Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Challenge of Creationism

 Jonathan Gauntlett, Graham O'Brien, Andrew Shelling, Graeme Finlay.

Every Christian is a creationist. All things were created by God, for God, and are sustained by God1.  Creation bears witness to God so that man has no excuse worshiping the created rather than the creator2.  Thus we can consider two books of God’s revelation, His Word and His works3.  Although natural revelation is insufficient, and special revelation is required for saving knowledge of God, the two are not conflicting4. If God is both creator and saviour, as revealed in scripture, a correct understanding of nature will complement a correct understanding of scripture.  The challenge of creationism is therefore, to ascertain how God’s Word and God’s works are complementary, not contradictory.


Many Christians regard science and evangelicalism as locked in irreconcilable conflict.  Some go to the extent of attempting to overturn many fundamental findings of modern science in an attempt to defend their chosen method of scriptural interpretation.  However, we believe the biblical concept of creation need not contradict natural processes as understood by science and we acknowledge that God’s creative and sustaining activity must be seen within these processes.  Science uncovers the handiwork of God and is therefore, complementary to our theological understanding of God’s activities.  Thus there is no inconsistency in adhering to the position of evolutionary creationism, which has been defined as “the claim that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit created the universe and life through an ordained, sustained, and purposeful evolutionary process5.”  We wish to outline how such a position relates to both science and scripture.


Disagreements often concern how to interpret scientific evidence regarding the earth’s antiquity and macroevolution.  Yet there is no debate within the scientific community regarding evolution’s occurrence, only its mechanisms.  Evolution is the unifying theory of biology and “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution6”.  Although strictly speaking scientific theories are provisional and subject to reinterpretation, evolution is now well supported by evidence across multiple disciplines such as physics, geology, biology, astronomy, anthropology and history.  This evidence continues to grow more substantive with time.  In addition to traditional lines of evidence7, many exciting fossil discoveries8 and the genomic era9 provide ample evidence for evolution. Thus evolution has come to be regarded as a fact within the scientific community.  For these reasons, many Christian scientists who view their work as worship devoted to understanding God’s works, choose to accept evolutionary processes as a correct understanding of God’s works within biological history.  Although some scientists may believe in evolution because they think it enables the denial of God, this is not universally the case.


Acceptance of the scientific evidence for evolution does not require acceptance of the philosophy that is commonly perceived as accompanying evolution.  Christians cannot embrace the evolutionism, scientism, materialism or secular humanism that accompanies atheistic evolution.  Science employs techniques for making empirical observations of nature. Philosophy derives meaning and purpose from those observations.  Many atheists utilise science to support their philosophy10.  But the acceptance of science can be used as an argument for theistic world-view.  Evidence for the fine-tuning and lawful rationality of the universe indicates design by God for life11.  Some argue that the emergence of humanity as purposed by God is the predictable if not inevitable outcome of evolution12.  These arguments for God’s existence rely on the acceptance, not the rejection, of scientific data5.


The rejection of mainstream science by segments of Christianity is accompanied with pastoral perils.  Students who have been taught that a denial of evolution is required for Christian faith encounter difficulties when confronted with evidence for evolution during their studies.  Those caught in the false dichotomy of creation versus evolution may feel they have no alternative but to abandon faith.  Those familiar with science or who encounter science professionally stumble in coming to Christ when introduced to a form of Christianity that repudiates what is clearly understood by the natural sciences.  We should also be cautious of attributing God’s supernatural activity to gaps in current scientific knowledge or to areas of scientific controversy.  The danger is that when natural mechanisms for phenomena are understood there is less room for God’s activity, which is then forced into the recesses of human incapability or ignorance.


Furthermore, we believe that an evolutionary creationist position does not contradict a correct understanding of God’s Word.  We affirm that Scripture is inspired by God, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness13. Just as Scripture ascribes rain to divine activity14, and no Christian rejects meteorology, so too evolution need not contradict divine revelation regarding creation.  A high view of Scripture requires careful interpretation, and for the majority of Christian history, it is the sense that the writer intended that has been important for scriptural interpretation.  All Christians interpret passages non-literally in instances where such an interpretation gives clearer meaning.  If we find that our interpretation of Scripture contradicts all the historical sciences, this should offer us significant cause for reflection


The importance of understanding the literary form, and the historical setting in which Genesis was given should not be overlooked, “God’s revelation… must never be divorced from it’s historical context; it can be understood only within it15.”  The theological truths of Genesis were revealed within an ancient Near Eastern culture approximately 3000 years ago, within the scientific and cultural understanding of those times16.  Thus the Bible contains the science of the ancient Near East.  Elements of this scientific understanding can be seen with reference to the firmament, a solid dome in the sky holding back the waters above the earth17, and the pillars of the earth18, on which the flat surface of the planet was believed to have stood.  We believe the Holy Spirit reveals theological truth within existing cultural settings rather than correcting those understandings with modern scientific understandings.  Reading Scripture as a scientific proof text places scientific expectations upon a text written thousands of years before such a perspective was developed. We believe that in Genesis “the Holy Spirit used an ancient understanding of origins as a vehicle to reveal a divine theology in the creation accounts5”. Genesis does not therefore, give a literal, historical description of how the natural world originated, but is primarily a theological text19.


