Monday, January 7, 2013

Good Morning, Kids!

“Good morning, kids!”
by Stephen Jones
“Good morning, kids!”
I shouted this loud and clear to the whole, wonderfully young universe before me. It was a young creation after all. It was made in six days after all. My faith was gaining some sight, and the “scientist” in me was excited.
“Shh!!” my friend said. “They might hear you!” We live in a city of two universities, one college, and all varieties of secular schools. My friend didn’t want Common Sense, especially of the well-educated variety, to think I was crazy.
“Good morning, kids!” I bellowed even louder before closing the church-house door and returning to our studies.


“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Christians generally agree about what was created, about God, the Creator, and about His speaking the universe into existence and out of nothing. Today, however, there are numerous controversies among Christians about earth’s age and creation time and, most recently, about whether the early chapters of Genesis are history or thematic storytelling. Nudging these disagreements is the cultural influence of the natural sciences.

When Charles Darwin found a correspondence between bird beaks and plant seeds on the Galapagos Islands, he concluded that, right from the start—“In the beginning…”—Nature was doing the selecting rather than God doing the creating. Darwin’s notion of evolution generated an intellectual explosion throughout the Western Hemisphere which is still affecting innumerable relationships, including that between Christians and their Bibles. Darwin and other natural scientists’ notion of a very long evolutionary time for anthropology, geology, and astronomy has become widely accepted among many Christians, in spite of the plain language of Genesis, especially chapter 1.

From the perspective of evolution, the natural world can do anything if given enough time. Whether Nature or Chance did the selecting or changing, she or it needed millions of years for the evolution of man, billions of years for the geology of the earth, and zillions of light-years for the astronomy of the heavens. That mind-boggling time for the heavens is true with or without the “big-bang” jump-start. This “eons” notion of time is the “gospel” of the “selection/change” stories of the natural sciences just as some seemingly quaint and archaic “creation” stories of early Genesis are the long-held view of Christian believers. Up until the mid-nineteenth century, the Bible was thought to be saying that God worked rapidly. “Creation” took six days and took place about six to eight thousand years ago. Nowadays, however, people with any Common Sense—even Christian believers, it would seem—are supposed to know otherwise. “Creation” thinking has become a “holy” rowboat swamped in a sea of whatever time “selection/change” requires for plausibility as to their accomplishments. Full of holes the rowboat is, and leaking like a sieve.

There’s a lone fellow in this particular rowboat shouting something across the sea.
“But death didn’t come till Adam the Bible says, so all those dead fossils came with the Flood!!” he shouts.
“Shh! They’ll hear you!”

A personal note.

When I first started reading the Bible twenty-five years ago, I believed, by faith, that the early chapters of Genesis must be right. Although my whole academic bent, from grade school on, was to think otherwise, it seemed pretty clear that what Moses was saying must be true if only because God, as the only One present back then, would send down an accurate report. Since the Genesis account was very embarrassing to my own mind, I decided not to think about these matters very deeply. Somehow I was afraid that if I started basing my faith in scripture on extra-biblical evidence such as the geological record or the distance of stars, I would eventually stop believing scripture per se. What was embarrassing to my own mind got put in the background unless and until God wanted to bring it all forward.

Well, that’s just what He did. Years later, and a half-decade ago, God brought me a top-notch biochemist friend whose instruction relieved my intellectual embarrassment. I confess that what he taught me supplanted some faith with some sight. I repent of my doubt and acknowledge that, in a time so saturated with cultural “facts” about man, the earth, and the universe, I welcomed some “evidence of things” seen to assist my struggles with “the evidence of things not seen.”

My friend said he couldn’t trust his own walk with God if he didn’t believe the early chapters of the Bible and thus override the millions, billions, and zillions of years dyed like wool in his own scientific spirit. He introduced me to “Answers in Genesis” and other such ministries willing to look at the suspect underbelly of stories our culture has thrived on over the last many decades. Within a few weeks of our reading and study, I was opening the back door of our church house and shouting to the young universe before me, “Good morning, kids!” It was like an epiphany. What a relief to drop the cobwebs of a scientific culture’s eons of time and experience the newness and freshness of God’s creation! Pretty soon, eight thousand years would seem to be a pretty long time after all.
The next year I added a piece on “evolution and God’s creation” to my college lecture on the “Sociology of Thought.” The lecture is a dialogue between Charles Darwin types and Cornelius Van Til types. I discuss making something out of nothing and the probabilities involved in the “random evolution” of one living cell, which requires at least 100 functional proteins. “That probability is one over ten followed by two thousand zeroes—at least!” I exclaim. “The blackboard would never hold them all.” I discuss the missing “missing link.” I then proceed with the story of Procrustes and how people either pound or hack away at frightening new ideas until those ideas lie easily, though already murdered, in the mental Bed of what folks already believe. “So God is often dead by the time we think about Him.” I quote from a famous Darwin-type who wrote, “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs….and [we presuppose that] materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Devine Foot in the door.” (Emphasis added.)

