Creation -- Five Schools of Thought
by Stephen C.Y. Liu
The Book of Genesis is a book of beginnings addressing the basic Christian doctrine of creation. Chapter 1:1 to Chapter 2:3 records Jehovah the Lord God creating the universe and conscious living things. At the end of God's creation, He creates man in His image. He blesses man giving him a mandate: "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." Over the centuries, Christians have tried to understand this depiction of creation. Often, inquisitive endeavors have ended in dispute with one another, and those outside the Christian faith. This article presents the five schools of thought known among Christian scholars concerning the book of Genesis and creation.
The Hebrew word "bara" is used three times in Chapter 1 of Genesis (1:1, 21 and 27).1 It is translated to mean that God "created." The three times refer to
1. the origin of cosmic universe (ex nihilo),
2. the origin of conscious life, and
3. the creation of man and woman, respectively.
Creation was an exclusive act of God. Other Hebrew words closely associated with the word bara, such as "asah" (1:7, 16, 25, 26, 31; 2:2, 3) are also used, meaning "made," or "brought forth"( 1:11). To some scholars, it seems to suggest not so much a divine creation of an immediate sort as divine guidance of natural processes. They refer them as secondary creation (a creative activity). In Genesis 1:26, 27, both verbs, bara and asah, are used in conjunction with the creation of man and woman. The two words "creating" and "making" are used in 2:3 as a syntactical summary. The deliberate choice of Hebrew words and their sequence could be very instructive. Early Bible scholars noticed the different Hebrew words used, their sequence and structure. Today, this is the focal point of intensive research, dialogue and debate by scholars, theologians and scientific professionals.
The Hebrews and their religious heritage were unique, different from all other ancient civilizations. They worshipped the only God (monotheistic) Jehovah, the Creator of the cosmic universe. Creation explicitly manifested His wisdom, character and majestic power. They believed the universe with all its living things and humanity owed their being and origin to God. All these are in the domain of theology, and philosophy, and beyond what natural sciences could empiracally demonstrate.
In the history of Christianity, there have been five schools of scholarly thought on the creation, each with a different and distinct slant of conviction and viewpoint. The foundations of their differences have been due to their efforts in studies on:
1. the Hebrew words and language,
2. understanding the meaning in historical context of civilizations,
3. ways in which the Scripture narratives are interpreted, and
4. whether natural sciences, as instrumentality, could be used to help them in exegesis and explanation.
As an evangelical of Christian, and a professor in microbiology and molecular biology (disciplines on the borderline between the non-living and the living entitis), I want to share with you what I have learned, and studied in science and the Scripture. My objective and prayer are:
We evangelical Christians would come to appreciate the historical context concerning how these five schools of thought (under the umbrella of creation) have been developed to the extent of understanding their main tenets and how they differ from on another. With such knowledge, we shall have a genuine sense of mutual respect, avoiding unnecessary debate and maintaining our Christian unity and testimony before the world.
I. The five schools of thought in creasion: (in sequence of historical development):
A.Theistic Evolution: in 1999, it was re-named as Fully Gifted Creation
B. Progressive Creation
C. Fiat Creation: in 1970-80, it was re-named as Scientif Creation, and in 2000, as Biblical Creation
D. Intelligent Design
E. Theistic Creation.
1. Summaries of the five schools of thought:
a. Fully Gifted Creation (Theistic Evolution): (cf. Literature Cited, A) The Fully Gifted Creation upholds the belief that the entire universe is creation by "creaturely properties." Formational history of these creatures is considered an unbroken line of evolutionary development. God has created these living beings but left their development and actualization worked out by science (creaturely capacity).
b. Progressive Creation: (cf. Literature Cited, B) Progressive Creation considers creation as a transcendental activity of God, the Creator, and Omnipotent Sustainer. God's creative acts take place in progressive succession (de novo) with progressive complexity of animals and plants in the course of time. Man was the last creation of God. Progressive Creation theory believes no continuum of life.
c Scientific Creation or Biblical Creation: (cf. Literature Cited, C) The Scientific Creation theory believes G.od created the universe and the living things out of nothing (ex nihilo) and that each creation kind is special and unique. Man was the last, and was created in God's image. This theory also upholds that the special creative and integrative processes are no longer in operation.
