Creationism Is Back

When it comes to secular origin stories, creationism is everywhere.

I’m not talking about the origins of life. Evolution remains the favorite answer to that question. But when it comes to the creation of the modern world—our Western, liberal outlook—the denial of evolution is everywhere. Nowadays your average Westerner considers their values, goals, and moral intuitions to have emerged, almost miraculously, from the darkness of ancient religions and superstition. Such convictions have arrived in history, so it’s assumed, fully formed and without dependence on prior beliefs and practices.

But a more careful historian—one who pays attention to cultural developments over the centuries—will deny such creationism. In particular, he or she will see the undeniably Christian origins of a secular-liberal worldview. Let me give two examples: modern science and the Enlightenment. Both movements are central to the Western imagination, and both display the unmistakable signs of evolution from a common ancestor.

The common ancestor is, of course, Christianity.

The Scientific (R)evolution
A popular telling of the history of science goes something like this. All was darkness until Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) put the sun at the center of the universe. In this brilliant moment of inspiration, science erupts ex nihilo (out of nothing). No primitive ancestors, no intermediate forms—just the emergence, almost fully formed, of a brand-new species called “The Scientific Method.”

When it comes to the origins of science, creationism is rife. So too when we consider modern liberal values.

The Enlightenment (R)evolution
Following the successes of the scientific (r)evolution, thinkers from the 16th and 17th centuries became ever more confident of our rational abilities to explain the world. The philosophical movement that emerged dubbed itself an “age of reason,” in contrast to the former “age of faith.” Having emerged from the “dark ages” of medieval Christendom, they called themselves “the Enlightenment.”

This telling of history is, of course, creationist to the core.

Essentially, the origins story goes like this. The earth was without form and void. Darkness stalked the land, until . . . “Let there be Enlightenment. And there was Enlightenment.” From the black nothingness of the “dark ages” there sprang—somehow—our modern liberal values: human rights, equality, freedom, democracy, separation of church and state—all the building blocks of Western civilization. In six days, roughly speaking, the modern world was made.

But if we’re looking for miracles, we’re about 16 centuries too late.

The Original Revolution

Christians believe in revolution. But for us, enlightenment arrived in the first century, not the 16th. The true Light, who enlightens all, has come into the world (John 1:9). As we look back on the last two millennia, we’re reflecting on an expanding moral universe unleashed by an almighty big bang—when Jesus burst the shackles of death. On the one hand, we can point to the growth of charities, hospitals, orphan care, education, human rights, separation of church and state—and eventually, as we’ve seen, the evolution of modern science. All these are ripples in the ongoing expansion of this “universe.”

But more directly we can point to the church herself, the greatest sociological phenomenon the world has ever seen, continuing her global expanse, just as Christ predicted (Matt. 16:18). Like yeast working through dough or a mustard seed growing into the largest of plants (Matt. 13:31–33), this is a kind of evolution, if you like. Theistic evolution in the realm of history.

The truly creative event of world history was not pulled off by Copernicus or Kant, but by Christ.

Yet such historical evolution is grounded in the ultimate historical revolution. The truly creative event of world history was not pulled off by Copernicus or Kant, but by Christ. Their later and lesser movements—the Scientific and Enlightenment (R)evolutions—are illuminated and eclipsed by his. It is “the year of our Lord” 2022, and, as historian Tom Holland observes, “We remain the children of the Christian revolution: the most disruptive, the most influential, and the most enduring revolution in history.”

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

%d bloggers like this: