Creation and Evolution (Part 4)

May 15, 2013     Time: 00:25:10

We have been talking in our section on Doctrine of Creation about various competing interpretations of the opening chapters of Genesis. We looked at the Literal Interpretation of Genesis which says that this is a quasi-scientific narrative of God’s creation of the universe and of life in six consecutive 24-hour days. I argued on the basis of certain hints in the text itself that that interpretation is not incumbent upon the Bible believing Christian and, on the contrary, there are some very good reasons to think that the author of Genesis 1 was not intending us to understand him to be teaching six consecutive 24-hour creative days.

Question: As you might know, this is the one area out of your three year Sunday School curriculum that I still feel there is more biblical and scientific evidence for young earth but I am not dogmatic about that at all. Last lecture you were saying one of the big problems was that light was created before the sun, moon and stars and that you heard the explanation that the clouds just moved out of the way. I think that is a silly explanation for it. But I think if in Genesis 1:14 when it talks about lights, in the Hebrew that is light bearers. So I think it is important that the light was created before the light bearers. Throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, God is seen in visions as light and then in Revelation it talks about the new earth that there will be no sun, moon and stars because God will provide the light. So I don’t think that is a problem that the light was created before the sun, moon and stars. Also, it says that they were created as signs of the days and years so it seems days and years could have existed before the sun, moon and the stars because God already established what those were – a sign can only be of something that was already established beforehand. So I don’t think there is a problem him having decided days and years before the sun, moon and the stars were there to help us mark it. My question is – would you agree that theistic evolution which typically does not believe in a literal Adam and Eve is not compatible with Christianity whereas old earth creationism that typically does believe in a literal Adam and Eve is compatible.

Answer: I want to hold off on that question until we get to that. I think that it is too early yet to ask that question. Let’s hold off on the historicity of Adam and Eve. I did indicate already that I thought that the principal players in this drama are presented as historical characters – principally God Himself. He is clearly not a mythological symbol. He is an actual agent who creates the world. Then, as I said, Adam and Even – though these are symbolic of humanity (the name Adam means “man”) nevertheless they seem to be historical individuals in that they are connected by genealogies and descendents to indisputably historical persons like Abraham. So, I think that the interpreter, to be faithful to the text, has to deal with the fact that these principal characters are presented as historical individuals. Whether the theistic evolutionists can do that well or not – let’s talk about that later. With respect to the light, it wasn’t so much that there is light before the sun and the moon but that these are 24-hour days. There is evening and morning which would imply the rotation of the earth on its axis as it orbits the sun. So if you do say there is light prior to the creation of the sun, then that would seem to suggest that these aren’t 24-hour days after all; that, in fact, we are not talking 24-hour periods of time. So I think that the Young Earth Creationist who takes that route is going to have trouble defending his view that these are literal 24-hour days since that is set up by the sun.1 With respect to what you said about them serving as signs – I made this same point myself back when we talked about the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo where I pointed out that the passage actually says “let” the lights “be for” the purpose of marking seasons and days and years and so forth. So it may actually presuppose that they already exist and weren’t created on the fourth day. But then this again means that you are going to be interpreting the text in a way that is not just literal when it says “God made these things and it was evening and it was morning, the fourth day.” So I think that while that is a legitimate option that you are raising, I question how well and comfortably that fits with the literal 24-hour day interpretation.

Question: I was watching a show on the Discovery Channel one night and it was dealing with the earth and the creation and all this stuff. They were talking about how they followed the fossil record back and they hit a level – boom – and below that level there are no fossil records. They even came up with a term for it – they coined it the Cambrian Explosion. My question is this – is there anything in Scripture that could indicate that the 24-hour days were the days of creation but they were not consecutive days – that there was a period between them.

Answer: That forms a very good segue into the next interpretation we are going to talk about which is the Gap Interpretation and then the Day-Gap Interpretation which is going to put gaps of time in between the creative days. So hang on to that and I will address it in just a minute.

Question: I am a Young Earther and I am back to the perfection of the writing of Genesis 1. I don’t think it indicates that it is poetry. I think it indicates the author. Last time we talked, we talked about the indication that when there is a number with day throughout the Bible, it tends to be a 24-hour day and we talked about Hosea.2 I went back and looked at Hosea and I think the two day and three day are very short periods of time but it uses a poetry technique called a “chiasm.” It really indicates Hosea was poetry. It is very similar to Job – that from six calamities he will rescue you and from seven no harm will come. It is an N and an N+1 that they use called a chiasm that indicates it is poetry. It was for memorization purposes. So I still come back to, with the exception of that poetry, wherever you have a number and “day” I think it does indicate 24-hour days. The last thing is if God wanted to communicate to us that this was 24-hour days – “this is how I did it” – what other words would he use?

