The Big Bang and Genesis

bigbangWhen I was a seminary student, we had the privilege of having Dr. Margaret Helder as a guest speaker.  Having grown up in Edmonton, Dr. Helder was not a stranger to me.  She had occasionally been a guest speaker at our Christian school in Alberta.  However, on this particular occasion at the Canadian Reformed Seminary in Hamilton, I heard her say something that I couldn’t recall having heard before.  I don’t remember if it was part of her original presentation or in reply to a question, but she pointed out that the so-called Big Bang and Genesis are incompatible.  I don’t remember the exact reasons she gave as to why that was, but it sounded quite reasonable to me at the time and, since then, I’ve kept it in the back of my mind.

I thought about this again recently as I encountered a book which suggested that the Big Bang and Genesis are compatible.  Gregory Koukl’s new book The Story of Reality is generally a recommended overview of the Christian worldview (a review will be appearing shortly on my blog Yinkahdinay).  In chapter 7, Koukl is answering two objections to the Christian view of God as Creator.  The second has to do with miracles.  After all, creation is a miracle.  He notes that all scientists “pretty much agree that the universe had a beginning.”  That beginning was the Big Bang where “all things exploded into existence in a fraction of an instant.”  Then he says this (page 51):

I know the Big Bang idea is controversial with some Christians, but I think that’s because they haven’t realized how well it fits the Story [the Christian worldview laid out in the Bible], which basically says the same thing.

So according to Koukl, the Big Bang fits with Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  Reading this gave me occasion to look a little more into this and refresh my memory as to why Dr. Helder had told a group of seminary students and professors otherwise.

I found this article on to be especially helpful:  The Big Bang is not a Reason to Believe.  If you don’t have the time or inclination to read the whole article, this chart about sums it up — each flash on this chart represents a conflict between the chronology of Genesis 1-2 and Big Bang cosmology:


Does the Big Bang really fit the story that well?  Perhaps if you define “Big Bang” in some way that doesn’t reflect how it’s really being used in astrophysics.  Maybe that’s what Koukl has done.  Or perhaps if you insist that Genesis 1-2 don’t give us a chronologically accurate, historic account of the origins of the universe.  Of course, that second option could find you up against Jesus Christ, who clearly taught that Adam and Eve were created at the beginning (Matthew 19:4).  No, I still think that Dr. Helder was right.  There’s no reconciling the Big Bang and God’s Word.

“The Historic Reformed Understanding of Genesis”

QA 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism -- the first German edition in 1563.
QA 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism — the first German edition in 1563.

Creation Without Compromise exists because of concerns about origins in our Reformed churches.  In the “About” tab on this website, we state that we are “committed to the historic Reformed understanding of Genesis.”  In the November 6, 2015 issue of Clarion, Rev. Peter Holtvluwer wrote a review of our website and under the heading of “Improvements,” he suggested we fill out the meaning of that statement.  What do we understand by “the historic Reformed understanding of Genesis”?

Essentially, what we mean is the consensual understanding of the first chapters of the Bible that prevailed amongst confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian churches especially prior to Darwin.  In the Reformation era, our theologians agreed in emphasizing the literal understanding of Genesis as the ground for doctrine — this was coupled with an emphasis on careful methods of interpretation.  Hence, prior to Darwin, there was a definite consensus regarding how to read the first chapters of the Bible.  Occasionally there were dissenters from that consensus, but this dissent was not encouraged or tolerated.  After Darwin, we recognize that this consensus was challenged in significant ways.  Yet it must be remembered that the Reformed consensus was maintained in the church courts even after Darwin.  For example, we think of synodical decisions against Rev. J.B. Netelenbos and Dr. J.G. Geelkerken in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (1920 and 1926) and Dr. Ralph Janssen in the Christian Reformed Church of North America (1922).

What are some of the features of this historic consensus?  First and foremost would be the insistence that the first chapters of Genesis describe history in a literal and straight-forward fashion.  While they may have some literary features, these chapters are not metaphorical or mythical, but plainly historical and should be interpreted as such.  What follows from that is creation in six ordinary days.  When Genesis 1 speaks of “days,” it means days more or less as we experience them today.  Moreover, if we take Genesis at face value, Adam was created from actual, physical dust of the earth by God.  He was the first human being.  He became a living being when God breathed life into him.  He did not have a biological father or mother, human, hominid or whatever else.  The first woman Eve was created by God from Adam’s rib.  She did not have biological parents either.  Together, they were the first human beings and the parents of all human beings who have since lived.  God also created all other kinds of creatures in the six day creation period – and these were created by his Word.  More could be said about what follows in Genesis – a literal snake speaking to Eve, a fall into sin, a worldwide flood, etc. – but I trust readers get the picture.  Everything I have said up to here was the historic consensus view in Reformed theology.