The class lecture jumps from evolution as a fact, to evolution as a hypothesis, to evolution as in, “how the camel got his hump.” I tell them, “Evolution is a fairy-tale for grown-ups.” One student cried after the first such lecture, and not a few students have left the classroom with heads bowed or nodding in dismay and disbelief. For some students an idol was shaken; for others Dagon had fallen and broken. Times have changed. Even an atheist of yesteryear, Walt Whitman, could write, “When I heard the learn'd astronomer [the title of his poem],….How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick.” Yesterday’s poison has become meat for the unbeliever’s of today. Whitman’s nausea over “pro” lectures contrasts with my students’ tears over “anti” lectures. Their ironic similarity is that Whitman’s atheism comports with most of my students who couldn’t care less about the God of the Bible and become upset when I bring Him up.

But what about Christian believers of today? I often think that many Reformed and other Christian theologians are trying to put Dagon back together. In this essay my intent is not to refute either the natural sciences or even the anthropomorphic sciences, including my own old field of psychology—a sort of second-cousin of anthropology, physiology, and sociology. I could not begin to do all of that. Rather, my concern here is with other Christian believers and to wonder at recent attempts to fit the Bible story of creation to the stories of the sciences. Beginning with the day-age theory, I will briefly consider three views of the biblical story and place particular emphasis on what appears to be the leading contender, the “framework hypothesis.”

The Day-Age Theory.

Developed in the late nineteenth century, the day-age theory is now considered passé, but it is still around in one form or another. A PCA report from the year 2000 summarizes the theory as saying, 1) that “the ‘six days’ are [to be seen] as periods of indefinite length and not necessarily of 24 hours duration”; 2) that the sun was actually around since day 1 and “only became visible [on day 4] as atmospheric conditions” cleared up or at least got themselves arranged properly; so that 3) “this viewpoint readily accommodates the preponderance of inference from present day scientific interpretation from general revelation.”

As Kenneth Gentry notes in a rebuttal of #1 above, (1) each of the six days is qualified by “evening and morning”; (2) the Hebrew word for day (yom), when qualified by “evening and morning,…in the writings of Moses…never means anything other than a literal day” (i.e., this is the common usage of “yom” in the Bible, and not “age” or “eon” or other such constructions); and (3) in the fourth commandment God describes His work-week just like ours (Exodus 20:9-11).

As to #2 in two paragraphs above, am I missing something here or is the day-age theory really saying that the sun probably was created on day 1 but was lost in the clouds or an oddly ordered stratosphere until day 4? We know that Moses wasn’t actually there, so either God was confused about where He’d placed the sun on day 1 or Moses was confused about his message from the “inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Obviously, God doesn’t get confused, nor is it likely to be true of His scribes, but somebody is confused!

Whatever the case, this explanation does open the possibility that trees really were created after the sun (cf. Genesis 1:11 and 1:16), and that possibility is a relief not only to those familiar with the latest discoveries of science but also to those tending a garden on a summer’s day. Knowing this “day-age” theory might also have helped my initial embarrassment about these things.
I will have comments on #3 above—that the “viewpoint readily accommodates” to modern scientific thinking—in my discussion of the framework hypothesis below.
Intelligent Design.

“Intelligent Design” is really about “Intelligent Deism.” Hugh Ross and his colleagues are excellent examples of believing in the existence of God while denying the Word of God. They follow the wisdom of nature and reason, quite literally in this case, as they take the many evidences of contemporary natural sciences, insert the word “God,” “He” or “Him” at the appropriate places and call it the real meaning of early Genesis. Jonathan Sarfati, from the Answers-in-Genesis ministry, has written an excellent critique of the Intelligent Design movement. A brilliant scientist himself, in Refuting Compromise (see footnote #2) Sarfati works his way carefully through major theories on the design and development of the universe. His refutations of dug up fossil findings and conjured up Neanderthals, of the time, space, and measurement claims of natural scientists, as well as his presentations of mostly new evidence supporting the literal, 6-day viewpoint were both surprising and refreshing.

