Evaluating Christian views on origins (2)
There are four views on origins popular among evangelical Christians — theistic evolution, old earth creationism, the gap (or ruin-restoration) theory and young earth creationism (see January 2013 ET). We should examine how compatible each of these views is with the Bible’s storyline.
Theistic evolution is increasingly popular today. Many evangelicals have adopted it as an elegant way to minimise the potential conflict between science and the Bible. It allows the conventional evolutionary view of origins to be accepted in its entirety. However, major aspects of the biblical storyline must be rewritten to accommodate it.
For example, the standard dating of human fossils forces theistic evolutionists to accept either that Adam was not historical,1 or that he was historical but not the ancestor of all humans.2
Furthermore, according to evolution, there was no global, epoch-making flood in recent human history, and so the flood is relegated to a local event that left most of humanity unaffected.3
Most serious of all, physical death is no longer associated with the entrance of human sin, since it was around for millions of years before Adam.4 This leaves theistic evolutionists without any obvious explanation for why Christ had to suffer and die to pay the penalty of human sin.
This wholesale rewriting of biblical doctrine makes theistic evolution unacceptable to many evangelicals.
Old earth creationism is also quite popular, because it allows Christians to reject evolution (especially the evolution of humans) while accepting the standard geological time scale. This has an obvious appeal.
However, in many ways old earth creationism actually represents the worst of both worlds. On the one hand, it lacks the scientific kudos of theistic evolution, since its proponents reject the evolution of life. This means that old earth creationists are often dismissed with the same contempt as young earth creationists.
On the other hand, old earth creationism fails to solve any of the pressing theological problems faced by theistic evolution. Old earth creationists face the same difficulty of where to place Adam in the conventional timeline of history.5
They must also regard Noah’s flood as a local event and acknowledge that death preceded human sin by hundreds of millions of years.6
The gap theory is perhaps the most unsatisfactory solution from both scientific and biblical perspectives, and that may explain why it receives virtually no scholarly support today.
The gap theory is an extreme case of eisegesis (reading into the Bible something that is not there). There is no biblical evidence for a former creation that was destroyed when Satan was cast out of heaven, or a race of men that lived before Adam.
It rests largely on a dubious translation of Genesis 1:2, ‘And the earth became without form, and void’, that is accepted by few Bible translators or Hebrew scholars.7
Furthermore, the gap theory leaves all the important scientific questions unresolved. Attributing the fossil record to the destruction of the former creation dodges rather than addresses those questions. And if the fossils relate to an earlier creation, then where is the record of Noah’s flood?
Young earth creationism is widely conceded to be the best fit with the biblical data, even by many who do not accept it on scientific grounds.
The plain reading of the biblical text points to an historical Adam from whom all humans are descended, a causal link between sin and death, and a global flood within recent human history. Young earth creationism embraces all these as historical realities.
However, it obviously raises a lot of scientific questions and probably explains why so many evangelicals hesitate to embrace young earth creationism. But is this a fatal flaw? I would suggest not.
The difficult scientific questions are not avoided or dodged. Instead, young earth creationism provides a framework in which such problems can be addressed by careful scientific research.
Such efforts have already yielded encouraging results that suggest the potential for developing sound alternative explanations of the scientific evidence.8
In conclusion, then, we can say that no position on origins is completely free of difficulties. All present challenging problems that must be carefully weighed.
As we have seen, the gap theory is really no solution at all. Of the other three positions, we need to ask ourselves: what kind of problem do we want? Do we want the theological problem of explaining why God sent his Son to defeat an enemy (death) that he had himself created and declared good in the beginning?
That is the problem we will face by adopting theistic evolution or old earth creationism, and it is hard to see how it can ever be resolved.
Or do we want the scientific problem of explaining the biological and geological data without evolutionary presuppositions?
That is the problem we will face by adopting young earth creationism, but one which can potentially be addressed with innovative research. I know which problem I would rather have!
Paul Garner BSc (Hons), FGS
1. e.g. P. Enns, The evolution of Adam: what the Bible does and doesn’t say about human origins, Brazos Press, 2012.
2. D. Alexander, Creation or evolution: do we have to choose? Monarch, 2008, pp.236-239.
3. Ibid, p.242.
4. Ibid, pp.277-292.
5. R. Grigg, ‘Pre-Adamic man: were there human beings on earth before Adam?’Creation, Vol. 24, No. 4, 2002, pp.42-45. http://creation.com/pre-adamic-man-were-there-human-beings-on-earth-before-adam
6. J. Stambaugh, ‘Hugh Ross, ICR, and the Bible’, Institute for Creation Research impact article No. 217, July 1991. http://www.icr.org/article/hugh-ross-icr-bible
7. See ref. 6. Also see M. W. J. Phelan, The Genesis ‘gap theory’: its credibility and consequences, Twoedged Sword Publications, 2005.
8. P. Garner, The new creationism: building scientific theories on a biblical foundation, Evangelical Press, 2009.