Category Archives: The Bible and Scientific Issues

Review: Refuting Compromise

by Jonathan Sarfarti (Master Books, 2004)

 

Review by Rowland S. Ward written 2005

This book was given to me to review by one who said it was a bit out of his field. Its subtitle is self-explanatory – “A Biblical and Scientific Refutation of ‘Progressive Creationism’ (Billions of Years), as popularised by Astronomer Hugh Ross.”

I would also plead incapacity to assess many of the arguments drawn from scientific disciplines. Indeed, I question if much of the material is appropriate or necessary for the popular defence of the Biblical doctrine of creation. Obviously Dr Sarfarti of Answers in Genesis thinks otherwise.

Recently, a 16 year old known to me had to give a talk at Boys’ Brigade on why the earth was young. Not being as dogmatically difficult as I am he duly went to the AiG website as recommended by his BB leader. But he found the arguments far too technical. In the end he fell back to the general position that the world did not come from nothing, nor did it create itself, but it was made by God (Hebrew 11:3). Exactly when it was made is not told us in the Bible and is not all that important except that man is quite recent, was made in God’s image, but rebelled against him bringing death into the human family (Romans 5:12).

This however would not satisfy either side in the debate covered by this book. Ross is happy to confidently allow the large time scale commonly recognised (15 billion years for the universe and 4.5 billion for the earth), and to interpret the creation days accordingly. He believes God has progressively populated the earth, with man a recent arrival perhaps 60,000 years ago.

Sarfarti insists the universe was created in six consecutive, normal-length days about 6000 years ago, and that human sin brought a curse on creation so that animal death as well as human death is due to Adam’s sin. And of course he insists on a global flood about 2500 BC which destroyed all vertebrate animals and people not on Noah’s boat.

This is a large book (400 pages) and marshals some material via charts in a helpful way. In my view Sarfarti demonstrates sufficiently the problems with Ross’ approach in its bearing on Scripture. However, the weaknesses with Sarfarti’s approach in its bearing both on science and Scripture are not conveyed in this book, because that is not the book’s aim, while the author is so single eyed that opposing arguments and their supporters are frequently dismissed by demeaning references to compromise.

Dr Douglas Kelly of North Carolina writes the foreword in the gracious way of the Southern Presbyterian gentleman that he is, and assures us that Dr Sarfarti does not want to question the sincerity, character or faith of Christians who differ from him. In my view Sarfati fails conspicuously in this area. Indeed, even your reviewer rates a guernsey (p.77) because, says Sarfarti, though (unlike Ross) I get the Hebrew pattern of Genesis 1 right, I have “a long history of vexatious opposition to the view that Genesis is straightforward history.” Vexatious means either frivolous or malicious. Whatever you pick, it’s not very nice (nor accurate!).

This is a book for the true believer. Although he may not understand all the arguments, he will be reassured that any other view is a matter of compromise. The unfortunate tendency will be that faithful ministries that do not toe the line will be viewed with suspicion. A furtherance of the confrontational and separatist outlook we are accustomed to associate with the fringes of the American Bible-belt seems inevitable in the nearer term.

What should Christians think of Intelligent Design?

From The Presbyterian Banner, October 2005

Following on positive comments by President Bush, The Melbourne Age reported on 11th August:

“The controversial theory of ‘intelligent design’ has won the qualified backing of Education Minister Brendan Nelson, who says it should be taught in schools alongside evolution if that is the wish of parents. Intelligent design, which is damned by critics as a front for biblical Creationism, argues that life on Earth is too complex to have evolved purely through Darwin’s theory of natural selection.”

ID proponents argue that biochemistry, physics and other scientific disciplines reveal such an intricacy and complexity of design that we must infer a designer, although the Designer is not identified as such since, say they, that would be to go beyond science to religion. If you are a Christian (like Phillip Johnston author of Darwin on Trial etc.) you think of the Designer as the Christian God, or if an adherent of the Unification Church of Dr Moon (like Jonathan Wells) or a Muslim (like Mustafa Akyol) then you think of God as understood by those faiths.

There has been some debate in the media on the subject and there is a current legal case in Dover County, Pennsylvania that is being described as like the Scopes’ trial in Tennessee in 1925. Even the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, who is close to the Pope, has questioned recently whether random variations and natural selection are compatible with Roman Catholic belief. [Rome teaches, as do most Reformed writers, that the individual soul is directly created by God and that all humans are descended from Adam and inherit original sin through him. However, in 1950 Pius XII stated:

“The Church does not forbid that…research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter.”

The biological evolution of the human body is widely held in RC circles.]

The argument from design

ID is really a modern application of the argument for a Designer from the complexity of life. William Paley, following a long line of similar apologists, famously argued in 1802 in his Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature, that a watch infers a watchmaker.

“. . . when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive. . . that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or placed after any other manner or in any other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it. . . . the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker — that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer, who comprehended its construction and designed its use.”

Living organisms, Paley argued, are even more complicated than watches, “in a degree which exceeds all computation.” Only an intelligent Designer could have created them, just as only an intelligent watchmaker can make a watch.

Charles Darwin found Paley’s argument very compelling but later abandoned it because he could not reconcile it with a beneficent Creator:

“There seems to me too much misery in the world, I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae [parasitic wasps] with the express intention of their [larvae] feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.” (Letter to Rev Asa Gray, May 22, 1860)

So Darwin considered life was an undirected process. Natural selection was the key mechanism, and produced the vast number of species. If he still paid lip-service to God it was to a God who was not Creator in any real sense. Writing to Asa Gray in July 1860 Darwin said:

“. . . do you believe that when a swallow snaps up a gnat that God designed that that particular swallow should snap up that particular gnat at that particular instant? I believe that the man and the gnat are in the same predicament. If the death of neither man nor gnat are designed, I see no good reason to believe that their first birth or production should be necessarily designed.”

Criticism of Darwin

First, Darwin assumes what God is like, the kind of world that God should create and how God relates to it, and these religious beliefs affect his science. In early Victorian years, with the legacy of Deism, God was still thought of as a pleasant Deity somewhat distanced from the world and its evils, with natural law rather than God receiving prominence in understanding providence. Darwin gave no weight to God’s sovereignty nor his holiness and justice. He took no account of sin. Instead, he emphasised the sufficiency of natural law/survival of the fittest to explain the seemingly wasteful and cruel aspects of life, and dispensed with God altogether in the light of his difficulty in reconciling the struggle for survival evident in the world with belief in a beneficent God.

Darwin reminds me of two Jewish businessmen for whom I worked some good few years ago. They had both been through the Nazi concentration camps. One emerged unbelieving because he could not reconcile belief in God with the suffering he saw. Not so with the other. After all, science does not answer such questions; they are value matters that depend on faith. We remember the saying: ‘Two men looked out of the prison bars; one saw the mud the other the stars.’ Or as Pascal said, ‘The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.’

Second, Darwin’s methodology of naturalism, that is, seeking explanation in terms of observable phenomena is one thing; his philosophical naturalism is another. The former is the general principle of scientific investigation since it is only the observable and testable that we can investigate; the latter goes beyond the limits of science to a religious commitment. Darwin’s rejection of design is not scientific per se, and only sounds so if one shares his philosophical or religious commitment. Hence many Reformed thinkers, including Charles and A.A. Hodge and B.B.Warfield have been prepared to consider some form of evolution as a possible method of the Divine procedure, but (note well) they insist on God as the Designer and Director of the process at every point.

Caution on ID

ID advocates score some sound points in exposing the philosophical naturalism of some scientists. However, can a Christian really be satisfied to speak of science as demonstrating a Designer? Scripture states that the heavens declare the glory of God, not that the complexities of biochemistry and the fine-tuned universe suggested by physics now show us that there is a Designer. There is a difference. Everyone (not just the physicists, bio-chemists, and molecular biologists) has adequate evidence of God’s eternal power and divine nature, but this knowledge is not used aright because of our unbelief. Further, if we focus simply on apparently irreducible complexity as proof of God, is it not true that one day’s irreducible complexity is the next’s well understood phenomena? Are we not in danger of a God-of-the-gaps mentality, invoking God when we can’t explain something and then, when we can explain it, finding no need of God at that point?

ID sounds a bit like dressed-up Deism in its approach, or like Free Masonry with its Great Architect of the Universe. ID can be helpful. Lifelong atheist philosopher and advocate of atheism Anthony Flew was impressed by ID as providing a new and more powerful case for design and in 2004 announced he was now a theist (though not a Christian). But is it scientific to infer a Designer, or is it not rather that the Designer should be presupposed as the source of wisdom, order, law, complexity, purpose? If we don’t presuppose him we are worshipping an idol.

The living God is – and he is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He doesn’t need to be proved, and Scripture never seeks to do that. The traditional proofs of God, including the proof from design, have a certain value as illustrative of the reasonableness of our position, but have their limits, as the case of Flew reminds us. We do not find God at the end of a logical argument, through the impact of seemingly irreducibly complex systems, or even by observing a miracle (as many did in NT times but did not believe), but through faith in Jesus Christ, the express image of the invisible God. ‘By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.’ (Hebrews 11:3) This faith is God’s gift. Why can’t we be upfront about it?

Science teaching in schools

Humans can only conduct scientific endeavours using a methodology of observing natural things. We cannot have recourse to supernatural explanations for things we don’t understand, and still be within the limits of science. (Indeed, the keen insight of man cannot penetrate to God; only the Spirit of God can illumine our minds.) Of course science in the sense stated is not the only truth, or the total truth, and the misconception that it is needs to be forcefully challenged. A Christian will want to do his science recognising that the tools he uses cannot discover everything relevant, and also that all science is in a sense provisional and not ultimate. The Christian scientist will see what he discovers as further illustration of the greatness of God who upholds and directs all things, whether the seemingly simple or the startlingly complex. Johann Kepler put it this way:

“I give you thanks, Creator and God, that you have given me this joy in your creation, and I rejoice in the works of your hands. See I have now completed the work to which I was called. In it I have used the talents you have lent to my spirit. I have revealed the majesty of your works to those who will read my words, insofar as my narrow understanding can comprehend their infinite richness.”

Of course the materialistic scientist will regard the material as the only reality, and he will claim chance and necessity are sufficient to explain everything, but when he does so he is not speaking scientifically but religiously.

So should ID be taught in our government schools? Well, given the excesses of evolution proponents one might say it will be a useful corrective if it is. Still, it might be better if the general conclusions thus far come to by the scientific community are taught carefully and moderately, and with due tentativeness where appropriate. As Calvin put it:

“But if the Lord has willed that we be helped in physics, dialectic, mathematics and other like disciplines, by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance. For if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer just punishment for our sloths.” (Institutes 2.2.16)

Such teaching must be shorn of philosophical naturalism and explicitly acknowledge that inferences as to the existence or non-existence of a Designer are religious positions. They are to be dealt with on their own merits but not treated as issues in the legitimate sphere of scientific investigation. And it needs to be stressed that the scientific method, while appropriate in its own sphere, is not the only valid route to truth. A comprehensive approach requires other matters to be considered.

A fully examinable high school subject covering the use and impact of the Bible in human civilisation and of the nature of different worldviews could be valuable in our schools. It would complement scientific studies and further a more informed and balanced approach to the issues of science and religion than generally exists at present.

Ordained in 1976, Dr Ward has ministered in the PCEA Melbourne since 1981.

Dazed about the Days? Don’t be!

Genesis 1:1-2:4: a contribution towards reconciling differences

From The Presbyterian Banner, March 2004

THE CREATION DAYS

I offer five propositions, add some explanatory notes and draw conclusions.

1. The primary meaning of the Hebrew term yom (day) is in reference to a normal day of about 24 hours. Unless the context requires otherwise the primary meaning should be maintained.

The Hebrew term yom has the same range of meanings as the English word day. It is natural to immediately think of ordinary days as we read the creation account for the first time, for we have a seven-day week as did Israel. Still, it is a week of divine activity. It’s clearly related to our weekly activity but the parallel is of necessity approximate – God does not work and rest in the same way that we do. More on this later.

