Progressive Creation: An Overview
by Dale Tooley
Most people, sometimes even Christians, will be aware of only three alternative views used to explain the existence of the natural world in which we live and the seemingly infinite universe beyond. However, a fourth, and increasingly accepted alternative explanation has been called “progressive creation” or the day-age interpretation.
First there are the young earth creationists, who are often seen as putting strong emphasis on God having created everything instantly and out of nothing all in the matter of six days, some 6000 years ago. Genesis chapters one and two must be taken “as read” in a very concrete way, without pictorial input, and are held to be historically and scientifically correct when read in this way. So according to this view about six to ten thousand years ago God spoke everything into being in six solar days and then rested on the seventh twenty-four hour period.1 Often there is no recognition of the fact that many Christians, calling themselves creationists, do not hold to the Genesis account of creation quite so concretely.
Natural Forces Only
In sharp contradiction to the above are the Secular Evolutionists who 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. A big problem they have is that modern science verifies the Big Bang theory. That is, that the universe is exploding and can be traced back to a single point. If the universe has a beginning, it must have a beginner! A question that that can be asked of the secular evolutionist is : “How can you go back forever without accepting a supernatural concept”?
Science historian Frederick Burnham commented that for scientists, “Belief in God is more respectable today than at any time in the last hundred years”. (“Science & Religion are discovering Commonality in Big Bang theory.” Los Angeles Times, 2 May 1992).
Of course, it is accepted that there are “natural forces” at work. These natural forces provided a home for the millions of species of the earth who evolved by the “natural selection” from those most fit to survive in their environment.
It should be pointed out that it actually takes an enormous leap of faith to believe that these hundreds of very finely tuned natural forces themselves exist by blind chance and there is no process of “evolution” that can account for the incredible fine tuning of them to make life possible. Evolution has to do with life forms and is more accurately described as “Blind Chance Evolution” (i.e., the ideas in Richard Dawkins book The Blind Watchmaker and is frustrated by two contradictory assertions: life comes only from life; and life originally rose from the inorganic).
A third view rejects the blind chance element of evolution, contending instead that a higher intelligence engineered the first forms of matter and the first life form, or forms, and arranged for natural forces He/She or “It” put in place initially to evolve upwardly. Along with the creationist positions the theistic evolutionist can see in the physics of the universe harmony, consistency, pervading beauty and elegance of design. It’s interesting that when you see science fiction programs on film or television nobody can come up with anything more beautiful than earth scenes or the human form! Unearthly forms are always ugly, never beautiful, to our eyes at least.
In the theistic evolutionist’s view natural selection and the transmutation of species are seen as the tooling used to bring about higher and higher life forms. Here, usually, God does not supernaturally intervene at any point, although convictions do differ widely and it would be quite wrong to say that all who believe in “evolution” deny the intervention of the miraculous.
Both creationists and theistic evolutionists are often mocked as believing in “the God of the gaps” but the opposite of this is “no God of the gaps”. The facts are that there are gaps, everywhere ,which science cannot fill with purely natural explanation. By leaving God out of the equation “naturalism” is constantly stretched to find answers. Some will claim that science is closing the gaps where Christians put God as the only explanation. But while some gaps are closing bigger and wider ones are opening up elsewhere, especially in the finely tuned aspects of the universe and the intricacies of cell formation so the gap-filling exercise is never ending.
Pantheism, the view that God and nature are one, shares much in this viewpoint but denies, or greatly downgrades, the idea of a personal God.
A fourth view, which I am surprised many Christians still do not know by name, but which without considering the mechanics, many instinctively believe, is called progressive creationism. It is fair to say it lies in between theistic evolution and young earth creationism, drawing some points from both but always insisting on the input of an Intelligent Designer. It agrees with the former in believing that there was a much longer time frame than six twenty-four hour periods and holds that each new life form was not, necessarily, created out of nothing, or out of previously non-living material. Or at least that the “template” of previously existing life is used again – with adjustments. It agrees with the latter, not only in affirming the verbal inspiration of the Bible, but that God was present at every stage of the creation of life and that every new life form was a deliberate and miraculous act of God.
It is unfortunate that Progressive Creation, or Old Earth Creation, as it is sometimes known , is often tagged from the left and the right with the word “compromise” – given its “shameful or disreputable concession” meaning. But of course this has the built in bias that the truth lies in one of two or more extreme positions. We do not believe this to be the case here.
