First, let me thank you for the usually very insightful, interesting, and useful Reports. Over the past ten or so years I have learned much about Reformed Christianity, and have been able to apply many lessons to my own walk with Christ. In the Chalcedon Report, No. 398 (September, 1998), several interesting articles appeared on the subject of a six-day creation. I have several comments related to this particular Report, which I completely read.
If other interpretations of Genesis 1-2 are to be viable, I think two conditions should be met. The first is a necessary condition that somewhere in Scripture we find evidence of a link between one day of creation and a span of time. The second is a sufficient condition that the word for day in Genesis 1 is used differently elsewhere in Scripture, and that the explicit qualifications and ordinal prefixes can be found with days in other Scriptures where the meaning is a span of time.
The sufficient condition is easily met. Genesis 2:4-6; 2:17; 4:3; 8:22; 29:14; 40:4; and 43:9 all use the same word for day that Genesis 1 uses, yet the time frame appears to be longer than a day in each case. Ordinals are used in Hosea 6:2 in connection with day, but the time frame again is a long period. Finally, Genesis 49:27 uses the day-night wording to describe the tribe of Benjamin. The wording is similar to Genesis 1, but the meaning is apparently a span of time. So the sufficient condition has been met.
The necessary condition, that Scripture give us evidence of a link between one day of creation and a span of time, can be found in Hebrews 4:1-5, and particularly verses 3-5. The basic theme of these verses is that a "rest" of God has existed from the seventh day of creation (v. 4), even though the disobedient generation could not enter it. The writer also states that the promise about the physical land of promise ultimately points to the divine rest (Heb. 3:11), which only those who believe may enter (v. 3). Furthermore, Colossians 2:16, 17 indicates that the Sabbath is a type of Christ. Thus the Fourth Commandment, in teaching that God is the sovereign Creator, gives us a reminder of the shadow of things to come, and indeed this is likely the commandment's main concern. By implication, Hebrews 4 indicates that the seventh day is a span of time. Therefore, the necessary condition is fulfilled.
So, in a sufficient and necessary manner, an alternative interpretation to Genesis 1 may be available. This leads me to several other observations concerning this particular issue. Several instances of reliance on extra-Biblical writings appear throughout this work. Mr. Gentry spends a great deal of time using the Book of Church Order (PCA), and the Westminster Standards to bolster his arguments. Rev. Snapp relies on the Standards as well. The interesting point I would like to raise here is that the Book of Church Order (PCA) and the Standards are not canonical. They could be wrong. Yes, we are confessional people, but this does not mean that we accept extra-Biblical writings just because they were written by good men.
Brian Abshire's article could have been entitled, "The Spineless, Stupid, and Sinister." Rev. Abshire leaves no room for disagreement and intones a sense of arrogance throughout this particular work. Many godly, faithful, and well-reasoned Christian people will disagree with Rev. Abshire. As I indicated above, Scripture may also disagree with Rev. Abshire. When discussing difficult theological ideas, one should be prepared to recognize honest, thoughtful, and indeed possibly Biblical disagreements.
Frank Walker comments on the doctrine of perspicuity of Scripture. According to Mr. Walker, "the things necessary for our learning are so clearly revealed that even those of considerably diminished capacity can understand them well enough to be blessed by them." I am fairly surprised that this discussion made it through the editor's office. Do we seriously believe such a false doctrine? We know that God must open the eyes of man to His Word, whether they are highly intelligent or less so, before understanding may occur. In other words, only those to whom God reveals His Word will understand it. To others the Word is a stumbling block — see e.g. Romans 9. This is also pointed out by Christ in Luke 8:10. Furthermore, there are certain things in Scripture, and in our creeds, that are not easily understood by anyone, although they can be accepted: the Trinity quickly comes to mind.
