone; and you can pull out your iPod to show them you indeed do embrace progress and technology. 😉
I won’t be going into great detail on any of the positions. There will be future articles with more details on each position. It is also important to note that TilledSoil.org does not have an official position, yet it will become obvious which position this particular author is most convinced of at this time.
Be sure you are familiar with the range of what people can mean by the term evolution before continuing on. Please see our previous article on this: https://www.tilledsoil.org/2010/08/12/evolution-understanding-the-term/
Four Basic Positions
There are actually a lot of different views on how life came about and has changed over time, however, they can be roughly summarized into four main categories. Below, I have listed each category, along with a brief characterization. Then I have listed some potential advantages and disadvantages of each view. Finally, I have listed a figure associated with that view.
Young earth creationism (YEC): 7, 24 hour days; ~6000 year old earth; literal, historical Genesis
+ thwarts naturalistic evolution – helps explain some possible science anomalies uncovered from time to time – seems to match a natural reading of Genesis – solves pre-fall problems with death and natural ‘evil’ (earthquakes, etc.)
– hard to square with mainstream science (or OEC people might say, the ‘book of creation’) – seems to call God’s nature into question (would God trick us?) – requires what might be a literalistic reading of Genesis – tends to create a major division between mainstream science and Christianity.
(ex: Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis (1)Note: AiG (especially Ken Ham), sometimes seems uncharitable towards other organizations & Christians who do not share his/their view – in a manner which TilledSoil.org does not condone. Aside from this, as I listen to Ken Ham’s podcast, I catch him in basic exegetical mistakes (any seminary student would catch) and logic/critical thinking errors far too often. Even if he is correct about his YEC view, I do not feel he is a good representation of it. I’ve listed him because he is the most popular figure associated with the view. I’ve been told that some of the other AiG resources still justify this ministry overall, but I’d recommend Dr Jay Wile or CRI as resources.)
Old earth creationism (OEC; progressive creationism): day = period of time; earth billions of years old; literary, but historical, Genesis
+ allows for a historical reading of Genesis – squares Scripture with much of mainstream science – better covers the entire Biblical witness
– danger of tying scientific discovery too closely to a particular interpretation of Scripture – disagreement over where the historical / metaphorical division lies – requires what some see as interpretational gymnastics
(ex: Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe)
Theistic evolution (evolutionary creation): God is involved with the evolutionary process (how and to what extent varies greatly in this view) – a metaphorical understanding of the first chapters of Genesis
+ allows for complete (or at lest indisputable) agreement between mainstream science and Scripture
– requires some theological gymnastics – disagreement over where the historical / metaphorical divisions are.
(ex: Francis Collins, founder of BioLogos.org) (2)Another source which does a better job of addressing the theological implications is “Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, & Evolution” by Deborah B. Haarsma & Loren D. Haarsma
Naturalistic evolution: life came about by chance (they would dispute this term), then was driven forward through natural selection – God is irrelevant to the conversation (though many in this camp would be atheists, or at least agnostic)
+ for the naturalist… no need for god / super-natural – is thought to allow pure ‘science’ with no dependencies on other disciplines such as philosophy, theology, etc.
– opens a can of worms in many areas if the conclusion is that there is no God – contradicts Christian belief – explaining evolutionary ‘convergence’ is a problem – natural selection needs life to begin with.
(ex: Richard Dawkins, biologist, atheist, author of “God Delusion“)
This ‘chart’ should be pretty easy to digest and contains the basics. I am now going to comment a bit on each. Again, it will probably be obvious which viewpoint I prefer. However, you should examine the evidence for each and draw your own conclusion. Also, don’t worry if you do not understand some of the +/- points. They are mainly to give you a starting point for conversation.
Young earth creationism is a view pretty familiar to most of us. They generally believe that roughly 6,000 years ago, God spoke creation into existence. Each day of God’s work in the Biblical text of Genesis 1 was what we know as a 24-hour solar day on earth. Often this view is labeled as ‘Creationism’. It is one form of creationism, but we need to remind both outsiders and young earth creationists that ALL Christians believe in creation, even the theistic evolutionists (whether they realize/admit it or not!). Their primary concern seems to be that other views do not take Scripture seriously or trust the miraculous capacity of God. They rightly recognize the danger of naturalistic evolution, but sometimes pick their battles against it out of (in my opinion) misunderstanding.