2. Each of the first six days is qualified by a reference to ‘evening and morning’, which requires the interchange of darkness and light. In a context with numbered days we must think of our week.

Many seem to think that ‘evening and morning’ is just a standard way of describing a whole day, and so ordinary days are self-evidently in view. Others suppose it describes what follows the creative activity.
The Hebrew terms for ‘evening’ and ‘morning’ have the same meaning as in English in the 23 Old Testament examples outside Genesis 1 containing the two words in either order in the same verse. Examples of usage include a period of time during the day, such as the morning or evening sacrifice, a long period marked off by successive evenings and mornings (Dan 8:36), or a period from evening until morning, as when the lamps were lit in the tabernacle (Lev 24:1-4 cf. Ex 30:7-8). A day contains an evening and a morning but it contains more (cf. ‘at morning and at evening and at noonday’ in Psalm 55:17). Evening + morning = one ordinary day is not true – unless the use in Genesis 1 is an exception. It is ‘day’ and ‘night’ that make up a normal day (Gen 1:5), just as in English.

Leaving aside the complexities, and they are not a few, the expression “there was evening and morning” apparently implies that after the day’s work was done time passed into evening at dusk (so Keil/Delitzsch, Cassuto, Leupold). The first day began with the creation of light, passed through darkness and was completed as light dawned the next day.
If there is an exceptional use, then we could say that as far as creation is concerned a day is defined by the end of darkness through the onset of light. This might suggest that each day’s activity could be viewed as a further manifestation of God’s glory, moving from what is not, to what is, by his command (cf. 2 Cor 4:6).

3. Each day has a numerical adjective (one, two, three, etc) so that even the first few days before the creation of the sun, moon and stars are not to be distinguished from the rest as if unrelated to our week, especially as the heavenly bodies (day 4) were given to mark off the days. The numerical adjective throughout serves to bind the days into a harmonious unit of a week.

It is frequently added that a numbered series of days always involves ordinary days. However, it should be noted that the first day is more correctly translated ‘day one’ (so Cassuto), although perhaps the syntax implies a definite article (so Waltke). The next four days lack the definite article (thus, ‘a second day’ etc), whereas days 6 and 7 have it (‘the sixth day’, etc). Such features are not found in a series of ordinary days such as Numbers 29:17ff., so they may point to something unusual about the creation days.

4. If God wanted to say eras or ages he could have done so, but did not. Indeed, he qualified the days in ways such as the use of ‘evening and morning’, so that they are tied to our days. To introduce into the interpretation that the days represent long and overlapping periods of varying length, perhaps corresponding to geological time, is a quite foreign note that distracts from correct understanding. The narrative focuses on the creation week, not long eras.

There are features which suggest an interest other than length of days. The existence of seemingly ordinary days (1-3) without the existence of the heavenly bodies to regulate them would be as strange to the experience of Moses and the Israelites as it is to us. We could resolve this by an appeal to God’s almighty power, but perhaps we could just as well suggest that it is not seen as a big issue – unless we are focusing on the when and how rather than the who and why. Also of interest is the way day 4 gives a further perspective on day 1, and anticipates the holy rest day of the God who made the heavenly bodies. Prominent too, is creation by command, hardly the kind of work we know.

5. The week for humans is patterned on God’s creation week, the definitive week for us. We are to imitate God’s example. Exodus 20:11 and 31:17 specifically state God created the heavens and the earth in six days, and rested the seventh, and we are to do likewise. While there is no identity there is a real similarity between God’s week and ours. That similarity is sufficient to provide adequate foundation for our life.

The seventh day is not closed by the formula ‘there was evening and morning’. Given the explanation of this phrase in #2, and keeping in mind the very careful crafting of the creation narrative, this omission cannot be without meaning: God’s rest did not end. Whereas we are to work six days and rest the seventh, God did not follow a pattern of recurring work and rest. He worked six days and then entered on an enduring rest into which he calls humanity, what is otherwise termed eternal life. The goal of eternal life after man has fulfilled his mandate can now be realised only through redemption. Rest is illustrated in the life of Noah (his name is derived from nuah, to rest; note also Gen 5:29), in the entry into Canaan (Josh 1:13; Ps 132:14), and in the implications of the psalmist’s words long after (Ps 95). It is infallibly interpreted by Hebrews 3:7-4:13 as the goal at the end of our pilgrimage. Then there shall be no night (Rev 22:5) but instead the everlasting brightness of God’s presence (Is 60:19-20; Rev 21:23) in an endless day (Zech 14:7) illumined by Jesus, the light of the world and the bright morning star (Rev 22:15), who ends the night of weeping and ushers in the morning of everlasting joy (Ps 30:5).

This interpretation of God’s seventh day is supported in John 5:17-19, where Jesus states that whatever the Father does the Son does, and so parallels his work of restoration on the earthly Sabbath with his Father’s continual upholding and blessing of creation on his heavenly Sabbath.

In short, God does not work or rest as we do. He works by his word, and his rest is not like ours, even though Exodus 31:17 is bold to say ‘he was refreshed’ [not ‘he rested’ as in NIV], when we know God does not grow faint or weary. God gives the creation account for our sakes! God speaks to ordinary people like you and I, that all may grasp what we need to know of God, ourselves, and of his purpose for us.

CONCLUSIONS

Views of Genesis 1:1-2:3 which allow the intrusion of ideas alien to it should be entirely avoided. The day-age theory was common for around 150 years, until ‘scientific literalism’ asserted itself. The day-age view is not objectionable merely because it allows for an old earth, for it is not wrong in principle to seek to remove perceived conflict between an interpretation of scripture and apparently correct scientific theory. The objection is that it seeks to remove that conflict through an interpretation that brings in ideas foreign to the text of Scripture. Genesis is not concerned with the age of the earth or geological eras. Rather, God tells us of his creation week in ways that we can understand, with the object of us imitating him as his image-bearers in our weeks. God was sovereign over the darkness, subdued the waters, and populated the earth with creatures. Humans are to rule, subdue and fill the earth too. Man has a task and a goal: his days reflect God’s days but they are not the same; his weekly Sabbath reflects God’s unending Sabbath, the destiny in view for him, but it is not the same.

So I think the view propounded by scientific recent-creationists also imposes on the text, and frequently denigrates in a most unpleasant way those who disagree with its approach. It does not adequately recognise that the account is for us, that we may know God and serve him aright. In reaction to the modernist viewpoint, which reduced Genesis to myths and mocked any idea of creation in six days, scientific recent-creationism has an excessive need to prove itself over against the current claims of science. The ordinary believer, the average pastor too, is bombarded with technical jargon, and is prone to miss the very vital theological emphases in the text. There seem to be few recent-creationists who pay heed to the significance of God’s rest on day 7 for ultimate destiny and for Lord’s Day observance now.

The literary view, which suggests the days are a framework to stress the cohesion and order of creation, has much to offer that should be received, although it is sometimes over-elaborated. I believe it is best to regard God’s creation days as simply God’s creation days. They are related to our days but are not the same as ours in nature. On this analogical days view creation in six days is dogma, but the nature of those days in terms of time is not known to us (other than something of day 7). Any further definition of them is speculative.

So how old is the earth? The Bible doesn’t say. The scientific recent-creationist/ordinary days view insists on a few thousand years. The day-age view holds that the rather wide investigations in many scientific disciplines, often carried out by Christians, suggest that by and large the earth is very old, although humans are recent. Still, even if the earth is old, Scripture must be allowed to speak in its own terms. The literary/framework view does not find difficulty with an old or a young earth per se, nor does the analogical days position. Within the principles of Scripture there should be freedom to investigate and hypothesise, as we continue our mandate to rule over the earth. Let us hold fast to the teaching of the creation week. God’s week is a pattern for our work and worship until we enter that rest that remains for the people of God (Heb 4:9), that everlasting morning that has no night.

Rowland S., Ward
Knox Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia
26 Roxburgh Road, Wantirna Victoria 3152
rsw@pcea.org.au

Book Review: Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event which Changed History…

by William Ryan and Walter Pitman (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1998) 298pp US$25

[See note added 6 Sept 2010 at end.]

The Melbourne Age on 29/10/1999 carried a story about the views put forward by Willian Ryan and Walter Pitman, geologists from Columbia University one of whom gave a public lecture at Melbourne University on his theory. Essentially the two geologists have established that the Black Sea was once a fresh-water lake with a water level 100 metres below the Bosporus. However, in 5600 BC rising sea levels as a consequence of glacial meltwater overflowed from the Mediterranean at a rate 200 times that of Niagara Falls today. At 15cm a day it flooded an area equal to England and Wales in a few years causing the population to flee to other areas. This is supposed to be the genesis of the story of Noah’s Flood.

While it seems that the geological event described did take place, there are a number of assumptions which make identification with Noah’s Flood doubtful or impossible in the form suggested. After all, one must account for the global memory of a great flood, as well as integrate the theory with other scientific disciplines, and the Biblical data. Here the new theory falls down.

To account for the tradition, common to many peoples, of a massive flood, Ryan and Morris claim that the Neolithic farmers who had lived in Europe, Asia and North Africa at an earlier time had migrated to the Black Sea region as a result of serious drought elsewhere. The inundation of the Black Sea then dispersed them and they carried with them the memory of ‘the event which changed history’. This is a scenario which does not mesh with what we think we know of the Neolithic period from archaeology and other disciplines. Again, the Biblical picture is of a sudden flood associated with rain, but Ryan and Pitman regard this as mere embellishment of the original history.

To those who regard Noah’s Flood as geographically universal, the new theory offers no solution. Indeed, even to allow the possibility of a date for the Flood of 5600 BC would be regarded by many as 2500 years earlier than justified by the Bible. On the other hand, those representing the 19th century Protestant orthodoxy of say the Free Church of Scotland tradition, as I do, reject ‘flood geology’ and are comfortable with a Flood that is universal in a sense or senses other than the geographical. But this view still accepts the suddenness of the Flood and the involvement of rain.

Two concluding points: (1) The tendency to regard the Biblical and Mesopotamian Flood accounts as much the same is to be resisted. There are parallels but also very significant differences. In the Epic of Gilgamesh the gods bring the flood because the noise of the humans disturbs them, but one of the gods (Enki) disagrees and tips off Ut-Napishtim so that he built a cube shaped boat with seven levels five times greater in capacity than Noah’s ark, and in which he was saved. The gods found the flood was greater than they intended and they ‘cowered like dogs’ in its presence. Afterwards they squabbled about the action of Enki.

(2) There are objections to the geographically universal model of the flood which may be drawn from Scripture as well as other data. Thus, Scripture shows not the slightest interest in explaining how all the creatures were contained in the ark, but obviously there were no more than could go on board through one door at a week’s notice and be cared for and fed by eight people. Further, there is currently no satisfactory physical evidence of a flood disrupting all civilisation in the ancient near east since 9000 BC, and few would want to place the Flood earlier than that.

However, the last word has not been spoken on the subject of the Flood in its physical aspects. Christians need to be careful not to read our more comprehensive knowledge of the entire globe into a narrative related to the region where Noah and his contempories lived. They also need to avoid anxiety to explain or, indeed, explain away, Biblical history through reconstructions from the past which can only be provisional at best.
Note added 6 Sept 2010:

Oceanus for 1 September 2009 reports concerning Ryan & Pitman’s book:

Now, a new study in the January 2009 issue of Quaternary Science Reviews suggests that if the flood occurred at all, it was much smaller–hardly of biblical proportions. Liviu Giosan of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Florin Filip and Stefan Constantinescu of the University of Bucharest found evidence that Black Lake/Sea water levels rose only 5 to 10 meters around 9,400 years ago, not 50 to 60 meters as Ryan and his colleagues proposed. The flood would have drowned only about 2,000 square kilometers of land (about half of Rhode Island), rather than 70,000 square kilometers (more than the entire state of West Virginia).

