‘Creationism’ describes the belief that God created the world and everything in it, from nothing, in six days just as the Bible states in Genesis chapter 1.
According to Christians the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God, the one and only God who exists outside of time (because He created time).
Of course it’s no secret that within Christianity there are many different interpretations of the Bible and what it says.
But in general if you’re a Christian then, hopefully, you believe the Bible is true.
That means the whole Bible, including the very first part. This should not really be a particularly controversial thing right?
What’s wrong with Christians believing in their own Bible?
The problem is that the very first part is the part that describes how the whole universe, and everything in it was created by God… a proposition that has endured considerable scrutiny, especially within the last couple hundred years.
According to secular scientists, the universe is about 14.5 billion years old, and was the result of the Big Bang, and earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and life began on earth about 3.5 billion years ago, and it has been evolving mostly as a result of genetic mutations and natural selection ever since.
According to secular scientists this is one of the most wholly and undeniably established facts that science has to offer.
So influential, is this confidence, that it has virtually infused itself with the entire human experience in Western society today. And for what it’s worth, I totally understand how hearing someone say that the earth is only 6000 years old can sound really, really, kooky. I understand that it can even be hard to listen to. I get it.
Evolution is just everywhere, in absolutely everything and is spoken of in the most matter-of-fact terms that it feels weird to question it.
Even though still over 30% of the population of the United States doesn’t believe it, including many highly educated people like lawyers, doctors, politicians and yes many scientists too. True, this number is dropping over time, or appears to be, but that’s still millions and millions of people, and that’s only America.
Another way to think about it is that, despite the virtual war on biblical creation from Academia, the media, and massive tech giants and websites like Wikipedia, belief in creation is stubbornly rolling along.
So what’s the big deal anyway?
What does Genesis actually say?
“Genesis is foundational” – Ken Ham
The first chapter of the first book of the Bible (Genesis) is the part that summarises how the whole universe was created, and everything in it, by God. Here is a summarised version of that summary:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, which was initially only water.
On the first day God created light (with no sun, the light probably came directly from God himself), and separated it from the darkness (some seriously deep theological meaning there).
The Bible explicitly states here “and there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” It repeats this phrase exactly for each of the six days of creation.
The second day: God made an expanse (He expanded the universe)
The third day: God ‘gathered the water’ and made dry land appear, then He made every kind of plant, and was very clear that they should produce ‘after their kind’ (not species, ‘kind’ and ‘species’ are different!)
The fourth day: God made the sun, the moon, “and the stars also” (because a trillion, trillion stars is like, no big deal, to an omnipotent God). These are to mark the days, weeks, years and seasons etc.
The fifth day: Every animal under the sea, and every bird (note: birds were created before land animals according to this Chronology) and was very clear again that they should produce ‘after their kind’
The sixth day: Every land animal, and… humans. God was very clear yet again that they should all produce ‘after their kind’
The Bible makes a very clear distinction here between all other animals, and humans. God made man “in His own image, male and female”. Both male and female were made in God’s image. God blessed them and said to fill the earth (wink, wink). He also said He gave them all of the plants for food.
Finally, God said that He looked at His whole creation and emphatically described it as “very good”.
I strongly encourage you to read the whole chapter yourself, very carefully.
Go on. It only takes a few minutes.
Just read it so that you know I’m not trying to trick you.
Not surprisingly, the main reason that this chapter is such an animated topic of debate is because, at least at first glance, it seems wholly in conflict with the Big Bang and biological evolution (because it is, let’s be honest).
What is Creationism?
“the term is commonly used for literal creationists who reject various aspects of science, and instead promote pseudoscientific beliefs.” – Wikipedia (as quoted on the 09th Sept 2018)
The above quote is from the Wikipedia article on creationism, which is the top hit in a Google search for ‘what is creationism?’… Hardly an objective, neutral assessment.
To be fair, Wikipedia is the top hit in a Google search for most anything today, so there’s nothing special about this. But to someone honestly seeking an answer to this question, this is not the answer they should find.
First and foremost, creationism is the belief that the Bible is true… the whole Bible, which includes the book of Genesis.
