SERIES: GENESIS – PART 9
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. – Genesis 1:1-2
In the past four messages (the past four weeks) we looked at four competing views of creation: atheistic evolution, tehistic evolution, the gap theory, and six-day creationism. Each has been well presented and well defended by able advocates; but each has problems, as we have seen. As a result, in recent years a fifth approach to the creation process has appeared: progressive creationism. Briefly stated, it says that God created the world directly and deliberately, that is, without leaving anything to “chance,” but that he did it over long periods of time that correspond roughly to the geological ages. Moreover, this creation is still going on. Progressive creationism attempts to show how current scientific theories of the origins of the universe and the formation of the earth match the revelation in Genesis.
This approach is not entirely new. For example, some elements of the progressive creationists’ description of the early formation of the earth sound much like things the gap theorists were saying earlier in this century. Parts of the theory would be affirmed by evolutionists.
One book that takes this position is Genesis One & the Origin of the Earth by Robert C. Newman and Herman J. Eckelmann. Newman, who holds a doctorate in astrophysics from Cornell University, is professor of New Testament at the Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, Pennsylvania. Eckelmann has been an associate with the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research at Cornell University but is now pastor of a church in Ithaca, New York. A second book that espouses progressive creationism is Creation and the Flood: An Alternative to Flood Geology and Theistic Evolution by Davis A. Young, son of the well-known Westminster Theological Seminary professor of Old Testament, Edward J. Young. Important to each of their views is the idea that the creative days of Genesis launch creative periods in the sense that the work begun on the earlier days continues to unfold in some form during the later days. The progressive creationists want to make possible the appearance of some new forms of vegetation in late geological periods even though the Genesis account places the creation of plants and trees on day three—to give just one example.
This view is held by many Christians who are in scientific fields, even though they have not published books on their position. It is held by quite a few biblical scholars and theologians.
A Possible Interpretation
Since even scientists are unsure precisely how the earth may have formed, it is an exercise in speculation to suggest an early history of the earth and universe. Nevertheless, since an outline of that history is given in the first chapter of Genesis, it is not out of place to look at it in terms of current geological theory, which is essentially what the progressive creationists have done. The result is something like the following (composite) picture of development.
Initial creation. The first verse of Genesis tells us that “God created the heavens and the earth.” It does not tell us how God created the heavens or the earth, nor when. So it is permissible to view this statement in terms of the prevailing “big bang” theory. That is, the universe had a definite beginning on the order of 15 to 20 billion years ago. At that point all the matter in the universe was together, but it began moving outward by sudden rapid expansion. Scientists estimate that nearly all elements would have been formed by the end of the first half hour. As matter expanded, galaxies, solar systems, and satellite bodies were formed. In this early period the earth would have been quite hot. Most of the water would have been in the atmosphere. Consequently, there would have been a heavy cloud layer that would have shrouded the earth in impenetrable darkness. As the earth cooled some of the cloud cover would have condensed and would have fallen as rain, thus forming oceans. Progressive creationists feel that this state of things is well reflected in Genesis 1:2, which says, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
The first day. After the first verse of Genesis the focal point of the creation narrative is the earth. Therefore, the statement of God in verse 3 (“let there be light”) refers to the appearance of light on earth. This would mean that the clouds covering the earth had now thinned enough for the light of the sun, which had been shining all along, to penetrate to the earth’s surface. As the earth rotated there would be periods of night and day, although the sun and other heavenly bodies would not themselves be visible. This is called the first day of creation because it was the first significant event in the preparation of the earth for habitation.
The second day. On this day the cooling process continued with a further thinning of the clouds and a separation between them and the waters that now lay on the earth. These verses (vv. 6–8) speak of the firmament (correctly translated “an expanse” in the New International Version), the waters under the firmament, and the waters above the firmament. What is distinct about this day is neither the existence of the cloud cover nor the existence of the waters that covered the earth; these existed before. The new element is the appearance of the firmament or atmosphere, what we call the sky. This separated the two waters that before were close together. Interestingly, current scientific thought also views the development of the atmosphere and oceans as a fairly recent event in earth’s history (See P. Brancazio and A.G.W. Cameron, The Origin and Evolution of Atmospheres and Ocenas. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1964. Cited by D.A. Young, Creation and the Flood, 124.
The third day. This day marks the separation of the great land masses from the oceans and the appearance of vegetation on the land. Presumably the land appeared as the result of volcanic eruptions and the buckling of the earth’s crust. Psalm 104:6–9 describes this appearance: “You covered it [the earth] with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.” These verses suggest that the land appeared gradually as it was drained of its covering.
