HAVE YOU EVER LOOKED at the world around you and marvelled at what you see? There are flowers and trees, mountains and valleys, ocean and sky, a miscellany of creatures ranging from tiny to terrific, and an unfathomably vast cosmos peppered with billions of worlds gathered into galaxies, each one uniquely shaped. Everywhere you look, you see beauty, variety, enormity, fragility, peculiarity; and all of it precisely poised.
Have you ever looked at another human being and wondered at the miracle before you? There is the mystery of human consciousness, the distinctiveness of human personality, the ingenuity of the human machine, the innateness of a basic human morality, the fierceness of human passion for freedom, the urgency of the human search for meaning, the intricacy of the human soul, the preciousness of human life… We are each a living, breathing phenomenon!
It’s amazing, isn’t it, that everything is and that we are among the everything! Our wonderment at what we see around us and in ourselves has given rise to a myriad of questions. The most primal question has to do with origins: How did the universe, and all that is in it, come to be here? How did here come to be anywhere?
God created all things
The Bible—which Christians hold to be the spoken testimony of God—trumpets God as Creator from its very first sentence: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1). It goes on to say that God spent six ‘days’ undertaking His creative work. First He set up the regular pattern of evening and morning that are still seen today; then He created three earthly living spaces—air, ocean and land—and filled each of them with a diversity of life forms. His final work, humankind, was particularly special, for He created us in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27).
If we are to read the first two chapters of Genesis literally (and not symbolically), the question of how everything came to exist is settled: God created all things ex nihilo (out of nothing) by means of His supernatural power manifested in His spoken Word. He did this very quickly—in six 24-hour days—without utilising any ‘natural’ (biological) processes. As Scripture puts it, ‘He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm’ (Psalm 33:9).
A different explanation
All around us, however, a very different explanation of origins is being given. Scientists, academics, governments, public institutions, the media and popular culture are all preaching the same sermon: the universe came into existence through totally natural, ‘blind’ processes that somehow propelled themselves and were thus not driven by a divine Creator. About 13.7 billion years ago, they tell us, there was a Big Bang—a spontaneous explosion of a super-tiny, super-dense particle called a ‘singularity.’ In the wake of this cataclysmic event, numerous collections of matter formed throughout space. One of these, the earth, was a primordial ‘soup’ of amino acids within which simple, protein-based organisms formed. As these organisms began to divide and reproduce, a naturally-occurring and self-sustaining process called evolution got underway, involving a slow but relentless progression into life forms of increasing complexity and diversity.
So then, God isn’t necessary! Everything that exists has ultimately come into being of its own accord. The processes involved weren’t driven by a divine mind or shaped by divine hands, for they didn’t need any omniscient supervision; they drove and steered themselves. The pre-Big Bang singularity was just there; no one created it and no one made it explode. When it did explode, no one caused it to materialise into a universe consisting of space-time, assortments of matter and energy, and the physical laws. No one formed the prehistoric molten earth or ensured that it contained just the right ingredients for life. No one caused those ingredients to order themselves into the information needed for simple, self-replicating (living) organisms to exist. No one determined that the right genetic mutations would occur and accumulate over time to result in the development of conscious (self-aware) beings with an increasingly complex intellectual capacity. No one ensured that this process continued long enough to produce human persons with an inborn moral code and a propensity to look for God. It all just happened by itself.
What far-fetched nonsense! Christians are right to discard it. Anyone who adopts an attitude of humility, and who thus opens their eyes, knows that order does not come from disorder without Someone to arrange it; complexity does not come from simplicity without Someone to develop it; laws do not come from anarchy without Someone in command. This does not change with aeons of time. God is not an option; He is the necessity.
God and evolution
But does this mean you need to be a literal creationist in order to be a Christian? ‘Yes!’ insist a handful of extremists in the creationist camp—but they are wrong. There is an opposing theory, to which genuine followers of Jesus may turn without compromising their salvation: theistic evolution (the opposite to atheistic evolution). This theory says that God created all life forms by causing them to evolve over millions of years rather than by creating them from scratch in six literal days. Advocates of this theory are persuaded by the claim of conventional science that evolution is the process by which all of life came to exist; and yet they uphold God (rather than evolution) as the one and only Creator. Many of them do this just as zealously as the creationists.
If we are to read the first two chapters of Genesis symbolically (and not literally), the question of how everything came to exist is similarly settled: God created all things by means of purely natural processes over a very long span of time. The ‘days’ of the Genesis creation account are to be understood as epochs in evolutionary history rather than as literal 24-hour periods.
Who is right?
So, which group of devotees has the right answer to the how question? Did God create life rapidly by special means, or slowly by ‘natural’ means (which nevertheless required His living, active presence throughout)? To be brutally honest with you, I don’t know! (I’m sorry if this disappoints you.) In truth, I wonder how we can know. I’ve listened to advocates of both theories, attended debates and presentations, and read books and magazines on the issue down through the years. I was once a fervent creationist; then I became a casual theistic evolutionist; but today the how question of creation is, for me, exasperatingly unanswerable. Representatives of both sides refuse to acknowledge that they are wearing ideologically-tinted glasses, while vehemently pressing their case and decrying their adversaries as offending against reason and even against God. I contend that both theories have at least a few hurdles to overcome, either scientific or theological or both. Neither creationism nor theistic evolution is the complete answer in itself. It seems wise to be open to the possibility that God used a combination of both. Perhaps He did something so unimaginable that we don’t have the language or the concepts to know how to categorise it?
It is a big thing to say that you know something about the past when you weren’t there and there wasn’t anywhere. This much I do know: the creationism-evolution debate shouldn’t divide Christians. Unfortunately, though, it sometimes does. Creationists accuse theistic evolutionists—their Christian brothers and sisters—of corrupting pure Christian doctrine and impeding the advancement of the Gospel. Theistic evolutionists accuse creationists of dumbing down the faith, making it impossible for intelligent people to take Christianity seriously. Both groups, however, go too far. You don’t have to be a theistic evolutionist for your faith to be rational, and you don’t have to be a creationist for your faith to be sincere. Knowing how God created, or how long He took to do it, is a secondary issue because it does not determine our salvation. What does determine our salvation is the Father’s love for the world He created, Jesus’ impeccable faithfulness to His Father on our behalf, and the resulting opportunity that is in front of us to practise the faith that God has graciously given us through His Son.
Why God created
I urge you, therefore, to keep the issue of origins in perspective. No matter what conclusion you come to regarding the how question, you don’t need to puzzle over the why question. Why did God create the universe? The Bible repeatedly insinuates that He created it for His own glory (Isaiah 6:3; 43:7; Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20; John 17:24). He wanted, and still wants, the full weight of who He is—His holy character—to be seen and known throughout His creation, most particularly by those He made in His own image. What are you doing to make God’s glory known in God’s world? Are you living in step with His purpose for creating?