1. Young Earth Creationism (YEC)

The Skinny:

Belief that the universe was created miraculously by God around ten thousand years ago (or less).


YECs often insist that their view is the only way to understand and remain faithful to the integrity of the Scriptures. For them, options which integrate evolution or an old earth paradigm compromise the clear teachings of Scripture and even the essence of the Gospel message.

They will often argue (especially since the publication of  The Genesis Flood in 1960) that science is on their side using “catastropheism” or “Flood Geology.” They believe that world-wide biblical catastrophes sufficiently explain the fossil records and other geographic phenomena that might otherwise suggest evolution or an old earth.

They believe in a literal Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, snake talking, and global flood.

Relationship Between science and Scripture:

Scientific discovery always submits to Scripture in all matters. Science is interpreted in light of Scripture. YECs see the early chapters of Genesis, taken at face value, as an accurate and authoritative (even scientific) guide to the basic details of the origin of the universe. Science is of great value so long as it starts with the Bible.

Notable Adherents:

John Calvin, Martin Luther, Henry Morris, Ken Ham, John MacArthur, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Four in ten Americans believe in YEC.

2. Gap Theory Creationism

The Skinny:

Belief that the earth was created by God an indefinite number of years ago, while the creation of humanity happed ten thousand years ago or less.


The explanation for the old age of the universe can be found in a theoretical time gap that exists between the lines of Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. God created the earth and the earth became formless and void. Therefore God instituted the new creation which begins in Genesis 1:2b.

Here is how it looks:

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

—-Indefinite Time Gap—-

Genesis 1:2a And the earth was (i.e. became) formless and void.

This theory allows for an indefinite period of time for the earth to exist before the events laid out in the creation narrative. Gap theorists will differ as to what could have happened on the earth to make it become formless and void. Some will argue for the possibility of a creation which died out prior to humans. This could include dinosaurs and many other extinct species. While this was popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible in the early 20th century, it was eventually replaced with Young Earth Creationism with the rise of “flood geology.”

They normally believe in a literal Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, snake talking, and global flood.

Relationship between science and Scripture:

Typically sees nature as a complementary guide from God which speaks authoritatively to issues about which the Scriptures are unclear or silent. Whatever source (Scripture or nature) is more clear is the authority in matters of origins. If both seem equally clear, yet seemingly conflicting, Scripture is the final source.

Notable Adherents:

Cyrus I. Scofield, Harry Rimmer, A. W. Pink, Donald Grey Barnhouse, Clarence Larkin

3. Time-Relative Creationism

The Skinny:

Belief that the universe could be both young and old, depending on your perspective.


Since time is not a constant (Einstein’s Theory of Relativity), time at the beginning of creation could have moved much more slowly than it does today. From the way time is measured today, the succession of moments (events with a causal relationship of before/after) in the creation narrative equals that of six twenty-four hour periods, but relative to measurements at the time of creation, the events would have transpired much more slowly, allowing for billions of “years” to elapse.

This view, therefore, does not assume a one-to-one correspondence in measurements of time/space/matter phenomena between the time of creation and today or from God’s perspective to ours. They would argue that any presumption upon the radical events of the first “days” of creation is beyond what science should attempt to speak about with any degree of dogmatism. In short, we can’t gauge, measure, or predict, much less be dogmatic about, the physics present at the creation event.

This view may or may not allow for an evolutionary view of creation. When they do, evolution would have happened very quickly from God’s perspective (almost instantaneously), but from the perspective of human science analysis, it happened very slowly.

They normally allow for a literal Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, snake talking, and global flood.

Relationship between science and Scripture:

Typically sees nature as a complementary guide from God which speaks authoritatively to issues about which the Scriptures are unclear or silent. Whatever source (Scripture or nature) is more clear is the authority in matters of origins. If both seem equally clear, yet conflicting, Scripture is the final source.

Notable Adherents:

Seeing as how this view does not dogmatize anything but candid uncertainty, it may be broad enough to house all those who simply say, “Who knows?”