Mention of the plants, particularly “seed-bearing plants and trees,” creates some problems with the science of paleobotany. So far as we know, only very simple plants existed early—namely, seaweed, algae, and bacteria—and these are associated with the oceans rather than the land. More complex plants appeared later. The seed-bearing plants mentioned in Genesis are found first in the Devonian period (about 400 million years ago). The first trees appear in the Pennsylvania period (i.e., about 320 million years ago). Again, the Genesis account seems to say that plants appeared before animals, but the fossil record shows that these appeared simultaneously. What can be done with these difficulties? It may be impossible at this stage to give a definitive answer, but two things may be noted. First, the creative acts compressed into Genesis 1:11 did not necessarily take place all at one time. They could have taken place over a fairly long period in which grasses could have come first, followed by herbs, followed by fruit trees. Second, most of the geological record is derived from marine rocks. Therefore, it does not necessarily give an accurate picture of what may or may not have existed on land. One does not really expect to find fossils of large land plants in such beds. As time goes on there may well be additional light on this particular period of the earth’s development.
The fourth day. Light had been reaching earth since the first day of creation; it was through this influence that the vegetation created on day three was enabled to appear and prosper. But now the skies cleared sufficiently for the heavenly bodies to become visible. It is not said that these were created on the fourth day; they were created in the initial creative work of God referred to in Genesis 1:1. But now they begin to function as regulators of the day and night, “as signs to mark seasons and day and years” (Gen. 1:14).
The fifth day. On the fifth day God began to create living creatures. The word “create” (baraʾ) is used here for the first time since verse 1, probably indicating a de novo act of God, unrelated to what had been done previously. Earlier God is said to have “separated,” “made,” and “formed” various things. The land itself is said to have “produced” vegetation. Not so with the birds and sea creatures! These were created by God and now began to fill the earth that had been prepared to receive them.
On this day too we have problems with the fossil record, as Young and others recognize. But these are not overwhelming. Young writes, “The fact that many marine invertebrate animals such as corals and trilobites appear in the fossil record prior to land plants implies a contradiction between Genesis and geology. We must, however, keep in mind the incompleteness of the plant record and our lack of knowledge as to the exact limits of the categories described in verses 20–22. It is important to point out that the major groups in view here, that is, birds, most fish, swimming reptiles such as crocodiles or the extinct mosasaurs, flying reptiles like pterodactyls, seals and whales, do appear later in the fossil record than most land plants. As a generality such is the case. Birds first appear in the Jurassic period, fish are well-developed from Ordovician onwards but proliferate in the Tertiary, complex marine and aerial reptiles are Mesozoic, and large swimming mammals are Tertiary” (D.A. Young, Creation and the Flood, 130).
Young, as most other progressive creationists, allows for some overlap of the creative days.
The sixth day. One of the best arguments for the days of Genesis 1 being periods of long duration is the amount of creative activity recorded as having taken place on day six. God created land animals, divided into three general categories: livestock (that is, animals capable of being domesticated), creatures that move along the ground (the reference is to animals such as squirrels, chipmunks, and woodchucks, and may include reptiles), and wild animals (that is, those that could not be domesticated). Many categories of each are involved because each is said to reproduce according to “their kinds” (plural). On this day God also created man, last but at the peak of the created order. Since God is said to have created each of these three categories of animals and man independently and after certain specific kinds, the possibility of general evolution seems to be discounted. Still there is no reason to rule out some kinds of development within species (microevolution), such as the alleged development of the horse. The language of the verses suggests a pause between the making of animals and the creation of man, and there may have been other pauses also.
The progressive creationists’ view of God’s creation is tentative, for not all scientific evidence is in and even the narrative of Genesis may not be understood as well as we shall understand it some day. But in general terms this is what the progressive viewpoint holds. Its adherents regard it as a reasonable harmony between the Genesis record and the facts of geology and other scientific disciplines.
What are the Problems?
Some of the problems with this view have already been suggested. The most obvious are the apparent discrepancies between the fossil record and the order in which plants, fish, and land animals are said to have been created in Genesis. This is serious. On the other hand, it is not of such weight as to immediately disqualify the theory. Science assumes that life first appeared in the oceans or other watery places, but it does not know this and it is possible that life may have appeared on land before it appeared in the water. Moreover, if one discounts the earliest forms of life, such as algae, bacteria, and seaweed, which mean a great deal to botanists but are probably not in view in Genesis at all, the order of the appearance of life in Genesis and in the fossil record is quite similar.
