The Doctrine of Creation (part 5)

September 29, 2008     Time: 00:31:21


Day-Age interpretation. Day-Gap theory. Literary Framework view. Analogous Day interpretation. Gap theory. Revelation Day interpretation. Focus on Palestine view. Origin of life.

Last time we began to look at the creation of life and biological complexity upon the earth as it is described in the first chapter of Genesis. I pointed out that there are a number of different ways of interpreting Genesis. What we want to do is allow the text to stand on its own feet and speak to us. We don’t want to impose modern science onto the text; rather, we want to look at the text itself and interpret it as it was originally intended.

We began by looking at the Literal Interpretation of the text. That would hold that the Bible teaches that God created the world in six consecutive 24-hour days. I gave a number of reasons as to why I thought that the arguments in favor of this interpretation were not persuasive and then some indications or suggestions in the text that point to a longer period of time than just six 24-hour days.

We want to look further now at various non-literal interpretations. Another interpretation is what we might call the Day-Age Interpretation. This was a view which has been held by a number of church fathers and commentators down through history which would say that the days are not meant to be 24-hour periods of time but rather the days represent long periods of time so that God created the world over six ages so to speak; you might interpret this as being six consecutive ages of creation. Now, although this is certainly a possibility, I don’t think that there is anything in the text that really suggests that we have here six consecutive ages. We do have, I think, suggestions that would say they are not necessarily literal but the idea that you have six consecutive ages, especially of equal duration, is something that is read into the text rather than out of the text. In fact, insofar as those who adopt this view are prompted to adopt it by modern science, it really doesn’t fit in with what modern science would say in many respects because it is not as though God’s creation of certain forms of life waited until the previous age was over. It is not as though, for example, God waited to create the sea monsters and other aquatic creatures until after the birds were made. So the Day-Age view is certainly a possibility but it is one that I think finds little support in the text other than the fact that the days are not necessarily meant to be taken literally.

Another possibility would be what we might call the Day-Gap Theory. The Day-Gap Theory would say that what we have described in Genesis is six 24-hour days but they are not consecutive. Rather, there are long gaps of time in between God’s creative acts. So God on one day intervenes in history to create, for example, birds or on another day he intervenes to create land animals. Then there is a long period of time during which God simply lets them propagate – he lets them bear after their kinds – and then he intervenes again with another creative day. Again, one has to say there is nothing in the text that would suggest that. There is nothing in the text that would indicate that there are gaps in between these six days. Insofar as this view tends to be motivated by an attempt to reconcile Genesis 1 with modern science, it really doesn’t do a very good job because modern science indicates that the animals, for example, were not created just in a 24-hour period of time but over millions of years. So the fossil record would bear more support with regard to a Day-Age Theory in which you had, for example, an age in which aquatic life was teaming and the oceans were becoming filled with aquatic life and then later there would be another age where you begin to get terrestrial life. But the idea that all aquatic life was created in 24-hours and then there was this period of non-creative idleness and then another 24-hour period when all terrestrial life was created just isn’t borne out by the fossil record. It is not at all what modern science teaches. So the Day-Gap view is something that doesn’t really find any support in the text – it is something really that is put onto the text. I think it is an attempt that is motivated by trying to have a concord with modern science and the geological age of the earth but insofar as it does that it doesn’t really do a good job of being consonant with modern science.

A quite different view than those two views would be the Literary Framework View. This is a very interesting view that was first enunciated during the Middle Ages by some medieval theologians and then has found a number of proponents in our own day and age. On this view, the author of Genesis is not interested in a specific chronology. He is not attempting to relate one day after another in a chronological fashion. Rather, the days are a sort of literary framework on which he can hang his account of creation. He wants to describe how God is creating all of life – all of the world – and he uses this literary framework of a day, or of a week of six days, on which to simply hang the narrative. But he doesn’t intend for this to be taken in a literal chronological way. Sometimes the proponents of the Literary Framework View will point out that there is a kind of structure to the six days of creation in that on the first three days God forms the domain, or the space, for a certain life form. Then on the second three days he creates the occupants of the space or the domain. So, for example, on day 2 he separates the waters, he makes the waters that are above the heavens from the waters below the heavens and then on the fifth day he creates the sea monsters to inhabit them. So you have a kind of parallelism between creating first the heavens and then those that are occupied by the birds and then you have the seas and those are occupied by the fish and other aquatic life and then you have the land which appears and then the land is occupied by the terrestrial animals and man. So the idea is that on the first three days he describes the habitats, or the domains, and then on the second three days he describes the denizens, or the occupants, of those domains. So it is not intended to be chronological, rather it is a sort of thematic or literary framework on which to hang the narrative.

