In part 1 of this review, I told you the things I liked about Genesis and The Big Bang by Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder. Now I want to move on to the things I didn’t like about the book. As I already mentioned, Dr. Schroeder seems firmly committed to the Big Bang model, despite its many problems. However, that’s not my main concern. While there are a lot of problems with the Big Bang model, there are some data that support it, so it is not irrational to choose to work with that paradigm. My problems with the book go much deeper than that.
My first problem is that Dr. Schroeder has either not investigated the myriad of opinions of ancient Jewish theologians, or he conveniently doesn’t tell the reader about them. He wants to make the case that he is getting his theology from sources that have not been influenced by modern science. He chooses four theologians (Onkelos, Rashi, Maimonides, and Nahmanides) that he says have “withstood time’s test,” and he says:
Because their commentaries were written long before the advent of modern physics, we avoid the folly of using interpretations of tradition that may have been biased by modern scientific discoveries. (p. 18)
I have two problems with this statement. First, there are many more than four ancient Jewish theologians who have “withstood the test of time.” I am not even Jewish, and I can name several more off the top of my head: Philo Judaeus, Akiba ben Yossef, Saadiah ben Yosef Gaon, Abraham ibn Daud, etc., etc.
Of these, Philo Judaeus is the most prominent of Dr. Schroeder’s omissions. He lived roughly at the same time as Onkelos, and thus he represents some of the oldest Jewish theology to which there is easy access. Interestingly enough, he disagrees with Onkelos on several points, including what the days in Genesis mean. While Onkelos was inclined to treat them as 24-hour days, Judaeus didn’t believe they were days at all. Instead, he wrote:
And he says that the world was made in six days, not because the Creator stood in need of a length of time (for it is natural that God should do everything at once, not merely by uttering a command, but by even thinking of it); but because the things created required arrangement; and number is akin to arrangement1
So Philo had a completely different interpretation of the Genesis days than did Onkelos. Why doesn’t Dr. Schroeder include this? Well, remember that Dr. Schroeder makes the case that the days in Genesis are 24-hour days, but they are in the reference frame of the universe as a whole. Thus, like many young-earth creationists, Dr. Schroeder (who is not a young-earth creationist) conveniently leaves out the fact that long before modern physics, there were many orthodox theologians who did not think the days in Genesis were 24-hour days.
Now I don’t have a problem with Dr. Schroeder choosing to believe that the days in Genesis are 24-hour days. In fact, I agree with him that it is probably the best translation of the Hebrew. However, just like many young-earth creationists, Dr. Schroeder tries to make the unsuspecting reader think that this was the predominant (if not only) view among ancient theologians. This is obviously not true, and Dr. Schroeder should not imply that it is.
I also have a bit of a problem with Onkelos in general, but that might be less because of Onkelos and more because of what people do with his work. There is a view of creation called the gap theory, in which God created the earth once, it was destroyed, and then God remade the earth a second time. In this view, there is a “gap” in the first verse of Genesis, and the creation account of Genesis is actually the “recreation” account, not the original creation account. This view is not Biblical in my opinion, but its proponents use Onkelos’s translation of Genesis 1:1 to support it. In addition, Onkelos translated the creation of Adam in an odd way that is used to support the old-earth creationist belief that human-like animals evolved, and then God breathed into them the spirit that made them actual humans. Once again, I don’t think this view is Biblical, so it bothers me that Onkelos is used to support it as well.
In any event, that is just my first problem with the Jewish theologians Dr. Schroeder chooses. My second problem is that he excludes any modern theologians, because he doesn’t want their views to be “tainted” by science. To some extent, I understand what Dr. Schroeder is doing, because as I said in part 1 of this review, Dr. Schroeder wants to show the similarities between ancient theology and modern science. I like that, as it is clear that science has often needed to “catch up” with the Bible. At the same time, however, you can use ancient theologians to make that point but also use modern theologians to include the wealth of thought that has developed over the past thousand years or so.
After all, what’s wrong with using science as an aid in interpreting Scripture? We use the facts at hand to interpret Scripture all the time. For example, in Matthew 24, Jesus is talking about the end times. He then says:
Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matthew 24:34)
Now the Greek word translated as “generation” in that verse (genea) can mean “age, generation, nation, time.” 2 It is almost always translated as “age” or “generation,” but neither of those translations fits the facts that we know – the end times have not happened yet. Thus, orthodox Christians take this word to mean “nation,” indicating that the race of Jews will not pass away before the end times.
