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Christian Views on Creation and Evolution

By: Dr. Damon S. Perez, Associate Professor of Biology for the School of Nursing and Health Professions at CCU

There is perhaps no greater cause of tension between faith and science than when the theories of evolution and creation are discussed. Evolution and creationism are two contrasting explanations for the origins and development of life on Earth.

The diversity of Christian perspectives on the origins of life is as vast as it is intriguing. From Young Earth Creationists to Evolutionary Creationists, and proponents of Intelligent Design, these differing views stem from varying interpretations of the biblical account of creation. Each group holds unique beliefs about the Earth's age, the process of evolution, and how these aspects align with the account in Genesis.

At the heart of this discourse is a profound question: Does one's stance on these scientific matters influence Christian salvation?

This question has stoked fervent debates and deep introspection within the community. Yet, despite these differences, what unites Christians is the shared affirmations of key doctrines and the unwavering belief in salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

The dialogue between faith and science reaches a fever pitch when theories of evolution and creation are brought to the table. These two contrasting explanations for life's origins and evolution on Earth are often seen as competing views within science and theology.

Defining Evolution and Creationism

  • Evolution: Evolution is a scientific theory that explains how species change and develop over time. It proposes that all living organisms on Earth share a common ancestry and have gradually evolved from simple, single-celled organisms to the diverse array of plants, animals, and humans we see today. The process of evolution is driven by natural selection, genetic mutation, and other mechanisms that enable advantageous traits to be passed on to successive generations while less beneficial traits diminish.
  • Creationism: In general terms, creationism is a belief system based on religious narratives that assert a divine or supernatural entity (God) created the universe and all life within it. It holds that the complex and diverse forms of life were created by God more or less in their present state and have not changed significantly since their inception. Since this article will specifically focus on the Christian perspective on this view, we will define a creationist as one who believes the God of the Holy Bible is the Creator.

It's important to note that while mainstream scientists claim evolution is supported by an extensive body of scientific evidence and is widely accepted within the scientific community, creationism is considered a belief system that falls outside the scope of scientific investigation because it invokes supernatural explanations that cannot be empirically tested or falsified using the scientific method. As a result, evolution is taught as a scientific theory in educational institutions, while creationism is typically discussed in religious or philosophical contexts.

Understanding Biblical Creationism

Creationism is the theological view that the universe, including Earth and all living beings, was created by God, as described in the Bible. The foundational text for understanding the Biblical origins of creationism comes from the book of Genesis in the Old Testament. It presents the creation account in two distinct narratives, commonly known as the creation story in six days and the story of Adam and Eve.

The idea of God creating everything in a specific order and with intentionality forms the basis of creationism's understanding of the origins of the universe and life on Earth. The Genesis account of creation is interpreted by Christians as either a literal work describing the beginning of the universe or a figurative piece meant to convey theological truths. Distinctions between these two interpretations will be discussed in more detail later when comparing young-earth and old-earth views of Scripture and science.

The Theory of Evolution

The theory of evolution was first popularized by Charles Darwin in his work, On the Origin of Species, published in 1859. Since then, scientific research and discoveries in fields like genetics, paleontology, and geology claim to have provided substantial evidence supporting the concept of evolution.

From the mainstream scientific perspective, the theory of evolution is a well-established and widely accepted explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. It is one of the fundamental concepts in biology and provides a framework for understanding how species change over time, leading to the vast array of organisms we observe today. It has also been supported by various fields of both life science and physical science. While there may be ongoing research and refinements to specific aspects of the evolutionary theory itself, the secular scientific community claims the core principles of evolution remain robust and supported by a vast body of evidence.

Micro and Macro Evolution

Microevolution and macroevolution are two essential concepts in the field of evolutionary biology that describe different scales of the evolutionary processes of change. Let's discuss and define these two notions.

  • Microevolution refers to the small-scale changes that occur within a population over relatively short periods of time, often detectable within a few decades, centuries, and even millennia. It deals with the variations in gene frequencies and traits within a population. These changes result from various mechanisms, including natural selection, genetic drift, gene flow, and mutation.
  • Macroevolution, on the other hand, refers to the large-scale changes that occur over geological time (i.e., epoch, era, or eon), often resulting in the formation of new species or higher taxonomic groups. It deals with the diversification and patterns of evolutionary change above the species level. Macroevolutionary events include speciation, extinction, adaptive radiation, and major evolutionary transitions. Macroevolutionary patterns can be studied through the fossil record, comparative anatomy, and molecular phylogenetics.

Since microevolution focuses on the genetic changes within a population over short time periods, it can be easily observed and validated. Thus, most people, including creationists, agree with and support microevolutionary theory.

However, disagreement begins when discussing macroevolution which examines the long-term patterns of evolution, including the origin of new species and the diversification of life. Creationists argue that macroevolution cannot be proven since it is unobservable due to the extremely long time periods required, and to believe in such a theory requires faith in this long-term process.

Thus, many creationists interpret the same data differently and only conform to microevolutionary principles. Nonetheless, the secular scientific community is convinced that both micro and macroevolution are interconnected and together contribute to the rich tapestry of life's history on our planet.

