The Pulse on Creation

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This is the latest Pulse, and the first Pulse of 2011. The main article is a charitable discussion between two different perspectives on creation. And there’s a whole lot more going on in this edition, too.

We invite you to check it out, and please feel free to add your own feedback in the comments section below.

Also, don’t forget to share this with anyone you feel would be interested.

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  1. Marshall Janzen
    Marshall Janzen says:

    Hi Alan,

    I think some answers to your questions can be found in Genesis’ Eden account. Note that God does not create the animals or humans as immortal beings. Instead, God provides a tree of life and gives the humans access to it. It is eating from the tree that provides eternal life; they aren’t innately immortal. When Adam and Eve disobey, God cuts off access to that tree, and God explicitly says that this is to prevent humans from living forever in their new state of rebellion (Gen. 3:22-23). It’s not that humans used to be immortal and now were not, but that humanity’s only hope of living forever (the fruit of the tree of life) was cut off from them.

    Now, I do take that story symbolically, in part due to how things like the tree of life show up again in Revelation, and the way God reveals that he alone is immortal and he alone gives life to all things (1 Tim. 6:13-16), not either God or some tree. I think access to the tree of life represents close communion with God. When the first humans broke that communion through rebellion, we separated ourselves from the only Author of life. While God sustains our natural existence even in our rebellion, it is only through reconciliation through Jesus that we can again hope to receive eternal life through unity with Christ. Where I may differ with you is that I don’t think God has ever provided eternal life to animals. As Paul states in Romans 5:12, “death came to all people, because all sinned”. Animals do not sin as people do; animals were not given access to the tree of life in Eden. This is very important to understanding my view: I don’t believe animals and humans are treated the same way. Only humans were endowed with the image of God; only with humans did God enter into a special relationship in Eden.

    You asked, “If death already existed before Adam was created, then God pronounced death “good”, since everything He created (including natural cycles) was pronounced good. Why then would God use something good as both a threat and a punishment for Adam and Eve?”

    Again, I think the answers are in the text. If it was merely physical death that was the threat, then God did not deliver on this threat. While God warned that “in the day that you eat [of the forbidden tree] you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17), Adam’s life went on quite a while afterward. But, what did happen on that day is that Adam was separated from the garden, separated from the tree of life, separated from close communion with God. I believe this is the kind of death God was speaking of. Yes, physical death eventually followed as well, but it is not the sum total of the death God spoke of. If it was, then accepting Christ’s sacrifice would make us immune to that death, yet Christians still physically die. Death, however, has lost its sting of being able to separate us from God and others (1 Cor. 15:50-57).

    So, a Saviour was not sent to overcome something declared good. Plant and animal death may be good, but the death of God’s image-bearers who had been given access to the tree of life is not good. The trouble is that the first humans, in their attempt to become like God, knowing good and evil, actually became like the other beasts, subject to death. God had elevated humanity to an undeserved role in his creation (Psa. 8:3-9), yet humanity squandered that gift and rejected their Creator. Thanks be to our God and Saviour who did not give up on us, even as we turned our backs on him!

  2. Alan Harstone
    Alan Harstone says:

    Okay Marshall. Thanks for your response. Disagree completely, and would love to argue it point by point, but apparently we aren’t allowed to here. But I do appreciate you addressing it. I am curious, however, about a couple of things.

    #1. Assuming that the Genesis account is historically accurate (and I realize you say it isn’t), if man and beast were created mortal, why doesn’t the account speak of the death of any animals until after the Fall….and, in fact, in direct connection with the Fall?

    #2. Having declared that you disbelieve the historicity of the Genesis account of creation (and so I presume the Flood, etc.), Adam becomes a figurative man rather than an actual man. I’m wondering how you explain, then, the doctrines of Original Sin, of the headship of Adam and hence the respective headship of Christ, of the institution of marriage, even of the promised Redeemer of Genesis 3:15. Aren’t the basic doctrines of the faith and the Gospel compromised?

  3. Marshall Janzen
    Marshall Janzen says:

    Sure, Alan, I’m happy to respond to your questions.

    “if man and beast were created mortal, why doesn’t the account speak of the death of any animals until after the Fall….and, in fact, in direct connection with the Fall?”

    Same reason we’re not given any examples of eating before Eve eats the forbidden fruit: the account is a tightly focused story that doesn’t include extraneous details. The fact that the first recorded eating was forbidden eating doesn’t show all eating is bad. And further, while you are probably referring to the animal skins as the first death, it is telling that the death of the animal is not even mentioned. Whether God made an animal skin from nothing or killed an animal, we aren’t told. God doesn’t need an animal to make a garment of skins any more than he needs a seamstress! And, apparently the point of the account didn’t rest on telling us this. The first recorded death is the murder of Abel a chapter later.

