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‘Natural law’ in the Creation Week?

Published: 1 June 2013 (GMT+10)
NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); K. Cook (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory).

Did nature behave in constant ways even during Creation Week? The fact that Creation Week was filled with miracles seems to suggest not at first glance. But do miracles have to be “changes in ‘natural law’”? If not, then perhaps nature’s behaviour was more constant than we might typically think. Scott M. writes in response to Modern science in creationist thinking. CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds with comments interspersed.

Hi! I’ve read all of your articles on CMI. First, I wanted to clarify for readers that may be confused about your comment on supernovae. The idea is that we receive evidence of supernovae from very far away, greater than 10,000 light-years. So if you say that they exploded after the fall, you have to say that they were within 10,000 light-years, of the Earth, which is unlikely. However, if we say that these stars lived and “died” during creation week (which is before the fall), then there are several theories that explain how we could see their remnants from so far away.

Sort of. This is true for time dilation cosmologies, but not for Dr Jason Lisle’s Anisotropic Synchrony Convention (ASC) model (that the Bible uses ASC). He would say we could observe supernovae from >10,000 light-years away even if it occurred after the Fall because the ASC applies uniformly in time and space. This means the one-way speed of light really is infinite toward the observer. For instance, if a supernova occurred 20 years ago 20,000 light-years away from us, it really happened 20 years ago because the light from the event got here instantaneously. [However, CMI tends not to agree with Dr Lisle's model. Please see Anisotropic Synchrony Convention and The Anisotropic Synchrony Convention model as a solution to the creationist starlight-travel-time problem—Ed.]

Also, I wanted to know your thoughts on this: if I was a creationist, I would definitely subscribe to creationist worldview #1. It seems to me, and don’t take this the wrong way, that #2 could be blasphemous, almost implying that God isn’t all-powerful.

“Almost”, but not quite. Omnipotence is only violated if God can’t change the rules, and Dr Hartnett isn’t saying that. And who said miracles require a change in the way nature behaves? That assumes nature can’t absorb direct divine action. Think of the difference between conditions and behaviour. Nature consistently behaves in certain ways and not others. However, the specific results of that consistent behaviour vary wildly in time and space. Why? The starting conditions change. For instance, consider a large lead ball dropped from a plane, and then dropped from a truck trailer. The effects the lead ball will have on the ground differ wildly in each drop not because the way nature behaves has changed, but because the conditions the ball starts dropping from have changed. ‘Natural law’ may just provide the behavioural context for physical events, while the conditions remain completely open to divine manipulation.

But how do we know God can change the rules? First, He set them in place at the beginning (Genesis 1:1). Second, there appears to be two cases (with a third in the future) where God fundamentally ‘changed the rules’: the Fall (Romans 8:20–21), Jesus’ resurrection (Romans 6:9–10), and the consummation of history (1 Corinthians 15). However, these are the most important events in the history of the universe, with ample reason for the changes. These events magnify the consistent faithfulness of God far more than maintaining nature’s constancy does. Even so, the predictability of nature’s behaviour seems to have only changed in very specific and limited ways: suffering and death were allowed in the Fall (creation became as a flower cut from the plant), Jesus was raised never to die again, and creation will be freed from suffering and death in the consummation. The integrity of Adam’s, Eve’s, and Jesus’ choice and action in the physical world wasn’t compromised by even these instances of divine action.

But why would an omnipotent God maintain creation with such constancy even in Creation Week? First, perhaps as a reflection of His unchanging faithfulness: “If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 33:25). Second, Genesis 1 seems to describe an initial creation event followed by a shaping of the original created material into a functional cosmos—i.e. there was only one ex nihilo event at the beginning of the week. Third, it gives us a way to render the astronomical data understandable. None of these reasons force God to act like this, but they seem to suggest that this is something like what God actually did.

Here me out: creationist cosmologies concede that the laws of physics must have been changed by God during creation week.

The laws of physics were set in place during Creation Week—this is implied by the absolute beginning, if not anything else. Creationists may disagree as to when during that week the way nature behaves was set in place.

Many of them try to figure out exactly which laws He changed and when. However, perhaps we can never hope to understand why or how He changed the laws if all we have to work with is our current-day laws and have no understanding of how God “works.” From which basis would we possibly be able to judge his preference for one “miracle” (change of laws) over the other?

As I above rejected this definition of miracles as inadequate, this question is moot.

I posit that I could create an infinite number of isomorphic creationist theories that would have no basis to be “better” or “worse” than any other creationist theory.

And we would say that naturalistic cosmology has at least the same flexibility (at least it can alter the timeline and event sequence!). All this should tell us is that physical data by itself is a poor way to decide between cosmologies, let alone worldviews, not that the biblical worldview is weak at this point.

However, there does seem to be an implicit understanding that God is somehow trying to be simple or straightforward.

God’s description of what happened is simple and straightforward. This does not imply that the mechanics of what happened with respect to the physical world were simple or straightforward.

However, if God was all-powerful, then why didn’t He just will the Universe into existence? Why did it take Him a full six days to do it?

Some Church Fathers thought in a similar manner, and concluded that God created everything in an instant (e.g. Origen, Augustine, Hilary of Poitiers). Why take a full six days? Remember that He also took a day to savour the finished creation (Genesis 2:1–3). Exodus 20:8–11 clearly makes Creation Week the historical precedent for the Israelite work week. Exodus 31:16–17 points out that the Sabbath was a sign of the Mosaic covenant because it acts as a reminder of exactly which God Israel entered into covenant with. Jesus also said that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Now, clearly God would have had foreknowledge of these events (the Sinai covenant and Jesus’ words) during Creation Week. Thus they reveal a dual planned purpose for the Creation Week: it set a healthy pattern for human work and rest, and it provided a sign for the Sinai covenant. God was not just trying to show how powerful He is in creation—He had other purposes.

I don’t believe we are meant to know the answer.

That assumes that all we have before us is what God could have done. It’s not. We also have God’s character to consider, as well as what He said He did. We also have science, which is a reflection of God’s character, and all the astronomical data. Even if we accept all those ideas as valid parameters and tools for historical investigation, we still may fall short of a definitive answer. But we may have a better idea of the history of physical effects in the cosmos as a result, nonetheless. Nobody denies that we all see through a glass darkly, but this does not mean we can’t discern anything at all.

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