Progressive Creation: An Overview
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.
He differs only with the Young Earth Creationist in that he believes, based on his knowledge of the Word of God and the revelations of true science, (twin revelations given by God) that the words of the Genesis Creation and Flood stories can be taken more concretely than the Holy Spirit ever intended. He is most concerned that many educated people find a stumbling block to the Gospel from misconceptions of what Genesis chapters 1 to 11 really say.
He hears this sort of question often put: "Why consider the message of a book that right from the beginning contradicts established facts of science?" It will not do to respond by saying something like: "Evolution is a totally unproved theory". There is much more to the subject of origins than just "natural selection and the transmutation of species" and there are many things that can rightly be held under a more general heading of "evolution".
The progressive creationist is often dismayed at the scorn poured on honest and hardworking scientists in their legitimate research of natural history. The Christian community should acknowledge that Copernican astronomy, the existence of the antipodes, surgical operations and vaccinations, just to name a few matters, were all attacked, in their time, by some who could be loosely termed "fundamentalists".
So the question should be posed: Have we made in geology and similar sciences, a monster out of a balloon? Surely, if Genesis is silent about secondary causes and science is ignorant about first causes, it is only as we bring them together that we can get a full understanding of the universe and the geological record on earth. We need the twin revelations of God. The Bible, unlike any other book, is intended to be read and understood by all cultures and spanning several thousands of years. This places some serious restraints on the extent and detail of science it can contain.
St. Augustine warned: "Be on guard against giving interpretations of Scripture that are farfetched or opposed to science, and so exposing the Word of God to the ridicule of unbelievers."
There are certain basic facts that are beyond dispute here: For instance, light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second and comes from galaxies, some of which are billions of light years away. We can check just how far the light has come by the distinct variations in colour in relation to the distance traveled. On February 23, 1987 there was a supernova, in space that actually happened 160,000 light-years away but observed on that day. Modern man, because of the huge time lags in space, has the privilege of actually witnessing some of God's handiwork. Psalm 90:4 says: "For a thousand years are in your sight as a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.." Some have claimed that light was once much faster but is slowing down. But studies show that the speed of light in incredibly stable. A much faster speed of light changes the balance of everything else and would make life impossible.
Surely the intent of the creation narrative is not to focus on time but to evoke the worship, adoration, obedience and love that belongs to God, and to dismiss any view of nature which denies the existence of One Personal God who existed before nature and is the master of His own creation.
Jeremiah 10:12 states, "He [God] has made the earth by His power, He has established the world by His wisdom, and has stretched out the heavens at His discretion".
The Bible depicts God as the God of nature's laws, who has unlimited ability to work through His own laws of nature. The crossing of the Red Sea is an example:
"The Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided". (Exodus, 14:21)
God here is seen to be active within nature. Certainly wherever there is life anywhere in the universe it has to be the result of God's activity within nature.
The progressive creationist does not accept that "flood geology" can even begin to explain the rich geological order of the earth and its fossils. Land masses arise gradually as a result of volcanic activity and plate tectonics. These wrinkle the earth's surface and, after the added effects of erosion, create the geological strata. As plate tectonics and volcanic activity superseded erosion land masses rose above the ocean to cover about 30% of the earth's surface. It is from these forces that we get the geological formations we have, not enormous earth shattering events triggered by a deluge of the kind the "flood geologists" envisage.
Coral reefs, for instance, are very fragile and could never survive this deluge. Varves are annual layers of sediment that form distinct layers of seasonal deposits in lake beds and the chemical deposits are different in the summer than they are the rest of the year. The green river formation consists of more than 20,000,000 annual layers! There are fossils neatly set between the layers making them impossible to be there as a result of a single flood.
The progressive creationist holds to the conviction that the Genesis flood was regional, for which he has some overwhelming biblical and rationally deduced evidence. For one thing, the several million species in the world have their own ecological niches. There are thousands of distinct life forms that exist in Australia and New Zealand alone and they live a long, long way from where the Ark came to rest. The three-toed sloth is an animal that only travels at, top speed, 0.068 m.p.h. (!) and the fossil record says they have always been indigenous to South America only.
Present indications are that there were anywhere up to one billion species that existed in the past but are now extinct. Those that think that the several million species that now exist descended from a much smaller number of species in the ark really believe in incredibly swift macroevolution and rapidly undo all their anti-evolutionary arguments. It's just not feasible for it to happen within the limits of microevolution. To say otherwise is to bring justified mocking from the scientific community (those that speak from within their specified discipline).
