Starting from Genesis or geology?
Published: 30 March 2019 (GMT+10)
What is the best way to approach the study of Genesis and the rocks? P.F. from Australia writes in, with comments from CMI’s Shaun Doyle interspersed.
I have been reading the fourth edition of the Creation Answers Book and have been drawn to communicating with you over the question of ‘what is a day?’ as declared by God in Genesis Chapter 1. Yes it is quite clear from the text that there were six ‘ordinary’ days involved in the creation, evening, morning, the first day etc.
Before I go any further an introduction would appear in order. I have been a Christian some 54 years and am currently just over half way through my 80th year. I have had no studies in Theology.
I guess my early understanding of the Bible was of a literal nature, who was I to question Gods word?
Good. That is in line with the genre of the text as this article explains: Should Genesis be taken literally?
It was not until some twenty years ago that a Minister of the Church I was attending [Presbyterian] said that the content of Chapter 1 of Genesis was an allegory. Prior to that, some forty years, I was introduced [through the Methodist Church] into the view that creation took 6 days and planet earth was some 6,000 years old.
We should always be careful before buying into such ideas, even from a minister. What textual reasons did he give for rejecting the historical impulse of Genesis 1? There are plenty of good reasons why the idea he told you is not correct. Please see: On literary theorists’ approach to Genesis 1: Part 1 and Part 2, Is Genesis poetry / figurative, a theological argument (polemic) and thus not history?, Genesis as ancient historical narrative, and Genesis: Myth or History? for why that doesn’t work.
I have been living in the hinterland of Coffs Harbour for some 44 years and while this does not qualify as being a long time I have had the opportunity to see nature continuing as it has for a long time. I certainly see no signs of evolution but I do see what I consider to be signs of an old planet. [alluvial rock formation in a dry mountain river bed].
‘Old’ is a relative term; even 6,000 years is ‘old’ compared to the span of a human life (see The earth: how old does it look? and Surtsey, the young island that ‘looks old’). But ask yourself this: how valid is it to extrapolate from 44 years of observations to e.g. 44 million years of geologic processes? That’s a million-fold extrapolation! How can we know conditions have remained stable for one million times as long as we have observed? The Bible indicates conditions have not remained stable, but were impacted by Noah’s Flood. See CSI and evolution.
Moreover, on the assumption of deep time, the rock record is more gap than record. This is a huge problem, since the rock record, assuming deep time, is essentially a series of causally unconnected ‘frozen accidents’ for which it is practically impossible to put any sort of coherent cause-effect narrative to (see Not enough rocks: the sedimentary record and deep time, Changing paradigms in stratigraphy—”a quite different way of analyzing the record”).
And why should we assume that presently observable processes (perhaps even running at present rates?) are sufficient to explain that landscape? The Bible gives us reason to reject such an idea, i.e. Noah’s Flood. During the Flood, there were processes happening that we don’t see happening today. These processes were on average operating at scales and intensities orders of magnitude higher than we see today, which is what we would expect from a global watery geotectonic cataclysm. A good guide to this issue is Rocks Aren’t Clocks.
With that brief overview of me I revert to Genesis.
I love the story/account of the creation in Genesis. It is quite clear that God saw a need for man to be created, to care for his garden and to have fellowship with Him. I was sharing this view with a stranger recently and she said the garden was not too good at the moment, quite true.
Very true. If we continue reading to Genesis 3, we find that the Bible explains why this is so.
However reading between the lines we see that man has not created anything and that everything we have was provided by God.
That’s hardly “reading between the lines”; that’s an intentional impression left by the author! Consider, for instance, that only God speaks in Genesis 1. Everything is completely subservient to God in Genesis 1. He’s solely responsible for it all. God is the only active agent in Genesis 1. In Genesis 2, man becomes an active agent first at God’s behest (when God brings the animals to Adam for him to name). And man still doesn’t make anything, but he does speak for the first time, both implicitly (in naming the animals) and explicitly (in celebrating Eve’s creation). But none of this undermines the historical impulse of Genesis 1.
