Infrequently Asked Questions on Creation and Evolution
(that should be asked more frequently)

The following was originally written for SCICHR, the now-defunct Science and Christianity mailing list, moderated by Steven H. Schimmrich, which you might find traces of in a search of the Web.

Isn't there just one issue – which of the two you believe in?

No, there are several different issues, bundled together. It is a mistake to assume that people fall into just two camps, unbelieving evolutionist and believing creationist.

What are the issues?

Why does it seem to polarize into just two positions?

For the same reasons any issue gets over-simplified – it's satisfyingly dramatic; the media (including both scientific media and religious media) are in the business of attracting your attention, and a nice loud, two-sided fight will do that; and it's always tempting to draw over-simple caricatures of the opposition (faithless evolutionists, brain-dead creationists).

Also, in this particular case, there is a conflict of approach between the people with a scientific background and the people with a scriptural background. (People with both backgrounds often feel trapped in the middle, but they get ignored because of the reasons in the previous paragraph.)

What are the conflicting approaches?

Roughly, one approach is willing to strain the scientific evidence and the other is willing to strain the scriptures, especially Genesis 1. Of course, only the other side sees the interpretation as "strain." The science-oriented side sees the scripture-oriented side as working in a vacuum of scientific ignorance. The scripture-oriented side sees the science-oriented side as making unwarranted interpretations of scripture.

How does scientific ignorance come into it?

Many young-earth creationists recite arguments or evidence against an old earth, intermediate fossil forms, etc.that are simply inaccurate or obsolete. Facts that refute these arguments are well-known to people with a background in geology or biology, but obviously unknown to the young-earth creationists. Repeated displays of such ignorance make the science-oriented people (whether Christian or not) unwilling to listen to sources that have proven valueless so often.

On a more abstract plane, many scripture-oriented people do not know much about scientific method – the varying degrees of certainty given to different ideas, the requirements for observational evidence, the way one idea interrelates with many others, and so on. This means they often regard evolution as:

How does scriptural interpretation come into it?

Most of it hinges on the term "day" (Hebrew yom) in Genesis 1. Any interpretation of Genesis 1 that tries to reconcile it with mainstream science must interpret the six days of creation as something other than six consecutive 24-hour periods over which God formed the world.

Many scripture-oriented people object to these other interpretations on grounds such as:

If Genesis 1 isn't a literal description, what's the point of it?

Laying aside the issue of a literal description of creation, other lessons found in Genesis 1 include:

If there are more than two positions, what are they? What are their leading good and bad points?

Here is a "spectrum" of Judeo-Christian positions on the creation/evolution issue, from "conservative" to "liberal":

  1. Classic Young-Earth Creationism (six days, 6000 years ago):

    No theological problems, but incompatible with mainstream science.

  2. Appearance of Age (the world is 6000 years old but looks like it is billions of years old):

    Has the theological problem that God looks "deceptive," and the scientific problem that, if so much evidence has been "faked," we cannot trust our observations and so can do no science.

  3. Gap Theory (after existing for billions of years, Earth became "without form and void" 6000 years ago, in a catastrophe, and God RE-created it in six days):

    Has the theological problem of putting a very odd meaning on Genesis 1:1 with no scriptural reason; also, presents much the same scientific problem as Appearance of Age, since there is no evidence for the catastrophe 6000 years ago.

  4. Day-Age Theory (each "day" of Genesis 1 represents an age lasting perhaps millions or billions of years):

    Interprets "day" in a way used elsewhere in the Bible, but with questionable justification here; also, the ages of this theory may not line up perfectly with those of mainstream geology (e.g. plants appearing before the sun and moon appear in the sky).

  5. Visionary Day Theory (the days of Genesis 1 are six days during which God showed visions of the creation to Moses):

    No scientific objections, but there is no clear scriptural motive for interpreting "day" in this way.

  6. Proclamation Day Theory (the days of Genesis 1 are not consecutive, but are days, separated by millions of years, on which God proclaimed the next phase of creative activity):

    No scientific objections, but there is no clear scriptural motive for skipping days in this way.

  7. Rhetorical Day Theory (the days of Genesis 1 are not literal days, but a rhetorical device for framing the creation account, which is meant to teach the lessons about God's relation to the world, cosmic and human worth, etc., mentioned above):

    No scientific objections, but there is no clear scriptural motive for interpreting "day" in this way. *

  8. Theistic Evolution (God set up the universe so that some degree of evolution happens naturally, but also intervenes miraculously on occasion):

    No scientific objections, but gives no help in interpreting Genesis1.

  9. Providential Evolution (God set up the universe so that it naturally evolves life and intelligence):

    No scientific objections, but gives no help in interpreting Genesis1.

Since 8 and 9 say nothing about Genesis chronology, they can be combined with any of the previous views that allows for a conventionally ancient Earth (3 through 6).

* This is my own position, and I justify it by pointing to Genesis 2:4, which speaks of the single "day" in which God created Heaven and Earth. If it can be six days in one place and one day a few verses later, this shows that chronology is not the point here.

Return to Introduction to Essays
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop

Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2011