This is a topic that I’ve noticed has come up a lot more recently within Christian circles and is something that is seen as controversial within American protestant Christianity. I’ve been asked a lot of questions so I’m going to do a quick rundown of the different positions. I’ll try to avoid misrepresenting other viewpoints as well as avoiding advanced-level science, please point out any failures on my part to do so.
Theory- This is a word that has an entirely different meaning in science than it does in common usage. When most people hear ‘theory’ they think ‘hunch’ or even ‘guess.’ But in science a theory means thesis, a framework of related facts and testable observations. For example, the theory of gravity has changed in numerous small ways since Newton’s original hypothesis but the theory remains. And it will remain a theory until it is superseded or disproven.
Young Earth Creationism- This is the view that all of Genesis is literal and describes exactly how God created the world including the time frame involved. They place the age of the earth and all the universe at between 6,000 and 10,000 years old based on extrapolations of Hebrew lineages in the Bible. They usually hold that Noah’s global flood is responsible for the fossil record. http://www.answersingenesis.org/get-answers is the primary resource I’ve encountered for this viewpoint.
Old Earth Creationism- This is similar to YEC, except that they more or less accept that the world has existed for longer than 10,000 years. I must admit this is the viewpoint I know the least about. Different ideas I’ve heard from this camp are that each “day” in the Genesis creation account was actually some longer length of time (from 1000 years up to billions of years each) or that God indeed created in six days, but with the caveat that the world and universe showed apparent maturity instantly. Most OEC adherents believe in a local flood during Noah’s time. One thing common between YEC and OEC is that they believe that God created animals and humans in roughly their current “kinds”, with no speciation occurring since. More on this later. The primary resource I’ve found for this viewpoint is http://www.reasons.org
Theistic Evolution- This is the view that the first few chapters of Genesis are not a literal description of how God created everything, but rather part of a bigger story that God did create everything. Unlike the other two forms of creationism, TE doesn’t believe that science is a foe to be fought. They fully accept that God has created the earth and the whole universe over a long period of time and that all life shares a common descent via evolution. Some proponents believe in the concept of a literal Adam and Eve, and some do not. I’ve found http://biologos.org/ to be a good resource here.
Abiogenesis- This is not evolution at all, but is a group of hypotheses about the origin of life. Like I said- this isn’t part of the theory of evolution at all, but is often misconstrued as such, which is the only reason I brought it up.
What is usually referred to as evolution really is the combination of three simple aspects-
Within a few generations of artificial selection you could produce a pesticide-resistant soybean plant or a Labrador retriever with really short legs. The results of these are still considered the same species, so some YEC-believers would say this isn’t evolution, but over a long enough time line and enough changes to the DNA of the resulting offspring that soybean won’t be able to reproduce with normal soybeans. This is (arguably) called speciation.
A common assertion you’ve probably heard is that there are no “brute facts” when it comes to the age of the earth. This is often repeated by Answers in Genesis, who claim that everything is subject to our own presuppositions. So when a group of scientists use radiometric dating to estimate the age of a fossil, and it is verified by other scientists; the YEC defense is that radiometric dating is man’s invention and can’t be relied upon to give us any data on things that nobody witnessed. Nobody has disproven the accepted method of dating, but that’s the default defense nonetheless.
In addition to the fossil record (which is admittedly far from complete) and radiometric dating, we have genomics and the light from distant stars. The light we currently see from even the closest galaxy (Andromeda M31, visible with the naked eye) is actually a snapshot from over 2 million years ago. Even though we don’t have a starlight model that is bulletproof, there is no conceivable model that works with YEC other than “God tricked us.” I think you can see why that isn’t an attractive concept to me.
Evolution isn’t an outlier in a sea of good science- almost every branch of science points to an old earth. Geology, biology, chemistry, physics, genomics, astronomy- each has its own ongoing debates about the details, but I don’t know of any branches of science that are still arguing about a 4.5 billion year discrepancy. The way our world works; technology, medicine, space travel, flu shots- all are predicated on the same science that allows to understand a small part of how our world works. It’s not scary, it’s beautiful.
Everything up to this point was just background, the real reason I wrote this isn’t to prove anybody wrong but to help stop what creationism is doing to the church. I’m actually fine with Christians denying science, so long as they don’t expect others to do so and, more importantly, they extend the same grace to those who disagree with them. Many times I have seen somebody question the faith of another Christian for believing in evolution and/or an old earth. It has happened to me and I’ve seen it happen to many others. I stayed, but many never look back and that is a shame. The church can be very hostile towards anybody who doesn’t fear science. I believe this shows a small view of God; one where the more we understand our surroundings, the less He has to do, until he is naught but a relic. Obviously if this is your view of God then I could see how science could be seen as evil.
Some people say the Bible is clear on this, and if you don’t believe that the world is 6000 years old then you don’t believe in the Bible and you probably (ahem) aren’t a Christian. Not only is that not entirely true- it is incredibly harmful. It is taking a minor doctrinal position based on extrapolation from scripture, and turning that into a core component of the Gospel of Jesus. Not by faith, nor by works. Sola Genesis Respondet. Insistence upon belief in YEC creates unnecessary barriers for both seekers and those raised within christianity. It is a stumbling block that has caught the foot of many believers.
But there is room under the cross for all of us. The Gospel is the good news about what God has done through Jesus, not a schematic of how he did it. The Bible doesn’t talk about evolution for the same reason it doesn’t outline gravity, heliocentrism, or the internal combustion engine- because it isn’t a science textbook, it’s a love letter.
I’m not going to say you can’t believe that God created the Earth in seven literal days, he has certainly done more miraculous things than that. All I ask is that if one of your friends or a kid in your church starts to ask questions about evolution, don’t conflate it with their salvation. Don’t make them choose between observable reality and their faith. When it comes to it we should obviously always choose God, but this is a false choice. It isn’t either/or. God tells us who and why. Science only aims to tell us when, where, and how.