I have not discussed any scientific issues above, as my principal concern has been theological. I would like to make two simple comments on scientific issues:
Mark Ludwig gives a very nice description of operational science. I would like to comment that deviations from Newtonian gravity are well understood when one employs General Relativity theory. That same theory, which is verifiable and has withstood many experimental tests, "predicts" a Big Bang origin for the universe. So, at least one scientifically verifiable theory exists which can at least be used to understand the evolution of the physical universe. A major test of General Relativity will come with investigations of the Light Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Albert Einstein predicted the existence of these gravitational waves in 1916 in his General Theory of Relativity, but only now in the 1990s, has technology become powerful enough to permit detecting them and harnessing them for science. Although they have not yet been detected directly, the influence of gravitational waves on a binary pulsar (two neutron stars orbiting each other) has been measured accurately and is in good agreement with the predictions. Scientists therefore have great confidence that gravitational waves exist. Joseph Taylor and Russel Hulse were awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of this binary pulsar.
Of course, God came before the Big Bang. Other verifiable predictions of the Big Bang cosmology include the ratio of helium to hydrogen in the universe, and the expansion of the universe (studied with galactic red shift measurements). Concerning evolutionary biology, Dr. Ludwig is quite correct that little evidence exists for such a theory. Furthermore, the theory of evolution is not of the same caliber as that of General Relativity. Evolutionary theory, while in some ways complicated, does not, to the best of my knowledge, have a precise formulation in terms of mathematics in the same way that general relativity does.
Let me conclude with one scientific puzzle that I do not understand, and perhaps those who have considered these issue more than I can enlighten me. In Genesis 1:1-2 we read, "And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light'" (NKJV). Physical water as we know it today is simply H2O, two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom chemically combined. We know that the description of the water molecule requires several physical theories including quantum electro-dynamics — the unified theory of light, electricity, and magnetism. This theory is extremely precise in its descriptions of atomic processes, and perhaps the best tested and verified theory in all of the physical sciences. Concisely stated: water is held together by the electromagnetic force the mediator of which is the photon — light. Yet, the verses clearly say that the light came after the water. One could argue that the water is not the same water of today — but then one has a problem are the days the same days of today? One could argue that things are actually happening simultaneously in verses 1-2, but then one has a problem that the clear reading is first water then light. One could argue that physical laws governing water change with time — but then again one is caught in the trap of the definition of day. Or one could shake one's head in amazement that some things will just have to wait to be explained. Today we see dimly, but then face-to-face.
Thank you for your kind patience in reading this short comment.
David J. Dean, Ph.D.
Dear Dr. Dean,
The danger of merely interpreting the days of Genesis 1 as indeterminate periods of time is that one must either drastically alter the modus operendi of the universe during this period, or one must go further, and interpret Genesis 1 as having no relevance to chronological developments on the earth. Simply put, how could plants exist for a long period of time without sunlight?
Now, if one is going to arbitrarily alter the laws of physics during the creation because one believes the Scripture (whatever interpretation), one may as well posit a young earth and a fast creation. Laying aside those laws in the least degree represents a fundamental break with the atheistic scientist who has made the "laws of nature" his god. It is not at all clear that the young earth creationist is positing a bigger miracle, either. For plants to live how many millions of years without direct sunlight would be quite a feat. And what of the millions of years of darkness that covered the earth in each of the six creation nights?
Next, if you argue that Genesis 1 has no relevance to chronological developments on the earth, conveniently saying that the sun was created first, then the earth, then plants, etc., then you may as well also argue that Matthew 28, Mark 16, and the rest of the gospels have no chronological relevance. When the authors are talking about the disciples seeing Jesus after He rose from the dead, He really hadn't died yet. Maybe He didn't rise from the dead at all . . . And we become the most miserable of men.
In the end, if you take the step of interpreting the days of Genesis as ages, you land at a fork in the road. One direction takes you right back where you started. The other takes you to modernism and unbelief. Regarding your question about light, versus the electromagnetism that holds a water molecule together, I think I have to vote for the most common-sense approach here. Simply put, molecules at room temperature do not generally emit what is commonly called light, unless they are reacting in an unusual way (e.g. chemical luminescence). So if God did not initially create a hot earth, one wouldn't see much in the way of light.
