Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Primer on Various Views About Origins


The Bible is very clear about the fact that God created the universe and that humans were created by God in his image, a distinction that separates humans from all the other animals. On the other hand, the Bible is not clear on when and how God created the universe and humans. Consequently, even among Christians who believe the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God there is a difference of opinion about the methods God used to create the universe.

Sometimes it is valuable to review the very basic ideas about a topic. One of my readers asked me if I could very simply describe each of the major views held by Christians about how and when God created the universe and humans. I am answering that question with this basic primer about views on origins held by Christians and non-Christians. These can be broadly classified into four categories by answering three questions: (1) Did God create the universe and humans? (2) Did the big bang occur? and (3) Does macroscopic evolution occur?

The first question is straightforward. Is God the ultimate creator of the universe and human life? The second question has to do with the origin of the universe. Did this universe come into existence about 14 billion years ago and did the planet earth form about 4.5 billion years ago? The third question asks whether or not macroscopic evolution is the mechanism by which all species came into existence. Although most evolutionists do not distinguish between microscopic and macroscopic evolution, that distinction is necessary when discussing origins. Microscopic evolution allows small changes within species. It is the process of minor genetic change that allows things like bacteria to become resistant to certain antibiotics. When distinguished from macroscopic evolution, microscopic evolution does not produce new species or major new functionality. The process of microscopic evolution is accepted by people in all four categories. Macroscopic evolution is the claim that all life has developed from previous common ancestors through a natural process in which those small genetic changes compound and eventually form new species and new functionality.

The first view is usually called Young Earth Creationism (YEC) and claims that God did not use the big bang to create the universe or macroscopic evolution to create humans. Proponents of this view believe that the universe is about 6000 years old. This view is primarily founded on the belief that the genealogies in Genesis are basically complete, meaning the first humans lived about 6,000 years ago (with some flexibility on how complete the genealogies are which may push the date back to 10,000 years ago), and that the six days of creation described in Genesis 1 are each 24 hours. I don't think either of these premises are supported by the biblical text as explained in previous articles on the days of creation and on the biblical genealogies.

The second view is often called Old Earth Creationism (OEC) or Progressive Creationism. Proponents of this view believe that God used the big bang to create our universe about 14 billion years ago and that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, but that God did not use macroscopic evolution to create the diversity of life we see. There is a common misconception that if one accepts the timeline of the big bang, then that automatically implies that evolution must have also happened, but that is not the case. Whether or not the big bang has occurred is an entirely separate issue from whether or not macroscopic evolution has occurred.

Old Earth Creationists affirm the usual timeline for the history of the earth but believe that, in general, each new species in the fossil record requires some direct creative intervention by God. Old Earth Creationists believe, for instance, that the dinosaurs lived from about 240 million years ago until about 66 million years ago when a large asteroid or comet likely hit the earth and destroyed a large fraction of the life on earth. Most Old Earth Creationists believe that each day of creation is meant to be interpreted as a long period of time, or an epoch. Within this view, Genesis 1:1 describes the big bang event and approximately 9 billion years of cosmic history, the time it took for the earth to form after the big bang: "God created the heavens and the earth." The subsequent six days of creation primarily describe the 4.5 billion year history of the earth in which God prepares the earth for his ultimate creation of humans. Old earth creationists affirm a historical Adam and Eve who lived in the garden and chose to rebel against God. Old Earth Creationists affirm the historicity of the first chapters of Genesis, simply placing that history more than six thousand years ago.

The third view, called Evolutionary Creationism or Theistic Evolution, is the belief that God created the universe and humans using the mechanisms of the big bang and macroscopic evolution to execute his creation. God is still responsible and involved as he is in all of nature, but rather than intercede to accomplish his goals, he empowers nature itself to accomplish his goals. Just as a good computer programmer instills all the necessary instructions into the computer code, so God instilled nature with all that was necessary to create humans. Most Evolutionary Creationists do not believe that Adam and Eve are the first and only two humans from which all of humanity descended, but it is possible within Evolutionary Creationism to retain a historic Adam and Eve, as described in my posts on four views of Adam and Eve and on Adam and Eve and Evolutionary Creationism.

Notice how all of these first three views have the term "Creationism" in their title. Proponents of these three views believe God is the creator of the universe and of humans. All views have adherents who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and completely true. Although there are some Christians who do not believe that macroscopic evolution is consistent with the biblical account of creation, I believe that a biblical case could be made for any one of these three views. My personal opinion is that the strongest case at this time, both biblically and scientifically, is Old Earth Creationism. From a purely biblical viewpoint, I believe that Young Earth Creationism has the weakest case when one takes the original language and culture into account, and that Evolutionary Creationism could present reasonable biblical arguments to support its conclusions.

Of course the most important question posed is the very first one, "Is God the Creator?" Those who adhere to Naturalistic Evolution deny that God played a role in creation and often deny the very existence of God. There is a huge distinction between a person who believes that God used the big bang and evolution to accomplish his purposes and a person who denies God and believes that the big bang and evolution are sufficient in and of themselves to describe the origin, structure, design, and information content of the universe.

