I was asked recently by a friend to weigh in on the debate about young earth creationism versus evolution. I don’t think I have touched this issue with a ten foot pole before (at least not on my blog) because people get so wound up about it. But I decided this morning that I would share my response to my friend with all of you. Now you can know where I am at on this. I will take this Thursday’s Thanksgiving to thank God for the ability to disable blog comments. Here you go:
My personal view of Genesis 1 is a bit undecided. I am confident that it is meant to teach 1. That all things existing which are not God were made by God. 2. That God made all living things (both plant and animal life) according to their own kind which negates the possibility of evolution in the sense of common ancestry. 3. That God made mankind unique and separated them from all the other creatures he had made, making male and female in his own image. 4. All that God made in its original state was “very good” and free from defect.
I am not convinced, however, that the purpose of Genesis 1 is to tell us about “when” God created. I think it is to tell us “that” he created and “how” and “what” but the question of “when” may not be in view at all. I think the best exegetical argument for a young earth, literal six 24-hour day creation is to cite Exodus 20 and the Sabbath day command which seems to strongly suggest a literal interpretation of Genesis 1.
Even so, I think there are things in the text of Genesis 1 that suggest it might not be meant to be taken in a “literal” sense. For instance if you take day 1 and day 4, day 2 and 5, and day 3 and 6 and compare them you will see something interesting. You will see “forming” and “filling”. God makes light and separates it from the darkness on day 1 and on day 4 he makes the Sun, Moon and Stars. God separates the waters below and sky above on day 2 and on day 5 he makes fish of the sea and birds of the air. On day 3 God makes dry land and vegetation and on day 6 God makes land animals and man who will walk on the land and eat the vegetation.
So we have interesting questions to ask. Did God really make light apart from the Sun? If so, why? Does this parallelism suggest that we ought to read the text in the same way we read Genesis 2 which breaks into a more narrative form of story? Also there is a difficulty between Genesis 1 and 2 about the order of creation (was man first or was vegetation?) so how do we best resolve it? Both young earth creationists and old earth creationists tackle these question differently but they both have strengths and weaknesses.
It is important, however, to make clear that there is a real difference between an old earth creationist (OEC) and a Theistic Evolutionist (TE). Not every Christian who thinks the earth/universe is very old also thinks that God used evolution. Many OEC’s are “progressive creationists” which means they believe in special creation, where God makes living things unique apart from evolution, but he did so periodically over a large amount of time. So God may have created one thing and then a million years later, perhaps, he created something else. It is not particularly important that you agree with this point of view, but to be fair I think you must acknowledge the difference between this view and theistic evolution. Too many young earth creationists (YEC) group all who believe in an old earth together and do not make reasonable distinctions as they ought.
So in this debate you have at least three main party lines. YEC’s, OEC’s, and TE’s. I believe TE is thoroughly unbiblical and I also do not believe the weight of scientific evidence is in favor of evolutionary theory. YEC and OEC then are the only options on the table for those who believe in the authority of Scripture and they ought to be decided between exegetically first and scientifically second. I do think that we ought to consider the evidence of science on the matter, especially since I believe the text allows us the possibility of the earth being young or old. It is for this reason that I am “agnostic” about the age of the earth. I tend to think it is probably pretty old and I would mostly align with an OEC view but am ready to be a YEC if tomorrow I am shown to be wrong.
You mention that you are afraid that many are compromising on this issue because of evolutionary theory. Some most definitely are. Some people think they have to accept evolution if they want to be a thinking Christian. Those people are misguided, as are all evolutionary theorists. But many who hold to OEC do so apart from believing in evolution. Some find textual reasons that suggest Genesis 1 may not be meant to be read in a literal fashion (the word “yom” in Hebrew which is translated “day” can mean a 24 hour day or it can refer to a larger or undetermined period of time). Augustine who lived in the 4th century found the idea that God needed 6 days to create the world to be kind of silly. After all God could have created all things instantly because nothing is impossible for God. Likewise God doesn’t need “rest” on day 7 as if he gets tired. Perhaps the model laid out in Genesis 1 is for our benefit and not God’s. It is also interesting that Hebrews suggests that God is still in his Sabbath day’s rest, which is a bit more than 24 hours (Hebrews 4:4-11).
All of this to say, there is an exegetical case for both YEC and OEC as well as a scientific case for both positions. We each must study, pray and make a conscientious decisions about where we stand on the matter. We need to keep the main things the main things, however, and practice Romans 14 principles on that which we disagree about when they are non-essential. Like I said above I think there are things which Genesis 1 clearly teaches (“who?”, “what?”, “how?”, perhaps even “why?”) and there are other things that are more debatable (“when?”). But evolution is not permitted by the text as far as I can see. YEC’s and OEC’s should spend less time fighting each other and they should unite against the common and real enemy of evolution.