d. Intelligent Design: (cf. Literature Cited, D) The Intelligent Design sees the universe as an intelligent design which is irreversibly complex and functional. It inspires and encourages research for obtaining knowledge of reality. Creation is believed to be a divine act, not being reduced to purely naturalistic categories. The Intelligent Design upholds that God creates the cosmic world and also renders it intelligible.
e. Theistic Creation: (cf. Literature Cited, E) The Theistic Creation Theory states that God created the world and everything in it. The book of Genesis is seen as being little concerned with how, using mechanisms of evolution to produce the world. Humans are seen as being qualitatively distinguished from animals only in being made in God's image, which places image in an already existing hominoids animal.
Pertaining to creation and making, we can see some major differences among the five schools. Scholars also differ in secondary and minor points as follows:
A. The day (yom in Hebrew): literal, or pictorio-revelatorial or theological.
B. The Scripture narratives: chronological, poetic or theological.
C. Genesis flood: universal or local; or both.
D. Gap theory: yes or no.
E. The age of the earth: young earth or old earth.
F. Biblical faith and natural sciences: Complementarity, supplementarity or incompatibility.
Space allows me to mention their differences categorically. Readers are urged to read the authoritative and representative books of each of them, given in Literature Cited at the end of this article.
II. Historical perspectives and recent warming trends:
A. Development in USA and elsewhere:
Among the five schools, theistic evolution (fully-gifted creation) is the oldest whereas theistic creation is the youngest school of thought. St. Augustine advocated theistic evolution, and Thomas Aquinas further expounded on it. By and large, this became the conviction and viewpoint of the Roman Catholic Church. Some Protestant groups also accept it and uphold it. Theistic creation was first reported in 1986, then surfaced again in 1999; therefore it is not well known.
The common denominator of these two schools, as reported by some scholars, is the so-called "derived creation." It refers that the offspring of animal (human-like) was transformed into the first biblical man. The two schools generally embrace sciences, including evolution and its mechanisms, as the formative (secondary) cause in creation. Sometimes, Christians, in general, are not able to differentiate, mistaking them as evolution in disguise. Yet scholars fully profess the Bible as the Word of God; acknowledge Christ Jesus as Savior; and accept historical Christian doctrines.
Progressive Creative was well expounded by theologian, Prof. Benard Ramm. With his background in undergraduate biology and graduate theology training, he was well versed in the two disciplines and their historial development. The major tenets were wll expressed in his book, Christian View on Science and Scripture, in 1950. The book won the Moody Book Award, and was well received in Christian communities. For years many evangelical schols and scientists subscribed to this view. Its popularity and acceptance is probably second to Scientific Creation.
Intelligent Design does not hold a prior, Christian religious assumption that were is a Creator. It begins with empirical data from nature. On the basis of irreversible complexity, genetic information specificity and functional necessity in the biological world; and cosmic immensity and regularity in the universe, scholars argue for an intelligent design. By inference there is a transcendent Designer. It relies on empirical methods, scientific mechanisms and principles that have been developed in the scientif community, ensuring its legitimacy as a scientific theory. In fact, this was first argued by Irish theologian William Paley in 1850, and is now undertaken again by academicians, scientists and clergymen. Since late 1990, it has gradually gained its acceptance and popularity, and its momentum as a scientific paradigm. In fact, it was recently been under intensive discussion and argument by school officials in Columbus, Ohio, as to whether to teach this theory along with evolution.