Some elements of this historic consensus have found their way into the Reformed and Presbyterian confessional heritage.  On the matter of creation days, we can think of the Westminster Confession’s statement in chapter 4.1 that “it pleased God…to create or make of nothing the world…in the space of six days, and all very good.”  In article 12 of the Belgic Confession, we confess that “the Father through the Word, that is, through his Son, has created out of nothing heaven and earth and all creatures, when it seemed good to him, and that he has given every creature its being, shape, and form…”  Article 14 goes on to say that “God created man of dust from the ground.”  Heidelberg Catechism QA 7 confesses that our depraved nature comes from “our first parents” Adam and Eve.  Other elements of the historic consensus are not found in our confessional heritage, arguably because they were considered to be so self-evident from Scripture as to not require such codification.  When most of the Reformed confessions were first written, the challenges that we face today regarding origins were virtually unthinkable.

Since this is just a short blog post, I’m not going to lay out all the evidence for the existence of this historic consensus.  William VanDoodewaard has done that for us at length in his excellent book The Quest for the Historical Adam (see my review here) and I refer readers to his research.  Amongst others, VanDoodewaard discusses John Calvin, Wolfgang Capito, Girolamo Zanchi, Lambert Daneau, William Perkins, William Ames, the Leiden Synopsis, Thomas Goodwin, Thomas Manton, John Owen, Bernard Pictet, Herman Witsius and Wilhelmus à Brakel.  According to VanDoodewaard, figurative interpretations of Genesis existed even before Darwin, but they were found amongst Roman Catholics, Socinians, and Anabaptists.  Reformed and Presbyterian churches would not countenance such interpretations.  He writes, “Anything that contradicted or failed to cohere with the literal reading of the Genesis text was rejected as subversive to God’s revelation.” (p.86)

Now the big question is:  why do we think that “the historic Reformed understanding of Genesis” is so important to maintain and defend?  It’s not because we’re conservative and just want to hold on to old-fashioned things because old-fashioned must be better.  No, it’s simply because we are convinced that the old consensus is biblical.  Old-fashioned often is better, but only when it lines up with God’s Word.  That’s where we stand.

Thus says the LORD:  ‘Stand by the roads and look, and ask for ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…’”  Jeremiah 6:16a

Book Review: The Quest for the Historical Adam

HistoricalAdam5__70127.1421354609.1280.1280The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins, William VanDoodewaard. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015. Hardcover, 400 pages, $37.85.

Once in a very rare while I come across a book which brings me to think, “If I had the means, I would get a copy of this into every single Canadian Reformed home.” This is one of those books. If I couldn’t get it into every single CanRC home, I would settle for getting it into the hands of every single minister, elder, and deacon. The Quest for the Historical Adam is not only relevant, but crucially important for these days in which a biblical view of origins is under pressure. This volume could do a world of good if it would only receive the careful attention it deserves.

The author, William VanDoodewaard, is a church history professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is also a minister of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). For those unfamiliar with this church, the ARP is a long-time member of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). Alongside his seminary teaching, Dr. VanDoodewaard is also an ARP church planter in Grand Rapids. Apart from his doctoral dissertation, this is his first published book.

The title of this volume plays off a much earlier book by Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. In that book, Schweitzer examined how historical conceptions of Jesus led to a variety of Jesuses. While his book had some value, unfortunately, Schweitzer did not honour the authority of Scripture, so his conclusions were necessarily flawed. However, VanDoodewaard has the highest view of Scripture as he traces out how people have variously conceived of Adam. The author points that contemporary debates over origins are often afflicted with what he calls “historical amnesia.” This volume seeks to recover our collective memory of how ages past have written about, preached about, and thought about our first parents and their origins.

The first chapter provides a general overview of what Scripture says about Adam. From this overview, the author reaches this conclusion, “…there is no inherent ground to posit anything aside from a special, temporally immediate creation of Adam and Eve as the first humans on the sixth day of creation” (18). The following five chapters trace out the post-biblical history of how Christians have looked at the early chapters of Genesis. If anything is clear from these chapters, it is that there has been a consensus view for millennia. The consensus is that the first chapters of Genesis must be taken seriously as a historical record. When it comes to human origins, the vast majority of Christian interpreters have understood Scripture to teach a special or immediate creation of Adam and Eve, a creation which allows for no prior biological ancestry of any sort. The Quest for the Historical Adam concludes with a chapter entitled, “What Difference Does It Make?” In this chapter, the author lays out ten areas of doctrine that are affected by how one views the origin of Adam. What are those ten areas?

  1. Scripture and hermeneutics
  2. Man and the ethics of human life
  3. Marriage and unity of race
  4. Human language
  5. God, the Creator
  6. The goodness of creation
  7. In Adam’s fall sinned we all?
  8. Christ as Creator and Redeemer
  9. Adam, Christ, and the Covenants
  10. Adam and accountability: the last things

Dr. VanDoodewaard convincingly makes the case that no one can soundly argue that one’s view of origins can be hermetically sealed off from the rest of one’s theology. Even taking an agnostic view or allowing for latitude in the matter will invariably have some impact.

The heart of the book is the historical overview. Let me mention five highlights that are worth sharing. There are many more highlights that I could mention, but I hope these five will whet your appetite and motivate you to buy the book.