Answer: I don’t think it is a matter of vocabulary. First, with regard to the structure – the chiasms that you mentioned; if you look at Genesis 1, it has all kinds of structures like this written through it. This is precisely what distinguishes this chapter as so carefully crafted. Look at Bruce Waltke’s commentary on Genesis3, for example, where he lays out a lot of the sorts of parallel structures that he sees in Genesis 1 that would be exactly indicative of the kinds of concerns that you would think are perhaps indicative of a more poetic kind of narrative. As to the ordinal number indicating always a 24-hour period of time, as I said when I dealt with this in class, that could simply be an accident of how much extant Hebrew literature that we have – that you don’t have very many cases where someone says the second day or the fourth day and they are not talking about a literal 24-hour period of time.4 There is nothing grammatically in Hebrew that requires that when you have an ordinal number with “day” that it has to be 24-hour periods. In Hosea 6:2, as I said, you have an exception to that. So it could just be an accident of the extant literature that we have. And the final point that I want to reiterate again, I don’t think this even begins to address the question of whether or not a 24-hour day couldn’t be used as a metaphor. I am actually inclined to agree with you that the days in Genesis 1 are intended to be 24-hour days. But I don’t think that that means that they are not metaphorical or that they have to be literal. I suspect that the use of the expression “it was evening and it was morning” is indicative that the author is using the notion of 24-hour days. And I’ll say in response to the Day-Age Interpretation, for example, that it doesn’t seem like he is thinking of ages rather than days. I am almost rather inclined to agree with you but I don’t think that even starts to address the question – couldn’t someone use a 24-hour day as a metaphor for something else rather than literal? To answer your last question – how might God do it? Well, he might provide a historical narrative that reads more like, say, the book of Chronicles or Kings where it clearly is just a sort of straight forward historical narrative rather than a theologically and literary stylized piece of writing like Genesis 1 is, as Waltke says. This is not just a science report or a historical report like you would have, say, in the book of Kings or something of that sort.

Question: The Old Testament beginning and the New Testament beginning may have some parallel where the light was created and then the governed bodies in the heavens. In the New Testament, the Word was there and then the embodiment of the Word. Also, talking about there are plants first and then the sun, moon and stars is almost like God created Adam and Eve and then there is a new beginning with Noah’s family. It is almost like there is a beginning of his design and then the sun, moon and stars kick in and take over as a new beginning and the rhythm of natural law takes place. That is how I saw it.

Answer: So would that be in support of a non-literal interpretation?

Followup: I think it is 24-hour days.

Answer: Alright, because what you said didn’t sound like you supported a literal interpretation. It sounded more to me that the author was making a theological point.

Followup: Even with chapter 5 talking about Adam being 130 years old and he bore a son. But when he was born, he was not an infant. So 130 years – does that add the years before he even existed? God is able to do anything and then catch up with whatever . . .

Answer: You are raising a really interesting point that is sometimes referred to as the Antholos Theory which asks the question “did Adam have a belly button?” Because he was never born, right? He never had a placenta. If Adam had a navel, then that meant that God created him with the appearance of age – he looked like he was 30 years old when he was only 5 seconds year old for example. So, could it be that God has created the world with the appearance of age but not with actual age? That is this so-called Antholos Theory which appeals to God’s ability to create things that have the appearance of age. I am not going to say anything about that because that is not really a hermeneutical approach to Genesis 1. That is more of a theory of apparent age; that is, a modern attempt to explain how the universe could be very young even though it looks very old.

Gap Interpretation

Let’s go on to the Gap Interpretation. This is a view that was popularized by the old Scofield Reference Bible. It holds that there is a gap between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis chapter 1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and then there is this huge gap of time before God begins to work upon the earth and produce life.5 It holds that during this gap, that is when there was a kind of primordial world and all of the evidence of fossil life, extinct life forms and so forth were of an ancient world that existed prior to verse 2 which came under God’s judgment and was then destroyed. So what is described in verse 2 forward is God’s recreation in effect of the world after a long gap. This view would say that all of the evidence that we have – scientifically and historically – of ancient geological periods, prehistoric life and antiquity is from that pre-gap world that was destroyed by God prior to verse 2.

What might we say by way of assessment of this theory? I think that there could well be a gap of time between verses 1 and 2 in the first chapter. Verse 1 describes, as we’ve seen, God’s creation of the universe as a whole. The heavens and the earth is the way the Hebrew person would describe the universe as a whole. Then in verse 2, the focus radically narrows down to God’s activity upon the earth: “and the earth was without form and void.” It describes how God transforms the earth from a desolate, uninhabitable waste to a place that is fit for man to live in. So there could well be a gap between verse 1 (God’s creation of the world as a whole) and then his transformation of the earth into a habitable ecosystem for human life.