    Your second question is based on a false premise. I did not make the declaration you stated. What I did say is that I take the Eden story symbolically, including the tree of life. I’ll go even further and say that I also take the serpent’s curse as symbolic of the defeat of Satan and the powers of darkness that Jesus accomplished. In fact, I’m wondering how you see a promise of a Redeemer in Genesis 3:15 if you’re not willing to see symbolism in the story. Read literally, that verse is just about one of Eve’s children stepping on a serpent and getting bitten, and the previous verse is just about serpents losing their legs and eating dust. I think those verses are saying much more — indeed, I do think they look ahead to Jesus — but that is precisely because I read them symbolically. Who knows, maybe we have some more common ground on that!

  4. Marshall Janzen
    Marshall Janzen says:

    Alan, after I submitted my last post, I noticed one of my arguments could be turned against me. God also doesn’t need to kill an animal to provide a banquet “of rich food full of marrow”! He might choose to do it that way, but in neither case are we told. So, I admit that I was reading too much into Isaiah 25. In both this case and Genesis 3:21, for the inspired authors, the death of the animal is seen to be something not worth even mentioning. Maybe we shouldn’t read too much into it in either case.

    Anyway, thanks for your pushback which helped me recognize an inconsistency in my thinking.

  5. Alan Harstone
    Alan Harstone says:

    You’re welcome. If I had the time, and a little more rope on this forum, I’d push back some more…but I don’t, in either case.

    Your statement about “skins” is inktresting….very inkresting. You said: “Whether God made an animal skin from nothing or killed an animal, we aren’t told. God doesn’t need an animal to make a garment of skins any more than he needs a seamstress!” May I also suggest that God doesn’t need billions of years to make a universe any more than He needs scientists to authenticate it? Just as God is perfectly able to make a fully developed garment of skins out of nothing, He is also able to make a fully developed, mature universe out of nothing….in six, 24-hour days, just as He said.

    • Communications
      Communications says:

      Alan, you may indeed suggest that God said 6 literal days. Equally it has been suggested that that is not what God said.

      Enough evidence has been presented in this discussion to bring absolute assurance of a literal 6-day account into question. Additionally the necessity of insisting upon it has also been questioned. That has been approached scientifically, philosophically and theologically.

      You are free to reject any of this. You are free to voice your opinion. You are even free to invite others to share your opinion. But you are not free to insist that yours is the only valid argument. That is what charity in non-essentials is all about. If you comply with that, then you may freely and openly discuss any of Marshall’s (or anyone else’s) thoughts and opinions on the subject.

  6. Alan Harstone
    Alan Harstone says:

    Okay, fair enough. Thanks for the open door.

    While I certainly believe my view is the correct view (that’s called conviction) I don’t think I’ve ever insisted that it’s the only view, nor have I insisted that everyone subscribe to it. So I’m not quite sure why this warning keeps popping up when I enter the discussion. But, in fairness, I do believe that this time you are simply reminding me and others of the basic rules so that I can feel free to address some of Marshall’s statement.

    Thanks for the clarification…and the length of rope ;0)

    • Communications
      Communications says:

      Alan, you are most welcome, in all the ways that I can offer you welcome! :-)

      The reason that I pointed out what I did is because you ended with the blanket statement “in six, 24-hour days, just as He said”. All that needs is a qualifier that shows that it’s your interpretation of the text(s) that are being wrestled with.

      I earnestly, honestly appreciate your conviction. My conviction needs your conviction. But we each need to be supremely careful about how we handle our convictions, lest we all turn into convicts. :-)

  7. Marshall Janzen
    Marshall Janzen says:

    Absolutely, Alan, we agree that God could create the world in six days. In fact, God didn’t need six days to create the universe, he could have created it in an instant! Not only could he make the universe fully developed and mature from its birthday, he could have made the entire universe last Thursday, creating us and our memories of a more distant past. The question isn’t what God could do, but what he did do. And, while there are aspects of God’s proximate causes that we can uncover from his revelation, that’s a question that will likely remain largely unanswered until we meet him face to face. (And even then we won’t become all-knowing!)