Today we sometimes encounter the idea of pre-Adamites – human beings or human-like creatures (hominids) who lived before and beside Adam. One of the first to promote a form of this idea was a Frenchman named Isaac La Peyrère (1596-1676). While he worked with the text of Genesis in his book Men Before Adam, he did so in a rather revisionist way. He argued that only the Jews were descended from Adam and Genesis 2 only described where the Jews came from. Everyone else came from other groups of human beings who had existed long before Adam. What motivated La Peyrère to develop this theory? He wanted to make Genesis more reasonable so that unbelievers would be more receptive to the Christian faith (143). Does this sound familiar?

La Peyrère developed a small following in Europe. His ideas were widely discussed, but uniformly rejected by Reformed theologians. His ideas were also rejected by Roman Catholic figures such as Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). Following what Scripture taught on this matter, Pascal held to a young earth of about 6000 years age and “was also explicitly critical of pre-Adamite thought” (122).

Another valuable contribution of VanDoodewaard is his critique of historian Ronald Numbers. Numbers wrote an influential 1992 book entitled The Creationists in which he argued that a literal understanding of the early chapters of Genesis only exists in our modern day because of the influence of American creation scientists, and particularly through the writing of a Seventh Day Adventist, George McCready Price. “However,” writes VanDoodewaard, “more thorough scholarship reveals significant evidence of a strong stream of both nineteenth- and twentieth-century sources that remained firmly in the millennia old tradition of a literal hermeneutic” (157). What Numbers and others have failed to see is that, entirely apart from twentieth-century creation science, theologians and clergymen have for centuries maintained a literal reading of Genesis, reaching their conclusions based on the text alone. Our author gives several good examples with Dutch-American Reformed theologians like Geerhardus Vos, William Heyns, Foppe Ten Hoor, and Louis Berkhof.

An important part of the work of a historian is discerning patterns. The Quest for the Historical Adam reveals an important pattern in thinking about origins. It starts with sources outside of Scripture and Christian theology pressuring an alternative explanation – these sources could be philosophical, scientific, literary, or archaeological. Under that pressure, interpreters begin to make allowances for alternative explanations. Other generations eventually arise which take things a step further and assert these alternative explanations more stridently, also following through on their logical consequences. This pattern is evident throughout the book.

As mentioned earlier, Dr. VanDoodewaard is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian minister. It is not surprising then to find his church and its struggles with this question mentioned. He notes that the ARP adopted a synodical teaching statement in 2012 that affirmed the clear biblical teaching on origins. He contrasts that with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). He notes that efforts were made to have the PCA clearly rule out aberrant teachings on origins. A 2012 effort to have the PCA General Assembly issue a teaching statement on this matter floundered. Why? There was a convergence of two broad camps. VanDoodewaard writes:

Some argued that the confessional standards of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms provided sufficient clarity on the topic – positing that if there were concerns, they ought to be pursued through the means of church discipline. Other delegates held that belief in evolutionary biological processes in human origins, as circumscribed by Collins, Keller, or others, was harmonious with Scripture and represented a legitimate latitude of ecclesiastical theology (248).

These two lines of argument paralyzed the PCA and prevented it from taking a stand. The result is that various forms of theistic evolution continue to have a comfortable home in the PCA and very little, if anything, can be done about it. Will we in the Canadian Reformed Churches learn from this history while the opportunity is still there?

Obviously, I have a great deal of appreciation for this book. However, there are a couple of oversights that I noticed. Chapter 3 deals with “Adam in the Reformation and Post-Reformation Eras.” While the author does spend some time with the Westminster Standards (especially the issue of “in the space of six days”), he disregards the Three Forms of Unity or other Reformed confessions. This is important in our day when we hear it asserted by some that theistic evolution falls within the bounds of our confessions. Nevertheless, VanDoodewaard’s research certainly does support the position that in the era in which these confessions were originally written, it would have been unthinkable for forms of theistic evolution to be tolerated in Reformed churches. Chapter 6 deals with the 1950s to the present. The author has some discussion about developments in the Christian Reformed Church, but there could have been more said. For instance, it would be helpful for readers to see how the tolerance of theistic evolution in the CRC grew out of a weakened view of biblical authority starting in the 1950s, especially under the influence of the Free University of Amsterdam.

The Quest for the Historical Adam is a unique contribution to a vitally important topic. It might be a bit technical at times for some readers, but those who persevere will be rewarded. As intimated in my introduction, this is especially an important book for office bearers. As those who have promised to “oppose, refute, and help prevent” errors conflicting with God’s Word, we need to educate ourselves about those errors and the patterns that lead to them being accepted. This is all the more case when an error is right before us, threatening to undo us. I heartily commend Dr. VanDoodewaard for writing this valuable book and Reformation Heritage Books for publishing it. May the day hasten when historians look back and say that the publication of this book was a turning point for the maintenance of orthodoxy on origins!

