|By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2005|
|What is the difference between "old-earth creationists" and "theistic evolutionists"? What are the areas of agreement between young- and old-earth creationist? Where do they differ? What do both sides need to agree upon?|
Since the time of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), debate has raged within Christianity on whether or not total evolution is compatible with the historic biblical and theological teaching on origins. Two basic camps have emerged: theistic evolution and creationism. Within the second faction (creationists), there are two major groups: old-earth creationists and young-earth creationists. (The former are often called progressive creationists, and the latter, fiat creationists.) Currently, in America, the young-earth creationists are led by the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), based on the work of Henry Morris. Progressive (old-earth) creationism is championed by Hugh Ross and his “Reasons to Believe” organization; another proponent of this view is Robert Newman at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania.
The primary difference between young- and old-earth creationists is the speculated amount of time between God’s creative acts. Young-earthers insist that it was all accomplished in 144 hours–six successive 24-hour days–while old-earth (progressive) creationists allow for millions (or even billions) of years. This is usually done by:
There are several variations within these perspectives, making a total of more than a dozen different views held by evangelical theologians on the matter.
Old-earth (progressive) creationists are not to be confused with theistic evolutionists. Old-earth creationists do not accept macroevolution as a method by which God produced the originally created kinds of Genesis 1. Old-earth creationism was strong among nineteenth-century creationists, though the view dates from at least the fourth century (in Augustine). Again, prominent contemporary defenders include Hugh Ross and Robert Newman.
Broadly speaking, theistic evolution is the belief that God used evolution as His means of producing the various forms of physical life on this planet, including human life. All theistic evolutionists believe that God performed at least one supernatural act—the act of creating the physical universe form nothing. However, this may more properly be called deistic evolution, since there are no miracles involved after the first act of Creation.
Most theistic evolutionists hold to at least two acts of Creation: (1) the creation of matter out of nothing, and (2) the creation of first life. After that, allegedly, every other living thing, including human beings, emerged by natural processes that God had ordained from the beginning. Some theistic evolutionists do insist that God directly created the first soul in the long-evolved primate to make it truly human and in His image....
Young- and old-earth creationists have much in common, at least among those who are evangelical. This includes several basic things.
Direct Supernatural Creation of All Forms of Life
Both young- and old-earthers believe that God supernaturally, directly and immediately produced every kind of animal and human as separate and genetically distinct forms of life. Both hold that every kind produced by God was directly created de nova (brand-new) and did not come about by God’s using natural processes over a long period of time or tinkering with previous types of life in order to make higher forms (evolution).
Opposition to Naturalism
Both groups are also agreed in their opposition to naturalism, which they see as the philosophical presupposition of evolution. They correctly observe that without a naturalistic bias, evolution loses its credibility. Ruling out the possibility of supernatural intervention in the world begs the whole question in favor of evolution even before one begins.
Opposition to Macroevolution
Likewise, both are united in their opposition to macroevolution, either theistic or nontheistic; that is, they reject the theory of common ancestry. They both deny that all forms of life descended by completely natural processes without supernatural intervention from the outside. They deny that all living things are like a tree connected to a common trunk and root; rather, they affirm the separate ancestry of all the basic forms of life, a picture more like a forest of different trees. Microevolution, where small changes occur within the basic kinds of created things, is acknowledged, but no macro (large-scale) evolution occurs between different kinds. For example, both old- and young-earth creationists agree that all dogs are related to an original canine pair—part of the same tree. However, they deny that dogs, cats, cows, and other created kinds are related like branches from one original tree.
The Historicity of the Genesis Account
Further, both young- and old-earthers who are evangelical hold to the historicity of the Genesis account: They believe that Adam and Eve were literal people, the progenitors of the entire human race. While some may allow for poetic form and figure of speech in the narrative, all agree that it conveys historical and literal truth about origins. This is made clear by the New Testament references to Adam and Eve, their creation and fall, as literal (cf. Luke 3:38; Rom. 5:12; 1 Tim. 2:13- 14).
Of course, there are some differences between the two basic evangelical views on Creation. The primary ones include the following.
The Age of the Earth
A crucial variance between the two views, naturally, is the age of the earth. Young-earthers insist that both the Bible and science support a universe that is only thousands of years old, while old-earthers allow for billions of years. Youngearthers connect their view to a literal interpretation of Genesis (and Ex. 20:11), but old-earthers claim the same basic hermeneutic, which they believe can include millions, if not billions, of years since Creation. They too cite scientific evidence in their favor.
At a minimum, it would be wise if both sides could agree on the following:
The doctrine of Creation is a cornerstone of the Christian faith. The essentials of this teaching have universal consent among orthodox theologians. They include the following:
While there is lively debate about the time of Creation, all evangelicals agree on the fact of Creation. There is also agreement on the source of Creation (a theistic God) and the purpose of Creation (to glorify God). The exact method of Creation is still a moot question; however, increasingly, the scientific evidence supports a supernatural Creation of the universe, the direct creation of first life, and the special creation of every basic life form. Hence, macroevolution, whether theistic or naturalistic, is unfounded both biblically and scientifically.