Christian Faith & the World Around Us

The original paper appeared in the August and September 2000 issues of The Presbyterian Banner.

Last updated here December 2007.

In the last paragraph of the Church and Nation Report (Synod 2000) I wrote:
As a church we have not yet come to grips with relating our theology to the working of the present world. We need a good, open discussion to help understand the Biblical view of creation and science compared to those of the medieval and modern periods. Are we mature enough as Christian leaders to do this? We have the most important message anyone can hear. Are we in danger of drifting into a mere evangelicalism which to some extent represents a truncated understanding of the Reformed Faith?

One brother (Mr Alex Steel) asked what I meant by the reference to creation and science, whereupon I launched into a wide-ranging, perhaps rambling, response. Neither he nor I mentioned the Genesis ‘days’ but I don’t suppose they were far from people’s minds. But rather different was my interest. I’m more concerned with the integrity of science and keeping it from a wrong domination by theology just as I want to keep science from dominating theology. Every age has interpreted the Bible using the ideas of that age. It seems inevitable that such should be the case, but it is important that we realise it.

(1) Scripture and Nature
In early Christian thought Jerusalem had nothing to do with Athens. By this was meant that the knowledge philosophers gained by their own thinking was not to be compared with the understanding given in the Christian revelation. To Christians the world of nature was created by God but was designed to serve spiritual interests. Using more of Greek thought than they realised, the Christian thinkers of the second and third centuries argued that nature’s real value was to point beyond itself to spiritual realities. They saw the world as ‘a school for souls.’

Just as they tended to interpret Scripture in a way that moved beyond the sense intended by the author’s words to mystical and allegorical meanings, so the interpretation of nature moved beyond the literal level to be preoccupied with the spiritual. If difficult Scripture texts could be spiritualised into useful meanings in this way, so could the existence of living things that seemed of no worth, such as mosquitoes or bedbugs. Nature too was to serve redemption. This kind of approach was typical of Christian thought in Western Europe for centuries during the period we call the Dark Ages.

But as life improved with the revival of trade, the growth of towns, and the rebirth of learning, including the founding of the first universities in the 11th century, there was a new appreciation of the physical world, and of the importance of the incarnation. Physicality was now in vogue. The idea that the real meaning of the physical was as an allegory of the spiritual, that wild beasts provide allegories of human passions and such like, began to be given up. It is no coincidence that the dogma of transubstantiation was decreed in AD 1215.

The rediscovery of nature that is associated with what we call the Renaissance (the rebirth of learning) was at first largely a matter of appeal to Scripture and to approved authorities who represented the pre-Christian learning. These included the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC), who had based his work on human reason. Such authorities were extremely powerful and it was Galileo’s tactless criticism of Aristotle as much as his apparent conflict with Scripture that caused him trouble with the Roman Church in 1616.

The questioning of traditional texts led to the provision of more accurate editions and then to experimental work in anatomy, botany and chemistry right through to zoology. Voyages of discovery enlarged understanding of geography. New plants and animals were classified.

Christianity itself experienced a mighty reformation as the original meaning and intent of Scripture was rediscovered and allegorical methods rejected except where the evident intention. Scripture and not churchly tradition took the place of honour again, and the Scriptures were translated into the common language from the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts.

Rome had real problems because of the way she had taken on board Aristotelian ideas. Jerusalem had come to have a great deal to do with Athens. The synthesis of Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) is a still influential example. Protestants, with a renewed sense of history, had no such blind faith in human authorities. Their interest in the intended meaning of the Biblical text went hand in hand with a renewed interest in the world of nature on its own terms, and stimulated the advance of scientific thought in the various disciplines.

This does not mean that the sins of science must be laid at the Protestant door any more than Calvinism is to be blamed for capitalism. However, the big shift in approach to nature coincided with and was related to a shift in the attitude to the text of Scripture.

Consistent Calvinism did not accept the autonomy of human thought (Aristotle) nor a nature-grace dualism (Aquinas). Rather, its aim was to integrate all knowledge for the glory of God. Intention is one thing, execution another. Christianity and the sciences were friends, yet many great scientists, including the greatest (Isaac Newton), were tainted by rationalism, with defective views on the Trinity and other subjects. However, it is with the Principia of Newton, published 1687, that the modern age may be said to begin. It is an age in which the competing claims of reason and revelation have sought to find a stable place in right relationship.

(2) Noah’s Flood and World History
In 1667 Thomas Sprat wrote in his History of the Royal Society:
…the Church of England will not only be safe amidst the consequences of a Rational Age, but amidst all the improvements of Knowledge, and the subversion of old Opinions about Nature, and introduction of new ways of Reasoning thereon. This will be evident, when we behold the agreement that is between the present design of the Royal Society, and that of our Church in its beginning. They both may lay equal claim to the word Reformation, the one having compassed it in Religion, the other having purposed it in Philosophy. They both have taken a like course to bring this about; each of them passing by the corrupt Copies, and referring themselves to the perfect Originals for their instruction; the one to the Scripture, the other to the large volume of the Creatures.’

In fact life has not been so easy as Sprat might have led men to expect. First there were the practical problems of agreement between Scripture and the observations of nature. Then there was the problem of the pre-suppositional framework of those involved.

But take the first point. How did Scripture relate to the world of nature? Of course a measure of accommodation of Scripture language to human capacity was always recognised by the best interpreters from Augustine through Aquinas to Calvin. The Reformation emphasis on Scripture as being for the common person reinforced this belief. Still, in the 16th and 17th centuries the tendency was to regard the surface meaning of Scripture references to the world of nature as the intended meaning. In short, observational descriptions of nature in what we would call a pre-scientific context were generally taken as strict descriptions of reality.

The Genevan Calvinist Lambert Daneau, wrote a book in which he attempted to establish natural science solely from Scripture (The Wonderful Workmanship of the World, London 1578). But the more general view was that Scripture and nature could help each other. Both were books of God.
But what about those points, other than the supernatural, at which Scripture seemed to contradict the book of nature? When a friendly Cardinal Baronius stated to Galileo that the Bible was intended ‘to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go’, he spoke truth. Still, the Church, both Roman and Protestant, took a long time to accept that the earth moved around the sun. Nor has she always had an easy time in other areas of natural science.

Take the Flood. Different opinions on its extent existed from early times. A number of the Jewish Talmudic writers hold the view that the Flood did not extend over all the earth (B. Shabbat 113b/B.Zebahim 113a-b). [Rashi (1040-1105), the later significant Jewish scholar, even regarded Og, king of Bashan, as one who survived the Flood by holding onto the Ark (on Braishit 14:13).]. However, the mainstream opinion among Christians seems to have been that it was geographically universal.

The role of fossils in the discussion was not central since not everyone regarded them as the remains of once-living things. The great Aristotle had the theory that they were formed by some kind of precipitation from mineral formation. Avicenna, the influential 11th century Islamic scholar, supposed a mysterious action, including by the heavenly bodies, on seeds of plants and other creatures trapped in cracks in rocks so that the growth imitated living things.

Of course the discovery of the New World raised questions about the Flood’s extent. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) held that it could not have been universal because there would be nowhere for the water to go. In any case, said he, the fossils were no proof since why were they buried in the rocks instead of lying on the surface? Calvinist thinkers like Conrad Gesner (1516-65) and Bernard Palissy (1510-90) also doubted, or in Palissy’s case, rejected the Flood origin of fossils. On the other hand, Sir Walter Raleigh’s modestly titled The History of the World in Five Books (London 1614) argued for a global but calm Flood.

Thomas Burnet (1635-1715) issued a book in 1681 with the rather less modest title, The Theory of the Earth Containing an Account of the Original of the Earth, and all the General Changes Which it Hath Already Undergone, or Is to Undergo Till the Consummation of All Things. It propounded a theory of ‘flood geology’ that stimulated debate and on-site research that ultimately undermined Burnet’s speculative theorising.

There was no way the fossils could have been laid down by a global Flood about 2,400 BC in the ordered way we find them, researchers claimed. Instead of a churned up mass of all kinds of creatures higgledy piggledy, throughout the world we find layers with single celled creatures in some, invertebrates in another, with fish, dinosaurs and large mammals in others. This rather neat sorting could hardly be explained by a year-long global flood. Moreover, modern kinds are found together and there are few human fossils, suggesting that humans appeared last on the scene after a lengthy period had elapsed.

How then did this conclusion relate to Scripture? Only if the days of Genesis were taken as ordinary days in which creation was accomplished was there any conflict, was the response. The Flood itself may have been total as regards humans; or it may have been extensive but local to provide an illustration of sin’s ultimate judgment, and of God’s salvation through a righteous man, Noah. Presbyterians of the 19th century saw no great problem of adjustment. [Macro-evolution was a different and distinct question.]

Flood geology lost dominance by the 1760s and died a natural death by the 1850s, except among Seventh-day Adventists. In 1961 it was revived in the conservative religious community by the publication of Whitcomb and Morris’s book The Genesis Flood. In its distinctive feature (recent creation in six 24 hour days) it is not quite a simple reversion to the views of a pre-scientific age. As ‘creation science’ its exposition of Scripture seems to owe more to the scientific age than many realise as also to the self-taught SDA geologist, George Macready Price.

Rome came to insist that the surface meaning of ‘this is my body’ was the necessary meaning which preserved Christ’s intention, but Protestants denied this for good reason. In ‘scientific creationism’ do we perhaps have a genuine concern to safeguard the dogma of creation by an over-reaction against secularism that makes a doubtful/wrong interpretation part of the dogma? Can the surface and intended meanings of ‘day’ be equated? That’s the question.

For myself I’m very happy to stand in the tradition of the Scottish Free Church and the theologians of Old Princeton, the Hodges, BB Warfield and the like, even though I didn’t have to study natural sciences as part of my theological course, as was once the norm, and even though my explanation of the creation days as simply God’s days is nearer Herman Bavinck than Hugh Miller’s day-age theory.


PART 2

It is a strange thing to see how Christianity and the sciences – friends in the time of the 17th century Westminster Assembly – have become regarded by many Christians in the late 20th century as enemies. There are a number of reasons for the change.

1. The impact of Darwinism
In the Part I gave a review of attitudes to the Flood and noted the quite easy adjustment by Christians in the 19th century to the idea that the earth was much more than 6000 years old and that the Flood was not global in the absolute sense. Half a century after the basic picture of the geological ages had been established, along came Charles Darwin with his Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871). The full title of the first book reveals his position: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Lamarck (1809) and Chambers (1844) had suggested evolution before but offered no mechanism that appeared credible. Darwin offered that mechanism, descent with modification by natural selection, although he did not at first apply it to humans. Chance and necessity, more popularly, ‘the survival of the fittest’: it was an idea whose time had come.

Initially the opposition to Darwin was not so much theological as scientific. Even Charles Lyell, the uniformitarian geologist, was a great opponent at first. The most capable theological opponent was probably Charles Hodge of Princeton Presbyterian Seminary. In his book What is Darwinism? (1874) Hodge considered that Darwin’s theory denied design in nature and was therefore atheistic, although he allowed other Christians might disagree. His son, A.A.Hodge (1886), a professor at the same institution, thought evolution atheistic too, if in a form which denied design, providence, grace or miracles, or pretended to explain origins, causes and final ends, but otherwise it was not essentially irreligious and could be a valuable tool. His colleague, Dr B.B.Warfield, the great defender of Biblical inerrancy, accepted the probability of God-directed evolution, including of the human body, although again, not with Darwin’s denial of design. Of course he affirmed the historicity of Adam and Eve and the special creation of the soul. [See B.B.Warfield, Evolution, Science, and Scripture: Selected Writings (ed. Mark A. Noll & David N. Livingstone) Baker, 2000]

The Fundamentals, twelve small books issued by orthodox Christians between 1910/15 to counter liberal teaching, included articles open to a certain amount of theistic evolution. William Jennings Bryan, who appeared for the prosecution in the Scopes’ ‘Monkey’ trial in 1925, was a believer in the day-age view of Genesis 1, and was open to evolution of forms of life lower than human.

