Why not Six Days?

by Arnold Neumaier

Betty asked me,

How do you account for the fact that it is possible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle but you do not think the earth was formed in 6 days?

The first part of the question refers to my previous remark that some common ways of watering down Jesus' offensive statement ``I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God'' (Matth. 19:24) become ridiculous as soon as one notices that the disciples were so shocked about this statement that they asked ``Who then can be saved?'' (Matth. 19:25). From Jesus' reply it is plain that he meant to express most vividly that it is impossible without God's intervention.
The second half of the above question seems to say: Well, if God can even do the impossible, why shouldn't he have created the world exactly as reported in Genesis 1?

For me the bible is not true by itself. As the apostle Paul recommends for any revelation: ``Test everything, and hold on to the good'' (1 Thess. 5:21), so did I with the bible, too. And I learned to read it in a way that reveals the truth without forcing me into dogma. ``The kingdom of God is not a matter of words, but of power'' (1 Cor. 4:20, my paraphrase).

The only infallible word of God is the living word that is spoken of in John 1; the written word is God's word in earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7), ``useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness'' (2 Tim. 3:16), and the latter is what proves that it is inspired, God-breathed. It is communicated to us through people guided by the spirit, but still subject to human limitations.

On the last day, no one will be asked about whether the creation took six days or millions of years. But we will be made responsible if we closed the door for those who wanted to enter (Luke 11:52) - by demanding that they have to sacrifice their love of truth to empty ``knowledge'' (Tit. 3:9). We are responsible for showing scientists a way to Christ that respects their strength and commands it into the service of the Lord (Jer. 9:23-24).

Moses, the man whom the old tradition takes to be the author of Genesis, is, according to tradition, also the author of a single psalm, namely Psalm 90. Fittingly, he begins his psalm with the creation (Ps. 90:2) and mentions in the same context how insignificant human time scales are for God (Ps. 90:4). To make very explicit that God's time is incommensurable with our time, he equates long aeons with two different short time intervals. If Moses is so generous with his interpretation of time, why should I be so narrow?

With God, all things are possible (Matth. 19:26). He made many people capable of ``straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel'' (Matth. 23:24). People who think they can defend with scientific arguments creation in 6 times 24 hours don't notice how many camels they swallow. Just as people in Jesus' time, they cling to dogma and thereby get lost to the truth.

Of course, it is possible (i.e., not beyond the powers of God) that the earth was formed in 6 days; but it is very unlikely. Because we have so much scientific evidence from several independent sources (see, e.g., The Age of the Earth) it seems to me so obvious that the 6 days must have been meant figuratively even though the biblical context does not demand this.

How do we decide what to accept and what not to accept as literal? I think Roman 14 gives an excellent recipe for deciding:

Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. (Rom. 14:5)

He who regards one bible verse as literal, does so to the Lord, and he who regards one as poetic, does so to the Lord, and both give thanks to God. (cf. v.6)

So keep whatever you believe about these things between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. (v.22)

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (v.19)

Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of argument. (cf. v. 20)

Don't pass judgment on disputable matters. (v.1)

Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (v.4)

In humility consider others better than yourself. (Phil. 2:3)

The struggle is about becoming fully convinced in one's own mind, in a way that honors God, and to be tolerant about others whose conviction is different.

Generally, scientists are not foolish or stubborn people who close their eyes to the truth because they want to defend some dogma like evolution. The best scientists (or at least most of them) have a strong desire to know the Truth and they have an excellent training in checking something with a ring of truth for its reliability. Because it is so easy to arrive at unfounded conclusions and be misled by one's own preconceptions and intuitions, a lot of precaution is taken to minimize the likelihood of being wrong. Only what passes such precautions successfully over a sufficiently long time is taken as trustworthy.

In particular, an age of the earth of many millions of years is the result of such careful checking of possible ways of organizing our information about the far past. The postulation of an age according to the dates given in the bible would force scientists in many disciplines (astronomy, geology, archeology, biology) to invent too many ad hoc hypotheses to make it conform to the rest of their science, and this is taken almost unanimously as the hallmark of an untenable proposition.

Not all that appears as science in newspapers or magazines is of the cautious kind that deserves the name scientific. There are two reasons for this. One is that trying to make things understandable to everyone usually dilutes the scientific standards quite a lot. The other is that some authors mix science with their own philosophy, trying to teach the latter under the disguise of science. This is an unfortunate temptation, caused by the respect that scientific truth has earned through its high standards. Both materialists and Christians are prone to give in to this temptation, and in both cases, damage is done to the truth.

It is easy for people opposing evolution to find what looks like contradictions and inconsistencies, especially if they look mainly into expositions for laymen. But this holds for everything - in particular, people opposing Christianity find plenty of contradictions in the bible, many of which are unfounded on closer examination. (If you are curious, check out biblical contradictions and some explanations.)

The point is that once you start getting more serious about the study of the bible, or of evolution, you discover that the placative notions you had before were thoughtless simplifications distorting the truth, and if you are open-minded (and only then) you realize what is really true in the bible, or in evolution, and how things have to be interpreted to make sense.

And then you will realize that truth is undivisible, and that what is scientific about evolution can be integrated into a healthy faith based on the bible, making both an instrument in the mighty hands of our God. Under His guiding and caring hands, what appears as chance becomes the continuing innovation with which He weaves meaning into our lives. God takes care of everything, the big and the little, and he bundles up opposing forces to a harmonizing whole.

[see also The authority of the Bible in a scientific age (by F. Earle Fox)]

``And God said: Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kind. And it was so. The land produced vegetation.''
(Gen. 1:11-12)

``The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.''
(Ps. 19:1-4)

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Arnold Neumaier (Arnold.Neumaier@univie.ac.at)