Writer Steve Schramm explores Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design and Theistic Evolution
Many Christians might be surprised to find that there are a variety of different ways to approach the issue of creation and evolution. Some believe in Young Earth Creationism, which states that the Universe was created in six literal days about 6,000 years ago.
Other Christians believe in different versions of Old Earth Creationism, which states that the universe is much older than that and creation happened over billions of years.
Others still are persuaded by Intelligent Design theory, which holds that some higher power guided the creation process, although it is not their project to consider what or whom that higher power is.
Finally, there are those who believe in Theistic Evolution, which says that God directed the process of evolution. Each of these views has strengths, weaknesses and additional considerations.
Why debate creation and evolution?
Firstly, is it even necessary to debate creation and evolution? After all, doesn’t the Bible make it clear that God created the world?
Yes, but how exactly he did so is less clear. And for many, attempts to harmonise what they see in the natural world with what they read in scripture has led to different conclusions.
Some take the view that, while the creation narrative is not scientifically correct, it is theologically correct. They would state that the story is more like a myth or poem rather than a straightforward historical account, and thus the text should not be pressed to line up with scientific discoveries.
Therefore, while this question is secondary to matters of salvation, or whether God even exists, it is still worthy of consideration.
View 1: Young Earth Creationism*
Young Earth Creationism (YEC) is the view that the Universe was created in six literal days about 6,000 years ago. This view takes a very literal (that is, natural) approach to the Genesis creation narrative.
YEC proponents would say that “days” in Genesis 1 must be interpreted as 24-hour days because that is how the word ‘day’ is defined in the context, which is confirmed by Exodus 20:11. They also believe that the creation of Adam and Eve was a historical event that happened exactly as described in the Bible.
*In full disclosure, this author finds Young Earth Creationism to be the biblically and scientifically correct view.
• Young Earth Creationism is the most natural interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative. One can derive an approximate date for creation by appealing to known history as well as the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11.
• Young Earth Creationism is the historic position of most in the Christian Church and Jewish tradition and has been for millennia.
• Young Earth Creationism provides a biblically clear and concise answer to the question of how creation happened.
• Young Earth Creationism runs into problems when trying to explain the scientific evidence for an old Earth. Some problems have been given explanations, but many others have not.
• Sedimentary rock layers and the fossil record are considered difficult to reconcile with a young Earth view by many. Creationists usually answer with an appeal to the flood story in Genesis 6-9.
• Potentially, Young Earth Creationism’s most difficult challenge is the existence of stars and galaxies that are billions of light-years away. Again, solutions have been proposed, but it is still an open question in the YEC community.
• Many creation scientists have PhDs and are well-qualified to engage in the creation vs evolution debate.
• Young Earth Creationism is the most popular view among American Christians, although that is slowly changing.
• The landscape of Young Earth Creationism is shifting toward ‘model-building’ instead of ‘evolution-bashing’. Many proponents and opponents alike view this as a shift in the right direction.
View 2: Old Earth Creationism
Old Earth Creationism (OEC) is the view that the Universe was created by God, but that the creation process took place over a longer period of time than six 24-hour days. This view is also sometimes called ‘Progressive Creationism’, because it holds that creation happened in a series of progressive steps over time.
There are variations on this view (for example, John Sailhamer’s Historical Creationism or Day-Age Creationism). The current study will focus on Progressive Creationism since it is the most widely accepted form.
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• Old Earth Creationism is a more moderate view that tries to find a middle ground between creation and evolution.
• Old Earth Creationism seems, to some, more academically palatable because it has no qualms with modern radioactive dating methods.
• Old Earth Creationism doesn’t have the same problem with starlight and galaxies that are billions of light-years away as Young Earth Creationism does.
• Old Earth Creationism requires a lot of ‘tweaking’ of the Genesis creation narrative in order to make it fit with scientific discoveries.
• If God truly created over billions of years, that means death and suffering prior to the fall of man must be accounted for. For this and other reasons, YECs argue that all versions of Old Earth and Evolutionary Creation potentially impugn God’s character.
