Creation, Evolution, Or Both?
CREATION, EVOLUTION, OR BOTH?
Genesis 1:1–2 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Genesis 2:7 The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Genesis 5:1–2— When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them.
Exodus 20:11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.
Psalm 104:30 When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
Psalm 139:13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Isaiah 45:12 It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts.
John 1:3 Through [Jesus] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
1 Timothy 4:4 For everything God created is good . . .
Hebrews 1:1 God . . . has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
Many Christians helped develop the physical sciences, which have become so important during the past few centuries. But sometimes scientists propose theories that seem to conflict with the teachings of the Old Testament. This is especially true for the Genesis stories of God’s creation of the universe (Genesis Chapters 1–2). These accounts do not fit easily into modern non-religious ideas of the development of life on earth.
Genesis tells us that God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). God created different things on different days in a specific order, resting on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). Each day God looked at all that He had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), both male and female. Chapter 2 tells us that God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into him the breath of life. Later, God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man (Genesis 2:22).
Some scientists do not believe in God, or in ANGELS, or in any spiritual world. Atheist scientists believe that the only reality is physical matter, and that the only path to truth is through the physical sciences, such as physics, chemistry and biology. They believe only what they can observe, test and measure. However, many other scientists are Christians who do believe in God, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in a spiritual world that cannot be seen or measured by physical scientific methods. Scientists who are Christian study the universe to find out more about God’s creation. They agree that the physical sciences are an important way to find out some truths. But they recognize there are many other truths, which cannot be discovered by science alone—for example, truths about love, justice, or beauty. Yet one area of disagreement remains: Christians do not agree on how to fit the teachings of modern science into the Genesis accounts of creation.
Everyone agrees that many changes in the plants and animals around us have appeared gradually over long periods of time. Some of these changes were produced by mutations in genetic material, which were then passed on to future generations. The theory of evolution proposes that many such small, slow changes can produce plants and animals completely different from the original ones. There are problems with this mutation theory. Even non-Christian scientists have pointed out that most mutations are harmful, not helpful. More and more scientists do not believe that natural mutations alone are enough to explain the radical differences between different kinds of plants and animals. They propose that some changes do not occur by natural chance, but are the result of rational planning or intelligent design, leading even non-Christians to propose a Designer. Christians, of course, believe there is indeed an Intelligent Designer. He is the God of the Bible, the God who created the universe in Genesis Chapters 1 and 2. Three main views have been proposed regarding the methods God used to create the world, and each view has received some support from scientists who are Christians.
The First View: Sudden Creation
Some Christians, including some who are scientists, believe that God created all parts of the universe supernaturally and suddenly by His word of command (Isaiah 48:3; Hebrews 11:3). They believe that God actually used six twenty four-hour days to create the world, plants, and animals in the exact order recorded in Genesis Chapter 1. Therefore, human beings were created on the sixth day. Since they had been created good, the first humans lived for a time in perfect RIGHTEOUSNESS. But Genesis Chapter 3 tells us about the temptation of Adam and Eve, and about their agreement to disobey God’s command (verse 6). This rebellion against God resulted in human nature becoming corrupted and enslaved by SIN (Psalm 51:5; Romans 6:17). Their sin also resulted in the corruption of the whole earth (Genesis 3:17–18; Romans 8:19–21).
These Christians believe that physical and spiritual death for humans first came into the world after Adam and Eve’s fall into sin (see General Article: The Fall into Sin). Scientists who hold this first view of Sudden Creation point out that evolution is still only a theory or proposal and is not able to be proved by the methods of mathematical science. They believe that mutations cannot produce new kinds of animals and plants. Changes occur, but only within the limits set by God at His original creation.
Many in this first group also believe in a Young Earth theory. They teach that the earth is not very old, even though it appears to be very old. Scientists who agree with this theory know that many scientific measurements seem to show the earth (and the universe) to be millions of years old. And preserved in rock are many fossils of animals and plants that no longer live in our world. These also appear to be very old. However, those who accept the Young Earth theory suggest that either our measurements are wrong, or God created some of these fossils to give the appearance of age to the earth. In addition, they point out that many fossils may be the remains of plants and animals that were destroyed during Noah’s flood (Genesis Chapters 6–8).
However, those who believe in Sudden Creation do not all accept the Young Earth theory. Some of them propose a different solution, called the Gap theory. They suggest that there was a long period of time (or gap) between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. According to this view, God created the heavens and the earth in a perfect state (Genesis 1:1). But the rebellion of SATAN (Isaiah 14:12–15; Revelation 12:7–9) caused the earth to become formless and void (Genesis 1:2). These Christians believe that the rest of Genesis Chapter 1 is a description of the re-creation of the earth, as well as the first creation of man and woman. The Gap theory allows for the long period of time required for fossils to form naturally, and for the age of the earth to be truly as old as many scientific measurements show.
