Primer on Origins Views for Christians (Part 1 of 3)

“Without special revelation, general revelation would be for sinful men incomplete and ineffective…. Without general revelation, special revelation would lack that basis in the fundamental knowledge of God as the mighty and wise, righteous and good, maker and ruler of all things.”  — B.B. Warfield, distinguished “Princetonian” theologian

As an admin at the “Old Earth Creationists” Facebook Group, I’ve been reminded on multiple occasions that not everyone, even within the Christian community, is aware of the various positions held by orthodox Christians — historically and currently — on the matter of origins. By “origins” I mean how God “created” the universe (or multiverse), how the Earth and our solar system were formed, how the current diversity of life on Earth occurred, how modern humans came to be, etc. And, of course, the amount of time involved is a dominant issue in all of this. How old are the universe, the Earth, humanity? Mere thousands of years? Millions? Billions?

Orion Nebula

Orion Nebula

Many people, both Christian and non-Christian, think that there is only one position on these matters that is “biblical” and consistent with orthodox Christianity. But, truth be told, that is because that particular position — alternately called “Recent Creationism”, “Fiat Creationism”, “Biblical Creationism”, “Scientific Creationism”, “Young Earth Creationism” (which I will be using), “Creation Science”, or just “Creationism” — has become the most commonly taught (and socialized) in American churches and Christian schools for several decades. Premier organizations teaching this view include Answers in Genesis (AIG), Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and Australia’s Creation Ministries International (CMI). For many, it is simply the default position. But, this has not always been the case historically, nor is it the only position that many thoughtful Christian scholars and laymen hold today.

Some Christians are aware of an alternate view called “Theistic Evolution(ism)” — or, some advocates prefer the term “Evolutionary Creation(ism)” — which has gained popularity in certain circles in recent years. (Other terms used are “Continuous Creation(ism)” and “Fully-Gifted Creation(ism)”.) But, many Christians have strong reservations about that view, due to scientific and/or theological concerns. Of course, the same can be said about the Young Earth Creationist view.

There is a third, “middle” position that is also gaining ground, thanks largely to the efforts of the Reasons to Believe (RTB) ministry and a few smaller organizations and individual researchers, known as “Old Earth Creationism” (as I will refer to it here) or “Progressive Creationism”, though some prefer to distinguish between the two terms. Unfortunately, Old Earth Creationism is often conflated with Theistic Evolution, because of a widespread misapprehension that accepting “millions and billions of years” necessarily means allegorizing much of the Bible and accepting naturalistic evolution.

My goal for this series of articles is to present the basics of these three general positions, as well as alternative categories. I’ll also define “Intelligent Design” and discuss how it fits in. Finally, I’ll briefly explain several ways that Christian scholars have developed to understand and interpret the Creation Days of Genesis. If it wasn’t clear from my opening statement, and you haven’t read any of my other posts related to this topic, I hold to an Old Earth Creationist view and am a big fan of RTB. But, I will do my best to keep my bias under control, since the purpose is not to argue in favor of any of the positions presented. One of these days (no pun intended), I’ll go into more depth on several of these views, but this should serve as a good primer for those interested in the subject.

Young Earth Creationism (YEC)

  • Bible & Science: Emphasizes a “literal”, “plain reading” of Scripture. Mainstream scientific research & conclusions are highly suspect, with “man’s understanding” being clouded by sin and possible demonic influence. Nature must be viewed through the lens of Scripture, and, in the matter of origins, theology always takes precedence over science.
  • Creation Week: For various reasons, typically holds that the “days” of Creation were 24-hour, “calendar days”.
  • Age of Earth & Universe: Generally teaches that correct biblical interpretation demands that the Earth and/or the Universe is/are 6000 to 10000 years old and that correct interpretation of scientific data also supports this. This date is determined by treating the genealogies in Genesis 5 & 11 as a chronology with few-to-no gaps. Rejects Big Bang cosmology, radiometric dating, and anything else that demonstrates or requires eons of time.
  • Evolution: Macroevolution is fully rejected, though massive post-Fall changes and subsequent diversity occurred within only a few thousand years. Observed microevolution is accepted though usually referred to with terms like “variation within a kind” or “small-scale adaptation”. Both stellar evolution (because of the time involved) and chemical evolution (aka abiogenesis) are fully rejected.
  • Adam & Eve: Views the biblical Adam & Eve as the very first members of Mankind, created on Day 6. Various hominids found in the fossil record are generally considered human descendants of Adam & Eve, though the remains may have been deformed by disease, extremely old age, sin, even demonic mischief.
  • Pre-Fall Conditions: Presents an idyllic picture, often planet-wide, of life without pain, death, or suffering of any kind for humans or (some kinds of) animals. (An extreme version extends this to plants, as well.) This includes an absence of thorns & thistles and no predation or carnivorous activity. Reflects a “Perfect Paradise Paradigm” of God’s “very good” Creation.
  • The Fall/Curse: All of creation became “broken” or warped in some sense, even to the point of changing certain physical laws. Many creatures that were once vegetarian were changed physiologically and behaviorally to be carnivorous, insectivorous, or omnivorous. All creatures, great and small, were then subject to death and decay. Once kicked out of the Garden, Adam & Eve (and their descendants) would have to work (much harder) to survive. Man’s sin nature, of course, came to dominate his thoughts and behaviors.
  • Genesis Flood: Holds to some form of “Flood Geology”, wherein a catastrophic, global Flood occurred roughly 4300 to 7000 years ago, utterly destroying Mankind and all land-dwelling creatures (including birds), except for those saved on Noah’s Ark. This is necessary to account for the geological & fossil record in the YEC model. Some believe that certain physical laws may have also been altered at this point, as at the Fall, and possibly the natures of certain animals.


