18 When? – Part 2
Bible and Science – When? Part 2
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?
declare, if thou hast understanding (Job 38:4).
The last chapter left unfinished a discussion of four additional concepts for comprehending Genesis 1: they were the fiat hypothesis, the revelation model, the drama premise, and the relativity supposition. All four of these models have in common the belief in a very old earth and universe. Furthermore, they all accept the fossil, and geological records as genuine and as indicative of the antiquity of life on this planet. Yet none of these four propositions accepts classical Darwinism and all acknowledge the veracity of the Bible and the fundamental precept that the Lord God of the Bible is the creator of all things.
Review of Darwinism
Before we discuss each of these models in turn, we will briefly digress to explain what I mean by classical Darwinism versus more recent attempts to fix the holes in the 19th century evolutionary picture. As we have shown, the most glaring flaw in classical Darwinism is the utter reliance on gradualism and pure chance as the main mechanisms for supposed evolutionary advance.
The fossil evidence generally doesn’t bear this out. Instead, the fossil record time and again shows species that remain static for long periods of time, sometimes for millions of years, only to dramatically appear to alter in the space of a few thousand years (which is a trivially small time interval according to classical models). The long static periods show fossils that are totally unchanged in any way, shape or form. During such periods, the species in question is considered to be in equilibrium with its environment. Then an intensely rapid change occurs and a new variant suddenly is found.
This cycle found in the fossil record — static stability followed by dynamic change in a short period of time — was coined “punctuated equilibrium” by Eldredge and Gould.1 Their ground-breaking paper overthrew more than a century of absolute faith on the part of paleobiologists that small genetic changes acting over eons of time coupled with natural selection of the fittest could explain the origin of life and the multitude of species on this planet. (Of course, the genetic framework was added after Darwin who naturally didn’t know about genes.) This new paradigm of “punctuated equilibrium” is not explained in terms of any specific mechanism. The growth of a new variant is attributed to the usual rules of a lucky change which will occur given enough time. However, the means that prompts the genetic change, which occurred in a small local population that led to the new variants, remains a mystery.
In sum, “punctuated equilibrium” is not really a theory but rather a simple stating of observed facts garnered from careful observations of the fossil record. A cogent explanation of the fundamental mechanism(s) has not yet been presented in the literature.
Evolutionists seem to want it both ways; the literature is replete with gradualism arguments, while in the background is the clear evidence from the fossil record that this model just does not cut it! Using the gradualism argument evolutionists assumed time was the mechanism that explained evolution. The usual simile was that one should imagine a bevy of monkeys plucking away at random on the keyboards of typewriters.2 Given eons of time, the monkeys would eventually produce tons of literary garbage, but they would also compose all the sonnets and plays of Shakespeare, as well as every other piece of literature ever written. The same assumed mechanism was supposed to apply to gradual evolution, namely, over vast ages of time all possible combinations of the DNA genetic code could have been formed and only the successful ones would have survived assuming the basis embodied in Darwin’s precept of the survival of the fittest. However, the prime conclusion of the “punctuated equilibrium” model is that the fossil record is “no gradual story”.3 What Darwin expected has not happened. With those three words, classic Darwinism should be dead or, at best, in a severe comatose state.
While the “punctuated equilibrium” proponents don’t profess a mechanism, one that proposes multiple episodes of specific creation by the divine hand is a distinct possibility. The four Biblical models alluded to in our introduction all fall into the category of accepting multiple episodes of specific divine creation happening again and again over eons of time. Acceptance of this view of Genesis 1 would aptly explain, “punctuated equilibrium,” but how does this mesh with the Bible text? A brief review of each of these four interpretations of the biblical creation story will attempt to answer this question.
Bro. Peter Watkins accepted seven literal creation days while at the same time accepting that the geological and fossil evidence argued for a very old planet. He proposed the fiat or edict hypothesis4 as the basis for reconciling Genesis with an old earth. This idea considers that the seven days of creation are seven literal days in which the Lord God pronounced fiats that were then carried out by the angelic host over long periods of time. Indeed, each day of creation, except the seventh, is preceded by an edict. Genesis 1:3 reads; Let there be light, which is clearly a pronouncement from the LORD of the universe. Similar expressions are found in Genesis 1:6, 1:9,1:11,1:14,1:20 and1:24.
The author of this hypothesis points out a number of cases in scripture where the LORD makes a pronouncement and the actual carrying out takes place at a later time and often over a prolonged period.5 The virtue of this approach is that it completely reconciles the “days” of Genesis 1 with the fossil record as interpreted by the punctuated equilibrium observation. Though Bro. Watkins’ articles came along almost a decade before the work of Gould and co-workers on punctuated equilibrium, he was well aware of the geologic record although he didn’t use Gould’s terminology.
