Two weeks ago I attended the Christian Scholars Conference at Pepperdine University. Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project and current director of the National Institutes of Health, gave a keynote address in which he argued that Christians must be open to the notion that God used evolution to bring about the human race. On the plane ride to the conference, I read the latest issue of Christianity Today. Its cover story was entitled “The Search for the Historical Adam.” For Evangelicals, the origins issue is front and center.
And it’s not going away anytime soon. I believe I am safe in saying that the doctrine of Creation and the proper interpretation of the first 11 chapters of Genesis will be the biggest theological and biblical debate we face over the next decade. Evangelicals are divided on the issue. At this time, four positions predominate: young earth creationism, old earth creationism, evolutionary creationism, and intelligent design. Let me briefly describe them and give links for each position.
1. Young earth creationism (YEC): YEC proponents argue for a literal, 6-day creation that occurred approximately 6000 years ago. They contend that the proper interpretation of Gen 1-3 requires this position. Death, disease, and predation entered the world through the Fall of Adam. For the most part, geological evidences of an ancient earth are attributed to the flood of Noah. YEC advocates find the astronomical evidences of an ancient universe (such as light from distant stars) much more difficult to explain. A variety of theories are offered, but the predominant one is still the mature creation view, otherwise known as the “appearance of age” hypothesis. The leading representative group today for the YEC position is the organization Answers in Genesis (http://www.answersingenesis.org/)
2. Old earth creationism (OEC): Old earth creationism is sometimes called progressive creationism. OEC proponents argue that God created in successive stages over a period of millions or billions of years. In other words, OEC advocates accept the scientific evidence for an ancient universe (and the Big Bang theory), but they do not accept the predominant biological theory of origins, which of course is Darwinian evolution. OEC theorizes that God miraculously created Adam and Eve about 60 to 100 thousand years ago. The strongest objection YEC proponents have to OEC is its acceptance of animal death and disease prior to Adam’s fall. The leading representative group today for the OEC position is the organization Reasons to Believe (http://www.reasons.org/).
3. Evolutionary creationism (EC): Proponents of evolutionary creationism (also called “theistic evolution”) accept the current scientific theories both of the origin of the universe and of the human race. That is, EC accepts the Darwinian hypothesis that all life, including humans, descended from a common ancestor (generally understood to be a single-cell life form). EC advocates believe that God endued Creation with the principles and laws that caused the essential components of life to self-organize. Random mutation provided the immense variety we observe in the fossil record and in living things today, and natural selection determined which species survived and which went extinct. Generally, EC does not understand Adam and Eve to be literal persons (though there are significant exceptions to this point). The leading representative group today for the EC position is the BioLogos Foundation (http://biologos.org/).
4. Intelligent design (ID): The Intelligent Design movement began as a group of scholars and scientists who were unconvinced by the Darwinian hypothesis and were disturbed by the philosophical naturalism that seems to underlie it. ID proponents argue that an objective examination of the scientific evidence alone (without appealing to the Genesis account) will lead an unbiased inquirer to the conclusion that design by an Intelligent Being (i.e., God) is the best explanation of the evidence. ID contends that arguing over the age of the earth distracts from the bigger adversary–Darwinism and the philosophical atheism underlying it. As a result, one can find both YEC and OEC proponents within the ID movement, and in fact a handful of ID advocates hold to certain non-Darwinian versions of evolution (Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box, is a prime example). The leading representative group today for the ID position is the Discovery Institute (http://www.discovery.org/).
Mark Rooker and I currently are writing 40 Questions on Creation and Evolution, and I can tell you that the number of books, articles, and websites on the subject is overwhelming. None of the four views are without serious problems, but my sympathies lie with the ID position. Evangelicals are a missional people. As such we cannot shy away from the difficult issues presented by origins science, and we must engage the natural sciences with confidence and integrity. The God Who gave us the Bible is the God Who created heaven and earth. We must endeavor that He will have worshippers in every vocation and we must advance the Kingdom of God into every arena of life-including the natural sciences.