The creation story of how the universe came to exist is exciting for most people. It almost appears as though humanity was designed to seek out answers to gain understanding of the unknown. There is an ever-present curiosity that drives us to seek out our origins. Science has advanced significantly over the last century due to this innate ambition to understand our overall nature. For us, knowing the answers to the presently unknown gives us great joy. However, science, philosophy, and Christian theology do not always agree on every single detail in the minds of all Christ-followers. Throughout time, people have interpreted the Bible and science in differing fashions. Regardless of their differentiation, it is predominantly clear that they are all attempting to come to the same conclusion. They all want to correctly understand God’s creation.
The three primary approaches for understanding the creation story in Genesis are young earth creationism, old earth creationism, and theistic evolution. Advocates for each will explain their approach to the creation story in a manner they feel best fits the Biblical and scientific evidence. When interpreting the facts, both scientific and Biblical, it is important to responsibly interpret scripture and the science simultaneously. Christians must not discard one or the other while conducting an honest investigation. Advocates for these approaches have reasons for why they have interpreted the scriptures in the manner that they did and support their interpretation of scripture with scientific evidence that corroborates their Biblical positions.
For those that are undecided on this issue, this could be a great launching point for an investigation on creation. Many people spend years of their lives tossing ideas around in their minds, reading books, and seeking counsel. These are excellent methods of attaining information. If you are struggling and do not know where to begin, the summary of these three methods should be able to inform you enough to guide you on where you should begin.
Young Earth Creationism (YEC)
The YEC method of approaching creation is predominantly fueled by the literal interpretation of Genesis. The literal interpretation of the creation account in Genesis is the primary reason why advocates for YEC maintain their young-earth position. The reasoning behind why the literal interpretation is considered as reliable is because of the interpretation of the Hebrew word, “yom”. “Yom” is used for the word “day”, which the advocates for YEC interpret to mean one 24-hour earthly day in this context in the book of Genesis. In addition, they hold that this interpretation is consistently used in the Old Testament in a literal fashion which adds credence to the Old Testament literal interpretation of “yom” in the creation story (Ham 2006, 26).
The Hebrew interpretation of “yom” is not the only reason for why the literal interpretation is taken as preferable. The genealogies that are found in Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 lead an interpreter of the Bible to believe that the universe is young in age (Ham 2006, 26). Since the genealogies were traced back to Adam, the literal interpretation would place the creation week back to around 6,000 years ago. In addition to the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11, Exodus 20:9-11 (NASB) lends itself to support the literal interpretation of yom.
9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
When viewing this passage in the Hebrew language, yom is used in a literal 24-hour earthly day context. Under the idea of YEC, the Jews during this time period would not be expecting the notion of millions of years to be associated with the Hebrew word “yom” which would make the possibility of billions of years completely implausible when attempting to interpret the Biblical scriptures accurately (Ham 2006, 27).
The next topic that needs explaining is the concept of Noah’s ark and the worldwide flood. From a young-earth view, the flood was global rather than local and had monumental geological effects on the earth (Ham 2006, 28). From an old-earth creation view or a theistic evolutionary view, some may hold that the flood was local rather than global in their interpretation of scripture and science. While there are different interpretations of the scripture in this regard, YEC does not permit for the flood to be localized because of the vast natural effects the flood would have caused that support their scientific hypothesis of why there has been observable changes on this planet that have been theorized to have been caused by a large flood. Generally, YEC holds that the flood was a historical event that occurred on a global scale because they feel it is a more accurate reading of the scripture in conjunction with the possible scientific clues that may be evidenced in the sedimentation of the earth in certain parts of the world.
A YEC advocate by the name of Paul Nelson, who is a biologist and a philosopher, is very honest about his belief in YEC. He realizes that science is not in his favor but feels that his interpretation of the creation story in Genesis is the most natural among the three discussed in this article (Gundry, Moreland and Reynolds 1999, 66). This is an important point to highlight when investigating the Christian theories of creation. Some may compromise their science at the expense of their interpretation of scripture. Nelson feels that his interpretation is the overall best explanation of both the scientific facts and scripture, but he admits that the scientific evidence is sparse under the YEC approach. While admitting that YEC does have its flaws, he also extends some wise words to those that are seeking truth.
“Young earth creationism, therefore, need not embrace a dogmatic or static biblical hermeneutic. It must be willing to change and admit error. Presently, we can admit that as recent creationists we are defending a very natural biblical account, at the cost of abandoning a very plausible scientific picture of an “old” cosmos.” (Gundry, Moreland and Reynolds 1999, 66)
Nelson allows us to see that many of the YEC are not opposed to viewing created cosmos differently, but they are currently doing so at the expense of holding to an allegedly natural Biblical interpretation of the Genesis creation story.
Old Earth Creationism (OEC)
Unlike YEC, OEC advocates suggest that each creation day may be taken figuratively rather than literally in the Genesis account of creation. Meaning, an advocate for OEC believes that each day of creation is an indefinite amount of time that God used to create the universe. Under this viewpoint, it is not a necessity to interpret the creation account in Genesis literally in order for the story to be true. The OEC approach to creation employs this method of interpretation because it is believed that the interpretation most accurately represents how God created the universe and it makes the most sense of out of scientific data that we currently have at our disposal.