This review was originally published in Reformed Perspective magazine and reappears here with their gracious permission.

Is Evolution Unfalsified?

reblogged from bylogos, the site of Dr. John Byl

In  a previous post (The Myth of the Merely Hypothetical) I noted that several Canadian Reformed supporters of the Reformed Academic blog claim that evolution is “as yet unfalsified.” This reflects the widely held notion that evolution has all the evidence in its favour, and none against. Allegedly,  evolution gives a powerful explanation–the only valid explanation–of biological facts, and is essential to understanding the life sciences.
Is this really the case?

First, let’s be clear that evolution here refers to large-scale biological evolution from one kind of animal to another (i.e., macro-evolution). Small changes within kinds (i.e., so-called micro-evolution) are not at issue; these can be observed to happen in the laboratory.

How well established is evolution, particularly the evolution of humans from apes?

1. Evolution versus Biblical facts
A scientific theory is falsified if it contradicts known facts. To Bible-believing Christians, facts include also those historical facts recorded in the Bible. The plain reading of Genesis teaches that creatures were all made “according to their kinds,” over a span of a few days (Gen.1). In particular, Adam, the first man was created from the dust, and Eve, the first woman, from Adam’s rib (Gen.2). These Biblical facts falsify evolution in general, and human evolution in particular.

2. Evolution versus experiment
No plausible process has yet been found that could produce even the simplest cell (which is amazingly complex). Scientists are as far as ever from creating life in the laboratory. It seems impossible that life ever got started via random physical interactions.

Moreover, macro-evolution has never been observed to happen. Biologist Richard Lenski has an ongoing experiment on the Escherichia coli (E. coli). This is a simple single-celled bacterium, with a generation time of only 17 minutes. Starting in 1988, Lenski observed over 60,000 generations of E. coli. He noted some changes in cell size, genetic makeup, and adaptations. But nothing substantially different was ever produced−E. coli cells always remained E. coli cells [J.W. Fox, R.E. Lenski, “From Here to Eternity—The Theory and Practice of a Really Long Experiment,” PLoS Biol 13(6): e1002185 (2015)].

3. Evolution versus useful application
According to evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, evolution has little commercial application:

Truth be told, evolution hasn’t yielded many practical or commercial benefits. Yes, bacteria evolve drug resistance, and yes, we must take countermeasures, but beyond that there is not much to say. Evolution cannot help us predict what new vaccines to manufacture because microbes evolve unpredictably. But hasn’t evolution helped guide animal and plant breeding? Not very much. Most improvement in crop plants and animals occurred long before we knew anything about evolution, and came about by people following the genetic principle of ‘like begets like’. Even now, as its practitioners admit, the field of quantitative genetics has been of little value in helping improve varieties. Future advances will almost certainly come from transgenics, which is not based on evolution at all. [Jerry Coyne, “Selling Darwin: Does it matter whether evolution has any commercial applications?,” Nature, vol 442:983-984 (August 31, 2006)].

The evolution that might be applicable is merely the uncontentious micro-evolution.

Consequently, Dr Coyne places evolution’s value not in its commercial application, but in its explanatory power. It is often claimed that evolution is the essential unifying principle in the life sciences, particularly biology.

However, this is disputed by Dr Jerry Bergman (An Evaluation of the Myth That “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” [2012]). He finds that most university textbooks for the life sciences make little substantial mention of macro-evolution, especially not for experimental biology, or practical applications, such as in medicine. A similar assessment was made by Dr Philip Skell (Why Do We Invoke Darwin? The Scientist, Aug. 29, 2005) who finds that most biologists do their work without referring to evolution, and that evolution provides no substantial guidance for experimental biology.

4. Evolution versus explanation
Evolution was constructed to give a naturalistic explanation of how the diversity of life came to be. However, there still remain huge gaps in evolutionary explanations. For example, Casey Luskin (What Are the Top Ten Problems with Darwinian Evolution?) lists the following shortcomings:

1. The lack of a viable mechanism for producing high levels of complex and specified information.
2. The failure of the fossil record to provide support for Darwinian evolution.
3. The failure of molecular biology to provide evidence for a grand “tree of life.”
4. Natural selection is an extremely inefficient method of spreading traits in populations, unless a trait has an extremely high selection coefficient.
5. Convergent evolution appears rampant — at both the genetic and morphological levels, even though under Darwinian theory this is highly unlikely.
6. The failure of chemistry to explain the origin of the genetic code.
7. The failure of developmental biology to explain why vertebrate embryos diverge from the beginning of development.
8. The failure of neo-Darwinian evolution to explain the biogeographical distribution of many species.
9. A long history of inaccurate predictions inspired by neo-Darwinism regarding vestigial organs or so-called “junk” DNA.
10. Humans show many behavioral and cognitive traits and abilities that offer no apparent survival advantage (e.g. music, art, religion, ability to ponder the nature of the universe).

In the ensuing comments, readers suggested also:
11. The problem of the evolution of sex.
12. The problem of accounting for consciousness.

