The first chapter in the first book of the Bible (Genesis 1) unambiguously states that God created the heavens and the earth in six days. This leads some people, who may be Christians or non-Christians, to assume that Christians, by definition, must believe in a six day creation. Genesis also attributes the origin of the human species to the supernatural creation of two people, Adam and Eve, and provides enough information to make it possible to place some of the descendants of Adam and Eve into a family tree. This family tree, together with dates of later archaeological events has led some Christians to attribute an age of about 6000 years to the Earth.
The six day creation and the belief in a young Earth is one of the most divisive parts of the Bible in so far as it divides Christians from those non-Christians who concur with the theory of evolution. Scientists have spent generations considering the history of the Earth and the means by which new species arrive. They have developed strong theoretical models that seem to be correct and that are incompatible with a six day creation.
Resolving the conflict between faith and science
I’ve listed four different strategies that Christians might employ to resolve the apparent conflict between Genesis’ creation narrative and the theory of evolution. There are others, but these four cover a good range of views:
Strategy 1: View the Bible as literally correct and science as flawed
Broadly speaking, when evolution leads to the generation of new species over a large number of generations it is calledmacroevolution, but when it leads to the adaption of a species to an environmental change it is called microevolution. Microevolution is generally universally accepted and can be observed, for example, in bacterial strains developing antibiotic resistance.
Some Christians seek to identify flaws in any science that supports macroevolution or the 4.5 billion year age of the Earth. Sometimes they use science to support a belief that species were created rather than evolved and that the age of the Earth is a few millennia.
This point of view is called scientific creationism and was advocated by Phillip E. Johnson, the father of Intelligent Design, in his book Darwin on Trial. Johnson is a retired university law professor and set out in his book to demonstrate that scientists had not found sufficient evidence to prove that purely natural mechanisms were responsible for the creation of life on earth, though he did not go so far as to try to demonstrate that the earth is a few millennia old. The book has been criticised by the scientific community for containing discredited science and also for its attempt to prove creation as if it were in a criminal trial by merely presenting flaws in science and evolution. In a criminal trial the case for the defence could be made by discrediting the case for the prosecution. Science seeks to present models that describe reality. Most science is flawed to some degree and these models may not be completely accurate, but their flaws don’t automatically make the alternative models correct by default. I personally feel that the scientific models of the origin of species and the age of the Earth have proven to be too useful to scientists for too long to be dismissed lightly.
Scientific creationism has however raised some interesting arguments against a purely materialistic approach. The theory of the origin of species through evolution does not demonstrate how the very first life form came into existence. Even the most primitive single celled life form is immensely complex and employs highly sophisticated and compact mechanisms for their reproduction. Viruses are far simpler, but are unable to reproduce without host cells. Reproduction is a fundamental requirement for evolution to occur, meaning that the first life form could not have come into existence through evolution. Theories have been created to explain how inanimate matter might ‘self-organise’ into a life form that was sophisticated enough to reproduce, but these are very tenuous. At this stage in our understanding, it is very hard to imagine how life could have been formed by purely natural means, in other words, without a designer.
Strategy 2: Believe that a young Earth was created with the appearance of an old Earth
Some Christians, though only a few in my experience, believe that God could have created the Earth and the universe just a few millennia ago, but created them to appear as if they had been in existence for much longer. This is called the Omphalos hypothesis and originates from a book written by Philip Henry Gosse in 1857 called Omphalos.
Gosse argued that everything has a cycle of reproduction and development and that God must have created the Earth and everything in it fully developed, as if it had come into existence through reproduction, in order for it to properly function. He argued that the Earth would therefore have had the appearance of being older than it was. This line of reasoning does not, however, properly explain the existence of fossils within rocks or why we can see stars when their light takes millions of years to reach the Earth. These signs of age are unnecessary for the Earth and universe to function correctly. Some critics of this hypothesis have suggested that God would have had to have created a deception for the hypothesis to work and have therefore rejected it on the basis that such an action would be contrary to God’s nature.
Strategy 3: View the creation narrative in Genesis as a metaphorical description of Earth’s history
Many Christians accept that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old and view the creation narrative in Genesis as being a metaphorical, but nonetheless correct, description of Earth’s history. They view the six days of creation as six periods of time, recognising that the concept of a day would not have existed prior to creation and that a day could therefore not have been a unit useful for the measurement of the creation time span.
Some of those Christians will, however, deny that macroevolution was the mechanism through which new species originated, instead choosing to believe that God intervened at specific points in Earth’s history to create new species. This is called progressive creationism. Other Christians will accept that macroevolution was the mechanism through which new species originated and believe that God used this mechanism to create the species that he wanted. This is called theistic creationism.
Many Christian denominations support or accept a non-literal interpretation of the creation narrative in Genesis along with the generally held scientific view that the age of the Earth is 4.5 billions years old.
Strategy 4: Trust the scientific model of evolution more than the Genesis creation narrative
This is not really a formally defined viewpoint, but I include it here because it is the one that I adhere to. I am essentially a theistic creationist. However, I suspect that some theistic creationists will still view the creation narrative in Genesis as the inerrant inspired Word of God, even though they interpret it as a metaphorical narrative. Their rationale being that the narrative is a theological one rather than a scientific one that should therefore be viewed as theologically inerrant. I personally struggle to attribute inerrancy in any form to the creation narrative. I’m not opposed to its theology, but I do recognise that we know very little about the narrative’s origins, authenticity and age other than that it might be a compilation of older narratives. The creation narrative clearly cannot have been recorded by eye witnesses, which means that the only reason for trusting it completely is if we were to attribute inerrancy to it by virtue of it appearing in the Bible. In my topic, The Bible should not be treated as a single inerrant book, I challenge the case for treating Genesis as inerrant, but also show that any doubt that we may have regarding the narratives of Genesis should not be automatically carried over to the rest of the Bible. The Bible should not be treated as a single book, but a collection of books written over a period of more than a millennium.
Don’t let distrust in Genesis stop you from investigating the rest of the Bible
Even though there may be grounds to distrust the creation narrative in Genesis, the gospels should be treated differently. In my topic, The Gospels are reasonable records of Jesus’ life, I show that we know far more about the origins of the gospels than of Genesis and that, by considering the society in which they were written, we can actually conclude that the authors of the gospels were attempting to write reasonably accurate records of Jesus’ life, his miracles and his resurrection and that this should lead us to seriously consider what they wrote about Jesus and who Jesus really was.