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In the contemporary scientific academy, as is well-known, the word “creationism” derisively refers to a worldview irrevocably rejected by the secular scientific community in general. What may be less well-known is that there are contrastive worldviews generally subsumed under the term “creationism,” and that Christians espousing these worldviews indeed share elements present in “creationism,” but would not necessarily hold all the tenets associated with that term. The purpose of this piece is to: 1) identify the worldview to which the term “creationism” is generally applied, 2) explore contrastive approaches to earth history generally thought to represent “creationism,” and 3) consider two values of a creationist worldview, or what can be called a biblical doctrine of Creation.
Full Ussherian Creationism: A Worldview Representing “Creationism”
On the first page of his 17th-century Annals, Bishop Ussher introduces three initial, seminal notions comprising his worldview regarding creation. One, everything except God was created during the six days of creation a few thousand years ago. Two, the spiritual realm and all the angels were created in the dark portion of the first day of creation week. This understanding means that the angels were created before daybreak on what we now call Sunday morning. Three, the literal and historical six day creation week occurred recently on 4004 B.C. This view suggests that the days of creation are interpreted to mean what one can call literal, historical earth days which we experience today, rather than creation days which are interpreted to be so-called literal divine days which translate into millions of years of earth time for each alleged literal divine day of creation.
This view raises some biblical questions that will be discussed below. However, a scientific question also arises at this point for Christians who endorse the concepts noted above. If distant stars in the galactic universe were created only a few thousand years ago, how is it that stars billions of light years distant from planet Earth can be seen by us today? The answer is that contemporary Christians who incorporate these three elements into their model of earth history assume that when the Lord created the distant stars of the galactic universe, He immediately created light waves extending instantly from all the stars to planet Earth, thus permitting humans to see far distant stars whose existence would otherwise be invisible on our planet.
The three elements indicated above constitute what can be called a full Ussherian worldview. This approach to creation represents the single model of earth history that many people associate with the term “creationism.” Many bodies of Christians ascribe to this world view such as, but not limited to, Southern Baptists, the Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis.
In sum, the distinctive hall marks of present day “creationism” or full Ussherian worldview are its claims of 1) a young universe, young earth, young life on earth, and the young existence of angels in the universe, and 2) that on day four of the creation week, God created light beams extending from the far distant stars to planet Earth rendering their existence visible particularly by the humans to be created on day six of creation.
Contrastive worldviews regarding creation which, on the one hand, hold to a recent creation of life on earth, but which, on the other hand, do not claim that everything but God was created about six thousand years ago, represent models of earth history that may bring confusion to those who associate “creationism” with the full Ussherian view. We turn to a brief description of these contrastive creation approaches to earth history.
Contrastive Creationist Worldview Generally Thought to Represent Creationism, but to Which the Term Creationism Does Not Properly Apply
Some evangelical Christians, such as, but not limited to, Seventh-day Adventists, share several core biblical perspectives found in “creationism” but do not hold to the seminal, hall mark notions of “Ussherian” creationism such as a young universe and the corollary idea that God created light beams on day four of creation week extending from the distant stars to planet Earth. Hence the title “creationism” may cause some confusion when applied to these Christians.
However, given that these Christians believe in a recent creation, their models of earth history might be described as partial, or semi-Ussherian in nature, and could be designated a creationist worldview or a biblical doctrine of creation as a model of earth history.
As a consequence of accepting a recent creation, also advocated by Ussher, Seventh-day Adventists, for example, hold, among other things, three concepts of central importance which are also shared by contemporary full Ussherian Christians. One, Satan and other fallen angels are not considered to be only metaphors for the demonic. Rather, such entities have real, ontological, personal being and existence apart from human perception and can exert negative influence upon human beings.
Two, the original creation was very good and perfect and free from both natural and moral evils of any kind. However, Satan effectively tempted the first human pair to sin against their Creator, thus introducing death, suffering, pain and predation, extinction, and other natural evils to our planet.
Three: A divinely caused judgment flood of global proportions against human sin as described in Genesis 6-9 occurred in earth history. Noah offered sacrifices at the end of the flood, showing that God’s mercy was involved in the event in saving all repentant and believing humans and to finally fulfill His plan of salvation on the cross.
The global nature of the deluge is not only called for by the text, but is important geologically for the following reason. The forming and subsequent sculpting of much, though not all, of the fossil-filled strata of the geologic column occurred during the rising and receding waters of the flood.
However, as distinct from full Ussherian Christians, Seventh-day Adventists officially endorse the biblical teaching that during the creation week, an already existing universe of created, morally free beings rejoiced as God created the first living creatures on this earth a few thousand years ago (Job 2; 38:4-8; Rev 12:7-9). Hence, Adventists believe in an ancient universe, but recent life on earth and a great conflict or controversy between Christ and Satan over the inhabitants of this planet. Many Adventists are open to the notion that the God-created inorganic matter of this planet may have been in existence for long ages prior to the creation week (Gen 1:2).
In the contemporary scientific world dominated by Huttonian and Darwinian concepts of deep time geology and macro-evolutionary theory, both creationism and a creationist worldview carry two key benefits. First, they pose a God of high moral character, in contrast to Darwinian evolutionary theory, which introduces a new temporal method of creation of life forms over millions of years through death, disease, predation, pain and suffering and extinction. Such a method of creation carries fatal implications for the goodness of God if His original creation of life forms is linked to this blundering, wasteful and horridly cruel method of “creation.” If the Creator uses the Darwinian principles as His method of creation, then He is like a demon unworthy of worship.