But the idea that there was a prior life world before this one is just utterly foreign to the text. The text is describing God’s initial creation of the biosphere and on each occasion it pronounces God’s work as being good. God saw that it was good. The idea that all of this is just a repeat of something that he has done before has absolutely no warrant in the text. Remember, all of this is supposed to be pre-flood. This is not flood geology. This is prior to Noah. It is saying that prior to verse 2 there was this prehistoric world of animals and geological epics and so forth – maybe even ancient civilizations – that was all destroyed by God. There is simply nothing in the text to support a view like that. In fact, I think that this Gap Interpretation seems to be an example of concordism at its very worst. Remember, concordism is the hermeneutic of trying to read modern science into the text – to try to read the text in accord with modern science rather than reading it as it would have been originally understood and written. It seems that under the pressure of the scientific and historical evidence of prehistoric life and geological time, one reads into the text something that was not at all intended by the author. So I find this interpretation to be hermeneutically unsupportable.

Question: [makes a comment regarding something that Dr. Craig isn’t sure what is being referred to. The questioner then says it would be something contrary to creation ex nihilo.] 6

Answer: That goes back to your interpretation of verse 1. In the section on creatio ex nihilo, we talked extensively about whether or not verse 1 is an absolute beginning. “In the beginning, God created.” Or is this a subordinate clause meaning “when God, in the beginning, created the earth was without form and void” and so forth. I argued extensively that, in fact, what you have in verse 1 is an absolute, and not a subordinate, clause. It is a main clause that does affirm that God has created everything, not out of preexisting matter or prior worlds but that this is the absolute beginning. The idea that there is something in between verse 1 and 2 that was destroyed by God seems to me to be just completely unsupportable from the text. I think it is the result of trying to read science back into it.

Question: So I take it you are not as much about using the book of nature to sort of add information to the biblical text? That is concordism – is that your interpretation?

Answer: OK, your question is what is concordism? Is using the book of nature to illuminate the biblical text concordism? I think that the project of looking to the book of nature, as you put it, to see how it accords with Scripture is the task of the systematic theologian, not the biblical theologian. The biblical theologian, I think, needs to look at the text and interpret it according to the genre of literature that it was, what we can determine about how the original author and his audience would have understood it and try to understand what the text meant for him and that audience. Then the question of “How does this fit into the book of nature?” and what science tells us about the universe we live in is a second project that will be part of systematic theology where you try to integrate the Bible with the discoveries of modern science and history and all the rest. So right now, we are focusing just on this hermeneutical project and we are going to talk about this other project later on about how to look at the book of nature and see if we can make sense of things in light of it and the teaching of the biblical text.

Followup: So the systematic theologian could then hold to these views, or give these interpretations . . .

Answer: Right, that is a good point. In other words, the systematic theologian could hold to these views but he would not claim that this is what the original author meant. He would say this is the way I am going to reconstruct how the universe came to exist but he wouldn’t be making a hermeneutical claim that this is what the text is teaching. That is very different.

Followup: It would be like Isaiah 7’s virgin, right? In a similar way, the virgin of Isaiah 7 . . . it seems like Matthew is being a bit concordist in his interpretation.

Answer: Well, there you have a question of how a New Testament author interpreted an Old Testament text. That is different than what we are talking about here where a systematic theologian reads the book of nature and tries to integrate that with the biblical text to product a biblical view of the world. In one sense, maybe I am being unfair to the proponents of the Gap Interpretation. Maybe this wasn’t really offered as a hermeneutical interpretation of Genesis 1. Maybe it was what you just described – a theory about how to integrate Genesis 1 with modern science. That is a legitimate project so long as you are not offering it as a hermeneutical claim that this is what the original text said and meant and how it was understood. So if it is not meant to be an interpretive affair but the secondary project then my objections here that it is unsupported in the text would not be relevant. But my concern here is, first and foremost, how do we understand the meaning, or the right interpretation, of Genesis 1? I think this Gap Interpretation, frankly, is just preposterous. The idea that between verse 1 and 2 there was some prehistoric world that came under God’s judgment and was destroyed – there is just nothing in the text to suggest that that is what the author thought.

Next time, we are going to take up the Day-Gap Interpretation which is a slightly different sort of gap theory that puts the gaps in between the creative days.7

1 5:10

2 This is referring to Hosea 6:2.

3 Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001)

4 10:16

5 15:24

6 20:00

7 Total Running Time: 25:10 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)