Thoughts on the Creation Days of Genesis, Part 2
In my previous post I offered some preliminary thoughts on the controversy between “old earth” Christians who accept the scientific consensus of an ancient earth and who tend to interpret the creation “days” of Genesis figuratively; and “young earth” Christians who believe the creation “days” of Genesis are intended to be interpreted as literal, 24-hour days, and who thus reject an ancient earth in favor of a relatively young earth. In this post I want to address some cautions and exhortations to my old earth brethren, and in the following post I will similarly address my young earth brethren. In this and the following post I will use “YEC” as a reference to “young earth creationists” and “OEC” as a reference to “old earth creationists.”
SOME CAUTIONS AND EXHORTATIONS FOR THE OEC
1. While the Bible is not a scientific textbook, it nonetheless presents accurate details of the natural world and of history, though in popular, non-technical language.
In my experience those who hold to OEC like to remind their YEC brethren that “the Bible is not a textbook of science!” and that the primary focus of Scripture is human redemption. Many OEC adherents would affirm the reported saying of a 16th century Roman Catholic cleric who allegedly said, “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”
Of course, all of this is true. But I would caution my OEC brethren that when they say things like “the Bible is not a textbook of science,” many secular people today would (mis)interpret such a statement to mean that the Bible is untrue and unreliable in giving us correct information about both historical events and the natural world. Likewise, I suspect that YEC believers will often interpret such a statement by their OEC brethren as an attack upon the historical trustworthiness and full authority of Scripture, and thus could be a cause for them harboring unnecessary suspicion against their OEC brethren.
Of course, this is not what OEC believers within our confessional Reformed and Presbyterian Faith mean when they assert that the Bible is not a textbook of science. What they mean is that the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical writers to communicate Divine revelation in common, ordinary language, rather than in the language of technical scientific and mathematical precision. God “incarnates” His written revelation in the humble vehicle of ordinary, common, everyday language. The Bible was given in the language of the common man, not in the language of the scholar or scientist. But to affirm that the Bible employs common, everday language is not the same thing as denying its truthfulness, reliability or full authority. Thus I would urge my OEC brethren to be cautious about using this line about the Bible not being a scientific textbook. Such a saying has potential to cause more confusion than clarity in this debate.
2. OEC believers should understand that most YEC believers are motivated by a noble desire to uphold the full authority of Scripture and the integrity of historic Christian orthodoxy.
Let’s face it, many attacks against the Christian Faith today come from within the scientific community. Regrettably, it seems that many today within the scientific community (such as popular atheist promoter Dr. Richard Dawkins) adopt the “conflict model” of the relationship between science and faith. At the heart of many attacks against orthodox Christianity by secularists, atheists and other skeptics is the mainstream scientific consensus that the earth and universe are “billiions of years old,” which they see as disproving the teachings of the Bible. YEC believers understand that there is an apologetic* concern here, and they are willing to risk ridicule and marginalization by taking their stand for an unpopular, minority position. They are willing to do this because they are deeply concerned to defend the Bible and Christian orthodoxy against the attacks of an increasingly hostile secular world. While their OEC brethren might disagree with their tactics and conclusions, I believe they should respect the noble intentions of their YEC brethren.
3. The YEC interpretation of the creation days of Genesis 1:1-2:4 seems to have been the majority position of the church catholic throughout most of its history.
Before the rise of modern geology and the theorizing of Charles Darwin, it appears most of the church universal held to the literal, 24-hour day view of the creation days of Genesis. St. Augustine believed that six literal days was far too long for an omnipotent God to take in order to create the universe, so he taught an instantaneous creation view which held that the Genesis creation days were figurative. But it seems clear that Augustine’s position of instantaneous creation was a minority view in the historic church.
Of course, just because a view is old does not thereby make it correct. At the same time, OEC adherents should respect the fact that the “days of ordinary length” interpretation of the creation days of Genesis has a long-standing historical pedigree within the church. On this question of interpretation it seems that the YEC position is backed by the testimony of the majority of the historic Christian Church, whereas the OEC position is still “the new kid on the block.”
4. The YEC position has always been allowed within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
While a case could be made that a majority of the founders of the OPC (like Dr. J. Gresham Machen) held to an OEC position, at the same time the OPC has always permitted the YEC position to be held among its church officers. As long as YEC believers are willing to live at peace with their OEC brethren, and to work and minister alongside them, they should not be marginalized or excluded from positions of service within the church.
5. Not all YEC adherents are “anti-science.”
It seems that a common charge leveled against YEC believers is that they are “anti-science,” due to the fact that they reject the current scientific consensus regarding an ancient earth and the theory of biological evolution. However, OEC believers should understand that there are quite a few proponents of the YEC position who hold advanced degrees in various fields of science from accredited universities. This raises questions like: Who gets to define “science,” and thus to decide which positions can be legitimately labelled “anti-science”? How can YEC be dismissed as “anti-science” when many of its adherents have advanced science degrees? Again, OEC believers may disagree with the scientific conclusions of their YEC brethren, but let them be cautious about painting their YEC brethren with the broad brush accusation of being “anti-science” or “pseudo-scientific.”
6. YEC believers do raise important questions regarding both the proper interpretation of Scripture and the proper interpretation of the scientific data.
While OEC believers may disagree with YEC interpretations of both Scripture and the scientific data, it should be recognized that YEC believers do raise important questions about both. For example, the YEC position has the advantage in that, at least when it comes to the English text, the “plain, ordinary reading” of Genesis 1:1-2:4 appears on the surface to teach that God created the universe in six ordinary (24 hour) days, and that He rested on the seventh day. Likewise, the common YEC belief that the majority of the geological features on our planet can be explained by appeal to a catastrophic worldwide flood, rather than through the slow uniformitarian processes envisioned by mainstream geology, does seem to fit in well with a “plain, ordinary reading” of the Genesis narrative of Noah’s flood (in Genesis 6-8), since a surface-level reading of that narrative appears to the ordinary English reader to be teaching a worldwide, rather than a localized, flood. Whatever one’s position on the Genesis creation “days” and the extent of the Noahic flood, YEC adherents raise important questions about how properly to interpret and harmonize the biblical and scientific data. OEC believers should be grateful for this.
In my next post I will address some cautions and exhortations to adherents of the YEC position.
To be continued…
* “Apologetics” = The defense of the Christian Faith.