Biblical Chronology, Vol. 9, No. 9
Copyright James B. Jordan 1997
Dr. Collins begins his essay with a brief statement of the Day Age view and then a brief statement of the Six Day view, focussing on the challenge to that view posed by modern "science." He ends this discussion by writing: "Two crucial points are at stake here: first, the principles of Bible interpretation; and second, the validity of scientific method" (p. 111). With this statement we can heartily agree.
Dr. Collins is not wrong to begin by mentioning modern science. It is a fact that before the modern era nobody in the history of the church ever questioned the chronology of the Bible, and only a tiny handful ever questioned that the six days of Genesis 1 were ordinary 24-hour-type days. The few who did question the six days of Genesis 1 held that God created all things instantaneously, not over some long period of time; and this was, again, because they accepted the Biblical chronology and calculated the age of the earth from it. It has only been since the rise of modern science, including archaeology, that anyone has questioned the Biblical chronology and the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1. Science, thus, puts a challenge before interpreters.
Only one group of people has a problem with the Biblical statements, and that group we may call "modern conservative Christians." The liberal or unbelieving expositor of Genesis has no problem with the text. It is obvious to him that Genesis 1 presents creation in 144 hours and that Genesis 5 & 11 provide a chronology of the world from creation to Abraham. The modernist and the unbeliever do not accept the Genesis account as historically true; for them it is a myth. But they perceive no problems or ambiguities in the text, nothing that indicates "gaps" in the chronology or some odd kind of "days" in Genesis 1.
Similarly, what we may call "traditional conservative believers" also take the text in a simple and obvious way. For them it is quite clear that God made the world around 4000 BC and in the span of six ordinary days. This group includes conservative Lutherans, conservative Calvinists, fundamentalists, and Orthodox Jews.
Thus, we have three groups that have always seen the text as clearly and obviously teaching a recent six-day creation, chronologically datable from the Bible: (1) the historic Church and historic Judaism; (2) contemporary "traditional conservatives"; and (3) unbelievers. We are left with a small historical backwater of evangelicals and other types of conservative Christians who are committed to believing the Bible on the one hand, but who on the other hand who are very impressed with the constructs of modern science. For this small group there is a problem with Genesis 1 and with Biblical chronology. Unlike the other three groups we have mentioned, this group of people is motivated to search out and find evidence in the text that can relieve them of the burden of having to believe in a young earth and universe.
The challenge of modern science to the Bible motivates two responses that are not mutually exclusive. One is to rework the data and examine the premises of modern science, with a view to bringing it into line with Biblical teaching. The other is to ask whether traditional approaches to creation and chronology are actually justified by the text of the Bible. Accordingly, Dr. Collins begins by calling attention to the challenge of science. "Science" causes us to look again at the text of the Bible to see if we have interpreted it correctly.
Dr. Collins provides one paragraph on science and natural revelation, and what he states there is problematic. Perhaps I can be pardoned for observing that it appears to me that occasionally he writes as a trained scientist who is so immersed in science that he does not fully perceive the nature and limitations of scientific inquiry. Our procedure will be to examine critically what he states, and then provide some wider comments on the subject.
Collins asks, "Does the creation speak truly?" We can reply to this very general question with a very general answer: Of course it does; but is the creation designed to speak by itself? The answer to that second question is clearly no. The creation does not "speak" at all, actually. Rocks, trees, birds, and stars do not communicate linguistically. The information that is contained in the creation must be put into words by human beings, and since human beings cannot exist without language, human beings are always interpreting the creation linguistically.
Human beings are living words and live in a linguistic environment because they are images of God, who is Word and who lives in an environment of eternal communication. Since God created the universe, His linguistic interpretation of it is absolutely correct; we think His thoughts after Him.
There are special event-revelations that are connected to special word-revelations, and there is the general revelation through nature that is connected to general language. The special event-revelations (e.g., miracles) cannot be understood without special word-revelation (e.g., the Bible). The Bible explains the miracle, not vice versa. The miracle is context; the Bible is explanation. Similarly, nature is context, while language is explanation.
