Thursday, January 29, 2015

More Debate on Genesis

1. Creation Days - Real or Analogous?

At The Gospel Coalition website, Justin Taylor has just posted an article, Biblical Reasons to Doubt that the Creation Days were 24-hour Periods. According to their website, The Gospel Coalition is "a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures."

Nevertheless, Taylor's aim is to counter the plain reading of Genesis 1. He argues for "analogical days", where the creation days are seen to be a literary structure, vaguely analogous to God's days, but telling us nothing about the chronology or sequence of creation. Thus re-interpreted, Genesis conveniently tells us nothing about the age of the earth. 

Taylor's arguments have been well countered by Daniel Chew, in a two-part response (part1 and part2). Daniel Chew is a rarity: a graduate of Westminster Seminary (CA) who defends the traditional view of Genesis 1. He is an astute, Reformed writer who maintains a blog, Daniel's Place, which contains much worthwhile material. In his response, Chew demonstrates that the most natural interpretation of Genesis 1 is that of literal, historic creation days. 

2. Further Implications - Adam and beyond

Another defense of "analogical days" was penned a few months ago by Dr. Bruce Gordon: Scandal of the evangelical mind: A biblical and scientific critique of young-earth creationism (Science, Religion & Culture, Oct.2014). Dr. Gordon is a graduate of Westminster Seminary (PA), and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, which promotes Intelligent Design.

Dr Gordon views young-earth creationism (YEC) as an embarrassing obstacle to Christian faith. He advocates that the truth of Christianity be given a "credible intellectual defense" in the modern world, "recognizing the full intellectual power of modern science and historical scholarship", while still retaining Christian core beliefs.

Since Gordon's article goes beyond Genesis 1, it shows more of what is at stake once we buy into old earth views. 

One perplexing problem with old earth creationism is where to place Adam, what to do with pre-Adamic look-a-likes, and what to do with mainstream claims that humans never numbered less than 10,000. 

According to Gordon, God created Adam and Eve about 200,000 years ago. But all humans could not have descended from only Adam & Eve, since then Adam's offspring would have had to commit incest, which the Bible forbid. Hence, Gordon postulates that, soon after creating Adam, God miraculously created many more humans (10,000?). Of this righteous throng, Adam and Eve were the first to fall. But afterwards all Adam's contemporaries also fell, all through their own sins. Adam's fall resulted only in spiritual death; physical suffering and death had been there already. 

Moreover, hominids (human-like creatures) existed before, and along-side, Adam. According to Gordon, these may well have borne the image of God and had spiritual sensibilities. However, since the Bible tells us nothing about them, Gordon advises that their relationship to God must be left as a matter between them and God.

Gordon takes the long ages of Adam, Noah, etc. to be non-literal, postulates huge gaps in the Genesis genealogies, and considers Noah's Flood to be local (at 5600 BC), affecting only a fraction of humans. Little is left, historically speaking, of Gen.1-11. But any obstacles to mainstream chronology are now removed.

Dr Gordon's "progressive creationism", with its "two books" epistemology and flexible hermeneutics, is much closer to theistic evolution than to young-earth creationism.

For a detailed critique, I refer you to a recent article by Ashby Camp, A Reply to Bruce Gordon’s Biblical Critique of Young-Earth Creationism (Answers Research Journal, Jan.28, 2015). Camp ably defends the traditional reading of Genesis. 

Dr Gordon's article reflects a growing embarrassment of the Discovery Institute with creationism, and indeed, with the plain reading of Gen.1-12, as a barrier to scientific respectability. 



Jason Vander Horst said...

Thank you for your concern to uphold a high view of Scripture, Dr. Byl.
Having said that, I'd like to clarify the following inaccurate and uncharitable statement:
"Daniel Chew is a rarity: a graduate of Westminster Seminary (CA) who defends the traditional view of Genesis 1."
In reality, there are plenty of WSC grads (and current students) who defend the traditional view of Genesis 1.

Jason Vander Horst
Escondido, CA

john byl said...

Hi Jason

Thanks for your comment. My remark was not meant to be uncharitable. Rather, it merely expresses my experience that the great majority of WSC grads writing on this issue defend some form of non-literal creation days. I am happy to hear that there are, in reality, plenty of WSC grads defending the traditional view of Genesis 1. However, if this be the case, where are their plentiful articles and books promoting this?

