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An atypical atheist, plus Just how long was that so-called ‘gap’?

Published: 30 December 2006 (GMT+10)

Today we have two feedbacks, the first from atheist Ricky K of Illinois, USA who expresses appreciation for the well-written material on our website, to which Andrew Lamb responds. The second, from Dominique A of France (in French), to which Dr Don Batten replies (in English). Dr Batten’s reply gives the reader the idea of the query, which is about the translation of certain Hebrew terms in Genesis 1 used to promote the gap theory.

1. An atypical atheist

From Wikipedia. Released under the GFDL. cells
1 Nucleolus; 2 Nucleus; 3 Ribosome; 4 Vesicle; 5 Rough endoplasmic reticulum; 6 Golgi apparatus; 7 Cytoskeleton; 8 Smooth endoplasmic reticulum; 9 Mitochondrion; 10 Vacuole; 11 Cytoplasm; 12 Lysosome; 13 Centriole.
How did lifeless chemicals come together to form the first living cell with its mind-boggling irreducible complexity?

Hey guys,

First of all, I would like to compliment you on your writing ability.


Many people who choose to write on the topics of evolution and creation are unable to articulate well, particularly on the web. It is refreshing to find some skillfully written articles in a medium which harbors so much junk.

Hmm, perhaps you spend too much time on anti-creationist sites. Feel free to post links to Creation.com articles on the forums you visit so that others can experience our ‘refreshing’ articles too.

Furthermore, I think that what you are doing is important.

Agreed, though probably for different reasons.

As an atheist and advocate of evolutionary theory, it’s always good to see someone second guessing me.

It is a pleasant surprise to encounter an atheist who welcomes critical evaluation (‘second guessing’) of their ideas. For an atheist, your attitude to dissenting views is surprisingly tolerant and distinctly atypical. Atheists in the West have tended to persecute dissenters. And historically, atheistic governments have tended to murder dissenters. Although some evolutionists, like yourself, endeavour to exhibit tolerance and other virtues, if evolution is true and we are all just ‘rearranged pond scum’ so to speak, then there is actually no objective basis for your virtuous behaviour.

It is people like you who have forced me to take a more critical view of my own understanding of the universe, and now I am more convinced than ever that evolutionary theory is at least on the right track, even if it is an incomplete and imperfect theory (particularly in regards to the origin of life).

Yes, evolutionary theory is incomplete and imperfect, and it is good that you recognize the weaknesses in your position. But once you assume the Creator God does not exist you have little choice—evolutionary theory is ultimately the only explanation left, no matter how inadequate it is to the task of explaining origins. Unless you are prepared to experiment with a different worldview (even just temporarily, ‘for the sake of argument’) you will merely keep reinforcing your ideas, no matter how unworkable they turn out to be. Your allusion here to the insuperable problems with a naturalistic origin of life (due to the immutable laws of chemistry etc.) is a striking case in point.

If only the bible contained more to the contrary of gravity or quantum theory!

Ricky, you sound as if you actually want the Bible to be wrong! Could this be to justify particular preconceived ideas? But anyway, we are pleased that you are not promulgating false claims about errors in the Bible, such as the long-discredited myth that the Bible teaches a flat earth (see Who invented the flat earth?) as many frustrated critics of the Bible have done when unable to find genuine errors.

Although I disagree with the vast majority of your content, it’s always interesting to read someone else’s view of things, especially when they are able to articulate well.

It is refreshing that you acknowledge that we have a different view of things (i.e. that the debate is over how evidence is interpreted). Unfortunately, many of our evolutionist critics can’t see this crucial point, and insist instead that they are dealing with facts and that we have our facts wrong. For a discussion of the crucial distinction between fact and interpretation see Faith and facts.

I know that many atheists have been insulted by your statements but I think it’s best to take others’ criticism as a chance to improve one’s self.