It is also obvious that man doesn’t always see the need to fellowship with God [that is another story].
That’s the story of Genesis 3–11. A good relationship gone bad. And that’s why we shouldn’t treat Genesis 1–2 differently from the rest of Genesis; it’s talking about one relationship, one family, one God, one history.
With our new digital age and the need for new gadgets and ways of communicating we look in awe at Gods provision for us, a long way from our basic needs in the Garden of Eden.
Indeed, we look in awe at God’s foresight and provision. However, I don’t know that the needs in the Garden of Eden were basic (see Was the Garden of Eden a ‘sanctuary’ from a hostile outside world?).
When God instructed Moses to record the events in the creation of everything and particularly as it was after ‘the Fall’ he probably said that given man’s track record the account of the creation needed to be kept simple so He narrated what is recorded in Genesis 1 [translated from Hebrew].
God narrating is not the only option (perhaps it was passed down from Adam), but it’s consistent with our views. I personally think it’s preferable. If Moses penned Genesis 1 at God’s behest as a sort of ‘authorized’ account of creation, then its emphasis on the timeframe makes more intuitive sense (as a rhetorical ‘showing’ of the proper pattern of work and rest for Israel as a sign of the Sinai covenant—Exodus 31:12) than it would otherwise. However, I don’t think this undermines the historicity of Genesis 1, since Exodus 20:11 shows that the Sabbath command depended on God’s previously established pattern of work and rest the Israelites were likely already familiar with.
God could have said that He laid the foundations to all the stars and our solar system some 100 million years ago and then he arranged the oceans, land, vegetation etc at different intervals as they matured.
He didn’t have to bombard the ancient Israelites with scientific ideas they had no concept of. He just had to tell them the truth about the timeframe, which was not really so hard to do.
Yes there are a few questions asked about the present order of events but I think what God was trying to get across was that the whole question of creation is beyond our understanding, so believe what is written, keep it simple.
Or—revolutionary thought—it could be that God told us the timeframe for creation that He did because that’s actually how long it took Him to make everything.
So the Genesis 1 account becomes an allegory and the day? – a period of time.
However, the allegorical and day-age views stand in significant tension with each other. If it is an allegory, then why think the numbered ‘days’ are anything other than 24-hour days? If it’s an allegory, it doesn’t refer to historical 24-hour periods, there’s little reason to think the numbered ‘days’ are anything other than 24-hour days. But if the days are periods of time of unspecified length, then why call Genesis 1 allegory? Or do you still find the order of creation events problematic? But that makes no sense if Genesis 1 is an allegory.
There does not appear a need to argue that God would not lie so a day is 24 hours but does it matter to say a day is a period of time?
Yes, it does matter. But it’s not about deception; it’s about intelligibility. Genesis 1 is intelligible literature. Indeed, if you can read a good English translation (which are readily available online and practically everywhere in Australia), it’s not hard to grasp the basic content of the chapter. And it’s not hard to see that, if it has any historical impulse whatsoever, then it contradicts the whole ‘big bang billions of years’ story in myriad ways. The funny thing is that this contradiction exists even if the ‘days’ are not 24-hour periods! Plants (Day 3) before the sun (Day 4)? Birds (Day 5) before dinosaurs (Day 6)? Whales (Day 5) before lizards (Day 6)?
What I see in the Genesis 1 account is a record that God made everything, something we can’t dispute [or shouldn’t dispute] and that He toiled for 6 ‘days’ [periods of time] and to avoid burnout had the seventh day off.
God obviously doesn’t get burnout. It’s better to read it as about God appreciating what He has made, and then (through foreknowledge) providing a sign to Israel of the covenant He made with them at Sinai.
This is the message to man, that he should toil 6 and rest on the seventh and to reflect on Gods word, to keep that ordinary or 24 hour day, Holy.