Since much of the disagreement centers on macroevolution, we will use the term "evolution" for the remainder of this article when referring to macroevolutionary principles.

Comparing Christian Views

Christian views on evolution and creationism vary among different denominations and individual believers. There is no single, monolithic perspective held by most Christians other than the belief that God is the Creator.

According to Grumby and Stump in Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design disagreements arise when discussing when things were created and whether current scientific theories are correct descriptions of the process of creation or whether they conflict with biblical affirmations on a purposeful creation. Here's an overview of some of the common viewpoints within Christianity regarding these topics.

Young Earth Creationism (YEC)

Some Christians adhere to the belief that the Earth and all living things were created by God in a literal six-day period, as described in the book of Genesis. Creation science begins with the literal understanding of the Genesis account and tries to reconcile that to scientific data and observation.

YECs generally reject the secular scientific view on the age of the Earth. Instead, they interpret the genealogies and timelines in the Bible to calculate a young age for the Earth, typically around 6,000 to 10,000 years. YECs also reject the theory of evolution and believe that all species or "kinds" were more or less created in their present form.

Old Earth Creationism (OEC)

Other Christians attempt to take scientific data and observation and conform it to their figurative or metaphorical interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis.

OECs accept the mainstream scientific estimates of the age of the universe (~13.8 billion years), humanity (~200,000 years), and Earth (~4.5 billion years). They interpret the "days" of God's creation in Genesis as longer periods or epochs rather than literal 24-hour days. They believe God created different kinds of species supernaturally in a progression throughout the long time span of the Earth's history rather than over a six-day period. Thus, OECs reject the claims of modern evolutionary theorists with respect to biological evolution.

Evolutionary Creationists (EC)

Some Christians embrace central mainstream conclusions from both physical and life sciences (e.g., old Earth and evolution). These Christians support the stance known as evolutionary creationism or BioLogos. They believe that God used the process of evolution as the means by which life developed and diversified on Earth.

According to this view, God is the ultimate cause behind the evolutionary process, guiding and sustaining it to bring about His purposes. ECs see no conflict between their faith and the scientific understanding of evolution. According to BioLogos in What is Evolutionary Creation? they agree that, “God made people and that humans are biologically related to other creatures, but they differ on how best to interpret the early chapters of Genesis”.

Intelligent Design (ID)

Another perspective held by some Christians is ID. Although ID is compatible with biblical creationism, it does not explicitly identify the designer as the Christian God and is not an inherently religious position. Instead, Stephen C. Meyer states Not By Chance that ID is an “evidence-based scientific theory about life's origins that challenges strictly materialistic views of evolution”.

ID proponents argue that the complexity and organization of life in the natural world show evidence of being designed by an intelligent agent or mind (i.e., God). While not explicitly rejecting evolution, ID proponents question the sufficiency of purely natural processes to explain the complexity of life. They posit that an intelligent designer plays a role in shaping life's development. ID does not have a stance on the age of the Earth and does not attempt to make any specific connections to Scripture.

It is important to note that these are general categories, and each has a broad spectrum of religious beliefs within. Additionally, cultural, theological, and scientific factors can influence Christian views on evolution, resulting in a diverse range of perspectives.

Is Salvation Affected by One's Stance on Scientific Issues?

All of the Christian views discussed here purport to affirm the key doctrines of Christianity (e.g., the Trinity, Christ's divinity, His resurrection, the authority of Scripture, salvation by grace) albeit with varying interpretations of the creation account in Genesis.

However, the big question remains: Does Christian salvation depend on an individual's stance on evolution or the age of the Earth?

It depends on who you ask. A person's stance on these issues is vitally important for some Christians. Some YECs conclude the belief in old Earth and/or evolutionary theories undermine all of Scripture. According to Duane Gish in Is it possible to be a Christian and an Evolutionist? such a position is both scientifically and biblically untenable. Gish adds “the theory of evolution is dishonoring to God as Creator, and its teaching leads to a disastrous secularizing of society.”

Yet other Christians stress that these issues are secondary within Christian theology and philosophy, and that personal salvation is rooted in a person's relationship with God through Jesus Christ rather than specific beliefs about scientific theories that accept evolution. Both views are worth examining, but it’s worth mentioning that even the most renowned YECs at Creation Ministries International, Answers in Genesis, and the Institute for Creation Research claim the "belief in the historicity of Genesis and theistic evolutionists, is not essential to our salvation"

The core belief for Christians is faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and personal Savior, as emphasized in the New Testament. For example, in John 3:16, it is written: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." This verse is just one of the many passages from Scripture that underscore the significance of faith in Jesus as the key to salvation for human beings.

The Bible makes it clear that a person who holds to any of the positions presented here can attain salvation as long as they repent and believe in the person and redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, who shed His blood on the cross for our salvation and the forgiveness of our sins. Ultimately, the idea of salvation is tied to an individual's faith in Jesus as Christ, not their stance on evolution and the age of the Earth.

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
- Romans 10:9

If you have a desire to learn more about biblical interpretation, theology, and spiritual formation from a Christian worldview, CCU offers many undergraduate and graduate degree options in theology, biblical studies, and apologetics.

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