Whether the earth is old or young, this first group of Christians and scientists all agree on Sudden Creation—that God created plants, animals, and human beings in a sudden, supernatural way; that everything created by God was originally good and perfect; and that physical and spiritual death for men and women resulted from their fall into sin.
The Second View: Theistic Evolution
Other Christians, including scientists who are Christian, believe in a second view—that God used long periods of time and natural processes to gradually produce more and more complex plants and animals from simpler ones. This is called Theistic Evolution. When a particular evolutionary theory denies the existence of God and claims that the whole process was started by a chance combination of elements, it is called Atheistic Evolution. Most non-Christian scientists believe that all the multitude of different plants and animals gradually developed by natural processes that can be examined and discovered by scientific methods. However, Christian scientists who accept Theistic Evolution believe that God set up all the natural processes at the beginning, and that God has continued to guide them in natural ways to produce more complex kinds of plants and animals.
Christians who agree with Theistic Evolution believe that not only plants and animals but men and women also were produced through natural processes, such as mutations in genetic material. They point out that at least some mutations are helpful, not harmful. They teach that human beings developed from ancestors who were more like the great apes of today than humans of today. Helpful mutations increased these ancestors intelligence and gave some of them the ability to stand upright and use their hands. Such new abilities helped some of these non-humans to live longer and raise offspring that were more and more like human beings. For this group of Christians, Adam and Eve were not real persons but represented those first human beings who were able to have a spiritual relationship with God (and also ended up rebelling against Him).
Christians who agree with this second view, Theistic Evolution, believe that the stories in Genesis Chapters 1 and 2 are not scientific accounts of actual events, but stories that show us the involvement of God in our beginnings. They are like poetry, which often shows us truth in indirect ways. Therefore, these Christians do not believe that the order of events is scientifically correct, but only represents the writer’s viewpoint. The “days” mentioned in the stories may represent the long periods of time that God used to create the world through natural methods, or they may represent actual twenty-four-hour days when God revealed His previous creation work to the writer. Others think the division into “days” was simply a literary method of describing God’s involvement in creation (see panel: What does the word “day” in Genesis Chapter 1 mean?).
In all theories of evolution, death is an important part of the natural process of mutation and change. Therefore, Christians who agree with Theistic Evolution do not believe that human beings were physically immortal in the beginning, or that the first men and women were perfect in a moral sense. In the beginning, according to this view, the earliest men and women were not fully human, but sub-human. Like the rest of their minds, even their moral consciences developed gradually, becoming closer and closer to God’s moral standards. But when these early men and women sinned against God, they died morally and spiritually (Romans 1:28; Ephesians 2:1). Their bodies had always been mortal (able to die), but now God decided to withhold the immortality He had originally planned to give them (Genesis 3:22).
In summary, Christians and scientists who agree with Theistic Evolution believe that God used long periods of time and natural processes (including death) to gradually produce all the plants, animals and humans in the world; that even morality developed slowly; and that the only new kind of death resulting from the sins of the first men and women was their spiritual death.
The Third View: Progressive Creation
A third group of Christians and scientists teach that both the first two views are partly correct. Their view has been called Progressive Creation. They believe that there is much truth in the second view. They agree that God used long periods of time and natural processes for small evolutionary changes. But long, slow changes are not enough to explain completely different kinds of plants and animals. Therefore, those who hold this third view also agree with the first view regarding the big, major changes in living things. God stepped in to suddenly and supernaturally create the major changes needed to produce very different plants and animals, and especially to create human beings. According to Progressive Creation, the “days” in Genesis Chapter 1 could be long periods of time or actual days of supernatural creation separated by long periods of time. But literary meanings are also possible (see panel: What does the word “day” in Genesis Chapter 1 mean?). Scientists supporting this third view point out that it fits very well with the fossil evidence preserved in rocks. Fossils show evidence of gradual changes in a small way. But the rocks also show that very different kinds of plants and animals suddenly appear, without any fossils linking the new kinds with previous kinds.