4. Old Earth Creationism (OEC)
(also Progressive Creationists, Day-Age Creationists, and, sometimes, Framework Hypothesis)

The Skinny:

Belief that the universe was created by God somewhere around 15 billion years ago, while the creation of humanity occurred just thousands of years ago.


The old age of the universe can be reconciled with Scripture by understanding the days of Genesis 1 not as literal 24-hour periods, but as periods of time of indefinite length. The word “day,” according to OECs, would be understood the same as in Gen. 2:4 “. . . in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.”

While this view understands the universe is billions of years old, proponents believe that man was created a short time ago. Therefore, they do not believe in evolution.

Most believe in a literal Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, snake talking, and global flood.

Relationship between science and Scripture:

Typically sees nature as a complementary guide from God which speaks authoritatively to issues about which the Scriptures are unclear or silent. Whatever source (Scripture or nature) is more clear is the authority in matters of origins. If both seem equally clear, yet conflicting, Scripture is the final source.

Some Notable Adherents:

Hugh Ross, Francis Schaeffer, Norman Geisler, and possibly St. Augustine

5. Deistic Evolution* (DE; often just “Theistic Evolution”):

The Skinny:

Belief, as Darwinian Evolutionists, that God created the universe over billions of years, using naturalistic evolutionary processes to create humanity without intervention.


I call this “deistic evolution” due to the “hands-off” approach God takes to the development of man in the evolutionary process. Darwinian evolution, through the process of natural selection, is accepted. While there is across-the-board agreement that God did not/does not intervene in the process of evolution, DEers are divided as to whether God directly caused the first life to begin or whether he let life come into being naturalistically (abiogenisis).

Concerning Adam and Eve, the views are diverse and, often, complex. Some believe that the first few chapters of Genesis are a creation myth that served as a polemic against other gods and should not be taken literally. Adam and Eve, in this case, would simply be literary, symbolic figures representing the fall of humanity and the ensuing curse. Others believe that toward the end of the evolutionary process, God, through an act of special creation, created and elected Adam and Eve as the representative heads of the human race. Others believe that God did not use special creation, but appointed already existing humans as representatives for humanity, calling them Adam and Eve.

They normally do not believe in a snake talking and usually believe that the flood was local.

Relationship Between Science and Scripture:

DEers employ a type of science known as “methodological naturalism,” believing that the assumption of God should never be invoked at any point to explain naturalistic phenomena. Therefore, no matter how much science may lack understanding as to the “gaps” in our knowledge about the process of evolution, supernatural intervention should never be seen as an option; otherwise, the data is tainted with a “god-of-the-gaps” approach. This is to be distinguished from “philosophical naturalism,” which assumes the complete absence of God in its very philosophy, not just method of inquiry. This view places a higher authority on matter’s origins in their interpretation of nature through science than through Scripture seeing as how, according to them, Scripture does not speak clearly on these issues.

Notable Adherents:

The majority of Christian scientists, B.B. Warfield, C.S. Lewis, Pete Enns, Catholic Church (open to the theory, yet not dogmatized officially)

*Please note, I have never heard this referred to as “deistic evolution” so the designation may be original here. As well, don’t confuse this with theological deism which believes that God does not (indeed, can not) intervene in the affairs of humans at all.

6. Intelligent Design (ID)

The Skinny:

Belief that science itself, without reference to the Bible or any other religious book, points to the reality of an intelligent designer.


It is difficult to classify ID as a a distinct option among these listed. In fact, IDers can fit into any one of these groups except deistic evolutionists. For example, many IDers are theistic evolutionists, but they don’t believe that God took a “hands-off” approach in the process of evolution (otherwise, they would be deistic evolutionists).

It could look like this:

They argue that Darwinian evolution is insufficient to account for the “irreducible complexity” found in so much of creation. Science itself, according to IDers, needs an intelligent explanation to account for phenomena of the universe. God must have had his intervening hand in the process. Therefore, methodological naturalism is denied.

However, IDers are not arguing for a specific model of creation. They simply argue that there is sufficient reason to believe that science points to the hand of a designer.

Relationship between science and Scripture:

In theory, IDers are not about invoking any religious tradition into their agenda. Therefore, they distance their method of inquiry from any religious text.