Jason Vander Horst said...

Thanks for your response, Dr. Byl. With the added clarification, I now understand what you meant.
In answer to your question:
Ah, there's the rub. I was writing from an anecdotal perspective, based on conversation that I've had with multiple pastors who studied at WSC and with many of my fellow students. I agree with you, however, that there doesn't seem to be a lot written about the issue; at least, nothing immediately comes to mind.
As far as reasons for this, I'll make the general observation that people associated with WSC seem to be more focused on other issues that they would deem to be more significant (i.e. justification, covenant theology). Further, the WSC community - both past and present - has accepted an atmosphere of "limited diversity" when discussing views on the early chapters of Genesis.
Resources available at the website suggest that I am correct in saying that debate surrounding Genesis is not given as much attention as, say, justification.
Faculty Statement on Justification: (fairly extensive statement)
Faculty Testimony to Our Time: (by comparison, a much smaller section concerning Genesis 1 - 3)

john byl said...

Hi Jason

Plenty has been written about this issue from WSC grads and profs. The problem is that it’s rather one-sided.

For example, WCS grads Drs. Scott Clark, Bryan Estelle, Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, and Lee Irons have all written strongly in favour of non-literal creation days. Most of these currently teach at WSC.

Among WSC faculty the “diversity” on the creation days is indeed “limited” - I don’t know of a single WSC professor who defends literal 6-day creation. Dr Robert Godfrey, WSC President, in his promotion of analogical days, goes so far as to link defenders of 6-day creation with “anti-intellectualism” and “pseudoscience” (see his book “God’s Pattern of Creation”, p.91). Even more hostile are Dr Bryan Estelle (see my post “Presbyterian Appeasement”) and Dr. Scott Clark (see my post “Creation, QIRC, and QUACK").

Such negative sentiments are unlikely to foster enthusiasm for the traditional reading of Genesis 1 at WSC.

Anonymous said...


Please don’t misunderstand me, Dr. Byl. I’m well aware that these men have written for blogs, denomination study committees, and so on.

Two Points:

1. My main point in my 2nd comment above was to say that this issue is not really a focus in the writings of the WSC professors relative to other more “important” topics. Let’s take Dr. Clark as an example. On his blog,, a search for “creation” yields 12 results since 2008, of which exactly 7 of these are related to the topic of creation days. That’s 7 blog posts in 7 years, or 1 every year!
In contrast, the search term “justification” resulted in 51 hits in the same time span. This is what I meant when I wrote that issues of justification, covenant theology, and the like are of far more interest, generally speaking. A survey of the books that Dr. Horton (the most prolific author among the group you mentioned) has written should convince anyone that he is far more concerned with these and other issues (ex. worship) as well.

2. As to our different interpretations of the “limited diversity” of the professors, I’d like to assure you that those students who hold to “6/24” are not pressured to discard this view in favor of another. Yes, other views are presented, but the students are quite free to hold the “traditional” view, and many of them continue to do so throughout seminary and after graduation. The only views discouraged are those that would deny that Adam is a historical figure who was directly created by God out of the dust of the earth.
Here is the faculty’s official position:
“That God created the first man, Adam, from the dust of the ground and the first woman, Eve, from that man. The first man was a unique creation of God, not descending from any previously existing creature. All human beings are descended from these first parents.”
The sticking point for you, I suppose, is that 6/24 is merely acceptable, rather than being defended as the only “correct” position. Do I have that right?

Anyway, my intention in responding to your post was to emphasize to you and your readership that WSC should not be defined by their stance on creation. I’m learning the wisdom in keeping “comment box conversations” shorter rather than longer, so I’m not looking for a lengthy debate. I also don’t want to take over the comments, if others would like to jump in. If you’d like me to engage with your further reaction, however, I’m good for a couple more comments if need be.


john byl said...

Hi Jason

My prime concern about the WSC professors all holding non-literal views of Gen.1 is that this must necessarily impact WSC views on such further things as epistemology, hermeneutics, science/Scripture relations, Biblical authority, and interpreting the rest of Gen.1-11.

