Creation or Evolution: Defining the Concepts

By Jerry Bergman, Ph.D. and Richard Bube Ph.D.1 

(Investigator 165, 2015 November)

A major problem in the creation-evolution controversy is that many terms required to properly discuss the issue are often not defined.

The first step to intelligently discuss an issue is to define one’s basic terms. Both the terms “creation” and “evolution” are highly value-laden concepts, and often what the reader means by one or both of these terms is not what the writer meant. Problematically, many positions exist on creationism and origins in general and defining one’s terms is therefore critical. The general subject of origins is taught in many high schools and most colleges, and almost all college science classes, and for this reason teaching this subject requires defining the terms in the classroom.

Only when terms are defined can one determine the position the instructor is using. Teachers teach one or more positions for various reasons, either due to their own personal bias, or the assumption that the empirical research has verified one position and falsified the others. Studies have found that, in general, one position is taught to the exclusion to all others, namely, the first two listed below. This list, although not exhaustive, does delineate some of the more common basic positions on origins. The definitions also help to illustrate the variety of positions that exist on this issue.
The main concern of educators should be to objectively cover the topic, something that is often not being done now. Our concern also is that, of all the positions, only two are usually presented—and most critics of Darwin would be satisfied if both the deistic and evolutionary positions were taught.
The following represent some of the more common positions relative to Western theories of origins.

1. Atheistic Evolution is the position that energy and matter alone can account for the existence of the universe, including the earth and all living things. All that is required is the result of only intrinsic properties of matter and, ultimately, by fortuitous accident. An outside agency or intelligence is ruled out as, not only unnecessary, but non-existent.
2. Materialistic Evolution is where the changes necessary to evolve the universe, the world, and all living things are a result of the operation of time, natural law and chance that do not require any control or intervention by an outside power, but an outside agency is not ruled out.
3. Deism is the view that an outside intelligent agency created the natural laws and the original substance of the universe. This original reality had the potential for the evolution of our universe and all that is in it, including all living forms. The primordial substance was then left on its own to evolve purely according to time and natural law.
4. Classical Deism is where an external power created the original substance of the universe together with its characteristic properties that endowed it with the potential for development of its major structural components, such as galaxies. This original creation, once in existence, was subsequently not acted on by any external force, either for its existence or its development.
5. Modified Deism is like Classical Deism, except that an external God or power may from time to time intervene in the development or maintenance of the material world to effect particular results, or maintain orderly development towards a specific end.
6. Limited Theistic Evolution is where an outside force began the world by originally creating matter and the laws needed to begin the process with the direct goal of creating the world. Once the initial set of creative acts began, the universe was left to develop like a plant developing out of a seed that was designed to produce an adult plant by using water and minerals. Outside intervention is not ruled out at any point in the process to fine tune the system.
7. Theistic Evolution is the position that an outside intelligence created all original matter and has directly and deliberately guided evolution to the present day. Much of the living world, though, is a product of the natural.
8. Theism is the position that all which exists, and all of the changes that occur with time, regardless of the mechanism of that change whether instantaneous, a slow process, or some combination of both, depends for its ultimate existence and continuing moment by moment existence on the constant free activity of God. The universe is separate from God.
9. Pantheism is the view that all of reality is essentially a form of the Divine One, so that not only is God active in all processes of reality, but since the universe is God, it is pointless to speak of the universe as separate from God.
10. Panentheism is like Pantheism, except that God is not exhausted by His identity with the universe, but is more than the universe.
11. Creation by Evolution is a form of Theism in which it is believed that God’s activity is best described as forming and sustaining the world in terms of a directed, purposeful development (evolutionary) process rather than creation by instantaneous creation from nothing, although the initial step or steps may be described as creation from nothing (ex nihilo). An aged universe is accepted.
12. Initial Creationism is a form of Theism in which it is believed that God’s activity is best described as forming and sustaining the world by a series of many instantaneous creation events of materialistic laws and systems, but not complete organisms, at the beginning of earth history. All subsequent development occurs via an evolutionary processes. An aged universe is usually accepted.
13. Progressive Creationism is where many creations by an outside agency at different times throughout history occurred. These ex nihilo creations were of gross forms and limited. Much of the present natural world is purely a result of natural laws. The series of instantaneous creation events were dispersed somewhat evenly in historic time, and what development occurred, if any, via evolutionary processes. An aged universe is often accepted.
14. Special or Direct Creationism is where all basic life kinds are the result of a direct and purposeful creation within a rather defined period by God. Special creation implies a purpose for humankind, and a fairly high level of guidance in the formation of the natural world as we know it. Special creationists believe that only limited change has occurred since the original creation, and they attribute such changes to variation or reshuffling of existing genetic information within the gene pool of the species population. Allows for the appearance of age.
15. Literal Creationism is similar to special or direct creationism except that the instantaneous creation events are believed to have taken place in six 24-hour days around about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. An aged earth is rejected, however, many adherents of this view accept the concept that the earth was created with the appearance of having existed much longer than it actually has, just as Adam, the day he was created, would appear to be a mature adult.
16. Divine Fiat Creationism is where the universe and everything in it is the result of a direct instantaneous creative act by God. Divine Fiat Creationists do not allow for either micro or macroevolution. Most Divine Fiat Creationists hold to a literal 6-day, 24-hour day creation week six thousand years ago. This position is held by few persons today.

In addition, there exist many interpretations of the Biblical book of Genesis, all called Biblical Creationism. The following views represent some of those more commonly held.
1. A completely literal view plus the gap theory: God created by instantaneous fiat, bringing all things from nothing to development in six 24-hour days on a date not more than 10,000 years ago, probably 6,000 years ago. Evidence for an apparently aged universe is attributed to a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, the latter referring either to a re-creation of the earth that was previously destroyed due to judgment against Satan, or a long time period, where Genesis 1:2 refers only to making the existing old earth ready for humans. Rejects all macro-evolution.
2. A completely literal view plus apparent age theory: like (1) above except that evidence for an aged universe is explained in terms of the necessity (or choice) for a created universe that shows apparent evidence of age due to the fact that everything created creation ex-nihilo will have the appearance of age. Rejects all macroevolution.
3. A completely literal view plus flood geology theory: similar to (1) above except that much of the geological evidence for an apparently aged earth is attributed to misinterpretation of data, much of which is actually caused by the worldwide Noachian Flood. Rejects macro-evolution, of all life forms.
4. An essentially literal view plus age/day theories: Genesis conveys historical information, but with some room for figurative elements in the account. Harmonization of science data is achieved by interpreting the Genesis “days” as long ages. Usually rejects macro-evolution, at least of humankind.
5. An essentially non-literal view: holds to the genuineness of the record as revelation of God concerning real historical events. Concludes that all attempts at harmonization with modern science are misguided as beyond the purpose of the text. A variety of terms have been applied to the type of literature in Genesis, but it is often viewed as myth in the technical sense, meaning conveying awareness beyond rational comprehension rather than propositional truth, or saga, prophecy, parable, and confessional liturgy. Willing to consider limited theism evolution, even of humans.
6. A completely non-literal view: holds that the Genesis account is no more divinely inspired than any other literature, and its record is merely the traditions of a particular group of ancient people. Although the Genesis account may have been influenced by certain historical happenings, the account is devoid of any close correlation with actual historical events.

Acknowledgments include Wayne Frair, Clifford Lillo, Theodore Siek, and MaryAnn Stuart.

1Stanford University Professor Emeritus Richard Bube is the former chair of the Department of Materials Science. He has a B.S. from Brown University and a MA and PhD from Princeton University, all in physics. He has published widely on the topic of science-religious issues.