Westminster Theological Journal 49 (1987) 257-304.

Copyright © 1987 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.   

 

 

SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS

                        (PART TWO)*

 

 

DAVIS A. YOUNG

 

   III. Concordism

 

1. Neptunism

WE next trace the history of the concordist tradition. In

general, concordists were more empirically minded

than literalists and were willing to adopt more flexible inter-

pretations of Scripture in order to harmonize with a devel-

oping scientific picture of terrestrial history. The concordist

tradition began with neptunism and came into full flower in

the nineteenth century.

Although diluvialism diminished by the end of the eigh-

teenth century, other geological theories existed that could

also be harmonized with Scripture. During the eighteenth and

earliest nineteenth centuries one widely held theory, devel-

oped primarily in France and Germany and later transported

to the British Isles,91 was neptunism. For many continental

naturalists the neptunist approach was the best way to explain

the features in rocks. Where efforts were made to correlate

neptunism with biblical data, the writers often showed little

conviction regarding the truth of Scripture. Interpretations

of biblical texts were generally far less literalistic than those

of British diluvialists and were put forward in order to main-

tain peace with the theologians. When transported into Great

Britain, however, neptunism was defended on biblical grounds

 

   * [Part One, which appeared in WTJ 49 (1987) 1-34, surveyed the history

of literalism in the interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis by Christian

geologists. Part Two, focusing on the concordist tradition, concludes Dr.

Young's essay.-Ed. ]

      91 Some British neptunists, for example, Robert Jameson, learned their

neptunism at the feet of the German scholar, Abraham Werner.

 

257



258                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

with the same zeal evident among earlier diluvialists. For Brit-

ish neptunists, neptunism was obviously what the Bible taught.

The major tenet of neptunism was that the original earth

had been completely covered by the sea. As time elapsed, the

sea diminished and landmasses emerged. Life gained a foot-

hold on the landmasses and in shallow marine areas. The

emerged landmasses were eroded, and the erosion products,

including the remains of organisms, accumulated as fossili-

ferous sediment layers on the seabottom and on the flanks

on the landmasses. To neptunists the observation that clearly

marine stratified rocks rested on older primitive mountains

was striking evidence that the world had emerged from a

universal ocean. In a refined, late eighteenth to early nine-

teenth century version of neptunism developed by the great

German geologist, Abraham G. Werner,92 the universal ocean

was an aqueous solvent saturated with dissolved chemicals.

As the ocean diminished the chemicals precipitated. Thus

many layered and crystalline rocks were interpreted as chem-

ical precipitates from the primeval ocean.

We examine here the harmonizations of two neptunists,

Benoit de Maillet and Richard Kirwan. Benoit de Maillet was

the French ambassador to Egypt, well acquainted with Arab

culture.93 During his wide travels he observed European ge-

ology and concluded that rock strata had formed during grad-

ual diminution of the ocean. He also concluded that the

diminution had continued for an incredibly long time, perhaps

as much as two billion years.94 He believed that the human

race had existed for at least 500,000 years, that men had

originated in the sea, and that mermaids were creatures that

hadn't quite made the transition to human status.95 These

views were couched within a Cartesian cosmology that favored

the eternity of matter. Recognizing that such views would not

 

   92 Werner was a brilliant teacher and approached geology in a very sys-

tematic fashion so that he provided what appeared to be a logical way of

ordering the disparate facts then known to geology. Through the brilliance

of his teaching, Werner attracted able students to the mining academy of

Freiberg who then spread Wernerian neptunism across Europe.

   98 Benoit de Maillet, Telliamed (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1968). This

edition is an English translation with notes by A. V. Carozzi.

   94 Ibid., 181.

   95 Ibid., 158, 192-200.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 259

 

be popular with the Roman Catholic Church in France, de

Maillet presented his views as conversations between a French

missionary and an Indian philosopher, Telliamed (de Maillet

spelled backwards), who espoused the diminution of the sea.

