Sunday mornings don’t allow enough time to hit all the nuances of creation and God’s relationship to it so let me go a little deeper by way of this post and address some questions you may have.
I. What are some of the primary non-Biblical views of God’s relationship to creation?
There are many but some of the most prominent are:
- Deism, which holds that God creates but is not present in the workings of His creation.
- Pantheism, which holds that God is part of His creation.
- Panentheism/Monism, which holds that all creation is in God and all of God is in creation.
- Process Theology/Open Theism, which holds that God is in process and growing in knowledge with His creation.
- Naturalism, which holds that matter comes from natural processes – i.e. atheistic evolution. In this view, matter and life are created by chance.
II. Regarding atheistic evolution (AE) specifically, what are some of the problems with it?
Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1892) was an English naturalist who founded the modern theory of evolution. He published his proposal in 1859 in the book “The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle of Life.” His title is often shortened to “The Origin of Species” both because of its length as well as its racist overtones.
AE seeks to explain the origin of life apart from God. As Christians, we are actually free to accept the self-evident fact of micro-evolution, meaning species can and do adapt to their environment. However, where Christians differ is over the unproven and highly suspect theory of macro-evolution, meaning that one species can evolve into another species entirely – something AE affirms. Coincidentally, I listened to a podcast yesterday where it was suggested that the reason we live in a hierarchal culture is because its structure was passed down to us by lobsters, who demonstrate the same structure in their communities. In other words, we do what we do because it’s been inherited from lifeforms like lobsters who came before us and we evolved from. Their wiring is ours.
Though Darwin’s theory of evolution still remains prominent it has come under attack in the past few decades by those, even, in scientific circles. The reason for the decline of support are many but the following are some of the most implausible faith leaps, which, it seems, require at least as much faith as believing in an eternal God:
- AE postulates that the world sprang into existence from nothing and for no reason, or that matter is eternal and has no origin. AE cannot explain how or why this occurred.
- AE postulates that impersonal matter created personal people.
- AE postulates that species evolved over long periods of time from one kind of animal to another yet does not have the transitional forms between species that would demonstrate this has actually occurred.
- AE has been unable to replicate evolution after over 100 plus years of attempts to do so.
III. What are the various Christian views of creation?
Among Bible-believing Jesus-loving Christians there are at least 6 or 7 primary interpretations of the creation account in Genesis 1-2. It’s vital therefore, that brothers and sisters in Christ who hold to other views than you perhaps do are welcomed and loved. Christians should not become divisive over this matter and seek to make their view the litmus test for Christian orthodoxy. As Paul writes of in I Corinthians 13, we now see only in part and one day we will know in full and all be in complete agreement on this and other matters. Believe it or not, there will be young earth and old earth believers in heaven!
View #1 – Creationism
In this view God created the entire universe, including Adam and Eve, in 6 literal 24-hour days. This view is almost always accompanied with a belief in a young earth as it seeks to be faithful to the Biblical text while not giving much credence to the scientific claims related to an old earth. How those who share this view answer why the earth appears as old as it does will be addressed later in this post.
View #2 – Historic Creationism
In this view Genesis 1:1 records the making of all of creation by God out of nothing, or “ex nihilo”, encompassed in the expression “heavens and earth” which means the sky above and land below, or the totality of creation – think “top to bottom.”
Since the word used for “beginning” in Genesis 1:1 is “reshit” in Hebrew, a word that means an indefinite period of time, it is possible that all of creation was completed over an extended period of time (anywhere from days to billions of years). Genesis 1:2 then begins the description of God preparing the uninhabitable land for creation and mankind. And, the preparation of the uncultivated land for the creation of Adam and Eve occurred in 6 literal 24-hour days. This view leaves open the possibility of both an old earth and a literal 6-days of creation.
Also lending support to this idea is that in Genesis 1:1 the word used for creation is the Hebrew word “bara.” Throughout the rest of Genesis 1 the Hebrew word used for create is “asah” which means to make something suitable such as making one’s bed which is not creating from nothing, but rather making it suitable for use. The only other things “bara’d” are human beings when God “bara’d” mankind from nothing.
View #3 – Gap Theory
In this view Genesis 1:1 suggests that a first creation took place perhaps billions of years ago. Then, a catastrophic event, likely the fall of Satan from heaven, left the earth in the destroyed condition of Genesis 1:2. God responded to this disaster by recreating the earth a few thousand years ago in 6 literal days and repopulating the earth as recorded in Genesis 1:3-27. According to this view the earth is old from the first creation and mankind is young because of the recent creation. The main problem with this view is that nothing in the Bible even hints at there being two creations. It also assumes that Satan fell before “in the beginning.” More on this in sermons to come.
