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Friday, October 24, 2014

Fiat Days in Genesis

Posted by jlwile on July 31, 2009

John Holzmann is a man I respect and admire. I have never met him, but he seems to me the picture of a true Renaissance Man. He has a degree in philosophy from Michigan State University and a Masters of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary. He and his wife started a homeschool curriculum company (Sonlight Curriculum) that is wildly popular and promotes what I like to call a “neo-classical” approach to education. In this approach, a large fraction of learning comes not from textbooks, but from real literature that relates to the topic at hand. When you study Native Americans, for example, you don’t read a textbook about Native Americans, you read literature written by Native Americans or by people who interacted with Native Americans. It is an approach that can be a bit time consuming for the parent, but it produces well-educated students who are voracious readers.

Obviously, anyone who has enough knowledge of literature to be part of a two-person team who could produce such a complete curriculum must be incredibly knowledgeable about a wide variety of subjects. In addition, I have had drawn-out E-MAIL conversations with him regarding the age of the earth (a subject on which we disagree), and not only is he thoroughly familiar with the main scientific issues related to the subject, he can discuss them in a meaningful and respectful way. Thus, when John Holzmann commented on my blog, I sat up and took notice.

John told me I left out a couple of options for those who want to believe the days of Genesis are 24-hour days but that the earth is billions of years old. He mentioned one view that is currently being promoted by Denis O. Lamoureux. In this view, the days are meant to be 24-hour days, but that’s only because the people alive during Old Testament times were idiots, and God was so woefully unable to communicate with them that He could not tell them the truth. Thus, he inspired them to write something He knew was incorrect, because that was the best He could do at the time. While I am familiar with that option, it promotes an incoherent view of God and a demeaning view of the ancients. Thus, I reject it as nonsensical and don’t consider it an option for any reasonable person.

The other view Mr. Holzmann mentioned was something with which I wasn’t at all familiar. This view, generally referred to as the fiat day view, is best explained by the Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Creation.

Simply stated, this view says God spoke the commands to create during the span of six 24-hour days, but the fulfillment of those commands took an indefinite period of time, perhaps billions of years.1

So in this view, the days were simply when God pronounced that these things were to be created. However, that doesn’t mean they were actually created on that day. It would be like a king pronouncing on a given day that an artisan must create a statue to honor a man whose heroics saved the nation. While the king makes the pronouncement on a specific day, the creation of the statue merely begins on that day. It may take many years for the statue to be completed.

So how do the proponents of this view defend their interpretation? Well, they say the structure of the Genesis text follows a given pattern. For example, Genesis 1:3-5 seems structured as follows:

—–

Commencement Then God said…

Command Let there be light

Commentary and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.

Conclusion And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

——

If the commentary part really is a commentary, there is no reason to assume that it occurred during the first day. In the example I just gave of a king commissioning a statue, you could imagine a historian writing in essentially the same way:

——

Commencement Then the king said

Command Make a statue of this great hero

Commentary and the best artisan of the land made the statue.

Conclusion And then the day in which our land was saved came to an end, with all her people sleeping soundly for the first time in many years.

——

Obviously, the commentary doesn’t imply that the statue was done on the day the command was issued. It merely points out that after the king gave the command, it was fulfilled. The conclusion simply closes the day on which the command was given, never implying that the statue was done before the people went to bed.

According to those who advocate the fiat day approach, all six creation days in Genesis 1 are structured in this way. Thus, there is no reason to believe that the creative works of God were finished after six 24-hour days. Instead, God’s commands were issued over six 24-hour days, but they may have taken billions of years to be fulfilled.

I disagree with this view for two main reasons. First (and most importantly), Genesis 1 really does seem to be a chronological story. It says that certain things happened on a given day, the day ended, and then more things happened after that. The structure I see, then, is:

——

Commencement Then God said…

Command Let there be light

Fulfillment and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.

Conclusion And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

——

Thus, the verses seem to directly imply that God’s commands were completed BEFORE the day ended.

The second reason I disagree with this view is that it seems odd for God to spend an entire day simply uttering a command. Clearly God didn’t need six 24-hour days to create. He could have created everything instantaneously, as the early church believed. Nevertheless, it is incredibly amazing if He created the universe in six 24-hour days. It is even amazing if He created the universe in six packets of hundreds of millions of years. Only God could do any of those things. However, it is not at all amazing that He took an entire day to utter a single command! I could do that and still have plenty of time to down a few bosses in World of Warcraft with my guildies! (Yes, I do play World of Warcraft.) Thus, this fiat day idea seems to take a lot away from the power and majesty of God.

In the end, then, while I don’t find the fiat day view unreasonable (or unScriptural), I don’t think it is a proper interpretation of the Genesis account. Nevertheless, it is a very interesting view, and I thank John Holzmann for pointing it out to me!