A major problem is that the presumed evolutionary past is no longer directly observable. The well-known evolutionist Ernst Mayr acknowledged:

Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science—the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.

Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb comments:

Darwin’s essential method was neither observing nor the more prosaic mode of scientific reasoning, but a peculiarly imaginative, inventive mode of argument. It was this that Whewell objected to in the Origin: “For it is assumed that the mere possibility of imagining a series of steps of transition from one condition of organs to another, is to be accepted as a reason for believing that such transition has taken place. And next, that such a possibility being thus imagined, we may assume an unlimited number of generations for the transition to take place in, and that this indefinite time may extinguish all doubt that the transitions really have taken place” [Himmelfarb, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (New York: Anchor Books, 1962, 333-335)].

Indeed, many evolutionary explanations are little more than “just-so” stories, hypothetical scenarios that can be concocted to explain almost anything.

5. Evolution versus predictions
According to philosopher Karl Popper, the essence of science is that its theories should be potentially falsifiable. A scientific theory should make clear predictions that can be tested:

In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable; and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality [Popper, The Two Fundamental Problems of the Theory of Knowledge (2014 edition)].

The theory of evolution has made numerous predictions, many of which have been falsified. A sample of these can be found at Cornelius Hunter’s site Darwin’s Predictions. Dr Hunter lists 22 fundamental false predictions of evolutionary theory. They cover a wide spectrum of evolutionary theory, reflecting major tenets of evolutionary thought. They were widely held by the consensus. Each prediction was a natural expectation of the theory of evolution, and constituted mainstream evolutionary science.  For example, the following predictions were all found to be false:

● The DNA code is not unique
● Mutations are random to an organism’s needs, not adaptive
● Competition is greatest between neighbours
● The molecular clock keeps evolutionary time
● Similar species share similar genes
● The species should form an evolutionary tree
●Complex structures evolve from simpler structures
● Structures don’t evolve before there is a need for them
● Functionally unconstrained DNA is not conserved
● Nature does not make leaps

6. Is Evolution falsifiable?
The false predictions did not cause mainstream scientists to reject evolution. They merely revised the theory to accommodate the new data. However, these modifications caused evolutionary theory to become much more cumbersome, so that evolution is no longer elegant nor simple.

Evolutionists brush aside evolution’s false predictions because they consider evolution to be the only game in town. They are committed to naturalistic explanations of how life arose and diversified. Supernatural explanations and divine revelation are rejected from the start. Evolution is presumed to be true; it is only the precise method that is up for discussion. Hence, in practice, the basic notion of evolution is not falsifiable because it is driven by a deep metaphysical agenda.

Evolution, the origin myth of our secularized society, is the antithesis of Biblical creation. No wonder therefore that, in the worldview war for human minds–and hearts–evolution is strongly promoted wherever possible in public media, education, and academia. Evolution, the only permissible view, is presented as a proven fact that no rational person would dispute.

To sum up, evolution contradicts Biblical facts, has not been experimentally observed, has few useful applications, fails to adequately explain the origin and diversity of life, and has made many false predictions. In particular, the claim evolution is as yet unfalsified is true only because mainstream science protects evolution from falsification. Whenever evolution is falsified the theory itself evolves, by ad hoc modifications, so as to accommodate any new facts that contradict earlier versions of evolution.

Symposium on Adam and Eve

Reposted from, with thanks to Dr. John Byl. We at Creation Without Compromise have with great interest been following the symposium he reviews here.

Books & Culture has recently published a symposium on Adam and Eve. John Wilson, the B&C editor, interviews Karl Giberson about his new book Saving the Original Sinner (2015) Then follows two rounds of contributions from eight scholars. Here is the outline of the symposium, with links to all the papers.

Saving the Original Sinner [interview with Karl Giberson]

Round 1:
Round 2:
John Wilson, Adam’s Ancestors [brief wrap-up]

This symposium gives a useful overview of the current debate. The brief summaries of the views of the various participants saves one the tedious work of reading lengthy books and essays.

Unhappily, only two of the participants (VanDoodewaard and Madueme) affirm the Biblical position on Adam and Eve. The rest have all accepted evolution. Consequently, Enns, Giberson, Lamoureux, and Schneider all view Adam and Eve as purely symbolic. Walton and Poe do leave room for a modified view of Adam and Eve, but heavily adapted so as to fit within the evolutionary framework.

For those defending the plain meaning of Genesis, the contributions of Madueme and VanDoodewaard are thus particularly worth reading.

Dr Hans Madueme is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. Here are a few pertinent quotes, one from each paper:

Obviously, if you agree with scientists that a historical Adam is impossible, then devising fresh hermeneutical strategies to resolve the tension with Scripture is a logical move. In fact, however, the Bible does very clearly depict a historical Adam; such revisionist exegesis goes against the grain of the text, driven by scientific pre-judgments that set epistemic limits on what the Bible can say. That’s a mistake; Scripture unshackled—not science—is the self-authenticating authority.

