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Genesis and the six-day creation: a response

June 20, 2007

My position on this issue involves the acceptance of two claims:

 

(1)   Nothing in the bible requires us to accept a literal six-day creation of the world.

(2)   We ought to believe what the relevant authorities of the various fields believe insofar as (i) we have not examined their claims in reasonable depth (or are not equipped to do so), (ii) there is a clear consensus among the authorities, (iii) there are no overriding reasons to reject their views (eg. contradict the what we have far stronger reasons to believe).

 

I shall say more about (1) below but let me start with (2). Some issues I have not examined in reasonable depth but believed based on authority are the Big Bang Theory, the germ theory of disease, plate tectonics theory, theories about chemical processes, the theory of evolution (more about this later), the theory of relativity. I believe there is no clear consensus among experts on the origins of life (biogenesis) and have not examined it on my own so I am agnostic on this issue. I reject the consensus of experts on most matter of theology (eg. biblical criticism) because I find their assumptions/theoretical frameworks unwarranted and thus their products implausible.

 

Now on to (1). Let me term the account of creation in Genesis as “G-creation”. I understand G-creation to contain at least some factual propositions regarding the origins of the physical world. Care is needed in not attributing to G-creation assertions it does not clearly make. One prominent example of an unjustified reading of G-creation is claiming it is a seven-day event, involving physically impossible occurrences like that of day and night existing before the existence of the sun, and of vegetation surviving without sunlight. A charitable understanding of the author’s intent and a close textual examination of G-creation in the original Hebrew provide good reasons to adopt a non-literal understanding of day. Samuelson (Judaism and the Doctrine of Creation, 1994, p. 159) suggests taking Genesis as describing creation with a seven-fold aspect, with the seven days representing seven components of a single act of creation. This parallels Augustine’s understanding that the seven days are one day in a seven-fold aspect (See Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. Taylor, J. Newman Press, 1982: New York.). One could adopt a neo-Thomistic understanding of the days as representing non-temporal order in creation – a day of creation and three days each of distinction and adornment (see Aquinas’ “The Treatise on the Work of the Six Days”, in Summa Theologiae). There are plausible ways of understanding the concept of “day” which avoid involving physical impossibilities and contradictions.

 

One might respond that God is able to make day and night exist without the sun, and likewise, vegetation without sunlight. But I’d like to hear how this is done without making the account of creation awkward and the same terms meaning different things within the text. A separate concern is that “if the Bible is God’s revelation, there is no need for Him to enshroud it with mysticism- but would make it clear in the simplest way so that a simple man can understand.” I agree. But this turns on what we take to be mystical. If God should consider it more important to provide us with (for eg.) a thematic account of creation instead of a chronological one, why should we charge the former with mysticism? It’s just a different emphasis. I find no reason to think a thematic account of creation is significantly less simple than a chronological one, or that G-creation is beyond the grasp of ordinary humans. Can you provide any reason to think so?

 

Still, there seem to be some propositions clearly asserting physical states of affairs. Injustice is done to the meaning of text should one deny such propositions. Besides, in allowing much malleability to textual meaning, the clarity of its meaning becomes unclear, making no meaningful statements on its own but merely leeching on the prevailing body of knowledge. It is possible to take it as purely allegorical or mytho-poetic involving no observable factual propositions. In having no clear factual statements, such an account is virtually impossible to falsify – with adroit hermeneutic skills, it could be compatible with any scientific account. The danger is that in asserting possibly everything, it asserts nothing in fact. Besides, it seems an account including theological propositions requires some factual content to leverage on. Without the latter, the meaning of the former is vacuous and difficult to properly understand.

 

Some significant propositions I find are:

 

1.         God is the ultimate cause of the existence of the universe (Gen 1:1).

2.         God is the ultimate cause of the existence of earthly creatures (Gen 1:20-28)

3.         Humans are created in God’s image and have dominion over other earthly creatures (Gen 1:26-28)

I find it unacceptable to deny (1), (2) and (3). The role of God in G-creation is clearly described as indispensable. Besides, the Hebrew term for create in G-creation is bara. Samuelson notes that bara has a necessary relation to God – in all cases where this term is used, “the agent of the action is God”. Samuelson thus proposes translating God baras as God gods (p. 293), in order to demonstrate the necessary conjunction of the two words.