Young earth creationism is often seen as a ‘literal’ reading of the first chapters of Genesis. However, I think that might not be entirely accurate. There is the fact that Genesis is a different genre than a ‘science text’ or a ‘writing of history’ (as the evolutionary creationist would argue), but I mean something a bit different. I am talking more about a careful reading of clues which are right before us in the Bible. Some of these include: that Genesis isn’t the only description of creation in the Bible (cf: Job, Psalms, etc.); there is no day and night on the 7th day; Adam must have worked extremely quickly and been incredibly impatient (cf. Genesis 2:23). There is also an issue with the interpretation of Hebrew ‘yom’ or day in English. We will address this later, but these points should clue us into the fact that the debate is a bit deeper than ‘literal’ vs ‘non-literal.’ (note: regarding science, some in this camp seem to be quite hostile towards it, almost taking an anti-intellectual stance, while others take it quite seriously and insist that mainstream science is in error… once these errors are corrected, the Bible and science square quite well.)
Old earth creationism (or better Progressive creationism to differentiate them from theistic evolution, as they also believe in an old earth) is a view that is kind of mid-way between young earth and theistic evolution. They try to take both the Bible and science seriously. They do not see a problem between Genesis 1 and what mainstream science has discovered (for the most part), other than some of the conclusions which science has imposed on the data out of a naturalistic worldview (i.e.: macro evolution, etc.). They believe the earth is billions of years old, and that the ‘days’ in genesis can be explained as periods of time in God’s creative work, centered around major events. They do believe in the historicity of Genesis 1, but that it must be understood within its genre and in context to the entire Biblical record (which they see to actually be reading it even MORE literally than the young earth creationists). In other words, a young earth reading is seen to be more ‘literalistic’ than literal, missing things like context, a proper understanding of the range of Hebrew words, genre of the text, and many details of the text itself. For example, expanding on an above point, how is it that in one 24-hour day, Adam worked the garden, examined all the animals to see if any would make a suitable helper, named them all, underwent an operation, and then said (in the Hebrew), “at long last” upon seeing Eve. I suppose the awe and love he must have felt gives him some poetic license there, but that seems to be stretching things a bit!
One of the primary problems with a progressive creation view is the idea of concordism. This is something both young earth and progressive creationists utilize, to the dismay of the theistic evolutionists. It is the idea that you could actually match up Scripture and science (or that they ‘concord’… exist in harmony). Theistic evolutionists do not generally see Genesis as historical or scientific in nature, so there would be no reason to try and ‘read into them’ these kind of ideas. They would say that Genesis is only meant to teach theological concepts, and the other groups are imposing this concordism onto the text. The reason this becomes a problem for progressive creationists, is: where does one stop? How much of what Scripture says is trying to be scientifically descriptive, and when is it, in fact, only making a theological point or simply anthropocentric language (from our human point of view, like sun-rise, sun-set). Another problem is that if progressive creationists tie too much of what is said by the Bible to science, then a discovery in science might cause major problems and embarrassment to the view (ex: the Galileo incident around heliocentricity… though this story is often gravely misrepresented). In my opinion, it isn’t a black and white divide. Most of the time, when we recount a story, we’re going to be including some science in our historical account. It won’t be text-book science, but it will reveal scientific details if considered carefully. This would be closer to what I see as going on in Genesis.