A very recent critique of measurement claims takes to task, among other things, conclusions from carbon-14 dating. Physicist Don DeYoung writes the following about carbon-14 measurements which so often have led to conclusions in the millions and billions of years: “Whatever the source of the carbon-14, its presence in nearly every sample tested worldwide is a strong challenge to an ancient age. Carbon-14 data is now firmly on the side of the young-earth view of history.” Helping us believers who can’t easily peek into anthropology, geology, or astronomy for ourselves, DeYoung concludes his work with an atypical scientific view. He writes, “Evolutionary models for life, earth, and space are questioned today by a significant group of scientists worldwide. They are convinced that the earth and the entire universe are the result of supernatural creation events which occurred just thousands of years ago, not billions of years.”

I once thought science had their bag so well sewed up that, upon my conversion to Christianity, I was faithful to the Bible but was afraid to open the doors, especially, of the “hard sciences.” My fears were fed, perhaps, by the fact that I once got a “C minus” in college physics—in a course for beginners, no less! Why investigate, if I didn’t have the “brains” to understand anyway? Besides, ideas so central to the very foundation of our material culture just couldn’t be questionable, let alone wrong. But now I wonder: scientific “fact” is returning to “theory,” and “theory”….well, is it turning out to be another “just so” story?

The Framework Hypothesis.

Do you like poetry in motion? Do you like the wispy clouds of philosophy on a blue-sky-day as compared to the plodding of everyday history on the ground? If so, the Framework Hypothesis will be a literary symphony for you, especially as orchestrated by Meredith G. Kline. In his brilliant, complex and whimsical view, the Genesis account of creation is a literary piece that presents the main topics—God and His creation—in such a way that Moses’ story can be filled in by latter-day scientists.

Trees, man, stars, seas, the firmament, cows, fish, birds, poets, grass, and the rest of creation are all present in the mesmerizing flow of Kline’s speculations, but they are not well accounted for. Such details as to how, when and in what order the creation took place, and how long the creative process lasted, though included in the story, are not considered relevant to what Moses really was saying in his literary metaphor. Fortunately, his ancient and contemporary audience was able to understand what Moses was really doing. The Framework thinkers presume that Moses was talking to folks who would know that he wasn’t describing literal history but was alluding to themes and ideas that they ought to know about God’s creation.

Things must have gone something like this: Although Moses actually told them about day 3—quoting God, “Let the earth bring forth….the fruit tree yielding fruit” (Genesis 1:11)—before he told them about day 4—“Let there be lights in the firmament” (Genesis 1:14)—his audience would naturally know that it was the other way around. Naturally, trees don’t grow without the sun so the sun really came first. The story Moses told is sort of like the white buffalo saga in Indian lore or Kipling’s “Just So Stories” in English lore. The local folks would know what Moses really meant, and he really didn’t mean what he seemed to be saying.

So what did Moses really mean? The Framework Hypothesis calls into question the supposed duration and sequencing of events in Genesis 1, and manages to more or less turn Moses around while still keeping him honest. To accomplish this, Kline takes a new and very different look at Genesis 1 with an eye gleaned from Genesis 2:5-6.

Since the first verse of Genesis 2 says “the heavens and the earth were finished,” many students of the Bible have suggested that Moses is talking here about the earliest time of man’s life on earth beginning with man’s creation at the end of the first week. Genesis 1 is about what God does by Himself during creation week. Genesis 2 is about the earth, man and their happenings as man first enters the stage prepared for him in Genesis 1. Genesis 2 gives us a glimpse of man’s life before the catastrophe we will read about in Genesis 3. In this view, Genesis 2 follows Genesis 1 in the order of time. Another view, closer to that of the Framework Hypothesis, is that, as to the creation story, “Chapter 1 gives the statement of fact; Chapter 2 clarifies the details.”

