A Perspective for Resolving the Creation Issue, by Ray Williams
For the Christian Church, the search for truth and a deeper understanding of God's creation, in many ways, has been an arduous journey. And yet, within the church, there still are a number of unresolved questions. As we continue to search for the truth, we are in need of God's sovereign guidance because the road ahead appears to be strewn with difficulties. The achievement of a church-wide consensus, in all probability, will not be quick nor easy. At its 26th General Assembly in St. Louis, the PCA took a step on this journey by formally establishing a creation study committee. The initial proposal was for the committee "to study the exegetical, hermeneutical, and theological interpretations of Genesis 1-3." To this was added the charge of examining "the original intent of the Westminster Standards' phrase 'in the space of six days'". However, because of an unfortunate parliamentary procedure, those who were not in favor of the original proposal were not permitted to offer amendments to perfect the final resolution. As a result, a vital aspect of the creation issue was left unstated, viz., a scientific study of the created universe and the interpretation of the facts of nature relating to the age of the universe. This General Revelation of God, which is completely consistent with His Special Revelation, holds the key to resolving the dilemma that confronts the church. Hopefully, the Study Committee will recognize this oversight and include in their work an objective study of the entire corpus of God's revelation. If this is not done, closure on the subject is not possible.
In regard to the initial charge for the committee to study Genesis 1-3, it ought to be obvious at this point, that after many, many years of study, by countless theologians, the Genesis 1 creation account, taken by itself, is not absolutely clear as to the length of the creation day. Although the ordinary day view seems to be a natural interpretation and is held by many, quite a legitimate argument can be made for creation days of longer duration. Over the years, many respected theologians have held to such an interpretation. It follows then, that continued exegesis of Genesis 1, over this same ground, does not hold much promise of providing a conclusive answer that will be universally accepted.
Concerning the committee's added charge of examining the intent of the Westminster Divines, research has revealed that it was Calvin who first used the phrase 'in the space of six days'. He was refuting those who claimed that God created all things instantaneously. Bishop James Ussher, who was a staunch Calvinist, incorporate this same phrase into the Irish Articles of 1615. The Irish Articles served as a prototype for the development of the Westminster Confession and it is not surprising at all that this same phrase was used again. An argument can be made that the phrase was solely intended to exclude the notion of instantaneous creation and not be definitive as to the length of each day. Calvin and Ussher both believed in a 'young earth' and they, at least, undoubtedly believed in an ordinary 24-hour day. Other paleo-orthodoxy studies have been made on the writings of the divines in an attempt to assess their beliefs and therefore their intent. But, this polling type approach cannot be conclusive as to the intent of the entire Westminster Assembly. Instead, what is required, is a simple objective analysis of the precise wording of the adopted Standards. Such an analysis shows convincingly that the length of the creation day, in reality, is not specified. By way of illustration, let us assume for the sake of argument, that the narrative of Genesis 1 explicitly stated that each day of creation was 1,000 years in duration. A logical question would be, what impact would that have on the Westminster Standards? The answer is none, because, the length of day is not dealt with there. Only that six of them were involved! From this example, it ought to be clear that we can err if we bring to either the Scriptures or the Standards an incorrect presupposition as to the meaning of the word "yom" or "day". Therefore, if a teaching elder is convinced that the days of creation are long periods of time, as opposed to being 24-hours, his view is entirely consistent with the wording of the Westminster Confession and cannot be classified as an exception.
The Creation Study Committee can be of great service to the PCA by helping to clarify what beliefs are within the church's fundamental system of doctrine and what ones are considered to be exceptions. There is not much doubt that the committee will affirm that the Genesis account describes a chronological sequence of fiat miracles performed by God over a series of historical days. And, although it is not a precise scientific explanation, Calvin comments that Moses wrote "in a popular style things which, without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand". Genesis 1 therefore, describes real events that God directed in a creation process that occurred over a period of six days. Therefore, the so called "framework hypothesis", that considers Genesis 1 a "poetic" narrative, misinterprets the text and is an erroneous theory that should be declared an exception which is not to be taught.
How can the church resolve the outstanding questions regarding creation? The answer, as indicated previously, must come from a study of God's General Revelation. But alas, within the Christian community, there are conflicting voices regarding scientific truth. This is a major challenge facing the church. Therefore, a high priority task is the determination of what scientific resources can be relied upon to provide credible information and what evidence ought to be embraced as the truth. Also, a fact that needs enunciation, is that the antiquity of the earth is an independent matter that is separate from the issue of biological evolution for which there is clear biblical teaching that man was specially created by God and not the result of naturalistic nor theistic evolution. As the investigation goes forward, the church must avoid the type of mistake, that was made in the past, of reading into scripture presuppositional ideas that caused it to cling to a geocentric theory of the solar system until it was forced to acknowledge the weight and truthfulness of information generated from scientific studies of General Revolation.
In summary, at this time in the life of the church, for a study of creation to be productive and beneficial, it must emphasize the scientific study of the created universe and develop a model of how it was created and brought into existence by God. This means bringing scientific expertise to bear on the subject. The knowledge thus gained can be used to perfect the theological interpretation of Genesis 1.