Old Earth Creationism (OEC)

  • mountains and treesBible & Science: More(?) apt to reference the importance of literary genre, context, and acknowledge flexibility of word/phrase definitions in ancient languages. Typically more receptive to the “Two Books” doctrine, in which Scripture (special revelation) and Nature (general revelation) are harmonious, equally reliable and authoritative when studied & interpreted correctly.
  • Creation Week: Lots of variation within the OEC camp for how to best understand the “days” of Creation. Many hold that both contextual and scientific evidence indicate that the proper, literal definition of the ancient Hebrew <yom> in these verses is “a long, finite period of time.” Others use the 24-hour day definition but work out the timing and/or geographical focus differently. Other OECs read the Creation “days” as literary conventions. (I’ll cover these and additional interpretations in Part 3.)
  • Age of Earth & Universe: Typically accepts Big Bang cosmology, along with ages of ~4.56 billion years for the Earth and ~13.8 billion years for the Universe, based on multiple, overlapping dating methods.
  • Evolution: Macroevolution is fully rejected for both scriptural and scientific reasons. Microevolution is, of course, accepted as evident in nature. However, some (like RTB) make the point that speciation without supernatural assistance is only possible among tiny, short-lived creatures with humongous populations — i.e., some viruses and bacteria; possibly ants or termites. Stellar evolution is fully accepted; chemical evolution (aka abiogenesis) is fully rejected.
  • Adam & Eve: As with YEC, views Adam & Eve to be the specially-created, initial human couple, progenitors of all Mankind and first to be created with the imago Dei, which entails a spiritual nature. However, they are dated to anywhere from 10000 to ~100,000 years ago. There was no evolution involved, so they were not genetically related to any other hominids, before or after them. Those other hominids were separate species of advanced primates, which were also likely specially-created.
  • Pre-Fall Conditions: Views vary on the degree and nature of the initially idyllic conditions. However, it is commonly recognized that the Garden of Eden was not global, that Adam worked in the Garden, and Romans 5 is believed to refer only to spiritual death, thereby limiting it to modern Man (Homo sapiens sapiens). Thus, outside of the Garden and perhaps to a limited extent within it, there was indeed animal death.
  • The Fall/Curse: Generally acknowledges that no physical laws were altered, nor did pain/suffering/disease/death make their debut (except that Mankind was then subject to death and possibly disease for the first time), nor did thorns & thistles suddenly spring up. Beyond that, there is debate over the degree and nature of the effects of the Curse on Mankind and the rest of Creation. The RTB model, for example, infers that the Creation — or, at least, Earth and its environs — is cursed by virtue of being to some extent at the mercy of sinful Man. Others have suggested that the law of decay, which has been in place since the Beginning, and possibly animal pain/suffering/disease/death may be Curse-related punishments instituted by God, even though the reason for said punishment (i.e., human sin) did not occur until eons later.
  • Genesis Flood: While some OEC proponents hold to a global Flood, most believe that it was local/regional in geographical extent. Also, while some of the latter believe that other groups of humanity escaped or were not affected by the Flood, most believe that Mankind had not branched out very far and that Noah & his family were the only survivors. A date for the Flood lies somewhere in the middle between Adam and the present, obviously, but there is no consensus. The RTB model, which dates Adam & Eve to between 60,000 & 100,000 years ago estimates that Noah lived roughly 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. Finally, the Flood did not affect physical laws or animal natures.


Theistic Evolution(ism) (TE)

  • Bible & Science: Similar to OEC but generally allowing for — even requiring — more metaphor and allegory in reading the Bible, as is common in more liberal theological camps. Tends to attribute much more reliability to mainstream science than to the Bible in matters of nature and scientific implication.
  • Creation Week: Variation of opinion similar to OEC, though often take the entire passage as having little-to-no historical or scientific content.
  • Age of Earth & Universe: Same as OEC.
  • Evolution: Wholeheartedly accepts the conclusions of mainstream science, including macroevolutionary changes, while adding some measure of involvement by God. This involvement is usually limited to a few, very critical junctures in natural history — e.g., creation of the physical universe, creation of first life, imbuing the first man/men with a spirit.
  • Adam & Eve: Either Adam was not an actual, historical individual, or he was chosen from many already evolved “humans” to be the first of a special line of humanity. Eve, of course, was his mate, though not necessarily his first & only. Some have postulated that the “Adam” in Genesis 1 was not the same “Adam” as in Genesis 2.
  • Pre-Fall Conditions: The more conservative TEs hold views similar to OECs, while the rest generally consider the Garden of Eden and/or the story of the Fall to be fictional, so the question is irrelevant.
  • The Fall/Curse: If there actually was an historical “Fall”, then nature was no different prior to it than afterward (as with OEC view). However, the more conservative TEs might hold to a more orthodox view that at least the Adamic race was subject to some effects of sin on the mind and spirit of Man. (I need to do more study on this.)
  • Genesis Flood: Many TEs accept a historical Flood of limited geographical and/or anthropological extent, while others believe the story to be allegorical, intended for theological purposes only. Even the former do not believe Nature was affected.

 

Whew! Obviously, there is a lot more to each position, including the relevant scripture verses for these and other aspects, hermeneutical approaches, addressing strengths & weaknesses of each, explanations of scientific theories, etc. But, that should do for this primer.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in a few days…

Part 2
Part 3a
Part 3b

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