WSC may affirm Adam, but the Biblical Adam simply does not fit within mainstream historical science. Witness Dr Gordon’s implausible attempt, as addressed in my post. It is inconsistent to uphold a literal Adam while denying literal creation days.

Thanks for your interaction. It was good to get a WSC student perspective on WSC.

Jason Vander Horst said...

You’re welcome. Thank you for interacting my comments.

I actually agree with the associated dangers as you mentioned that lurk behind poor interpretations of the beginning of the Bible.
Having said that, you’d expect to see issues popping up in the areas that you mentioned, if what you say about WSC is true. On the contrary, the systematic theology taught here doesn’t seem to be suffering at all. There is a very strong view of Biblical authority, and Scripture is spoken of very respectfully in comparison with science.

I’ll leave you with some relevant material from Dr. Horton’s ST class, “The Christian Mind”:

On Biblical Authority:
Verbal plenary inspiration was promoted in class. “Scripture is normative because it is God-breathed.” “Inerrancy is an implication of inspiration (if all Scripture is God-breathed, there is no error with regard to the scope of Scripture).”

On God’s revelation and science:
“Science has inestimable benefits and value in explaining regularities, but has absolutely no competence in speaking of that which is concerning Jesus the Messiah.”

JohnV said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:
There are, as you say, other intellectual problems that arise if one takes, for example, Dr. Gordon's views: he does not escape "intellectual embarassment" by going this route. But there is a greater problem, it seems to me.

There is no indication in the Bible that we are obligated to believe that the creation account is analogical, therefore any analogy of Genesis is not a required belief. But if one does hold this account to be analogical, not historical, then there is also no obligation to believe any of the "facts" that are not insisted on as facts in the text itself: they are not facts but analogies.

It is possible that Dr. Gordon might believe in a created Adam and Eve the same as you and I, and their fall into sin, their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and so on; but then he does so because these are the conclusions or the custom of the church or of men, drawn from an analogy and not explicitly stated in the Bible. In other words, Dr. Gordon might believe the exact same doctrines that we do, but that belief would have an entirely different ground than ours. We believe because God said so, through the telling of history; Dr. Gordon believes because, at best, the church has said so, but not because the Bible says so.

His belief, though doctrinally the same, goes against what we say we believe concerning the doctrinal statements of the church. All because the foundation of it is only analogy. His doctrines are derived from the conclusions of men; but they are not our doctrines because the church does not make them to be doctrines. All the doctrines that may be authoritatively obligated come from the Bible alone.

So, as I see it, this is the main difference between those who hold to any other "interpretation" of Genesis than the plain meaning of it. And this is especially the case since there is still no conclusive "evidence" that we cannot take Genesis to be history. The idea of giving place to modern theories for the sake of intellectual integrity does not make for any more integrity than taking Genesis literally. It just makes for different inconsistencies and for other apparent contradictions, that's all: but it doesn't relieve us of them to any appreciable degree. But the rub is that, in the end, it makes even ordinary belief in other doctrines more difficult, and even erases the starting point of interpretation, namely Sola Scriptura.


john byl said...

Hello John

Thanks for your comment, with which I entirely agree. At heart, Gordon's hermeneutic is driven by a desire to conform to mainstream science, or at least certain aspects of it. Once we allow such an approach to the Biblical text, where do we stop? If you cannot believe everything in the Bible, how can you believe anything it says?

The difficulty is that Gordon, and his ilk, claim that they are merely following what the Biblical text actually means to teach, and that we are the ones distorting it. For example, Gordon writes:

"“unfortunately, young-earth literalism about the early chapters of Genesis fails to employ a sound grammatical-historical approach to the text….

As I shall argue, while many aspects in the biblical creation and flood accounts should not be understood literally because they are artifacts both of the literary devices (parallelism, chiasm) structuring the narratives and of the ancient Near Eastern worldview in which these are embedded, nonetheless, there is an historical core to these accounts that rests on real events in world history that have precisely the theological significance that Scripture ascribes to them (Collins 2003, 2006, 2011). Furthermore, a close grammatical-historical reading of the text reveals that, even though there has been a great deal of divine accommodation to ancient cosmology, there are lexical, grammatical, and structural indicators that, when the phenomenological language of the ancient observer is appreciated, ground a broader interpretation that goes beyond what the human author/redactor of Genesis could have understood. This broader interpretive structure, inherent in the Bible itself, renders the core of modern cosmogony and cosmology not just compatible, but at times even anticipated, by a proper interpretation of Scripture.”