This view, I think, has real possibilities. It is extremely interesting and I, myself, am rather undecided about it. I am a little bit skeptical about the idea of the domains and the occupants of those domains particularly with regard to the third day. It doesn’t seem to fit very well because on the third day you have God not only creating the dry land but you have the vegetation, the fruit trees and so forth already being created on the third day. So it is not just the land, He is also creating the occupants on that day as well. It is not as though you wait around until the sixth day to get the terrestrial animals. So I am not persuaded that this parallelism is something that is really there rather than manufactured. But nevertheless the notion of a literary framework is interesting.

Also, this view doesn’t take the chronology at all seriously. The chronology is meaningless on this view and yet surely the idea of the listing of the days – first, second, third, fourth, fifth – and the progression up to man does seem to have some suggestion of chronology in it contrary to at least this parallelism view. But I don’t think that the Literary Framework View is committed necessarily to seeing it in terms of this parallelism of domains and occupants. It still could remain an interesting view in terms of saying that the author of Genesis had wanted to create a creation story that would contrast with the creation myths of Israel’s neighbors in which you have warring monsters that give birth to the sun and the heavenly bodies and treats these as gods and are full of this sort of superstition. Instead he gives here a very scientific sort of account – a very naturalistic account – in terms of God creating these things. And he could do this through the literary framework of a week in which he would construct this week, or this period of sequences, in which life would be created. But it wouldn’t necessarily have the kind of literalness that you have with the Day-Age View where these days would have to be certain specific periods of time, say ten million years or five hundred million years or something of that sort.

Another interpretation which is somewhat similar to the Literal Framework View is the Analogous Days Interpretation. This is more similar to what I’ve just been suggesting. This would say that, yes, the days are metaphorical, they are meant to be literary devices, but nevertheless they are analogous to chronological days. So this view would take the chronology more seriously than the Literary Framework View tends to do. It would say that the days are meant to be metaphors for God’s creative activity – God’s creation of the world – but there is a kind of sequence here and a genuine chronology in which God did certain things in a particular order. It seems to me, again, that that has possibilities. That is a legitimate interpretation of the text.

Another interpretation is what we could call the Gap Interpretation. I alluded to this when we were talking about creation ex nihilo. This is the view that was popularized by the old Scofield Reference Bible which says there is a gap between verses 1 and 2 and that all of the evidence of fossil life and extinct life forms and so forth were of a world which existed prior to Genesis 1:2 which fell under God’s judgment and then what is described in verse 2 is God’s recreation, in effect, of the world after a long gap. So this would say that you have a gap between verses 1 and 2 of chapter 1 and all of the evidence of antiquity and ancient geological periods and ancient life is from that pre-gap world and then subsequent to the gap there was a kind of recreation of the world. Again, there doesn’t seem to be anything in the text that would support this. I think you could have a gap of time between verses 1 and 2 but the idea that there was a prior world before this one is something that I think is just very foreign to the text. The text seems to be described in God’s initial creation of the world and pronouncing it good on each occasion. And the idea that this is all just a repeat of something he’s done before, I think, has absolutely no warrant in the text. Insofar as this view is motivated by modern science, there is nothing in science that would suggest that there was this ancient world that then somehow was judged and perished and then was recreated again in six days. Remember, this is all supposed to be pre-flood – this isn’t flood geology. This is prior to Noah. This is supposed to be prior to verse 2 of Genesis 1 and there is simply nothing in either the text or science that would support a view like this, I think.

