The Theistic Evolution view maintains that the Big Bang (or other leading theories) did, in fact, occur, but it was the means through which God created the universe. In other words, God created science and then guided it supernaturally to produce the world we see today. This appears to answer the otherwise unanswerable questions of who or what came first, why we’re all here, who established the natural order, and so on, as everything still assents to the Creator’s prerogative without denying scientific discovery.
The Christian’s argument against, or in favor of, Theistic Evolution depends on one’s approach. For instance, if evolution must mean that man came from monkeys (Darwinism, or at least what most folks believe Darwin taught) instead of from the dust of the ground as stated in Genesis, many followers of the God of the Bible will understandably respond that Theistic Evolution disagrees with what’s scriptural. Others interpret Genesis and the account of the formation of Adam to describe a lengthy process wherein God used the dust of the ground (Earth matter and particles) to slowly, methodically form life—possibly an ape species (a detail that can change depending on the speaker) and eventually humankind—in His image, over billions of years of natural evolution (key issues with this interpretation are yet to come). Others don’t take issue with matter evolving slowly and naturally over time under God as Planetary Supervisor, so long as monkeys are strictly left out of the picture and Darwinism isn’t the sole account of how Adam came to be.
So what, then, is the difference between Theistic Evolution and Old-Earth Creationism?
Initially, it does appear that Old Earthers and Theistic Evolutionists are synonymous, but, because of some of the conclusions closely associated with each, it’s not quite that simple. Both agree that Earth is very old, and they do have this major point in common. Where they typically differ, however—regardless of their explanation of the first human and their acceptance of Darwinism and the like—is that Theistic Evolutionists allow the natural processes to have been the exclusive vehicle God drove to create. In other words, all pieces, particles, and matter within our known reality can be explained and illustrated by whatever science shows to have happened, and the book of Genesis relates only an allegory of that developing evidence. Logically, this leads to a doubt of the supernatural and purposeful elements of God’s Creation, as B. T. Arnold of Baker Academic’s Encountering the Book of Genesis attests:
Though the theistic evolutionary approach is possible, it is difficult to harmonize Genesis 1–2 with certain evolutionary ideas. The theory of evolution teaches that humans resulted from chance events, the outcome of natural selection and the survival of the fittest. On the other hand, Genesis portrays a first human couple as parents of the whole human race. Adam and Eve were intentionally created by God in his image. This important doctrine, which is confirmed elsewhere in Scripture, is difficult to harmonize with the randomness of evolution.[i]
If the Theistic Evolution school of thought is allowed to go to the extreme, the many miracles recorded in the Bible (an outright defiance of the natural order in every case) can subsequently be disregarded or interpreted away…for how can miracles or supernaturalism remain believable realities when God didn’t even employ that part of His nature and character when He formed the very world we live in?
Old Earthers who distance themselves from the term “Theistic Evolution,” by contrast, are more skeptical of some aspects of the evolutionary model taught today. They may agree with Theistic Evolutionists that the world is old, but on many other points (often including the speed at which Adam was created), Old Earthers allow for science and nature to bow to the authority of God—not the other way around—while they embrace the supernatural element of God’s act in Creation. The term “Progressive Creationists” can at times be stamped on this group, though this branding also covers a collection of people with varying interpretations of certain events. (Note, however, that thousands of Old Earth adherents—among whom are theologians such as Gary Stearman, Tom Horn, Noah Hutchings, and the late Chuck Missler—nevertheless believe there were a literal six days of Creation at the time of Adam and Eve; more on this later.)
By now, it should be clear why we aren’t including a section on the beliefs of the Old Earth group. Not only is the gist captured in the immediately preceding section on Theistic Evolution and how it differs from Old Earth Creationists, but the rest of this book addresses at greater length what they believe and why. (However, note that even the Old Earthers have never produced a book quite like this one. Wait until we get to the dinosaurs…)
With that out of the way, let’s consider when and how the Young Earth chronology was almost irreversibly inaugurated into Christian culture so we can reflect on whether or not their conclusions are the only responsible, biblical ones (as many in my experience have said) Christians can reach on this topic.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO:
Ussher Chronology: A “Powell Doctrine” for the Church?
An important disclaimer early on: Many Young Earthers will not recognize the name “James Ussher” or the term “Ussher Chronology,” and will therefore believe this chapter doesn’t apply to their ministry’s evidences for and arguments in favor of a Young Earth. However, even if it goes by a different name, the spirit of the Young Earth argument is the same or similar in many ministries, and it just so happens that James Ussher was the first to popularize that argument and make it the most widely accepted cosmological Christian apologetic of his time and ever since.