The literary form of Genesis is therefore, regarded not as natural history but a monotheistic cosmogony20.  Although perhaps foreign to us, as is the formerly common form of apocalyptic writing utilised in Revelation, cosmological writing was common at the time.  Genesis 1 uses a strong literary framework (Table 1) to present a profound theological challenge to the polytheistic cosmogenies of the dominant cultures of the time.  It follows the structure of three sets of three, capped off with a final day to give seven days, giving the passage the numerological significance of completeness.  The purpose of Genesis is to reveal timeless theological truths that God alone is creator and man bears God’s image but is in sinful rebellion toward God.


TABLE 1.  The literary structure of Genesis 120.


Problem (v2)

Preparation (days 1-3)

Population (days 4-6)


A. Creation of light (day)

B. Separation from darkness (night)

A. Creation of sun

B. Creation of moon, stars

Watery abyss

A.  Creation of firmament

B.  Separation of waters above from waters below

A. Creation of birds

B.  Creation of fish

Formless earth

A.  Separation of earth from sea

B.  Creation of vegetation

A.  Creation of land animals

B.  Creation of humans

Day seven - rest



The study of the origins of humanity provides some of the most interesting evidence for biological evolution9.  Whether a pig is under the butcher’s knife, or a human is under the surgeon’s, we observe the same biological structures.  Humans are clearly animals.  However, we are creatures in God’s image21; we are Homo divinus, the ape that bears God’s image15, 22. This image is not seen in our physical being, or in our evolutionary descent.  God has no body that we should bear its image.  The image of God in us is seen in such characteristics as our capacity to make moral decisions, to love and be loved.  As a non-physical entity, the human spirit would not be subject to the laws of natural selection.  For this reason the position known as BioLogos affirms that our capacity to relate to God was supernaturally imparted upon humanity at some point in our developmental history23.


Acceptance of evolution requires acceptance of death as part of creation.  We see ample evidence for death in the fossils ranging from the late pre-cambrian to now. Without death there could be no life24, as the world would soon be depleted of space and resources.  The reality of death is integral to the design of organisms.  All carnivores, parasites, scavengers and saprophytes are designed to either kill, or feed on the dead and form an integral part of all ecosystems.  Our own bodies are mortal25, corruptible26, earthly tents27 and grass that withers28.  The Bible distinguishes physical from spiritual death.  When Adam was warned on the day he ate the fruit he would surely die29, he died, not physically but spiritually, as indicated by subsequently hiding from God30.  We too were dead in our trespasses and sin but are now alive in Christ31.   This being born again is a spiritual rebirth from spiritual death32. This is why Jesus states that all those who believe in Him will never die33.  Physical death is not to be feared, but rather the second death, spiritual death in hell34. Thus, when Paul refers to death coming through Adam35, he refers to the state of spiritual death of all mankind, which is redeemed by Christ.


Some evolutionary creationists regard Adam and Eve as historical figures24, while others consider them to be representative of an historical group of humans who experienced the reality of God and subsequently rebelled36, or as allegorically representing theological truths about humanity5.  Regardless, Adam models the sinful human condition as our corporate representative.  His fall is my fall.  An ancient Near-East understanding of Genesis need not consider Adam as literal.  Nor need the Holy Spirit correct Paul’s potential consideration of Adam as literal in order to convey theological truth about humanity37, such as our sinful nature, which is affirmed by Paul in Romans 3:23 prior to a discussion of Adam in Romans 538. The point of Romans 5 is not to describe the origins of humanity, but to contrast life through Christ, the second Adam, with condemnation represented through the first Adam.


We do not believe that Christians need remain polarized between creation and evolution.  One can embrace a rich understanding of God’s truth through both His Word and His works. Ultimately, we must not allow the origins debate to take our focus from the One of whom Paul states, “all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together... so that He will come to have the preeminence1.”



1.      Col 1:15-18

2.      Ps 19:1-4Rom 1:18-23

3.      For discussion on the origin of the two books metaphor refer to:  Hess, P. M. J.(2004).  Nature and the word of God in inter-religiuos dialogue.  Science and Religion in Conext, Metanexus Conference 2004.  Accessed at:

4.      Murphy, G. L. (2006). Reading God’s two books. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith58: 64-67. Accessed at:

5.      O. Lamoureux, D. (2008).Evolutionary creation.  A Christian approach to evolution. Eugene, OR. Wipf & Stock.

6.      Dobzhansky, T. (1973). Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. The American Biology Teacher35: 125-129. Accessed at:

7.      Regarding evidence for the age of the earth and macroevolution refer to:

         Miller, K. R. (1999). Finding Darwin’s God. New York. Harper Perennial

         Theobald, D. (2007).29+ evidences for macroevolution.  Accessed at:

         Wiens, R. C. (2002).Radiometric dating.  A Christian perspective. Acessed at

         White, R. S. (2007). The age of the earth. Faraday paper no. 8. The Faraday Institute, University of Cambridge. Acessed at

         Dalrymple, G. B.(2004). Ancient earth, ancient skies.  The age of the earth and its cosmic surroundings.Stanford. Stanford University Press.

