Thursday, August 31, 2006

Re: Info or good sources for backing up an Old Earth Interp.


Thanks for your message.

[Graphic: everlasting mountains, One Year Bible blog]

As is my usual practice when I receive a private message on a creation/evolution/design topic, I am copying my response to my blog CED, after removing your personal identifying information.

----- Original Message -----
From: AN
To: Stephen E. Jones
Sent: Thursday, August 31, 2006 6:42 AM
Subject: Info or good sources for backing up an Old Earth Interp.

>Hello Stephen Jones,
>My name is ... and I am a student at ... University in ..., USA.

You don't say what your course is, but since it includes "religious studies" (see below) I assume it is not science, nor theology.

>I was wondering if you have any good and Credible sources for interpreting Genesis with an Old Earth Frame work.

Perhaps the best book on Old Earth Creation/Progressive Creation (OEC/PC) , which had a major effect on my thinking when I became a Christian in 1967, is Bernard Ramm's "The Christian View of Science and Scripture" (1954). Another very good OEC/PC book is Pattle Pun's "Evolution: Nature and Scripture in Conflict" (1962). Both of these are out of print but you could buy them second-hand or borrow them from a library.

More recent books that discuss OEC/PC are: J.P. Moreland (ed)'s "Three Views on Creation and Evolution" (1999); David Hagopian (ed)'s "The Genesis Debate : Three Views on the Days of Creation" (2000); Henri Blocher's "In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis" (1984); Don Stoner's "A New Look at an Old Earth; Resolving the Conflict Between the Bible and Science" (1997). On older edition of Stoner's book is actually online for free. Then there are Hugh Ross' books, "A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy" (2004) and "Creation and Time: A Biblical and Scientific Perspective on the Creation-Date Controversy" (1994).

There is also online the "Report of the Creation Study Committee" of the Presbyterian Church in America (2000).

>Particularly, one that would give support for the early Israelites believing in Ages rather than Days.

First, it should be pointed out that the Day-Age interpretation is not the only OEC position. In Moreland's, Hagopian's and Blocher's books above, and in the online PCA Report, there is a defence of the Literary Framework interpretation, which is also the position I hold. Perhaps the leading conservative evangelical theologian in the world today, J.I. Packer, after summarising the four main positions on the days of Genesis 1, himself argues that the "framework view, sometimes called the literary hypothesis" is in his "judgement ... the only viable one":

"There are four opinions, basically, about the seven days. The first is the literalist hypothesis which maintains that what we are reading about is twenty-four-hour days by our clocks; what we are being told in Genesis 1 is that the whole world came to be formed within what we would recognize as a working week. The hypothesis assumes that what we have in Genesis is descriptive prose, of newspaper type. The second view is that each of the days of the creation is an allegorical figure. What each of the references to the evening and the morning represent is a geological epoch, a very, very long period of time, hundreds of thousands of years at least. There has been much effort in this century by those who have understood the days this way to try and show that the order of things in Genesis 1 corresponds to the best scientific account that can be given of how specific items emerged and took their place in the order of the world. A witty Roman Catholic writer described this method of understanding as an attempt to raise Moses' credit by giving him a B.Sc. Those who take this 'concordist' view, as it is called, assume that part of the purpose of Genesis 1 was to give us scientific information about the stages by which things came to be. Third is what is called the revelation day theory, which takes the six evenings and mornings as signifying that creation was revealed in a story with six instalments, each instalment being given to the inspired writer on a separate day. After the first instalment had been given, the writer said there was evening and there was morning. That is a way of saying that God gave him the next bit of the story the next day. Fourth there is the so-called framework view, sometimes called the literary hypothesis. This view says that the six days, evening and morning, are part of what we may call a prose poem, that is a total pictorial presentation of the fact of creation in the form of a story of a week's work. Without going into the details of argument about these different views, let me tell you straightaway that in my judgement this fourth view is the only viable one. Why? Because in this account light appears on the first day while God only makes the sun and the moon and the stars on the fourth day. That fact alone, it seems to me, shows that what we have here is not anything that can be called science, but rather an imaginative pattern of order replacing chaos ..." (Packer, J.I., "Honouring the Written Word of God: The Collected Shorter Writings of James I. Packer," Vol. 3, Paternoster Press: Carlisle UK, 1999, p.179)

And in fact there is Biblical evidence that at least some of "the early Israelites" interpreted the days of Genesis 1 as "Ages rather than Days" (in the sense of long but indefinite periods of time). First, the seventh day, unlike the previous six days which each has the same ending formula "And there was evening, and there was morning-the ... day" (Gen 1:5,8,13,19,23,31), has no end. The writer of Hebrews in fact bases an argument on his assumption that the seventh day is still continuing in the 1st century AD:

Hebrews 4:1-6 " 1Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. 3Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, "So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.' " And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. 4For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "And on the seventh day God rested from all his work." 5And again in the passage above he says, "They shall never enter my rest." 6It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience.

