Friday, January 7, 2011

Dr Tremper Longman III versus Genesis I-II

How should we reconcile science and the Bible on origins? Much has been written on this in the last few years. Recently there appeared yet another, short, book:  Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 2010, 144pp. paperback). It is written by a physicist (Richard F. Carlson) and a theologian (Tremper Longman III, who currently teaches at Westmont College).

The authors profess belief in an inerrant Bible. They grant further that, before 1859, Christians generally read Genesis in a literal way. Yet they believe also that science has proven that the earth is 4.7 billion years old and that life has evolved from primitive forms to humans about 30,000 years ago.

This places them before a dilemma: “the book of nature (science) and the book of Scripture cannot contradict each other.” Their proposal is to simply re-interpret the offending biblical passages. Here they defer to the incarnational” approach to Scripture of Peter Enns. Enns stresses the human aspect of the Bible which, he says, is shown in its numerous errors and contradictions. According to Enns, Gen.1-11 is full of ancient myth, which the Bible narrator mistakenly accepted as factual.

The authors contend that Genesis 1 & 2 do not intend to tell us how God created. It has the same form as pagan creation myths, but with a different theological message. God accommodated himself to the world of his chosen people. Genesis conveys deep theological truths in terms of creation concepts well known throughout the ancient world. It constitutes a Hebrew worldview statement about God, the originator of all things, and their identity as God’s people.

In short, the book’s basic stance is that science addresses questions of how natural processes began and continue to develop, while the Bible answers why God created the universe.

Biblical Considerations
The authors allege that a literal reading of the two creation accounts in Genesis 1-2 results in contradictions. First, Gen.2:4--“in the day [Hebrew: beyom] that the Lord God made…”--says everything was created in one day, rather than the six days of Gen.1. Second, the two accounts have a different order.

But most commentators have not seen any contradictions in Gen.1 and 2. Why not? First, the meaning of words is determined by their context. As is well-known, the compound Hebrew word “beyom” (“in the day”) in Gen.2:4 is idiomatic for “when”. In fact, there is an exact parallel in Num.3:1-- “in the day (beyom) when the Lord spoke with Moses spoke on Mount Sinai”—where we know that Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days (Ex.24:18) rather than just one day. Second, the apparently different orders can easily be reconciled. The simplest is to recognize that Gen.1-Gen.2:3 refers to the creation of the entire universe, whereas Gen.2:4-24 concerns the details of the creation of man in paradise.

Interestingly, the authors interpret Rom.8:19-23 as referring to the redemption of the entire created order, which was put under God’s curse of death and decay as a result of man’s sin. In the future, they maintain, creation will be restored to its original very good condition (Gen1:31). Here the authors seem unaware that their own reading of Romans contradicts their evolutionary view of origins, which posits that death and decay existed long before man appeared.

Scientific Considerations
The authors lament that a literal reading of Genesis brings into question much of modern physics, cosmology, earth science and biology. Our scientific understanding would be pushed back to the 17th century.

This, of course, is hardly the case. Upholding the biblical view of origins does not affect operational science, the basic science done in laboratories. This includes most of physics, chemistry and biology, as well as observational geology, astronomy and the like. Nor does it does concern technology. It will affect some theories of historical science, which includes evolutionary biology, geology and archaeology. These disciplines interpret presently observed data in terms of hypothetical past events. Here one’s worldview presuppositions play a crucial role. Christians should insist that our historical science be consistent with our knowledge of the past as revealed to us by God in His word.

The authors conclude their book by contending that a non-historical view of Genesis will yield big gains for Christians.

First, it brings conciliation between secular science and Christian faith. Now “nothing in contemporary Darwinism threatens Christianity or Christian doctrine, as long as Darwinism is confined to science.” Second, “doors will be opened wider for presenting the gospel to our educated friends.” We no longer have to attack evolution. On the contrary, we can celebrate it as a sign of God’s wisdom, power, care and faithfulness.

This is all rather naïve. As recent developments at Calvin College illustrate, the embracement of evolution has huge theological consequences. These include the denial of an historical Adam and his fall, the denial of original sin, the recasting of Christ’s atonement and, not least, the loss of an authoritative Bible. Nor has such appeasement resulted in any notable progress in evangelism, as is shown by declining membership in mainstream denominations, who long ago already capitulated to evolutionary science. There are no gains—only huge losses.

In sum, this book is very disappointing, both at the theological and scientific levels. This is particularly so since Prof. Longman is an influential theologian in Reformed circles.



JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:

Thank you for posting this review. It is interesting that, since the book of nature and the book of Scripture cannot contradict each other, that it is assumed that therefore the Bible must be wrong. I guess that science must be the new inerrant word for this modern generation of academics.

If there is to be reconciliation of the two revelations then it must be the Word of God that must give way, it seems. Or, at least, the interpretation of it that has been understood to be correct for so many centuries should give way to the modern intellect of man.

But I wonder if Darwinism, even restricted only to the field of science, is reconcilable with itself, much less divine truth? Perhaps this could be the subject of another book.

Henrietta said...

Article 2 of The Belgic confesssion asks the question: By what means is God made known unto us, and gives the answer: “We know him by two means: first, by the creation, preservation and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, his power and divinity, as the apostle Paul saith (Rom. 1:20). All which things are sufficient to convince men, and leave them without excuse. Secondly, he makes himself more clearly and fully known to us by his holy and divine Word, that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to his glory and our salvation”.

The words “he makes himself more clearly and fully known” means in effect that knowledge obtained by studying creation, is ancillary to knowledge obtained by studying Scripture.

M.J. Erickson (Introducing Christian Doctrine, 2001 p.49) says “This (general revelation, through creation) should be considered a supplement to, not ’n substitute for, special revelation” (through Scripture).

Unknown said...

Thank you, John Byl, for posting this. I find it so hard to understand why Christians feel that the Bible has to succumb to a misinterpretation to make way for ideas of which even honest, specialist scientists are saying, "We have no evidence." Last week, an astrophysicist was on the radio explaining that when it comes to outer space and dark matter, we are just theorizing but we have no evidence.

Herman van Barneveld
Guido de Bres Christian Highschool

Lyndon Unger said...

Oh dear. Now Tremper has lost his spine? Goodness me! His Proverbs commentary was so great! This is horrible!

But more seriously, didn't these guys pay attention to life in junior high? Trying to become more 'cool' with the 'cool' kids (i.e. the kids who are rebellious fools) always ends up creating exponentially more trouble than it's worth. It always ends up in a trip to the principles office, or even the police station.

I don't know about you, but there were times where smoking was 'cool', carrying weapons to school was 'cool', stealing a specific car was 'cool', shoplifting was 'cool', beating up a specific person was 'cool', setting off fire alarms was 'cool', etc. I fell into a few of those traps in my efforts to increase my social standing, and I ultimately regretted every single one. I had around a half dozen friends in high school who died trying to be more 'cool'.

I have given up trying to be 'cool', especially in unregenerate accademic circles.

I don't know why some people think that the basics of life change when you pass 50 or get a PhD.