What is Biblical Creation and why is it important?
By Dr Donald Chittick, in reply to a letter from a questioner
Irrespective of particular beliefs, one thing that seems very widespread and I hear continually in various forms goes something like this: ‘Genesis was never intended to tell us the “how” of creation, but rather only the “who” (God) and the “what” (everything). May God, our great Creator, be forever praised…’.
I believe whole-heartedly that 6-day, young earth creationism is Biblical truth, but could you please tell me exactly why you feel it is IMPORTANT Biblical truth? I think you’d agree that some Biblical truths are more important than others. For example, I believe that the Bible supports immersion baptism. However, if I attend a church service where a friend of mine is sprinkle baptized, I’m not going to tell him, ‘No, that doesn’t count. There’s never any sprinkling mentioned in the Bible. You aren’t REALLY baptized until you’re dunked…’ because I consider the truth of the METHOD of baptism to be relatively UNIMPORTANT truth.
However on things like the doctrine of salvation, now that’s IMPORTANT truth. So my question is why is scientific creationism important truth, and how important is it?
A lot of people I know would classify the whole creation/evolution issue as unimportant and in the same realm as the immersion/sprinkling issue. They would say that it is IMPORTANT to honor God as the Creator of all things, but UNIMPORTANT and perhaps even detrimental to advocate one method of creation above another.
The faculty here (Messiah College) are scientists but would consider creation/evolution issues unimportant and irrelevant. Not only that, but they would probably consider creationist beliefs to be detrimental because of the division they would cause among Christians over an UNIMPORTANT issue.
What about advocating creationism? Does this not cause division and disunity in the family of God? At the very least wouldn’t it represent wasted time that could have been spent preaching the core truth of salvation? This would all be true if creationism were unimportant truth.
That’s why it’s so crucial that I understand WHY 6-day, young earth creationism is indeed FOUNDATIONAL and IMPORTANT truth.
My two roommates are both progressive creationists. We’re fairly close friends, but I’ve caused a certain amount of division and tension between us by bringing up my creationist beliefs. Should I not rather talk with them only about our shared desire to know God, to seek His will, and grow closer to Him? One of my roommates (he’s my best friend on campus) is a progressive creationist engaged to a girl who’s a 6-day creationist (she went to some Ken Ham meetings). One day when the three of us were together I brought up the subject, mentioning that I wouldn’t court or consider marrying someone who has different creationist beliefs than I do (seeing that I consider these beliefs important and foundational). This caused a slight bit of tension between them.
However I doubt that this difference will ever amount to much seeing that Kristin doesn’t see her 6-day creationist beliefs as all that foundational, important, or relevant to everyday life, even though she does hold to them.
You were telling us of the primary importance of helping people ask themselves about why they believe what they believe rather than trying to convince them with evidence. Could you explain this again please? What about people who are Christians and think that they are doing their best to serve, glorify, and honor God, their Creator and Savior, while de-emphasizing the ‘how’ of creation?
I’m friends with a Prof. who’s published a fascinating paper which basically states the following: ‘We’d expect the Bible to correlate with the truth revealed by science. If it doesn’t, we have two options: either the science is biased or needs to be reinterpreted OR we are misinterpreting the Bible.’ I think that our faculty believes a science biased towards evolution and have accordingly had to reinterpret the Bible as being poetic and non-literal in Genesis. They believe that I’m misinterpreting Genesis by taking it literally, and thus have adopted a science biased towards literal creationism.
I had dinner with Dr. Howard Jay VanTill. The main theme and purpose of his talk (and life) is to make Christians realize that they don’t need to be anti-evolutionist. He starts by saying that throughout history it has been commonly thought by both the Christian and secular world that to be a Christian you must be against evolution. Dr. VanTill firmly believes that as Christians we can no longer let naturalism claim the truth of evolution for itself. Christians must claim the truth that God, in His great power and wisdom, created the first ‘something’ with all of the incredible potential of evolving into what we see (and are) today. It was scary how he tried to give God glory through having caused everything to evolve!
I’m planning to go to grad school this fall and will need be applying shortly. I’m in the process of trying to find a faculty member to research with. Recently I was thinking that it might be very difficult to research with and write papers in conjunction with someone who believes in evolution, without compromising my standards. Have you dealt with or thought at all about this?
