YEC, GT, AoA, OEC, ID, PC, EC, TE? These acronyms refer to theistic models of earth’s biological and physical history. Do you know which models each of these letter combinations refer to? If so, do you know which one best characterizes your view?
If you don’t—or if you don’t know, or are not sure, into which category your beliefs fit —take the polar bear test and identify which model of biological origins best reflects your understanding and beliefs of how God created biological diversity.
Look at either polar bear cub above and ask yourself: What is the origin of this polar bear? All Christians agree that this polar bear was created by God, but how? We can all agree that this particular polar bear cub had parents that were polar bears (we can see the mom right there next to it!). Those parents donated sperm and egg that passed along the hereditary information—the instruction set—that was used to make this polar bear. But what if we were to go back into time, generation by generation. How many generations—how many years—back would we have to go to find the very first polar bear? What would that polar bear have looked like? How was that first polar bear created? How you answer these questions reflects your interpretation of scripture and creation.
Take the origins test below and see how your thoughts about polar bear origins fit with your expectations and understanding of each of the most common origins models.
The Polar Bear Origins Identification Key
Instructions: Start by reading options 1A and 1B. Choose which statement best reflects your opinion and then go the next set of options, as directed. At some point—possibly after only a few statements or many—you will reach a terminal point which will provide a name (or label) that characterizes your position. Scroll down to find the extended description for each origin position to learn more about what your position may be. If the description doesn’t adequately describe what you believe, then you may need to re-evaluate your item responses or reconsider whether that stance is really the one you hold. (Please also see “assumptions and caveats” section
1A: The polar bear, pictured above, is nearly functionally and visually the same as its first ancestor. That first polar bear did not descend from a common ancestor with any other species. (Go to 2)
1B: The polar bear we observe today has changed (functionally and visually) significantly from its ancestors. Polar bears, may or may not share a common ancestor with other species of bears. (Go to 4)
2A. The first polar bear was created directly by God more than 10,000 years ago (Go to 3)
2B. The first polar bear was created directly by God less than 10,000 years ago. Polar bears were created nearly synchronously with other bear species or possibly a brown bear was created first and its “pattern” used as a template for supernatural modification to form a polar bear—or vice verse—on the 6th day of a 6-day 24-hour-day creation week. (YEC-1a Classical Creationism and/or Appearance of Age)
3A. The first polar bear was created as a fully unique creation by God more than 10,000 years ago on the “6th day” of a 6-day creation week as outlined by the Day-Age theory of the origin of the Earth and life on Earth. God’s method of creation could have included modification of a brown bear-like genome (i.e. used a “bear” template as the starting material) though the first polar bear was not born of a brown bear parent. (Progressive Creationism-1)
3B. The first polar bear was created 100% new or possibly via supernatural modification of a brown bear-like genome though not born of a brown bear parent prior to the first day of creation (Gap-theory or Restoration theory)
4A. Polar bears share a common ancestor with other Ursid (bear) species (likely a brown bear). (Go to 5)
4B. The first ancestors of today’s polar bears were specially designed to be different than other bear species but those ancestors looked and/or acted unlike polar bears today (for example, didn’t have sharp teeth or white fur). (Go to 11)
5A. Polar bears as a species came into existence after the creation of the world in six 24-hour days less than 10,000 years ago. (Go to 6)
5B. The common ancestor of a polar bear and brown bear existed more than 10,000 years ago. (Go to 8)
6A. Polar bears emerged from a generic “bear-kind” initially created on the 6th 24-hour day of creation about 6000 to 10,000 years ago. This emergence of polar bears from the first generic bears happened after creation but before Noah’s flood. Noah then preserved a polar bear on the Ark which has not changed substantially through the present day. (No organization or public figure supports this view)
6B. Polar bears emerged from a brown bear ancestor which itself was formed sometime after the ancestors of all bear species–the pair of “Ark” bears–departed from Noah’s Ark only a few thousand years ago. (Go to 7)
7A. Polar bear specific features evolved primary by de-evolution due to mutations-either by chance or God-directed–in the “ark” bear kind resulting in broken down versions of the original more perfect bear genes and sorting out to from many species of bears including the polar bears. (YEC-3 Hyper-Evolution Creationism)
