Over the course of the next month or so I’d like to address some of the frequently asked about “lesser” doctrines of orthodox Christianity – where they fit into the scope of Christian doctrine and how important they really should be to us. The series is called How Big are those “Little” Doctrines?
The first doctrine we’ll address is that old Creation/Evolution debate. Someone recently wrote me and mentioned that they have an ELCA friend at work whose general comments indicate that he has no confidence in the Creation account of the Bible. This lack of certainty from professed Christians concerning one of the most famous accounts of Scripture is really no surprise. Modernist skepticism of miraculous accounts of the Bible have been commonplace for over 100 years. What’s interesting is that the most common stance of all people, Christian, other-religious, or spiritual skeptic alike is one of uncertainty regarding the origins of the world. In other words, people think that lack of evidence leads to an inability to state anything authoritatively regarding the world’s origin. According to George Barna’s research organization, The Barna Group, about 1/3 of all who would label themselves spiritual Skeptics (agnostics & atheists) believe (very inconsistently I might add) that God’s existence is very possible. And their reasoning……“the existence of apparent patterns in nature and the universe that could not be explained apart from the involvement of a superior being” (The Seven Faith Tribes, pg. 107).
So…….the conclusion that most come to is that there is simply not enough convincing evidence, one way or the other, to prove or disprove either Creation or Evolution. And if you can’t repeatedly prove something through scientific experiment, then what you’re talking about, religion or no religion, is an issue of FAITH. (SIDE NOTE: no, there have been no legitimate experiments proving evolution, regardless of what your textbooks have told you – please research the flaws in the Miller-Urey experiment if you doubt this).
We simply cannot cover all of the scientific arguments either for or against Creation or Evolution in a couple thousand words today. If you’re looking for good sources on the topics, check out Lee Strobel’s “Case for the Creator”, Jonathan Well’s “Icons of Evolution”, or Michael Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box”. For our purposes today, what we want to understand is what the Bible allows for and what the ramifications of going outside that mean.
Many good philosophical arguments have been proposed for God and therefore against the Theory of Evolution, since the theory was first proposed. One such argument is the “cosmological argument”. Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle bought into this argument, as did Thomas Aquinas. What the argument basically means is that everything that has a beginning has a cause. Go ahead, think of something that had a starting point. You will always be able to come up with some set of circumstances or forces that brought this starting point into being. When I look at a painting, I don’t assume those colored dyes randomly assembled themselves on a canvas to create a representation of something I already know, I assume there was a painter. When I look at a building, I don’t assume that those bricks randomly assembled themselves into a multiple-story structure, I assume there was a builder. And when I see the complicated systems of nature I don’t assume that something as complex as creation/nature merely happened, I naturally assume there was a Creator. And if the universe had a starting point (which even the Big Bang Theory suggests), something had to give it life and bring it into being. Proponents of this theory suggest that “Uncaused Cause” is none other than God himself. God, you see, doesn’t need to have a cause because he is eternal and therefore has no beginning. Get it?
Another famous argument for the existence of God is the ontological argument made popular by men like Anselm of Canterbury and Descartes. This argument states that the mere fact that I can conjure up notions of God and of good & evil would suggest I’m not merely another animal, but that there is indeed a God out there who created humans as unique creatures. Otherwise, where do such concepts as moral right or wrong come from? Fascinatingly, the Apostle Paul says almost the exact same thing in Romans 2:14-15 – the reason that people universally understand that it’s not proper to kill, steal, or cheat is because God Almighty has tattooed it on the heart of every human.
More specifically though, today we’re talking about the Creation account as taught in Genesis 1-2 and what impact is made if we try to bend the meaning of such an account.
“Day-Age Creationism” and “The Gap Theory” are both attempts to bend the biblical account of Creation. They are forms of what is called “Old Earth Creationism”. In case you’re wondering, we, as members of a recognized conservative church body, are called “Young Earth Creationists”, suggesting that the world is somewhere between roughly 5,000 to 10,000 years old. Where do we get such an idea? Go figure, the Bible.