Thus, the idea that either special or general events and phenomena have "messages" that "speak" to us needs to be probed very carefully. Psalm 19 is often referred to in this regard, and Collins mentions it. Supposedly this psalm says that the creation in general is somehow communicating information. If we look at the text, however, and consider it as ancient people would have, we come up with something quite different. The heavens are declaring things because the constellations of the zodiac reveal certain truths in symbols. What they reveal is the same thing as the law of God reveals, as the parallel with the second half of the psalm indicates. The former is for the gentiles, from the Noahic covenant (the zodiac being a form of the rainbow); while the latter is for the priestly people. Psalm 19 is, thus, not speaking of some kind of general revelation through nature, but rather alludes to a symbolic system that was put in place at some point in history. (For a discussion of astral revelation and imagery in the Bible, see my book *Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World,* and my monograph *Behind the Scenes: Orientation in the Book of Revelation,* both available from Biblical Horizons , Box 1096, Niceville, FL 32588.)
Romans 1:20 tells us that information about God is clearly revealed in the creation, and this statement is more general than Psalm 19. Even here, however, the text does not say that the creation somehow "speaks" to man. The creation provides evidence of God’s presence, but apart from man’s putting language onto the evidence, the evidence is mute.
All of this is not to do away with the reality of "natural revelation," but it is to say that the matter of natural or general revelation involves subtleties that need to be considered. We cannot simply say, "The creation speaks truly," because in fact is it man who speaks, and man is a willing slave of the father of lies. Man seldoms speaks truly.
Collins on Science
Turning then to Collins’s own presentation: He refers to Psalm 19:1-2 and Romans 1:18-20. He asks, "How could we be `without excuse’ unless the created realm speaks truly? How could we justly be held accountable for not receiving a message that was not sent? This implies that properly done science will not mislead us (provided that the material world is rightly viewed in the light of special revelation — and taking account of our own subjectivity)" (p. 112). With this statement we can have no objection. We can ask, however, whether Collins has drawn out all the implications of his statement.
Dr. Collins follows with this: "It also implies that the `appearance of age’ idea, being deceptive, would be unlikely to commend itself to a Biblical author" (p. 112). This statement is a gigantic red herring drawn across the reader’s eyes and nose. What is deceptive about the creation of something with an appearance of age? It would be deceptive only if we think we can deduce the age of something by looking at it — and that is the whole question.
Consider the creation of the Primordial Atom at the time of the Big Bang 25 billion years ago. If you had been there one second later, could you tell how old it was? Looking at it, you might think it was 25 billion years old, or infinitely old. You see, as far as this question goes it does not matter when or how God created the universe, because one second after He created it, you could not tell how long it had been there.
Second, there is nothing in the least deceptive if God goes to the trouble of telling you about the matter — which in fact He has done, in Genesis 1.
Collins expands on his comment in a footnote: "Perhaps it is possible to argue that special revelation must override the apparent evidence of our senses. Thus, we `know’ that the universe is young because `the Bible tells us so.’ However, (a) this begs the question, does the Bible say so…; (b) this view undermines the truthfulness of nature’s testimony, which Paul presupposes in Rom. 1:18-20" (p. 112, n. 17).
Yet, we must "override the apparent evidence of our senses" all the time in life, especially in the world of modern science and technology. My senses tell me that the earth is flat and still and that the sun goes around the earth. My senses tell me that a friendly-looking lion in the zoo wants me to pet him. My senses tell me nothing about the way my computer works. Moreover, anyone who has ever dealt with a court case involving many witnesses knows that people’s observations and senses can be very incorrect; what people think they saw may not be what happened at all.
Back to "Science"
Now, this is virtually all Dr. Collins says about science in his essay, and because of that, it may be unfair to impute to Dr. Collins the errors in thinking that we shall now discuss. From what he has written, however, it appears that Dr. Collins thinks that natural revelation indicates an ancient universe and earth, so that the constructs of cosmology that are current at the present time are to be taken as facts to be reckoned with. Regardless to what extent Dr. Collins may be caught up in it, this entails a very common and serious error in thinking.