The Framework people do two important things to tell a very different story than what they call the “literalist tradition.” First, they place the events of Genesis 2:5-6 (“plant,” “herb,” “not a man to till,” no “rain upon the earth” but “a mist from the earth”) at the time of day 3 of Genesis 1 and, second, they also assume that God’s work on day 3 was not miraculous but generated by “second causes” (watering, tilling, etcetera). Since the earth is essentially in the water on day 2 and is dried out by the evening of day 3, and since that happens without the sun which doesn’t appear and take charge until day 4, the length of days and the order of days in Genesis 1 must not be taken literally and as history but rather as topics or themes about God’s creation. Clearly day 3 must be longer than 24 hours for all that drying and planting, naturally, to occur. So Genesis 1 must involve more time than the 6 x 24 = 144 hours that is generally assumed, and thus the 6-day week is a metaphor for another dating scheme. Furthermore, since “second causes” means utilizing the sun, day 3 (with the trees’ beginning) must somehow be rearranged relative to day 4 (with the sun’s beginning) in order to get the ground dry enough for proper planting and for the sun to “grow” the trees. Notice that both duration and sequence are up for grabs now and only the themes (like “God created” and “trees”) are left standing.
Kline’s thesis is described in Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony. He makes a number of distinctions in order to establish the framework within which Genesis 1 could take “literary shape” with its appropriate themes. These distinctions are orthogonal to one another. They are “the two-register character of biblical cosmology” (heaven and earth but also archetype [origin] and replica [likeness]); space and time coordinates; the first three days of the creation-kingdom versus the last three days of creature-kings; and each of these sets of days containing three realms (in the creation-kingdom) and three sets of sun/moon/stars, fish/fowl, and man, respectively, of the creature-kings. In social science terms, such a model or framework would be considered a highly complex 2 x 2 x 2 x 3 factorial design generating 24 cells for comparison. The necessary statistic would be an analysis of variance, once developed for analyzing milk production in cows.

My statistical model is a spoof, of course, but no more, it would seem, than is Kline’s framework leading to why a story should be interpreted as having a different order of events and a different appraisal of time than the way it is, in fact, written. What Kline is getting at is that what God decrees from the upper-register (especially, the “heaven of heavens”) becomes a metaphor and literary masterpiece by the time it is spoken by Moses in the lower register (here on earth).

Some of the key turning points of Kline’s argument are surprisingly simple, uncomfortably rhetorical, and not convincing. For example, a major reason for space and time coordinates being correlated is the temporal names of “day” and “night” and the spatial names of “light” and “dark.” This argument of parallel naming carries the weight of it being “inevitable” that the two-register spatial structuring will be found in the time dimension as well.

Another example, and one furthering his argument, is that “we readily recognize” that what God decrees from the upper register—the reality—reduces to a “literary figure, an earthly, lower register time metaphor” in order for Moses to tell the story. This literary and literal reduction, however, isn’t what’s really true. What’s true is the magnum opus that’s going on in the “heaven of heavens” where length of time is a different matter and so is the ordering of events. Who/what are you going to believe? Do you believe what Moses says or what God does? It’s a no-win situation for believers who don’t like the Framework Hypothesis.

This description is far from the entire Framework story but rather is an example of the sort of method of reconstruction the Framework advocates use. Criticizing on the basis of these few brushstrokes I’ve made here is a questionable endeavor. Indeed, I may well be guilty, as was one critic according to a framework advocate, of simply “missing the point.” Nevertheless, at the risk of further misses, let me raise three further questions about the picture I’ve sketched.

First, if ideas from the natural sciences were not so deeply a part of the mind of our culture today, would anyone consider reconstructing Genesis 1 in a way that so completely tells another story? Suppose the Framework people were to reconstruct the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. First, order is changed and Goldilocks goes to the porridge, chair, and bed of Baby bear first and then those of Momma and then Poppa bear, except for their beds which, of course, she never gets to. That’s quite another story, isn’t it? Yet only the order of events has changed. Second, length of time is also changed and Goldilocks falls asleep, wakes up, feeds on the now cooled-off porridge of Poppa and Momma bear, and finally leaves the house before the bear family returns. How can this be? Well, that’s easy if we move from this lower register to an upper register. Upper register tells us that twenty-four hours becomes thousands or millions or billions of years…. Not really, of course, at least not in the story of Goldilocks, because not so much time was needed to show time’s effect. It turns out, however, that the Goldilocks story was reconstructed after the discovery that the bear family had left home for a week’s vacation at the seashore. Again, it’s quite another story. Goldilocks gets in, does the household damage, gets some sleep and gets out many days before the bears return from vacation. Even the moral theme has changed. Hmmm…. People of my generation, at least, would be very unhappy about such a version of a favorite tale. I am unhappy because I think some of our finest thinkers are doing just that to the creation story of the Bible.