7B. All genetic variation necessary to make the typical polar bear characteristics were pre-loaded (predestined?) into 6th-day creation bear “kind” and were then turned on and expressed in some descendants of the “ark” bear kind to form the polar bear species. (YEC-3 Hyper-Evolution Creationism)
8A. Polar bears originated from a common ancestor shared with brown bears via supernatural input (character trait changes) from God or an intelligent designer (Progressive Creation-1 or Intelligent Design)
8B. Polar bears evolved from a common ancestor shared with brown bears via processes attributable to natural mechanisms such as natural selection, mutations and genetic drift. (Go to 9)
9A. Polar bears evolved from a common ancestor shared with brown bears can be fully described by natural processes but common ancestry of these bears with other carnivores (canines, seals, felines, etc..) via the same mechanisms was not possible. (Progressive Creation-2 or Intelligent Design)
9B. Polar bears evolved from a common ancestor shared with brown bears via evolutionary mechanisms and those processes also describe the origins of that ancestors common ancestors including a shared ancestor with other carnivores. (Go to 10)
10A. The evolution of polar bear from brown bear ancestors was providentially guided/determined and/or for ordained/predestined by God (EC-Full Sovereignty)
10B. The evolution of the polar bear from brown bear ancestors was allowed via natural mechanism but the end products unknown (not predestined by only made possible given the laws by which God has ordained his creation to function) to God before hand. (EC-Open Theism)
11A. The ancestors of living polar bears were created less than 10,000 years ago on the 6th day of creation but those bears were quite different physically and behaviorally to living polar bears. (Go to 12)
11B. The ancestors of polar bears were created more than 10,000 years ago via supernatural means without common ancestry with any other bear but they looked very different from today’s polar bears. Over time they have changed (either via divine intervention/design or via solely natural process (providentially directed) to become the polar bears we recognized today. (Progressive Creationism or Intelligent Design)
12A. When Adam sinned, God supernaturally refashioned the ancestral polar bears with new characteristics that we associate with polar bears alive today. (YEC-1b Post-fall Miraculous Creationism)
12B. When Adam sinned genetic programs that has been pre-installed—due to foreknowledge and planning by God—in the ancestors were turned on or initiated (as a reaction to sin?) allowing all bears, including polar bears, to transform their physical and behavioral traits to become what we observe today. (YEC-2 Post-Lapsarian Epigenetics)
Not all the origins models are mutually exclusive rather some form a continuum. Furthermore, many of these origins models may contain self-contradictory components or not have sufficiently developed to the point to even provide an answer to our question of the origin of the polar bear. Additionally, no two advocates of a particular origins model will be in full agreement on every detail. The definitions provided for each model are meant to be as broadly representative of each model as possible.
In some cases popular origins models are subdivided into a number of subcategories many of which have not yet gained a colloquial name either because they have not achieved a high level of popularity or they have not sought to distinguish themselves from the larger majority position.
Your assigned origins model may not reflect your perceived understanding of origins. This may be because of a lack in consistency in how that origins model understands the origins of different kinds of organisms or it could reflect a lack of familiarity you may have with that model. It could be that your answers would differ if we were asking about the origins of man or your pet cat. In general all origins views are seeking to generate a consistent model that accommodates every question and scenario but the reality is that all origins frameworks have unanswered questions and concerns that may result in inconsistent applications of those models.
APPEARANCE OF AGE
AoA or Apparent Age isn’t a particular model in the sense that adherents believe that they can find evidence to test the model. Rather it is typically put forward as an ad-hoc explanation that could be used in tandem within any theistic model to avoid apparent contradictions with Biblical interpretation and science. Most often it is an attempt to reconcile a young-earth interpretation of the Genesis narrative with the evidence that the Earth is billions of years old. Within the context of biological origins we could call this apparent age the Appearance of Evolution (AoE). For example, someone might recognize that there is abundant evidence that polar bears and brown bears share a common ancestor but argue that God created both bears separately but with the appearance of shared ancestry just like he created Adam with the appearance—via a belly button—of having had been born from a mother.
Advocates: Rev. Al Mohler has supported young-earth creationism but acknowledges that there is much evidence that suggests the Earth is ancient. He attributes this evidence to God creating a world that appears old rather than appearing young despite its actual youthful age.
