Thoughts on the Creation Days of Genesis, Part 1
All biblical Christians believe that God is the Creator. The first item we confess together in the Apostles’ Creed is, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” In that simple but profound confession we affirm that the created realm (inclusive of things like time, space, matter, energy) is not eternal and self-existent; only God is eternal, transcendent and self-existent. We also acknowledge the Creator-creature distinction in opposition to all forms of pantheism, a false theology which basically identifies “God” with the universe. In addition, when we confess faith in God the Creator we recognize our status as dependent creatures who rely entirely upon our benevolent Creator for life itself.
But while all Bible-believing Christians confess the truth of God the Creator, differences of opinion abound in terms of how to properly interpret the biblical account of creation recorded in Genesis, in particular how to interpret the “days” of creation as presented in Genesis chapter one. “Old earth” Christians accept the conclusions of mainstream science that the earth and universe are ancient, and thus tend to interpret the “days” of the Genesis account as either figurative, poetic, as indicative of “ages” of time, or as analogical. “Young earth” Christians reject the current scientific orthodoxy of an ancient earth and universe in favor of a relatively young (6,000-10,000 years old) universe, believing that a properly literal interpretation of the “days” of Genesis require a young earth, and pointing to scientific problems with current scientific orthodoxy.
In recent decades this issue has been a bone of contention within a number of confessional Reformed and Presbyterian communions, including the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In fact, a study committee erected by the General Assembly of the OPC to study the various views of creation produced a massive, 157 page report, which appears in the Minutes of the 71st (2004) General Assembly of the OPC (Minutes of the Seventy-First General Assembly and Yearbook of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church [Willow Grove, PA: Office of the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church]). The recent controversy in the confessional Reformed world is between “old earth” believers, who insist that they can be faithful to the Bible and to the church’s confession of faith while at the same time believing in an ancient earth; and “young earth” believers, who see the old earth position as a compromise of biblical teaching and as contrary to our confessional standards.
In this and the following two posts I want to offer some thoughts on the Genesis creation account in the light of this ongoing controversy between old earth and young earth Christians within our own particular communion, and more broadly within the world of confessional Reformed orthodoxy. In this post I will offer some preliminary thoughts. In subsequent posts I will address various cautions to both old earth and young earth believers respectively.
SOME PRELIMINARY THOUGHTS
1. It is important to recognize that adherents of both sides of this issue hold to a high view of the inspiration and authority of the Bible.
Confessional reformed orthodoxy affirms the full inspiration, authority and infallibility of the Bible. This is important to emphasize, because some young earth literature strongly suggests that any Christian who does not subscribe to the young earth, 24-hour day view holds either a low or a compromised view of Scripture. However, this is simply not the case. Many of the stalwarts of American Presbyterian orthodoxy were quite comfortable with the scientific consensus of an ancient earth, and some were even open to a Divinely-guided evolutionary process and the possibility that Adam had animal ancestors. For example, old school Princeton theologians Charles Hodge and A.A. Hodge both accepted the geological consensus of their day. And another orthodox Princeton theologian, the great Dr. B.B. Warfield, author of the classic defense of biblical inerrancy (entitled The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible), was likewise open to an ancient earth and the antiquity of the human race. Our own Dr. J. Gresham Machen, New Testament scholar and a central figure in the founding of the OPC, held to the “day age” view of the creation days and seemed to follow Dr. Warfield’s views on the age of the earth and the matter of evolution. Of course, this is not to say that these great theologians were correct in their views, nor is it to suggest that the issue of how to interpret the creation days of Genesis is an unimportant issue. But it is to suggest that, however important this issue may be, it ought not to be a boundary marker of orthodoxy, for many of our orthodox theologians have held various views on this subject.
2. It is important to remember that God’s Word and God’s World cannot contradict each other.
God’s revelation in nature and conscience, called general revelation, can in no way contradict God’s revelation in Scripture, which we call special revelation. Why? Because God is the Author of both! If there appears to be a conflict between science (which studies God’s creation) and Scripture, then either the scientists have misinterpreted the data of God’s creation, or the biblical scholars and theologians have misinterpreted the data of Scripture. There may be unanswered questions in terms of how to harmonize the legitimate findings of science with the careful interpretation of Scripture, but often such unanswered questions get resolved sooner or later when further study or investigation occurs. So when there seems to be tension or conflict between contemporary theories of science and popular interpretations of Scripture, it is best to continue confidently confessing our faith and taking a “let’s wait and see” attitude toward the unresolved issue.
3. It is important to remember that all sides in this debate agree on the who of creation, even if they differ on the when and the how.
We all agree that God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is the Creator of the heavens and earth! Questions about the age of the earth and universe, and how best to interpret the “days” of Genesis one, are vitally important, but let us make sure that our differences on these questions don’t obscure the central truth that we all affirm – namely, that the biblical God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Holy Trinity whom we confess, is the Creator of us and of all things!
4. Understand that all sides in this debate agree on the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis.
All Christians who embrace confessional reformed orthodoxy affirm the historicity of the Genesis account. Genesis (including its early chapters) records genuine historical events. Old earth and young earth Reformed Christians alike affirm the doctrine of “creation ex nihilo” (“creation out of nothing”), the historicity of Adam and Eve, the historicity of the Fall, the historicity of the Noahic flood, etc. We may differ on issues of interpretation, like: Are the “days” of Genesis one intended to be understood literally or figuratively? Are the genealogies of Genesis complete or selective? Was the flood of Noah a localized event or a worldwide catastrophe? Etc. But we all agree that Genesis is history, not myth!
5. It is important to understand that the questions of evolution and the age of the earth are separate questions.
Of course, the Darwinian story of evolution requires an ancient earth, but of itself an ancient earth does not require the acceptance of Darwinian evolution. Often young earth Christians conflate the two issues, but the truth is that many old earth Christians (sometimes called “progressive creationists”) reject Darwinian evolution. In fact, a number of “Intelligent Design” (ID) scientists, who, on scientific grounds, reject the Darwinian story of a purely unguided, naturalistic evolution of life on earth, nevertheless have no problems affirming the mainstream scientific view of an ancient earth.* While the two issues are often conflated in popular thinking, they are actually separate issues. So, just because a Christian might believe in an ancient earth does not necessarily mean that she accepts Darwinian evolution.
To be continued…
*While I confess I am not a trained scientist, I personally find the Darwinian story of evolution unconvincing, both on logical and scientific grounds. For a good resource which exposes the logical fallacies inherent in the scientific reasoning of Darwinian science, I recommend Darwin on Trial by Phillip E. Johnson (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, copyright 1993). For a more recent book making the scientific case for intelligent design written by a philosopher of science and ID proponent, consult Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer (New York, NY: HarperOne, copyright 2013).