Second, there is the linguistic problem of taking the days of Genesis as long periods, which the six-day creationists regard as impossible. This has already been discussed in presenting the creationists’ view. Here we may simply note that there are at least two sides to the argument. On the surface it would be natural to take the word “day” in Genesis 1 as referring to a literal twenty-four-hour day. But even this is not without question, for the account clearly indicates that God did not establish the sun and other heavenly bodies for the regulating of “seasons and days and years” until day four. Augustine noted this fifteen hundred years ago, and so have others. James Orr wrote, “It is at least as difficult to suppose that only ordinary days of twenty-four hours are intended, in view of the writer’s express statement that such days did not commence till the fourth stage of creation, as to believe that they are symbols” (Orr, Christian View, 421). There are other places even in Moses’ writings where “day” clearly means “period” (cf. Gen. 2:4; Ps. 90:4).
The third and, in my judgment, most serious objection to the progressive creation theory is that it introduces death into the world before the fall (or even the creation) of Adam. If death was the punishment for sin, as the Bible seems to indicate, and if this punishment was imposed upon the whole world (including the animals) as the result of Adam’s sin, then there could not have been death in the world before Adam, and the fossil record must be post-Adamic, as the flood geologists state. Morris puts it tersely: “The day-age theory … accepts as real the existence of death before sin, in direct contradiction to the biblical teaching that death is a divine judgment on man’s dominion because of man’s sin (Rom. 5:12). Thus it assumes that suffering and death comprise an integral part of God’s work of creating and preparing the world for man; and this in effect pictures God as a sadistic ogre, not as the biblical God of grace and love” (Morris, The Genesis Record, 54).
The objection is serious, but these points must be considered:
1. The actual curse of God as the result of man’s sin, recorded in Genesis 3, says nothing about the animals. It is a curse on four things only: the man, the woman, the serpent, and the ground for the man’s sake. Nowhere is it said that the earth or universe underwent a drastic transformation, nor even that the serpent, though an animal, was to die in punishment for its part in the temptation. Its curse was only to crawl on its belly and thus be cursed “above all the livestock and all the wild animals” (Gen. 3:14).
2. The curse on Adam and Eve did not involve physical death only, though that was horrible enough in that they were created for communion with God who is eternal; it involved spiritual death. But this does not really pertain to the animal realm in that animals do not have God-consciousness in the first place. It is conceivable that animals could be created to enjoy a normal life span and then to die without this having any of the judgmental qualities death has for man.
3. The texts often cited from the New Testament in support of the view that death came to the animal world as a result of man’s sin do not prove the point. Romans 8:19–21 does not contrast the present imperfection of the world with a more glorious past state but with the future state when it shall be delivered from its “bondage to decay” along with the final redemption of God’s children. Similarly, Romans 5:12, though it speaks of the introduction of death into the world through Adam’s sin, does not necessarily speak of the infliction of this penalty on any creature other than man.
4. It is hard to imagine a world of living things in which death does not occur in some form, if only because living things live by eating other living things. Even assuming that the carnivores were herbivores before Adam’s fall, these still had to eat plants that thereby died. Did birds not eat insects? Did fish not eat other fish? We can imagine that the birds all ate berries; but even if the fish ate plankton, the plankton died.
In view of these points, progressive creationists would argue that death did indeed exist in the world before Adam—otherwise, how would he know what the threat of death meant (“You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die”)? But it did not have the horror for animals that it had for Adam and has for us today. Young writes, “The most that can be said with certainty about the effect of the fall on geological phenomena is that it introduced death and suffering into the human race for the first time. … It cannot be proved from the Scripture that the curse resulted in anything other than pain, sorrow, agonizing labor, and death for man and degradation for the serpent. Ideas about structural changes in the animals, death among animals, and drastic transformations in the laws of nature such as the laws of thermodynamics must from a Scriptural perspective forever remain pure speculations” (D.A. Young, Creation and the Flood, 168).
We have come to an end of our examination of the various main views of creation, and it may seem that nearly everything is undecided. For many it may be; nearly anyone—anyone who can see the difficulties, whatever view he or she holds—will face problems. Still it is not true that everything is undecided. We have not settled everything, but we have established a framework in which our thinking about creation may go forward.
First, we have dismissed atheistic evolution and have come close to dismissing theistic evolution as well. This means that the world of man and things did not come about by chance happenings over long periods of evolutionary history but as a result of God’s direct creative activity.
Second, we have suggested that any view that makes the earth a relatively new thing (on the order of twelve thousand to twenty thousand years old) flies in the face of too much varied and independent evidence to be tenable. Some would dispute this, of course. But in my judgment the earth and universe are indeed billions of years old.