2. Antagonism to Christianity
In the latter part of the 19th century there was a strong tide of liberal thinking which extolled human ability and made reason the measure of all. A Deistic conception of God as an absentee landlord who occasionally intervened by miracle was influential as a seedbed for a more radical scientific religion (naturalism) as well as an atheistic social/economic order (Marxism) and an anti-supernatural view of the Bible. God had only been needed to explain the gaps in our knowledge, but we were able to work things out ourselves now. God could be dispensed with as an irrelevant hypothesis. Such was the attitude.

Darwinism was seen as an ideal vehicle to achieve the casting off of the ‘vestiges of superstition’, as influential men called Christian supernaturalism. Thomas Huxley (1825-95) was one of the most effective propagandists of this new scientific religion of naturalism. He was determined to secularise society through science. He pitted his reading of Scripture over against the scientific and proclaimed they were irreconcilable, but he did not recognise the limitations of science nor did he necessarily understand Scripture correctly. His propaganda victory in 1860 in his exchange with Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford, is well known.

A.D.White published an influential book A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom in 1896. It was one of a number which perpetuated the myth that Christianity was antagonistic to science and progress. If history is the politics of the victors, liberalism and scientific naturalism won. Their view of history and their creation myth became dominant.

3. Antagonism to science
With the collapse of liberal optimism after the disastrous First World War, many conservative Christians lashed back. They often did not distinguish the various views that can be covered by the term ‘evolution’. To them they were all of a piece with atheism. Thin-end-of-the-wedgeism was in vogue. They adopted an anti-intellectual stance and a very literalistic approach to Scripture. Interestingly, they still tended to accept an old earth position, but they did not have too much time for higher education. Their reaction only made the establishment view more entrenched. The Scopes’ trial was a PR disaster for conservative Christians because it identified opposition to evolution with the attitudes of ignorant back-country yokels.

But in the 1960s and 70s, the religious conservatives thought it was time to take on the scientific establishment using its own weapons. Consequently we have seen the rise of creation science in which an earth a few thousand years old and a global deluge about 4,500 years ago are key elements in construction of the early history of the world.

The historic co-operation between Christianity and science breaks down here, and constructive dialogue is virtually impossible, since there is such a comprehensive rejection of scientific explanations. Indeed, Christians like myself, who don’t advocate evolution but reject the 6/24 theory of the creation days, are also vilified by groups like Answers in Genesis as ‘dangerously heterodox’.

While most orthodox Christians have not endorsed the creation science movement it is very influential among younger believers, particularly in the USA. Its attraction is its simplicity as a direct appeal to what is regarded as the surface meaning of Scripture, and its strength the undeniable reality of atheism being propagated by popular apologists for evolution such as Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Ernst Mayr, Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins. These men are high-priests of a cult all the more dangerous because it cloaks itself in the guise of neutral unbiased science.

As we enter the 21st century the intellectual horizon is beginning to look a bit better. Post-modernism means God is at least back on the agenda even if everything is regarded as relative. Physics is now almost entirely accepting of a beginning for the universe and is impressed by the way in which the world seems to have been designed for humans (the anthropic principle). Darwinian evolution theory is looking as if it will disappear in its traditional form before too long. I imagine that the science of genetics, whose founder, Gregor Mendel (1822-84), was a Roman Catholic priest, will continue to throw up evidence that will challenge our present understanding of various matters. Revision of current scientific theories in this and other areas is certain. This is not surprising since it is the nature of science as a human endeavour that it is never final.And A.D.White’s argument for the essential antagonism of Christianity and science is seen as fundamentally flawed, at least in the scholarly community.

4. Some Christian views on origins
A number of positions can be distinguished and lots of people would not like to be classified precisely. I mention three kinds of approach.

The creation science approach is well known. There are various forms all presuming a recent creation a few thousand years ago and a geographically universal Flood about 2,400 BC or a little earlier. Some hold to a young earth created with appearance of age, others young earth with appearance of age due to the effects of the sin of Satan or humans. In its common current form it is young earth with appearance of age due to its instantaneous creation in maturity. There was no death of living things before the Fall and the diet of creatures was vegetarian until the Fall or perhaps the Flood. All present animal life is descended from those spared on the Ark, implying significant curse-caused variation in a short period (? a kind of rapid ‘evolution’) to account for the diversity of life at present.

There is the intelligent design school, including Phillip Johnson (Darwin on Trial etc) and Michael Behe (Darwin’s Black Box). This school of thought does not commit itself to creation science but addresses the presuppositions inherent in many scientific statements with a view to exposing the naturalistic religion so often mixed in with them. Faced with the immense complexity of even the simplest cell, proponents appeal to the evidence for design for those matters we cannot explain and which appear to have an irreducible complexity. In general they are not happy with full-blown macro-evolution, including for such obvious reasons as the lack of significant fossil evidence and the problem of imagining gradual evolution of structures such as the eye. They might be thought nearer the view that creation is to be understood in terms of a number of creative acts subsequent to the initial creation of the raw stuff, the view of so called progressive creationists. Not literalists in their reading of Genesis 1, their influence is increasing. A hearing for theism in secular institutions of learning is growing as a result.

There is the functional integrity school often associated with Howard van Till of Calvin College, but which seems to be much like B.B.Warfield’s view (except he held to the special creation of the soul) or some aspects of Augustine’s (although a much longer time scale is envisaged). This school embraces theistic evolution, that is, common biological ancestry. Its thought is that what God called into being ‘in the beginning’ is such that everything in the subsequent complexity of life unfolds in the time God appointed. It is regarded as a more elegant view of creation, more consistent with God’s character, since it does not require subsequent direct invasions of divine power, intrusions to correct some inherent inadequacy in the original stuff. It could also be termed a fully-gifted view, in which miracles are not needed to bridge gaps but all unfolds according to the amazingly rich capabilities with which God has endowed it. Miracles are then not intrusions to correct inadequacy but voluntary acts which have revelatory or redemptive value.

All views (and of course there are others likely to be of less interest to readers) have pluses and minuses. Any view open to a common biological ancestry tends to be regarded with repugnance by Christians – although seeing Scripture stresses our origin from the dust it’s obvious that we are not made of any better stuff than a worm. The intelligent design position has been accused of believing that what can be explained by us is not designed. In other words, it’s a variation of the ‘god of the gaps’ position, like scientific creationism.

5. What are we to make of all this?
One does not need to take a very explicit position since the Scriptures do not elaborate on the mechanics of creation in this way. The important point is that scientific explanation does not make God redundant. ‘By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.’ Everything is made by God. We must distinguish primary and secondary causes. We know the physical causes of rain, but that does not rule out the sovereign God who is the one who rules over all. Similarly we know why men crucified Jesus, but that does out rule out God’s redemptive purpose in it. Now we don’t have a precise description of the mechanics of creation but even if we did it would not make God superfluous.

What is clear is that God created all things and sustains them still. We must hold to a real Adam and Eve, a real fall and death as its penalty. For the rest, need we be concerned to endorse any theory? But as to meaning, purpose and goal there is much the Scripture tells us which everyone needs to know. Let’s make sure that they do.

Thoughts On Those Genesis Days

This is a shortened slightly revised version of a fuller paper written February 2001 accessible at <http://www.spindleworks.com/library/ward/framework.htm>. This version last updated March 2008.

A. INTRODUCTORY

1.1 What is the literal meaning of a text?
The literal meaning is commonly taken today as the surface meaning: the ordinary sense of the words is to be understood unless an obvious contradiction or absurdity results. But we Reformed have always insisted that the nature of God’s covenant administration must be considered. The prophets promise not a literal restoration of Israel but a restoration that transcends the old kingdom and brings about the conditions that deal with the inadequacies in the old. The old was, after all, only a foreshadowing of that to come. The premillennialist argues otherwise, pleading the plain meaning of the words. We are not rattled but resist such an approach to interpretation. The broad principles of Scripture disclose a different intention than the premillennialist claims.

In the 16th century the complex multi-layered meaning given Scripture by the medieval church was rejected for the literal sense. Approaches varied a bit. Luther is far more given to a literalistic exegesis than Calvin. For example, in his 1535 Lectures on Genesis Luther follows many in teaching that the serpent in the Garden was once a most beautiful creature that walked erect (at 3:14). The more careful Calvin thought that God merely assigned the snake its original condition from which Satan has sought to raise it. Does this difference really matter enough for us to divide the church? Neither man was motivated by other than an endeavour to be loyal to the intent of Scripture. As a first generation Reformer. Luther was probably more reactive to the mystical and allegorical exegesis that had made Scripture like ‘a nose of wax’, and wrote accordingly. But no one got uptight over it.

After the magisterial reformers the main theological interest was systematic theology rather than a truly biblical theology with emphasis on the historical unfolding of redemption. In the 18th century things were hardly dynamic but often reflected the tendencies in the wider world of thought – and they exalted human reason. So you have a kind of analytical approach that could lead to rationalism, as in liberalism, or to a developed literalistic exegesis as in the early 19th century Brethren movement.

Take the godly Dutch Reformed minister Wilhelm à Brakel (1635-1711). In 1700 he writes, “Whatever God declares, also concerning things in the realm of nature, is true. God says that the world is motionless and stationery, being circled by the sun, and thus it is a certain and incontrovertible truth” [The Christian’s Reasonable Service (Soli Deo Gloria 1992) I:65]. But à Brakel was wrong because he mistook simple observational language for a description of physical reality – and this a long time after Galileo.

As liberalism became more dominant in the mainline church, with rapid change in the direction of secularism, what did lovers of the Bible do? Very often they had an inadequate grasp of Biblical principles of interpretation. In a world of constant movement they reacted against liberalism into the literalism which in North America is so often associated with a simplistic approach to Scripture and premillennialism in any of its various forms.

Interestingly, because of the ‘gap’ or ‘day-age’ theories, the ‘fundamentalists’ were generally not young earthers. That is something reserved usually for those who today are under 50 and so have been exposed to an endeavour to push back those wretched evolutionists by an unanswerable scientific defence of creation based on a literalistic hermeneutic which cannot be answered. A noble aim perhaps, but misguided!

I would contend that scientific creationism in its most usual forms is not a consistent development from a truly Reformed understanding of Scripture. I admit 6/24 was the position of the 16th century Reformers, indeed of most Christians of all persuasions in that period. But anyone who compares Calvin’s exegesis of Genesis and that of say Henry M. Morris in The Genesis Record (1976) will spot the difference.

The point to remember is that we are always in danger of being reactive. Polarised positions arising from controversy can become an interpretative grid through which we read Scripture, rather than listening carefully to it. And all of us have a biases and often unconscious presuppositions which affect our reading of Scripture.