YOUNG EARTH SPECIAL CREATIONISM MODELS
YEC-1 (Classical Creationist model) The polar bear we see today is effectively the same species that God made on the 5th day of creation. Characteristics of the polar bear we currently perceive as adaptations to a fallen world—such as blubber for cold climates, thick white fur for cold and hiding from prey, and physiology adapted for eating meat—are traits that may have 1) (YEC-1a – Classical model), served some other purpose in the (pre-fall) world or possibly had no initial useful function at all. For example, some YECs argue that T. rex teeth were originally used to shred leaves only, but after sin entered the world those same teeth were used to tear flesh. The trait (sharp teeth) didn’t change, only its function changed. Or they may 2) (YEC-1b Post-fall Miraculous Creation) have been similar to today’s polar bears but God supernaturally refashioned the ancestral polar bears with new characteristics that we associate with polar bears alive today after Adam sinned. For example, a YECs might argue that T. rex teeth were originally functionally designed to eat leaves only, but after sin entered the world God supernaturally transformed those teeth, presumably by altering the underlying genetics, to then make teeth that were used to tear flesh. The trait (sharp teeth) changed due to direct intervention as a response to sin entering the world and made necessary because theropod dinosaurs would now have to find a new way to survive in this new world.
Advocates: Henry Morris, Scriptural Geologists of the 19th century. Theologians: John Calvin, Martin Luther
YEC-2 (Moderate change or Post-Lapsarian Epigenetic Model) God created the first polar bear but it behaved, and maybe looked, different in its original state than it does now. Modern physical and behavioral characteristics of polar bear are adaptive responses to a corrupted world resulting from sin (as a reaction to sin?). God, by design and with foreknowledge of the fall, pre-loaded genetic changeability into the original polar bear “kind” such that it experienced moderate changes in physical features and behavior after Adam sinned. This possibly resulted in some new species to form but mostly it just transformed species that where part of the pre-lapsarian (before the fall/Garden of Eden) world into the species that we observe today. Using our T. rex examples again, it may have originally had smaller teeth used for grinding plant material but after Adam sinned, genes that had not been used before were triggered—possibly as epigenetic responses—to produce larger and sharper teeth in subsequent generations of T. rex.
Advocates: George McReady Price?, Randy Guliuzza (ICR) and Henry Morris (ICR) have made similar arguments but the latter also seemed to support the YEC-3 model as well. This model is typically held by non-experts who are skeptical of other YECs that are proposing massive and rapid speciation and so seems to accept too much evolution. A case could be made that YEC-1 and YEC-2 models are quickly fading among the academic YECs but there are probably many non-scientists who believe these models because they make sense and it’s what they grew up hearing.
YEC-3 (Young-earth hyper-evolution and/or de-evolution model) God created the ancestor of the modern polar bear but it would not have been recognizable as the bear we see today. That ancestor subsequently “devolved” due to Adam’s sin and/or may have been pre-loaded with genetic programs for future adaptations to become not only the polar bear we see today but also seven other living and more than 100 extinct species of bears. For example: a small plant-eating theropod-type animal was the original created “kind” which then changed into dozens of different species of theropods. Many of these species grew much larger and became carnivores, expressing larger teeth and stronger jaws due to previously-hidden genetic information and degraded genes that were no longer serving their original “good” purposes.
An example of pre-loading variation for future adaptation can be seen in a short Answers in Genesis article on biological design which states:
“Within each original kind, God placed amazing genetic variety so that the animals could fulfill his call to multiply and fill the earth, adapting to different environments, such as the polar bear in the frozen North.”
Within the context of kinds changing from their original state into species adapted for a world filled with death, the creationist proposing post-Flood hyper-evolution might suggest that God could be controlling every genetic recombination event and predestined that a polar bear be formed because His original plan was to have exactly the polar bear we see today. Alternatively, some YECs may object to God directly acting to make a polar bear after the creation week and suggest that polar bears could have been true chance products—free-will events—of recombination of variation allowing polar bears to exist but the exact features of the polar bear species were not “planned” by God from the beginning. Rather, God only determined that there would be bear kind and that it could take a variety of forms depending on how that bear interacted with the environment and how its genetic variation was reshuffled. (See the EC Open Theism model for a similar view but over a longer time scale)
Advocates: Some members of each of the primary YEC apologetics organizations (AIG, CMI and ICR) though promoted most strongly among members of AIG as seen in the Ark Encounter theme park. Prominent individuals include: Ken Ham, Nathaniel Jeanson, Todd Wood, Jean Lightner and Kurt Wise.
OLD EARTH CREATIONISM MODELS
All proponents of old earth creation models accept that the earth is far older than 6000 years. Old earth creationists interpret the creation accounts of Genesis from a number of perspectives.