OEC has many obvious distinctions from the YEC approach to creation. The primary differences are the age of the universe and the interpretation of Genesis. To begin with assessing the age of the earth, a vast majority of scientific evidence that has been collected indicates the universe is billions of years old rather than thousands of years old. The scientific community has almost universally rejected the idea that the universe is thousands of years old. While the consensus itself is not enough to absolutely prove that the universe is not thousands of years old, however it is a strong indicator that these scientific findings of an old universe may hold credibility. The OEC advocates have taken heed to these mainstream scientific findings and allowed it to bolster their interpretation of the Genesis account of creation that suggests that the creative “day” was actually much longer than a 24-hour earthly day.
God has given us a couple of methods of gaining knowledge that he has directly given us. God’s special revelation can be studied through the methods of investigating scripture while God’s general revelation can be studied through the methods of investigation nature (Gundry, Moreland and Reynolds 1999, 109). It is believed that if God is true, then nature and scripture should observably align with each other because God personally used these methods of revelation to give information to us. If these revelations are properly understood in the manner God intended them, there should be no conflict because science and scripture are products of God’s creation.
There is a common misconception about OEC that suggests that OEC would require one to believe that Darwinian evolution is absolutely true. This notion is false. Many advocates of OEC do not believe in an unguided evolution which advanced all life from one common ancestor. OEC claims that while evolution is a valid theory to explain some of the evolutionary changes over a period of time, Darwinian evolution is inadequate when it comes to proving that all living organisms came from one single-celled ancestor. This disapproval of Darwinian evolution is not necessarily rooted in the scriptures; it is originated in scientific evidence.
Sometimes OEC is called “Progressive Creationism” because this view suggests that God’s creation activity was a progression (Gundry, Moreland and Reynolds 1999, 98). Meaning, God took a number of steps over a long period of time. While there are many different schools of thought under the OEC view, it is widely regarded to parallel mainstream science by comparison to YEC. It is hard to accurately pinpoint, like with any Biblical interpretation, which is correct and which is not. Broadly speaking, the scripture is interpreted to mean much longer periods of time rather than the YEC belief that the creative day was a literal 24-hour earthly day. During this long period of time, the universe was formed, earth was established, and biological life had begun on earth at the creative hand of God.
While the OEC is going against the grain of mainstream science by not fully accepting Darwinian evolution in the manner that many Darwinian biologists do, advocates for OEC do bring up legitimate scientific objections for not accepting Darwinian evolution. For example, the fossil record is detrimentally inadequate to support the theory that all living organisms have the same ancestor. Another objection is that we have never seen any evidence of observable evolution from one species to another, which places emphasis on why the inadequacy of the fossil record is so important. In addition, the Cambrian Explosion that occurred around 530 million years ago provided the greatest amount of major animal phyla along with a vast diversification of animals in the fossil record. Prior to this period of time, most animals were very simple and had only a single cell. Obviously, this is a huge problem for those claiming that Darwinian evolution is true because they cannot confidently account for all living organisms evolving from one single-celled organism if all of the living organisms came into existence in the fossil record within a very short time span in the fossil record. Inherently, the advocates for OEC are not against Darwinian evolution because of scripture. They oppose it because of the inadequate science that fails to uphold the theory of Darwinian evolution.
Theistic Evolution (TE)
TE is the approach to creation that suggests that God used evolution as the creative mechanism for all living organisms, including humans. Obviously, like with YEC and OEC, there are various schools of thought among the TE community; however the broad summary of TE suggests that a majority of TE advocates have no problem in accepting Darwinian evolution as it is laid out in most scientific texts. While there are still disputes regarding the use of the words, “guided” and “unguided”, ultimately the TE advocate does believe that God is the foundational cause for all of creation like the advocates for YEC and OEC. With that being said, this is also the most controversial of the three Christian outlooks on creation because of its unmitigated acceptance of Darwinian evolution as it is currently viewed in mainstream science.
TE suggests that when God created the universe, he created the universe in such a perfect manner that the evolutionary process from the original single-cell organism did not need divine intervention, hence believing that evolution is unguided while still being created by the Christian God. God could have created the perfect universe which he could foresee the outcome prior to even creating the universe. Since God is omniscient, God would be capable of creating a universe that would contain galaxies and planets, and God could have so chosen to have earth be a product of his creation without having to directly intervene and facilitate the creation in its development. Since earth would be a member of his creation, earth would not need to have God directly facilitate the evolutionary process because his divine creation would have been tailored to have such an event occur on its own without a guiding hand. God has enabled the universe to self-organize and transform into what God had envisioned for it to fulfill his will (Gundry, Moreland and Reynolds 1999, 152).