The word “evolution” is often so emotionally charged among Christians that its mere mention is upsetting. However in its ordinary usage it simply means “change in respect to time” whether short or long. To some Christians its definition is restricted to a narrow biological one implying natural processes that gave rise to all the different species. Christians need to learn to react less aggressively to a mere mention of the word.
The Progressive Creationist accepts the flood story (properly understood) as truth and not myth. He accepts all the fundamentals of conventional, mainstream theology, including the creation of man as a totally unique being, capable of spiritual communication with God, his fall into sin and the redemption provided by the Second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ. I have yet to find a Progressive Creationist who does not take an historical Church view in his approach to Scripture
by John C. Whitcomb, Ph.D.
Did God use vast ages of time, even millions and billions of years, to bring the universe and the world to its present form? Many Christians have adopted this view during the past two centuries in order to bring the Bible into harmony with the consensus of contemporary scientific opinion.1
“Progressive creationists,” such as Drs. Hugh Ross and Robert Newman, profess faith in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, and reject more radical views such as theistic evolutionism (e.g., Dr. Howard Van Till), but nevertheless believe also in the timetable of Big Bang cosmology. They believe that millions of years separated the (miraculous) appearance of the various kinds of living things.2
The efforts of most secular scientists to explain the ultimate origin of the universe in terms of purely natural processes, however, suffer from severe limitations. No one except God was there when the universe began, and thus no human being could have observed the nature, the sequence, or the duration of the original events. That is why scientists differ so profoundly from each other on this vital issue.3
Four thousand years ago, God said to Job: “I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding” (Job 38:3-4). The stupendous impact of that question continues to the present hour.
One of the truly amazing things about the Bible is that it agrees with itself! Even though God used forty human authors over two thousand years, and even though highly complex topics are dealt with, there are no contradictions! Job and Moses, the earliest Bible writers, are supplemented, not contradicted, by the last writer, John. That is because the Spirit of God “moved” them to record what was beyond their own finite limitations (II Peter 1:21; cf., I Peter 1:11).
The intricate details of Genesis 1-2 are sufficient in themselves to negate the theory of Progressive Creationism. This discussion must await a future article. However, our purpose at this time is to demonstrate that stretching the days of creation to millions of years to accommodate secular theories becomes even more absurd when we allow the entire Bible to shed its essential light upon the first chapter of Genesis.
For example, it was through the mere spoken word of the pre-incarnate Christ, “the Word” (John 1:1,3; 1:14), that “All things were made.” But how, actually, were the heavens and the earth created through the Second Person of the Triune Godhead? What method did He use, and how long did He take to do the work of creation? Here is the amazing answer: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth . . . For He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:6,9). Note carefully that God did not create a tiny speck of energy from which the stars and planets gradually formed through billions of years as the Big Bang theory requires. Instead, “the heavens . . . [even] all the host of them” (Genesis 2:1) came into existence instantly.
Progressive Creationism is rendered impossible by this statement. The second book of the Old Testament confirms what the first book says about the duration of creation events: “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is” (Exodus 20:11; cf., 31:17). No Israelite, hearing these words, could have understood them as allowing for long periods of time. They knew that the six days in Genesis were literal days, because each of them was identified by a numerical adjective (one day . . . second day . . . etc.), and each of them was locked into the “evening . . . morning” formula which refers to a 24-hour period. This includes the seventh-day Sabbath, which all Jews understand to be a literal day.
A major problem with “Progressive Creationism” is its insistence that animals (and even pre-Adamic “men”) died long before Adam sinned. Thus, the strong Biblical connection between sin and death is broken. The reason why “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” and is in “the bondage of corruption” is because it “was made subject to vanity, not willingly [i.e., because of some inherited design defect], but by reason of Him [God] who hath subjected” the creation to the curse at the time of Adam’s rebellion (Romans 8:20-22).
Thus, there could have been no death in the animal kingdom before the Fall and the curse. Progressive Creationism collapses under the weight of Romans 8. In this connection, it is highly important to understand the nature of the Kingdom which Christ offered to Israel, and which He will establish at His Second Coming.
In many ways, it will be a restoration of the pre-Fall earth. During the Kingdom age, which our Lord taught us to pray for (Matthew 6:10), “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, . . . and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. . . . [and] they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain [=kingdom; cf., Isaiah 2:2]: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9).
All threats from the animal kingdom will end, for God “will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods” (Ezekiel 34:25; cf., Hosea 2:18; Isaiah 35:9). This Kingdom will be a time of “restitution [apokatastasis—“restoration,” cf., Matthew 17:11; Acts 1:6] of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21).