Notable Adherents:

Michael Behe, William Dembski, Phillip Johnson, Stephen C. Meyer

A word of caution:

I believe that one can be a legitimate Christian and hold to any one of these views. While I lean in the direction of some sort of Time-Relative creation, I only do this because my main contention is that it is very unwise to be dogmatic. Though I used to be favorable to it, I now reject methodological naturalism, believing it leads to preset conclusions that end up being awkward, unnecessary, and very unscientific. Therefore, though I rejected it at one time, I have come to accept ID as a responsible approach to these matters.

In the end, I believe that the best anyone can do is lean in one direction or another. Being overly dogmatic about these issues expresses, in my opinion, more ignorance than knowledge. Each position has many apparent difficulties and many virtues.

While I believe this is an issue we should continue to discuss with excitement and hope, this is not an issue, in my opinion, that should fracture Christian fellowship.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    177 replies to "The Creation-Evolution Debate in a Nutshell"

    • Daniel Eaton

      BB Warfield may be incorrectly labeled as a Darwinist, but there are a lot of people that would accept natural processes and some type of God-directed “evolution”. Are you suggesting that the quotes attributed to him on the Wiki article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._B._Warfield#Evolution) and other places are incorrect? If he indeed said those things, then he definitely falls into the Theistic/Deistic Evolution camp.

    • GLW Johnson

      Please check the sources I cited.The Wiki piece, as it regularly does, relies on secondary sources and in this case badly flawed ones. BBW did use the term ‘evolution’ but he nuanced it primarily as it refers to macroevoultion. Futhermore, he affirmed the historicity of the Genesis account of creation in no uncertain terms.

    • John I.

      Dr. M. @ #127, “what is the most likely interpretation given the original hearers/readers?”

      Most likely interpretation/ understanding by original oral story tellers and writers: Old Earth.

      Genesis does not lead to a different conclusion for the age of the earth than science, so one does not have to choose between the direction that Gen. points and the direction that science points. It is a modernist, shallowly interpretive, culture biased interpretation that leads to the view that Gen. is only young earth.

      It is bibliolatry to view an old earth, or even “errors” in the Bible as leading inevitably to a fatal loss of faith. We know the risen Jesus an he has sent us the Spirit. The earliest Christians had no N. Testament and did fine. Even if the Bible were only treated as just another historical document, we would have enough to justify a belief in Jesus as a resurrected saviour.

    • Luke N

      I just want to throw this in: since we’re talking about an inevitable loss of faith. My parents, brother, and other family and friends can all testify to my complete dedication to Christ as a child and a teenager. My parents can also testify to my staunch YEC beliefs during that same time.

      What caused me to almost abandon the faith, was not an OEC interpretation of Genesis. What caused me to almost leave the faith was that YEC is in direct conflict with the record of nature. I was taught that the Bible strictly teaches YEC and has no room for OEC. I was also told that God was the creator and inspired Scripture. The logical conclusion: God lied. But God cannot lie. So we have a contradiction between what Christianity teaches and reality. Which means that Christianity must be false.

      It was only after I reached this conclusion (but refused to accept it) that I found the OEC interpretation. God kept me by showing me the OEC interpretation of Genesis. See my story: http://fwd4

    • Daniel Eaton

      GLW, I too affirm the historicity of the Genesis account. But *some* of my views on what the text says would probably fall under the Theistic/Deistic Evolution and/or ID camps. If you read Genesis 1 carefully, the EARTH produces a lot of things. So the fact that BBW believes Genesis to be historical doesn’t mean that he doesn’t fit within that camp.
      As far as primary versus secondary sources goes, I have no reason to trust your footnotes any more than the footnotes in the Wiki article. He either said those things or he didn’t. If he *did*, then I stand in Michael’s court in categorizing him the way he did. The fact that church leaders of the early 20th century had no problem with old ages and/or evolution is well documented historical fact. Even the most fundamentalist of Christian colleges were teaching different flavors of old-earth creationism. If BBW *didn’t* fall into that category, *that* would be the surprising thing.