It is our experience that when strongly held beliefs are challenged, many people react as if they are being personally insulted. Issues of ego and loss of face arise. But we are careful to focus our criticism against the false beliefs and to avoid attacking the person. We try to avoid denigration or sarcasm or anything else which could cause offence unnecessarily. The Scriptures say that ‘without love, we are just a clanging bell’ (1 Corinthians 13:1) and tell us to ‘correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction’ (2 Timothy 4:2). We try hard to follow these injunctions.

I wish you luck in promoting both your beliefs and a critical view of a fascinating field of study.

A fascinating field, yes, and one with profound and eternal ramifications—consider Pascal’s Wager. The important thing Ricky is that people come to know their Creator and Saviour.

I hope you have a fun and relaxing holiday season. I don’t pray, but I will think well of you on Solstice and Christmas alike!

Ricky K

Thank you, and may you discover the ‘Reason for the Season’ this Christmas.

Andrew Lamb
Information Officer

2. Just how long was that so-called ‘gap’? (French)

Cher éditeur

Je suis autodidacte en anglais. Je lis couramment cette langue mais je l’écris peu, et je la parle encore moins. Craignant de faire des erreurs de traduction, je me permets de vous écrire directement dans ma langue natale. Veuillez m’en excuser.

Je vous remercie grandement pour vos recherches, réflexions et articles. Ils sont utiles pour de nombreux chrétiens qui travaillent en particulier dans le domaine des sciences de la terre et de la vie. Plusieurs de vos développements sont assez convaincants, spécialement en Géologie. C’est un fait que la science en général (il y a des exceptions) dépasse ses limites en rejetant Dieu. Elle s’expose à de grandes déceptions. C’est une attitude regrettable mais nous savons qu’il y a une raison morale à cela (Rom.1:18–21).

  1. Au sujet des termes "xx theory", "xx theorist"

Je suis peiné de constater que vous parlez facilement de "xx theory", "xx theorist", au sujet des éléments de la foi chrétienne. Vos lecteurs peuvent être sincères devant Dieu et ne pas partager vos idées, parce qu’ils voient autre chose dans la Parole de Dieu. La Parole de Dieu est la vérité. A ce titre elle a une place unique. Ne donnons pas à ce que nous pensons une importance plus grande que ce qu’il convient.

Laissons-lui toute sa place et toute son autorité. Je ne désire pas entrer dans une controverse mais simplement rappeler la dimension morale du sujet (Job 38). S’il vous plaît, n’employons pas le terme "xx theory", "xx theorist"!

  1. Une nouvelle "gap theory"?
From Wikipedia. Released under the GFDL. cells
Bereshit aleph, or the first chapter of Genesis, written on an egg, in the Israel Museum.

Il me semble qu’avec Gen.1:2 vous allez à la fois plus loin et moins loin que la Parole de Dieu. Je reçois simplement par la foi le récit de la création (Héb.11:3), avec les 7 jours de 24h. L’universalité du déluge aussi. J’ai lu très en détail le livre de W.W.Fields "Unformed and Unfilled". Mais il ne m’a pas convaincu. Une partie importante de l’argumentation de W.W.F. est fondée sur l’analyse de Gesenius que j’ai aussi examinée. Sans être un spécialiste de l’hébreu et sans prétention de ma part, je constate que de nombreux passages contenant la particule waw (et) ont une portée factuelle et non pas causale/chronologique :

  • Gen. 6:10-11 : La terre était-elle corrompue suite à la naissance des trois fils de Noé? et seulement à ce moment?
  • Gen. 13:12-13 : Les hommes de Sodome étaient-ils méchants et grands pécheurs devant l’Eternel, juste quand Abram et Lot sont venus habiter dans le pays?
  • Gen. 24:16 : Etait-ce parce qu’elle sortait avec sa cruche et qu’elle était née à Bethuel, que Rebecca était belle et vierge? et seulement à ce moment-là?
  • Gen. 37:24 : La citerne fut-elle vide, parce que les frères de Joseph le mirent dedans? ou seulement à ce moment précis? (Ici la portée purement factuelle est soulignée par ce membre de phrase : « il n’y avait point d’eau dedans »).
  • Gen. 39:6 : Etait-ce seulement quand le pharaon lui confia tout que Joseph fut beau de visage? etc.