Mr. Williams is a ruling elder at Christ Presbyterian Church, Marietta, Ga. His letter to the editor appeared in the March 1999 issue of this newspaper.
Al Anderson Responds to Ray Williams
As a former long-day, Theistic Evolutionist, I am compelled to respond. But before I do, I must clarify what "evolution" is, because the claim is often made that a man who believes that Adam and Eve were specially created is not an evolutionist, even though he believes that the cosmos and life on earth developed over long spans of time before man was created. The basic meaning of evolution, however, is development from simple to complex, whether it be cosmic, chemical, geologic, or biological. Therefore, a man who believes in Big-Bang cosmology, spontaneous-generation chemistry, uniformtarian geology, or descent-with-modification biology is necessarily an evolutionist, despite a belief in the special creation of Adam and Eve.
Now, in response to RE Williams' letter and paper, I should like to assure him that the PCA Creation Study Committee is well qualified to conduct a scientific investigation of General Revelation. Of the 11 members on that committee, two Ruling Elders hold Ph.D. degrees in natural sciences, and two Teaching Elders have pursued engineering studies at MIT. Such a study of General Revelation should pose no problem for the literal, historical understanding of Genesis 1-11. Purely scientific evidence supports the Biblical account of creation over six, successive, 24-hour days about 6,000 years ago, when such evidence is untarnished by the views of unbelieving, secular scientists, who, professing themselves to be wise, have become fools (Romans 1:22). Nevertheless, if our understanding of scientific evidence ever seems to contradict our understanding of the Scriptures, the latter must always take precedence over the former until a resolution is reached that does not attack foundational Christian doctrines and promote schism in the Church. The plain-meaning reading of Scripture is always the most reliable, for it is most in the keeping with the Reformed doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. This reading is the way to preserve purity, peace, and unity in the Church.
It was not until foolish, secular scientists advanced the uniformtarian geologic views of James Hutton(1785) and Charles Lyell (1830) [as prophesied by Peter (2 Peter 3:2)], that some respected theologians started allowing for creation days of long duration. Before then, almost all respected theologians held to six, successive, 24-hour-day creation of a young universe, except for those who held to the Augustinian view of an instantaneous creation. RE Williams agrees that, in refuting Augustine in this regard, Calvin declared that creation was accomplished "in the space of six days" (Commentaries, Vol. I, Ch. I, p. 78). He also agrees that the Westminster Divines then used that term (WCF IV:1) for the same purpose, and not to allow for creation over long ages. This fact is evident, because no Divine has been found to hold a long-day view even after an exhaustive search (see, What Was the View of the Westminster Assembly Divines on Creation Days? by David W. Hall (http//capo.org/creationRevise.html). "But," RE Williams writes, "this polling type approach cannot be conclusive as to the intent of the entire Westminster Assembly. Instead, what is required is a simple objective analysis of the precise wording of the adopted Standards."
Such an analysis has already been done by the esteemed professor Dr. James Woodrow of Columbia Seminary in the late 1800s. As noted by Dr. David Calhoun and Dr. Duncan Rankin, Professor Woodrow was a Southern Presbyterian and a Theistic Evolutionist, who stipulated that "the space of six days" wording of the WCF was understood by the Westminster Assembly as six, ordinary, 24-hour days. It was precisely this wording to which Dr. Woodrow took an exception to the Confession, because Woodrow conceded that the language of the Confession, taken in context with the intent of the Westminster Divines, was incompatible with Woodrow's long-day, Theistic-Evolution cosmology. So firm was Woodrow's belief in this exception that it formed the basis of his demand that he be tried for heresy in the 1880s. Also, just as the historical, sequential record of the days of Genesis One rules out the poetic-genre claim of many Frameworkers (as RE Williams correctly observes), so the references to the "evening and morning" and the uses of numerical adjectives define the meaning of yom in these instances to be restricted to that of a 24-hour type.
At the end of his paper, RE Williams states: ". . . the church must avoid the type of mistake, that was made in the past, of reading into scripture presuppositional ideas that caused it to cling to the geocentric theory of the solar system. . . ." However, the questioning of the Church's geocentric view by Copernicus and Gallileo did not attack a bedrock, Christian doctrine; whereas placing ages between Genesis 1:1 and 1:27 attacks the essential Christian doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6, our Lord tied the creation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:27) to the beginning of the creation (Genesis 1:1). Placing ages between these two verses questions the truthfulness of Christ's teaching and, therefore, denies His deity, for God knows the truth and cannot lie.
As we stand firmly upon the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura, we confess that every Bible passage has only one correct interpretation, while having numerous applications. This principle applies no less to Genesis 1-11. Literal-day and long-day creation views can not both be equally true. And since secular science cannot disprove the creation of the world in the space of six, literal days, 6000 years ago, the Reformed Christian need not ever question whether the plain-meaning interpretation of Genesis 1 is the correct one. God says what He means, and He means what He says. And when God speaks, His people listen.
Dr. Anderson is a ruling elder at Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville, S.C.