    • […] C. Michael Patton has provided a nice short summary of each of the major Christian positions on creationism and evolution here. […]

    • GLW Johnson

      Listing BBW along with Peter Enns-who does NOT hold the same views as Warfield on the historicity of Adam, Eve and the Fall- calls for a completely diffirent catagory .The two share very little in common.

    • GLW Johnson

      I would suggest you read the primarily sources. The pieces I listed do provide a more complete picture of BBW ‘s position than that suggested by Wiki.

    • Daniel Radke

      I appreciate your helpful article summarizing the varying views on creation and evolution held by Christians. However, I believe you are quite mistaken to list B.B. Warfield under the category of Deistic/Theistic Evolutionists. While he pondered this view in his early days, he rejected any view of origins that denies “that man originated as the result of God’s supernatural creative activity. The Genesis account insists on this” (Fred G. Zaspel, The Theology of B.B. Warfield, Crossway, 2010, p. 375). While he left open the possibility that evolution may be shown to be true, he never embraced it. Warfield wrote in 1908, “What most impresses the layman as he surveys the whole body of these evolutionary theories in the mass is their highly speculative character” (Benjamin B. Warfield, Evolution, Science, and Scripture; 244-245). For more on Warfield and his view of evolution please consult Zaspel’s book cited herein, as well as his journal article in Themelios 35.2 (2010): 198-211.

    • Daniel Eaton

      GLW, they don’t HAVE to have much in common – just the openness to natural processes. That is all it takes to make the categorization to be accurate. I read one of the pieces you mention and it lists a lot of OTHER things he said, but doesn’t refute the quotes supporting naturalistic processes. As far as your personal article goes, I could not find it. A link to that would be beneficial.
      I think that the core of the dispute here is we have set up a dichotomy where you believe in a literal Adam and Eve that were specially created or you believe in natural processes. It doesn’t even have to be Darwinian in the sense that you see survival of the fittest as the process. But it isn’t an either-or situation. One can believe in BOTH. I do. The quotes from BBW suggest I’m in good company there. At the very least, his comments would not be accepted by the YEC’s who see any other position as “evolution” or a compromise with it.

    • Erin

      Why do people insist that the Bible serve as a scientific text? Isn’t it written to the ancient peoples (who didn’t have the modern science background people can have now)? So, it seems to me, that God would speak in a way that they (the original audience) would understand.

      The biggest problem I have with YEC is that it creates such a huge divide between faith and science. I took a group of undergraduate students to a physics conference in April and there was a YEC there who actually told one of my students that he could not be both a man of God and a man of science. Very upsetting (for both my student and me).

      FYI — I don’t usually comment on blogs (or read many, for that matter). I hope I haven’t offended anyone. My apologies if I have.

    • […] Here’s a breakdown on the whole Creation-Evolution debate neatly condensed, boxed and tied with a ribbon at the Parchment & Pen blog. […]

    • GLW Johnson

      Thank you Daniel Radke. I do wish that DE would read Zasper.

    • rayner markley

      Michael: ‘Whatever source (Scripture or nature) is more clear is the authority in matters of origins. If both seem equally clear, yet seemingly conflicting, Scripture is the final source.’

      This sounds fine at first reading, but people don’t act that way. It implies that scripture is the final source unless or until the evidence from nature becomes clearer to us. Naturalists keep looking for clearer natural evidence. Since the body of Scripture isn’t expanding as our knowledge of nature is, it’s a one-way movement. Scripture turns out to be just an inferior temporary source for matters of natural history. The question of the history of the earth and life on earth is at some point scientific and not religious.

    • John I.

      re Michael & r markley, on Michael’s statement, “If both seem equally clear . . .”

      If one could get two theologians or Bible scholars to agree that both seem equally clear . . .

    • Jim Bob

      I find it interesting that with more time and analysis what we believed about Darwinism is shown to be inaccurate. The fossil record disproves evolution. What we are learning about rock formation, i.e. – that the evidence demonstrates a great and massive flood occurring with the layers of rock forming not over millions of years, but in a matter of day and years. With relativity it seems that if things were happening at the speed of light or close to it, it should be easy to determine for the physicist that how we view a 24 hour day could be mapped to events happening with great speed. DNA shows evolution could not have occurred.