Turning to the scientific “facts,” let me call into question any commitment to methodological naturalism, the notion that we can only appeal to natural phenomena when doing genuine science. Methodological naturalism is the status quo among scientists and enshrined in the scientific perspectives that conflict with the Adamic events of Scripture. Theologically speaking, methodological naturalism strikes me as deeply problematic. To use Alvin Plantinga’s language, it yields a truncated science; it does not appeal to the full evidence base—an evidence base that, I would argue, includes divine revelation and all the glorious realities to which it attests. Once we reject methodological naturalism, we will have a truer and richer appraisal of the biblical witness and the world it signifies. An appropriately expanded understanding of biblical reality includes Adam’s historicity and its vital theological implications; for those of us who find those implications compelling, any scientific opinion that rules out Adam will fail to convince. (Death of God by Poison)

Scientific plausibility is the key; can we still believe doctrines that are implausible by the lights of current science? We can invert the question: If scientific plausibility should guide the expectations we bring to Scripture, then why would we be Christians? Why would we believe that the Son of God became a man? That he died and rose again after three days? That he ascended into heaven? These fundamental Christian beliefs contradict everything we know from mainstream science. If we can no longer believe Adam was historical, then why should we believe in the resurrection? In The Evolution of Adam, Peter Enns answers this way: “For Paul, the resurrection of Christ is the central and climactic present-day event in the Jewish drama—and of the world. One could say that Paul was wrong, deluded, stupid, creative, whatever; nevertheless, the resurrection is something that Paul believed to have happened in his time, not primordial time.” That misses the point. We’re told that we can’t affirm a historical Adam because it’s scientifically unbelievable, but why trust Paul on the resurrection when that, too, is scientifically unbelievable? Or, to flip the script, if we believe the resurrection, then a historical Adam is no biggie. (Demythologizing Adam)

Dr William VanDoodewaard is Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and the author of The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins (2015). Here is a sampling from his symposium contributions:

I stand with the mainstream of historic Christian orthodoxy believing the literal tradition, including the creation of Adam and Eve, from dirt and a rib on the sixth day, a day of ordinary duration. There are numerous reasons for the endurance of this view, despite varied efforts to the contrary of a minority stream of individuals from the patristic era to the present. First, the literal understanding of creation, including human origins, is remarkably viable exegetically. It is also hermeneutically consistent with the whole Genesis text. Second, it coheres seamlessly with the rest of Scripture’s teaching on creation, man, and redemption. The literal tradition on origins is cohesive with a full-orbed exegetically derived Christian theology.

The most substantive challenge to the literal tradition is posed by mainstream dating methods, particularly in relation to fossils. Even here, an understanding of a mature creation, the fall, curse, and ensuing natural processes interspersed with episodes of catastrophism along the way, gives cogent answers to satisfy issues of geological age and subsequent biological adaptation. The literal tradition has exegetical, hermeneutical, and theological coherence with Scripture, historical endurance beyond all other interpretive models, as well as extensive ecclesial and confessional support. There is good reason to believe that it stands as an example of the Holy Spirit’s fulfillment of Christ’s promise to guide of the church in the truth of the Word. (The First Man and Woman)

There is a certain clear and compelling logic to the post-Adam/no Adam viewpoint of Karl Giberson, Peter Enns, and others participating in this roundtable. Where we grant that an ancient earth requires an alternate, “non-literal” approach to time in Genesis 1 and 2, we are left with little (if any) exegetical ground to argue against wide-ranging evolutionary hypotheses. If we accept an adjusted hermeneutic and allow for mainstream evolutionary biology, there is no longer exegetical ground to maintain a historical Adam and Eve, created specially by God in a brief span of time, from the dust of the earth and Adam’s rib, respectively. If we have actually adopted a new hermeneutic for Genesis 1-2 and maintain that Scripture teaches a unity of truth, then we ought to revisit and work towards reinterpreting New Testament passages on Adam.

I believe that the “middle ground” of an evolutionary Adam is just as untenable and ad hoc as Giberson and Enns note it is. But instead of creating agreement, this logic is ample reason to go back to what the mainstream of the Christian church has held to for millennia. The exegetically, hermeneutically, and theologically compelling position is that God created Adam, the first man, and Eve, the first woman, without progenitors, disorder, or sin. It was this Adam and Eve, the only existing humans, who fell into sin in the Garden, bringing the curse on themselves and all creation. (No Adam, No Original Sin, No Christ)

Note that both authors make a strong case for consistency. Granting an ancient earth, and therefore adopting a non-literal approach to Gen.1-2, undermines the exegetical case for an historical Adam. Likewise, if we can’t believe in the Biblical Adam because it is scientifically implausible, why should we believe in an equally scientifically implausible resurrection from the dead?

Test of Faith: Challenging Assumptions (2)

In my previous post, I examined Dr. Deborah Haarsma’s assumption that the original audience for the Genesis account of creation was the “ancient Hebrews.” In this post, I will turn to the claims that Dr. Haarsma makes about the ancient Hebrew understanding of the created order – namely, that they believed there was a solid sky dome above the earth.

