Believers in the authority of the Bible “as the only rule of faith and obedience” take different stands on how the Genesis account of creation should be interpreted. Despite the claims of some Young Earth Creationists, there is not only one single legitimate Christian position on what is meant in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” A related, but overlapping concern in understanding the Genesis account of creation is how the creation days in Genesis 1 should be understood. Six sequential 24-hour periods of time, marked by evenings and mornings, is the 24-hour view. Or are the “days” six sequential periods of time or ages, without a specification for a length of time. This is called the day-age view. While understanding the six days of is an important issue in its own right, here I want to focus on the creation perspectives available to believers in the authority of Scripture.
Two of the primary scientific origins issues here are the age of the “heavens and earth” (the earth and universe) and whether life was created by evolution. I think it can be helpful to think about the various positions on how to interpret the Genesis account of creation as summarized here. This is a brief description of several interpretations of Genesis discussed by Deborah and Loran Haarsma in their book, Origins.
Denis Lamoureux, has several web lectures available on a range of topics from the Evolutionary Creation (EC) perspective. One series, “Beyond the ‘Evolution’ vs. ‘Creation’ Debate,” is an introduction to the various views on origins, both Christian and non-Christian. His personal story is one of the lectures, describing his journey from Young Earth Creationism to Evolutionary Creationism while achieving advanced degrees in theology and biology. The fifth lecture, “Summary and Conclusions,” has a helpful overview of the various perspectives on creation. It also highlights the similarities and differences between Christian and nonChristians views on creation.
There is a helpful handout for Lamoureux’s lecture series, “Beyond the ‘Evolution’ vs. ‘Creation’ Debate,” that summarizes and compares various Christian and non-Christian views on the origin of life and the universe. These range from Young Earth Creationism (YEC), which allows little or no accommodation for interpreting the creation account of Genesis with the findings of science. At the opposite pole is Atheistic Evolution (AE), which rejects the creation account in Genesis as pure myth and allows no possible accommodation with its view of science. I’ll follow Lamoureux’s categories in the discussion that follows. You can also find an overview of several positions on creation here from the Evolutionary Creation website, BioLogos. Deborah Haarsma is the current president of BioLogos.
Young Earth Creationism (YEC) holds to a 24-hour view of the six creation days, but also claims that a faithful reading of Scripture dates the age of the earth to between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. Old Earth Creationism (OEC) holds that the scientific evidence for a greater age of the earth (4.6 billion years) and the universe (13.7 billion years) is strong. So it sees the days of creation in Genesis 1 referring to long periods of time. The day-age view of creation days fits with the OEC perspective in what Lamoureux called Progressive Creation (PC). These three perspectives all reject the possibility that God created life through the process of macroevolution.
Then there is Intelligent Design (ID). It has been consistently ridiculed by modern day science as a “God of the gaps” argument that deceitfully tries to sneak theology into the scientific method. ID believes that: “the existence of an intelligent cause of the universe and of the development of life is a testable scientific hypothesis.” According to William Dembski ID is three things. First, it is a scientific research program investigating the effects of intelligent causes. Second, it is an intellectual movement that “challenges Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy.” And third, it is a way to understand divine action. In Intelligent Design, Dembski said:
The universe provides a well-defined causal backdrop (physicists these days think of it as a field characterized by field equations). Although one can ask whether that causal backdrop is itself designed, one can as well ask whether events and objects occurring within that backdrop are designed.
I think Lamoureux rightly positioned ID within his Progressive Creation category. But if weakened in its Christian presuppositions, such as the possibility of an intelligent (personal?) designer, the search for design in nature will easily fit within one of his non-Christian categories on origins, Deistic Evolution. Some books supporting ID include The Design Inference and Intelligent Design by William Dembski and Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe. If you want to read something that refutes the idea of design in the universe, there is the Richard Dawkins book, The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins believes in Atheistic Evolution.
Evolutionary Creation (EC) affirms that God is the Creator of all things, including humans made in his image. But it accepts the science of evolution “as the best description for how God brought about the diversity of life on earth.” So the days of creation in Genesis are not literal 24-hours days and they do not necessarily occur in a sequence of time. According to Lamoureux’s comparison, EC differs from YEC and Progressive Creation positions by accepting macro-evolution, having a completely indirect sense of God’s activity in the origins of the universe, life, and humanity as well as denying a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 through 11 with regard to creation and the Flood. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a proponent of evolutionary creation. In his book, The Language of God, Collins said: “Believers would be well advised to look carefully at the overwhelming weight of scientific data supporting this view of the relatedness of all living things [evolution], including ourselves.”