      When will we wake up to the creator, the evidence, it is before us.

    • Daniel

      Jim Bob, just who is teaching all this new evidence that our rock formations were laid down in a matter of days? And did they happen to point out things like footprints in these layers that prove that they were all laid down at different times?

    • Don Kaspersen

      I have just gone through the whole thread and a number of thoughts occur:

      1. A book means what the author intends. The reader gets it or he doesn’t. His opinions are only relevant to himself, unless they are identical to those of the author’s intention.

      2. An author writes to his audience of the moment. Neither Homer or Shakespeare made it easy for us in our century.

      3. In any ancient writing there may be clues to the original audience that what is spoken is meant to be taken as parable, metaphor or sketched outline. We do not know whether such clues existed for the original readers of Genesis. Words like metaphor and parable are Greek in origin and were not available to the Old Testament writers.

      4. Consider the alternate to a short descriptive passage:
      teaching mathematics, physics, astronomy,biology, etc. to a pastoral people, before you go on to Abraham. I suppose ten to twenty volumes might suffice.

    • Don Kaspersen

      As I get older, 66, now, I find I am less willing to presuppose the divine intention. On occasion, I have been, in a moment, made aware of relationships in scripture, often from four or more books, that astound and that I find would never have been a product of my “genius IQ,” so called. There is a great mind Who exceeds me. I find a little humility worth while.

      On the other hand, I find when I sit down and calculate the probabilities for naturalistic hypotheses, the numbers exceed comprehension. If one clings to an hypothesis that includes an undirected evolution, atheist or deist, you have to fly in the face of the mathematics.
      The apparent mass of the universe is only 10^80 baryons(neutrons, protons,others) and cannot be expected to do all that naturalists want them to do in a mere 14 billion years in our universe or four billion on this earth.

      Nor am I persuaded that multiverses change that at all.

    • […] Post: The Creation-Evolution Debate in a Nutshell – This post presents an overview of 5 (possibly 6) different views on God’s role in […]

    • M.L.

      You’re description of ‘Old Earth Creationism’ (OCE) and ‘Deistic Creationism’ are somewhat confused.

      First of all, the sort of evolution accepted by the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) is not ‘deistic’ or ‘hands off’ in nature, which is why it’s sometimes mockingly characterized by non-theist scientists as a theory of ‘supernatural selection’. They accept the old ages of the earth (about 4.5 billion years) and universe (about 13.7 billion years) agreed upon by most scientists as well as biological evolution of all species, including man. They accept that anatomically modern humans have been around for 100,000 years or more, preceded by non-human ancestors who existed for millions of years prior to that.

      However, they (the RCC) maintain that man’s eventual emergence was not a matter of chance, but that God somehow ‘rigged the deck’ so that the eventual evolution of humans was inevitable. They further claim that upon the emergence of humans, they were supernaturally ‘ensouled’. Some prominent RCC’s have openly expressed sympathy with ID proponents, and there are indications that Pope Benedict is not as comfortable with Darwinian evolution as his predecessor was.

      Also, the terms ‘old earth creationism’, ‘progressive creationism’, and ‘theistic evolution’ are often used interchangeably, and usually refer to people who accept the old age of the earth and universe and the evolution of man and animals, they just contend that evolution ‘just happens to be the way that God did it’. Many progressive creationists/theistic evolutionists/OECs don’t share the RCC’s insistence that God ‘rigged the evolutionary deck’ to produce man. They interpret the Bible as metaphorically, not literally.

      Finally, though the Intelligent Design movement maintains they are not creationists or arguing for the existence of God, it is generally seen as a thinly veiled attempt to reintroduce creationist ideas into public schools in a form that might withstand legal challenges. A notorious document produced by the Discovery Institute (the main hub of the ID movement) was leaked to the press several years ago documents their so-called “Wedge Strategy” for stealthily re-introducing creationism into public schools under the name “Intelligent Design”.

    • John I.