To begin with, we have to distinguish between "science" as technique and "science" as construct. We can use electricity without understanding it at all. A physicist may know more about it, but does he understand it fully? Yet he can use it. Engineers and inventors can do great things with the natural world.
We move into a completely different realm, however, when we enter the world of science as construct, what is sometimes (prejudicially) called "pure science" as opposed to "applied science." A "scientist" can spin an elaborate theory about why things work they way they do, but that is nothing more than a theory. We know as Christians that one dimension of the way things work is that God works them that way, and that another dimension is that God’s agents, the spirit angels, work them that way. God and His angels are at work in the flow of electricity, for example. Now, this fact does not exhaust what can be said about electricity, and perhaps our present understanding of the flow of electricity is quite correct and will not need adjustment in the future. Then again, however, we may find that our present theory does need revision.
This is, or should be, far more obvious when it comes to things we have no direct experience of. We have only begun to scratch the surface of an investigation of the first inch of the foyer of the outer universe, for instance. Yet, modern "scientists" with supreme confidence project theories about how the universe works, as if they already had all the facts needed to form a final theory. On the surface of it, this is ridiculous. I am old enough to recall when the first quasars were discovered. What else remains to be discovered?
Indeed, we only finished mapping the surface of the globe a century or so ago. What is really under the ice of Antarctica? And what things lie in the depths of the sea? We have little knowledge of these things.
The amount of erroneous and prejudiced misinterpretation of data is vast. A couple of thousand years ago a few refugees lived in caves in France for a short time, and this fact has been turned into the myth that human beings lived in caves for millennia! Why should any thinking person accept such a notion? Because of Carbon 14 dating? but C-14 dating is extremely subjective and full of misleading.
We may ask: In a hundred years, will anyone still believe that you cannot go faster than light? In a hundred years, will anyone still believe that the red-shift in the spectra of stars is caused by their rapid movement away from us in an "expanding universe"? Why on earth should anyone, especially thinking Christians, commit themselves to the temporary notions of "scientific" theories, knowing that a century ago nobody believed such things, and knowing that we have only begun to explore the outer universe?
A scientific construct is just that: a construct. It may be quite helpful. It may be the best we can do at present. It may be a step along the way to a better understanding. But when it is obvious that scientists are only dealing with a very few facts, and that there is a great deal more to be learned, there is no earthly reason to accept any such construct as the final word.
This, however, is what many evangelicals do. They assume that today’s constructs are the last word, and that the Bible must be reinterpreted in the light of them. This is an utterly preposterous procedure.
Now, it is to Collins’s credit that he does call attention to this matter: "On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind the limitations of science as a tool of knowledge. Confident pronouncements are imprudent when we do not even know how much we know!" (p. 123).
A good treatment of science as construct, by the way, is J. P. Moreland, *Christianity and the Nature of Science* (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989).
Science and Dominion
There is more to be said about science, however. What human beings look at with the eye, human beings have mental dominion over; but information that comes through the ear, we don’t have dominion over. People can say things to us that we don’t want to hear, while we can close our eyes to any sight we don’t want to see. This fundamental distinction informs the Biblical hostility to all iconic worship; a silent statue or picture can never challenge or rebuke us.
Now, information once given through the ear enters the mind and can be examined with the eye of the mind, and we can have dominion over it. Thus, while the Word of God comes to us initially as challenge and rebuke, once we have heard it we can meditate upon it — and even abuse it or dismiss it. Science is concerned with information that has come through the eye, or else through the ear and that we can reflect upon.