Day-Age Creationism proposes that the days of Creation spoken of in Genesis 1 were really long periods of time. They suggest that, for instance, when the Bible says that God created dry land and vegetation on Day 3 (Genesis 1:11-13), this “day” was a period of several million (or so) years. It would be kind of like saying that so-and-so lived in the “Day of King David”. Obviously King David didn’t live for only a 24-hour-day, so here, “day” is being used to reference a longer period of time. Truth-be-told, the Bible does use the Hebrew word for “day” (yom) this way – to refer to a period of time. So, does that mean this theory is plausible? It might be, except for the fact that God, in seeming anticipation of this argument, programmed into the Genesis 1 account proof that these “days” were not extended periods of time. 6 times in Genesis 1 (1:5; 1:8; 1:13; 1:19; 1:23; and 1:31) the Bible records the very redundant phrase: “And there was evening, and there was morning—the _________day.” 24-hour-days have mornings and evenings. Periods of time in history, however, do not. Therefore, the text of Genesis does NOT allow for the Day-Age Creationism theory.
The Gap Theory (which has nothing to do with being a trendy middle-aged dresser btw) proposes that the days of creation were indeed 24-hour-days. However, it suggests that there was a long pause between the first and second days of creation. This theory came into play in the late 1700s/early 1800s as the result of a fairly newly recognized science called geology. Information written at this time concerning the Gap Theory was massively influential on a young Charles Darwin (1808-1882). And the basic premise of the argument was that the earth simply “looks” older than 10,000 years. Now I’m no geologist, but, truth-be-told, most recognized experts in the field suggest that the earth indeed looks significantly older than 10,000 years. So, does that make this theory plausible? It might be, except for 2 significant factors. 1) No where in Scripture does it even begin to suggest there are multiple periods of creation by God. Gap Theorists jump through many hoops when they scramble for such passages. 2) Where in the Bible does it tell us exactly how old the earth looked when God created it? The Genesis 1 account indicates that God didn’t just create seeds, he created seed bearing plants. God didn’t just create fish, bird, and land animal eggs and embryos, he created full-grown creatures. God didn’t create a human baby, he created a full-grown man. So, if a respected geologist pushes his glasses up off the tip of his nose and wants to tell me, “You know, the Bible can’t be accurate, because the world looks 14.3 billion years old,” I would reply back, “Fine. So what if the earth looks 4.3 billion years old? That does not mean it IS that old. God created the planet with an appearance of age.” Since no one (not even a world-class geologist) could begin to estimate the effects that a global flood (Genesis 6-9) would have on the earth nor can anyone estimate how old the earth looked when God first created it, it simply does not matter how old scientists say the earth looks today.
So……….what do you think? Is the defense of the Genesis 1 Creation account a big doctrine or a little doctrine? But before you answer, let me share with you a piece of information given to me by one of the presenters at the Creation Museum in Kentucky several summers ago.
When asked what the church could have done differently to prevent the global embrace of Darwinian theology, the presenter, in essence, said the church could have been 1) better scientists and 2) better theologians. You see, fresh off of backtracking on their stance regarding the whole debacle of Copernicus, Galileo, and the heliocentric theory (you know, the correct assessment that the sun, not the earth, is the center of our solar system), the Roman Catholic Church became much more open to allowing for scientific wiggle-room in Scripture, hoping to never again make such an embarrassing mistake. In 1835, all materials referencing a heliocentric theory were dropped from the Catholic Church’s Index of Prohibited Books. In 1859, Charles Darwin, taking advantage of the public’s assumption that the church had no clue what it was talking about in matters of science as well as the Roman Catholic Church’s hesitancy to again look so foolish, published On the Origin of Species, which would be the most compelling and widely embraced anti-god document in the modern world.
The Roman Catholic Church had misinterpreted Scripture’s references to the sun and the earth. They were foolish in their understanding of God’s created world. They were foolish in their interpretation of God’s inspired Scripture. The end result was an open door for atheism to walk through. Now I’m not suggesting that I could have done better or couldn’t have made similar mistakes. What I am suggesting is that the Christian Church now has a long way to go in regaining credibility in claims of science. Several fantastic institutions like the Answers in Genesis group (AiG) and the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) are helping. In the meantime though, an important lesson has been learned – if you give the devil a doctrinal inch when it comes to biblical inerrancy, he’ll do what he can to take a mile of souls.
Conclusion: A natural 6 day, 24-hour-day creation is indeed an important doctrine. The Genesis account is clear on it. Just as important, Jesus adhered to it. Once, when Jesus was asked about the topic of divorce, he quoted Genesis regarding the origin of marriage. He said, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.” (Mark 10:6) In the old-Earth time frame, mankind comes right near the end of creation (the last couple of million years in a 14-billion-year age of the universe). In the new-Earth time frame, mankind was created on the 6th day of a several thousand year-old Earth, i.e. “at the beginning”. One of the prerequisites of being a Christian is simply to take Jesus at his Word.