6 Theories on the Origin of the Universe

I summarize six views on the origin of the universe and several different interpretations on the six days of creation recorded in Genesis 1–2.

6 Theories on the Origin of the Universe
Photo by Greg Rakozy

Gerald Rau defines six contemporary views on origins in his book Mapping the Origins Debate. I found Rau’s organization helpful as I seek to better understand the various beliefs on the origins of the universe.

In this article, I summarize the six view to help you understand the various belief models. I list several different interpretations on the six days of creation, and I briefly mention intelligent design.

My purpose is not to expound the arguments and the epistemology for each view. I do provide hyperlinks to individuals and organizations that provide more detailed discussions on each view.

The belief in the literal, historical Adam of Genesis is important to the Christian faith. A discussion on the different views of Adam is beyond the scope of this article.

1. Naturalistic Evolution

2. Nonteleological Evolution

  • A supernatural being initiated the evolution process.
  • This supernatural being (cold creator) does not intervene after the universe comes into existence.
  • The evolved universe did not progress with an intended plan (telos).
  • This view is consistent with deism.
  • This view contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Other worldviews include liberal protestantism, process theology, Buddhism, Hinduism and New Age theology.

3. Planned Evolution

  • A supernatural creator had a plan (telos) in view from the beginning.
  • Evolution is affirmed, and it is teleological in nature. Purpose is involved, but the creator does not intercede in the process of evolution.
  • There are natural explanations for everything pertaining to the origin of the universe. That is how the creator had planned it.
  • Adam and Eve were not created as fully formed humans with no ancestor (de novo).
  • This is a type of theistic evolution. Some prefer the term evolutionary creationism or gifted creationism.
  • Worldview is monotheistic, and it includes some from the Jewish, Islamic and Christian faith.
  • Advocates: BioLogos Foundation, Howard Van Till, Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins.
  • Non-corcordist: does not attempt to strictly align the Bible and modern science. (Using Bernard Ramm’s definition of “concordism” in the Christian View of Science and Scripture)

4. Directed Evolution

  • Evolution is the means by which the universe originates.
  • There is a supernatural creator, and he intervenes and directs the universe continuously.
  • Adam and Eve were not created as fully formed humans with no ancestor (de novo).
  • Advocates: Henry Schaefer, Deborah Haarsma and Loren Haarsma.
  • Non-corcordist: does not attempt to strictly align the Bible and modern science.

Three Alternatives to the Six Successive Days of Creation

  1. Framework hypothesis: The days in Genesis 1 are constructed as a literary framework to describe God’s acts of creation. The days in Genesis 1 do not indicate a linear succession of events or a specific amount of measured time.
  2. Analogous Day view: The days in Genesis 1 are God’s workdays, which are analogous to the workdays of human beings, as indicated in Exodus 20:9–11.
  3. Cosmic Temple view: God establishes the whole earth as his temple and resides there on day seven. In Genesis 1, God gives creation function; he is not creating the form. (see John Walton’s Lost World of Genesis One)

5. Old–Earth Creationism

  • God created directly rather than through an evolutionary process.
  • While rejecting evolution, this view still sees the earth as very old (billions of years).
  • The Genesis account is compatible with scientific discovery when properly interpreted.
  • This view supports the literal, historical Adam and Eve in the Genesis account. God personally created Adam and Eve as fully formed humans with no ancestor (de novo).
  • Advocates: Reasons to Believe
  • Strict Corcordist: attempts to strictly align and harmonize the Bible and modern science.

Three Interpretations of the Six Successive Days of Creation

  1. Gap view (rare): There is a gap between the original creation in Genesis 1:1 and the recreation of the world in 6 days in Genesis 1:2. Fossils are part of the old creation in Genesis 1:1.
  2. Intermittent Day view (rare): Each day of creation is 24 hours. Each day is separated by long periods of time when God did no creative work.
  3. Progressive or Day–Age Creation view (popular view): Each day was a long period of time, not just 24 hours.

Old Earth Creationism Advocates

  • 19th century Theologians: Charles Hodge (A.D.1797-1878), A.A. Hodge (A.D.1823-1886), John Gresham Machen (A.D.1881-1937), William G.T. Shedd (A.D. 1820-1894), Benjamin B. Warfield (A.D. 1851-1921).
  • 20th century Theologians: Gleason Archer and R. Laird Harris (co-authors, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament), James Montgomery Boice (Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy), Francis Schaeffer (founder of L’Abri Fellowship), R.A. Torrey (Editor, The Fundamentals (A.D.1907-1917), Edward J. Young (whose work was regarded as “the epitome of conservative exegetical orthodoxy”).
  • Contemporary Theologians and Apologists: John Ankerberg, Bill Bright (Founder, Campus Crusade for Christ), C. John Collins (Chairman, Old Testament Committee, The ESV Bible; Ph.D., Hebrew linguistics), Chuck Colson, Paul Copan, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler (author of Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics), Wayne Grudem (General editor, The ESV Study Bible; author, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine), Hank Hannegraff (Bible Answer Man), Jack Hayford, Walter Kaiser (President Emeritus, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), Phillip E. Johnson (founder of Intelligent Design movement), Greg Koukl (Stand to Reason ministry), J.P. Moreland, J.I. Packer, Nancy Pearcey, Vern Poythress, Earl Radmacher (President Emeritus, Western Seminary), Lee Strobel (author of The Case for Christ, The Case for a Creator), and Dallas Willard.

6. Young–Earth Creationism

  • In the Genesis creation account, God created everything out of nothing (ex nihilo).
  • Scripture is always to be given priority over science. When science draws conclusions that disagree with Genesis 1-2, the conclusions are to be rejected.
  • “Day” in Genesis 1–2 is a literal 24 hour period.
  • God created the universe 6,000-10,000 years ago.
  • God created a mature universe (Adam and Eve and trees). The apparent age and actual age may be different. The earth may appear 4.5 billion years old by natural causes, but it is actually <10,000 years old.
  • There is no animal or human death until after the fall of man in Genesis 3.
  • This view supports the literal, historical Adam and Eve in the Genesis account. God personally created Adam and Eve as fully formed humans with no ancestor (de novo).
  • Advocates: Westminster Confession of Faith, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, Answers in Genesis, Creation Ministries International, Institute for Creation Research, Creation Research Society, John MacArthur, Al Mohler

Intelligent Design

Can we be sure about how old the earth is?

“When people ask me how old the earth is I tell them “I don’t know,” because I don’t. And I’ll tell you why I don’t. In the first place, the Bible does not give us a date of creation. Now it gives us hints and inclinations that would indicate in many cases a young earth. And at the same time you get all this expanding universe and all this astronomical dating, and triangulation and all that stuff coming from outside the church that makes me wonder … Now having said that, that’s a long way to say I don’t know how old the earth is.” (R.C. Sproul at Ligonier 2012 National Conference)