Hence, articles such as those by Bruce Gordon and Justin Taylor need detailed rebuttals to clarify what the Bible really teaches, lest believers are led astray.

JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:

Yes, I agree: we need detailed rebuttals. Thanks for your work in doing just that.

This quote that you cite from Gordon has a lot of high-sounding words in, making it sound like he really knows his subject. But isn't he forgetting the basics? Even the beginner asks how we know the things we require him to believe. That is how the Heidelberg Catechism is formulated, to answer those questions. And it quotes Scripture, not modern-day scientists. It doesn't quote our greatest theologians; it doesn't even quote the church.

But Gordon says, "...there is an historical core to these accounts that rests on real events in world history that have precisely the theological significance that Scripture ascribes to them."

In other words, the theology is real but the history isn't: the real history is actually something else, which is not given us in Scripture.

So where do we get the theology from? Did we get it from the church? Did we get it from antiquity, or from custom, or from the plurality of elders? Or did we get if from scientists maybe? Where then is Sola Scriptura?

Or did we get the theology from centuries of the false belief that this was actually history, but now that we have the theology and modern science we can discard the history? What about future generations of elders that also want to authenticate the theology strictly from the Bible?

Just a few thoughts.


JohnV said...

(Dr. Byl, don’t feel obligated to approve these posts into your blog. I waited until you had a more recent blog entry so as not to draw attention to myself too much. But I did want to say it. The following is merely a more carefully drafted attempt to say the same thing.)

Dr. Byl:

Here is the same thing, only more carefully explained, I hope.

The Heidelberg Catechism asks, "Did God, then, create man so wicked and perverse?" In answer, it says, "No, on the contrary, God created man good and in His image." It cites Gen. 1: 31.

Again, it asks, "From where, then, did man's depraved nature come?" The answer is again from Genesis, this time from chapter 3: "From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in paradise."

But if these are not history then we cannot appeal to this Scripture as proof for any of this. We will have the doctrine, but no longer the Sola Scriptura proof of it.

The answer Dr. Gordon gives is that the stories in Genesis aren't history but they give the same theology. We're supposed to derive the same lessons from the stories as if they were true, but without needing to confess that they are true. Were Adam and Eve, or at least two people who are male and female, created in God's image? Well, we don't know this as a fact because it isn't given us as a fact, but we can conclude it from the made-up story which teaches the same thing.

In Genesis, Gordon assumes that God wants us to know some things but without telling us straight out. But might it not be, then, that God actually wanted us to learn something else instead of what our forefathers falsely assumed to be history? Once the history is done away with, who is to say? If the assumption is false, isn't the conclusion false as well?

JohnV said...

Well, that might be good for Dr. Gordon because he inherited the doctrine from those who thought Genesis was history and treated it as such in quoting it in the Cathechism: he had the doctrine in place before going into re-telling Genesis. But in the future, once his non-history theory is accepted, can a theologian cite Genesis as absolute proof for these teachings if Genesis is not history? What if someone asks, "But does God not do man an injustice by requiring in His law what man cannot do?" Again, the sure answer is found in Genesis 1:31, but the theologian can't cite that passage because it isn't history anymore; it's just a story that gives the same idea but doesn't actually say that "God so created man that he was able to do it": it might actually say something else just as well. All that can be done to answer this question in keeping with our theology is to cite the tradition of the church, that this is basic to church teaching.

But who is it, and how was it incorporated it into the church teaching? Well, our forefathers did that: they may have been wrong in thinking that Genesis is history, but it was still the work of the Holy Spirit to inculcate that basic bit of theology.

In short, we will have the same thing as the Romanist system of doctrinal foundation, and will have to confess that our doctrines do not in fact rest on Sola Scriptura but on tradition, the seat of authority in the church, along with the help of the Bible; and all assumed to be infallibly led by the Spirit, errors and all.

Does Dr. Gordon strike me as someone who has the same theology as myself, even though it might be the same Catechism that we accept? Not at all. He believes what he believes because he believes his own conclusions; whereas I believe because God said so. We might be word for word the same doctrinally, but it is a different belief system.