8.      Prothero, D. (2008). What missing link? New Scientist.197(2645): 35-41.

         Prothero, D. R. (2007).Evolution. What the fossils say and why it matters. New York. Columbia Univeristy Press.

9.         Fairbanks, D. J.(2007). Relics of Eden.  The powerful evidence of evolution in human DNA. Amherst, NY. Prometheus Books.

10.         For a Christian response see: McGrath, A. (2007). Has science killed God?  Faraday paper no. 9. Faraday Institute, University of Cambridge. Acessed at:

11.         Gonzalez, G., and Richards, J. W. (2004). The privileged planet.  How our place in the cosmos is designed for discovery.Washington D. C. Regnery Publishing , Inc.

         McGrath, A. E. (2009) A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology. Louisville. Westminster John Knox Press.

12.         Conway Morris, S.(2003). Life’s solution. Inevitable humans in a lonely universe. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

13.         2 Tim 3:16

14.        Lev 26:41 Kings 17:1,Job 5:10

15.         Stott, J. W. (1999).Understanding the bible. Expanded edition. Grand Rapids. Zondervan.

16.         Haarsma, D. B.(2007). Origins.  A reformed look at creation, design & evolution. Grand Rapids. Faith Alive Christian Resources.

17.         Gen 1:6

         For discussion regarding the firmament see:

         O. Lamoureux, D.(2008). Lessons from the heavens: On scripture, science and inerrancy. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.60: 4-15. Accessed at:

18.         Ps 104:5

19.         Lucas, E. (207). Interpreting Genesis in the 21st century. Faraday paper no. 11.  Faraday Institute, University of Cambridge. Acessed at:

20.         Hyers, C. (1984). The narrative form of Genesis 1: Cosmogenic , yes; scientific, no. Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation36: 208-215. Accessed at:        

         Hyers, C. (2003). Comparing biblical and scientific maps of origins. InPerspectives on an evolving creation. Miller, K. B. (ed.). Grand Rapids. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

         Blocher, H. (1997)Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle. Edited by Carson, D. A. Vol. 5, New Studies in Biblical Theology. Leicester. Apollos.

Watts, R. E. (2001) On the Edge of the Millennium: Making Sense of Genesis. In:Living in the Lamblight: Christianity and Contemporary Challenges to the Gospel., Edited by Boersma, H. Vancouver. Regent College Publishing.

21.         Gen 1:27

22.         Finlay, G.  Homo divinus:  The ape that bears God’s imageAcessed at

23.         Collins, F. (2006).The language of God: A scientist presents evidence for belief. New York. Free Press.

24.         Alexander, D.(2008). Creation or evolution.  Do we have to choose? Oxford. Monarch Books.

25.         1 Cor15:44

26.         1 Cor 15:53

27.         2 Cor 5:1

28.         1 Pet 1:24

29.         Gen 2:17

30.         Gen 3:8

31.         Eph 2:1-5

32.         Jn 3:31 Pet 1:232 Cor 5:15-17

33.         Jn 11:26

34.         Matt 10:28Rev 21:8

35.         1 Cor 15:21-22

36.         Collins, R. (2003). Evolution and original sin. InPerspectives on an evolving creation. Miller, K. B. (ed.). Grand Rapids. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

37.         For an introduction to the idea of accommodation refer to:

         O. Lamoureux, D.(2008). Lessons from the heavens: On scripture, science and inerrancy. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.60: 4-15. Accessed at:

38.         Murphy, G. L.(2006). Roads to paradise and perdition:  Christ, evolution, and original sin. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith58: 109-118. Acessed at:

         Blocher, H. (1997)Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle. Edited by Carson, D. A. Vol. 5, New Studies in Biblical Theology. Leicester. Apollos.


1 comment:

  1. Great article, clearly a lot of research and thought has gone into this. The list of references is amazing and a great resource for anyone who wants to dig deeper into the subject. Many of them are freely available on the web.

    For myself I was brought up (home schooled even) on young earth creationism (YEC) in my science with mentions of evolution and old earth in disdain. When I read or heard of millions of years etc I would shake my head "whatever". The turning point for me was reading Ken Miller's "Finding Darwin's God" book (referenced above) which enlightened me on the "other perspective" but with awareness of YEC (most of science ignores it). This is a good book for the science side but not the theology. I have read more since then (e.g. Denis Alexander) but I am still working through the complexities in the theology and accept that is necessary.

    If your exposure to science on origins is limited to creationist sources (e.g. CMI) as it was mine I would highly recommend checking out the references above. You would be surprised how much of what you have been told is inaccurate and/or misleading and the number of myths that circulate (CMI has a page of some these