For instance, a Young Earther might say, “I don’t know about that Ussher fellow, but here at [insert name] ministries, we believe in the literal interpretation of Genesis and the Creation epic involving six days of God’s work forming the planet followed by a day of rest. Since Adam was the first human, formed from the dust on the sixth day, we can count family generations from certain world events and other Bible characters’ family generations all the way back to him and narrow down the approximate date or year that God created the world.” Through a rather ingenious and logical process of elimination, this person and/or the ministry they belong to has, perhaps even unknowingly, just referred to the precise calculations and methods used by Ussher to establish the Young Earth theory from the onset of its widespread acceptance, while simultaneously admitting they’ve never heard of him. Certainly, anyone at any time in history—well before Ussher was even born, and for that matter, hundreds of years after his death—could have read the book of Genesis and concluded the same thing on their own: 1) Adam was the first human, and he was made at the same time as planet Earth; therefore 2) Adam’s birthday is within days of Earth’s birthday; which means 3) identifying the age of Earth is a matter of identifying how long ago Adam lived based on the subsequent ancestry from his life forward. But the difference between Ussher and others who have come to the same conclusion was the supreme weight his word carried in the discussion at the time he lived. As the following will show, Ussher’s personal and powerful support for Young Earth deductions was the catalyst that pushed the Young Earth movement to the top of the answer board permanently…or at least for the next four-hundred-plus centuries until the Church began to adopt another apologetic for Creationism.
Chronology is the arrangement of facts and events in the order of time. The writers of the Bible themselves do not adopt any standard era according to which they date events. —M. G. Easton, Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature[ii]
It all started with a crucially important man, alive and thriving among Irish scholars between the years 1625 (the year his work reached paramount importance) and 1656 (the year of his death). From early on, James Ussher studied and mastered multiple languages, making himself a polyglot well before he graduated. His Bachelor of Arts degree from Dublin’s Trinity College was awarded for his rich theological studies when he was around seventeen years old (circa 1598), and, by the time he was approximately twenty (1600–1602), he had received his master of arts degree, becoming an officially appointed as a fellow of the college as well as a prominent priest in the Church of Ireland. It was throughout these days of instruction at Trinity College that he became fluent in biblical Greek and Hebrew,[iii] taking on the role of “respondent” in the realm of philosophy—“a task which he performed with great applause”[iv]—shortly before he transitioned into his position as professor of divinity,[v] developing into an astounding lecturer. In 1607, he became professor of Theological Controversies at Trinity College, earned a doctorate of divinity in 1613, and moved up to the remarkable titles of vice chancellor and vice provost by 1616.
In addition to entering academia at such a young age, Ussher had important connections, both politically and religiously. His grandfather on his mother’s side was a speaker in the Irish Parliament who had helped establish Trinity College,[vi] and his uncle on his father’s side carried one of the most influential titles in Ireland’s religious history: Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. So widespread was his reputation through the high-ranking religious and political circles that, when Ussher traveled to London in 1609, he made quick (and lifelong) friends with some of the most powerful men in England: “Sir John Bourchier, afterwards Earl of Bath, Dr. Davenant, afterwards Bishop of Salisbury, Sir Henry Savile, Mr. Selden, Mr. Briggs, Professor of Astronomy at Oxford, and many others…. His name was now so well known in London, that some notice was taken of him at Court, and he preached before the household.”[vii]
By the time Ussher had grown to release his own scriptural interpretations into the world, his opinions and conclusions already—by birthright and association with important people in Church and secular government—held vital weight. Then, in 1625, he, too, became the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, carrying on his uncle’s title, work, and legacy. The honor was bestowed upon him by none other than King James, himself.
