This is a topic that I approach with fear and trembling. The reason for this is that those who have opinions on this, hold those opinions very strongly. One group will believe that all those who take science seriously must hold one position and the other group will believe all those who hold the Bible seriously must hold another position. Opponents are labelled as either anti-science or anti-Bible and are dismissed.
It would be easier to just not talk about it. But from my experience, the question of human origins is very important. There are many people who struggle with their faith over this issue. What happens when a person feels like they are pushed into a corner where they have to either choose science or faith? I can’t in good conscience ignore this discussion.
My goal is not to provide a science lecture but make room for us to talk about what many people are thinking.
It may help for me to share some of my story. I was raised in a mainline denomination. We didn’t discuss issues of creation and evolution. I would say that evolution was understood as fact and that there was no reflection on how God might have been involved or present in that process.
In my early twenties, after a number of years as an atheist, I came to a personal faith in Jesus. I joined a very conservative church. I was informed that the only option for a Christian was to believe in a 6000 year-old universe and earth and a literal six day creation as described in Genesis 1. I will make a confession to you. I could believe in God, I could believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but I struggled with a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2. I really hated reading those passages would much prefer to read about Jesus.
Fast forward a few years and I found myself in seminary training for the ministry. I was shocked to discover that some of my professors believed in evolution. This confused me as I thought that only atheists believed in evolution. I told someone at my church about this and he informed that my seminary professors were obviously not Christians. No matter what they believed about Jesus, if they believed in evolution they could not be Christians.
Since that time, I have spoken to very many Christians, who are completely devoted to Jesus, who have an orthodox theology and are serving the Lord, and yet have a wide range of beliefs about human origins. What I’m going to do is share the most popular Christian understandings of how we as human beings found ourselves in this world.
Young Earth Creationism
There are those who believe in a young earth and that would also include a young universe. The date of creation is calculated by looking at the genealogies in the Bible and calculating backward. In the 17th century, Bishop James Ussher determined that creation took place on Sunday, October 23 in the year 4004 BC. Not all young earth creationists would be so precise, but they would date the earth to being between six and ten thousand years old. This creation took place in six 24 hour days just as described in Genesis, with the earth being created before the sun. Young earth creationists would argue that dinosaurs and humans lived together and that the dinosaurs did not go extinct until Noah’s flood. It is that flood that has created the geological features that we see today. These people love Jesus.
Old Earth Creationism
There are others who accept scientific dating of the universe and the earth. They would accept that the universe began 13.8 billion years ago with something like the Big Bang. It was God who created the Big Bang. They would also believe that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Not only do they believe that God created the first life, God also was involved in other acts of creation. God created the ancestor of all dogs and the ancestor of all cats and so on. God created the ancestor of all humans and their names were Adam and Eve. While they interpret Genesis 1 symbolically, they would hold to a literal fall into sin with Adam and Eve. These people love Jesus.
Old Earth Creationism – Common Ancestor
The next option has much in common with the previous. They would agree with the old age of the universe and earth. But they would also agree with evolutionary theories that we share a common ancestor. This is not just that humans and apes share a common ancestor, but that we also share with all other animal and plant life. This is called creationism because they believe that God was active all the steps of the way. God tinkered with the DNA to help in the development of the eye and the change from gills to lungs. God always had a plan to get from one celled creatures to the humans we are today. These people love Jesus.
Finally, we have people who believe in something called theistic evolution. The reason that this is evolution and the previous option was not, is that evolution is more than a common ancestor and the changing from one species to another. True evolution requires random mutation as the explanation for the change from one species to another. According to this theory, God did not need to tinker with the DNA for the changes to take place. The evolution of the eye and the lungs and everything else takes place naturally through random mutation. Still, these people are different from other evolutionists. They believe that there really is a God. They may or may not believe God created the first life. They do believe that God reveals himself to us throughout history but especially in Christ. These people love Jesus.
What do we do with all this? First, I will say that there is not a multiple choice science quiz to get into heaven. If you adopt the wrong theory, it will not break your relationship with God. There are sincere followers of Jesus in all of these categories. That does not mean that they are all equally correct. The earth is either young or old, it can’t be both. We either have a common ancestor or we don’t, it can’t be both. What I’m saying is that there is room for us to be wrong on this issue and to still be a valued part of the Body of Christ.
What is it that we have to get right on this? I would say that we have to believe that God exists. I would also say that the Bible does stress the role of God as Creator. Even theistic evolutionists have begun to call their theory evolutionary creationism. I would say that we have to believe that God has a plan for his creation and that we are a part of that plan. I would say that God’s plan is ultimately revealed in Jesus. The Bible speaks of a new creation, one that will take place when Jesus returns, we receive our resurrection bodies and the earth is remade. This is where we need to fight our battles.
I also want to say that this is not a battle between the Bible and science. As Christians, we believe in two types of revelation. There is general revelation in nature and special revelation in the Bible. Both come from God and so they should not be in conflict. Our interpretations may be in conflict, but the revelation is in agreement. All truth is God’s truth and we should never fear the truth.
I do want to say that these different theories give us the opportunity to disagree in healthy and loving ways. Unfortunately, I have seen Christians speak very hatefully toward those who disagree with them about human origins. The opponents are written off with a label and dismissed as being a valuable part of the church. Non-Christians see how we disagree and if we can wrestle with these question in a good way, it can be a powerful witness.
I don’t know where you are at. I suspect that there are some here that believe in an old earth and some in a young earth. Some probably believe in evolution and some in special creation.
I want to speak to those who are uncertain. If you are feeling like you need to choose between the Bible and science, I want you to know that there is more than one interpretation of both the Bible and science.
I also want to speak to those who are certain about human origins. I ask you to have grace. Realize that other people’s opinions are not a rejection of either faith or intellect. It is possible to wrestle with the Bible and science and still come up with a different opinion. This is our chance to disagree in a loving and respectful way.