View #4 – Literary Framework View
In this view Genesis 1-2 is intended to be read as a figurative framework explaining creation in a topic and not sequential order. In this view the 6 days of creation listed in Genesis 1 are also to be interpreted metaphorically and not literal 24-hour days. The most obvious problem with this view is that Exodus 20:11 clearly states that the 6-days of creation are literal saying, “For in 6 days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the 7th day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
View #5 – Day Age View
In this view God created the universe, including Adam and Eve, in 6 sequential periods of time that were not literal 24-hour days. The problem with this view is that the 6 days of creation are seemingly clearly literal days as will be further explored later in this post.
View #6 – Function over Form View (this is my title).
This is the theory that the Genesis account of creation isn’t describing the form of creation as much as the function of it. It’s more focused on order than production, in other words. Author and Moody College Professor, John Walton, is a well-known proponent of this idea as he lays out in his book, “The Lost World of Genesis One.”
View #6 – Theistic Evolution
In this view God essentially began creation and then pulled back from working directly in creation to instead work through the process of evolution. The only exception to this would be God involving Himself again directly in the making of human life. For the most part, this view accepts the hypothesis of evolution but seeks to insert God as the creator of matter and overseer of the evolutionary process This view also believes that species evolved over a long period of time which requires an old earth.
The problem of this view biblically speaking are many:
- First, Genesis 1 repeatedly states that creation and its species came into existence because “God said” and not because of an evolutionary process. Additionally, Genesis 1 also continually states that after God commanded creation to come into existence “it was so”, which shows that God’s commands brought about the instantaneous response of creation coming into being and not through a long evolutionary process attached from God.
- Second, evolution teaches that one species evolves into other species while Genesis 1 says that each species had offspring “according to its kind” (e.g. 1:21, 1:24, 1:25) and not another kind as evolution postulates.
- Third, the rest of Scripture portrays God as continually involved in the details of creation including making the grass grow (Psalm 104:14; Matthew 6:30); feeding the birds (Matthew 6:26); and feeding other creatures (Psalm 104:21, 25-30). Supporting this as well, is what the Psalmist writes in Psalm 139:13 of God intimately involved in knitting us and forming us in our mother’s womb. A theistic evolutionary view of creation does not portray the God of Scripture who is clearly depicted as involved intimately with His creation.
IV. Should the 6 days of creation be read as literal 24-hour days?
Although there is some ambiguity and possible allowance for an older earth in the Genesis account – see: above – what the Bible seems very clear on is that the days mentioned in Genesis 1 refer to literal 24-hour days. Exodus 20:11 affirms this when saying “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Additionally, Genesis 1 goes to great lengths to point out that the days of creation are being measured by an evening and a morning seemingly removing the idea that the days are referring to a longer period of time.
Opponents of this view point out that the word used for “day” in Genesis 1 is also used in the Bible to refer to a period of time like we use it today when we say things like, “back in the day I used to be a pretty good athlete.” Although this point is true, it is hard to go to the Genesis 1 text and conclude that’s the way it’s being used there.
V. How old is the earth?
The general consensus, based on radiometric (rock or carbon) dating, is that the earth is at least 4.5 billion years old although more and more today suggest that it’s closer to 13 or 14 billion years old. Some Christians have sought to refute this finding by declaring that the universal flood in Genesis 6-9 altered the earth’s geology so greatly that the earth now appears old. Others have countered by arguing that they also have tested rocks and meteors that have come from the moon and landed on the earth which also date to the same age as the earth. Many Christians have disregarded radiometric dating as flawed and inaccurate.
The apparent old age of the earth causes many Christians concern as Genesis seems to indicate that the earth is comparatively young, perhaps 6,000 to 20,000 years old. For example, 2018 is actually year 5778 according to traditional Judaism.
The date of a young earth is arrived at by starting with the genealogies in such places as Genesis 5 and 10 as well as Matthew 1 and Luke 4 and compiling the number of years from Adam to Jesus to today. However, some assumptions suggest that this approach may be faulty.
- First, is the assumption that the genealogies in Genesis were strict chronologies and no other generations existed, an assumption that even conservative scholars doubt.
- Second, is the assumption that creation began in Genesis 1:2 while overlooking the possibility that Genesis 1:1 could be a brief summary of a number of additional years, perhaps even billions. As mentioned earlier, the word for “beginning” is a broad one in the Hebrew and could refer to a broad period of time that preceded the days of creation.
Regardless, in the end it must be admitted that the age of the earth is simply not stated in the Bible and may be younger than some think or older than others do. Tellingly, both young and old earth people are inferring from the Bible a position that the Bible doesn’t clearly state. It also must be admitted that the age of the earth doesn’t seem to be of great concern in the Bible.
VI. If the earth is young then why does the earth appear old?
Some possibilities and common replies:
- Though the earth appears old to most scientists it is in fact young and the scientists are simply mistaken.