Broadly speaking, any person from any religion that believes the universe was created by some god, believes in ‘creationism’.
However the term is more generally applied to Christians, who accept Genesis as true history.
To be even more specific, a ‘creationist’ is probably mostly associated with those Christians who take a particularly active interest in the topic and are most passionate to talk about it, and emphasise its importance in the broader scope of Christianity and Christian apologetics.
As with the rest of the Bible there is no shortage of different ways to interpret this first chapter of the first book.
But we can split those interpretations into two broad categories:
- Those who believe the earth is approximately 6000 years old (young earth creationists)
- Those who do not (old earth creationists)
The first of these is probably what most people think of when they hear ‘creationism’. Those who believe this are also known as ‘young earth creationists’, though many of them prefer to call themselves ‘biblical creationists’. This is what I believe and this is what most of this article is going to describe.
Christians who do not believe the earth is 6000 years old, almost universally believe the earth is instead closer to 4.5 Billion years old – the currently accepted age of the earth according to secular science.
Within this group there are a number of subgroups again, which I will only touch on briefly.
I make the broad distinction above because there really are some crucial differences between the ‘young earth creationists’ and the rest.
Young Earth Creationists
Young earth creationists (biblical creationists) believe that:
The earth is about 6000 years old. There are some who say it could be up to 12,000 years old, but the vast majority are convinced it is about 6000, give or take a few hundred years.
(OK, from now on I’m just going to use the term ‘creationists’, because it’s shorter, sound good? Good. Just know that I’m referring to those who believe in a ‘young’ earth.)
The book of Genesis in particular is a general, but literal (historical-grammatical) overview of the true history of earth between the very beginning of time itself, to the Israelites (also known as the Hebrews, or the Jews) occupation in Egypt.
This includes especially:
- The creation of the whole world in six, consecutive, 24 hour days (earth rotations), with God taking one day of rest on the 7th day as described plainly in Genesis 1
- The creation of all of life and the universe, in the order described in the first chapter
- All plants and vegetation first (day 3)
- The sun, moon and stars (day 4)
- All sea life and all birds (day 5)
- All land animals, and humans (day 6)
- That Adam and Eve were the first humans, created by God, in fully adult form. Adam was created from ‘from the dust of the earth’, and Eve was created shortly after from one of Adam’s rib bones
- The famous ‘Noah’s ark’ story. Noah was told by God to build a massive (and I mean massive) ark, to take his family and two of every kind of land animal (not species, ‘kind’ and ‘species’ are different!) because he was going to flood the entire earth (some animals he took more than two)
- This flood was a real event. A total, earth covering, cataclysmic event. It wiped out all land animals and humans, except those on the ark and is the primary explanation for the majority of the geologic column and the fossil record
- Following the flood, God commanded mankind to spread out across the earth and populate it, however mankind stayed close together and attempted to build a ‘tower to the heavens’, the tower of Babel, instead so God miraculously changed the languages of various people groups so that they could no longer communicate with each other
- Sometime after this we get to the story of Abram, or Abraham, who is the founding father of the Israelites
- Abraham gives birth to Isaac, who gives birth to Jacob, who gives birth to twelve sons who become the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel
- It is from about this point that there is much less general dispute between different ‘creationist’ groups. On the whole most Christians, and Jews, accept the rest of Genesis as more or less true history
- That before Adam sinned there was no death and no suffering.
Note: That last point is one of the defining characteristics, or distinctions between all other ‘creation-isms’ and ‘young earth creationism’.
In order to believe that the earth is billions of years old, in principle, is to adopt the secular view of earth’s geological history which necessarily includes their interpretation of the rock layers, the fossils and everything else.
This means that, pretty much all of the ‘old earth’ interpretations of Genesis chapter 1 are forced to accept billions of years of death and suffering before Adam’s original sin.
Creationists believe also that:
The genealogical records in the book of Genesis (and elsewhere in the Bible) are virtually complete and accurate, and therefore can be used to get a rough idea of how old the earth is.
All of life (including dinosaurs and other organisms that are extinct) were all created during creation week.