    God doesn’t need us or scientists to authenticate what he has done, but God reveals in Scripture that his creation also testifies to what he has done. Creation, though damaged through God giving it over to humanity’s unjust rule, still bears witness to God’s glory and power. The psalmist moves smoothly from praising God’s revelation in creation to praising God’s revelation in the Law in Psalm 19. Paul proclaims the truthful witness of creation in Romans 1:18-20. As such, it’s a serious theological issue to suggest that the universe appears older than it really is. We’re not just talking about a mature creation, but one that has evidence of a long history. When we see light from a supernova — light that took millions of years to reach us — what is God telling us? If the universe is only 6,000 years old, then was most of that light created in transit, a fake beam ending with a blast from a star that exploded before the universe was created? I cannot accept that conclusion.

    Further, ours is a historical faith. We don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead even though the disciples still found his dead body in the tomb. We don’t believe Jesus miraculously fed a crowd of people who went away with stomachs still growling. When God does miracles, they leave the appropriate physical evidence. A miraculous feeding leaves people full. A resurrected Saviour leaves an empty tomb and disciples willing to die rather than recant.

    So, the reason I don’t accept a 6,000 year-old earth has nothing to do with whether I think God could do something like that or whether miracles can happen. I just expect that miracles will leave the appropriate evidence. An earth that truly is just thousands of years old should not contain countless pieces of evidence that converge on a dramatically different age. Even if a global flood could taint the results of dating the oldest earth rocks, why do moon rocks and meteorites corroborate an age for our solar system of roughly 4.5 billion years? The pieces of evidence that can’t establish the total age also point consistently to an earth much older than mere thousands of years (ice cores, lake varves, coral growth, magnetic reversals and lunar cycles preserved in rock, disappearance of long-lived radioactive isotopes, etc.). All these different clocks, based on different processes that require different assumptions to investigate, are highly consistent with each other.

    My April 13 post addressed reasons from Scripture for not insisting that the days of Genesis 1 are actual days. Moving beyond that, I agree with Harry Nibourg’s earlier comment that we can’t get the extreme age of the universe just from reading Genesis 1. There are many things that Genesis 1 alone doesn’t tell us. I also don’t get a round earth with time zones, or an earth that moves around a fixed light source, or the sun being a star that lights both itself and the moon. What I do get is a firmament that defies identification with any known element of our universe, yet its creation fills an entire day of the account. From Genesis 1 it appears that God’s creation does not include angels, bacteria, seaweed (all plant life is created on the dry land) or amphibians (creatures that live in the sea are neatly separated from those who live on land). Butterflies (winged creatures) were created a day before caterpillars (creeping things)!

    So no, Genesis 1 does not reveal the universe’s immense age any more than it reveals its immense size. If we read it expecting those kind of scientific answers, we’ll come away disappointed. God gave us an inquisitive mind to uncover many of the mysteries of his creation; he didn’t spill those secrets before we could discover them ourselves. As the proverb says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings” (Prov. 25:2). One message Genesis 1 does reveal is that God appointed us as kings of his creation. God made the world and placed it in humanity’s hands to rule in a way that reflects God (Gen. 1:26-28). As rulers, we have a duty to learn more about our kingdom so we can govern it wisely. Science is one way we can do that.

  8. Alan Harstone
    Alan Harstone says:

    Thanks for your response Marshall. You made a point I’d like to address. You said: “An earth that truly is just thousands of years old should not contain countless pieces of evidence that converge on a dramatically different age. Even if a global flood could taint the results of dating the oldest earth rocks, why do moon rocks and meteorites corroborate an age for our solar system of roughly 4.5 billion years? The pieces of evidence that can’t establish the total age also point consistently to an earth much older than mere thousands of years (ice cores, lake varves, coral growth, magnetic reversals and lunar cycles preserved in rock, disappearance of long-lived radioactive isotopes, etc.). All these different clocks, based on different processes that require different assumptions to investigate, are highly consistent with each other.”

    Let’s suppose for a minute, Marshall, that a pudgy 40-year-old man named Elmer suddenly wakes up one day to find a fully functional, intricate, and “totally awesome” amusement park in his backyard…and he’s standing right in the middle of it. It has bells and whistles, clowns and cotton candy, rides and dwarfs and flashing lights and noises of all kind. Of course, being a man, his first question is “wait a minute, how on earth did this get here?”, and his second question is “can I take it apart to see how it works?”

    Shortly into his first ride a messenger shows up with a letter from me which tells him that I am a magician with powers that he couldn’t possibly understand, and that with the wave of my wand I simply made a fully developed amusement park for him and his family to enjoy….a gift from me to him. But he’s a linear kind of guy, and everything he’s ever observed has a “cause and effect principle” to it. So he immediately becomes suspicious. “Anything I’ve ever seen takes time to build. I think I’ll take it apart to see how this whole thing works.”

