One of the areas where there appears to be a disagreement in the otherwise strong marriage of science and the Bible is the theory of evolution. To summarize the conflict, the theory of a long, progressive creation process to describe life forms past and present has been seen as a direct attack on the biblical account of creation. But in the last few years, I think the conflict is shrinking. And I think the war between the Bible and a long progressive creation should be brought to an end. Let me explain by telling you part of my story.
Many years ago, as a geology major at a secular university, I was an ardent young earth creationist. I believed that essentially all that we see around us was created in six literal 24-hour days and the earth was around 10,000 years old. When my professors taught about evolution, I learned the material, but personally wrote them off as atheists. I did my historical geology book report on the creationist book, The Genesis Flood, and I graduated with a geology degree totally unconvinced that the theory of evolution had anything to do with a true understanding of earth’s history.
When I entered the work world, I soon learned that the age of the rocks or even how they got there was less important than the content of their pore spaces. “Was it filled with oil or natural gas or water?” became the only question that mattered. So the theory of evolution became a non-issue in my work. I also concluded that in a workplace populated with geologists and geophysicists who generally accepted the theory of evolution it was more important to be Jay Christ-follower than Jay Creationist. I wasn’t embarrassed by my creationist views and still believed in a literal six-day creation. I just felt that the creation/evolution distinction was less important than the gospel message of new life in Christ Jesus.
Fast forward about 25 years. As I casually observed geologic bits and pieces that increasingly supported an old earth/evolutionary view, I didn’t pay much attention because I really didn’t see a biblical alternative to a literal six-day creation in Genesis chapter one. Then a friend of mine and top notch Bible scholar (who had also been a young earth creationist in his college days) told me he was working on a manuscript demonstrating the compatibility of interpreting Genesis chapter one in an old earth framework. The manuscript became the book, In the Beginning…We Misunderstood by Johnny V. Miller and John M. Soden. I took notice and decided to revisit the topic.
What I found in my new study of the subject was that the latest discoveries in the fossil record, radiometric dating, DNA sequencing, and many other areas were indeed falling in line with an old earth, progressive creation view. All the details are too much to add here. Suffice it to say, that I now consider the old earth progressive creation view as most consistent with our geologic observations. And I believe Genesis chapter one can be interpreted in this framework. Again, to try and explain everything that went into my change of thinking is beyond the space of this blog post, and quite frankly could be easily misunderstood. If this shakes your world, please give me a call. I would love to hear your thoughts and dialog about this topic.
Would I call myself an evolutionist? No. The connotations of that word imply a belief in a random, natural selection process of creation without God in the picture. I believe a proper understanding of the progressive creation of living things is just the opposite. I think the evidence supports the idea that the results of progressive creation that we see around us today could never have happened without God in the picture.
If evolution is how it happened, it is definitely not random, and certainly not natural. It is supernatural in its design and implementation. Evolution is so complex, so purposeful, so orderly that we could only have arrived at this point in earth’s history with God in charge. I see a God-directed progressive creation over a long time just as much of a miracle as a six-day creation. Recognizing evolution as a creative mechanism does not have to lead one into naturalism and atheism. In my opinion, evolution itself is a God-size miracle of epic proportions. Again, please give me a call or email if this topic is of interest to you.
Now I would be remiss to stop the discussion here, focused only on the science and leaving out the biblical account of creation. I want to make clear my absolute confidence in Scripture and my confidence in Genesis chapter one and God’s account of what He wants us to know about His incredible creative process. So what is God saying in Genesis chapter one?
In the context of God revealing the creation story to Moses who in turn wrote it down in his five-book history (the first five books of the Old Testament) of the children of Israel, I believe God is making two main points. First, God created it all out of nothing. As God is setting the foundation for Israel’s pattern of worship, He is identifying Himself as the One True Creator of everything. It is as if God is refuting the message that may have informed the children of Israel in their 400 years of captivity in Egypt by saying, “You know all those things the Egyptians worship as gods? They are not gods. They were all created by Me. Specifically, the sun, the moon, the stars, the animals – all these things the Egyptians worshiped – I made them. I am the One True Creator God.” This monotheistic Creator God was a unique idea for its time in history and critical to Israel’s understanding of the One True God.
The second main point of God’s creation story is that man is a unique creation; created in the image of God Himself. Man is a special creation who somehow carries the image of God, the Imago Dei, inside him. You were created, separate from the animal kingdom, to bear the very image of God. This is the second important message of Genesis chapter one.
With these two critical messages in mind, I still do not have a good answer for the length of “days” of Genesis 1 or how the order of the “days” fits a progressive creation. But not being able to fully understand or resolve an exact timeline does not take away from these two clearly articulated facts of God’s revelation about His creation. 1) God created it all out of nothing, and 2) God created man, special and separate, in His own image.
The absolutely fascinating part to me is that when I look at the science, I see these same two facts confirmed. I have already written here about how I see the Big Bang theory fitting perfectly into the idea that God created the world from nothing. And moving on from there, evolution as a creative process would have been impossible without the supervising hand of God. In my opinion, the science of geology, biology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy all point to the handiwork of the Creator God and the “genius of the God who did it that way.”
At the risk of digressing, think about the eye for a moment. We used to use the complex design of the eye as evidence against evolution, and as evidence against a random natural selection form of evolution we were exactly right to do so. Where I would take the argument today is not that the evolution of the eye is impossible, but that if evolution of the eye is how it happened, God was at work in the intricate design and creation of the eye no matter the time frame for its creation.
Alan Rogers, in his book The Evidence for Evolution tries to make the case for the evolution of the eye by natural selection. In my opinion, his chapter on the eye reads like a fairy tale. Despite his book being somewhat helpful in the big picture of how things appear to have evolved, when he dives into the natural selection aspects of things he is way off the mark. A designer is required for the eye and a million other complex aspects of evolution. I think the theories of the Big Bang and evolution actually support the belief that God created the world out of nothing.
Now on point two – man is a unique creature made in God’s image – we are again supported by science and the simplest of observations. Without the Bible, we would not know that our unique image came from God Himself. But even without knowing the “who”, the fact that man is unique from the rest of the animal kingdom is so obvious that it almost requires no discussion. Our personality, vocabulary, intelligence, dominion, ingrained morality, and recognition of beauty are just a few of the ways we are unique. And our ability to operate in ways that are aesthetically and morally beautiful has no basis in the world of random natural selection. We only operate in those ways because we bear the image of God inside.
I remember a few years ago when the science community was celebrating that a chimp had learned to recognize over 200 words after 25 years of training. The observation was meant to convince us of our similarity to the ape world. I looked at my toddler who was learning about 200 words a week and thought, “Not really buying the intelligence similarity”. I believe the science of human psychology and physiology fully supports that we are made in the image of our Creator.
So where does that leave us? I think that even in the area of evolution we are back to the strong marriage analogy for the agreement of science and the Bible. I think it is important when viewing the science objectively to not come at the topic with a preconceived notion of the only way God could have done things. We actually limit God if we insist on only one way He could have done the job. True science is a wonderful world of discovery where we learn that, “The more we study and understand the universe, the more we recognize the genius of the God who did it that way.”