While the fiat hypothesis is a clever way of reconciling Genesis and geology, it still raises problems which cannot be readily explained. First of all, why would the LORD God of the universe be constrained to put His edicts into a time frame related to the revolution of our planet? After all, a 24 hour day only has meaning to the inhabits of earth, the concept of what time period constitutes a day is very different on other planets and certainly in other star systems.6 Another problem with considering the seven-day time period as days of edicts is the very brevity of the pronouncements. The succinctness of the announcements could have been accomplished in a few minutes. Why stretch them out over seven days and then have the angels presumably implement them over billions of years? This scenario also implies that angels would have been created prior to the formation of this universe and that is hard to swallow.
The authorship of the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch or Torah,7 has always been attributed to Moses. Exactly how Moses was given the information that preceded his own personal knowledge of affairs is not specifically stated. The apostle Peter tells us that prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (II Pet. 1:21 NIV).
But what exactly does carried along or moved by (KJV) the Holy Spirit mean? Were holy men of old shown visions? Yes, sometimes that certainly seems to be the case.8 They also had the word given to them directly from the voice of angels.9 At other times the word may have been impressed directly in their minds10 and on yet other occasions they recorded what they saw in dreams (or night visions).11 We can find examples of all of these modes for recording the word of God in the scriptures.
Since the days of Genesis 1 are spoken of as lasting from evening to morning it has been assumed by certain Jewish traditions that the seven days of creation were days in which Moses dreamed (or saw night visions) whereby God revealed, in progressive stages, how He created all things. There is even a tradition that Moses recorded the events of each day on seven stone tablets and these were meant to remind the children of Israel through the ages that the LORD was their creator.
The revelation model has a built-in agreement with geological and astrophysical dating since it removes the issue of the days mentioned in Genesis 1 completely away from being specific creation time periods. Instead they are simply days in which Moses recorded the visions he saw as God revealed the creative process to him.
However attractive such a traditional belief may appear, the fact remains there is no explicit evidence in scripture to back up this model. To be perfectly fair, there is not much to go on that would cause one to explicitly reject it either as long as we concede the possibility that the evening/morning periods refer to seven days of revelation (either by dreams, night visions or whatever) to Moses.
Yet another way to look at the seven-day structure of Genesis 1 has been proposed by Bro. Alan Fowler and it is based on an interpretation of the literary styles of scripture.12 We are all familiar with the obvious prose style that authors use (including what you are presently reading), but in addition to this narrative form there are, of course, other styles including poetry and drama. Large portions of the Old Testament are in poetic form and this is not always conveyed in the present English translations available to us, with the notable exception of Psalms where the KJV translators did a stellar job.
Unfortunately, Hebrew poetry does not conform to our English norms and is hence very difficult to translate, so in many other portions of scripture the KJV translators settled for prose. The same can be said for the drama literary form whereby events are portrayed as a series of scenes or “acts” with severely condensed time sequencing.
Bro. Fowler makes some very cogent arguments and comparisons with other portions of scripture to back up his assertion that Genesis 1 is written in the form of a drama in seven acts. In this approach, the chapter is not meant to have the“day” time periods taken literally.
The drama hypothesis has a lot in common with fiat and revelation models in that it accepts the geological and fossil evidence specifically acknowledging “punctuated equilibrium” as evidence of successive episodes of creation over eons of time. Its failings are also tied up with the same problem that faces all the other creation models (including the gap model discussed in the previous chapter) namely, the evidence supporting the basic premise is circumstantial and probably wouldn’t hold up in either a court of law or under a keen scientific peer review.
The question arises: Why would the LORD God use “earth” time at all to specify the time periods associated with creation. Even at the most elementary level, the idea of a “night/day” period means something entirely different on a planet whose rotational period is longer or shorter than earth’s. At a more fundamental level, time is inexorably wrapped up in the fabric of the universe. There is no such thing as an absolute time scale, or is there?
The meaning of time is entirely relative to the position of the observer. Einstein discovered that in high gravitational fields and at very high velocities time slows down.13 Thus, if you took a clock on earth to the sun (assuming you had means of preventing yourself from severe sunburn!) you would find its hands (digits!) moving slower. This effect is not one of mere perception but is a physical reality verified by many experiments. An atomic clock has been put on a jet airplane and flown around the globe and when it landed it had slowed down measurably when compared to an identical twin used as a standard.