Brown, Fitzmyer and Murphy (The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 11) observe that bara “is a word occurring 50 times in the [Old Testament], always with God as its subject.” Should we divorce bara from God, we would clearly be radically re-interpreting the author’s intent, for there exist several other Hebraic terms to bring out difference nuances in meaning and it is unreasonable to think the author wielded words so carelessly. Besides, other contexts involving the term would then be susceptible to radical transformation. In addition, scriptural passages like John 1:3

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” In The Holy Bible.

and Colossians 1:16

“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him and for him.”

reinforce this interpretation of God’s centrality in G-creation. Therefore, even when we allow for flexibility in interpretation, (1) and (2) must be taken as part of G-creation. As far as I can see, nothing in the theory of evolution contradicts (1) – (3). I’d appreciate evidence to the contrary.

Concerning the passage by Williamson, God is certainly capable of creating the world in six days. But we also accept that God cannot act deceptively – he wouldn’t create the world such that there is decisive reason for us to think it is billions of years old but is in fact one minute old. To use Williamson’s example, if all we see is Adam, we have no reason think he has a prior period of development just because every other human after him has. But I think the evidence goes beyond that. For instance, dating methods show the earth to be a lot older than humankind. Geological records from sedimentary layers show a progression of organisms from simple to complex kinds. I’m not in a position to argue about the reliability of dating techniques nor about the veracity of geological findings so I accept it in accordance with what I say in (2). I think there are other evidences against a six day creation which I accept on authority: distance from earth to stars, radiation from the Big Bang, etc. Thus, the defender of the six-day creation account has to consider these additional data and explain them without making God out to be deceptive. I’m not optimistic about this project.

One question that might arise is why God chose evolution over direct creation when the former involves natural evil. I think natural evil is a challenge for both parties and the theistic evolutionist could claim that satan and his consorts warped the laws of nature (and thus the process of evolution) at an early stage. I suspect the direct creationist would similarly appeal to demonic forces to explain natural evil though in a different way. But in any case, natural evil is no special problem for evolution as opposed to literal creation.

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7 comments

  1. Thank you Pony for your post. Your two main points seems to be:
    (1) that literal six-days creation has no biblical grounds
    (2) that modern scientific theories should be right unless proven wrong.

    Allow me to address them separately by massive quotings off the net (sorry i took the liberty of copying and pasting again but goodness the Net does have loads of info!)

    Firstly, point (1),

    I am glad that you believe in the Bible. This offers us good platform for constructive dialogue. As a son of the Reformed faith, i believe in the inerrancy of the Bible – by that i mean the original Hebrews and Greek manuscripts, although i do accept the possibility of mistakes by copyist during subsequent translation. Lets stick to the Hebrews “days” in the Bible:

    The useful website http://www.answersingenesis.org/Home/Area/answersbook/sixdays2.asp
    takes us through a point-form explanation of how this is so:
    Quote

    To understand the meaning of ‘day’ in Genesis 1, we need to determine how the Hebrew word for ‘day,’ yom, is used in the context of Scripture. Consider the following:

    •A typical concordance will illustrate that yom can have a range of meanings: a period of light as contrasted to night, a 24-hour period, time, a specific point of time, or a year.

    •A classical, well-respected Hebrew-English lexicon8 (a one-way dictionary) has seven headings and many subheadings for the meaning of yom—but defines the creation days of Genesis 1 as ordinary days under the heading ‘day as defined by evening and morning.’

    •A number, and the phrase ‘evening and morning,’ are used for each of the six days of creation (Genesis 1:5,8,13,19,23,31).

    •Outside Genesis 1, yom is used with a number 410 times, and each time it means an ordinary day9—why would Genesis 1 be the exception?