One point of important difference that I think is primary in helping progressive creationists to rethink their beliefs, is the issue of death before the Fall. Could you please write me or tell me where I could get info on this specific issue?
Progressive creationists downplay the Fall because they ‘need’ for there to have been death before it. They underline the fact that plants and plant cells died, and the Bible doesn’t tell us that no animals died, before the Fall. I sense that in God’s eyes there’s a distinct difference between animal and plant death. Is this so?
Also, the Bible tells us that at the Fall, physiological changes occurred (e.g. women would give birth in pain). This change would have included animals developing characteristics for carnivorous lifestyles, right? However some animals have an anatomy so entirely constructed for feeding on flesh that it seems they would have not existed or would have been unrecognizably different before the Fall. How did this take place?
Dr Chittick’s answer
To give a genuinely adequate answer to your questions would require almost a whole book. However, I shall at least try to summarize my responses for you here.
You asked why creation is more important than (say) the issue of the mode of baptism. Obviously, both are important, because anything in God’s Word is important. All that is there is there by God’s will. II Timothy 3:16-17 says, ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works’.
However, as you suggest, there indeed may well be a hierarchy of truth. In geometry, for example, we have a theorem and it is more important than corollaries derived from it, so a similar situation may hold here with respect to creation vs. mode of baptism. Creation is a fundamental theorem, as it were.
In providing a summary of my assessment of the situation I will first consider the question, ‘What is Biblical creation?’ and then consider why it is important. The bottom line, though, is a conflict between religious world views. Literal direct creationism is in conflict with what Phillip Johnson has termed ‘theistic naturalism’ (theistic evolutionism, progressive creationism, etc.). That in summary is why the issue is important. Now let me try to amplify that by providing a few details.
What is Biblical Creation?
Biblical creation is supernatural. In plain language it was a miracle. Creation was by direct acts of the Creator as opposed to some naturalistic process. ‘In the BEGINNING God created the heaven and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1). Creation took place in the beginning and was finished and complete. Creation was not spread out over a major portion of the supposed evolutionary vast time history of the universe. Creation was by the word of the Creator. The Creator spoke things into existence. In Genesis 1 we read of a series of ‘And God said’ statements. Also we read in Psalm 33:6&9, ‘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.’
Biblical creation is also creation EX NIHILO. First there was nothing and then there was something. No time was involved. The Creator did not need matter or energy or anything else. He is first. All else is second. In fact the basic meaning of the word create implies that there was nothing and then there was something. Some other religions have concepts of creation and a creator, but in all other cases the creator is inferior to the Biblical Creator. Other creators had to use material which already existed and they simply rearranged it as it were.
Mormonism is an example. In the Bible and only in the Bible do we have the high concept of creation ex nihilo. Scriptural passages documenting creation ex nihilo are Psalm 19, Proverbs 8, Colossians 1:16-17 (For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers, all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.) and Hebrews 11:3 (Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.). Thus Biblical creation is supernatural.
Why is Biblical Creation important?
Literal Biblical creationism identifies God. Our culture today is confused over the meaning of the word GOD. In today’s culture, God could mean a set of moral standards, or an idea, or the universe itself, on an individual such as Shirley MacLaine, or even each individual himself.
When I lecture on university and high school campuses, I seldom use the word GOD, because it has lost its meaning. Instead I use the word CREATOR. Generally people understand this word and concept.
The first verse of the Bible identifies who God is. He is the Creator, not an idea, not a moral standard, etc.; He is the Creator. All of Scripture agrees and supports that point. The Bible begins that way, and continues on through the Psalms (Psalm 19:1 says, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork.’) the epistles (Colossians 1:16-17), and the last book of the Bible (Revelation 4:11 says, ‘Thou are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’). Thus the concept of literal creation identifies the Creator.
The second point is that creation identifies man. Man is not just a body, a stack of chemicals, as it were, which arrived by natural processes. Yes, man does have a body, but he also has a mind and a spirit (Genesis 1:26-27 says, ‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.’). Man is in the personality image of the Creator.