There is in Western Asia a deeply depressed area extending from the Sea of Aral to the Steppes of the Caucasus and around the southern shores of the Caspian, which includes the hilly regions of Ararat, where the Ark came to rest ( not Mount Ararat - the Bible does not say that) and the Great Salt Desert. It is the recognized centre of the human family at the time of the flood. This is an area of considerably over 300,000 square kilometers and more than enough reason for the need of an Ark the size that Noah built. It is perfectly within the bounds of Scripture to believe that the deluge was universal only in so far as the area and observation of the narrator extended. The word "har" as in "mountain" is actually a generic term for any elevation and "under all heaven" is a figure of speech common to the Bible, e.g., Deut. 2:25 and Isaiah 13:5 ,7. The writers of scripture often used a form of speech known as synecdoche, where a whole is used for a part.
When God told the Israelites that He would put the fear of them upon the people under the whole heaven (Deut. 2:25) surely He meant only those known to the Israelites. When Genesis 41:57 says that all countries came to Egypt to buy grain, it must mean only those countries known to the Egyptians. Did Ahab look for Elijah in every country of earth? 1 Kings 18:10 says he ignored "no nation or kingdom". Must we believe he searched through India and China?
These observations are just a start. I doubt whether many
Christians have ever thought through the implications of a fully
universal flood. The number of species in the world is almost
infinitely vaster than those animals on show at the zoo. What
happened to the thousands of species dependent on fresh water then mixed
with salt? What happened to all the flora of the earth crushed
under 9 kilometers of water (if indeed the Flood covered even
What about geographical distribution where species have been isolated. The marsupials of Australia are a good example. Kangaroos, koalas, wombats, Tasmanian devils (and the now extinct dog like marsupial the Tasmanian tiger) and all sorts of rat like marsupials and their fossils are only found in this region. Moas, kiwis and many other distinctive species of bird, only in New Zealand.
The queries just go on and on.
But now the "evolutionist" has much to answer for also:
How then do we explain the fossil history which appears to show a progression from simple to complex? This could not be through the "transmutation of species" as it is generally taught, because, as every good creationist knows, the "evolutionary tree" is all twigs and leaves with no branches and certainly no trunk! The fossil record does not exhibit a gradual step by step development.
"The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils…" (Stephen Jay Gould in The Panda's Thumb, 1980, pp.179, 80).
Almost always we find a sudden appearance of a particular species followed by "stasis", meaning that the species remain virtually unchanged for its tenor on earth. There are species that appear to be transitional but little to no transitional forms (for example half-wings). All examples found are fully formed and fully functional.
Charles Darwin wrote: "If my theory be true, numberless intermediate varieties, linking close together all the species of the same group must surely have existed."
There should be innumerable step by step fossils available to us, but there is not. Biologist David S. Woodruff has stated: "Fossil species remain unchanged throughout most of their history and the record fails to contain a single example of a significant transition." ("Evolution :The Paleobiological View" in Science 16 May 1980, p. 716).
There are huge gaps at the bottom of every new order of life, which is not just the opinion of a novice.
C.C. Olsen who wrote "The Evolution of Life" for New American Library (1965, p. 94) said: "Many new groups of animals suddenly appear, apparently without close ancestors. Most major groups of organisms, phyla, sub-phyla, and even classes, have appeared this way. This aspect of the record is real, not merely the result of faulty or biased collecting. A satisfactory explanation of evolution must take it into consideration and provide an explanation".
A.S. Romer, who wrote Man and the Vertebrates and Vertebrate Paleontology, on no fewer than sixteen occasions admits huge gaps in the fossil record that prevents the relating of various origins of life forms. This includes such large groupings as the monkeys, seals, marsupials, bats, marine reptiles, turtles, frogs, salamanders and the first vertebrates. From other scientific works we can also add urchins, sponges, jellyfish, trilobites, invertebrates, spiders, insects, snakes, monotremes (egg-laying mammals), rodents, deer, cattle, and giraffes.
Geologist David Kitts in an article "Paleontology and Evolutionary Theory said: "Evolution requires intermediate forms between species and paleontology does not provide them." (Evolution, Sept. 1974, p. 467)
Coding and re-coding
Nature itself lacks the means of bringing about hundreds of thousands of improbable accidents. Intelligence has to be injected. As yet biochemists cannot manufacture from scratch a single Deoxyribonucleic acid: the chemical inside the nucleus of a cell that carries the genetic instructions for making living organisms.DNA or Ribonucleic acid: a chemical that directs the manufacture of proteins and sometimes codes for the genetic material within certain organisms.RNA molecule or any of the more complex Organic compounds made of amino acids arranged in a linear chain, joined together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of the adjacent amino acid residues.proteins. Abiogenesis remains impossible. The vast complexity of even the simplest life form argues against natural self-assembly.