Lamoureux then noted two non-Christian perspectives on origins, Deistic Evolution and Atheistic or Dysteleogical Evolution. “Dysteleology” is a philosophical view holding that there is no telos or final cause for the origin of the universe or life. Seeing a plan or purpose in creation is a delusion. There is no evidence of design or a Designer. Blind chance working in natural process resulted in the existence of the Earth and life on it. The anthropic principle doesn’t point to the possibility of design in creation. God is a delusion. Some modern advocates here would include Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett.
Deistic Evolution (DE) agrees there is evidence of design within creation, but denies that God is personally involved within His creation. Either a Designer or a Force could have resulted in the kind of universe that we live in. Whether or not there is a personal God as the Designer is irrelevant. “God never enters the world.” Intriguingly, Lamoureux categorizes Charles Darwin as DE.
Although advocates of ID such as Michael Behe, Phillip Johnson, and William Dembski are Christians, and infer “an intelligent cause” behind the evidence of design in the universe, such an interpretation is not necessary to search for design in nature. Stripped of its Christian leanings, some ID beliefs could fit within Deistic Evolution. Consider the idea of the anthropic principle.
If you begin with the premise of a personal Designer behind the origins of the universe, you can see evidence of design almost everywhere you look. Hugh Ross, in his book The Creator and the Chaos, noted there were more than two-dozen parameters in the universe that necessarily had to fall into “narrowly defined ranges for life of any kind to exist.” The Privileged Planet by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards builds on the anthropic principle to show that not only is our planet amazingly fitted to support life, but that it also gives us “the best view of the universe.” It is as if the heavens and earth were designed for both life and scientific discovery. Show Me God by Fred Heeren examines “What the Message from Space Is Telling Us About God.” The Privileged Planet is also available as a DVD for purchase and to watch through Netflix.
But the anthropic principle doesn’t have to lead you inevitably to a belief in a personal Designer. There is the weak anthropic principle (WAP) which observes the parameters noted by Ross, Gonzalez, Richards and other ID advocates must be set as they are, “or we wouldn’t be here.” In other words, human existence puts us within a coincidentally “privileged time and place.” Fred Heeren said:
In a universe that is sufficiently large, the right conditions for life might occur in certain times and certain rare regions. Thus an intelligent observer should not be surprised if he finds himself in a time and place where the conditions are just right for his existence.
A so-called strong anthropic principle (SAP) holds that these “right conditions” are to be expected if we can in fact observe them. As Gonzalez and Richards said: “We can expect to find ourselves in a universe compatible with our existence.” There are even stronger versions of the anthropic principle, namely the Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP), which holds we created ourselves by observing ourselves. The Final Anthropic Principle (FAP) suggests humankind itself might be the intelligence behind the design evident in the universe. Holding a somewhat science fiction-like sense of some day conquering time’s one-way arrow, humans evolve into all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipresent gods. “Having amassed such powers, this evolved god may then be able to create in the past.”
So if we look at the various ways to understand the Genesis account of creation as existing on a continuum, we have the following progression: Young Earth Creation, Progressive Creation, Evolutionary Creation, Deistic Evolution and Atheistic Evolution. Young Earth Creation has little or no accommodation with science where it may intersect with Scripture, while Atheistic Evolution sees the Genesis creation as pure myth with no evidence of science. Progressive Creation (including OEC and day-age theorists), Evolutionary Creationists and Deistic Evolution are progressively more accommodating to science. This follows the presentation and discussion of the views on origins given by Denis Lamoureux in his web lectures.
Young Earth Creation (YEC), Progressive Creation (PC), and Evolutionary Creation (EC) are all legitimate perspectives for believers in the authority of the Bible “as the only rule of faith and obedience.” Evolutionary Creation accepts God’s use of macro-evolution as the manner in which He created the heavens and the earth through what Lamoureux described as indirect, but “ordained and sustained natural processes.” That is, God planned and upheld the creation of the heavens and the earth and the life within it, but did so through natural processes like evolution. Evolution here is theological not naturalistic—in God’s hands, it was part of His plan and purpose—and not due to chance or chaos. Both YEC and PC reject the idea that God used macro-evolution in His creation of the heavens and earth.
Young Earth Creation sees God directly involved in creation; and believes He created all things within the timeframe of six 24-hours days. The earth and universe are only 6,000 to 10,000 years-old. YEC also asserts that chapters six through nine of Genesis describe a global flood. OEC sees the six days of creation as sequential, but not six sequential 24-hour days. The “days” could even represent long periods of time, as in the day-age view. The universe is 10-15 billion years old and developed through an indirect ordained and sustained natural process. But not so for the different kinds of life, which were directly created by God; possibly over billions of years of time. OEC holds the Flood narrative in Genesis to describe a local flood, not a global flood.
For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”