[The response to the “Is Genesis History?” film has been quite phenomenal, ranking No. 1 at the box office on the day of its release and was Fathom’s second highest grossing event of 2017. Because of this, it will be re-released in theaters on February 22. Therefore, I thought it would be of some value to talk about some of the issues that it raises. We will do this in a series of smaller chunks leading up to the release so that we don’t burn your eyes out. :) ]
When one comes to the “issues” surrounding science and the Bible, they almost always focus upon the different ways that one looks at the book of Genesis. Some ignore it as insignificant to the scientific discussion. Others feel it should be read and interpreted in the light of the conclusions of science. Another segment believes it is to be read as historical narrative and should therefore inform scientific inquiry as a valid witness to what really happened. Hence the title of the film: “Is Genesis History?”
As weak as it is to “classify” and “stereotype” people’s beliefs, it is of some value to recognize that there are fundamentally four competing views concerning the record of Genesis and therefore “origins”, for Genesis 1-11 deals primarily with the “beginning” of almost everything. Consider the list. Genesis makes claims for the beginning of all of these:
With such ubiquitous claims regarding the origin of everything, one's view of Genesis is quite important.
The four competing views are, in their traditional labels: atheistic and theistic evolution, old earth and young earth creation. I think those titles are not completely accurate or descriptive, so I will take the liberty to rename them as follows:
1. Secular (Atheistic) Evolution – deep time, evolution through natural processes, both atheistic and agnostic (secular) view
2. Deistic (Theistic) Evolution – deep time, evolution through natural processes, God exists and may have kick-started the evolutionary process
3. Deep Time (Old Earth) Creation – deep time, cosmic evolution, but life arose through the periodic creative acts of God along the standard evolutionary timeline
4. Historic (Young Earth) Creation – near time, God created everything according to the literal, historical Genesis account in six “evening and morning” days, resting from that work on the seventh
It is true that there are nuances and variations within each of these positions and even continuums that exist between them (i.e. the Gap Theory), but most people fall clearly into one of these four. With that caveat, let’s look more closely at each:
Secular Evolution – deep time, evolution through natural processes, atheistic or agnostic view.
This is obviously the most prominent position in our culture. It is the view presented in academia, media, museums, and our national parks, etc. This position is entirely naturalistic, believing that everything in the universe, including life forms, have come about as the result of slow evolutionary processes under no guidance, no intelligence, no purposive forces. Only naturalistic causes and effects are allowed to be considered within this perspective. Deep time is absolutely necessary to maintain the evolutionary position. This view rejects any divine or historical aspect of Genesis.
Deistic Evolution – deep time, evolution through natural processes, God exists and may have kick-started the evolutionary process.
This is the growing position represented primarily by BioLogos, where both evolution and the existence of God is embraced. God’s role in all of this is vague or unknown. I have often asked this question of my theistic evolutionist friends: “What is it that you find lacking in evolution theory for which you believe God must fill the gaps?” The answer has been consistent: “Why do you think that I find anything lacking in evolution?” This often leads one to wonder what the “theistic” part plays in this position and various answers are given, from none to getting life started to “guiding evolution in the background”. That is why I believe it is better labeled, as “Deistic Evolution” for God’s role is primarily one of creating the evolutionary process, winding it up and then letting it go. I'm not saying that the people in this group are "Deists" but that the view is deistic. This group accepts Genesis, but starts first with the conclusions of science and therefore must read the text in a different genre, usually myth or metaphor. This has deep implications. Accepting deep time and evolution is increasingly leading to the textual view that Adam and Eve are non-literal, most likely a "hominid group of about 10,000) that evolved to a state where the Genesis myth metaphorically labeled them as a man and woman. This is closely followed by a “spiritualization” of the fall and viewing the additional accounts in Genesis, like the Noahic Flood and the Tower of Babel, as more pieces in the Genesis metaphor and not to be read literally.
Deep Time Creation – deep time, cosmic evolution, but life arose through the periodic creative acts of God along the standard evolutionary timeline.
This position holds that God has been the creative force in bringing about life in its basic forms as we know it today. Deep time and the evolutionary timeline are assumed to be true and it therefore normally holds to a “cosmic evolution” regarding star, sun, planet, earth and elemental development. God periodically intervenes with creation acts (i.e. every 20 millions years per Hugh Ross) and the rise of life and its various forms through God’s creative work is matched to the standard deep time framework, including man, who arose millions of years ago. Because of this, and by necessity, the Genesis account is viewed as a combination of historical and metaphor or allegory, where the order is held loosely (the sun and stars evolved earlier, marine life earlier, etc.) and the “evening and morning, day ____” phrases are not literal, but symbolic, meaning instead vast periods of time.
This position includes many who are involved in the critical and excellent work of “Intelligent Design”, which is held by both Deep Time and Historic Creation positions, arguing that the presence of complex design in the universe points to the need of an “intelligent designer”. Some Deep Time Creationists hold this position without elaborating on Who that designer might be, while others openly state that the designer is the God of Genesis. Accepting deep time, which primarily comes from the rocks, necessitates that this position view the flood as not literal nor global, but a local flood, in order to maintain the deep time in the rocks.
Historic Creation - near time, God created everything according to the literal, historical Genesis account in six “evening and morning” days, resting from that work on the seventh.
This position holds that the universe and the earth were created and completed in the literal timeframe and order given (i.e. one literal week) in Genesis. It also accepts the literal understanding of a global flood in which “all the mountains of the earth were covered” and “all the animals that had the breath of life” were destroyed. As such, it concludes that the heavens and the earth are measured in thousands of years, not billions.
Now, I can almost guarantee that there will be some who will read this high-level classification and complain that their particular position is somewhat different than I have characterized. I accept your complaint! :) I believe, however, that if you study the primary authors and formal positions of these views, that these summations accurately portray what they believe and their approach to the Genesis text and the claims of science.
Next time, we will examine more deeply the contrast among these views and the line or "dichotomy" that we addressed in the film.