REFERENCES

1. Mark Whorton and Hill Roberts, Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Creation, Holman Reference, 2008, p. 209
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Comments

6 Responses to “Fiat Days in Genesis”
  1. Wow! Internally, I feel I don’t deserve the accolades. But thank you for your kind comments about me.

    I got to your comments about Lamoureux’s views and winced. I sense you have given him less credit than he deserves. Lamoureux definitely does not say (nor suggest) that
    “the people alive during Old Testament times were idiots,”nor that
    “God was . . . unable to communicate with them”and nor that “He could not tell them the truth.” I think it is fair to suggest that Lamoureux believes God, as you put it, “inspired [the ancients] to write something He knew was incorrect,” but Lamoureux suggests that was not because “that was the best [God] could do at the time.” Rather, Lamoureux suggests God inspired the biblical authors to speak spiritual truth without correcting or improving their incorrect or undeveloped notions about science and history because it didn’t make sense for God to do anything different.

    Why would God fill up the Bible with discussions of things with which we are more or less familiar today (but our ancient ancestors knew nothing about)–bacteria and viruses, atoms and planets, quasars and galaxies, elements and gases, and on and on and on; and why would He seek to disabuse them of imperfect views of the shape of the earth (spherical, not flat) and the structure of the universe (expanded in all directions, not merely three-tiered) and so on and so forth . . . when His primary message has nothing to do with such things, but everything to do with His relationship with human beings?

    “So, our ancestors didn’t know about these things. So they had different stories. So God spoke His spiritual truth through the use of their stories. What difference does it make?” –That, in essence, I believe, is the message Lamoureux tries to convey.

    God’s communication has nothing to do with relative mental capabilities. It has nothing to do with God’s abilities (or inabilities) to communicate. Rather, it has to do with the realities surrounding historical development (scientific and historical methods, for example, have developed). It also has to do with priorities.

    As Lamoureux puts it (p. 166 in Evolutionary Creation): “[W]hen a four-year-old asks ‘the question’ about where babies come from,” is it incumbent upon the parents to ensure the child knows all the details of meiosis and mitosis and spermatogenesis and s*xual intercourse and fertilization and implantation and . . . (well, you get the point)? No. Of course not! “[P]arents answer by descending to the level of the child. They communicate the central message–a baby is a gift from God when a mom and dad love each other–without presenting the anatomical and physiological details of s*x.” –So it is in Scripture, says Lamoureux. God doesn’t burden us with the details that are really and truly “beside the point” for what He wants and needs to communicate . . . for the people alive 2,000 years ago as well as today.

    I am deeply uncomfortable with much of what Lamoureux has to say. But it is not because I sense he “promotes an incoherent view of God and a demeaning view of the ancients.”

  2. jlwile says:

    John, you definitely deserve the accolades. I will have to disagree with you on Lamoureux, however. I agree that he doesn’t directly call the ancients idiots or indicate that God is incapable of intelligent communication with His creation. However, he most certainly does imply it. In fact, as I see it, it is the only logical conclusion to his argument.

    I am glad you brought up the idea of explaining where babies come from to a young child. It was while I read that discussion in Lamoureux’s book that I came to the conclusion that Lamoureux thinks very little of the ancients and even less of God’s ability to communicate. I agree with him that you need not tell the child about meiosis, mitosis, etc. However, if you tell the child that the stork brings babies (or something equally stupid), you must think your child is an idiot. Moreover, you are a rotten communicator, because any decent communicator knows that you should not lie to anyone who is looking for information from you. Once the lie is discovered, the person will be much less inclined to trust your information on other subjects. Thus, a good communicator who doesn’t think his children are idiots will tell them CORRECT information, but at a level where the children can understand it.

    For example, when I first asked that question, my parents told me something along these lines: “When a man and a woman love each other very much, they decide they want to add to their love by having children. The man plants a seed in the woman, and a baby grows inside her. When you see a woman with an oversized belly, it could be because a baby is growing inside her. When the baby is ready, it comes out of the woman.” This is exactly the way a GOOD communicator would handle the question. It is clearly accurate, but it is at a level that a child can understand. As the child grows up, the child understands the details of the parent’s explanation, and the child learns that the parent cared enough about the child’s question to answer it with integrity and honesty. This helps the child trust the parent’s information in other areas. If the parent had told the child some lie about making babies, when the child learns the actual truth, it will lead the child to wonder what else his or her parents have lied about.

