Varieties of Creationism
Creationism is the doctrine that God created the universe and life. Understood in this broad sense, creationism is a central tenet of Christian orthodoxy and is also affirmed by other theistic religions, such as Judaism and Islam, as well as by many non-religious people. In what follows, I’ll use the term biblical creationism to refer to the specifically Christian view that everything the Bible teaches about God’s creative work, interpreted and understood correctly, is true. Most Christians accept biblical creationism in this sense. Nevertheless, the details of how God created the universe and life are controversial, since Christians hold a diversity of opinions about the meaning of the biblical creation account and its relation to scientific evidence. Several common viewpoints are outlined below, with a list of major organizations that promote each of these perspectives.
Young-earth creationists sometimes use the term “biblical creationism” to refer exclusively to their own view. However, most old-earth creationists and many evolutionary creationists also believe that the biblical account of creation is true (though they interpret it differently). For this reason, I will use the term “biblical creationism” in the broad sense to include both young-earth creationism and any form of old-earth creationism or evolutionary creationism that affirms the truth of the Bible.
Young-earth creationists embrace the “ordinary days” interpretation of Genesis and, as a consequence, infer that God created the physical universe during a literal week that occurred only a few thousand years ago—sometime around 4,000 or 5,000 BC by typical estimates based on biblical genealogies. Some young-earth creationists believe that evolutionary processes have played a limited role in diversifying species, but most reject the idea that significantly different kinds of organisms (e.g. animals in different taxonomic families, such as cats and dogs) share common ancestors. Many, though not all, young-earth creationists also endorse a research project known as creation science, which endeavors to find scientific evidence supporting young-earth creationism. Leading organizations promoting young-earth creationism and creation science include the following:
- The Creation Research Society (CRS), founded by a group of ten scientists in 1963, is a professional organization of scientists and laypersons committed to young-earth creationism.See here for more information about their history. CRS publishes a peer-reviewed journal called the Creation Research Society Quarterly.
- The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) was founded in 1972 by Henry Morris, who was also a founding member of CRS, as an apologetics ministry promoting young-earth creationism and creation science to the public. See here for a summary of their perspective.
- Creation Ministries International (CMI), formerly the Creation Science Foundation, was first established in Australia in 1980 as a collaboration between two ministries,The Creation Science Foundation was established in 1980 when The Creation Science Association led by Carl Wieland teamed up with the founders of Creation Science Educational Media Services, Ken Ham and John Mackay. For more details, see the “Brief History” on the CMI website, here. eventually becoming an international organization publishing the widely-distributed Creation Magazine and peer-reviewed Journal of Creation. See here for their FAQ page with links to articles explaining their beliefs.
- Answers in Genesis (AiG) was founded in 1993 by former ICR members Mark Looy, Mike Zovath, and Ken Ham.See here for more about their history. (Ham had also been involved in the parent organization of CMI.) Arguably the most influential creationist organization in the United States, AiG publishes Answers Magazine and peer-reviewed Answers Research Journal, hosts Answers TV, and runs two museums: the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter. See here for AiG’s view of Genesis and here for their views on the incompatibility of evolution and scripture.
In contrast to young-earth creationists, old-earth creationists believe that God created the universe more than a few thousand years ago. Most old-earth creationists accept the prevailing scientific estimates of the age of the universe (13.8 billion years) and the age of the earth (4.5 billion years). There are several varieties of old-earth creationism, which hold different views about when and how God created biological life, but the most popular old-earth creationist views are progressive creationism and evolutionary creationism.A third, less popular form of old-earth creationism is the so-called gap theory, according to which there was a long temporal “gap” between the events of Genesis 1:1 (the creation of the heavens and the earth) and Genesis 1:2 (the six “days” of creation, regarded in this view as a literal week). On this view, the universe and the earth are very old, but the earth was populated with living creatures only recently.
Progressive creationists believe that God introduced new varieties of life through supernatural creation events that occurred periodically throughout Earth’s history. Many progressive creationists subscribe to the “day-age” or “intermittent days” interpretations of Genesis 1. Most believe that evolutionary processes have played a significant role in diversifying biological life. Some accept the claim that different families or even classes of animals (e.g. reptiles, amphibians, and birds) share common ancestors, but most progressive creationists deny the doctrine of universal common descent. For further reading on this viewpoint, here are some organizations promoting progressive creationism:
- Reasons to Believe (RTB) was founded in 1986 by astrophysicist Hugh Ross, a prominent advocate of the day-age interpretation of Genesis. See here for a description of RTB’s approach to science.