The requirements of both Science and Genesis can be met by what might be called Extra-Cosmic Coding and Re-coding. We must look outside the physical and biological realm.
Victor Pearce (British Anthropologist, with honours) in his book titled Who Was Adam? says, "The common feature of all living organisms is the Deoxyribonucleic acid: the chemical inside the nucleus of a cell that carries the genetic instructions for making living organisms.DNA code. As there is only one language used in it the instructions must come from one source, and as the instructions for the simplest viable unit of life are complex, that source must be an adequate one with intelligence equal to that needed to invent a computer-automated factory".
Since the one source is not made of the material things themselves it is not observable.
As Hebrews 11:3 puts it, "... the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible".
The smallest piece of An organic compound made of amino acids arranged in a linear chain, joined together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of the adjacent amino acid residues.protein could not exist without a previous equivalent piece of Deoxyribonucleic acid: the chemical inside the nucleus of a cell that carries the genetic instructions for making living organisms.DNA code instruction and could not therefore be "bits of the machinery". Even a virus is not complete in itself, but must practice symbiosis with bacteria or other living cells. The simplest forms of life have a Deoxyribonucleic acid: the chemical inside the nucleus of a cell that carries the genetic instructions for making living organisms.DNA The order of nucleotides in a DNA or RNA molecule, or the order of amino acids in a protein molecule.sequence of considerable length. Microbiologist James Shapiro of the University of Chicago declared in National Review that "There are no detailed Darwinian accounts for the evolution of any fundamental biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations." (Shapiro 1996).
In Nature University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne stated, "There is no doubt that the pathways described by Behe (author of Darwin's Black Box) are dauntingly complex, and their evolution will be hard to unravel.. .. (We) ..may forever be unable to envisage the first proto-pathways." (Coyne 1996)
Psalm 104:30 says, "You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth". In the Genesis account, six times the expression "God said" or its equivalent, occurs in reference to the progression of orders of living creatures. The evidence suggests the renewal would refer to acts of re-coding.
All the major invertebrates appeared together in the Cambrian seas, said to exist 570 million years ago and described as an "explosion" of evolution. In an instant - in geological terms - more than 100 phyla (major groupings) appear. The important body parts including eyes, digestive systems, nervous systems, circulatory systems, etc. are present.
"Most of the major groups of animals (phyla) appear fully fledged in the early Cambrian rocks and we know of no fossil forms linking them." (Colin Patterson in Evolution, 1978, p. 133).
A major recoding would involve the appearance of the back-boned fishes. Thousands of fossils are preserved from these early periods but not one intermediate form. These new life forms contain the basic cell mechanism but include much additional information.
Other extensive changes would be required for
- cold blooded, egg laying reptiles
- warm blooded placental mammals
- warm blooded birds
- the mechanics of flight in four very distinctive life forms: insects, birds, bats and flying reptiles.
Man is distinct
I suspect that to this point many creationist Christians might be happy to go along with the progressive creationists logic but will ask, "Surely man is a completely distinct creation"?
Although this is a possibility, certain facts would indicate a "yes" and "no" answer here.
There are two sides to man's nature. His body comes from the earth like the animals. It's an uncomfortable fact for some Christians to follow that there is conclusive evidence to show that his Deoxyribonucleic acid: the chemical inside the nucleus of a cell that carries the genetic instructions for making living organisms.DNA is 98.2% the same as a chimpanzee and 97.8% the same as a gorilla!
There is something else we must take note of. It is reported that certain Sequence of DNA that are very similar to normal genes but that has been altered so they are not expressed.pseudogenes, caused by copying "errors" are found in the exact The place on a chromosome where a specific gene is located, a kind of address for the gene.locus spots of the Deoxyribonucleic acid: the chemical inside the nucleus of a cell that carries the genetic instructions for making living organisms.DNA molecule in both humans and chimpanzees. This suggests a link of Deoxyribonucleic acid: the chemical inside the nucleus of a cell that carries the genetic instructions for making living organisms.DNA information but is no proof of the transmutation of species. Whether there is a descending biological link with a huge intervention by God to produce a new species (in this case man) is not important. It is clear from the evidence God did use the same "template" - with adjustments - and I am not insulted!