That is the basis for our praising the Creator, our worship of the Him (Psalm 100 says, ‘Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.’).
The third point is that creation is the basis of the Gospel. Man was created perfect, but in Genesis 3 we have the account of the Fall. Man was tempted to substitute his own autonomous truth standard for the Creator’s absolute. Up until the Fall, the Creator’s Word was the test and standard for truth. The Creator said, ‘Don’t eat this fruit.’
All ideas were compared to what the Creator said. Any idea that didn’t agree would therefore be wrong because the Creator would not lie. At the Fall, man was tempted to move away from the Creator’s standard of truth, and to substitute his own.
As a result, death came into the universe. Death is abnormal. Man was not created to die. We have a right to cry at a funeral. Romans 5:12 says, ‘Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.’
Death entered the world when man sinned. In fact, man’s sin affected the entire creation (Romans 8:22, ‘For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.’).
Man therefore needs a Savior and the first promise and prophecy of that was Genesis 3:15. The phrase is, ‘the seed of the woman’.
That phrase should stand out like a red neon sign. All of the rest of Scripture, and even in our culture today, children take the father’s name. But here we have ‘seed of the woman’ (offspring of the woman); a child would be born, a virgin-born Son of God, ‘seed of the Woman’, to be our Savior. So man was created, has fallen, and needs a Savior.
Now, when man fell, it wasn’t just a moral fall (it was that), it wasn’t just a spiritual fall (it was that), it wasn’t just an emotional fall (it was that), but it was also an intellectual fall.
The total man fell. Instead of being spiritually in tune with our Creator, man is now spiritually dead and normally uninterested in spiritual things. Instead of being excited and at peace with God, man is emotionally estranged from God and angry at Him. Instead of normally wanting to do what is right, our normal tendency is to do what is wrong; we fell morally. We have to work at being good. A baby does not have to be trained to be bad, but to be good. Bad comes naturally.
But we also fell intellectually. Instead of using the Creator’s Word as our test of truth, our natural tendency now is to use our own opinions, the opinions of rebellious, fallen man. The total man fell.
Because the total man fell, salvation also is for the total man. Man has to be converted spiritually (to be alive and alert and responsive to God the Creator); he has to be converted emotionally (to have peace with the Creator); and there has to be repentance (a moral change); but man also needs to be converted intellectually. He has to again move back to the Creator’s Word as his test for truth. Romans 12:2 describes this, ‘and be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God’.
Conversion involves a renewed mind. Saying it in our terms, we start with a new worldview, the worldview of absolute truth given to us by the Creator. The Fall was a rejection of the Creator’s word as truth test. Conversion involves a rejection of men’s opinions as truth test and back to the Creator’s word. Our presupposition is that Scripture, now, becomes our standard for truth.
Conversion may involve all four steps at once, spiritual, emotional, moral, and intellectual. Often it does. But many times it does not. I was spiritually converted, emotionally converted, and morally converted before I was totally intellectually converted. It took a long while to sort out all the issues. Therefore I must be patient with those who are still working on these issues.
So we have then two methodologies, as summarized in the diagram. Before conversion, our test of truth is men’s opinions, usually ‘secular science as standard for truth.’ If the Bible doesn’t agree with whatever secular science says, then this pre-intellectual conversion methodology says ‘reinterpret the Bible.’
For example, one using this approach might claim that the early Genesis account is only myth or poetic imagery.
After conversion, the Holy Scripture is our standard for truth. If men’s opinions (secular science) disagree with what the Scripture says, then reinterpret ‘science.’
These two methodologies are in conflict. They are two antithetical worldviews, two contrasting approaches.
As David Noebel in his excellent work has pointed out, ‘When presenting the Christian worldview, then, we take the Bible at face value. Call it literal interpretation if you wish, but it is difficult to see how else the writers of the Old and New Testaments meant to be taken. Figures of speech, yes; typologies, yes; analogies, yes; but overall they wrote in simple, straightforward terms. When a writer says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” we understand him to say that there is a God, there was a beginning to creation, that heaven and earth exist, and that God made them. When a writer says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on him shall not perish but have everlasting life,” we understand him to say that there is a God, that God loves, that God sent His Son, and that those who believe Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. It does not take a Ph.D. or a high IQ to comprehend the basic message of the Bible. God’s special revelation is open to everyone.’
