Making Your Mind Up About The How of Creation
Christians generally all agree about the basics of creation – God made the universe and everything in it, all by himself, from nothing, and made us to be in a relationship with him. This is fundamental to the Christian faith. But Christians often disagree on how that happened.
For many people this doesn’t seem important. It doesn’t affect them every day, and you may wonder what the fuss is about. You may be happy to stick to whatever you were brought up with, or some teaching you heard on the subject that made sense at the time – whether that’s 'young earth creationism', 'intelligent design', or 'theistic evolution'. At some point though, you’ll probably delve deeper into Genesis and start asking questions or talk to friends who aren’t Christians and come across questions that you can’t answer.
Many people, whether they have a scientific background or not, use evolution as an argument against Christianity. It doesn’t do anyone any favours if we counter these using arguments or evidence we only half understand. For scientists, (astronomers, geologists and biologists in particular) it is extremely important to address the issue of creation properly. We’re surrounded by people studying origins and are often working on these issues directly ourselves. For Christians the challenge is to be able to speak about these things and how they relate to the Christian faith confidently, coherently and logically.
Three main views
There are three main viewpoints held by evangelical Christians with a high view of the Bible.
This position says that evolution is the best current scientific description of the way that God made the world. Proponents argue that the Bible teaches theology, not science. It is the dominant viewpoint amongst Christians active in academic science or theology in the UK.
Young earth creationism
This term encompasses a range of views. In contrast to theistic evolution or young earth creationism, it is not concerned with biblical interpretation.  This is often viewed as a middle ground for Christians, but is controversial for a mixture of theological, philosophical and scientific reasons. Most proponents of intelligent design would accept an old earth (c.4.5 billion years) but reject the theory of evolution on two grounds: 1) that there is not enough evidence for evolution, and 2) complex biological systems are evidence for a designer. The intelligent design movement also use the evidence for fine-tuning in cosmology that many theistic evolutionists talk about, so there is some common ground here.
Coming to your own conclusion
The aim of this article is not to tell you what to think. it’s to give you some general guidelines about where to look for answers and how to examine the evidence for yourself. If you’re not a scientist this may be particularly daunting. Don’t worry, you don’t need to master astrophysics or Old Testament Hebrew to understand the basic principles.
When you are asked hard questions about this kind of thing don’t ever be afraid to say ‘that’s a good question, can I think about that/ask someone?’ or ‘I’m still thinking this through for myself’. Even experienced scientists and theologians will admit that they’re still figuring things out in certain areas, and new discoveries in both science and archaeology often throw up new evidence that may alter the conclusions we come to. This is no excuse, however, for burying your head in the sand and not thinking. Christians should always be thinking biblically, willing to hear new ideas and different opinions. We must be prepared to change our position in the face of truth.
Prepare spiritually as well as intellectually
Pray – ask for God's help as you explore these big questions.
Read the Bible and try to look at it with fresh eyes; reading different translations can help.
Get into some theology. Look at the wider principles of biblical interpretation. This will help you study the Bible more effectively in general, so is time well spent. Then look at different ways of interpreting the creation passages, using a couple of good up-to-date commentaries.
Read and listen widely
There are hundreds of science–faith books and articles out there. Hopefully you don’t need to be told not to just pick the first thing you find on Google and believe everything it says. Read widely, speak to different people, and check out the different sides of the debate. Remember that science changes fast, so make sure you read books or articles that are up to date with the latest discoveries. It will also help if you talk to, and read things by, people who are experts in their field.
Beware of underlying factors
Remember that there are more factors involved here than meet the eye. This can be a highly charged debate in some circles, influenced by social and political trends. Be aware that evolution has often been turned into a philosophy and used to support contradictory political agendas (e.g. Nazism, Marxism). Some atheists also take evolution further than science allows, making it into an ideology. We are concerned with real experimental science, and what the Bible actually has to say about creation.
Don't neglect your studies
If you are a student, it’s important that you learn what you are being taught. Not agreeing with your lecturer/teacher is no excuse to give up studying. Be humble and listen. If you are serious about alternative theories of origins take every opportunity to learn from the experts in the field so that you can be scholarly in your discussions. If you want to challenge what is being said, remember that, as in all academic discussions, you need to be able to defend your points with evidence and examples from reliable up-to-date literature.
Approach the debate with grace and love
Above all, it is so important to conduct these kinds of discussion with grace and love, recognising that Christians take different positions on all sorts of theological issues.Watch and learn from the way that mature, older Christians relate to people with very different views. You will often find that people with completely different ideas, that they are very passionate about, can have a robust debate in a friendly atmosphere. We should aim to do the same.
Christians in Science, www.cis.org.uk
A professional group, representing hundreds of evangelical Christians; working scientists from a wide spectrum of scientific disciplines, students, theologians, and others, in the UK and abroad. Students can join for free and have access to student-oriented activities and resources.
Quick introduction – online articles
- Alister McGrath, Has Science Eliminated God? Richard Dawkins and the Meaning of Life
- Ernest Lucas, Interpreting Genesis in the 21st Century
- Denis Alexander, Is Intelligent Design Biblical?
- Gordon D Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, fourth edition (Scripture Union, 2012).
‘In clear, simple language, it helps you accurately understand the different parts of the Bible – their meaning for ancient audiences and their implications for you today – so you can uncover the inexhaustible worth that is in God's Word.’
- Alister McGrath, Dawkins’ God, Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life (Blackwell, 2004).
In only 150 pages McGrath demolishes Dawkins’ main arguments – a must read.
- Ernest Lucas, Can we believe Genesis today? (IVP, 2005)
A good opener – sets out the main arguments. Recommends further reading for all the different viewpoints.
- Rodney Holder, Big Bang, Big God: A Universe Designed for Life? (Lion, 2013)
Explains recent developments in astronomy in simple terms, and sets out the evidence for fine-tuning in the universe.
- Denis Alexander and Robert White, Beyond Belief (Lion, 2004)
A brief, helpful insight into the history and politics of the science-faith debate as well as well as the different theological, philosophical and scientific arguments.
Books that go deeper
- David Wilkinson, The Message of Creation (IVP, 2002).
Unpacks the main themes in Genesis 1–3 and other creation passages.
- Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? Second Edition (Monarch, 2014).
A fairly in-depth look at the issue of whether a faithful reading of biblical teaching on creation is compatible with current evolutionary biology.
- Alister McGrath, Inventing the Universe: Why we can’t stop talking about Science, Faith and God (Hodder & Stoughton, 2015).
One of McGrath’s popular-level books on the relationship between science and faith.
- James W Sire, Discipleship of the Mind (IVP, 1990)
How do we love God with all our minds? A serious look at the academic enterprise from a Christian perspective. Very helpful and thought-provoking.
 Dr Denis Alexander & Prof Robert White, Beyond Belief (Lion, 2004)
 David Atkinson,The Message of Genesis 1–11 (IVP, 1990)
 Dr A McIntosh, Genesis for Today (Day One, 1997)
 Dr William Dembski, Intelligent Design (IVP, 2002)
 Philip Johnson,Testing Darwinism (IVP, 1999)