Given that we often use the facts at hand to interpret Scripture, why avoid using science to help us understand Scripture? After all, God is the author of both Science and Scripture, so using them together makes sense. Now, of course, when you do this, you must keep two things at the top of your mind:
(1) Since Scripture is the special revelation of God to His creation, it is by far the most important of his revelations.
(2) Science includes a myriad of ideas, which include such things as hypotheses, theories, laws, and facts. Since even scientific laws get overthrown from time to time, one must be very careful in choosing the ideas from science that you use to help you interpret Scripture. The less reliable the idea, the less inclined you should be to use it in helping you understand Scripture.
With those two points in mind, however, I think it is not only helpful but actually wise to use science to interpret Scripture. By attempting to combine God’s special revelation with His natural revelation, we can understand Him better.
That really covers the big problem I have with Dr. Schroeder’s book. I think he limits his discussion by not only limiting himself to ancient theologians but also by limiting himself to ancient theologians who accept his particular view of Scripture. However, there are still a couple of other problems I have with the book, and I will go through them quickly.
Another problem I have is that Dr. Schroeder is probably not keeping up with the scientific literature as well as he should. For example, in defending the idea of an ancient earth, he says:
We have never succeeded in altering the rates of radioactive decay, and the temperatures and pressures required to alter nuclear processes (of which radioactive decay is one) are so extreme that, had they occurred, they would have obliterated the fossils themselves. (p. 29)
While that was a common view 50 years ago, it is not a responsible view for a scientist to take anymore. There is now strong evidence that radioactive decay rates are variable, at least to some extent. As discussed in the post that I just linked, some of those variations are small, but some are significant. If Dr. Schroeder wants to be taken seriously when he discusses science, he needs to make sure he makes statements that are consistent with the current scientific literature.
The final problem I will discuss in this long review is the fact that just as Dr. Schroeder tends to pick and choose the theologians he likes, he tends to pick and choose the science he likes. For example, he tries to make the point that once the reference frame of the Bible switched from the universe as a whole (during the creation week) to the earth (at the end of the sixth day of creation), science timelines and Scriptural timelines are in complete harmony. For example, he claims that Tubal-Cain (a descendent of Seth) is the first bronze toolmaker, as evidenced by Genesis 4:22, which calls him the first worker of bronze and iron. Using the genealogies in the Bible, he thinks Tubal-Cain lived about 2400 BC (or BCE as he says, since he is an orthodox Jew). He claims:
The archaeology section of the Israel Museum houses examples of early brass tools. Their first appearance is dated at approximately 2400 B.C.E. (p. 32)
Thus, Dr. Schroeder claims that there is great agreement between archaeology and Scripture on this point. He goes on to further claim that since this all happened before the Flood, we can conclude that the Flood did not disturb the fossil record in any way, because standard archaeology can still teach us about pre-Flood times.
This, of course, sounds like a powerful argument…to anyone who has no education in archaeology. However, anyone who has read much archaeology as it pertains to the Bible knows that while the Bible and archaeology are in strikingly good agreement for the more “recent” things in the Bible, the older events get, the more controversy there is in archaeology. Thus, when I read Dr. Schroeder’s claim that archaeology confidently says brass tools first appeared in 2400 B.C.E., I knew there had to be something wrong.
So…I did a little digging (no pun intended). While the commonly-held view is that the bronze age in the middle east started in roughly 2400 BCE, it is thought by many archaeologists that the bronze age started much earlier in other parts of the world. Some think that in Egypt, for example, it began in 3000 BC.3 This, of course, is a problem, since Tubal-Cain was supposed to be the first bronze toolmaker, but he wasn’t making them until 600 years after the bronze age is assumed to have started in Egypt.
Of course, I don’t see this as a problem at all, because there is a lot of controversy about ancient chronologies. As a result, I don’t think the dates are well-established enough to really compare them to what the Bible says. I also think the Flood did radically reshape the geological record, so the older the dates get, the less reliable they become. However, Dr. Schroeder wants his reader to think that these dates are “all sewn up,” and they agree perfectly with the Bible. This is just not true, and it makes Dr. Schroeder significantly less believable when he writes on archaeological topics.
Despite the many problems I have with this book, it is definitely worth reading. As I said in part 1 of this review, Dr. Schroeder is an incredibly original thinker. That alone makes the book worth the read.
1. Philo Judaeus, The Creation of the World, III, 30 AD
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2. James Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1983, p. 20 of the Greek Dictionary
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3. John Emsley, Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements, Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 446-7
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