    So instead of enjoying the park Elmer becomes increasingly obsessed with dismantling it to figure out how it works and how it got into his backyard. He begins to examine its various components and functions; he pokes and he prods; he tears apart the motors; he melts down various metals to test them; he applies a microscope to several different samples of paint….and on and on and on it goes.

    After hundreds of tests and observations he begins to develop a theory: this amusement park must have taken an awful long time to build. The evidence is everywhere — “cause and effect” are all over the park. Too many different things at work here to lend credence to my claim that I instantly made it for him. For instance, it appears that the paint didn’t just suddenly appear on the metal, someone had to have applied it (that’s reproduceable), and because there’s so much of it, it must have taken time. And the rides didn’t just suddenly appear, someone must have made them. The metal on the rides can be bent under pressure. He concludes that it must have taken a lot of time and pressure to bend them into the shape they’re in. Furthermore, when he applies heat to the metals they soften and turn into sticky, hot, goo. But when he removes the heat and adds cold, it hardens…but not instantly into a merry-go-round. So this is more proof to Elmer that the park took a lot of time and effort to build. Increasingly, with much testing and observation he begins to believe that it must have taken me an awful lot of time for me to have put together such a complex amusement park.

    So he phones me up (I left him a number to thank me if he chose to) and he says, “You know, Al, I sure appreciate the amusement park in my backyard. And my family has sure enjoyed the rides. But I’ve gotta tell ya, I’ve got a little issue with that letter that you sent me about how it got here. You weren’t exactly being truthful with me were you? Bit of a story-line going on there, wasn’t there? I’ve taken parts of this park apart, and with all the principles in play that make this park spin and whirl, it’s become obvious to me that you must have taken an awful long time to actually make it into what it is. I’m betting it didn’t happen overnight at all. I’m betting that you actually made it in a warehouse somewhere from scratch over a period of, let’s say, about 5 or 10 years, judging by the age of the paint I tested. So why’d you lie to me about the overnight thing?”

    And I answer, “Elmer, I didn’t lie. I have the power to make a fully mature and fully functional amusement park at the wave of my wand.”

    “Well, I’m not believing it” he says. “There’s just too much evidence right within the park itself that something like this takes an awful lot of time to develop. Everything I’ve ever observed runs on cause and effect. And everything worth anything takes a lot of time and effort to put together. And besides, why would you create an amusement park that looks like it was built in someone’s shop if you actually built it with the wave of a wand? That’s just being deceitful.”

    And I answer, “Because in order for it to work the way it does, and continue working the way it does, those principles all have to be in play. And besides, that’s just the way I decided to make it. Don’t I have the right to fashion one metal in one way, and a different kind of metal in a different way? And to do it with the wave of a wand? Why won’t you believe me when I tell you that I made it with the wave of my wand, Elmer?”

    And Elmer says, “Because I’m a cause-and-effect guy. And every test I ran showed me that this amusement park didn’t just suddenly appear out of nowhere. In order for the paint to have different colours it has to have been mixed somewhere. And in order for it to get on the metal it must have taken an awful lot of time to apply it. And in order for the merry-go-round to work it needs a gear; and in order for a gear to be made various kinds of tools and principles need to be applied; and in order for those principles to be applied there needs to be lots of time. It’s all observable, right there in the park. So I’m not buying this wave-of-a-wand crap you’re trying to hand me. I’m not saying you didn’t make it for me. I’m just saying that it didn’t quite happen the way you say it did….now did it?”

    And so I say “Well, Elmer, I sure wish you’d trust my character. Why would I lie to you about how I made it? I wouldn’t lie to you and I wouldn’t deceive you. I made you this amusement park with the wave of my wand, complete with all the principles in play that sustain it and make it work. I’m sorry to hear that you can’t accept my word on it. I guess I can’t change that. But I did make it for you with the wave of my wand.”

  9. Marshall Janzen
    Marshall Janzen says:

    Alan, that’s an interesting parable! I’m glad we agree that non-literal stories can sometimes communicate more effectively than simple historical accounts, even if we disagree on what in Scripture may be non-literal. I’m concerned, though, that the character in your story portraying my view utters near-profanity against what in the story represents the Bible. I hope you don’t really think I have that attitude towards Scripture.

    If God designed our world and the universe around it to look older than it is, then as it was for Elmer, looking at the creation itself will not allow us to see through the illusion to the truth. If God made the universe 6,000 years ago to look like it’s 13.7 billion years old, and made our solar system at the same time to look like it’s 4.5 billion years old, we’re not going to uncover the trickery. Every scientific test will point to the apparent age, not the real age.