1.2 The creation days in history
a. It is a common place that Augustine (354-430) considered everything was created instantaneously with the six days given symbolic interpretation according to the notion of science and theology in those days. Interesting too that he always professes to aim to give a literal explanation but always ends with something other than that.

b. Basil (329-79), reacting to Origin’s allegorical view, is more in the line of ordinary days. With the return to the intended meaning of the text and in a pre-scientific context the days were commonly regarded in the 16th and 17th centuries as ordinary days like our days. There were some variations within this basic approach.

c. For example, the learned John Lightfoot (1602-75), a Westminster Divine, regarded the first day as of 36 hours in length [A Few and New Observations Upon the booke of Genesis. The most of them certaine, the rest probable, all harmlesse, strange and rarely heard of before (London 1642) p.2]. The language in the Westminster Confession (1646) “in the space of six days” (4:1) certainly reflects the language of a non-allegorical approach, but any intention to exclude say the views of Lightfoot would have to be proved. The fact that the Divines were all of a calendar day view is not of course determinative of what they intended, since we know that sometimes they deliberately used language that left options of interpretation open, and in any case they were not faced with views that arose later.

d. Another variation is set out in the great Turretine (1623-87) in his famous Institutes (Latin 1679; English P & R, 1992) I.445. He held that the eight works of the six day were instantaneous, but successive days were employed to put some space so that we could consider the different works more distinctly, and also to provide an example for our labour (Vol 1, p.445 in English). The learned Baptist, John Gill has the same opinion (1770).

e. It is well known that the ‘gap’ theory is commonly attributed to Thomas Chalmers, the first Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland in 1843. He proposed this idea as early as 1814. On his view one could have long geological ages before the six (re-creative) days.

f. Continued scientific development showed the gap theory did not meet the requirements of the geological evidence while it was difficult if not impossible to justify grammatically from the Hebrew text. An alternative with earlier antecedents became popular, particularly through the work of Hugh Miller, an amateur but capable geologist and also a strong advocate of the Christian faith as understood by the Free Church of Scotland. This is the day age-viewpoint. It bears too much for my liking the marks of an endeavour to harmonise in an inappropriate way with scientific theories. Nevertheless, it was the most popular viewpoint among Christians in English-speaking countries in the period 1870 to 1970.

g. The American Presbyterian theologian W.G.T.Shedd (1820-1894) argued in 1888 in his Systematic Theology (Vol 1:474ff) for God-divided days, language also used on occasion by Augustine and others. The position of the great Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) in his Gereformeerde Dogmatiek is to the same effect [see the section translated as In the Beginning (Baker, 1999) pp. 120-126] On this view God’s days are God’s days and our days are related to them but not precisely the same. Similarly, the minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church at Geelong, Australia, Rev H.K.Mack, in his 16 page booklet Bible Story of Creation: True? (Melbourne: M.L.Hutchinson, 1911).

h. Finally, the Framework Interpretation should be considered. The two essential elements are: (1) the days are not normal days but function as a literary framework (2) there is an element of topical rather than sequential arrangement.

1.3 Concluding comment
It will be seen that the last two views (g) and (h) have some aspects in common. My own position draws on both. I hope this introductory historical part will give a helpful context for understanding the days of Genesis and evaluating the Framework Interpretation. In my experience, without a proper context we are prone to many mistakes and unlikely to progress in understanding.

B. BIBLICAL & THEOLOGICAL

2.1 Intent
If one works through Genesis to Deuteronomy (which form the single book of Moses), it is clear that there is a master literary craftsman at work. The way material is arranged highlights important themes that make the book memorable and well suited for a largely oral society. The content also shows concern to address questions relevant to the people of Israel as they leave Egypt and journey toward the Promised Land. I believe we should approach Genesis 1 out of the conviction that it is a kind of prologue which, together with the early history and the stories of the patriarchs, leads on to the Exodus and the covenant at Sinai. That in turn means that Christ is in Genesis, for all is part of the history of redemption.

Israel came to understand the significance of God’s redemptive name, Yahweh [LORD] in the Exodus (Ex 6:3-7). Israel had heard his words and seen his deeds as their Redeemer and Saviour. Who, then, is this God who brought his people out of slavery? What is his relationship to men and nations and to the gods these people worshipped? What right did he have to punish the Egyptians and to dispossess the Canaanites of their land? What are his purposes with the world and in history? What was the truth about their ancestors? These are the kinds of questions that loomed large for Israel. And they’re the relevant ones for us too.

2.2 What kind of writing?
It is generally recognised that Genesis 1 is not poetic, although it does have some special stylistic features that reflect its profound subject matter. These features do not mean that the narrative belongs to the level of myth, metaphor or imagination so that its content ceases to be factual.

In line with the ancient Jewish commentators, we should not look to Genesis for an account of the mechanics of creation – if it were it would certainly address certain issues with much greater clarity, and at greater length, than it does. However, this fact does not mean the account has no implications for scientific endeavour – it is the nature of those implications which is disputed. But all can insist that everything is demythologised by being reduced to the status of creatures. Sun, moon and stars, great sea creatures – these are not rival deities. The creation text provides a basis on which the scientific enterprise may proceed even if it is not itself a scientific account.

We should recognise that the narrative describes the world in simple observational ways common among ancient peoples without at all intending to teach that physical reality is a flat earth floating on water under a canopy of water. We would expect a genuine narrative from Moses’ time addressed to ordinary people would read in this way. [The same is true in the New Testament, eg. Phil 2:10.] What the first readers actually thought about the structure of the physical world is quite immaterial to the teaching intended by Genesis.

Further, from the way certain matters are referred to with the definite article [eg: ‘the deep’ (1:2), the two trees, the cherubim, the flaming sword] we can infer that much of the content of the early Genesis narratives was already known in some form to the early Hebrews. Moses gives an inspired account of the past as it bears upon Israel’s present. There are some parallels to events in Genesis 1-11 in other ancient writings, but the chaste Biblical text supports a quite different theology from them; it is free of the elements which make them demonstrably mythological or otherwise corrupt versions of the original.

Finally, mere chronology, so important in much of our Western writing, is not such a big deal in the Hebrew literary tradition. Topical arrangement or rearrangement is not infrequently found: even the ten plagues are summarised as seven, and in a different order, in Psalm 78:42-51; Ps 105:24-37. The emphasis in the creation narrative (compare Gen 1:2) appears to be on form (days 1-3) followed by fullness (days 4-6) climaxed by day 7. There is a very logical order; whether it is also entirely chronological is disputed. However, it should be noted that if the common position of Genesis 1:1 as a statement of initial creation is accepted, we have time between Genesis 1:1a and 2:2c before the creative word in verse 3 of Day 1 creating light.

2.3 The creation days and time and sequence
In general the Hebrew word for ‘day’ has the same range of meanings as the English word. Therefore it can include meanings such as a period of light, daytime as distinct from night (Gen 1:5), a day regulated by the sun (Gen 1:14), and also a period of time longer than a solar day during which something is done (Gen 2:4). The context usually makes clear which meaning applies. But here lies the difficulty. There are significant differences about the meaning of the six creation days among godly interpreters of Scripture.

I believe this is not simply due to a desire on the part of some to make the passage fit modern scientific views of the world, for every age has shown differences. The description of the unique activity of the creation days has suggested that there is something special about the days themselves.

      1) The first verse reminds us that God’s relation to time is different from ours: time and space are themselves part of the created order, as Augustine noted 1,600 years ago.
      2) The series of days is viewed from God’s perspective beginning with day one, not from a human perspective. Hence

Psalm 90:4

      , also written by Moses,

is

      relevant. Creation is in six days but the temporal duration of those days is not the concern of Scripture.
      3) The first day is more correctly translated ‘day one;’ the next four days lack a definite article, contrary to many translations, and thus should read, ‘a second day’ etc.), whereas days 6 and 7 have the definite article. Such features are not found in a series of ordinary days (eg.

Numbers 29:17ff

      ).
      4) Time during the first three days moves from evening to morning even in the absence of the sun. As far as creation is concerned a day is defined by the end of darkness through the onset of light, not by the rotation of the earth around the sun, and not by morning followed by evening as might seem more appropriate for us.
      5) On day 7 all is reviewed. The formless and empty original condition with the deep shrouded in darkness has been replaced by a formed (days 1-3) and filled (days 4-6) world. But day 7 is not closed for the goal of creation is still to be realised – and we know that there will be no night there but only the radiance of the light of the glory of God.
      6) Day 4 (the middle day of 7) has structural and theological significance in the narrative. (a) It gives a further perspective on the related work of day 1 and puts the heavenly bodies worshipped by the ancients in their true place. (b) It anticipates day 7 and marks the weekly day of rest and worship of the God who made sun, moon and stars.
      7) God’s work is accomplished by his word, the expression of his will, not by effort and labour as is the case on our days; nor is God’s rest the same as ours. The two other references to the creation days (

Exodus 20:5

      ;

31:17

      ) – and there are only two – cannot be taken in human terms so far as God’s work and rest is concerned, although they do apply to

our

      24 hour days.
      8) It seems that the narrative is given in a seven day form to teach us God’s purpose for man, and to show the basis and meaning of the day of rest. Recurring rest after work reflects God’s plan for humanity; that his destiny after his work is done is to enter into God’s rest, a higher form of bodily existence of which the tree of life in Eden was a pledge.
      9) The expanded view of the creation of the humans in 2:4ff suggests more activity than a solar day would allow.
    10) Words drawn from the standards of human work and measurement may be the only ways we can hear or talk about creation. However, such words cannot limit God’s mighty and mysterious acts to the span of human comprehension.

Time:
I think myself that the simple emphasis on God’s days is wisest. This avoids upsetting the simplicity and profundity of the passage which occurs when different human lengths are given to the days. We may do this to try and satisfy geologists or even to play off days 1-3 as non solar, and therefore perhaps of great length, against days 4-6 (or is it 5-6?) that are said to be solar. But these are forced approaches not warranted by the text. God created in six days but these are God’s days, related to ours but different.
It is very clear that the seven day scheme is designed to give a pattern for our work. Whatever distinctions of length in the creation days that there might be from God’s perspective, from our perspective it is missing the point to make such distinctions if by doing so we lose sight of the pattern provided for us of work and rest within a weekly cycle. On the simple narrative level for us, the seventh day is the seventh of whatever the first six were, and the recurring weekly cycle rather than the day is the crucial unit.
Obj: If it is said that we have lost the basis for the fourth commandment if the days are not identical to ours, I can only reiterate point 7 above. There is an analogy between God’s days and ours, but there is not perfect identity any more than God’s labour and his rest are identical to ours.

Sequence:
There is a strong emphasis on orderly progression in the narrative. Further, if light is sequentially first and humans sequentially last, as I imagine everyone would agree, would not it be logical to regard the other items as also sequential? Well it may be logical but yet not the logic of the account itself. I think there is sufficient evidence for the possibility of a degree of topicality that we should not dogmatise on the details of sequence.

Obj: Again it is claimed that we have lost the basis for the fourth commandment if we do not have sequence. Mr Walker says that it is ‘a logical fallacy and nonsense’ to say, that as God worked six topics and rested one topic so we are to work six topics and rest one. I submit that Mr Walker at this point is more interested in making Dr Futato look foolish than in really trying to understand him.

It is illegitimate to make a precise or scientific comparison of our work and God’s work, for no such comparison is possible. God does not bring to pass his works in time in the same way that we do, and only a general correspondence can exist. God created perfectly on his six days; we do not labour in this sense in our days. Indeed, God created by his word, but we must expend energy in labour. Hence, God’s work is not strictly related to the available hours of the day and night as if he clocked in and clocked off; we work in the day hours and rest at night. The question as to whether the works of each day were instantaneous, or occupied 12 or 24 hours is therefore missing the point. The teaching of the narrative does not depend on such precise correspondence.

God rested and was ‘refreshed’ (Ex 31:17) on his seventh day. This is not a rest because of exhaustion (cf. Isaiah 40:28), nor is it mere cessation from all work (John 5:17) Rather, it is a rest of satisfaction and pleasure in what God has done. We rest and are refreshed in a different way – a rest more of a physical kind – and not one which involves perfect satisfaction either.

If God, in accommodation to us, sets out his creative work in a somewhat topical form without concern for scientific chronology, it would not follow that we have no basis for our work (which must of necessity follow a temporal sequence). Nor would it follow that God has made up reasons for us to obey him. If it is not a strictly chronological sequence it is nevertheless a wise and logical order and just so should our work be done.

2.4 The Framework Interpretation
The position set out in 2.3, which has affinities to both the analogical days view and the FI, allows for an FI position since on the two key points of time and sequence it leaves matters somewhat open. It should be noted that the argument given in 2.3 does not endorse every possible FI view, nor does it depend on the distinctive exegesis of Genesis 2:4ff offered by Kline, Futato and others. You may think that exegesis seriously defective or inadequate, but you would still be left with a pretty strong case – an unanswerable case perhaps!, – against the 6/24 view. I give my understanding of Genesis 2:4ff in the next section. Here, let me deal with some specific criticism of FI.