All of life has a limited ability to change and adapt to their environment mostly using the mechanisms of natural selection and genetic diversity, within their ‘kinds’.
Evolution is false.
According to evolution:
According to the Bible:
A literal/historical interpretation of Genesis is crucial to a complete and proper understanding of the full Gospel message, and the broader message of Christianity.
This has been the dominant view of the church for 2000 years since the time of Christ.
A six-day creation, and a historical Adam and Eve, who were the first human beings, created fully human, is plainly affirmed throughout the rest of the Bible and is what Jesus Christ himself believed.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it gets the general point across.
Finally, creationists are resoundingly confident that science, supports this estimated age (although science cannot ‘prove’ it is true) and supports a recent creation of life.
We believe that it is not science that is in conflict with the Bible, but the secular interpretation of the scientific evidence.
We believe that science can tell us a lot about how the world works, from biology, to chemistry, to physics, to space. The whole idea of ‘young earth creationism’ is motivated generally by a love for science, and a desire to show that the scientific evidence actually points to a young earth and intelligent design.
But besides all that, much more important than what we believe, is why we believe it.
Why a young earth?
Creationists believe that the Bible is God’s inspired, and inerrant Word, and it is true from cover to cover and should be read and understood plainly, as it was intended to be understood by its original author to its intended audience.
The above point is the most important because it virtually underpins all of the preceding beliefs.
Despite evolution and the Big Bang, creationism is actually a very sensible belief. As long as you acknowledge the basic truth of the Bible, then it’s a very common sense, straightforward step to believing that the earth is young.
You see, ‘young earth creationists’, don’t really care how old the earth is. 6000 years is just the age that is calculated when you take the Bible at its word.
What we really care about is understanding what the Bible actually says, and believing it, because it’s God’s Word.
The reason we believe the earth is 6000 years old comes down to these main points:
- God created the world in 6, 24 hour days – there were no gaps in between, and this marks the beginning of time, space and matter
- In Genesis, and other books in the Bible there are genealogies which trace the family tree of life from Adam, to his sons, all the way to Jesus Christ.
- These genealogies also include the ages of many of the people in question, and how old they were when they had children
- These genealogies can then be used to back track, and get a rough estimate of the age of the earth
- Virtually all of the rock layers, and the fossils, and other stuff are the result of the global flood (and its after effects)
Young earth creationists affirm the above points, because they trust what the Bible plainly says, and because they don’t make any attempt to over complicate what the Bible says, especially in the first chapter of Genesis.
Furthermore, creationists acknowledge something about secular science which is also really important.
The underlying philosophical framework for both the Big Bang, and evolution is naturalism.
It’s not enough to say that the Big Bang and evolution tell a different story from Genesis. The very heart and soul of those theories is to explain how the universe and life arose without any reference to a supernatural explanation.
This is so crucial.
Young earth creationists recognise that the Big Bang and evolution are specifically designed to challenge Genesis.
And that’s pretty much it.
So what about all the ‘old earth’ interpretations of Genesis?
Old earth interpretations
Well, all of these interpretations all have one main thing in common. They virtually all accept the secular age of the earth as an established scientific fact, and attempt to explain how the Bible can still be true, and the earth be billions of years old.
Some of them still try to interpret Genesis as ‘literal history’, and accept that Bible is true and inerrant, but are then forced to adopt some rather complicated interpretations of Genesis to find a place to put those billions of years.
Some of them are far more liberal, and are willing to believe that the Bible may not be completely true in all places, or was not trying to correctly describe history, but simply offer a theological overview.
More importantly, all of them require that billions of years of death and suffering existed before original sin, and describe a world that God apparently thought was ‘very good’.
Gap creationism is the belief that there is a large ‘gap’ in time between the first and second verse of Genesis where there was almost a whole story of life that existed before that described by God in the rest of the chapter.
