Genesis 1 issues. Did God create the entire universe in 6 24-hour days? This
is a separate question from WHEN God created it. He may have created it in
six days 4.5 billion years ago. Or He may have created it 6000 years ago.
Propositional logic would require one to decide that the proposition: God
created the world in 6 24-hour days is either true (historical by the above
definition) or untrue (nonhistorical by the above definition).
Now, if this proposition is untrue, it can be untrue for a variety of reasons.
Maybe the account was not meant to be read as history? Maybe it is poetry?
If Genesis 1 is poetry, then we have a clear reason to pay less attention to its
science or history than, say, to the account of Joseph in Egypt. I am told that
Genesis 1 has a decidedly poetical bent to it in the Hebrew. Thus I would say
that it can be more loosely understood. The Days of Proclamation view that is
most satisfying to me, treats the days as something other than 24-hour days.
Getting history or science from poetry is a dangerous affair. One can be led to
believe that the earth is stationary Ps 104:5 "he set the earth on its
foundations; it can never be moved." Bad science. He can be led to believe
that trees have hands. Isaiah 55:12 says that the hills break forth in song and
the trees clap their hands. Neither event has ever happened. Bad science,
Now, some, like George will contend that this is precisely his point. One can
not take these verses as historical. They are true but non historical. I agree
with George on this. But that is no reason to believe that every problematical
passage can be interpreted as poetry, thus escaping possible falsification. To
compare Psalms 23 with Genesis 6-9 seems a stretch. No names, places or
events are cited there. No deeds of any individuals are recorded. Psalms 23
appears in a book of poetry, Genesis is not entirely poetry as is Psalms.
There are two events in the early part of Scripture for which there is (or has
been) no evidence. At least no evidence for the events occurring as
described in Genesis. These are the Flood and the Exodus! A recent
Archaeology article says that there is no indisputable physical proof of the
Israelite's exodus and wanderings in the desert.(Silberman 1992,p. 22).
(Where are pharaoh's chariots? if at the bottom of a sea they should still be
preserved since water preserves wood quite well. A spear made by Homo
erectus was preserved in water-soaked strata for 400,000 years) Now, if
there is no physical evidence of the Exodus, was it historical in the sense
defined above? If the Exodus wasn't historical then Joshua and almost the
entire Pentateuch becomes non-historical. Because of the lack of physical
evidence, many scholars have indeed rejected the historicity of Joshua
(Silberman, 1992, p. 22). This then left Joshua being called a metaphor (a true
one I am sure) Silberman continues,
"Even more important was the tendency to see the Israelite conquest as an
instructive metaphor, phrased in the progressive vocabulary of the times. In
1829, the English historian H. H. Milman noted 'the remarkable picture' that
the story of the conquest of Canaan presented 'of the gradual development of
human society.' With the arrival of the Israelites, Milman explained that 'the
Land of Milk and Honey began to yield its fruits to a simple, free, and pious
race of husbandmen.'" (Silberman, 1992, p. 24)
Silberman goes on to suggest that there was no invasion, it was merely some
demographic changes in which herders became farmers which is at the heart
of the events in Joshua.
The reason I raise the Exodus issue is that often people do not deal
with Joshua in the same way they do Genesis 6-9. They treat Joshua as
history and Genesis 6-9 as metaphor, myth or whatever. Yet all of the issues
many have applied to the Flood account have been applied above to Joshua
as well(and by implication) to the Pentateuch after the first 11 chapters.If our
religion is true, then at some point the metaphorical approach must come to
an end and real history (even if it is biased history) has to become the norm.
Christianity is an outgrowth of Judaism and as such, if Judaism is false, then
one must certainly think about the validity of Christianity. In spite of Ted
Davis' point to me a few weeks ago that Christianity rests on the resurrection,
it also rests on the historicity of that resurrection and the Jewish-based
reasons for it. If the first 6 books of Scripture are then reduced to metaphor
what is next? How much metaphor can Christianity stand and still have it be
While I am unqualified to deal in the area of the Exodus, I am somewhat
knowledgeable about geology which moves me toward the Flood account.The
account of the flood does not have the obvious poetical trappings which go
along with Psalms. In this regard the account of the Flood is like Joshua
naming people and places and timeframes. The flood account has the
appearance to me of an account written similarly to the rest of Genesis,
Exodus, and Joshua. So I would contend that when the flood is raised, to
reply with a comparison to Psalms, is non-responsive. The literary genre
appears to be different. While one would sing a psalm, one would be hard
pressed to sing Genesis 9. And I doubt that the genealogies in Genesis 5 or
11 would make the top 40 hit parade. The issue is whether something that
reads like history, naming names, giving times, places, and what appear to
be personal observations, and is in a book which is otherwise viewed as
historical can be considered mere poetry or song and thus not historical.