    •Outside Genesis 1, yom is used with the word ‘evening’ or ‘morning’11 23 times. ‘Evening’ and ‘morning’ appear in association, but without yom, 38 times. All 61 times the text refers to an ordinary day—why would Genesis 1 be the exception?

    •In Genesis 1:5, yom occurs in context with the word ‘night.’ Outside of Genesis 1, ‘night’ is used with yom 53 times—and each time it means an ordinary day. Why would Genesis 1 be the exception? Even the usage of the word ‘light’ with yom in this passage determines the meaning as ordinary day.13

    •The plural of yom, which does not appear in Genesis 1, can be used to communicate a longer time period, e.g. ‘in those days.’14 Adding a number here would be nonsensical. Clearly, in Exodus 20:11 where a number is used with days, it unambiguously refers to six Earth-rotation days.

    •There are words in biblical Hebrew (such as olam or qedem) that are very suitable for communicating long periods of time, or indefinite time, but none of these words are used in Genesis 1.15 Alternatively, the days or years could have been compared with grains of sand if long periods were meant.

    Unquote.

    It is a very useful website that includes answers to seven possible objections to the account of six literal days creation. Do take a look if you have time! 🙂

    On your question on “One might respond that God is able to make day and night exist without the sun, and likewise, vegetation without sunlight. But I’d like to hear how this is done without making the account of creation awkward and the same terms meaning different things within the text,” I think http://www.biblicist.org/bible/light.shtml did a fairly good job in explaining.
    Quote:

    The Bible says that on the first day of creation God said let there be light (lit., Hebrew, “or”). On the fourth day He said let there be lights, i.e., “light-givers,” “lanterns” (lit., Hebrew, “ma-or”). Genesis gives the logical order of creation. God did not create the “lanterns” (“ma-or”) on the fourth day of creation until He first created intrinsic light (“or”) on the first day of creation. The Genesis order makes perfect sense since there could be no creation of “light-givers” until He first created light itself. Scientifically speaking, on the first day of creation when God said, “let there be light,” God would have at that time energized the entire universe. In other words, He created the entire electromagnetic spectrum: Visible light waves; ultraviolet light; shortwave radiations; infrared light and other long wave phenomena. Setting the electromagnetic forces into operation would have also involved the gravitational and nuclear forces in the universe. This was a tremendous preliminary divine act of creation on the first day. Although the sun, stars and moon were not created until the fourth day, light rays would have been impinging on the earth as it rotated on its axis during the first three days. That is, light came from the same direction and intensity as the light-bearers would eventually emanate from space on the fourth day when they were created. Their light-trails were created back on the first day of creation when He spoke light into existence. Therefore it didn’t take millions of years for the light waves from a star placed a billion light-years distant from the earth to reach the earth after it was created. Hence, “there was evening and there was morning” on the earth even on the very first day of creation.

    Unquote.

    I hope that addresses (1), at least partially. We can always come back again. As for (2), my secular education leads me that way too. However, I am sure you know of tons of books saying why modern scientific theories like evolution are not necessarily true. My only problem is (2) is not biblical. I agree that (2) is coherent with the three significant proposition that you have laid down, but it is not coherent with say the age of the earth if we say work out the chronologies of the Davidian line. To me that is enough to refute any human speculation.
    A favourite verse used by apologetics would be Let God be true, and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4) and “you received it not as the word of men, but as it is, truly the word of God.” (1 Thess 2:13)

    To use your words, “God is certainly capable of creating the world in six days. But we also accept that God cannot act deceptively – he wouldn’t create the world such that there is decisive reason for us to think it is billions of years old but is in fact one minute old.” – God did not, man did. 🙂

    In fact, God explicitly told us to believe in the Holy Scripture:

    All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfected, thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ (2 Timothy 3:16–17)

    And Martin Luther once said: ‘I have often said that whoever would study Holy Scripture should be sure to see to it that he stays with the simple words as long as he can and by no means departs from them unless an article of faith compels him to understand them differently. For of this we must be certain: no clearer speech has been heard on Earth than what God has spoken.’