Yes…the King James of the King James Version Bible translation. The two men knew each other, and, although historical accounts of Ussher’s influence behind how that translation was handled by the king, himself, vary from source to source, we know for certain that Ussher Chronology was included in many of the first English study Bibles, perpetuating his apologetics in a tremendously widespread way to both scholars and clergymen.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO:
If this was a biographical work on the life and times of James Ussher, much more could be said of all he accomplished and how his voice gradually became one of the most consequential in the history of the Church to date. Suffice it to say that, when Church leadership, governance, and polity were fractured through the work of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, it would take centuries to sort out the fundamental strongholds that built the theology we now rest on within the Protestant Church, and Ussher’s was a key voice during this era. (I don’t mean to imply that Luther’s work in the Reformation—or the Reformation itself—wasn’t necessary. Quite to the contrary, I believe the Roman Catholic Church was corrupted in most of its pursuits at the time [and still is, in some regard], and the Reformation did much in the way of correcting that. But the Reformation also ignited a bomb in the leadership structure of the Church, and believers of that day were forced to pick sides, which of course distracted from the Church’s mission and theological training.) Every denomination at that time—from Arminianism to Calvinism to Lutheranism—at least in part developed while Ussher was openly supporting or opposing certain teachings, and his impact on these movements was enormous and groundbreaking, branding him forever as an “answer man” when there was a dispute. Likewise, his stance against the papacy garnered great support for his teachings, as the Church was daily splintering farther and farther away from the Roman Catholic hierarchy. (He was key in the earliest controversial debates about whether the biblical, end-time Antichrist could be the pope. Of course, this drew both support and opposition, but either way, everyone was talking about Ussher as an authority on such matters, heightening his popularity among the clergy.) So, as Ussher’s personal interest was Bible study and teaching (as is obvious from his own writings as well from what others wrote about him), his sway within the Church influenced even secular politics throughout Ireland, Scotland, and England during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, as there was a definite, indivisible merger of Church and State in those days throughout many regions. Amidst these conflicts, he acted as an advisor to kings and Parliament.
By 1639, when Ussher wrote one of many works considered masterpieces of the Church—Britannicarum Ecclesiarum Antiquitates (Antiquities of the British Churches), which covered the most extensive and significant historical beliefs of Christianity from Christ forward to Ussher’s day—his opinion on any biblical topic was so widely and immediately accepted that it would take centuries and thousands of polished scholars to challenge any theology or scriptural interpretations he released into the world of Christendom. Those who would have opposed his claims at the time were likely written off as conspiratorial troublemakers.
However, more than any other area, and from his entrance into the education system at a mere eight years old, “the decided leaning of his mind was to historical and chronological inquiries.”[viii] In other words, the chronological order of biblical events was Ussher’s passion; one might even say it was his obsession—likely an accurate assertion in light of the fact that, at around eighteen years old, he absolved himself of any property inheritance after his father’s death, signing over all the land he was entitled to in order to pay for his college fees and study materials to further his research in this area.[ix] In fact, “so rapid was the progress made by the youthful student, that, ere he reached his nineteenth year, he had drawn up, in Latin, a chronicle of the Bible, as far as the Book of Kings.”[x] Chronology was the meat Ussher fed the mind throughout his entire life, and it resulted in his writing so many works that the complete collection has, today, been crammed into a massive library of seventeen large volumes of books, dissertations, sermons, and other documents. Though not every one of these masterpieces centers on chronology, all are at least inspired by, and originate from, his work in sorting out what and who came first in some aspect of human history.
I find myself tempted to go on and on about James Ussher, reflecting not only on the monumental impact he had on society and the portions of his theology that cling on in modern Christianity, but about the man, himself. Despite the ceaseless line of governors, rulers, statesmen, lords, and a long list of other elite and prominent men across the globe who stood before him to seek his council or ask his opinion on matters then reserved for only the highest-ranking officials, Ussher’s nature and character are frequently described by his biographers to be driven by a heart for the Gospel. He wasn’t always a perfect man, and at times he bumped heads with others (of course, that could certainly be said of anyone alive in his day who opposed the Roman Catholic Church), but overall, he is remembered as a God-fearing and upright man who prioritized correct theology and scriptural interpretation every day of his life. Much less could be said about most average Christians today, so his example of passionate ministry is humbling…and inspiring.
I hope his mark on the world of theological pursuits echoes forever throughout the universe, stirring men and women of God, everywhere and in every age, to follow in his footsteps and model their own Bible studies after those of such a devout man as he. I truly mean that, and it must be stated here and now, because what I’m about to say of him would otherwise sound harsher than I intend.
As we proceed through the next few pages, please remember Ussher as a man with only the holiest and most sincere intentions…but in order to approach his chronology with accuracy, we must also remember him as any other mere man who is ultimately, despite his best efforts otherwise, capable of error.
UP NEXT: The Weight of Ussher’s Annals: It’s Happened Before
[i] Arnold, B. T., Encountering the Book of Genesis: A Study of Its Content and Issues. (W. A. Elwell & E. H. Merrill, Eds.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic; 1998), 27.
[ii] Easton, M. G. In Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature (New York: Harper & Brothers; 1893), 144; emphasis added.
[iii] Erlington, Charles, “The Life of James Ussher, D.D., Archbishop of Armagh.” In The Whole Works of the Most Rev. James Ussher, D.D.: Volume 1 (Dublin: Hodges, Smith, and Co.; 1864), 5.
[iv] Ibid., 11.
[v] Ibid., 26.
[vii] Ibid., 29–30.
[viii] Ibid., 5–8.
[ix] Ibid., 10.
[x] Ibid., 8.