I believe that the creation story in Genesis is written purposely by God in a way to accommodate different interpretations. It is a one page story of creation that must speak to all people, in all cultures, in all languages, in all times. It does just that. To the ancient Hebrew reader it stood apart from the creation myths of other cultures that had human-like gods and humans created as slaves of the gods. Instead, the God of this story is distinct from his creation and makes humans in his own image as the pinnacle of creation to have a relationship with him. It is a brilliant piece of literature for it is a short story of creation that was as relevant and true to the ancient Hebrew reader as it is to the modern scientific reader.

Christians hold diverse views on how and when God created the universe and humans, and at times that diversity leads to unkind and untrue words that are spoken about others. In doing so, Christians are elevating the issue of creation above a much more important issue of faith. As quoted in John 13:35, Jesus made it very clear that the mark of a Christian is not that we all believe the same thing regarding the how and when of creation, but rather by our love for each other: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." As we discuss these different views, let us do it in a way that is so loving, gentile, and kind, that others stand in astonishment to see that different beliefs and radical love are not mutually exclusive.

13 comments:

  1. Michael, would love to have you join our Facebook Group to learn about a fifth viewpoint that youra completely misses; a viewpoint we believe the Scriptures teach: Young Biosphere Creationism.
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/1864258817183394/

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    1. How would you answer the three questions posed here?

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    2. The 5th viewpoint? Explain please. Simple words I beg you...I'm Not That Bright.

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    3. I don't know this viewpoint and my blog only talked about the major views held by people today. Whatever this view is, it isn't held by many. I've asked for further clarification about this other viewpoint. It may be similar to the "gap" theory that says there is a long period of time (a gap) between Genesis 1:1 and the creation of the universe, and then the recreation of earth to make it suitable for humans in Genesis 1:2 and the rest of the chapter.

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  2. What we have to remember as Christians is, That which unites us (Jesus) is so much greater that that which divides us.

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  3. What are the implications of the new evidence coming out that the universe may only be 12.5 billion years old? Have we overestimated the distance between solar systems? Have we overestimated the speed of light?

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  4. As a Young Earth Creationist I agree the most important aspect of Christianity is Love, and I respect your view, but I respectfully disagree in love.

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  5. Minor issue with your wording, "macroscopic evolution" makes it sound like you are refering to the evolution of macroscopic lifeforms (as opposed to microscopic lifeforms) which is not normally the arguement. Normally the idea among creationists (old-earth and young-earth) is that evolution is simply limited in the degree and extent of change it can drive. Not that it is limited by how big a creature it can affect.

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    1. The terms come from the general features of the changes that are made. Are they simply changes observed at the microscopic level or do they make changes that are major functional changes observed at the macroscopic level.

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  6. I can see where people get the idea of an old earth creation except for one very big problem. Doesn't the Bible very clearly say that sin entered the world because of Adam? Doesn't it also say that death came about because of sin? If there was no sin and death before Adam, why would there be all of these creatures dying before that. Fossil records show cancer type growths, evidence of violent deaths.
    I don't think that this issue is one of salvation but it does bring up questions about sin, death, and a need for a messiah.

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    1. Yes, death came through the sin of Adam. To determine what death came through sin, though, we must look at what the Bible teaches, not just presume you know. God said that Adam would die the day he ate the fruit and God always keeps his promises. Adam did not die physically, so physical death must not have been what God meant. Adam did die spiritually, so the death that came through the fall of Adam must be spiritual death, not physical death. This is verified by all the passages in the Bible that talk about the death and life that came about from sin. John 3:16 says whoever believes will have eternal life. Since those who believe will still die physically, the life Christ brings must be spiritual life. In John 11 Jesus says "everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die." Of course, they will die physically so this must be spiritual life and death. I don't think there is a single passage in the Bible that is discussing the death and life that came through the fall where it unambiguously refers to physical death. But they are all clearly talking about spiritual life and death.

      Young earth creationists want to make a big deal about millions of years of animal death before the fall of humans. But animal death is not a moral or immoral issue. If it is not a moral issue then it does not have to be the result of sin. I eat meat and kill ants and the death of animals for my food or the death of ants and spiders in my house is not a moral issue. It is the death of spiritual beings, humans, that is a moral issue. It is the spiritual death of humans that was a result of the fall, not the physical death of animals. This is what the Bible teaches. It is our spiritual death that requires a Messiah.

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  7. I don't think my understanding of things fits neatly into any category - and I don't know many Christians who share my view exactly. Put simply, it's that the earth and the universe are as old as science cares to say it is - and that scripture doesn't tell us how old it is - but that the human race is about 6,000 years old. I believe that God created the heavens and the earth, as Genesis 1:1 tells us. Then, between that event and the state we find the earth in in Genesis 1:2, something cataclysmic must have occured to render the earth waste, dark and empty. In that 'gap', I believe that everything prior to man, and prior to the animal and vegetable creation known to man, lived and existed. Then, God set about in six literal days, demarked clearly in the word of God as such, to prepare the scene of devastation for habitation by His creature man. Having done so, He created man and set him in it. The present ordering of the creation is in relation to man, and therefore it was set on by God using a time-frame and in a way that man could understand and could take moral instruction from. God did not prepare the present earth in an instant, nor did He develop it over countless billions of years. I think we can be assured of the literal facts of Biblical creation by the moral facts it teaches - most importantly, that God would never create an earth which was darkened and wasted, and that His actions in creating a renewed scene were in relation to man.

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    1. Your view is, indeed, in another category called "the gap theory." It was widely held by some evangelical Christians in the mid-20th century but is not held by many people today.

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