The TE advocates follow a similar interpretation of scripture to that of the OEC advocate. They both hold that the universe is very old. Science holds that the universe is around 13.8 billion years old while YEC is committed to the universe being 6 – 20 thousand years old depending on who you speak with. Oftentimes, TE suggests that the YEC and OEC inordinately elevate the creation texts in Genesis to mean something that they might not. The cultural and historical contexts of the texts must be taken into account when reading these passages. Clearly, the authors nor the audience of these writings would have any concept of modern science and certainly would not grasp the notion of billions of years (Gundry, Moreland and Reynolds 1999, 185). Why would the creation story elaborate a more scientifically advanced version of creation if it would not properly resonate with the audience who it was being written to? Since there was no empirical scientific evidence of creation at the time this literature was being written because it was being written on the basis of revelation, the most basic language was being used to communicate the creation message clearly so a basic and simple audience would be capable of easily understanding it.
In addition to the basic contexts of the creation story in Genesis, it must be acknowledged that the Bible provides a variety of different types of genres of literature within it (Gundry, Moreland and Reynolds 1999, 186). There are possibilities that the culture could have been more receptive to figurative literature or poetic literature. Obviously, if that were the case, then these two genres of literature were not specifically meant to be interpreted literally because of the nature of the text. It is immensely important to interpret any scripture in the Bible in its proper context, and that does include knowing the genre of literature that it is. TE contends that the creation story contained within the literature in Genesis was meant to be understood in a figurative context which documents the historical doctrine of God’s creation (Gundry, Moreland and Reynolds 1999, 187).
After review of these three approaches to creation, this author holds that OEC is the most plausible of these three options because it makes the greatest amount of sense of the scriptural and scientific evidence. The scriptural evidence confidently points in the direction of an old earth. The reason why it can be confidently assumed that the scriptures allude to an old earth is because the days that are referred to in the creation account are not required to be 24-hour earthly days, as the YEC advocates proclaim. While OEC does have the same commonality with TE, it still does not fully agree with the concept on a scientific or theological level that proposes that Darwinian evolution explains the advancement of all living organisms from a single-cell organism. Both YEC and TE are on opposite ends of this debate and both seem to be taking their positions to the extreme in both a theological and scientific sense.
Scientifically speaking, the YEC does not accept much of the reliable scientific findings that have been discovered over the last century in terms of biology, astronomy, cosmology, and geology. Advocates of this view reject many of these findings and continue to hold to a view that states that the universe is mere thousands of years old rather than billions of years old. As stated earlier in this article, mere consensus does not determine whether something is true or not but the vast disagreement of scientific professionals in these fields should serve as a clue that the YEC position may need some revising. When viewing the TE position, it is clear that they align with the position that the earth is not thousands of years old but billions of years old however they hold to the belief that everything in regards to nature from the moment of creation has been a random act. For example, they contend that there was no divine intervention needed because God created the universe with the divine foresight of how his creation would perfectly and randomly evolve into the intelligent beings that we are today. This view would disregard the insufficient scientific evidence of Darwinian evolution, such as the lack of observable and significant evolutionary changes in the major groups of phyla and the inexplicable nature of the vast arrival of all major categories of life found in the fossil record during the Cambrian Explosion.
In regards to scripture, the YEC inappropriately takes the stance that the days of creation must be 24-hour earthly days. As described earlier, general and special revelation are here to be interpreted in coordination with one another in order to fully and more abundantly attain God’s full picture of creation. We cannot discard the evidence that is provided by nature because this practice may skew our perception of how to truly absorb the message of scripture. It would be truly unwise to discard what God made for us in order to remain dogmatically loyal to a particular position on how to interpret scripture. It often seems that many people forget that nature is God’s signature and easily discard it while forgetting how valuable it is in the enrichment of our understanding of scripture.
However, TE appears to do the opposite of what YEC is doing. YEC often times disregards the valuable evidence nature has provided us while TE often disregards the valuable evidence scripture has provided us. There is a balance that must be reached when assessing both nature and scripture. We must acknowledge that scripture is inerrant, but we are certainly not. For those seeking truth, we must acknowledge that God inspired this book for a reason and that every word has meaning and purpose. For TE advocates, it is important that we place stock in the historical narratives in the story of Adam and Eve and acknowledge the significance they play in this story. Some schools of TE believe that Adam and Eve were not historical persons and their story is merely allegorical. This is largely rejected by OEC because science supports the OEC objection that living beings were not evolved by a common ancestor which would promote the creation act of Adam and Eve as a historically plausible event.
These are matters that will always be debated among the Christian community however it should never become a divider between us and our brothers and sisters in Christ. These types of approaches to creation are secondary issues. Meaning, they do not have a direct effect on our salvation. We must keep in mind that our approach to our Lord will lead us closer to him as long as we search for God with an open mind and an open heart. If one is still undecided on which one he or she feels makes the most sense out of the natural and scriptural evidence, there is no rush to come to an immediate decision. You may completely disapprove of why this author finds OEC to be the most plausible. That is completely fine. This article is intended to inform you on the different approaches that many have adopted over the years as helpful theories that frame the creation better into their Christian worldview. Pray in your search for truth and God will guide you along the way.
Gundry, Stanley N, J.P. Moreland, and John Mark Reynolds. Three Views on Creation and Evolution. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.
Ham, Ken. The New Answers Book 1. Green Forest: Master Books, 2006.