    Now let’s tie that back to creation. I agree that it would not make sense for God to lay out the details of creation in the book of Genesis. That is not the point of the book. In fact, I personally think God specifically held back a lot of details regarding creation because He wanted us to figure it out for ourselves. At the same time, however, if He chose to allow something in his Word that would be discovered to be false, that would simply lead His children to wonder what else in His Word cannot be trusted. Thus, unless He is a terrible communicator, can’t think through the logical implications of His actions, or thinks the people He is inspiring are blithering idiots, He will inspire the writers of the Old Testament to write something that is correct, but at a level where it can be understood.

    This is where Lamoureux’s view of God becomes incoherent. God is powerful enough to create the UNIVERSE via evolution. However, He is not powerful enough to communicate a truth about His creation at a level that everyone can understand. Thus, He allows false things to be written in His Word because “it doesn’t make sense for Him to do anything different.” He is also not powerful enough to make his Word applicable for all time. Instead, it is only applicable to the time in which it was written – at least when it comes to the story of creation. Finally, He is smart enough to figure out all the details of creation, but He is not smart enough to realize that when the false thing He has allowed into His Word ends up being demonstrated incorrect, it will incline people to stop trusting in His Word.

    Now please understand what I am saying. It is not Lamoureux’s theistic evolution that bothers me. I think the belief shows a lack of understanding of basic biology and chemistry, but lots of other very intelligent people (Darrel Falk, Francis Collins, Richard Dawkins, and P.Z. Myers, for example) have the same lack of understanding. Indeed, I could be the one with the lack of understanding of basic biology and chemistry and thus be completely wrong about evolution. Thus, what one believes about the scientific explanation of creation is not a big issue with me. Indeed, while I disagree with theistic evolutionists, I agree that it is possible to interpret the book of Genes to allow for their view.

    What bothers me is that there is simply no coherent way to view God if Lamoureux’s interpretation of Genesis is correct.

  3. The Black Sheep says:

    I wish I had the brain power to comment on this more appropriately… But it seems to me that Lamoureux’s view implies that there is false information in the Bible… if that’s the case why would we follow it? And why wouldn’t God maybe give us a Second Edition or something?

  4. jlwile says:

    For someone who thinks she doesn’t have the “brain power to comment on this more appropriately,” you hit the nail ON THE HEAD. Indeed, if God allowed lies about His creation into the Bible, what other lies has He allowed into his Word? Did He perhaps allow all those nasty lines about His judgment in the Bible not because they are correct, but because they were what the ancients thought at the time? Indeed, perhaps the entire morality base of the Bible needs to be thrown out because it didn’t make sense for God to put the correct morality base in the Bible, as it would upset what the ancients thought when they wrote their words.

    If Lamoureux is correct, it is definitely time for a “second edition” of the Bible, where God will not be limited by the idiocy of the ancients. Of course, that will cause all sorts of problems, because Sunday School teachers will be calling in asking if some of their students can have the first edition while others have the second edition. What a nightmare…

  5. The Black Sheep says:

    That’s true. A second edition would reek havoc on Sunday School classes everywhere.

    Thinking in terms of what God chose to make correct or incorrect in the Bible does raise a question for me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe in an all knowing, all powerful God. But do you think that God imagined that his Word, would ever be something that so vehemently divided his people? Clearly you and Mr. Holzmann and capable of carrying on a conversation in which can both comfortably express your opinions, disagree, and yet still maintain HIGH respect for one another.

    Sadly, I feel I’ve encountered far too many people who are certain that their interpretation of the Bible is the only possible correct one. Heaven forbid you disagree with one of these people, you become labeled as… well… a black sheep. Somehow I simply can’t believe that was God’s intention for us. Then again, what’s a black sheep know about God and the Bible anyway?

  6. jlwile says:

    I think God knew that His word would cause a lot of division, even among His own people. After all, it is in our sinful nature to take a good thing and really mess it up. God had to know that. He also knew, however, that His Word would lead a lot of people to the truth.

    The really sad thing is that often, atheists do a better job of treating people properly than Christians do, and the Christians use the Word of God as an EXCUSE for treating people the way they do! For example, in my first postdoctoral position, I had an atheist boss who STRONGLY disagreed with my creationist views. In fact, he thought my creationist views were an EMBARASSMENT to him and his research program. However, he judged me based on the quality of my work, and thus he had no problem with me representing him at scientific conferences, etc., because my experiments and data analysis were of high quality. Even though my views were an EMBARASSMENT to him, he treated me ethically in every way.

    How many Christian bosses do you think would handle an employee whose life they didn’t agree with that ethically? My guess is that it would be close to ZERO. I expect that most Christian bosses would use the Word of God to come down HARD on any employee whose life didn’t “measure up” to their standards. Those bosses wouldn’t let the employee represent them in any way, because the employee’s life would be an EMBARASSMENT to them.

    What does it say about the state of Modern Christendom that an atheist boss is more likely to treat you ethically than is a Christian boss?

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