Second, why did the Framework people rule out miracles on day 3 of Genesis 1? To say “Because second causes were obvious in Genesis 2:5” won’t do as an answer since it is based on the truth of the Framework claim that the day of Genesis 2:5 is day 3 of Genesis 1. The reasoning becomes circular with regard to the authors’ own assumptions.

Furthermore, Genesis 1 is a kickoff to the Bible that tempts our faith as much or more than any other story in the Bible. The “Let there be…” and “there was” of Genesis 1:3, for example, has got to be near the top as a faith-stretcher, not to mention that these creations were ex nihilo—out of nothing! The Framework thinkers have placed a second-causes verse from Genesis 2 into the heart of Genesis 1 and eliminated miracles. For some readers, zillions of light years may still be miraculous, but it certainly doesn’t have the ZING! of a “God said….” Miracles giving way to, for example, “a perfectly natural explanation for the absence of vegetation somewhere within the creation week,” shows the logical circle of Framework, and especially Kline’s, thinking. “Naturalistic” explanations of the Genesis story itself (e.g., sun and water “grow” trees) open doors to the very realms of scientific discovery that Kline wants to let in. His foundation seems to be more from natural science than the Bible, and the tail wags the dog.

Near the end of his article Kline is concerned that explanations based on a literal chronology of the Genesis story “must posit….something extraordinary or even supernatural.” Yesss!! While I’m shouting “Hallelujah to that!” Kline might wonder whether even God isn’t, after all, more natural than some of us tend to think!

Third, forget Goldilocks! Would Kline and others subject John 20 to their Framework analysis? As in Genesis 1, there are both events and theology in John 20. Two angels are seated at either end of a stone slab—the mercy seat. A distraught Mary Magdeline looks for Jesus—the new Eve. She wanders to a garden—the new covenant. She thinks Jesus is a gardener—the new or second Adam. James Jordan writes that “Frameworkers want to have both the events of John 20 as well as the theology. In fact, most of them would see that the theology of John 20 depends on whether the events really happened: If Christ did not really rise from the tomb, then His death cannot be our mercy seat, and He cannot offer Himself as our new Grand-Husband. When it comes to Genesis 1, however, they want the ideas without the events.” Jordan concludes, “Genesis 1 makes claims about historical events just as surely as does John 20. If the claims of Genesis 1 are in error, then there is no reason to think the claims of John 20 are true. If the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, then what it claims happened really happened, and is just as true for the creation as for the resurrection.”

Making the Bible user-friendly for natural scientists is not an unfair criticism of those advocating the Framework Hypothesis and other similar theories. Indeed, the 1996 article I’ve discussed above was published in The American Scientific Affiliation. In the preface to that article, Kline writes, “The conclusion is that as far as the time frame is concerned, with respect to both the duration and sequence of events, the scientist is left free of biblical constraints in hypothesizing about cosmic origins.” ¡Viva las ciencias!

Final considerations.

Returning to point number 3 under the heading of Day-Age Theory above, I raised the question of accommodation between the Bible’s creation story and the evolutionary story of modern science. In the Framework Hypothesis we see that the findings of natural science can not only be accommodated to the biblical account but, indeed, can actually tell the true, “upper register” biblical understanding of that account and at the same time can actually complete the “lower register” story that Moses tells. This prospect takes us far, far beyond science and history being used to support Scripture; nowadays, science and history can be used to tell stories that Scripture seems to have trouble with, like Genesis 1. That takes us 180 degrees from the warnings of Calvin who wrote, “Those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and Scripture indeed is self-authenticated; hence it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning….We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to Scripture as a thing far beyond any guesswork.” Calvin’s advice notwithstanding, we are moving from the Bible helping us to see the world to the world helping us to see the Bible.

Scripture doesn’t need my defense, or anyone else’s. Where science draws different pictures from those painted in the Bible, the scientific artists have gone far beyond Van Til’s admonition to “think God’s thoughts after him.” I tell my grandchildren about science. I even teach my secular college classes about science. But my alpha and omega, in home, school, or church, is always, “Look at it this way.” “This way” is to look at it God’s way. Such an irony in this postmodern era is to know that the truth will follow, whatever the discipline, whatever the society, whatever the issue. The truth is God’s Word moving along through every evening and morning and evening and morning of every day, as promised from the beginning. It’s no fun being here inside the nether land between science and Scripture.

Following his nausea from hearing the “learn’d astronomer,” Walt Whitman wrote,
“Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.”
And so I go back outside into a cool evening….
“Good night, kids. See you in the morning.”

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