In other posts I have examined the presuppositional nature of the arguments between science and religion. In this post I will examine the various explanations offered by theologians on how to interpret Scripture, specifically Genesis 1-3, in light of modern science. I will start with those most influenced by a scientific/naturalist presupposition and move on from there, giving precedence to those arguments which should be most palatable to someone with a Biblical worldview.
These arguments could be charted on a sliding scale with scientific presuppositionalism on one side and Biblical inerrancy on the other. This same sliding scale could be marked with Biblical inconsistency on one side and Biblical consistency on the other. With this construction I am not attempting to say that those who hold to theistic evolution are not Biblical inerrantists; I am saying that if they are inerrantists, they are very inconsistent inerrantists. Consistency, after all, is one of the primary thrusts of this debate. We are trying to find some level of consistency in the scientific and Biblical explanation of the origin of all things.
I have drawn many of the categories listed below from Vern Poythress’s work, Redeeming Science.
That being said, let us begin.
Theistic Evolution Is a very broad category which could be fit into many of the others we will list. It says that God created all things and guided the processes by which evolution progressed. This assumes the scientific explanation and molds scripture to fit the gaps. The problem arises with explaining how to interpret the persons of Adam and Eve (if they are just a step along the evolutionary chain, did God one day “zap” a humanoid ape and imbue it with a soul?). If Adam and Eve were allegorical, why did both Jesus and Paul think they were real people who really took part in the Fall? This position harmonizes by weakening theology in order to embrace science.
Religious Only Theory says that the Bible only has authority over issue of religion and faith, not science. While the Bible is not a science text book for man, we cannot deny its authority over any aspect of God’s creation because to do so would be to deny God’s authority by extension of His Word.
The Gap Theory postulates that Genesis 1:1 describes God’s creation, but between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 there was a large gap in time in which Satan was cast down from heaven to earth as judgment. The theory then says that Genesis 1:2 records God’s recreation. This theory explains the apparent age of the earth, but it creates one major theological inconsistency which must be dealt with. It posits animal death on earth before the Fall, which greatly impacts the theological notion that Heaven will involve a return to a pre-Fall earth without the pain of death.
Inermitent Day Theory states that each day recorded in scripture was an actual day, but not a successive day. This theory is again trying to compensate for the apparent age of the earth. The problem here is that when we arrive at day five, the sun and moon have been established and there are definite 24 hour days. So, why is day six not called day 125,280 (or whatever it may have been)? This causes a huge divide between what the text says and what it means.
The Day Age Theory says that the Jewish word translated as day (yom) could also be translated as an indefinite age. While it is true that day could have different meanings (24 hour day, the period of daylight as opposed to night, and a special occasion – “on the day of the Lord”), the repeated stress of the phrase “there was evening and there was morning” makes the translation of day as a 24 hour period most acceptable, thereby weakening the argument for The Day Age Theory.
The Analogical Day View asserts that the days recorded in the creation narrative are periods of time in respect to God’s working, which is meant to be an analogy for man to mimic in his work. The idea is that God wanted man to work for six days for himself and reserve one for God. The narrative of creation was simply meant to provide a framework for man to understand and imitate. While this view takes the burden off of the text to conform to scientific inquiry, it does so by casting all of the narrative into the realm of literary imagination which causes another problem with respect to Jesus and Paul’s conviction that Adam and Eve were real people. That is again very problematic.
The Mature Earth View rests its case in the authority and veracity of the Biblical text. This view says that God created the earth in a mature state. The exegetical strength of this argument is found in the fact that man, the plants, and the animals were created fully developed, not as infants, seeds, or babies. This view also starts with the validity of Scripture and conforms science to that standard instead of starting with science and forcing theology to get on board. This view seeks to synthesize science and theology, but the fossil record presents a major challenge to this theory. There are two strands of this perspective which seek to explain the fossil record: Regressive Development and Catastrophism.
Regressive development explains the fossil record by saying that God created earth to look as though it had developed from basic building blocks of life through an evolutionary process.
Catastrophism says that the fossil and geological record was dramatically altered and put into place by a single, world-wide, catastrophic event (i.e. the flood).
The 24 Hour Day, Young Earth Position says that the earth was created in six literal days exactly as the Biblical text explained. Catastrophism is employed to explain the geological and fossil records. This position (sans catastrophism) was the dominant position held by the church for 1800 years. With the advent and popularization of modern science in the last 200 years this position has become nuanced to include the Mature Earth view.
This is considered by many Christians to the most basic, common sense understanding of the creation account in Genesis. These adherents would claim the world is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. The figure of 6,000 comes primarily from the work of James Ussher, who arrived at that number by tracing the biblical genealogies backwards, adding up the ages of the people to arrive at 6,000. I would encourage you not to take a strong stand on 6,000 years, because Ussher did this very literally, but the biblical genealogies are not comprehensive in their nature. They are meant to be read as highlights in the family tree reminding people of specific familial traits and attributes. Stick with the generalized figure of 6,000-10,000.
Conclusion – The primary issue to remember when working through the relation of evolution to the creation narrative is PRESUPPOSITION! Scientists have been working under the presupposition that God, if there is one, is not involved in the development of the world. Therefore, their interpretation of their scientific inquiry is subject to their presuppositional worldview.
As a believer, we are to have our presuppositions conformed to the likeness of Christ. He makes all things new, including our basic presuppositions. I tell you this not as a perfect believer who has left doubt behind. I explain this as a believer currently praying for God to reshape my presuppositions in this very area; I recognize and believe in the authority of His Word and have thus chosen to reject the wisdom of this world in favor of the foolishness of God (I Corinthians 1:18-21). I encourage you to do the same.