Fiat Creation first appeared in 1940-50. The Christian public, especially in USA, welcomed it with applause. The Scopes trials at Dayton, Tenn., in 1925 was a well-known and emotional event. Christianity in the Bible belt suffered an unbearable defeat. The mode and emotion of the Christian public were at the lowest ebb, wishing to have a voice on its behalf in the wilderness. So Fiat Creation was born in time. Dr. Henry Morris's book Scientific Creationism was reprinted 39 times, and circulated worldwide. The Creation Research Institute or Society had a mailing list of more than 100,000 recipients. Books and literature were practically found everywhere in fundamentalists' gatherings and libraries. In order to reinforce the Equal Time Movement, Dr. Morris and his colleagues changed the name to Scientific Creation. Yet, over the years, it has been ruled seven times by the courts as a non-scientific, religious assumption. In the '70s to '80s when Biblical Inerrancy was under intensive discussion in Christendom, scholars embraced it as one of their components. Somehow, moral degradation was also incorporated. Then, zealots somehow began hair-splitting, name-calling and finger-pointing at others who did not subscribe to their view. It generated very much non-charitable feeling, even hostile attitude. This trend has regrettably spread elsewhere. Christian testimony to the world has suffered greatly and unnecessarily. Concerned Christians and evangelical churches wish that all these would come to an early end.
B. Warming trends in recent years:
In 1999, scholars, theologians and academicians from Theistic Evolution, and Progressive Creation (both are old earth) and Scientific Creation (young earth) came together in a dialogue in a debate format. Proponents of each of the three schools presented their views, and debated on them in a friendly and congenial fashion. It was the first of its kind. It was most heart-warming and illuminating. Subsequent to this dialogue, a book entitled Three Views on Creation and Evolution, with J .P. Moreland and J.M. Reynolds as editors was published by Zondervan Publishing House, in 1999. Indeed, it was historical, and a major breakthrough.
In 2000, another book entitled Science and Christianity: Four Views with Richard F. Carlson as editor was published by IV Press. There are four major divisions (for brevity), as follows:
1. Creationism: An inerrant Bible and effective science (19-68)
2 Independence: Mutual humility in the relationship (67-121)
3. Qualified agreement: modern science and the return (127-188)
4. Partnership: Science & Christian theology as partner (195-247)
Once again, theologians, academicians and scientists expound their views and debate on them, creating a genuine sense of humility and mutual respect.
We see that with all these, scholars have established an open-line communications, and warming trends are on the way. Genuine efforts are being made to restore Christian unity, in theory and in practice. We all sincerely hope that such earnest trends will be further extended in the future.
III. A lesson for evangelical Christians and the Church in general:
Creation and evolution theories have been very much in discussion in Christian gatherings and public forum, in North America and elsewhere. In my teaching life science and public ministry, I have been in one way or another involved in the debate. As far as my experience goes, I know that a good number of fellow-saints know very well Scientific Creationism and their arguments. A small fraction of these friends know only this scholarly thought, nothing else, or in any detail. A certain degree of friction has been generated and experienced among campus fellowships and in churches where only one view has been wholeheartedly endorsed and upheld. The worse is to lead to division and church splitting. This would be a sad situation. Something positive and constructive should be done. My advice to these dear saints is to enlarge their horizons and read those books cited in the literature. Then, read the last two books in II-B, for objectivity and flexibility; and cultivate Christian virtue of forbearance and respect among the Lord's people.
Being evangelical Christians and members of His Church, we firmly believe the Bible as the Word of God, and creation as an exclusive act of the Creator God. When we come to the interpretation of the Genesis narratives, we should interpret them with humility, flexibility, and mutual respect if there are other schools of scholarly thought. We are Bible-believing evangelicals. At the same time we should live as world Christians with high fidelity to the Scripture, intellectual integrity and practical sincerity.
A. Howard Van Till, 1999. Chapter 3. The Fully Gifted Creation, in Three Views on Creation and Evolution by J.P. Morehead and J.M.Reynolds, Ed., Zondervan Publishing House, Michigan
B. Bernard Ramm, 1954.The Christian View of Science and Scripture.Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Michigan
C. Henry M. Morris,1985.Scientific Creationism.Master Books, California
D. William A. Dembski, 1999. Intelligent Design. Inter-Varsity Press, Illinois
E. Malcolm A. Jeeves and R.J. Berry, 1998.
Science, Life and Christian Belief. Baker Books, Michigan
(Dr. Stephen C.Y. Liu is Prof. Emeritus of microbiology and molecular biology, residing in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In recent years he has devoted more time and energy in church ministry and campus fellowships, in USA and around the world. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org)