    The removal of the veil between us and God is one of the greatest gospel. That we can have communicate direct to God through direct prayers without intercession and His precious Word without authorised interpretation is the greatest gem a Christian possesses.


  2. Pony, thank you for the sharing on the Joshua 10:13:

    And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.

    Your question is thus why God’s Word says “the sun stood still” when apparently man’s words teaches us that the earth revolves around the sun- and apparently unlike evolution which might be man’s conjecture, the elliptical revolution of the earth around the sun is almost certain.

    My answer then was God chose to write in a manner in which man then, given their knowledge capacity, can understand, and it leads to your question: that the fact that evolution is not mentioned in the Bible could be because of the fact that man during that time did not understand evolution, and also the question that God chose to explain creation in seemingly six-days is also for the same reason.

    I agree that depending solely on the Joshua passage, the first question seems plausible, i shall address this soon because this might involve biting my own tongue. 🙂 As for the six-day creation inference, it might not work, because God can choose to use words that mean say “phase,” “step” or “period” instead of “days” without confusing the people then.

    Now back to my former assertion that God may choose to describe the movement of the heavenly bodies in a way people may understand then- Hmm maybe i am wrong. Notice the later part of the verse:

    So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.

    I think it will be perfectly understandable for people now to fully appreciate the rationality of this statement without seeing it as anti-science. We still use statements like “sun set” or “sun went down” with the full knowledge that this does not actually happen. From that direction of thought, maybe i can say that “sun stood still” is also not anti-scientific, it is just anthropocentric.

    Okie i think i might miss something here but hmm…

    Well i guess the most important thing to me is that the end of the day (here “day” being metaphoric 🙂 ), it does not matter whether God did actually create the world in six literal days or not, cos in either case, His glory will not diminish a little. 🙂


  3. herring, i’m still thinking about your first comment but here’s a response to your second comment:

    one issue is an apparent inconsistency in understanding the bible. In the case of the passage in Joshua, we understand the bible in the light of science. In the case of the passage in Genesis, we are not open to understanding the bible in the light of science, based on the reason that it is “man’s conjecture”.

    there is another related issue: what does the text say in the passage of Genesis. We shall leave that aside for now – that concerns your first comment.

    my present focus shall be on why we should – and indeed we have been – understand the bible all-things-considered. By this, i mean we should consider issues of textual interpretation (which essential involves the use of reason) alongside well-established scientific findings. We cannot dismiss the latter as necessarily flawed “man’s conjecture” on the pain of inconsistency, except if there are other relevant considerations.

    you raised one such consideration: ‘As for the six-day creation inference, it might not work, because God can choose to use words that mean say “phase,” “step” or “period” instead of “days” without confusing the people then.’

    i think the same could be said of the Joshua passage: to similarly prevent confusion, couldn’t God have used “the position of the sun in the sky remained unchanged” or “there constantly was sunlight for X period” or something to that effect?

    likewise for ‘maybe i can say that “sun stood still” is also not anti-scientific, it is just anthropocentric’, we could say the same for the Genesis passage: “day is not anti-scientific, just anthropocentric”.

    another option would be to take the Genesis account as a thematic account, not a chronological one. Thus, even if yom can be established as most plausibly meaning a solar day, it can be understood metaphorically within a thematic account. In fact, there are some interesting reasons why the creation account might be a poetic/thematic account (not to be confused with fictional) – i will make a link when i respond to your first comment.

    all said, i agree with you that in either case, God’s glory as the creator of the world will not be diminished even by one iota.


  4. Hmm lets suspend judgment before we meet Reverend Professor Loy next week for edification. Heehee.. which day do you think is good- he cant make it for wedn and thurs- and where do you want to eat? 🙂


  5. hi herring, i’m free on all other weekdays to meet rev loy for lunch. i suggest tue or fri – which do you prefer? mon is fine with me too but it might be too rush to inform him.


  6. Gee where do you have in mind serves the best manna and quails?


  7. oops..forgot about that. how about the set lunch at that pasta place? should not be more than ten bucks each.
    if not, we could go guild house.



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