Argument from Genesis 2:5.
Meredith Kline argues from the phrase in Gen 2:5 “because it had not rained”. thatnormal providence was in operation during the creation week, thus no plants because no rain. Now Gen 2:4ff could be describing conditions in the area where humans were created rather than the whole earth. Further, ordinary providence in one instance does not rule out extraordinary action in another. But it does not follow that we can be dogmatic against Kline without looking at the presuppositions of those who oppose him.

I consider Dr Futato’s paper “Because it Had Rained” is fundamentally on the right track. Those who have read it will probably not find it as confusing as some have alleged.

Argument about two-registers cosmology.
A third possible element in the Framework Interpretation additional to the time and sequence issues, relates to the idea that the heavens and the earth of Genesis 1:1 refer to God’s heavens including the angelic world and this physical universe (cf. Psalm 115:15-16). Most recent writers, overlooking the distinctive Hebrew way of thinking, seem to assume the words refer to the totality of the physical universe. Given that Genesis 1:1 is, I think, a statement of the initial act rather than a summary of what follows, we then have to ask why the earth gets a heavens. Kline argues that we are to see this earth with its heavens given to man as a kind of reflection of God’s heavens. There is nothing very startling about this. You find it in many older writers such as the influential William Ames, Marrow of Theology, 1623.

Meredith Kline reasserts it strongly and develops it to support the idea of this order of creation being a copy of the higher. As with the analogy of the tabernacle, the earthly copy is related to but not the same as the heavenly original, so with the days. In Dr Kline’s elaboration he uses a rather distinctive terminology that only the initiated manage to fully grasp (I don’t regard myself as one of the initiated!). Like anyone with a big intellect and a favourite theme he overdoes things at times, yet he provides many insights of considerable value. It is more important and helpful to interact with Kline than to rubbish him. You will learn and maybe he will too.

From an exegetical point of view FI is far superior to the day-age views commonly held by the greats in the Reformed and Presbyterian world a generation or two back. I fail to see any proper ground for the great alarm in some circles. What I do see in many young earth arguments is a truncated view of the order of creation which owes a great deal to the evangelical fundamentalist approach rather than a properly Biblical and Reformed understanding.

Response to some other objections.
I have already dealt with the allegation that a non-literal view provides no adequate basis for the fourth commandment. Some other objections are:

1. It suggests denial of the clarity (perspicuity) of Scripture.
I submit that the 10 points I have adduced about the days are plain enough in the text to thoughtful readers. They do not depend on knowledge of the physical world although such knowledge may make them seem more significant. They do not enable us to conclude the age of the earth from Scripture but leave that question open. They suggest we should agree with Augustine’s comment about the extreme difficulty or perhaps impossibility of conceiving the nature of the days (City of God, 11:6).

Secondly, the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not mean that matters of less moment are abundantly clear to everyone. The doctrine of creation is hardly suspended upon agreement about the precise nature of the days. The doctrine of creation is far more than many seem to think. The danger in the focus on the meaning of the days is that we bypass so much of an adequate doctrine of creation. Indeed, like views on the millennium of Rev 20 it can become a divisive shibboleth.

2. It suggests that a literary approach to Scripture is an imposition of the critic’s subjective philosophy on Scripture so the reader’s frame of reference dominates rather than the author’s intended meaning.

I must say I think this argument very unsatisfactory. Of course there are literary critics who dissect Scripture to fit their own agenda. But over-reaction to liberal critics and an interpretive principle that does not allow believing examination of the literary structure of Scripture should not be our position. The fact is that it is people like Dr Futato who are seeking to apply a proper grammatical-historical exegesis. He is wanting to set the narrative not in the context of the western philosophical tradition but in the context of God’s dealing with his people in the 15th century BC when they were delivered from Egypt and brought to Canaan. And he is not saying that literary form and literal meaning are mutually exclusive, but literal form may well disclose the emphasis of the narrative and of course sometimes show the surface meaning is not the intended meaning.

3. It is very commonly suggested that we are on a slippery slope with the non-literal approach. Even the resurrection of Christ is not safe.

What an appalling argument, and yet a common one! Is not a truly Reformed argument but the argument of one more influenced by evangelical fundamentalism that he realises! It can only be accounted for by perhaps unconscious polarisation of thought, such as I have described earlier, due to the wide dissemination of defective views of Scripture interpretation. Wisely does Prof H. Ohmann of the Liberated Reformed Churches in the Netherlands comment in Lux Mundi, December 2000:
Is it feasible to have the length of the days of creation play the role the resurrection of Christ has in the doctrine of the Church, and in the biblical revelation? The truth and reality of the resurrection of our Saviour in the history of revelation is the main point of interest throughout the Bible (esp. the New Testament). I simply remind the reader of 1 Corinthians 15 and many other passages in the letters of Paul. ‘Do you ever notice an equal importance being attached to the length of the days of creation in the rest of the Bible? Did you ever give that a thought?’
2.5 Genesis 2:4ff a complementary account
In the section beginning at 2:4 we have a complementary account of the creation of humankind. Verse 4 should be taken as a literary inversion as in NKJV: ‘This is the account [toledoth] of the heavens and the earth in the day they were created/when the LORD God made earth and heavens.’ Perhaps here the term is doing a double service, both forming an inclusio with 1:1 and introducing what follows (which is the standard usage). The word toledoth begins each of ten sections in Genesis. It moves the narrative forward by passing over certain people or subjects and concentrating on those matters which carry forward the covenant purpose of God. Chapter 2 does not contradict but fills out part of Chapter 1.

Contrasts
There are a number of contrasts in this more detailed picture. I’ll mention three of them.
1) The Creator is 35 times termed God [Elohim] in Genesis 1:1-2:3. This name gives emphasis to his power and majesty. In the unit Genesis 2:4-4:26 God is named 35 times also, but 20 occasions combine the name God with the covenant name Israel had come to appreciate in the Exodus from Egypt (Ex 6:1-9). LORD God [Yahweh Elohim] is the name of personal interest and covenant love. Here is no evidence of different sources and sloppy editing, but evidence of profound theological insight. The Redeemer of Israel is also the Creator of all; the Redeemer of Israel has never been a mere lordly sultan but always a God of love.

2) In Gen 1:1 we are faced with a watery mass to which God gives order, stability, form and population; in 2:5 we begin with dry land and an absence of rain. This is discussed below.

3) Genesis 1 leads us to think in terms of the instantaneous creation of the man and woman together at the command of God. Genesis 2 provides another perspective – the man first, then the woman, and at least some plants and animals after the man but before the woman.

Life support.
According to 2:5-6 it appears that there were a variety of soil types and ecological systems in the place of human origin. The whole world was not a garden, although conditions elsewhere than where man originated are not the immediate concern. It is the eretz, the earth or land where man originates, that is the focus, so the expedient of translating the verbs in 2:8,19 as pluperfects (had planted, had formed) as in NIV is needless.

There are special words for the plants in 2:5 which throw light on the passage. First, we are told that plants [siah – elsewhere only in Gen 21:15 and Job 30:4,7] of the plain have not sprouted because it has not rained. The kind of plants mentioned depend on annual rains in spring and autumn. This detail suggests that the length of the work of the days in Genesis 1 is not a concern of the text, and implies that ordinary providential process is operating (no rain therefore no plants). Second, fields of grain [esebh] have not been established because there is no human to cultivate the ground.

God meets these two deficiencies. First, he causes a mist, or rather, rainclouds [edh – elsewhere only in Job 36:27b] to rise from the earth. Thus the arid regions will have vegetation. Second, God makes a cultivator from the dust and his own breath (2:7), but first places him in a Garden and not in the agricultural land.

After a quite brief reference to the creation of the man we have a very extended reference to the river in Eden that divided into four heads, and to the regions through which they flowed (2:10-14). It is evident that even the Flood of Noah’s day did not work radical change, and the Tigris and Euphrates are still identifiable rivers today. The Gihon and the Pishon are perhaps the Nile and a now dry river in Arabia which flowed up to 5 kilometres wide through grassland from the Hejez mountains to the Gulf. But why such a lengthy reference? We have more here than anticipation of the words of God to Adam after his sin in 3:18.

Bear in mind the conditions of ancient life, so dependent on water. The common origin of the rivers does not fit our geographical science but does teach the vital truth that God is the single source of provision for man from ‘the waters below the firmament’ as the common view of the earth as a disk floating on water had it.

Egypt and Mesopotamia were river civilisations, using irrigation techniques, while Canaan depended on the autumn and spring rains (note Deut 11:10-17). It was important to Moses’ hearers to stress that life and fertility everywhere come from the LORD God, not from the gods of Egypt overthrown in the Plagues, and not from Baal, the storm and fertility god of the Canaanites whose land they were to possess. Elsewhere Scripture continues to use the river as a powerful symbol of the life-giving presence of God (Ps 46:5; Ezek 47:1-12), and it reappears in the New Jerusalem (Rev 22:1).

The making of the man
If God provided spring and autumn rains so that the plants of the plains would sprout, he also provided a cultivator so that fields of grain could be established. We would do well to recognise the figurative aspects in the language about man’s creation: we need not suppose God to be a literal potter actually breathing into the nostrils of a clay model of a man. Yet the language about the forming of the man tells us a great deal about the loving care of God. We may be made of the same stuff as worms but there is still this unique relationship with God. Chapter 1 had spoken of the image of God and chapter 2 speaks of covenant relationship.

Given that the literal existence of Adam is sometimes denied, it will be worth noting the following confirmations of the ordinary impression of historicity. The genealogies of Genesis 5 and of Luke 3 require an individual Adam, and Jesus’ references to Genesis 1 and 2 have the same implication (Matt 19:4-5). Paul’s testimony is that sin and death in the human family came through the transgression of one man, Adam (Rom 5), who was, he assures us, formed first (1 Cor 11:8-12) although Eve was the first to sin (1 Tim 2:13-14). It was through this first representative man, Adam, that death came, which the second representative man, Jesus, reverses by his resurrection (I Cor 15:45-47).

The Garden and the Earth
In Genesis 2:15 we are told that the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden for certain purposes. Those purposes are traditionally stated ‘to till and to keep it’. However, there is no ‘it’ in Hebrew and the two verbs are frequently used in a religious sense for the duties of the Levites in the tent of meeting. They may be rendered very properly ‘to worship and obey’. Man is not being isolated in the Garden from the world he is to subdue, but he is being shown how is dominion must be exercised to be effective. Only in a right relationship to God can his relationship to creation be right.

The location of the Garden is uncertain but falls somewhere within the boundaries of the great and ancient rivers of life (2:10-14). If the narrative presupposes the Hebrews are still in Egypt, then it is somewhere east of there.

God establishes a variety of trees which are both desirable in appearance and satisfying to the taste. In this setting two special trees are mentioned which raise the question of desire and satisfaction for the man to a higher level than the merely physical (2:9). Given that Proverbs 3:18 says that wisdom is a tree of life, it seems that we should view the tree of life in the Garden as a symbol of the gift of life which comes through abiding in what God has revealed. We are not to live by food alone but by every word that comes from God (Matt 4:4). The other tree represents the condition connected with the promise. To eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is to decide for oneself what is desirable and what is not. For the man to act in this way is not the path of wisdom and life but folly and death.

The rivers and the mineral features mentioned (2:10-14) indicate a world well equipped for man’s global task: there is great potential, and much to bring as tribute to the LORD God. But how will he relate to the world around him? What will be his desire, and where his satisfaction? Will he serve the LORD God rightly in his world, or will the man go his own way? Will he worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator? These are the issues addressed in this profound passage.

2.3 Conclusion
The issues involved in a proper understanding of Genesis are very important. Many factors need to be considered and I have not done this fully. For example, the nature of creation, the meaning of its original goodness, whether there was death among the non-human creatures, are all among matters which have assumed quite a deal of importance in some minds. To many the subject is very emotional because of the claims of evolutionists, particularly those who are naturalistic to the core. I cannot deal with these in this paper. However, I hope a reasonable idea of the coherence of Genesis 1 and 2 has been given. I hope I’ve shown you don’t need to know much about the physical world at all to recognise that these creation days are unique and cannot be neatly packaged in our little boxes. The text itself drives you that way.