This time dilatation effect is a well-worn cliché in science fiction whereby the protagonist leaves earth and rockets off to some distant adventure at warp speeds only to return in what was only a few years time in the space ship but turns out as considerably longer on earth. He finds to his grief that loved ones left behind have advanced to senior citizen status (and beyond) while he is still in his prime. This story line may be fiction, but the physical effect is real. Gerald Schroeder has used this phenomenon to define a time scale for the universe relative to time on earth by using the frequency of the cosmic background radiation as the reference standard.14
Without going into the details which would take some considerable space and a fuller explanation of the physical principles involved, suffice it to say that the time dilatation effect between earth time and a clock associated with the universe since creation would be a million million times. Using this universal time dilatation factor one can show that the approximately 16 billion years since the so-called “big bang” occurred condenses to 6 earth days in terms of our clocks on planet earth.
There is some scriptural evidence that would lead us to infer a time frame relative to the LORD God could be very different from the 24-hour day that we experience here on earth. The Psalmist tells us; For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night (Psa. 90:4 and paraphrased in II Peter 3:8).15
While the relativistic supposition is intriguing I find it hard to believe that Genesis 1, which was written to give mankind a picture of the creative power of the LORD, has its accurate interpretation depending on an arcane knowledge of extremely sophisticated 20th century theoretical physics.
Where does all this lead us? I am often asked which model of creation I believe? Being a physical scientist I am quite accustomed to the idea of uncertainty. The prophet Isaiah says: let us reason together, saith the LORD (Isa.1:18).
As a scientist, and as a reasoning Christian, it is incumbent upon me to form opinions based on all the data and consistent with all the facts. To ignore the geological and fossil records, as well as the cosmological evidence of the age of the earth and universe is, in my opinion, not only foolish, it is dangerous. The insistence in a belief (or even demanding it be a first principle) depending on blind faith in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1, which can easily be proven as contrary to the overwhelming body of scientific evidence, can lead to a shattering of any faith at all in the word of God.
Some counter with the writings of the so-called creation scientists, discussed earlier in these essays, to prove the young earth/universe hypothesis. The explanation produced by the ‘creationists’ is appealing to many because it is simple and straightforward and has the “ring” of scientific truth. However, would we buy any of their other teachings of mysteries regarding the Bible? I think not, as their theology has all the traditional errors.
Therefore, theories that reconcile both the sound scientific evidence (also authored by God, eg. Psa. 19:1, 2) with the scriptural record is the only sensible way to go. The remarkable thing about Genesis 1 is that it can be reconciled with the scientific evidence so readily. The main framework of the order of creation starting from simple creatures and leading up to man is exactly what is found in the fossil record. And scripture has the creation of the universe preceding the formation of this planet and not simultaneous with it.
Genesis 1 could have had man created first and then everything else fashioned at his behest by the gods, as certain pagan myths presume. It is truly amazing that the few words in Genesis 1 have stood the test of time over more than three millennia. Is there any other ancient record of a creation story that we would give any credence to in this day and age?
Having eliminated the literalist approach as acceptable to ourselves, we are still left with five additional theories and perhaps others not reviewed here. Are any of these preferred? All five models (including the “gap” theory but excepting the literalist approach) attest to a creation long ago by the specific will and divine power of the LORD God as revealed in the Bible. All seek to reconcile the scientific evidence with the scriptural record of Genesis 1. I personally don’t believe we should go beyond this and, though I have my own favorite, I would interact happily with anyone espousing any of these five models.
By John C. Bilello, Ann Arbor, Michigan
1 Eldredge, N. & Gould, S.J. Punctuated equilibria: an alternative to phyletic gradualism. In: Models in Paleobiology (Ed. By T.J.M. Schopf), (1972). See also: Gould, S.J., & Eldredge, N. Punctuated equilibria: the tempo and mode of evolution reconsidered. Paleobiology, 3, 1977, 115-151.
2 For young readers – a typewriter was a very primitive form of a computer word processor!
3 Quoted from: The Book of Life, edited by Stephen Jay Gould, W. Norton & Co, NY, (1993), p 56-57.
4 Peter Watkins, The Christadelphian Magazine, 97, January (1960). Also ibid 101, (1964).
5 II Peter 3 is cited as an example of “word” first “action” later principle. This sequence of edict followed later by action of course happens in many prophetic pronouncements.
6 The original article by Bro. Watkins attempts to explain this but I don’t find his argument persuasive.
7 “Pentatuch” Greek word meaning “five scrolls.” “Torah,” in common Hebrew usage, meaning “instruction.”
8 The temple of Ezekiel’s prophecies.
9 Large portions of the book of Revelation.
10 Much of the writings of the Apostle Paul, for example.
11 Portions of the book of Daniel.
12 Alan Fowler, A Drama of Creation, Ortho Books, High View, Litchard Rise,Bridgend,UK.
13 A. Einstein, Special Theory of Relativity, (1915).
14 Gerald L. Schroeder, The Science of God, The Free Press div. of Simon and Schuster, Inc.,New York, (1997), pgs. 41-59.
15 These same references have also been used to infer that the six days of creation were really epochs of millions (or even billions) of years