Second, Psalm 90, which is headed, "A prayer of Moses" (who I assume was the author of Genesis), says that "a thousand years in" to humans are to God "sight ... like a day" (see also 2 Peter 3:8):

Ps 90:4 "For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night."

>I already believe in an old earth interpretation but I have a feeling my religious studies professor will argue that the old earth interpretation is not valid because the early authors would not have believed in old earth.

How does he know that? Old Earth Creationist Dick Fischer (his is another book that argues for OEC) points out there is Biblical evidence that the ancient Hebrews thought of the world as very old, even describing in Habakkuk 3:6:

Hab 3:6 (NIV) "He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed. His ways are eternal.

the "mountains" as "ancient" [Heb. 'ad] and the "hills as "age-old" [Heb. 'owlam]:

"Old Testament Evidence for an Old Earth. Turning away from general revelation, let us look at special revelation. If an earth of great age is mandated by the evidence from nature, then the inspired Scriptures ought to agree. Rest assured, they do. In Job 15:1, Eliphaz asked Job, `Wast thou made before the hills?' Does it seem reasonable that Eliphaz would have used this question of digging sarcasm had he thought the age of the hills and the age of man were virtually the same, varying by a scant five days? The intent of Eliphaz in Job is confirmed by Habakkuk 3:6. The mountains are described as `everlasting,' the hills are `perpetual.' The Hebrew words 'ad and 'owlam mean `long duration' `ancient,' `forever,' and `continuous existence.' Does the Bible comment on the earth-age dispute? Consider Ecclesiastes 1:10: `Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.' Could `any thing' include an earth, for example?" (Fischer, D., "The Origins Solution: An Answer in the Creation-Evolution Debate," Fairway Press: Lima OH, 1996, pp.81-82. Emphasis original)

Indeed, the word "eternal" of God at the end of Hab 3:3 above is Heb. 'owlam, the same word that is translated "age-old" of the hills. Moses himself twice refers to the hills as 'owlam, in Genesis 49:26:

"Your father's blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills."

and Deuteronomy 33:15:

"with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills;"

Therefore, this is Biblical evidence that, to the extent that the ancient Hebrews thought of the age of the Earth, it is possible (if not probable) that they thought of it qualitatively (as opposed to our quantitatively) as second only in eternity to God.

One of our modern Western misconceptions is that we mistakenly assume that the Biblical writers were ignorant primitives, closer to the dawn of civilization than we are to them. This is evident in both your and your "religious studies professor's" shared assumption that the "early [Biblical] authors would not have believed in old earth." Yet as archaeologist John Bright observes, far from "lying near the dawn of time, when man first struggled upward from savagery into the light of history ... The Hebrews were in fact late-comers on history's stage. ... cultures had come to birth, assumed classical form, and run their course for hundreds and even thousands of years before Abraham was born" and "Difficult as it is for us to realize, it is actually farther in time from the beginnings of civilization in the Near East to the age of Israel's origins than it is from that latter age to our own" (my emphasis):

"To us who live in this late day, the second millennium B.C. seems very long ago indeed. We are tempted to think of it as lying near the dawn of time, when man first struggled upward from savagery into the light of history, and are prone, therefore, to underestimate its cultural achievements. We are further prone to picture the Hebrew ancestors, tent-dwelling wanderers that they were, as the most primitive of nomads, cut off by their mode of life from contact with what culture there was, whose religion was the crudest sort of animism or polydaemonism. So, in fact, did many of the older handbooks depict them. This, however, is an erroneous notion and a symptom of want of perspective a carry-over from days when little was known at first hand of the ancient Orient. It is necessary, therefore, to throw the picture into focus. Horizons have widened amazingly in the past generation. Whatever one says of Israel's origins must be said with full awareness that these lie nowhere near the dawn of history. The earliest decipherable inscriptions both in Egypt and in Mesopotamia reach back to the early centuries of the third millennium B.C.- thus approximately a thousand years before Abraham, fifteen hundred before Moses. There history, properly speaking, begins. Moreover, in the course of the last few decades discoveries in all parts of the Bible world, and beyond it, have revealed a succession of yet earlier cultures which reach back through the fourth millennium, the fifth, and the sixth, to the seventh and, in many instances, farther still. The Hebrews were in fact late-comers on history's stage. All across the Bible lands, cultures had come to birth, assumed classical form, and run their course for hundreds and even thousands of years before Abraham was born. Difficult as it is for us to realize, it is actually farther in time from the beginnings of civilization in the Near East to the age of Israel's origins than it is from that latter age to our own!" (Bright J., "A History of Israel," [1959], SCM Press" London, Third Edition, 1988, pp.23-24)

It is therefore entirely possible (if not probable) that being heirs to the reflections of a succession of Mesopotamian "cultures which reach back through the fourth millennium, the fifth, and the sixth, to the seventh and, in many instances, farther still," the Hebrew Biblical writers had quite sophisticated qualitative views about the age of the Earth (without of course having our comparatively recently technologically acquired quantitative knowledge).

>Any references to useful material would be greatly appreciated.

Hope this helps.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
Genesis 1:2. 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.