Theistic evolution (or evolutionary creationism as some prefer) is a view that Genesis 1 teaches us nothing of scientific importance. The point is that God did it, not how. They will agree with the naturalistic evolutionist at many or all points, right up to the unknown cause behind everything; God. Essentially, evolution, even in the broadest sense of common descent and origin of life is good science; but God is somehow driving it (either directly, maybe through quantum mechanics, or though how it was ordered at the start; the design for it all to unfold was ‘baked in.’ In their view, this may be seen as a greater display of God’s power than the other views.). This view seems quite safe and is held by major popular scientists, such as Francis Collins. It allows concordism with just about everyone in the scientific world. At the point where they (science and faith) might disagree, science supposedly can’t reach anyway. The problems with this view are not so much that they miss something important the Bible has to say in Genesis; I agree with them that the main point of Genesis is theological, not scientific. However, by accepting much of what naturalistic science is saying about humanity, they might be missing something important Genesis has to tell us theologically (which might also inform our science). If you ask some theistic evolutionists about ‘the Fall’ and sin, and have theological training, you might be shocked at what you hear.
The theistic evolution view is easily the most commonly accepted view in scholarly and scientific circles today. I think it is so for a few reasons. 1) Many aren’t familiar with the detailed views of progressive creationism, so they don’t even consider it as an option. 2) Modern Biblical criticism has greatly undermined the idea of the historicity of Genesis 1-11. 3) It seems on the surface to be a very safe stance. (3)I don’t make these points lightly or to simply pick at theistic evolutionists. In talking to a good number of them (even experts who have written books on the subject), I find they do not know much about the option of progressive creationism, or if they do, they mischaracterize it. In many cases they have come from more of a ‘fundamentalist’ background, and when their ‘young earth’ views are challenged in the academy, they flip to the opposite extreme. I also find much of Higher Criticism, which has a great influence on this camp, to be overly skeptical. Most importantly, many have not carefully considered the theological implications of holding such a view. This is, of course, a stereotype. I have encountered exceptions.
One crucial point in the debate is the use of the Hebrew word ‘yom’, or day. Just like the English word, it has a broader range of meaning than 24-hour solar day. It can mean sunrise to sunset; a 24-hour day; the afternoon; an indefinite (but not infinite) period of time; reference to a range of time (the days of Noah); proper noun with an event (Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement), etc. This is further complicated by the fact that Hebrew has no other words to differentiate as we would in English (ie: day vs epoch). Hebrew vocabulary is quite limited, so you have to figure out meaning by context. Certainly that there was ‘evening and morning’ could push us towards the 24-hour view, if it were not for the literary, poetic nature, as well as the other problems with this view mentioned above. The point is, concerning day, a 24-hour day or a period-of-time day are both literal readings of the text.
There are a lot of difference between views on this topic and a great amount of complexity involved. However, it can all be boiled down to four basic categories which are not too hard to summarize. If you can do this, you can defuse a lot of the tension within the church. You might also be able to gain the ear of someone who has written off Christianity based on a false assumption. It is important to get some of the terminology down here, such as ‘evolution’ or ‘transitional form’. Hopefully, if you are interested in this topic, this article will be only the beginning for you. However, if not, at least by understanding the above, you will have many great opportunities to be a peacemaker.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||⇡||Note: AiG (especially Ken Ham), sometimes seems uncharitable towards other organizations & Christians who do not share his/their view – in a manner which TilledSoil.org does not condone. Aside from this, as I listen to Ken Ham’s podcast, I catch him in basic exegetical mistakes (any seminary student would catch) and logic/critical thinking errors far too often. Even if he is correct about his YEC view, I do not feel he is a good representation of it. I’ve listed him because he is the most popular figure associated with the view. I’ve been told that some of the other AiG resources still justify this ministry overall, but I’d recommend Dr Jay Wile or CRI as resources.|
|2.||⇡||Another source which does a better job of addressing the theological implications is “Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, & Evolution” by Deborah B. Haarsma & Loren D. Haarsma|
|3.||⇡||I don’t make these points lightly or to simply pick at theistic evolutionists. In talking to a good number of them (even experts who have written books on the subject), I find they do not know much about the option of progressive creationism, or if they do, they mischaracterize it. In many cases they have come from more of a ‘fundamentalist’ background, and when their ‘young earth’ views are challenged in the academy, they flip to the opposite extreme. I also find much of Higher Criticism, which has a great influence on this camp, to be overly skeptical. Most importantly, many have not carefully considered the theological implications of holding such a view. This is, of course, a stereotype. I have encountered exceptions.|