Je lis donc Gen.1:2 comme étant factuel et pas aussi précis que vous le pensez. Il est possible malgré tout que vous ayiez raison en ne voyant aucun "gap" entre le verset 1 et le verset 2. Mais j’ai aussi le sentiment que dans ce passage la Parole ne dit intentionnellement pas tout, pour des raisons morales. Elle ne dit rien ici, par exemple, de la création des anges et de la chute de plusieurs d’entre eux. On en trouve aucune allusion non plus en Ex.20:11. Quand et comment ont-elles eu lieu? La Parole en parle peu. Dieu lui-même invite Job à l’humilité et lui dit peu de choses à ce sujet (Job 38:2,7).

Par ailleurs, contrairement à ce qu’explique W.W.F. dans les versets qu’il cite contenant tohu et bohu, je constate que la Parole décrit un état de désolation résultant précisément d’un jugement. Il est clair pour moi que, dans la plupart des passages cités (et peut-être tous) on trouve un état de désolation comme effet du jugement destructeur de Dieu, après que, hélas, l’homme n’ait pas écouté ses multiples avertissements par les prophètes. Ôter de ces passages les résultats produits à cause du péché de l’homme et son obstination, sous l’effet du juste jugement de Dieu comme conséquence de ceux-là, c’est ôter les prophéties elles-mêmes. L’insistance avec laquelle l’auteur affirme le contraire est choquante pour un lecteur sincère. J’ai aussi lu récemment que certains ne sont pas d’accord de donner à tohu et bohu le sens trop neutre de "unformed" et "unfilled".

En conséquence, j’ai plutôt tendance à penser personnellement, par analogie, qu’il y a en Gen.1:2 un état produit par un jugement divin.

Mais le contexte ne dit absolument rien de ce jugement c’est pourquoi je reste très prudent. Je reconnais aussi l’existance du verset important d’Ex.20:11. Comprenez bien que je n’affirme rien sur ce qui s’est passé en Gen.1:2, ni combien de temps cela a duré. Alors, s’il vous plaît, ne m’appelez pas un "half-gap theorist"!

Combien facilement nous sommes exposés à aller en deçà ou au delà de la Parole de Dieu! Ma conclusion est simple: soyons humbles devant Dieu et devant sa Parole (Job 38:2).

Que le Seigneur vous aide dans votre service et vous encourage à l’accomplir selon sa pensée.

Avec mes fraternelles salutations en Jésus Christ, Dominique A

Dear Dominique,

Since you read English and my written French is not good, I will reply in English.

Thank you for your kind comments about our material being helpful. We also are encouraged that you understand that the days of creation are ordinary days and that the Flood of Noah was world-wide.

I will cover your two main points:

1. The vav (waw) at the beginning of Genesis 1, verse 2

It is actually a disjunctive vav or explanatory vav. You recognized this in finding some other examples, which are quite parallel and correct. This form of vav, which precedes a noun, begins a thought which is not a chronological consequence of the previous thought (you are correct). Indeed, it introduces a thought which is more like an aside; more information about what has just been introduced, for example. Genesis 1:2 is like that: it introduces more information about what has just been mentioned in verse one. When you see that in the Hebrew, you can see that there is no gap in the Hebrew, either explicit or hinted at. There is no room for any gap in the Hebrew of Genesis 1.

The following is from footnote 10 in the article Morning has broken ... but when?