Those Christians who agree with Progressive Creation believe that the first view (Sudden Creation) is entirely correct about the creation of human beings. They believe that the first man and woman were created in a sudden super-natural way, although God may have used pre-existing animals while doing so (see General Article: Miracles and the Laws of Nature). They agree that Adam and Eve were created in perfect righteousness, with a perfect moral sense, and that both physical and spiritual death for human beings was a result of their fall into sin. However, those accepting Progressive Creation point out that death must already have been present on the earth before the fall into sin. Even in the Garden of Eden, plants and short-lived insects must have died. So, although Adam and Eve’s sin did result in corruption of the natural world and human death, it did not bring the first death to plants and animals.
What does the word “day” in Genesis Chapter 1 mean?
The creation account in Genesis uses the word day. This is a translation of the usual Hebrew word for a twenty-four-hour day. But Old Testament writers used the same word for a longer period of time also (for example, “the day of the Lord” in many of the prophetic books). Peter stated, With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8). Because of this, scholars suggest several different meanings for the word “day” in Genesis:
- six normal days of creation—God created all on each day’s list during a normal twenty-four-hour day with an “evening and morning,” either thousands of years ago or millions of years ago.
- six days of re-creation—God re-created the earth in a short period of time thousands of years ago, separated by a long time gap from the original creation millions of years before. That first creation may have taken long periods of time.
- six days of revelation—In sixdays God revealed His previous creation work to the writer of Genesis. Different creation events (which may or may not have taken long periods of time) were revealed on each of six days in the writer’s life.
- long periods of time—God created the world over long periods of time, but the account uses poetic language—“day,” “evening” and “morning”—to describe these periods of time.
- six special days separated by long periods of time—God created the world over long periods of time, but He used supernatural power at key moments in the long process.
- only a literary structure, no specific time—The six “days” describe God’s creation poetically. Days 1 and 4 relate to each other (light relates to specific sources of light), as do days 2 and 5 (water and sky to fish and birds), and days 3 and 6 (dry land to animals).
In summary, Christians who agree with Progressive Creation believe that God used long periods of time and natural processes to gradually produce many of the changes in plants and animals, but God also used supernatural ways to suddenly create the major changes needed for very different kinds of plants and animals. Since Adam and Eve were supernaturally created good and perfect, both physical and spiritual death for humans resulted from the fall into sin.
Creation from Nothing
Since the beginning of the church, Christians have claimed that God created the universe “from nothing.” This very important statement is necessary to show how the biblical record of creation by God is different from non-Christian creation stories taught in other religions. Many non-Christian religions teach that a god or goddess created the world from himself or herself. But if this statement is true, it means that everything is actually a part of their god or goddess. It can even be said that sin and evil are actually part of their god or goddess as well. Christians deny that human beings are part of God. We believe that humans were created in God’s image, but entirely separate from God’s person or being (see Genesis 1:27; 2:7; General Article: In the Image of God). This is clearly shown by the fact that our sin is not God’s sin, but rebellion against God’s wishes.
Other non-Christian religions teach that a god or goddess created the world from already existing materials. But if this statement is true, it means that their god is not the only eternal One. There must also have been some eternal physical material that their god used to create the rest of the world. Many religions have taken this even further—some teaching that matter itself is evil, others teaching that two or more eternal gods or goddesses are fighting with each other about good and evil. If matter is evil, then a holy Jesus could not have become a complete human with a physical body, His own bodily resurrection could not have taken place, and we also will not be resurrected in the future. On the other hand, if evil gods are just as eternal as the good gods, then good can never win victory over evil.
Christians insist that God did not create the world from His own being, nor from pre-existing material (Hebrews 11:3). God created the universe by the word of His command “from nothing.” Even the physical matter described as formless and empty in Genesis 1:1–2 was itself previously created by God.1 This teaching supports the Christian belief that sin and evil come from outside God Himself (first from Satan and later from human beings), and reassures us that good finally will triumph over evil.
Whatever we believe about how God created the world and human beings, all Christians agree that God was the Designer and Creator of everything in the universe. The Sudden Creation view teaches that creation was all done through supernatural acts. Theistic Evolution teaches that all the processes used by God were slow, natural ones He had set up at the very beginning. And the Progressive Creation view teaches that God used both ways to create the universe—both slow natural processes and sudden supernatural acts.
Christians can disagree about the method used by God, but all of them affirm that God created the universe and continues to rule over it. He has given the responsibility to care properly for the earth and its creatures to us. God commanded us, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 2:28). After human beings sinned and corrupted the world around them, God promised that He would make a new creation one day—both new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; Romans 8:19–21; 2 Peter 3:13).
1 Most Christians believe that shortly after God created formless matter, He began forming it and filling it with life. Only those holding the Gap theory (see first view above) suggest a long period of time between creation and a later re-creation.