Southern Baptist Archbishop Al Mohler (thanks to Slacktivist for that term) uses dramatic rhetoric when arguing against evolution. He stated Christians "now face the undeniable truth that the most basic and fundamental questions of biblical authority and gospel integrity are at stake." Evangelical Archbishop John MacArthur also employs dramatic language.
Mohler and MacArthur place themselves in a long line of Christians who have defended six-day creationism. Their language makes one think the church has always supported a literal creation account. To reconcile Scripture and evolution, then, would be the church's first--and dramatic--capitulation to "secular" thinking.
But throughout history, not everyone affirmed six-day creationism. Not all church fathers furthered a dichotomy between Scripture and science. The origins issue was not the controversy some have made it today; in fact, it was often a non-issue.
Robert Letham's Westminster Theological Journal article, In the Space of Six Days: The Days of Creation from Origen to the Westminster Assembly, argues that some church fathers did not spend time defending a literal Genesis reading. To counteract some modern church leaders' misconceptions, here are some thoughts from Letham's article, which I read for my human origins class in college.
Third-century Origen didn't believe in a literal six-day creation, as it is impossible to interpret the creation account literally when the sun wasn't created until the fourth day, per Genesis 1.
Augustine believed in a simultaneous creation, so Genesis' days were actually one day repeated seven times. "God accommodated himself to the capacity of weaker intellects and presented creation as if it were a process" (157).
Up until the 1200's, most exegesis centered on the perfect number of creation's days and debates about when angels were created. Whether creation occurred in six literal days wasn't important.
Calvin's Genesis commentary doesn't discuss the days of creation, which Letham thinks is significant in itself. Like Augustine, Calvin believed in divine accommodation. God accommodates his works to human capacity, to our level, "speaking to us in the prattling babble of baby-talk" (166).
Calvin believed Genesis did not teach astronomy or other sciences. He didn't dismiss science, but valued it. To Calvin, Genesis was written in a popular style for ordinary people, while astronomers dealt with more complex knowledge. Astronomy was "very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God" (167).
None of the sixteenth-century Reformed confessions state earth was created in six literal days. It was simply not an issue in the Reformed church at that time.
Moving on to English Puritans up until the Westminster Assembly, Letham says their theology has a "virtually complete absence of interest in creation" (173). They never attempted a serious interpretation of the creation accounts - it was not a matter of controversy.
If the creation account is clear-cut and vital to the gospel message, why were there so many divergent interpretations--or none at all--pre-Westminster Assembly? When Mohler and MacArthur defend a literal reading of Genesis, they fail to realize they're defending a relatively new interpretation, which differs from early church fathers' interpretations. "Claims that a literal reading of the days of Genesis 1 is obvious fall down when the history of interpretation is taken into consideration" (174).
Even past North American Christians would disagree with Mohler and MacArthur: Mark Noll points out in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind that theologically conservative Christian and Harvard botanist Asa Gray was the person most active in bringing Darwinism to the U.S.
Lastly, those who reject evolution and read Genesis literally still selectively interpret based on scientific developments. Genesis 1:6-8 states:
And God said, "Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water." So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault "sky."
Thanks to modern-day astronomers and space exploration, we view this separation of waters as an ancient Near East understanding of the atmosphere. Hardly any literalists today believe an ocean is above the sky, because science and simple observations prove otherwise. Why, then, do literalists insist those who accept evolution disrespect the gospel's integrity? Aren't literalists also allowing "secular science" to influence their interpretation of Genesis 1:6-8?