As a reminder, here is the video to which I am responding. If you haven’t already watched it, please take a moment to do so.

So did the ancient Hebrews believe that there was a solid dome above the earth? And where do we go to find out what they believed? The only source for ancient Hebrew belief is the Bible, so that’s where we’ll turn.

Much of this discussion turns on the meaning of the Hebrew word raqia, which is first found in Genesis 1:6-8:

“And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day” (ESV).

The word raqia is translated in the ESV as “expanse,” which makes sense. In the NIV 2011, it is translated as “vault,” which makes somewhat less sense. The King James Version, however, translates this word as “firmament,” which is completely wrong.

And when we look at the KJV translation of raqia, things get really interesting. The word “firmament” comes from the Latin word firmamentum, which means “a support, a strengthening. That Latin word itself derives from the word firmus, which means “strong, steadfast, or enduring.” The King James translators chose this word to translate raqia because it was used in the Vulgate, the Latin translation of Scripture.

Follow me here, because the trail is twisting and turning – but if you can follow this path, there’s a reward of clarity at the end of it. The Vulgate used the word firmamentum to translate the word stereoma, which was the word used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) to translate raqia in Genesis 1. That Greek word means “what is solid and firm.”

So here’s the path we took to get from raqia to “firmament”:

raqiastereomafirmamentum → firmament

We’ve made the journey from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to English, and along the way, a serious error in translation occurred. You see, the word raqia comes from the Hebrew verb raqa. Raqa means “to spread out, to hammer out, or to overlay.” In Syriac, however, raqa means “to make firm or solid.” This is one of the sources of the mistaken (but oft-repeated) view that the ancient Hebrews believed that there was a solid sky dome above the earth.

Context is important here, as always. And there are a number of passages in Scripture that refer to the LORD’s having “stretched out” the heavens, which support the meaning of raqia as “something that has been stretched out, or spread out.”

Isaiah 42:5 – “Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk in it.”

Isaiah 44:24 – “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.”

And finally, Job 37:18 – “Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?”

Uh… Ahem. Okay. So… now what?

“Hard as a cast metal mirror!” Aha! The solid sky dome makes its appearance at last!! My argument has been defeated!

Or has it been?

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. As with most questions, this one too has already been answered elsewhere. To put it simply, Job is speaking metaphorically; the book of Job is filled with poetic language and metaphor, and this is one of many examples of metaphor in that book. Dr. Joseph R. Nally writes:

The picture being painted in the book of Job is that the sky is solid but thin, like a piece of metal being hammered out (Ex. 39:3; Isaiah 40:19). God stretches out the heavens like a tent (Ps. 104:2). Metaphorically speaking, the heavens are being viewed as hammered out at creation (I.e, a spreading out of the sky or an expanse – Gen. 1:7,8) and/or clouds daily changing their shapes or reforming (Job 36:28,29; cf. Gen. 9:13-16; Psalm 18:9-11).

‘Solid’ in the book of Job does not mean impenetrable. Above the firmament are storehouses for rain (Job 36:27-28) and snow and hail (Job 38:22), and there is a place above it for the sun, moon, and the stars (Job 9:7; 22:12; 30:28; 31:26; 37:21; cf. Gen. 1:14-17). Job’s metaphoric picture says the skies are ‘hard as a mirror of cast bronze.’ Glass mirrors were not known until Roman times. In the day and age of Job, mirrors were cast from hardened bronze (copper hardened by the addition of tin). So, metaphorically, God’s skies are durable and strong.

The problem with Dr. Haarsma’s statement is not limited to the idea that the ancient Hebrews believed in that solid sky dome, or in the flatness of the earth. It goes deeper – to a fundamental misinterpretation of the Bible’s symbolic and conceptual descriptions of creation. All human beings and cultures have a conceptual or symbolic understanding of the world, and a way of describing the world that is based in that understanding. The conceptual and symbolic understanding of the “ancient Hebrews” was shaped by God’s Word. The Lord willing, I will follow up on this important point in a subsequent examination of Dr. Haarsma’s assumptions.

Test of Faith: Challenging Assumptions

In this and subsequent posts, my plan is to critically examine the assumptions made in a video that has been made available on the “Test of Faith” channel on YouTube. Before reading these responses, take a few minutes to watch this video:

In this presentation, Dr. Deborah Haarsma, president of the BioLogos Foundation, and former professor and chair of the physics and astronomy department at Calvin College, makes a number of claims that we must examine critically before either accepting or rejecting them.

The first statement that I would like to examine is this one:

God didn’t bother to teach the ancient Hebrews that the world was actually round. He didn’t bother to teach them that it was actually atmosphere in the sky instead of a solid sky dome. He let them keep believing that. He accommodated the message to where they were at.”

There are a number of unproven claims in Dr. Haarsma’s discussion of the relation of science and Scripture in this video, several of which are heard in this statement alone. Here they are:

  1. The ancient Hebrews did not believe that the world was round.
  2. The ancient Hebrews believed that there was a solid sky dome over the earth (the “firmament”).
  3. God accommodated the message of Scripture to “where they were at,” in their lack of precise scientific knowledge, and their beliefs about the form of the heavens and the earth.