Gap Theory (GT)/Ruin-Restoration Creationism (RRC): The Gap-theory, gap creationism, ruin-restoration creationism or restoration creationism, is a historically popular form of OEC that proposes, like the Young-earth creationism (YEC) position, that Genesis 1 records a literal six-day period of creation. However, gap-theory posits that this six-24-hour-day creation followed a significant gap of time between two distinct creations recorded in the first and second verses of Genesis. It differs from day-age creationism, which posits that the ‘days’ of creation were much longer periods (of thousands or millions of years), and from young Earth creationism does not posit any gap of time between the first verse and the first day of creation and generally holds that the entire universe is very young.
Gap-theorists might conclude that the evidence demonstrates that polar bears lived from today back through the six-day creation and into the “gap” period and thus polar bears were part of the initial creation of the world that was re-created or re-organized during the six-day period. Polar Bears would not have common ancestors but have been special creation of God but could have been created 100 to 200 thousand years ago as various methods of dating the earth have suggested.
Advocates: Few serious modern theologians or scientists continue to support this view though it carries on in some Christian circles. It was popularized in the early 1800s by Thomas Chalmers. Other noteworthy historical advocate include William Buckland, Edward Hitchock, and Harry Rimmer. Later theologians that continued to promote or at least support the theory include Oral Roberts, Cyrus I. Scofield, Jimmy Swaggart, Arthur Pink, Chuck Missler, Donald Grey Barnhouse, Michael Pearl and Clarence Larkin.
Intelligent Design (ID): ID advocates–with a few exceptions–affirm the scientific evidence in support of an ancient earth. ID advocates are best known for their apologetics arguments for the existence of creator—though not necessarily the God of the Bible—from observations of design in nature. They focus on pointing out the intricate designs in biological organisms and claim that those specific traits could only be the product of an intelligent designer. Some ID advocates believe that some species might form by natural means from a specially designed common ancestor but usually they consider each species the product of an intelligent designer. For example, one author influenced by ID literature writes about a common species of shorebird, the killdeer, and its adaptations for protecting their young state: “It is a smart trick and species-specific, which means it is in her genes and she does it by instinct.” He then goes on to say that this programming of genes could only be done by a designer. It is often left unstated when, how or why this design was done. With respect to our polar bear, ID advocates accept that the earth is billions of years old and accept methods of dating the fossil record and therefore would accept that polar bears first appeared over 100,000 years ago. Some might say that an intelligent designer created the first bears well before this and that the polar bear is the product of microevolution processes acting to adapt that bear into the various forms (species) that we observe today. Essentially, since that first bears creation the description of the origin of subsequent bears may be indistinguishable from explanations that EC or TEs may provide. Other ID advocates may appeal to direct design activity in the creation of polar bears themselves.
An important caveat: Because of their more philosophical and originally neutral position on religion, ID is very difficult to define or has not set position on questions like the origins of species. How much speciation do they accept? Apparently it varies depending on the ID advocate you may interact with (eg. well-known ID proponent Dr. Paul Nelson is a young-earth advocate who accepts rapid speciation within “kinds” while another well-known proponent of ID, Dr. Michael Behe, accepts common ancestry of most if not all living things but insists that certain mutations leading to speciation events would have to have been “intelligently designed”). Which features of the polar bear are “designed” and which could result from natural processes? Again, this is not clear? Was a polar bear literally born of a mother than was not a polar bear with new designs created in the process of embryo development? Was the whole first polar bear (and presumably two—the “Adam and Eve” polar bears) created supernaturally from a bear template but not physically born of another bear? These are open questions but the ID advocate will insist that a creator (not necessarily the God of the Bible) was involved in the making of either the original bear “kind” or each species such as the polar bear or in ways that can’t be described by measurable natural processes.
Progressive Creationism/Day-Age Creationism. Progressive creationism advocates believe God created new forms of life gradually over a period of hundreds of millions of years. It accepts mainstream geological and cosmological estimates for the age of the Earth. In this view God created new organisms at key moments in the history of life in which all “kinds” or species (see PC-1 and PC-2 below) of plants and animals appear in stages lasting millions of years. These key moments represent instances of God creating new types of organisms by divine intervention. All PCs hold that species or “kinds” do not gradually appear by the steady transformation of its ancestors; [but] appear all at once and “fully formed.” PC may or may not fully overlap with Day-Age creationism in which the days recorded in Genesis 1 are considered to be long-ages corresponding to the great ages of Earth’s history.