In talking with people, I have observed that those who reject a literal interpretation of the Creator’s words in early Genesis do so because they insist that ‘science’ disagrees with that and ‘science’ is absolute truth. When the claim is made that literal creationism must be rejected because it disagrees with science, it indicates philosophical confusion or philosophical ignorance or both. When used this way philosophy is masquerading as ‘science.’
As the ardent evolutionist Dr. George Wald states, ‘… many scientists a century ago chose to regard the belief in spontaneous generation as a “philosophical necessity.” It is a symptom of the philosophical poverty of our time that this necessity is no longer appreciated. Most modern biologists, having reviewed with satisfaction the downfall of the spontaneous generation hypothesis, yet unwilling to accept the alternative belief in special creation, are left with nothing.’
Much of the confusion over creation and evolution would be cleared away if the philosophical foundations behind the two views were more openly discussed. Fortunately the situation may be improving.
Judging from recent scientific literature and letters to editors in scientific publications, there are indications that the philosophical roots of the creation-evolution controversy are being recognized. For example, after an article derogatory toward the creation position appeared as an editorial in a science magazine, a subsequent editorial made the following observation:
‘The scientist enters into a study with certain preconceived notions and interprets the results of the study with the same preconceived notions. True objectivity simply does not exist in the scientific world. A creationist and an evolutionist can agree on the data, the physically observable phenomena (whether it be the distribution of radioisotopes in a given geological structure or the bone formations of a living animal or fossil). They will then proceed to interpret that data according to their own presuppositions (“God created this” or “It all happened by accident”). Both employ the same data, but reach strikingly different conclusions.’(Donald F. Calbreath, The Challenge of Creationism: Another Point of View, American Laboratory, November 1980, 10.)
We must pray that recognition of the part played by presuppositions will become more widely recognized. If miracle is rejected for early Genesis, then on what basis can it be accepted for the resurrection? Certainly the resurrection is a key truth of Christianity.
Again noting that the issue is one about philosophy or worldviews, and not about facts, Phillip Johnson writes:
‘Ironically, while my critique of Darwinism and scientific naturalism has gained a hearing in secular academic debates, it has met with surprising resistance from theistic evolutionists in the Christian academic world. That many Christian college and seminary professors are ardent defenders of Darwinism may seem astonishing, but it is true. … What theistic evolutionists have failed above all to comprehend is that the conflict is not over “facts” but over ways of thinking. … The specific answers they derive may or may not be reconcilable with theism, but the manner of thinking is profoundly atheistic. To accept the answers as indubitably true is inevitably to accept the thinking that generated those answers. That is why I think the appropriate term for the accomodationist position is not “theistic evolution,” but rather “theistic naturalism.” Under either name, it is a disastrous error.’ (Phillip Johnson, Shouting Heresy in the temple of Darwin, Christianity Today, October 24, 1994, p. 26)
Phillip Johnson is entirely correct. If you would look his article up and read the whole article, I believe you will find it useful.
Again quoting Johnson:
‘I decided to start using the term “theistic naturalism” instead of “theistic evolution” because it’s more accurate. Many of the people who call themselves “theistic evolutionists” use that term because it enables them to be orthodox within their church community, and orthodox within the scientific community. What they’re conforming their theism to, however, is not a gradual process that God guides and provides the information for. That’s not what mainstream science teaches. They have to conform their theism to naturalistic evolution, but especially to the naturalistic ways of thinking employed within the scientific community. I give some examples in Chapter 5 of Reason in the Balance (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL, 1995). I think “theistic naturalism” is the precisely accurate term. It’s been very much resented, for the same reason that I think it’s appropriate: it calls attention to the inherent incoherence of attempting to conform a meaningful theism to a naturalistic worldview.’
I hope you will bear with me for such an extended answer. Your questions are so very important. I thought it worthwhile to take this time to answer your basic one of why literal creation is important.
May the Lord grant you His wisdom as you continue to search for His truth.
Your brother in Christ,
Donald E. Chittick