Third, we have shown the possibility of God’s having formed the earth and its life in a series of creative days representing long periods. In view of the apparent age of the earth, this is not only possible—it is probable. Nothing is to be gained by insisting that God had to create all things in six literal twenty-four-hour days.
This does not mean, however, that everything said by evolutionists about the many millions of years in which the earth and its life are supposed to have formed is factual. The periods involved may be considerably shorter than current evolution and geologic theory suggest, since the main reason for insisting on such interminable ages is to give the amount of time supposed to be necessary for life to emerge through chance occurrences. In particular, there is no need to argue for the great antiquity of man. Man may be relatively recent, though how recent is unclear. (The fossil evidence for man’s antiquity will be considered when the creation of man himself is discussed in Part 11 in this Series on Genesis.)
Finally, we can make these “spiritual” applications. We have discussed the theory of evolution in which everything we know is supposed to have evolved by mere chance. We have rejected evolution. But there is a sense in which those who know God are enabled to evolve increasingly into that image of what he would have us to be, and we rejoice in that. Again, we have discussed the gap theory. We have seen that there may be gaps in what is told us in the historical sections of Genesis; there may be gaps in our knowledge. But there are no gaps in the wisdom, knowledge, or love of God, and in this we rejoice. We have discussed the twenty-four-hour-day theory. We have seen evidence for and against that option. But whether the days of Genesis are twenty-four hours long or much longer, all time is God’s time and is used by him. Our days are also God’s days. Last, we considered progressive creationism. It may be close to the true picture. But we need to remember that there is never any true or lasting progress that is not God’s doing and that where God works there is always progress. Let us ask him to make progress with us as we strive to grow in the knowledge of his will and ways.
About the Preacher
James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. The sermon above was adapted from Chapter 9 in Genesis 1-11: An Expositional Commentary. vol. 1: Creation and Fall. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.
Under Dr. Boice’s leadership, Tenth Presbyterian Church became a model for ministry in America’s northeastern inner cities. When he assumed the pastorate of Tenth Church there were 350 people in regular attendance. At his death the church had grown to a regular Sunday attendance in three services of more than 1,200 persons, a total membership of 1,150 persons. Under his leadership, the church established a pre-school for children ages 3-5 (now defunct), a high school known as City Center Academy, a full range of adult fellowship groups and classes, and specialized outreach ministries to international students, women with crisis pregnancies, homosexual and HIV-positive clients, and the homeless. Many of these ministries are now free-standing from the church.
Dr. Boice gave leadership to groups beyond his own organization. For ten years he served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, from its founding in 1977 until the completion of its work in 1988. ICBI produced three classic, creedal documents: “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics” and “The Chicago Statement on the Application of the Bible to Contemporary Issues.” The organization published many books, held regional “Authority of Scripture” seminars across the country, and sponsored the large lay “Congress on the Bible I,” which met in Washington, D.C., in September 1987. He also served on the Board of Bible Study Fellowship.
He founded the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (Alliance) in 1994, initially a group of pastors and theologians who were focused on bringing the 20th and now 21st century church to a new reformation. In 1996 this group met and wrote the Cambridge Declaration. Following the Cambridge meetings, the Alliance assumed leadership of the programs and publications formerly under Evangelical Ministries, Inc. (Dr. Boice) and Christians United for Reformation (Horton) in late 1996.
Dr. Boice was a prodigious world traveler. He journeyed to more than thirty countries in most of the world’s continents, and he taught the Bible in such countries as England, France, Canada, Japan, Australia, Guatemala, Korea and Saudi Arabia. He lived in Switzerland for three years while pursuing his doctoral studies.
Dr. Boice held degrees from Harvard University (A.B.), Princeton Theological Seminary (B.D.), the University of Basel, Switzerland (D. Theol.) and the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church (D.D., honorary).
A prolific author, Dr. Boice had contributed nearly forty books on a wide variety of Bible related themes. Most are in the form of expositional commentaries, growing out of his preaching: Psalms (1 volume), Romans (4 volumes), Genesis (3 volumes), Daniel, The Minor Prophets (2 volumes), The Sermon on the Mount, John (5 volumes, reissued in one), Ephesians, Phillippians and The Epistles of John. Many more popular volumes: Hearing God When You Hurt, Mind Renewal in a Mindless Christian Life, Standing on the Rock, The Parables of Jesus, The Christ of Christmas, The Christ of the Open Tomb and Christ’s Call to Discipleship. He also authored Foundations of the Christian Faith a 740-page book of theology for laypersons. Many of these books have been translated into other languages, such as: French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
He was married to Linda Ann Boice (born McNamara), who continues to teach at the high school they co-founded.
Source: Taken directly from the Aliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ Website