Thursday, March 28, 2013

Four Origins Alternatives

Recently I wound down a long-running discussion with a theistic evolutionist. He claimed deciding whether God intervened along the geological timeline periodically (a creationist view) or whether God created a fully gifted creation at the beginning and endowed it with freedom to form the present multiplicity of species (an evolutionist view) did not really matter to him. God is the Creator of all things in either case, he declared.

Theistic evolution is now also termed evolutionary creation. It is the belief of roughly 32% of our US population. At one level of understanding, recognition that God is the Creator of all things is an important theological truth. Properly understanding how God accomplished his work of creation, however, may be regarded as a worthwhile concern, notwithstanding my friend’s claim that it does not matter.

Theistic evolutionists believe in all the provisions of evolutionary belief, including the descent of all living things from a common ancestor. This would include what is commonly known as “molecules to man” evolution. Man evolved, therefore. He was not created according to the ordinary definition of the meaning of create. God is the creator of all things at the beginning of time, theistic evolutionists say, but He built into creation the capability of ultimately generating today’s complex assemblage of millions of different life forms by evolutionary processes. While God sustains the existence of all things from moment to moment, theistic evolutionists do not believe instant creation of new life forms occurs along the timeline of earth history.

Young earth creationists comprise about 46% of the US population. They believe the entire cosmos and all life forms were instantly created less than 10,000 years ago. Each time the age of the earth and universe is pegged as millions of years in connection with news of a natural event, a substantial segment of the population does not assent. Recently we have discussed the “once in a century” meteor which exploded over Russia. It was reported the meteor was “the same age as the Solar System--approximately 4.5 billion years old.” A few days later convincing remnant evidence of the Iowa asteroid impact crater was publicized as striking earth 450 million years ago. Nearly half of the US population rejects these ages.

There are two other popular belief systems concerning origins among the remaining 22% of our population. Relatively few creationists call themselves old earth creationists, including “day-age” or “progressive” creationists. There are other variations of old earth creationist positions, such as the framework view and the formerly popular gap theory. While old earth believers accept the scientific evidence for a very old universe and a 4.5 billion year old Solar System, they nevertheless believe God intervened to create life at intervals along earth’s long history. When creationist beliefs are discussed, old earth creationists do not receive as much negative publicity as do young earth creationists. Evolutionists find old earth creationists more difficult to denigrate because most old earth beliefs are positioned closer to the discoveries of mainstream science.

The final members of this origins panel, but by far the smallest of the four groups, are naturalistic or secular evolutionists. In an article in Rich Deem’s website, secular evolutionists “see the whole of existence as purely material with ‘matter’ as eternally existent and all life coming into being by accident over many millions of years.” In contrast to the other three origins belief systems under discussion, secular evolutionists may have the most systematic and effective structure for dissemination of their beliefs. Professionals in the field of bio-science education are heavily atheistic or agnostic. Biology teachers and textbooks teach evolution with secular naturalism recognized as a “given.” The secular educators and media commentators have control of the “bully pulpit.”

We conclude our discussion with a brief commentary on one or two main concerns facing each of the groups with origins of life concerns. (1) Theistic evolutionists often express disappointment that their beliefs are sometimes perceived as anti-theistic among those whose belief is explicitly creationist. They wish to believe in evolution without being stigmatized in this manner. (2) Young earth creationists are forced to deny substantial mainstream science related to geological and biological history in order to support their desire to be faithful to their own view of scripture interpretation. (3) Old earth creationists are also uneasy about scientific evolutionary interpretations they view as errant. Their embrace of science in most other areas of concern, however, is much closer to the mainstream. (4) Finally, naturalistic evolutionists are alarmed that any mention of God’s intervention in the realm of nature is unscientific and should be quarantined to one’s personal religious views. Therefore, any mention of theism is not permitted at their origins discussion table.

Theistic evolutionists, young earth creationists, and old earth creationists would generally concur with scriptural expressions such as “In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28) in spite of other subtle theological differences. Secular evolutionists are not at all concerned with the spiritual reality of this scripture. All four groups may generally agree that only one origins view is true. Of course, each group would endorse their own view.