- The earth appears old because it was made mature like Adam and Eve were and did not evolve over time but gives the appearance of being aged. For example, if Adam or Eve had chopped down a tree in the garden would they have found tree rings depicting it as more mature than it truly was? And at the time of Jesus, how aged would have people assumed the “good wine” at the wedding at Cana was?
- The flood in Genesis 6-9 universally covered the earth which compressed the geological layers and rearranged the topography so greatly that the earth appears to be old and has developed over a long period of time.
- The earth is, in fact, old and the days mentioned in Genesis 1-2 are not literal 24-hour days but rather extended periods of time.
- The earth may be old, with Genesis 1:1 explaining an indeterminate period of time during which God made creation out of nothing. Genesis 1:2 then begins the account of the preparation of the land for human history on earth in 6 literal days. The strength of this argument is that in Genesis 1:1 Moses uses the word “bara” for creation which means that God made creation from nothing. But then Moses uses the Hebrew word “asah” for the 6 days of creation which means to prepare and form the earth that He had already made but was not yet habitable for mankind. The language used in Genesis 1:2 doesn’t mean that there was unformed matter that God made creation out of, but rather the earth was not yet in a state that could accommodate human life. When the same phraseology is used in other places (e.g. Deuteronomy 32:10; Isaiah 45:18) it refers to a barren wasteland unfit for sustaining life. This may mean that God created the earth over an indefinite period of time that could in fact have been billions of years which would explain the seemingly old age of the earth. Then, in 6 literal days, God prepared the earth for the creation of mankind and on the 6th day made the first man and woman.
VII. What is “ex nihilo”?
Ex nihilo is Latin for “out of nothing” and is commonly used to explain how God made creation out of nothing. The Bible teaches that God made creation “ex nihilo” in Hebrews 11:3 which says, “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.” This doctrine is important because it negates the possibility of evolution and there having been an eternal universe or some sort of matter out of which creation was made.
Genesis 1:1 portrays God creating all of creation from nothing. Therefore, creation came not from pre-existing matter but rather out of nothing. What God had made from nothing was then prepared for human habitation by the powerful word of God. Genesis 1 paints God as a speaker with the continual statement, “And God said…” in 1:3, 1:6, 1:9, 1:11, 1:14, 1:20, 1:24, 1:26.
Genesis 1 portrays God’s word as the most powerful force in all of creation. It’s God’s word that brings order, makes things good, creates an environment in which life can exist, separates things, comes with unparalleled authority and accomplishes exactly what God intended it for. Therefore, we are not to dismiss or distort God’s word as the serpent sought to entice our first parents to do.
In summary, God brought creation out of nothing and prepared it for us because He cares for us. As Francis Schaeffer pointed out, “we are made by a loving and personal ‘He’ and not an impersonal ‘it.’”
VIII. Why did God make creation?
- God made creation to glorify Him – Psalm 19:1
- God made creation to show forth His love – Psalm 136:1-9
- God made creation for Himself – Colossians 1:16
- God made creation to show us His attributes – Romans 1:20
- God made creation to worship Him – Revelation 4:11
Some final thoughts about the Bible and the role it plays in this discussion.
Westside holds up the Bible up as being fully sufficient and authoritative. To use reformation language, we hold to Sola Scriptura – that is, the Bible is our authority. Now, that is not to say that it is our only authority - we don’t hold to Solo Scriptura - but that all things outside the Bible need to be measured by the Bible.
As it relates to the origin of the universe, some people will push in and say, “But the Bible is not a book of science.” On the one hand that’s true, that is not its primary purpose, but that doesn’t mean it says things in it that go against science. What it opposes is the idea that there is no God (i.e. naturalism) and that the miraculous doesn’t take place. Furthermore, although the Bible is true, helpful and trustworthy it is not exhaustive, especially as it relates to the origin of all things and the way the universe functions. Yet, it is sufficient and gives us enough to answer the question that has perplexed many over the millennia, “how did we get something out of nothing?” The Bible’s answer: God.
And that’s not in conflict with science.
By definition, “the scientific method consists of systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.” Based on that definition, therefore, science can no more prove that God doesn’t exist as it can that He does. The task of science is to test and observe and the task we are given is to go where the evidence leads us. In other words, to conclude what is most reasonable based on what we can see and know.
To sum it up, the Bible and science shouldn’t be seen as being in conflict, in fact, just the opposite. Science should be seen as a glorifier of God, a field of work that helps demonstrate the wonder and majesty that is God.
I have so much more to say but I’m going to leave it at that, this post is already lengthy enough.
In a blog post last week, I attached a fairly lengthy bibliography meant to serve you in your own personal study. Many of the books presented then address this discussion here in far more depth. Happy reading.
Lastly, I have been grateful for the help the books on that list have given me and have used them for this post but haven’t necessarily given footnoted credit to them here but please know they have shaped and guided my thoughts and helped me in my conclusions greatly – huge and thankful credit to them.