• Old Earth proponents often lose credibility with scientific peers because they reject evolution by natural selection.
• Old Earth Creationism is growing in popularity, but it is still not as widely accepted as Young Earth Creationism among American laypersons.
• There are many different interpretations of Old Earth Creationism, which can make dialogue and debate difficult.
• Old Earth Creationism is not an explicit teaching of scripture, and therefore must be inferred rather than logically deduced.
View 3: Intelligent Design
Intelligent Design (ID) is the view that some natural phenomena or objects are too complex or too intricate to have arisen through undirected natural processes. Proponents of ID believe that these phenomena are best explained by the act of design, or a designer.
The most common example used to support ID is the bacterial flagellum, which is a tiny rotary engine that helps bacteria move. ID proponents such as Dr Michael Behe modestly conclude that the flagellum is too complex to have arisen through natural selection and must have been designed.
• ID is a growing movement with increasing support from the scientific community and is neutral or agnostic on questions of religion or God.
• Many ID proponents are well-qualified scientists who engage in serious research and dialogue.
• ID offers a more nuanced view of creation that does not require a complete rejection of evolution.
• ID is often seen as a ‘back door’ to creationism, and therefore many scientists are immediately sceptical of ID arguments.
• ID doesn’t offer a specific explanation for how or why things were designed, which leaves many questions unanswered.
• ID does not offer or suggest anything about how the biblical creation narratives should be interpreted.
• ID proponents vary across a spectrum of biblical beliefs (YECs, OECs) as well as other viewpoints and worldviews entirely.
• ID is a relatively new view, and therefore it has not been as widely studied or discussed as the other creationist views.
• ID proponents often, though not always, use negative arguments (arguing against evolution) rather than positive arguments (putting forth a positive case for design).
View 4: Theistic Evolution
Theistic Evolution (TE) is the view that God used evolutionary processes to create the Universe and everything in it. Proponents of Theistic Evolution believe that God is the ultimate author of creation, but that he did not make significant miraculous interventions during the development of the early Universe and life on Earth. TE allows that he may have been responsible for guiding or tweaking things, or that he may have set the entire development of the Universe up at the beginning so that it would organically take a certain form in the course of development.
This view is sometimes referred to as Evolutionary Creationism, a term proponents have tried to popularise in an effort to increase solidarity with their Christian brothers and sisters.
• TE attempts to find a middle ground between creation and evolution, which can be appealing to people who are uncomfortable with either extreme.
• TE is welcomed by an increasing number of Christian denominations and organisations.
• TE enjoys the most support from the scientific community because it purports to treat matters of faith and science equally.
• TE doesn’t offer a clear explanation for how best to square the Genesis creation narratives with scientific discoveries.
• TE somewhat downplays the role of God in creation, which can be a turn-off for people who are looking for a more robust view of creation.
• TE potentially suffers from the same biblical-theological troubles as Old Earth Creationism, and possibly more. This is primarily because it is debatable whether Christians can hold to a historical Adam and evolution at the same time, and what that means for the image of God and work of Christ.
• If Theistic Evolution is true, it has dramatic implications for the understanding of many biblical teachings and doctrines, which include an original man, a perfected Creation, or a fall.
• Part of TE’s quick rise in popularity is due to new Ancient Near-Eastern studies which potentially undermine the literality of the creation account.
These are four of the most popular creationist views in the running today. Each view has its own strengths and weaknesses, so it is important for the Christian to prayerfully consider which view best aligns his or her biblical beliefs and worldview.
No matter which view is chosen, it must be remembered that all Christians serve the same God and are called to love one another. As brothers, sisters and Christians first and foremost, the Church must be willing to lovingly call one another both to correction and communion.
Steve Schramm is an autodidactic writer, Bible teacher and host of the Bible Nerd Podcast. He’s authored four books, including Truth Be Told: A Believer’s Guide to Sharing Christianity, Overcoming Objections, and Winning More Souls for Christ.