The question has been asked whether the FI is out of line with the Reformed Confessions. Certainly the Three Forms of Unity do not mention the length of the days of creation, nor other related issues recorded in Scripture, such as the Noahic Flood. Confessions are not intended to cover everything. Even the WCF, which does state in 4:1 that creation was “in the space of six days”, may not be doing other than reflecting Biblical language. In this case, whatever Scripture means is what the Confession means.

In my opinion there is nothing in the argument from Scripture for FI which is subversive of the doctrine of creation in our Confessions. There is perhaps one point and that is the relationship of creation and providence. Dr N.H.Gootjes of the Canadian Reformed Churches gave me a copy of a paper he wrote in 1993 entitled “Is Creation the Same as Providence?” In it he raises important issues. It could be that certain forms of the FI could clash with the traditional distinction between creation and providence. On the whole, however, I think this is a matter which can be debated among the orthodox without falling out over it.

Creation and the flood

This article is from Trowel & Sword, the magazine of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia, May 1999.

The letters of your two correspondents in the last issue of T & S suggest they have not understood, assuming they have read, the Biblical arguments I have tried to develop in Foundations in Genesis. Lord’s Day 43 in the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us that God’s will is that we never give false testimony against anyone or twist their words. We Christians must keep this in mind when we discuss our differences.

My two brothers seem to have such a narrow view of what is authentically Reformed that Herman Bavinck and B.B.Warfield, among many other giants in the Reformed tradition, would be in the dock with me. [In this case the privilege would be mine!]

Indeed, while Calvin accepts creation about 4000 BC in six ordinary days, as did just about every one in his time, he specifically rejects the notion that the Bible is a book of science; he affirms Moses wrote in a popular style for ordinary people. He recognises as legitimate the results of scientific investigation such as the greater size of Saturn relative to the moon. He was not a modern fundamentalist. Mind you, modern literalists are not consistently so, otherwise they would believe in a flat earth supported by pillars in the sea.

Expansion of a couple of topics not covered in my September T & S article may help your readers. I hope so, since the issues are important.

1. The nature of creation
Recent creationists usually suggest that creation was ‘perfect’, and that redemption involves a permanent return to pre-fall conditions. If this is true it supports the notion that all that is less than ideal in the present world is due to sin. The contention that animal ferocity and death comes from human sin could then seem plausible.

This approach is certainly flawed. Scripture teaches that creation was ‘very good’, that is, free of moral evil and as God intended, and in that sense perfect. However, creation had a greater destiny than simply to continue as God had made it. Eternal life was in prospect, the seventh day of God’s rest pointing to a glorious destiny. Accordingly, the body made of earth and earthy (1 Cor 15:44-49) was to undergo glorification following a history of obedience here.

Disobedience brings God’s judgment here and now (thorns and thistles), but it also means that the reward of obedience has been forfeited, and a dreadful end is in view if God does not mercifully intervene. Christ by his redeeming work gains the forfeited destiny and bestows it on his people. Redemption is not the abandonment of creation but its glorification as envisaged in the beginning and with a display of the Divine character that otherwise we would not have known.

Creation’s ‘bondage to decay’ (Rom 8:19ff) arises from the decree of God who has subjected it to frustration in the setting of hope. Creation looks forward to its glorification but it cannot attain it apart from the consummation of God’s redemptive purpose with humanity. The new heavens and the new earth as the dwelling place of the redeemed will reach a new standard of perfection set by God.

While recognising the cosmic dimension of sin we need not attribute everything around us that would be inappropriate in the world of glory to its effects. The original ‘very good’ pre-fall creation had features which will not be needed in the world to come: the relatively weak and powerless human body depended on food intake (1 Cor 6:13), and it excreted wastes; humanity was capable of being invaded by death.

Is animal death another of these features? Paul’s argument in 1 Tim 4:3-4 is that God made everything ‘good’ and therefore everything is able to be eaten. The recent creationist argument, based on Genesis 1:29-31, is just about the reverse. It runs, ‘God made everything good and therefore humans were to confine themselves to plants and vegetables’. Surely this view proves too much: fish, eggs and milk products would also be off limits if the interpretive principle used is correct.

What is ‘good’ is defined by God, not by abstract notions of perfection arising from human thinking.

2. The Noahic Flood
Similar care is necessary in considering the Noahic Flood narrative. In the Flood the primary theological factor is that of decreation/recreation. God foreshadows the cosmic judgement of which Enoch had spoken earlier (cf. Jude 14,15) by a particular judgement on Noah’s contemporaries which will powerfully show both his righteousness and his redemptive purpose. The New Testament uses the account in the same way.

The earth is reduced to a watery waste like that described in Gen 1:2, and a new, cleansed world is formed with righteous Noah at its head, a picture of the ultimate new heavens and new earth at the end of history. Noah, like Adam, sins but in contrast to Adam he is not a sinner only because he rebelled; he sins because he is a sinner, a partner in the rebellion. Though a recipient of God’s mercy he is unable to carry the weight of the redemption which God has promised. So we are encouraged to look for a new development: the covenant of life with Abraham, from whom comes Jesus, the true Redeemer.

The universal language in the Flood account is not to be down-played by translating eretz as ‘land’ rather than ‘earth’. The universal language would be perfectly proper even if the Flood was limited geographically, since the intention of the narrative is to prefigure the final judgement of all who have ever lived. In the same way, the provisional fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham is behind the statement in Genesis 41:56-57 that the people of ‘all the earth’ came to buy grain from Joseph; the statement is not scientifically true, and wasn’t intended to be, but it highlights God’s faithful covenant purpose to be climaxed in a greater that Joseph.

God said that never again would all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, never again would there be a flood to destroy the earth (Gen 9:10-11). If the Flood was not geographically universal what do these words mean? They mean the Flood did reach to all places where humans had settled and destroyed them, and/or they mean that there will never again be a flood of such significance in God’s purposes, although there may be extensive flooding and even numerically greater loss of life in the future.

For a parallel, notice Jesus said that the overthrow of Jerusalem in AD 70 would be “unequalled from the beginning of the world [not ‘since the Flood’] until now – and never to be equalled again” (Matt 24:31). If we object that more Jewish lives were lost, and more hideously, in Nazi Europe, we may speak truly yet miss the point. We must not interpret the narrative by our benchmarks of significance but by God’s.

The eminent Puritan commentator Matthew Poole (1669) was one of the earliest Protestants to suggest the flood was not geographically universal; the Talmudic sages had argued similarly much earlier. For examples of universal statements not meant in a physical or scientific sense see Deut 2:25; 1 Kings 18:10; Dan 2:38-39; Luke 2:1; Mark 1:5; Acts 2:5; Col 1:23.

We cannot be sure when the Flood occurred or its mechanism. However, the Bible shows not the slightest interest in explaining how the fresh and salt water creatures survived; obviously they did not have to survive in a thick global soup of sediments in suspension.

Similarly, the Bible shows no interest in explaining how all the other creatures fitted in the ark; obviously they were necessarily limited by the ability of 8 people to feed and care for them for a year. I would suppose representatives of the creatures in the cultural region where Noah lived were on the ark, probably some hundreds of animals and birds. This would be sufficient for the purpose of conveying the significance of the Flood to all succeeding generations.

Giving the language a scientific sense means 35,000 vertebrate creatures converge on the ark, according to Whitcomb and Morris, recent creationist leaders. There are some difficulties of course: for example, loading them through the single door using 8 people in seven 24 hour days (10,080 minutes) allows 17 seconds per creature, assuming no time for meals or sleep.

Conclusion
I’m wanting to stress that the definition of the Bible’s universal terms, of creation’s goodness and of the creation days themselves, is not to be determined by our standards: the benchmarks are God’s. Scripture does not exclude an old universe and so I am open to it. In fact it seems as clearly established by science as was the greater size of Saturn compared to the moon in Calvin’s day, but that does not mean I accept macro-evolution of living creatures.

All Christians must reject naturalistic evolution as inherently atheistic, while theistic evolution using the present dominant neo-Darwinian understanding of change does not meet the requirements of an adequate explanation, scientifically or biblically, in my view. But whatever turns out to be the right explanation Christianity is not at risk. As Romans 11:36 reminds us: ‘All things are from God, through God and for God. To whom be glory for ever! Amen.’

Book Review: Nostradamus in the 21st Century

by Peter Lemesurier (London: Piatkus Books 2000) pbk. 325pp)
ISBN: 0749921633

 

From The Presbyterian Banner, September 2002


Peter Lemesurier appears to be one of the more sane followers of Michel de Nostredame (1503-66), if that is not a contradiction in terms. Nostradame, later known as Nostradamus, was a contemporary of his fellow Frenchman John Calvin (1509-65), but was a far different character. Nostradamus was of Jewish extraction but a practising Roman Catholic. He achieved considerable fame as a physician of the plague, although his medical qualifications are uncertain, and he did not claim great success himself. He was also famed somewhat as an ‘astrologer’, but preferred, rather wisely one would think, to call himself an ‘astrophile’, or ‘star-lover’. On his semi-retirement in around 1550 he turned to writing, particularly in the area of astrology and prophecy. This brought him into great public prominence, and he became particularly influential at the French court where he was a favourite of Catherine de Medici. Twice married, he had two children by his first wife (all three died) and six by his second. He was careful not to fall out with the Roman Church.

His prophetic writings included annual books of predictions for the following year. The success rate of the 6,338 or so predictions thus made has been calculated by Bernard Chevignard at only 5.73%. He also produced more general and usually undated prophecies of the future history of the world. These include 1,000 4-line verse prophecies called quatrains. There are many obscure expressions in them, but these are the writings that attract most interest today. The success rate cannot be determined because the commentators vary so widely on their interpretation. Lemesurier suggests only a dozen or so are agreed on by all (p. 32f). His published horoscopes show, according to Pierre Brund’Amour, that he was ‘astonishingly incompetent’ as an astrologer. Roger Prevost [Nostra-damus, le mythe et la realite, Laffont, 1999] suggests that many of Nostradamus’ prophecies were based on past events drawn often virtually word for word from ancient histories and medieval chronicles. The idea seems to have been belief in cycles in history so, given the same celestial conditions, the potential for the same terrestrial occurrence existed.

According to Lemesurier, in a website on the subject <http://nosrepos.tripod.com/faq.html> :
‘The most up-to-date research into Nostradamus’ prophecies generally is contained in Bernard Chevignard’s Présages de Nostradamus (Editions du Seuil, 1999). The latest and most reliable work on his astrology is contained in the late Pierre Brind’Amour’s Nostradamus Astrophile (Lincksieck/Univ. of Ottawa Presses, 1993), and possibly the most reliable analysis of the first-edition verses (1.1 to IV.53) in the same author’s Nostradamus: Les Premières Centuries (Droz, 1996) – but both, like Chevignard’s work, are of course also in French. Even James Randi’s characteristically sceptical The Mask of Nostradamus (Prometheus, 1993) contains – for all its many errors of detail – far more up to date, correct information on the seer than most of the popular books in English put together!’

One of the most interesting aspects of Lemesurier’s book is the way in which he understands free will and prophecy. ‘If we respond to those warnings appropriately, the prophecies – this time around at least – will fail. And so Nostradamus will be proved wrong – which, of course, is the fate of all good prophets’ (p.8).

From a Biblical perspective there is a certain truth in this. God may announce judgement yet relent if there is changed behaviour, as with Jonah and the Ninevites. In such cases there is an implied condition. But Lemesurier’s view seemingly does not allow God to control his creation, nor allow the credibility of the prophet to be demonstrated by predictions that are absolute. It’s a neat way of making prophecy meaningless, as if 5.73% accuracy makes you a better prophet than one who is 100% right! Of course, it also assumes one knows the meaning of the prophecy so as to act to counter it.