That’s a legitimate implication of the text (for the ancient Israelite under the Sinai covenant), but it’s still not what the text conveys. The text provides the fundamental reason why Israel worked six days and rested on the seventh. They were to copy the God of the covenant, to show that He is their God, and to show that He’s generous (since one day off in seven is a far better deal than they got under Pharaoh, cf. Deuteronomy 5:15— Did God inscribe the Creation Week in stone?).
That God created what is recoded in Genesis 1, in 6 lots of 24 hours, is beyond my comprehension.
How? It’s a straightforward claim. It’s perfectly intelligible. You can say “yes”, “no”, or “I’m not sure’ to the claim, but not ‘I don’t know what that means”. Indeed, if you want to see a text where God himself uses pretty much those words, go to Exodus 20:11: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them”.
That God did create it is not.
The problem is that Genesis 1 says a lot more than just ‘God created the universe.’
Yes I know, we should not dispute Gods ability but I am not, I am merely considering what is reasonable -from Mans perspective [or mine!].
Is it reasonable to believe that God did what He said He did? The key here is which comes first: do we look at the Bible first for information that might be relevant to how we understand the history of nature, and then explore how the physical evidence fits in and fills out that picture? Or do we look at what other people promote as signs of an ‘old’ planet (relative to the historic orthodox understanding of biblical chronology), and then look for a compatible interpretation of Genesis? The former uses the Bible as a guide to what the rocks mean, and the latter uses the idea of deep time to constrain what the Bible can mean. In the former, the Bible is the final authority; in the latter, the dubious forensic speculations of men are.
And no, this isn’t a mere ‘difference of interpretation’. Why? Your hermeneutical method makes it impossible to affirm what Genesis clearly affirms. Although you claim Genesis as authoritative Scripture, you use man’s claims about deep time to determine its supposed ‘dark sayings’. Deep time isn’t optional ‘data’ that you can add to your interpretation of Genesis. That approach assumes deep time is data! However, the fact is that deep time determines how you can interpret Genesis. That’s the problem.
It is interesting to note that God’s handiwork was carried out in 6 not 8 or 5 days …
Nor billions of years. “Six days” is what God said He did. We do not need a reason for why God did it in precisely six days.
… and that 7 days is a week …
That’s because of Genesis 1 (as explained in Exodus 20:8–11) and Exodus 16:23 (the first recorded instance of Israel being commanded to keep the Sabbath).
… and there are 52 weeks in a year and 364/5 days in a year. This does not change nor has it. The rotation of the earth around the Sun and the Moon around us is precise, awesome! It would have taken some time for early man to realise these times and seasons.
The duration of the week isn’t determined by the movement of the heavenly bodies. There is no such link. It was determined by the timespan of God’s creative activities.
I was talking to a retired Science Teacher from one of the Schools in Armidale recently and I posed the question about man of today having one less rib.
Man today doesn’t have one less rib: Regenerating ribs: Adam and that ‘missing’ rib.
His response was that he considered himself an Evangelical Atheist and didn’t believe the Bible account of Creation. For the sake of the discussion I said to him, “If we assume the Big Bang Theory and the Evolution Theory, where did the original cell come from?” To my surprise he said. “We do not know that yet”. The conversation did not last, I was disappointed that he did not want to have an educated debate on the subject.
That’s a pretty standard view among atheists on abiogenesis. They don’t know how it happened, but they trust that ‘science’ will figure it out. It’s a misplaced faith in the power of science to supplant supernatural explanations. Science, though, isn’t about natural explanations superseding supernatural ones; it’s about thinking God’s thoughts about how nature works after Him. Misconstruing the aims of science like this has allowed naturalistic assumptions to constrain the explanations secularists will entertain for the aftereffects of historical events observed in nature as well as in explaining how nature works qua nature. See Historical science and miracles.
I find the Creation Answers Book a challenge to read but a good resource. Coupled with our freedom of choice it is a help to understanding the world we live in and the view of our neighbours.
Creation Ministries International