But before we even begin examining these claims, we need to deal with an assumption that goes unmentioned, an assumption that must necessarily be true if Dr. Haarsma’s claims actually have a bearing on how we interpret the Genesis account of creation. And that assumption is a simple one: that the original audience of the creation account was “the ancient Hebrews.”

I’d like to begin by questioning the assumption that the creation account was originally written by Hebrews for Hebrews – that Moses (or a later author) tailored his message to his audience, speaking to them specifically on a level that they could understand. Many modern scholars have actually concluded that Genesis was written much later than the time of Moses, in which case the author or editor would have been addressing a different culture with different concerns.

Why question those assumptions? Isn’t Genesis one of the “five books of Moses”?

Yes, it is, and there’s no reason to conclude that Genesis was written by someone else, much later than the time of Moses, as many critical scholars now assert. But rather than assuming that Moses wrote Genesis “from scratch,” wouldn’t it make sense that he used previously existing documents, perhaps even documents passed down from ancient times, and used them as his source material?

The book of Genesis is divided into eleven sections, which are marked off by the words, “These are the generations of…”. They’re often referred to as the “toledoths,” because of the Hebrew word for generations. The first toledoth is found in Genesis 2:4, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth,” and the last in Genesis 37:2, “These are the generations of Jacob.”

Many scholars believe that these statements are headings – that they introduce the chapters that follow. Some, however, believe that they are colophons – that they conclude the sections that precede them. So, in the case of Genesis 2:4, we can read, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth” as referring to the preceding passage – Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3. In the same way, Genesis 5:1, “This is the book of the generations of Adam,” would refer back to Genesis 2:5 to Genesis 4:26.

Why does this make any difference at all? Because especially if they are colophons, they may serve to indicate previously existing written works that Moses used as his source material in putting the book of Genesis together into its final form. Who knew the story of creation better than any other human? Of course Adam did. Adam lived 930 years. Could he have developed a system of writing during those ninety-three decades of life? I think it highly likely that he would have. Could he have written down what the LORD revealed to him, and what he had experienced during his life, to preserve that message for future generations? He certainly could have.

Whenever God wanted to preserve his message, he had it written down. It is often assumed that oral transmission over generations was central to bringing God’s message from generation to generation. But since written transmission of information is far less subject to error and amendment than oral tradition, it makes sense that these things would have been written down, to preserve the message for generations yet to come.

A number of examples in Scripture reveal that literacy rates were higher, even among common people, than is often assumed (Deut. 24:1-3; Num. 21:14; Deut. 6:8,9; 11:18-20). The terms used in Genesis 26:5, for example, provide evidence that God had his word written down long before the time of Moses; the LORD says about Abraham in this verse that he “obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes and my laws.” The Hebrew word for “statutes” in this verse has a root meaning “to mark for oneself; from the base meaning of carving or engraving is by extension the act of writing; the communication itself, regulation.” Those statutes were very likely written statutes!

In the end, my point is this: we cannot simply assume that the ancient Hebrews were the original “target audience” for the creation account. This account had been extant for centuries before the first ancient Hebrew appeared on the scene, and that knowledge was not limited to the descendants of Abraham. Now consider the fact that the earliest humans enjoyed incredibly long lives in comparison to our own, and that they had not suffered from generations of genetic mutations which would surely impede intellectual growth and development. These ancient humans were likely very intelligent individuals, with centuries of life experience, learning, and experimentation to draw on.

Our way of thinking about ancient humanity has been highly influenced by the evolutionary paradigm. When we think about Adam, and Cain and Abel, and Enoch and Methuselah, we may think of “cavemen” type humans – struggling to understand how to make a fire, working with simple tools, assuming that the world was flat, not knowing anything about the world outside of the very limited area in which they lived.

We need to discard that assumption; Adam was an intelligent man, the first scientist, who named and classified the animal kingdom, who probably travelled widely. Even after the fall into sin, he must have retained his original intelligence, and with the years of life that were allotted to him, he would have developed an astounding array of knowledge, which he had opportunity to pass down to his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and so on.

So I call this first assumption into question, and that means I also call the conclusions that follow from that assumption into question. In short, we cannot assume that the original audience of the creation account as we have it in Genesis 1 and 2 was in fact the “ancient Hebrews.”

And following from that, we cannot assume that this original audience was ignorant about the physical nature of the heavens and the earth, and that God accommodated his account to their ignorance. There is no doubt that many people fell into ignorance, unbelief, and disobedience after the fall; this is what led to the destruction of humanity in the flood. And after the flood, sin and rebellion against God also led to widespread idolatry, ignorance, and rejection of God’s Word.

But throughout it all, God preserved his Word from generation to generation. We have this Word in Genesis and the other 65 books of the Bible. We must examine critically our own assumptions, and the assumptions of others, as we seek to understand its message.