In my last post, I explained 3 big reasons Christian parents need to be up to speed on current views of creation and evolution. Today I’m giving you an introductory guide to the six major views you need to know about.
My intention with this post is not to get into the scientific or scriptural basis for (or arguments against) each view, but rather to provide a brief overview of what each view means. Leading adherents to each view here can provide extensive scientific and scriptural evidence to support their position…and similar evidence to counter each of the other positions. I plan to dig into the key pieces of evidence for and against each view in future posts.
For now, I created the following diagram to give you a lay of the land. It can be confusing to figure out how all these views fit together and understand the key differences. Take a look at this chart to understand the key distinctions, then dig into the descriptions below.
Two Views Without a (Biblical) God
1. Atheistic Evolution (sometimes called Naturalistic Evolution)
When people use the generic word “evolution,” this is typically what they mean. Atheistic Evolutionists say there is no God and that life emerged naturally from preexisting, non-living building blocks under the influence of natural laws (though the origin of those laws is not explained).
If you’re not familiar with the details of evolution (as I wasn’t until recently), there’s a lot more to it than the result that man came from apes. That is an implication of evolution, but it’s important to understand that extensive scientific research – down to the molecular (cell) level – underlies the theory. That’s not to say that it must therefore be correct, but rather to suggest an appreciation for the complexity of the underlying research. I’ve heard many Christians laugh off the concept that man could come from apes, but that betrays a shallow understanding of the scientific complexity underlying evolutionary biology.
2. “Pure” Intelligent Design
There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the term “Intelligent Design.” Christians often think Intelligent Design is synonymous with biblical creationism because it is so often portrayed in the media as the alternative to generically labeled evolution.
By base definition, however, Intelligent Design is simply “the theory that life, or the universe, cannot have arisen by chance and was designed and created by some intelligent entity.” Of course, that means any creation view that includes God would technically fall under the Intelligent Design umbrella, but scientists aligning specifically with the Intelligent Design label are doing so to indicate their views are not based on biblical (or other religious) texts. These scientists don’t specify who or what the intelligent agent is, but state that some features of the universe and of living things are better explained by an intelligent cause than by the undirected natural process of evolution. This is compatible with a Christian view, but is based on scientific evidence rather than scripture; thus, pure Intelligent Designers take no explicit position on who the intelligent agent is.
Four Views With a (Biblical) God
The prior two views exclude the biblical God completely. Now we’ll look at the views that take God into account. The first dividing point (see diagram) is on whether God created humans directly (i.e., without evolution). Let’s look first at those who say “no.”
3. Theistic Evolution
Theistic Evolutionists say that God created all the natural laws and building blocks for the universe, set it in motion, then stepped back and let creation take over (possibly, if not probably, designing it so life would emerge in the way it did). Like Atheistic Evolution, it presumes a natural evolution of life. The key difference is that Theistic Evolutionists identify the biblical God as the initiator of the whole process.
Theistic Evolutionists usually believe that Adam and Eve are literary and symbolic. The theological implications of there not being a historical Adam and Eve are significant, but beyond the scope of this post. I’d like to come back to this issue in a future post.
That said, it should be noted that some Theistic Evolutionists do believe in a literal Adam and Eve. Some believe that God, through an act of special creation toward the end of the evolutionary process, created Adam and Eve as the head of the human race. Others say that God did not use any special acts, but rather appointed two existing hominids (Adam and Eve) as the representatives for all humans. Either way, the view on Adam and Eve is tangential to the position of a Theistic Evolutionist.
Given the necessary time for evolution, Theistic Evolution implies a belief in a very old universe.
4. Evolutionary Creation
Evolutionary Creation and Theistic Evolution are terms that are often used interchangeably. However, some prefer the Evolutionary Creation label to emphasize the theological importance of God’s role. They emphasize that the universe is a “created reality that is completely dependent for its every moment of existence on the will and grace of God.” I included it here as a separate view because both the Theistic Evolution and Evolutionary Creation terms are used frequently and I wanted to make it clear how they relate to each other. Regardless of the theoretical emphasis in the terms themselves, the resulting views are the same.
Moving back up the diagram to the dividing point on whether God created humans directly or not, we’re now going to move down to the views that say “yes;” these are the views that reject evolution as the natural mechanism through which God created humans from other creatures. This brings us to a final dividing point: the age of the earth. Here the question is, “Did God create the universe and humans in six 24-hour periods?”
5. Old-Earth Creationism
This view separates the creation of the universe from the creation of life. Old-Earth Creationists agree with mainstream science that the universe is billions of years old, but deny evolution. They believe that God specially created humans and that there was a literal Adam. There are two sub-groups of Old-Earth Creationists, each pointing to a different scriptural basis for their view (i.e., the resulting view view is the same – old earth and no evolution – but they arrive at it differently):
- Gap Creationists believe that there is an implied time gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 – God created the heavens and the earth (pause) then the earth became void. This view is based on the study of verb tenses in 1:1 and 1:2, which could suggest that an indefinite time period existed before a literal 6-day creation took place. Gap Creationists vary on what made the earth become void of life, but some believe a whole other original creation existed and was destroyed (accounting for the age of the earth and possibly dinosaurs).
- Day-Age Creationists believe that the days of Genesis should not be taken to mean 24-hour days, but rather indefinitely long periods of time. This is based primarily on the analysis of the Hebrew word “yom,” translated day. It can refer to a 24-hour day or a more general sense of time, as in the expression “back in the day.” It has multiple meanings in the first two chapters of Genesis alone. There has been extensive dialog amongst scholars over the appropriate interpretation.
6. Young-Earth Creationism
Lastly, we come to the view people most commonly associate with the term “creationism.” It says that the universe and life originated and developed in six literal days, based on a direct reading of Genesis. This implies a belief that the universe is about 6,000-10,000 years old (based on event time frames and genealogies in the Bible) and that humans were created directly by God, with Adam and Eve historically coming first. Young-Earth Creationists answer geological claims that the world is much older by holding that a worldwide flood (Noah’s flood) laid down the fossil record.
Phew! I know that was a lot. But it’s so important to have this background and be able to speak confidently with your kids when it becomes age appropriate. Was this helpful to you? What questions do you have that you’d like to see addressed in future posts? If this was a good reference tool for you, please share!