Fortunately, in His final love call to planet Earth, recorded in Revelation 14:7c the Creator urges us to “worship him who made the heaven, earth, sea and the fountains of waters.” The words “who made the heaven, earth, sea” form a definite allusion to the same words in the fourth commandment of Exodus 20:ll, which says that “in six days the Lord made heaven, earth and the sea . . .” Thus the “him” of Revelation 14:7c is the Lord of Exodus 20:11. This reaffirms the earth history truth that the “him” of Revelation 14, which we are to worship, created the original life forms on earth in six days rather than in millions of years. This consequence means that the Creator created benignly and is thus good and worthy of human worship. This is the first great benefit of believing in the biblical doctrine of Creation. But what about the fossil-filled geologic column? Does it destroy any possibility of a recent creation, and that, therefore, God, if connected to a long age method of creation, must indeed be demonic?
The answer to this crucial challenge is found in the use of the term “fountains of waters” (Rev 14:7c) in the context of the divine judgment message of the passage. This phrase recalls a previous divine event of judgment in terms of the global flood. God’s reaffirmation, in His final message to humanity in the 21st century, of the reality of the global flood encourages geologists and all of us to factor the action of the global flood into the model of earth history. Many believing geologists are convinced from field evidence that the actions of the rising waters of the flood account for much of the forming of basic portions, though not all, of the geologic column. In addition, the actions of the receding waters of the flood account for some, not all, of the streamlined landforms and vast marks of erosion visible on the surface of the planet Earth today. Hence, a recent six day creation is possible since during the global flood, vast portions of the geologic column formed rapidly and after the entrance of sin. This makes possible a recent creation and hence a good Creator worthy of worship. These consequences comprise the first great benefit of a creationist view toward origins.
The second profound benefit of a creationist or a biblical doctrine of a recent six-day creation along with the global flood relates to the gospel of salvation in terms of the cross of Christ and the atonement as follows. The wages or penalty of sin is death (Gen 2:17; Rom 5:12; 6:23; 8:20-21). This sin-death causality is the foundation of the atonement, in that on the cross Jesus bore our penalty and died. However, if the geologic column is a rock record of how God created over millions of years, rather than a rock record of how God punished human sin recently via a global flood, then death in the geologic column shown by the fossils existed long before the first human sin thus undermining the sin-death causality and hence refuting the death of Christ as being the wage of sin for us. This shows how the atonement, the gospel, the centrality of the cross of Christ is undermined if the long age method of creation is correct.
However, the biblical doctrine of a recent creation and the action during a global flood show that there was no death before sin and that, therefore, the gospel, the atonement, the efficacy of the cross of Christ, is preserved. This is the second great benefit and value of a creationist worldview.
While the word “creationism” is often used to cover all forms of belief in the biblical doctrine of creation, it is widely understood to refer to a full Ussherian doctrine of creation. This worldview holds that the entire galactic universe including the spiritual realm of all the angels were created a few thousand years ago. In addition, God created light beams from distant stars to this earth during creation week.
However, other evangelical Christians such as the Seventh-day Adventists, do not hold the above distinctive views regarding creation and so should not be confused with those believing in (Ussherian) “creationism,” but rather recognized as holding a doctrine of Creation in which the first life forms on earth were created recently within a few thousand years during a brief span of six earth days.
Interestingly, Seventh-day Adventists, along with many other evangelical groups hold in common with Christians who believe in “Ussherian” creationism, that an ontologically real Satan and fallen angels effected the historical fall of our first parents into sin, which was followed eventually by a divine global flood because of the great wickedness of humans.
The two-fold benefits of a creationist, or biblical doctrine of creation are deep. First, the good, worship-worthy character of God is preserved by Revelation 14:7c by showing that God created in six days rather than over millions of years of death and suffering, and so on, which, if true, would render Him a demon. During the global flood, whose reality is suggested by the phrase “fountains of waters,” basic portions, but not necessarily all, of the geologic column were formed after the entrance of sin, thus showing that a recent creation is possible which affirms the good worship-worthy character of the Creator.
Second, the gospel of the cross of Christ is preserved by a recent creation followed by a fall and a global flood. During the flood large numbers of creatures were entombed rapidly into the geologic column after the historical fall of our first parents showing that sin existed before death. This means that the atonement and the gospel are preserved.
These consequences show some of the central values of a biblical creation worldview.
John T. Baldwin, Ph.D.
Some Useful Sources
Baldwin, John Templeton, ed. Creation, Catastrophe & Calvary: Why a Global Flood Is Vital for the Atonement Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Association, 2000. See Gerhard Hasel’s seminal treatment on the meaning of day “yom” in Genesis 1. Perhaps Hasel’s work here is the most extensive and scholarly treatment of the term day in the Genesis creation account to be written in in the English language to date.
Baldwin, Gibson, and Thomas. Beyond Imagination. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Assocation, 2013. For the beauties of a six day creation see the first chapters. See chapter three, “A Gift of Balance” for the Sabbath of Creation and why a particular day of worship makes a crucial difference.
Brand, Leonard, and Richard Davidson. Choose You, This Day: Why It Matters What You Believe About Creation. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Association, 2013.
Gibson, James, et. al. Understanding Creation. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Association, 2011.
Whitcomb, John Clement, and Henry M. Morris. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1961.
Ussher, James. The Annals of the World. London: Printed by E. Tyler for J. Crook at the Sign of the Ship in St. Paul, Court-yard, and for G. Bedell, 1658.