    In this case, it’s for our good to go with what it appears to be rather than what it really is. If Adam was created as a mature man, then even if God explicitly told a hypothetical doctor that Adam had only lived a couple days, the doctor would be better off treating Adam as an adult than as an infant. If God made our universe to look old, then scientists need to treat it as God created it to appear. The actual age would have no bearing on how things actually work, since apparently the whole reason to have a greater apparent age than reality is so that things would work as God wanted them to work. So, while the scientific answers may not be correct, they would be what works. Trying to correct science to use the actual answers would make science not work. If creationists take the approach you have outlined, they should have no beef with mainstream science. It is doing exactly what it should do: dealing with God’s creation as it appears.

    Also, we need to expand your story for it to more adequately mirror the issue. It’s not just that the universe looks old, but that it appears to have a long history. That merry-go-round needs to have evidence of getting banged up, sections replaced with newer metal than the rest, worn gears, rust, peeling paint. Some panels have graffiti; others have graffiti that’s been painted over with new graffiti on top. Rooting around, Elmer finds rusted spray cans in the back alley, and as he checks his receipts, he sees one for paint to cover the graffiti from a few months ago. But, that’s all part of the magician’s trick! He didn’t forget anything!

    With those additions, the story starts to more closely parallel the evidence of a long history in the earth and outer space. We don’t just have beams of light that couldn’t have naturally travelled here yet; we have history recorded in those beams, such as the supernovas I mentioned earlier. Ice cores don’t just contain more layers than would be possible in a young earth, but some ancient layers contain volcanic ash from ancient eruptions. When that ash is dated using radiometric methods that are completely independent from how ice layers are counted, they line up within a tiny margin of error.

    The fossil record embedded in layers of rock shows a progression in living things. For instance, flowering plants are relatively recent: layers dated older than 200 million years, which is the majority of the geological column, do not contain any flowering plants, and also don’t contain any of their pollen! How could a global flood sort the layers so that pollen stays in the same layers as the plants that produce them? Some deep layers contain huge deposits of chalk, which forms slowly in still water as the shed shells of tiny microorganisms settle.

    In some regions, ancient rock layers contain whole forests stacked on top of each other, each forest layer wiped out by a local flood or volcanic eruption. For each layer, roots and stumps are preserved as they were partially buried by sediment and the tops of the trees decomposed. The evidence points to many local disasters, not one global flood. There is evidence of other global disasters, such as the meteor impact that caused the discernable K-T boundary that is uncontroversially accepted by scientists. By contrast, creationists cannot agree on one of the most basic evidential points of their hypothesis: which layers should be counted as caused by Noah’s flood. The trouble is that any solid answer would lead to problems in what lies within and below those layers.

    So, on the one hand, we have creation accounts that have been read differently even before there was any scientific reason to do so. Philo, a 1st-century Jew, said about the six days, “we must understand that he is speaking not of a number of days, but that he takes six as a perfect number” (Allegorical Interpretation, Part 1, II). Augustine thought the six days of creation spoke of the instant God created in terms we could understand. On the other hand, we have a creation that reveals a long history. How do we put those pieces together?

    For Spurgeon, a preacher you highlight on your blog, Genesis does not preclude an earth that is many millions of years old. Even as he rejected evolution, he accepted the evidence from other scientific fields. That’s where he was convinced the truth led. We both disagree with him in different directions, but I trust that we’re both seeking the truth as best we can as well. Followers of the One who is the truth, the way, and the life can aim for no less!

  10. Alan Harstone
    Alan Harstone says:

    Thanks Marshall. I was going to expand the story a bit, but I thought it was already getting far too long.

    It’s been good talking with you, and perhaps we will meet some day here on God’s good creation; but if not, then sometime in the future in His wonderful Kingdom!

    We’ve all made our points, and it’s time (at least for me) to move on. I do love that the Evangelical Free Church allows people to discuss various views on so many issues. And my hat’s off to our moderator, Brad, for wisely navigating us all through what could easily become a mine-field.

    Blessings!

    • Communications
      Communications says:

      Wow, Al — your thanks mean tons to me.

      You quite literally brought tears to my eyes!

      May God continue to impart his grace upon us all!

  11. Marshall Janzen
    Marshall Janzen says:

    Thanks Alan. I truly appreciate how you’ve highlighted our common ground: this is God’s good creation and we’re looking forward to God’s wonderful kingdom! Amen.

    You’ve been a gracious conversation partner, and I’ve learned through our dialog. And yes, thanks Brad for providing the opportunity to have a safe online discussion.

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