Another view that we could list would be the Revelation Day Interpretation. This would hold that the six days that are spoken of in Genesis 1 are not days of creation but rather they are days on which God revealed to Moses, or the author of Genesis, what he did. So each day is a revelation day of God’s creative activity rather than a description of creative days themselves. Although this view has had some proponents, it does strike me as rather implausible. There is nothing, again, in the text to suggest that these are revelatory days; rather the days are described as what God does on each day and pronounces it good and then closes the day as being evening and morning. There is no suggestion that what we have here are days of revelation rather than days of God’s creative activity.

A last view that I might mention is what one might call the Focus on Palestine View. This is a view that has been propounded by John Sailhamer who used to be one of my colleagues at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. What Sailhamer argues is that when the Bible talks about the earth that is the same word that means the land. So when it is talking about the creation of the earth, what it is really talking about is the creation of the land, that is to say the land of Israel. So this narrative is not really the creation of the world; it is God’s creating the land of Israel for his people – the land of Palestine. Therefore, the focus is much, much narrower. It is not a kind of cosmic or global focus. It is rather a description of how God made the Garden of Eden, if you will, or Israel, to be a place where his people could live. Then of course when man falls into sin, then they are driven out of the Garden. That would be just one more view that has at least Sailhamer as one of its proponents.

You might ask me at this point, which of these views is correct? I think some of them I have already suggested reasons for thinking are not very persuasive views. But the answer to that question from my point of view is “I don’t know!” I really don’t know which one of these views is the best interpretation of Genesis. When I began to study the first chapters of the book of Genesis in depth some years ago when called upon to teach a class on Doctrine of Creation at Westmount College, I found that the more I studied these chapters, the less certain I became about what they were actually saying and what the correct interpretation is. I find attractive such views like the Literary Framework View and the Analogous Days view – those seem to me to be attractive views. I think that they don’t face some of the problems that the other views face. I have not studied Sailhamer’s view – the Focus on Palestine View – so I don’t have an opinion on that. But I do think that what we have here in Genesis is something that is not meant to be just a sort of literal report of what God did in six consecutive 24-hour days. It is clearly a very artistic, literary account that involves, I think, metaphor and symbol and therefore some sort of view similar to these others would seem to be a plausible view. How that would be worked out in detail, I do not know.

I think the lesson that we can take from all of this is that Genesis 1 is a very subtle piece of literature that is patient of a wide range of interpretations. These views have been held by Bible believing evangelical scholars and down through history these various views have been propounded and defended by biblical scholars. So it is simply wrong, I think, to insist dogmatically on one interpretation as being the only biblically permissible interpretation of Genesis 1. I think that there is a wide range of possible interpretations, some better than others, but it would be wrong to say of any particular interpretation “this is the only legitimate one that you can hold and be a Christian” as some people do. This issue has become far too divisive in the Christian church and that kind of dogmatism is simply unwarranted when you look at the broad variety of interpretations of Genesis 1 that are possible.