What science cannot deal with is time, because God alone is Lord of time. God is eternally active and infinite, and as a result the future always brings new things into force as God does new things, revealing new aspects and implications of His being and plan. Thus, it is simply not possible to imagine the future accurately. When men imagine the future, they imagine something very much like their own present, only more so in some particular way: more money, more steam, more sexual license, more computers, etc. For this reason it is amusing to read the science fiction written a century ago, or fifty years ago. For this reason, the Biblical pictures of the future are always presented in symbols that point to future realities that cannot presently be described. Ezekiel, for instance, is shown a picture of the Restoration in the form of a huge Temple and City (Ezekiel 40-48), but these were not actually built; they rather pointed to the Spiritual realities of the period after the Exile.
If the future cannot really be envisioned, then it cannot be controlled, which means the believer lives a life of faith and obedience, not of planning and dominion. Dominion is for the lower world, the world of science; history must be accepted as authored by God and lived by faith.
Because men cannot control the future, they deny it. Human beings exist, after the Fall, in a war with time. They want to escape time, to escape the unsettling changes of the future. The works of Mircea Eliade explore this phenomenon in some depth. All pagan religions seek to "eternalize time," and thereby escape God’s ordination of the future. They all look back to a golden age, which they can understand, because if they were to look to the future, they would have to bow before their Creator.
A "spatial" mode of thinking is very much present in Western Civilization, especially since the so-called Enlightenment. Science works; it brings good things, such as light bulbs and velcro. Science can be understood. Science is under human dominion. And, science is fundamentally timeless, and thus poses no threat to human consciousness. Thus, the exploration of space and place, and dominion over the creation, become the models for all human inquiry, as the various works of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy have pointed out.
This mode of thinking has greatly affected theology and Christian religion. One effect has been to assist the widespread belief that we are living at the end of history and that Christ must come soon, a belief that has distorted the thinking of Christians for several generations. The fact that this belief is shown false decade after decade has not lessened its credibility, because men like to believe that no significant changes are to occur in the future; in fact, Christians will be "raptured" so as not to have to go through any such changes — yea, Biblical prophecy is repeatedly reinterpreted in terms of contemporary events, phenomena, and devices. Another legacy of this mode of thinking is the notion we have already examined, that nothing new remains to be discovered that will significantly alter current scientific constructs.
Still another effect of this mode of thinking is the notion that the way things are now is the way things have always been. Virtually all historical fiction, for instance, projects modern Western-type people back into historical times. The characters in such fiction think and act like modern people. Few are the authors who are able, or even willing, to try and think like people in other cultures.
Yet, if the future is unpredictable and certain to be different from our expectations, it follows that the past is quite different from the present. There is absolutely no "scientific" basis for the notion that the way things are now is how they have always been, and that is true whether we are considering the character of human society, the psychology of human beings, the behavior of animals, or the way the universe runs. It may well be that the universe functioned somewhat differently under the angelic administration of the Old Creation, before the change in the world in ad 70, when that creation was fully superseded by the humanly administered New Creation.
This is another way of saying that we have no reason to believe that "natural revelation" is unchanging. In fact, we have every reason to believe that it did change with the coming of the New Creation. Under the Old Creation, the angels used animals and stars to tutor humanity, for instance; but that is no longer the case. If the "natural revelation" impelled men to sacrifice animals under the Old Creation, it will impel men not to do so under the New.
The only way we can know anything about the past is through historical study, in the broad sense: the study of present relics of the past. For instance, we may know that right now there is a certain amount of Carbon-14 that lodges itself in plants, and then deteriorates; but we cannot know if the identical same conditions were in place in 1000 bc. We may know that right now the solar system has a certain configuration, but are we certain that it had the same configuration 4000 years ago? Do we know that the earth turned on its axis at precisely the same rate 4000 years ago as today?
Now, it may be a good working hypothesis to assume such continuities, though we cannot be certain of them. Indeed, we should assume a general kind of continuity based on God’s faithfulness to His covenant. If, however, we have good evidence from the ancient world that things were different, we need to take that into consideration. For instance, it seems that comets were quite a bit more plentiful in ancient skies than today; the ancients had them categorized into as many as thirty different kinds. It is also conceivable that comets did indeed appear as warnings of catastrophes in the ancient, angelically-governed skies, which is what all the ancients believed. Are we certain they were wrong?
