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The Handiwork of God

© Andrey Armyagov | 123rf.com

© Andrey Armyagov | 123rf.com

The modern Christian, believing that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, His special revelation to us, will inevitably have to wrestle with whether or not the creation and flood accounts in Genesis are scientifically accurate. It can appear that they are being challenged to “choose whom they will serve”—the revealed God of Scripture or Science. But such an either-or presentation of the issue is a false dichotomy. And the first clue that this is so is found in Scripture itself. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

This is the first verse of Psalm 19, which goes on to assert that this declaration is throughout all the earth. Day and night the creation pours out this knowledge, this general revelation. It comes to all human beings simply because they are alive. The Reformation Study Bible said: “God has revealed Himself this way from the start of human history.” Then there is a shift to declare the perfection of God’s word, His special revelation starting with verse seven: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.”

So there is no dichotomy between God’s two books of revelation. Abraham Kuyper asserted this truth when he said: “God is honored not by those who close the second book of nature to ponder Scripture alone, but by those who in quiet obedience zealously study the two books of Scripture and nature.” And if there is no dichotomy between God’s Word and his creation, the problem must exist in how we have interpreted Scripture.

An American scientist and Christian named Richard Bube observed in his 1963 essay, “A Perspective on Scriptural Inerrancy,” that orthodox Christians have been so intent on defending the divine origin of Scripture, that they tended to overlook its relationship to those for whom it was intended. He said we tend the treat the Bible as if it was “dropped down from heaven in one piece, transcribed by the finger of God.” He suggested that a view of Scripture that he called “arbitrary inerrancy” was at fault for this problem. By arbitrary inerrancy, he meant that: “the Scriptures must be inerrant with respect to any criterion applied to them to test their inerrancy.”

Oftentimes conservative theologians have spoken out in defense of Scriptural inerrancy as if there were only one kind of inerrancy imaginable-a kind of all or nothing inerrancy. They argue that the Scriptures are either completely inerrant in every way and with respect to every criterion for inerrancy which may be applied, or they are not inerrant at all. This is the viewpoint of “arbitrary inerrancy.” The term “arbitrary” does not imply that the motives of those who hold to this point of view are arbitrary, but rather that inerrancy must be maintained and defended against arbitrary criteria.

He said there exists a fear that we subtract from God and from His glory when we ascribe His operations in creation to natural mechanisms. There has been a human tendency “to ascribe to the direct and supernatural intervention of God” all those things for which we have no natural or rational explanation. Unfortunately, as time passes and scientific knowledge increases, the unexplained in nature decreases. So there is a tendency to marginalize the relevance of God and His work. “As we find out more and more about His creation, we see less and less evidence of the Creator!”

The problem identified here by Bube is particularly evident when Christians seek to faithfully understand the creation and flood accounts in Genesis. His sense of arbitrary inerrancy would apply to questions raised by science about the age of the earth and process of creation, as well as the reality of a global flood. The relatively recent creation of the earth in six twenty-four hour days, and its later destruction by a worldwide flood was unchallenged for centuries. Then modern geology and Darwin happened.

Christians attempted to harmonize the biblical teaching in Genesis to the developing scientific theories, in a process called concordism. An example of this given by C. John Collins in his book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, was how in the nineteenth century the days of Genesis 1 were said to have anticipated findings of modern science in the geological ages of the earth, “even down to details of sequence and timing.”

An obvious problem with this approach is that geologists today do not describe the earth’s history the way they did in 1871. So does that mean “we should reject contemporary geology in favor of 1871 geology, or that the Bible was wrong?” Collins went on to say:

More significantly from an exegetical standpoint, the kind of concordism on display in nineteenth century studies of Genesis assumes that the Bible writer’s purpose was to describe the same sorts of things as the contemporary scientist does. This is a highly problematic assumption, when one considers the audience for whom Genesis was written—Old Testament Israel, whose main concerns were dominated by subsistence agriculture. Further, it assumes that truth and scientific detail are the same thing, which is absurd.

Another sense of concordism is held by Denis Lamoureux. He separates concordism into theological and scientific concordism. By theological concordism, he means “there is an indispensible correspondence between the theological truths of Scripture and spiritual reality,” which he affirmed. On the other hand, scientific concordism referred to the belief there is “an alignment between the assertions about nature in the Bible and the physical world.”

Lamoureux agreed it is reasonable to believe there is agreement or accord between science and Scripture.  That is what the sense of the two books of revelation means—the book of God’s works (nature) and the Book of God’s Word (the Bible). But he has something else in mind. By the term scientific concordism, Lamoureux means the belief that through the Holy Spirit, God revealed modern scientific facts to the biblical writers. Therefore, the statements about the physical world in the Bible are themselves inerrant—without error. So questioning these statements is seen as an attack on the belief in biblical inerrancy. This sense of scientific concordism does appear to underlie young earth creationism.

So when an orthodox, Bible-believing Christian seeks to understand Genesis 1, what are they to do? Are they required to take up the arbitrary inerrancy position or the scientific concordist approach of young earth creation and thus defend a strict literalist understanding of the text? Can they have a more relaxed understanding of concordism that seeks to harmonize Genesis 1 with the science of origins, recognizing that their harmonization may change as science develops? Or can they avoid the dilemmas of concordism entirely by approaching Genesis 1 as an ancient text devoid of specifics on how God created the universe? R. K. Harrison, an Old Testament professor at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto said this in his textbook, Introduction to the Old Testament:

Since the first chapter of Genesis is clearly not intended to comprise a scientific document—if only because of its sheer untechnical language—it is obviously undesirable to posit concordist theories of the relationship between the creation narratives and the findings of modern descriptive science. Having said this, however, it is necessary to remind the reader that the phases of development recorded in Genesis 1 are by no means as unaligned with the findings of modern science as was supposed by earlier writers on the subject. What is of primary importance for the Biblical student as well as for the scientist is to realize that the Genesis narrative must be interpreted from the standpoint of its anonymous author before pontifications are made as to when it is and is not “scientific.”

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”