But (and it's a big but) man was made in God's image (not a physical image). So the other side of his nature, his psyche and spirit comes from God's breath. Yes, "God formed man of the dust of the ground". The word "formed" implies a process, and we need not see God forming man like we would put together a gingerbread man. "Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field". The same word "formed" is used and the human body has the physics of the universe in it.
The word formed could refer to cellular ancestry. However, the inbreathing of God clearly refers to man's spiritual nature which separates him decisively from the animals.
Man is very different from the animals in that he has spiritual awareness. He talks to an unseen God in prayer. No animal ever shows any consciousness of the need for prayer. He has awareness of a moral code written in a conscience and has concerns about death and life after death. He has consciousness of self, a drive for discovery and a capacity to recognize truth.
"God created man in His own image". The use of the verb "create" - bara in Hebrew - appears to indicate something more than re-coding. It appears very sparingly in Genesis and appears only twice before: First, when matter is created and second when life first emerges. While it can refer to creation ex nihilo, sometimes rendered "out of nothing", its usage is less restrictive. Its emphasis is on the newness or uniqueness of what is brought forth. Only Homo sapiens sapiens (modern man) can fellowship with the Lord and only we are accountable to Him.
One re-coding of Deoxyribonucleic acid: the chemical inside the nucleus of a cell that carries the genetic instructions for making living organisms.DNA in Scripture is certain. Genesis 2:21 & 22 reads, And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his "ribs" and He closed up the flesh in its place. The rib which the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman.... God changed the "xy" factor and by doing so gave modern man a very good hint of progression in creation through the intervention of the Creator adjusting the Deoxyribonucleic acid: the chemical inside the nucleus of a cell that carries the genetic instructions for making living organisms.DNA makeup.
- Those that insist that the seventh day was twenty four
hours and therefore well in the past need to explain what God did
on the eighth such day. (i.e., did He go and create another universe ?)
Each of the six creation days closes with the same refrain : "There was evening, and there was morning the ….day." Its absence from the seventh day can be taken as a hint that the day has not ended.
About the Author
Dale Tooley had been defending the faith against attack by the media for over 15 years when he wrote his first book, Salting The Press in 1983. During his first 15 years in defense of the Christian worldview, Mr. Tooley assumed that the 24-hour creation day interpretation was held by a small minority of Christians. Having discovered that this interpretation is held by the majority of Christians, Mr. Tooley has been involved in researching Christian views on creation to better present the gospel to unbelievers. He is director of Hasten The Light Ministries, which examines eschatology (end times prophecy) of the Bible.
Hasten The Light Ministries
Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Peril in Paradise: Theology, Science, and the Age of the Earth by Mark S. Whorton, Ph.D.
This book, written for Christians, examines creation paradigms on the basis of what scripture says. Many Christians assume that the young earth "perfect paradise" paradigm is based upon what the Bible says. In reality, the "perfect paradise" paradigm fails in its lack of biblical support and also in its underlying assumptions that it forces upon a "Christian" worldview. Under the "perfect paradise" paradigm, God is relegated to the position of a poor designer, whose plans for the perfect creation are ruined by the disobedience of Adam and Eve. God is forced to come up with "plan B," in which He vindictively creates weeds, disease, carnivorous animals, and death to get back at humanity for their sin. Young earth creationists inadvertently buy into the atheistic worldview that suffering could not have been the original intent of God, stating that the earth was created "for our pleasure." However, the Bible says that God created carnivores, and that the death of animals and plants was part of God's original design for the earth.
Dr. Ross looks the creation date controversy from a biblical, historical, and scientific perspective. Most of the book deals with what the Bible has to say about the days of creation. Ross concludes that biblical models of creation should be tested through the whole of scripture and the revelations of nature.
The Genesis Debate: Three teams of evangelical scholars tackle the question of how God created the universe by presenting and defending their respective views in a lively, yet friendly, forum. J. Ligon Duncan III and David W. Hall defend the view that the Genesis creation days are six, sequential days, each 24 hours long (the 24-hour view). Hugh Ross and Gleason L. Archer defend the view that the Genesis creation days are six sequential ages of time of unspecified but finite duration (the day-age view). And Lee Irons with Meredith G. Kline defend the view that the Genesis creation days are presented as normal days, but that the picture of God's creating in six days and resting on the seventh is figurative (the Framework view).
Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe
Darwin's Black Box discusses the problems associated with macroevolution at the level of biochemistry and molecular biology and presents the case for intelligent design.
The Genesis Question by Hugh Ross
Theory of Creation by Jim Schicatano