In the Bible the true prophet’s predictions never fail, except insofar as any implied conditions are fulfilled. If they do fail then it is a sure sign God is not speaking by him (Deut 18:21-22). Further, even if the prediction comes true but the prophet leads away from the truth of God, he is not a true prophet, but one God is using to test his people (Deut 13:5).

Nostradamus is an interesting character. Yet isn’t it amazing that the Hebrew prophets’ predictions do not gain the interest and attention that Nostradamus receives, a man who failed both Biblical tests? That’s man, however. If he will not subject himself to the word of God, he’s open to believe anything.

Book Review: The Bible, Protestantism and the rise of natural science by Peter Harrison

 By Peter Harrison (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), xii + 313pp., A$105

This review by Rowland S. Ward appeared in the Reformed Theological Review, December 1999.

 

Peter Harrison is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Bond University, Qld. He has authored a volume that is well-written and rsearched and which is very valuable in understanding the origins of the natural sciences.

A common view since the 1930s has been that the Puritans were the key to the rise of the sciences since so many of them were involved in the founding of the Royal Society. They were also over-represented in the sciences compared to their proportion in the total population. However key elements of the scientific approach lie before the Puritan influence (Galileo, Descartes), and so a modified view has been proposed which claims that the spirit of enquiry promoted by Protestantism generally, and the breaking of clerical censorship, is a better way of explaining the rise of the natural sciences. However, Harrison suggests a more refined thesis. To him the key is the approach to the interpretation of texts fostered by the early reformers and their successors, and he makes a convincing case.

Biblical texts had early been subjected to non-literal exegesis in the interest of giving difficult parts moral or figurative value. In the same way, nature was seen as intended to illustrate moral and spiritual matters, and was not viewed in its own terms. It was a vast lexicon of meanings. With the return to a literal reading of Scripture, that is, to the meaning the author intended to convey by his words, we not only had a reformation in the church, we also had nature now viewed in terms of its usefulness at a practical rather than a symbolic level.

Dr Harrison provides a quite fascinating survey of early approaches to biblical hermeneutics and the understanding of nature. He does not overlook the emphasis, not only in Calvin, on ‘accommodation’ to the capacity of the unlearned in the narratives of Scripture so that simplified, observational ways of speaking are found in Scripture rather than strictly scientific statements.

It will not have escaped the attentive reader that this thesis is saying that the recovery of the literal meaning (as defined above) was the key to unlocking the world of nature, yet today it is the literalists who are considered the great opponents of scientific enquiry. Of course, modern literalists, operating in a developed scientific age, are not really in the same category as those who took a literal meaning of Scripture when the natural sciences were in their infancy.

Harrison provides copious interesting, instructive and sometimes amusing references from the 17th century which illustrate the struggles of early scientists who assumed the scientific nature of certain parts of Scripture. Approaches to the creation, fall and Flood narratives receive attention. Harrison concludes by noting the way in which the scientific impulse was increasingly secularised from the beginning of the 18th century leaving Christians with only a body of doctrines with which to concern themselves. The Western quest for redemption was now focused on a secular salvation. So there is a very relevant message here. This is an excellent book although unhappily expensive. It would be very valuable to any tertiary student of the humanities and the sciences.

Note: A paperback edition is now in print.

New Scientist and Fresh Threats – The question of Religious Science

From The Presbyterian Banner, November 2005

The popular weekly British news and information magazine New Scientist has a special report on Fundamentalism in its 8 October 2005 issue.

The first article ‘End of the Enlightenment’ argues that reason, pluralism, democracy and freedom of thought are under threat from intolerant belief systems – the fundamentalists of Christian, Muslim and other persuasions. Unable to cope with modernity’s challenge to religious orthodoxy, and fearful of secularism’s cultural dominance, they fight back by asserting the infallibility of the sacred text, the superiority of their belief system to all others, the inadequacy of reason, and the subjugation of human freedom to God or his followers.

A second article affirms that, as individuals, fundamentalists – at least those of the Christian variety – tend to be happy, sincere and healthy. They have a sense of playing a part in God’s great story whereas secular western culture does not provide a ‘grand narrative’ in which one finds one’s identity. But anthropologist Scott Atran from the University of Michigan is cited in support of the proposition that, in a group, fundamentalist Christians struggle to fulfil the prophecies of the Bible, and thus validate their cherished beliefs, and that this has ignited a global holy war. Atran thinks Christian fundamentalism and the apocalyptic visions of the book of Revelation are the cause of Islamic fundamentalism.

A third article outlines the research and funding behind intelligent design and suggest some supporters want to discredit global warming, ozone depletion and pollution issues.

A final article by well-known columnist Bryan Appleyard is on the whole helpful in its reminder that scientists can be fundamentalists too.

The first reaction to this series of articles is that definitions are not well thought through so that confusion rather than clarity results. Second, there is no smoke without fire, and there is certainly cause for concern that a new Dark Ages could descend upon us if some fundamentalists have their way. To make it easier to see the issues, let’s look at faiths other than Christianity first.

RELIGIOUS SCIENCE?

(i) Islam
In his book Islam and Science (Zed Books, 1991), Pakistani physicist Perved Hoodbhoy writes:
‘About 700 years ago, Islamic civilization almost completely lost the will and ability to do science. Since that time, apart from attempts during the Ottoman period and in Mohammed Ali’s Egypt, there have been no significant efforts at recovery. Many Muslims acknowledge, and express profound regret at, this fact. Indeed, this is the major preoccupation of the modernist faction in Islam. But most traditionalists feel no regret – in fact, many welcome this loss because, in their view, keeping a distance from science helps preserve Islam from corrupting, secular influences.’

Hoodbhoy notes the influence of Maurice Bucaille, the French physician to the Saudi royal family who wrote The Bible, the Qur’an and Science in 1975, for which he was reportedly paid a nine figure sum. Bucaille is widely cited in Islamic material including A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam by I. A. Ibrahim. The Islamic Society of Victoria has published an edition of this latter book. Bucaille’s book was thoroughly refuted by Dr William F. Campbell, the physician to the Tunisian royal family, in a very interesting response [The Qur’an and the Bible in the light of History & Science] available on the web at <http://answering-islam.org.uk/Campbell/contents.html>

Bucaille and those like him wish to show that the Qur’an anticipated scientific discoveries that could not have been known at the time, and thus to prove the Qur’an is Divine revelation. For example, the statement in the Qur’an 96:15-16 “…We will take him by the front of the head, a lying, sinful front of the head!” is cited, since only in the 20th century did we discover that the pre-frontal region of the cerebrum is the area for planning, motivating and initiating good and bad behaviour. But one can only do this with appearance of being convincing by being quite arbitrary. What does one do with Qur’an 20:53, which speaks of God who has, “…made the earth for you like a carpet spread out…”? Are we to believe in a flat earth?

In some versions of Islamic science the Qur’an is held to contain all possible science. Examples of the pseudo-science includes existence of jinns as fiery beings possessing unlimited energy, and that this energy can be used as fuel; the claim that heaven is receding from earth at 1 centimetre per second less than the speed of light. Another author proposes that atomic charges are carved out of ‘spiritual forces’’ and “not simply the blind electromagnetic forces that the materialists would make us believe.’’

Another problem with claims that the Qur’an anticipated modern discoveries is that they lack an explanation for why quantum mechanics, molecular genetics, etc., had to await discovery by non-Muslims, or why antibiotics, aspirin, steam engines, electricity, aircraft, or computers were not first invented by Muslims. Nor is any kind of testable prediction ever made.

(ii) Hinduism
Hoodbhoy also writes: “…let me quote from a recently published book on the sciences of ancient India [Nem Kumar Jain, Science and Scientists in India, (Delhi, Indian Book Gallery, 1985). p.1]. The author, who appears to be an ardent believer in the Hindu faith as well as Hindu supremacy, asks his readers to ponder on Bhagavad Gita 2-16 which says: ‘What does not exist cannot come into existence, and what exists cannot be destroyed’. This line, proclaims the author triumphantly, is definitive proof that a pillar of modern physics – the law of conservation of matter and energy – was also known to the Ancients thousands of years ago. It establishes the divine nature of the Gita, and proves that there is nothing new which has been added to the stock of human wisdom since the time the scriptures were set down.”

(iii) Christianity
In Christianity, the same thing occurs. The statement of Isaiah 40:22, ‘It is he that sits upon the circle of the earth’ is regularly cited to prove Isaiah was aware of the global nature of the earth before such was known. Of course it is nothing of the kind but simply an observational way of describing the horizon, although to the ancients the world was more like a disc supported by pillars and floating on the sea (Psa 24:2; cf. Psa 75.3; Job 9.6). While we don’t usually hear Gen 3:15 taken at face value as if snakes were once upright legged creatures, we still have the ‘windows of heaven’ and the ‘fountains of the great deep’ taken as references to a water canopy above the earth and real subterranean caverns of water, with all the endeavour to establish scientific theories and proofs of a global flood. In fact these descriptions are pre-scientific depictions of the appearance of things – of heavy rain and overflowing flood waters. Scripture is not teaching us physics or geology and these statements are perfectly fine so long as we do not make them teach the sciences.

There certainly is an attitude in religious communities which wants to vindicate supposedly revealed texts by appeal to scientific proof. This has to be unconvincing to the believer since if a text is divine revelation it cannot be disproved. On the other hand, if there truly are in religious texts things intentionally taught that are contrary to reason, the status of the text as true has to be questioned.

Now Christians happen to believe that the Bible is reliable and without error in all it intends to convey, and this embraces historical facts. We may well at times have assumed too much of Scripture as if it taught us more about the natural sciences than it does. It is better as Herman Bavinck put it, to recognise the Bible as a book for science rather than a book of science. We may not understand parts of it well. I for one do not know how to understand some of the large numbers in the Old Testament. I suspect different symbols for writing numbers than were familiar to later copyists are a factor in enlarged numbers in our current text, especially given that something similar but much more exaggerated is found in records such as the Sumerian King List.

THREATS TO SCIENCE

One can see from this very brief outline why this kind of fundamentalist approach threatens real science. And there are voices in the Christian community that are on a similar line. The disenchantment with and disengagement from scientific pursuits is not uncommon among some on the Christian right, even as they show an undue regard for scientific proofs of the Bible. In some cases the interest in home schooling reflects this disenchantment. There is no doubt in my mind that some of our Christian right, particularly those of literalist persuasion who subscribe to pre-millennial views, are prone to idealogues who will indeed lead us to a new dark age in some areas of science if they get their way.

On the other hand, intelligent design (ID) as discussed in the last issue of The Presbyterian Banner does not really seem such a major threat if the real point is to hold back those who in the name of science insist that reality is limited to the material or who, like Scott Atran named earlier in this article, are sure that there is no God other than the God created in our own minds. Still, the fear is that appeal to a Designer will excuse investigation and thus limit pushing forward the frontiers of science.

The New Scientist articles are not the most intelligent or helpful since they do not properly distinguish the issues. Nevertheless, there are aspects of concern that Christians of Reformed persuasion must share, I think.

OUR POSITION

For us the Biblical teaching is that the Triune God created all things and rules over all, so that all fulfils his perfect will. Creation reflects God’s wisdom, power, order and imagination. We may study it and make our science because creation is coherent, ordered, meaningful. Every scientist worthy of the name knows his work is fragmentary and provisional, and not the final word. But there is not a religious science as if there is Christian science or Islamic science, but there is a common method of investigation, and this science may be done Christianly or it may be done according to some other value system. Christian or atheist may, by employment of the scientific method, produce similar results, but the atheist cannot rule out the God of Scripture by the scientific method, while the Christian cannot help but rule God in, seeing in every process, simple or complex, the hand of the Creator behind it all. Yet it is a pity that after 300 years of scientific thought, and 150 years since Darwin, Bible loving Christians still have hang-ups that lead to over-reactions and simplistic solutions.

The author has served the PCEA in Melbourne since 1981.