      Re M.L. at 172(?) above,

      who stated, “A notorious document produced by the Discovery Institute (the main hub of the ID movement) was leaked to the press several years ago documents their so-called “Wedge Strategy” for stealthily re-introducing creationism into public schools under the name “Intelligent Design”.”

      That statement is incorrect. First, the Discovery Institute has never advocated the teaching of either intelligent design or creationsim in schools. All they advocate is teaching more evolution, i.e., also including teaching the variety of evolutionary theories and scientific controversies that currently exist in the field.

      Second, the wedge document was never secret, and hence was never leaked.


    • JWS

      The Bible and Science do not conflict. Even though genetic markers go back before Adam and Eve, and who’s to say Adam and Eve didn’t live thousands of years, after all they were initially sin free and presumably would have lived for eternity if it wasn’t for their sin. I believe God breathed his spirit into Adam and Eve, thus the creation of humans with God’s Sprit. Looking at Science, Adam and Eve were probably created 50,000 years ago by God. Scientists have no means of detecting God’s sprit within the DNA, so there is no conflict. Christians are fixated on the 24 hour day. Heck, the solar day wasn’t even conceived until between 2,000 and 4,000 years ago by the ancient Egyptians. For all we know one of God’s years could be a billion years. It is clearly the misconception of time that puts the Creationists at odds with the Evolutionists. And who’s to say God didn’t create Adam and Eve through evolution before he breathed his spirit into them?

    • […] Michael Patton lists six views of on the creation/evolution debate that I think are a little more helpful for the creation/evolution discussion: […]

    • Tio

      Came late here but: Isn’t soul mind? In Greek psyche = soul not “mind”. And it is with my mind I believe,pray,repent, accept God’s gift etc. Lets call soul = consciousness, self awareness. If that is a possibility in your studies; now when you analyze how you get it (you weren’t fully cooked yet at two years old) then we can see an evolution of potential called consciousness, soul. So we (our souls) are our minds, inseparable at the ideal of God’s perfection in creation. So TE is easy…it is just the process, of the goal (souls) from the ideal. TE and DNA is scary, it explains so much of the “everything in its own species”, for why would I have dormant chicken genes? But we are learning and they really need to get together and start a new approach in interpreting Genesis and the rest of Scripture. They have found “how does this works”, now they have to teach it in a logical matter. I think they are great scientists but poor philosophers or theologians and if they are going to monkey with my theology they need to do a better job. Things like the fall, second Adam in Christ, where is the ideal of immortality for Adam in this new paradigm is explain. When they get courage and start doing theological evolution then they will star making sense to us fossilized in dogma Calvinists, fundamentalists and literalists! It will come….I like Augustine’s “The Real Meaning of Genesis”… I spent a whole night with a pastor arguing that if I was witnessing to someone who was an evolutionist, I could agree with him and then bring Christ to him. Why would I let this issue stop me from bringing Christ to someone? Weird this pastor was telling me “you can not do that, you can’t agree with that person”; mind you, that was before I researched a bit and became a believer in evolution, after all it doesn’t damage the Gospel of Christ my faith or my salvation! You know what debate would be better? One that would bring answers to shut the trap of so many mockers of our…

    • Daniel

      Defending the Bible from attack is one thing. Conflating our fairly recent creation model with what “the Bible clearly says” is a dangerous thing though. Church history is full of different interpretations of what this text “clearly” is teaching. The fourth century St Ephrem the Syrian, for example, has a commentary on Genesis where he shows how this text is “clearly” teaching about the creation of the world out of the elements of earth, wind, fire, and water and which waters were salty and which were sweet and even how the moon was created older than the sun. Every generation has seen this text as answering their particular questions. Ours is no different in that regard. Today’s polarization and dogmatism on the topic, like some folk’s eschatology, suggests that we alone have it all figured out the rest of church history were either outright wrong or only partly right. From my perspective, promoting the idea where we conflate OUR interpretations of things with what God said and shifting our focus from a text all about God and what He did to be about the dating of and mechanics of construction of material things is the kind of thing that Wormwood would encourage Screwtape to do. And considering the rabid attacks on fellow brothers in Christ who have a different take on these things, I’m sure the Great Deceiver is pretty pleased how this is turning out.

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