Besides this the Flood is central to the anti-evolutionary views of
many in this country and the response of the more scientifically minded
Christians to this issue has played directly into the hands of the young-
earthers. They read Genesis similarly to the way I do, that it sounds
historical. They present to their followers a scenario which matches the
details in Scripture.(They ignore the fact that it does not match the details of
geology.) But instead of offering an alternative scenario which matches both
the details of the Scripture and the details of geology, we offer them a story
of a Mesopotamian flood which matches neither the details of Scripture nor
the details of geology. This is like going into court and testifying that we saw
Colonel Mustard kill Miss Scarlet with a knife in the bedroom, when in fact it
was Mrs. White who was shot in the kitchen. Such a testimony would be
meaningless We offer an account which locates the flood in a region where
there are no mountains, where it couldn't last a year (the ark being pushed
into the Indian Ocean) and which requires water to flow uphill in order for the
ark to land where the Scripture says it does. Even the young-earthers (not to
mention my atheist friends) see that this is a poor substitute for
explaining the Biblical account. If one doesn't have to match the details of
account, any ole flood location will do. We might as well chose the Huang He
in China as the site for the flood story. It would be as effective in
fitting the details of the Biblical account. Davis Young, speaking of the
efforts of the 1970s and 1980s, comments on this problem,
"In these recent efforts, the flood received scant attention; the focus
has been on the interpretation of Genesis 1. My Creation and the Flood was
the only one of these works to deal with the flood. Only the final chapter was
devoted to the flood, and the intent of that chapter was to criticize the global
diluvialism of scientific creationism rather than to make positive proposals.
The only widely publicized contemporary flood theories available to
evangelicals are those of scientific creationism. Small wonder that on the
issue of the flood evangelicals are so attracted to that voice; it is
virtually the only one speaking among us!" ( Young, 1987, p. 288)
Until and unless those opposed to the young earth view, can provide an
alternative for the evangelical community, our efforts will not meet with much
success. We have left the field entirely to the young-earth creationists.
The flood plays a major role in their thought. The flood is the event which
allows the young-earthers to think they have explained the geologic column.
They don't find paleontology convincing because if the fossil record was
deposited in one year, then all the change in the fossil record does not imply
evolution. If the geologic column was deposited in one year then the earth is
young. If the earth is young, then evolution which requires too much time,
can't be true.
Thus, one of the major supports for the anti-evolutionary stand which
evangelical Christians have taken over the past century, concerns the way we
view the flood. And because the flood account does not look like poetry,
more people read it as a historical or historically based account. (I would even
contend that the reason for the Mesopotamian flood viewpoint is based upon
the idea that the flood is based on a historical event. If it weren't so viewed,
then why bother with where it occurred? ) And partly because of this,
evangelical Christianity teaches their young that evolution can not be true and
all of geology, astronomy and biology is wrong. Thus when they find out that
they have been erroneously taught, and that there is no historical scenario
that fits the Biblical account, they then reject Christianity.
While I could not say that the Flood account is the entire reason for
evangelical Christianity's rejection of evolution (e.g. Philip Johnson and the
beliefs about Genesis 1), I can say that it is a major support for that
rejection. If a workable local flood scenario (such as I have suggested) can
be provided,then the geological column could not be explained in a short
time frame, the earth would have to be old and evolution then would be a
possibility. This is what I had hoped to accomplish with my scenario.
Obviously I haven't been successful.
The foregoing has convinced me that unless scientists who are christian can
provide a plausible scenario that fits the scriptural account of the flood AND
the geological details, the young-earth creationists will continue to be a force
and that those who go into science will be at risk of rejecting the faith.
While I respect your approach and am glad that it has worked for you, I
don't think that relegating the events of early Genesis to a non-historical
status will solve the problem. I asked my boss, a very vocal atheist, why
he was an atheist. He said, "Because I don't think that the Bible is true;
it didn't happen." I asked him if he thought it would help if the accounts
were metaphorically or metaphysically true even if they weren't historically
accurate or if it could be in the Mesopotamian river valley. Sadly, he
laughed. He viewed that as less workable than the young earth attempts.
Young's statement above is evidence that at least one old-earth creationist
understands the importance of the Flood account, but then he used to believe
in a global flood like I did.
I am saddened that the only response we have been able to muster over the
past 150 years to the challenge of geological knowledge is to either say that
all of science must be wrong, or the scriptural account doesn't imply that it
actually occurred as described. This is a Hobson's choice.
Silberman, Neil Asher, "Who Were the Israelites?" Archaeology March/April
1992, pp 22-30
Young, Davis A., "Scripture in the Hands of Geologists, Part Two,"
Westminster Theological Journal, 49, 1987
Foundation, Fall and Flood