This interpretation is an attempt to maintain the inerrancy of scripture, and so takes Genesis as literally true, but still fit the billions of years of secular history into the Bible. The six days are six 24 hour days, but there are billions of years of death and suffering before God made the earth as we know it today. There are some very serious problems with this view however:
- There is not a scrap of evidence in the Bible whatsoever for this view. It is completely ad hoc
- This view is, ironically, completely at odds with secular science too
- If Genesis is literally true, then the global flood is literally true, which according to creationists is the source of the vast majority of the fossil record. So there should be a fossil record for the billions of years before the start of day 2, then a whole other fossil record for the animals killed in the flood… or something like that
In the original Hebrew text the word used to describe ‘day’ in Genesis is the word ‘yom’, which can mean either a 24 hour day, or some unspecified amount of time.
Day-age creationists believe that the six ‘days’ of creation, were not 24 hour days, but possibly vast periods of time. Each of the days of creation described in Genesis describes what happened over eons of time.
Very similar to the above view, progressive creationists accept that the earth is billions of years old, and believe that God specially created each individual ‘species’ of animal, at different times.
Progressive creationists heartily accept a billion year old earth, but completely reject biological evolution, which is so strange to me.
Why would you be so willing to accommodate secular science in the Bible in one field, but not others? I thought the whole point of old-earth creationism was to prostrate oneself to the almighty secular science?
Sorry, I’m getting snarky.
Anyway, this is probably the next most dominant view of creation today, other than a recent creation. I couldn’t say which was more popular.
The Intelligent Design Movement
The intelligent design movement is a special kind of beast, which probably deserves a whole blog post on its own. Briefly though, it is more of an ‘umbrella’ term to describe anyone who sees the obvious design like qualities in biological life, and the fine tuning of the universe. As a movement, it does not align itself with any particular interpretation of Genesis, but merely advances the more general view that life, almost certainly, did not arise spontaneously without an ‘intelligent designer’.
Some of its proponents are even rumoured to be young earth creationists.
Theistic evolutionists pretty much believe exactly what modern secular science believes about earths history. They believe that God created the universe (He caused the Big Bang), and it has kind of just been spinning along by itself ever since. God in his infinite wisdom kickstarted the process, then kicked back after that to just kind of watch.
Not only that, but they pretty much disregard Genesis as ‘historical’ and assert that it has theological significance but was basically dumbed down, so that the ‘primitive’ Israelites could understand it.
Full disclosure: I may or may not be omitting some crucial nuances to the above models. I do not believe any of the above doctrines are correct, and as I implied earlier on, if you’re looking for an honest description of these beliefs, you should go and find one written by a person or organisation that actually believes them (which you can find in most of the links provided)
As I explained in my testimony, all of the above interpretations are simply not good enough. They all have their own significant and insurmountable theological problems. Problems which simply do not exist if you take the Bible at its Word.
Interestingly enough, most of them do also reject at least some tenets of secular science, despite being almost solely motivated by a desire to fit ‘the facts of science’ into the Bible. Most of them reject biological evolution, especially as a fundamentally natural process guided only by the power of natural selection (some believe that God kind of guided evolution, like balancing a marble on a plate of glass). But I just don’t get it. If you want to be ‘rational’ and assert your intellectual superiority over biblical creationists, why only go halfway?
Finally, as I said before, the Big Bang and evolution are at their core anti-Christian and anti-supernatural. Any attempt to fit these theories into the Bible is an (unnecessary) attempt to fit a natural explanation for the universe and life, into the supernatural description in Genesis.
You don’t have to be convinced by this article that the Bible is true, or that young earth creationism is correct.
My only real hope is that you get a better understanding of it than what you would by reading a contemptuous and anti-christian hit piece like that Wikipedia article.
I also hope that you can see, perhaps, the driving motivation for young earth creationism is not ‘fundamentalism’ or ‘anti-science’, but simply that as Christians we believe the Bible is true, something the majority of the Western world has believed for 2000 years, and something which we have good reasons to believe.
Finally, I also hope that you can see that this is not a war between ‘religion’ and ‘science’. Science is a method, it’s a systematic way of understanding the physical, natural world, and scientific data can be interpreted differently depending on your starting assumptions.
The primary creationist starting assumption is supernatural creation, by an eternal God.
The primary secular starting assumption is that something came from nothing.