With respect to polar bears the PC may believe God created an ancestral bear kind or, possibly more specifically, the original brown bear and that common ancestor (primordial type?) had the capacity to adapt—genetic parameters designed by God—into many species including the polar bear that we observe today. However, the first bear “kind” was created fully formed apart from any animal ancestor.
PC-1 (Progressive creation typically at the taxonomic level of species) God specially created all (or most) species–no common ancestry except within “species.” For example domestic dogs were not specially created but are a variation of wolves and were adapted via natural processes from a wolf ancestor. This is the historical PC view which is a held by those who accept the evidence of an old earth but reject evolution as a process capable of generating new species and higher taxonomic categories. This view is uncommon today except among lay Christians and pastors who are not aware of the evidence that most PCs not agree doesn’t support this origins models.
PC-2 (Progressive creation of “kinds” usually equivalent to the taxonomic category of family) God specially created “kinds” of organisms at various intervals throughout Earth’s history. Those kinds were created with the capacity to adapt to their environment including speciation within some limits. Speciation within “kinds” occurs similar to that of the YEC-3 hyper-evolution model except that this speciation process occurs at speeds consistent with measured rates of changes—mutation rates, natural selection and genetic drift—observed today.
Advocates: Louis Agassiz, Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, John Gresham Machen, Gleason Archer, James Montgomery Boice, Francis Schaeffer, Paul Copan, Vern Poythress, Lee Stobel, Hugh Ross, Reasons to Believe,John C. Collins, Wayne Grudem, John Sailhamer, Bernard Ramm
Evolutionary Creationism (EC): ECs believe that an intelligent God designed the universe, but do not see scientific or biblical reasons to prevent pursuing natural explanations for how God governs natural phenomena as part of that creative process. Scientific explanations are seen as complementing a theological understanding of God’s role as designer, creator, and sustainer of the universe.
The EC position would recognize common scientific consensus that polar bears are related by common ancestry to other bears (and indeed, other caniforms, carnivorans, mammals, amniotes, etc.). At some point, probably more than 100,000 years ago, the polar bear likely diverged via mechanisms described by evolutionary biologists as natural selection, genetic drift and mutations from a brown bear ancestor to become a unique species. God did not, though was free to do so, act to suspend his normal providence or means of action in the world to create the polar bear but used those divinely appointed mechanisms to form this new species.
While agreeing that God is the ultimate designer and governor of creation, within the EC model there are a number of different views about the exact nature of God’s mode of action and knowledge or foreknowledge of future biological change. Below we briefly outline just two divergent perspectives within EC but there are a myriad of views that fall on a continuum between these though all affirm that God’s creative power could be expressed through an evolutionary process.
EC-1 (Full Sovereignty EC) God is intimately involved in the creation process and in control of all events in history. In the case of the polar bear, each polar bear alive today is and was part of God’s divine plan and EC is simply our best attempt to describe how God has achieved that plan.
EC-2 (Open Theism EC) God established the rules by which the physical world works and maintains an active interest in the world but hasn’t fore-ordained the future but rather allows the world to operate but doesn’t know or act directly in all circumstances.
Advocates of some version of EC model: Scientists: Francis Collins, Dennis Lamoureux, Darrell Faulk, Dennis Vennema, Deborah Haarsma. Theologians/Pastors: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, C.S. Lewis, B.B. Warfield, Billy Graham, N.T. Wright.Tim Keller
Theistic Evolution (TE): TE isn’t identified as one of the endpoints of the key. It encompasses a range of views that regard a biblical understanding of God as compatible with modern scientific understanding about biological evolution. For this key, I am treating the term as being synonymous with EC but recognize that some might feel that EC is more limited in its range than TE. It is difficult to parse the continuum of views of TE. One might call EC a subset of TE but some might simply say that EC has become the preferred term for what had been TE. Many who once called themselves TE now prefer the label EC and so TE has, in some minds—including mine—been subsumed by EC. However, we could make the general observation that the term “theistic evolutionist” today is often used more often by its detractors in a pejorative ways to imply that TEs are no different than deists which believe that God was the first cause for the creation of the universe but after creating the universe He no longer has any direct involvement with it.
© The Polar Bear Test, Version 1.4 Oct 9, 2018. I welcome suggestions for revisions to the key and descriptions of theistic models of origins. I have attempted to present a neutral case for each position but acknowledge that I may not fully appreciate the nuances of each model.
Editing provided by MC and LC. Thank you to several friends who provided feedback on early versions.