Or again, both the Bible (in Job) and the apocrypha (the Additions to Daniel) speak of dinosaurs. Indeed, dragons and great lizards are found in stories all over the world. If all these people just coincidentally made these things up, it is curious that what they made up corresponds, at least generally, with bones not discovered until the 19th century. But we moderns assume that (a) ancient people were primitive and stupid, and so did not know what they were talking about when they spoke of great dragons; and (b) that our dating methods are sound. The bones "say" that they are millions of years old, so we ignore the testimony of the Bible and of other ancient literature.
The point of all this is that the past is not subject to the kinds of controls and observation that science requires. Interpreting the past involves guesswork to a far greater degree than observational science, and thus there is far more room for presuppositions and assumptions to play a role.
Which brings us back to Genesis 1. Is there any real evidence that the earth is older than the Bible seems to say it is? Is there any real evidence against the traditional view of Genesis 1? No. All there is against the idea of a recent creation is a series of scientific constructs, all based on the examination of present states of affairs. When science tries to speak of past or future things, it moves rapidly into constructs that are very much open to challenge.
Nature and Parable
There is, however, a further matter that needs to be discussed, and that is the parabolic character of revelation. Jesus states in Matthew 13 that He spoke in parables to enlighten the righteous and to confuse the unrighteous. What is said of the parables is true, in a wider way, of the entire Word of God. Those who study the Bible apart from faith are invariably and inescapably led to wrong conclusions, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Higher Critics demonstrate. To take a pregnant example: God revealed His power and nature to Pharaoh in a whole series of extraordinary miracles, yet Pharaoh did not perceive the reality of the situation at all.
If creational revelation is truly revelation, then it partakes of this same parabolic character. We should not, and must not, expect the creation (nature) to "speak clearly" to the unbeliever. Like the written Word, the "natural Word" of God will mislead the faithless. Ultimately, such distortions come about because of the sinful heart-orientation of man, but it is important to understand that the creation is designed in such a way that it does not yield its character — its secrets so to speak — to unbelief. The fact that unbelieving "science" does not perceive the true nature of the universe is, thus, not surprising; and when Christians operate on the same premises as unbelievers, they will not perceive it aright either.
True science arose in Christian civilization for the reason that only Christians can understand creation rightly. Not all do, of course, but only Christians and those working in a Christian framework are able to do so. The rejection of Christian worldview in "modern science" naturally leads to radical misreadings of the book of nature. No more than the Bible is creational revelation "neutral."
Collins seems to start with the assumption that God will not mislead any who look at the creation, but since God has said that He will and does mislead people through His Word, Collins’s assumption needs refinement and/or alteration.
Natural Revelation and Sin
Finally, the point needs to be made that sinful man will instinctively misinterpret the data of creation. Sinful man is motivated at the root of his being to distort anything that forces him to come face to face with God. If the creation took place suddenly and recently, God cannot be avoided. The supposition of long evolutionary ages pushes into the shadows any god there might be. Such a god does not speak, act directly, etc.; he (it) just sets things in motion. The degree to which our modern scientific contructs are the result of this overwhelming desire to evade God is evident when we compare those constructs with the testimony of the Bible.
Nor are such distortions always the relatively innocent actions of an instinctual dread of God. The considerable amount of sheer fakery that goes on in scientific research has finally begun to receive attention. Such fakery results from the desire to prove a theory, the need to "publish or perish," the lust for fame; but it also results sometimes from a desire to squelch anything that might give aid and comfort to the creationist enemy.
We have wandered rather far from Dr. Collins’s modest remarks about the challenge of science to Biblical interpretation. We have done so in the interest of showing, however briefly and cursorily, that the challenge of science is nowhere near as impressive as many evangelicals seem to think it is. Our studies have repeatedly shown that Genesis 1 cannot rightly be interpreted other than the traditional way, and such is the major concern of our studies. These remarks on science have been by way of an extended footnote.