- Old Earth Ministries is a website dedicated to promoting old-earth creationism, including both progressive creationism and evolutionary creationism along with other varieties of old-earth creationism. See here for a summary of their perspective and here for a helpful table comparing several types of old-earth creationism.
Evolutionary creationists (sometimes called theistic evolutionists) believe that God created life by ordaining natural, evolutionary processes to produce all living organisms, including human beings. Some evolutionary creationists believe that God acted supernaturally at key moments—for example to create the very first single-celled life forms, or to endow human beings with unique attributes such as an immaterial soul. Many also believe that God guided evolutionary processes in some way, though most reject the claims of intelligent design theorists (see below) who say that evidence of God’s guiding hand is scientifically discernable. Major organizations aligned with evolutionary creationism include the following:
- The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), founded in 1941, is an international community of scientists who embrace both “belief in orthodox Christianity, as defined by the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds,” and “a commitment to mainstream science, that is, any subject on which there is a clear scientific consensus.”Quotation from their “about” page, here. Though the ASA is not explicitly devoted to any specific form of creationism, its commitment to mainstream scientific consensus implies an alignment with evolutionary creationism, which ASA scientists typically do endorse (though there are exceptions). The ASA publishes the quarterly online magazine God and Nature and the peer-reviewed journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.
- BioLogos, founded by geneticist Francis Collins in 2007, has quickly become the leading organization promoting evolutionary creationism. Its mission is to advocate a view of “harmony between science and biblical faith” rooted in “an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.”Quotation from their “about” page, here. BioLogos publishes popular online articles, professional development resources, and educational resources such as the Integrate curriculum. See here for a summary of their beliefs and here for a helpful comparison of evolutionary creation with other perspectives.
Intelligent design theorists argue that the best scientific explanation for some features of nature is that those features were designed for a purpose. In particular, they contend that cosmological fine-tuning and some aspects of biological complexity are best explained by intelligent causes (processes directed by a mind) rather than unguided processes like chance and natural selection. This claim is compatible with all of the varieties of creationism described above. Many young-earth creationists, progressive creationists, evolutionary creationists, and even some non-religious people agree that intelligent design is the best explanation for various features of the universe and life. However, intelligent design theorists typically regard the design hypothesis itself as a strictly scientific hypothesis, unlike creationism. They argue that evidence of design can be found in nature using accepted scientific methods and principles, independent of any religious beliefs. Numerous organizations around the world promote intelligent design, but one main organization has been spearheading the movement:
- Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC), formerly the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, was launched in 1996 by philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, political scientist John West, and Discovery Institute co-founder Bruce Chapman.See “A Brief History of Discovery Institute” for more information on the history of the CSC. The Center sponsors a research laboratory called the Biologic Institute, publishes the peer-reviewed journal BIO-Complexity and many popular publications such as Evolution News and Science Today, and provides a wide variety of educational programs and resources. See here for a summary of the CSC’s approach to science, and here for some helpful clarifications about its relation to creationism and evolutionary biology.
Intelligent design will be our focus later in this chapter. First, however, let us examine how each of the three main forms of biblical creationism—young-earth creationism, progressive creationism, and evolutionary creationism—try to understand what the Bible teaches about the creation of life. As discussed above, most creationists believe that natural evolutionary processes have played at least some role in contributing to the diversity of life. Thus, the controversial question is not whether God employs natural processes in His creative work, but precisely how and to what extent He has done so. Was evolution God’s chosen instrument for creating all species from a common ancestor, as evolutionary creationists suggest? Or, do natural processes play an extremely limited role in diversifying species, as young-earth creationists believe? Alternatively, are progressive creationists right that the truth is somewhere between those views? Scriptural arguments have been rallied to support each of these three creationist perspectives, as we’ll see on the next page.
For a fuller introduction to these perspectives, I highly recommend the book Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, edited by J.B. Stump and Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017). Each of the four contributing authors—Ken Ham, Hugh Ross, Deborah Haarsma, and Stephen Meyer—is a leading advocate of one of the four main viewpoints listed above.