Creationism in the Genesis Account
Depending on your church location and denominational background, this question could be treated as the most important one for judging people. My first job, then, in this post is to argue for why it does not matter how exactly God went about the process of creating the world. After that, I will briefly outline 3 different perspectives about how God might have created the world.
The Author of Creation Matters… The Method Doesn’t
Somebody please explain to me why it would matter if evolution is true or not. Let me be clear: I’m referring to the scientific theory of how we got from early organisms to the complex world we have today. I am not referring to naturalistic philosophy. To put it a different way, evolutionary creationism, young earth creationism, and intelligent design (explained below) all have the same foundational worldview: God is the author of all things. They just don’t agree on how God created all things and I can think of zero reasons why that matters.
The reason typically given when I ask young-earth creationists why it matters is this: it demeans the Word of God if it isn’t a science textbook! No, I think it is the exact opposite. First of all, the Word of God according to the New Testament is Jesus, not the Bible. So relax. Interpreting the Bible in a slightly different way than you do is not worth condemning each other over. Furthermore, the Bible itself does not make any particular argument for a literal creation. Most scholars – not all – agree that the two back-to-back creation poems are indeed poems and should be interpreted as such. They are not part of a science textbook. Science textbooks did not exist for approximately another 2500 years. Science is a valuable discipline in the modern world but that doesn’t mean we need to force ancient writings to answer modern questions. When we approach a text we should be looking for what it has to say meaningful to our lives today, not how we can use it as a hammer against those pesky lawmakers trying to maintain a separation of church and state.
Three ViewsA frustratingly simplistic comic but what most people think
In this view, the world was made approximately 6000 years ago and it took six 24-hour days to complete the process from nothing (ahem, according to the Genesis text it wasn’t from nothing but from chaos) to get to essentially what we have now.
This view has to ignore, or dismiss as an anti-theist hoax, a whole lot of science and ancient historical studies since we have proof of a lot of things earlier than this recommended timeframe. The Onion makes a great humorous point about this. Some therefore keep to the general idea but push the dating back a few thousand years, making the Bible slightly less of a historical/scientific textbook but keeping that hermeneutic as the core of their framework.
Intelligent Design/Old Earth Creationism
Intelligent Design is the middle ground of the three, trying to balance treating contemporary science with respect as well as trying to maintain a somewhat-literal scientific reading of Genesis. They essentially conclude that the earth is old, as science tells us, but since science cannot beyond the shadow of a doubt prove macro-evolution, they say that God stepped in at key points throughout history to push things supernaturally toward what we have now. Now that we have God’s desired world, that’s why we don’t see macro-evolution anymore.
The main challenge facing this view in my opinion is that it is a “god of the gaps” approach. It says that we will take as much of Scripture as literal history as science allows us to but we’ll still value the literally historically true statement to be close to essential. Then as science makes advances, there are less gaps and therefore less need for God. Since it is still typically defended as an essential, a lot of people face crises of faith.
This camp takes a hermeneutic that since the Bible is not a science textbook, we don’t need to read it as such and thus we can trust scientists to tell us about this scientific question. Again, this is not saying that we trust scientists to tell us theology – like whether God created the world or whether it emerged from an eternal energy field by sheer inevitable luck. But as a matter of science, we trust the scientists and don’t put much spiritual significance on it either way. If you couldn’t already tell, I’m personally in this camp.
Our problems are more theological and open up much larger questions. If Adam wasn’t a historical figure, then what about original sin? At what point in the evolutionary process did we become “image-bearers of God” or are there degrees to image-bearing? Is the soul simply a natural consequence of evolving to a certain point? What about the violence that is inherent in evolution; could God really have orchestrated that? I’m not going to tackle these in this post because they’re huge questions but there are answers just as there are to the surface holes in the other two theories.