Genesis 1:2 begins with the Hebrew waw [vav] which can mean ‘and’, ‘now’, ‘but’, ‘then’, etc. Wherever vav precedes a noun (as in v.2 vav ‘and’ + erets ‘the earth’) it has the meaning of an explanation (called a vav disjunctive or vav explicativum, i.e. explanatory vav). It is not a sequence of events such as ‘then the earth became’ (which would require a vav consecutive, where vav precedes a verb). It compares with the old English expression ‘to wit’; it could be translated by ‘Now’ or even with the use of parentheses as follows: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (the earth was without form and empty …).’ Moses used the two vav constructions very deliberately in Genesis 1. Verse 2 has the only vav disjunctive. All 28 other verses beginning with ‘And’ have the vav consecutive.

So, the grammatical construction of Genesis 1:2 actually rules out any possibility of a gap.

The following is from the article: What about the ‘gap’ and ‘ruin-reconstruction’ theories?)

2. tohu and bohu

These delightful words are usually translated ‘formless and empty’ (Gen. 1:2a). They imply that the original universe was created unformed and unfilled and was, during six days, formed and filled by God’s creative actions.

‘Gappists’ claim that these words imply a process of judgmental destruction, and indicate ‘a sinful, and therefore, not an original state of the earth.’ However, this imports into Genesis 1 interpretations found in other parts of the Old Testament with very different contexts (namely, Isa. 34:11 and Jer. 4:23).

Tohu and bohu appear together only in the three above-mentioned places in the Old Testament. However, tohu appears alone in a number of other places and in all cases simply means ‘formless.’ The word itself does not tell us about the cause of formlessness; this has to be gleaned from the context. Isaiah 45:18 (often quoted by ‘gappists’) is rendered in the KJV ‘he created it not in vain [tohu], he formed it to be inhabited.’ In the context, Isaiah is speaking about Israel, God’s people, and His grace in restoring them. He did not choose His people in order to destroy them, but to be their God and they His people. Isaiah draws an analogy with God’s purpose in creation: He did not create the world for it to be empty! No, He created it to be formed and filled, a suitable abode for His people. ‘Gappists’ miss the point altogether when they argue that because Isaiah says God did not create the world tohu, it must have become tohu at some later time. Isaiah 45:18 is about God’s purpose in creating, not about the original state of the creation.

Though the expression tohu and bohu in Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23 speaks of a formlessness and emptiness resulting from divine judgment for sin, this meaning is not implicit in the expression itself, but is gained from the particular contexts in which it occurs. It is not valid therefore to infer that same meaning into Genesis 1:2, where the context does not suggest it. As an analogy, we might think of a word like ‘blank,’ in reference to a computer screen. It can be blank because nothing has been typed on the keyboard, or it can be blank because the screen has been erased. The word ‘blank’ does not suggest, in itself, the reason why the screen is blank. It is likewise with ‘formless and empty’—this can be due to the earth not yet being formed and filled, or it could be due to something becoming that way through judgment, for example.

Theologians call the form of use of tohu and/or bohu in Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23 a ‘verbal allusion.’ These passages on judgment allude to the formless and empty Earth at the beginning of creation to suggest the extent of God’s judgment to come. God’s judgment will be so complete that the result will be like the earth before it was formed and filled—formless and empty. This does not imply that the state of the creation in Genesis 1:2 was arrived at by some sort of judgment or destruction as imagined by gappists. As theologian Robert Chisholm Jr wrote, ‘By the way, allusion only works one way. It is unwarranted to assume that Jeremiah’s use of the phrase in a context of judgment implies some sort of judgment in the context of Genesis 1:2 … Jeremiah is not interpreting the meaning of Genesis 1:2.’

As you said, the Word of God is silent about what happened in the supposed gap or how long it was. The reason for that is there is no gap!

See also our brochure on the gap theory (515k PDF).

I hope this is all of some help to you,

With kindest regards in Christ,

Don Batten

PS. Your email suggests we need to place some French articles about the gap theory on the French section of the web site.