Moving on, Newtonian gravity is of course a very useful approximation to the truth.
However, most scientists today admit that General Relativity is nothing more, at least inasmuch as it does not properly take quantum theory into account. In terms of understanding gravitation at a higher level than Newton did, it is a truly useful theory. Newton knew nothing of the wavelike nature of forces, or the fact that they do not act instantaneously. With the tremendous understanding of electrodynamics gained in the nineteenth century, it only made sense to apply the new concepts to gravitation as well. Einstein's theory is certainly very valuable in that regard.
As a Christian, I also find the idea of the Big Bang very exciting, inasmuch as it represents a fundamental break with a very anti-Christian understanding of the universe. The old Aristotelian/Euclidean universe which was the de facto standard for centuries seems to have given space the attributes of God, while taking away from God. In other words, space itself was unchangeable and eternal. But then Aristotle's god, the unmoved mover, became a part of the universe. He was constrained by time. These ideas had deeply and unconsciously infiltrated the "Christian" understanding of the universe and of God Himself. Centuries ago, Christians would universally acknowledge that God had created the material things in space, but had He created space itself? The question would hardly have made any sense. Then Einstein came along and, in applying the concepts of electrodynamics to gravity, found out the universe itself was dynamic and his theory actually pointed to a creation event. Einstein's universe is really much more in accord with Scripture than the Aristotelian/Euclidean universe ever was. In it, God can be restored to His rightful position of uncreated Creator, whose existence is not dependent on space and time. The universe — space and time itself — is restored to its proper place as a created thing.
Were it not for the time frame predicted by standard General Relativity, I suppose Christians would have universally embraced it as creationism fulfilled. So how can one reconcile the theory with a young earth? At present no one really knows. One must either scrap the theory or scrap the young earth cosmology, or return to the pre-Einsteinian approach and constrain God to space and time. There isn't an easy answer for anyone who cares about both the theory and the Bible.
Obviously God has given us no guarantee that His act of creation is going to somehow pop out of the correct equations of motion for the universe. We may have to scrap the laws of physics in order to account for the creation. Yet Einstein's success entices us to try to reconcile the laws of physics with Biblical creation. Maybe somebody will succeed someday.
After all, it is not unusual for scientific theories to break down when pushed far beyond the limits of the data that they originally tried to explain. Herein we find both the real testing ground for a theory and the excitement of real experimental discovery. Could General Relativity break down when the forces get dozens of orders of magnitude larger than anything we can ever experiment with? That probably wouldn't unduly surprise too many scientists. Or maybe quantum effects in gravitation are far more important than we can begin to imagine? (Along these lines, read The Emperor's New Mind, by Roger Penrose.)
On the other hand, getting the kind of experimental data to verify General Relativity in huge field limits, or getting enough data to formulate a better theory, if needed, may be a hopeless proposition. When push comes to shove, we have to realize that although science has been very valuable in helping us understand how God's creation works, we're still only scratching the surface. When scientists become deeply involved in a theory, be it General Relativity or anything else, they tend to start seeing it as the answer for everything. In fact, they're really limiting the scope of the questions they are asking to things that are immediately tractable in the theory. Yet there are whole realms of unasked, and often unaskable questions out there.
My personal experience as both a Christian and a scientist has been that the average person is not content to not know the answer to something. Often, I've had well-meaning Christians ask me questions about science and the Bible, and then get upset when I tell them nobody really knows. They don't like that. They'd rather have a sentence or two that will win a debate, than to appreciate the real difficulties involved. As honest men of faith, though, we have to face the difficulties without becoming unnerved. We may not live to see the new discoveries that resolve our questions. We may not be able to figure these things out with our minds. Then again, maybe one or two of us may be privileged enough to see the mind of God in one of these matters and discover something really beautiful.
Mark Ludwig, Ph.D.