One of the implications of this is that once you move away from the literal interpretation into any of these other interpretations you suddenly realize that Genesis doesn’t really tell us how God created any of these things. Once you get away from the six consecutive 24-hour day interpretation, really, there is no description at all of how God made these things. It simply says “God said, ‘Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures’” and “God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves.” Or “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind” and “God made the beasts of the earth after their kind.” There really is no descriptive account whatsoever of how God did this. I think that is important to understand because what that means is that when it does come to modern science and theories of biological origins, the Christian can follow the evidence where it leads. The Christian can honestly look at the evidence and follow it to its proper conclusions. This is in sharp contrast, I think, to the atheist. You see, if you are an atheist, then evolution is the only game in town. No matter how improbable it is; no matter what the evidence is – it has to be true because there simply isn’t any other feasible alternative to it. So, in a sense, the atheist is committed by his worldview to a particular naturalistic evolutionary account of biological origins regardless of what the evidence says. But the Christian, by contrast, can be more open-minded than the atheist here. The Christian can follow the evidence to where it leads. Therefore, I think the Christian can be quite open to different theories of evolution. And I mean that sincerely. At one time in my early Christian life, I was very antagonistic toward what is called theistic evolution – that is, the idea that God used evolution as the means of his creating life. But as I began to study Genesis and realize that once you give up the Literal Interpretation, then there simply isn’t any description of how God made these things. Really, you have to be open to follow the evidence where it leads. If God chose to use evolution – Darwinism – as his means of creating life on earth then so be it. That is not inconsistent with the biblical narrative. Because the biblical narrative simply doesn’t say how God did it. In fact, as I quoted from the earlier passage, with regard to the third day, it is not clear at all that God brought about these life forms by some sort of special creation. For example, when he comes to making the plants and the fruit trees on the earth, it is very interesting to notice that it says, “And God say ‘Let the earth bring forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit . . .’ And it was so.” The earth brought forth vegetable – it doesn’t imagine a sort of ex nihilo creation where these things would just magically appear. Rather, the earth brought them forth and they grew and bore seed and bore fruit. Similarly with regard to the beasts, or the terrestrial animals, God said let the earth bring forth living creatures and it was so. So I really do believe that the Christian is open to following the evidence where ever it leads. He is not boxed into one particular interpretation.

So, having said that, we now ask ourselves the question, “What is the best interpretation of the evidence?” What is the best interpretation of the science and how will that comport with what Genesis 1 has to teach? What I would like to do now is to turn to an examination of some of the scientific evidence with regard to the origins of biological complexity with a view toward seeing what science teaches us.

Let’s start off with the subject of the origin of life. How did life itself originate on this planet? What does modern science have to tell us about how life originated? I’ve already talked, when we looked at the question of the existence of God, about the fine-tuning of the universe for the existence of life on earth. You will remember that in the Big Bang itself we have the initial conditions of the universe fine-tuned to an incomprehensible precision for the existence of life on earth within this epic and cosmic history. The whole biological theory of evolution presupposes this fine-tuning of the universe in the Big Bang. Evolution could not even get started in the absence of the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the Big Bang. Without the fine-tuning, the universe might not even have matter – matter might not even exist. The universe could have perhaps just collapsed into a hot fireball. Or, if matter did exist, there wouldn’t have been chemistry such as we know it. There would not have been stars or planets which would serve as places where life might evolve. The whole biological theory of evolution of life anywhere in the universe is only possible because of the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the Big Bang. You will remember I argued that this fine-tuning of the initial conditions, precisely because they are initial conditions, cannot be explained as the result of any sort of evolutionary process themselves. Rather these finely tuned conditions seem to be simply put in at the Big Bang, at the moment of creation, as initial conditions. They are not the product of some kind of prior evolution precisely because they are initial conditions. So wholly apart from the question of biological evolution, we have, I think, already an indication in modern science of the existence of intelligent design in the fine-tuning of the cosmos for the existence in evolution of intelligent life. In one sense, the very theory of evolution is evidence for the existence of God because evolution itself could not occur without the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe which make the evolution and existence of intelligence life in the cosmos possible. So that needs to be out on the table right at the beginning. I am not going to discuss that further now. We want to focus on biological evolution but it is important to realize that this fine-tuning has to be in place before we even get to the subject of the origin of life and biological evolution.

What we discover when we turn to the question of how life originated is that the origination of life is so improbable, even given these finely tuned initial conditions, that it is highly, highly unlikely that life would arise anywhere in the known universe by accident. Even given the finely tuned initial conditions of the universe, the origin of life is astronomically improbable anywhere in the known cosmos. The fine-tuning provides necessary conditions for the evolution and existence of intelligent life but it doesn’t supply sufficient conditions for the origin of life. In order for life to originate, in addition to the fine-tuning, you’d have to have several other kinds of conditions in place which are astronomically improbable. I think that what I will do is close this out on that note. Next time we will come back and talk further about the origin of life and the evolution of biological complexity.[1]



[1] Total Running Time: 31:22 (Copyright © William Lane Craig)