The work was published anonymously as Telliamed in the early

eighteenth century.96

To gain acceptability, de Maillet, through the mouth of

Telliamed, claimed that long-continued diminution of the

ocean was compatible with Scripture. Because of his com-

mitment to an extremely old earth and the possibility of the

eternity of matter, de Maillet argued

that the sentence, ‘In the beginning God created the Heavens and Earth,’

is a very improper translation of the Hebrew, that the words used in that

language signify only ‘formed the Heavens and the Earth.’ Furthermore,

the word ‘create’ is a new term, invented only a few centuries ago to

express a new idea; therefore your Bible assumed the preexistence of matter

when God formed the heavens and the earth.97

 

Even the diminution of the ocean accorded with the creation

account. Said de Maillet, speaking through the French mis-

sionary pondering Telliamed's ideas:

God could indeed have used such means for the creation of the earth and

the formation of the mountains through the action of the waters of the

sea. The separation of the waters from the earth, as mentioned in Genesis,

is even in favor of such an opinion. The void which first occurred on the

earth and the uselessness of the latter at the beginning correspond to the

same conditions postulated by our author for the initial stage of the globe.

It is obvious, if not unquestionable, that the waters of the sea have built

the mountains and uncovered through their diminution what they had

formed during the first chaos of matter. This emergence led to the growth

of grass and plants on the rocks; the vegetation in turn led to the creation

of animals for which they represent the food supply; and finally the animals

led to the creation of man who depends on them, as the last work of the

hands of God.98

 

The sequence of earth history seemed compatible with

Scripture, but what of the problem of days if one were to

postulate that the earth was approximately two billion years

old? Telliamed was ready for this difficulty:

 

   96 See the editor's introduction (ibid., 1-53) for a discussion of early manu-

scripts of Telliamed.

   97 Ibid., 161.

   98 Ibid., 234.



260                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

The expression ‘six days’ mentioned in your sacred books for the com-

pletion of all these works is metaphorical, as you may easily imagine. It

cannot even represent the time mentioned by Moses during which the

earth rotates on itself six times in its annual orbit around the sun, since

according to these same books, the sun was not created until the fourth

day. Besides, do they not state that a thousand of your years represent no

more than one day for God? Therefore, we must conclude that the six

days employed by the Divinity to complete creation indicate a length of

time much longer than the measure corresponding to our ordinary days.99

 

Unlike de Maillet, Richard Kirwan, an Irish chemist and

mineralogist, was a devout, orthodox Christian. For Kirwan,

geology was the handmaiden of true religion, and he repeat-

edly expressed alarm at systems of geology that struck him

as favorable to atheism. In 1797, Kirwan set forth his con-

ception of biblical geology.100  In typical Wernerian fashion,

Kirwan believed that the earth at creation was covered by an

"immense quantity" of aqueous fluid heated enough to dis-

solve enormous quantities of chemicals. As the ocean re-

treated from earth's surface, crystallization of minerals took

place, and a tremendous amount of heat was released, trig-

gering "an enormous and universal evaporation."101  The in-

tensity of the heat increased until much of the primordial

chemical precipitate burst into flames. Volcanic eruptions oc-

curred on the "bosom of the deep.”

The teaching of Gen 1:2 that the original earth was without

form and void meant "that the earth was partly in a chaotic

state, and partly full of empty cavities, which is exactly the

state ... I have shewn to have been necessarily its primordial

state."102 The deep or abyss "properly denotes an immense

depth of water, but here it signifies ... the mixed or chaotic

mass of earth and water."103 The spirit of God moving on the

face of the waters referred to "an invisible elastic fluid, viz.

the great evaporation that took place soon after the creation,

as soon as the solids began to crystallize."104  Kirwan appealed

 

   99 Ibid., 231.

   100 Richard Kirwan, "On the Primitive State of the Globe and its Subsequent

Catastrophe," Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 6 (1797) 233-308.

   101 Ibid., 245.

   102 Ibid., 265.

   103 Ibid.

   104 Ibid., 266.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 261

 

to Psalm 104 where the standing of the mountains above the

waters alluded to the emergence of the primitive mountains

above the receding neptunist ocean. The reference in Ps 104:5

to God's "fixing the earth on its basis, from which it shall not

be removed for ever" denoted "the deposition of the solids

contained in the chaotic waters, on the solid kernel of the

globe, from whence they should never be removed nor indeed

have they ever since."105

After this episode, light was created, and the "production

of light ... probably denotes the flames of volcanic erup-

tions."106 The firmament of the second day of creation was

the atmosphere, formed by the evaporation of the waters of

the deep. Lastly, the creation of fish and other organisms

occurred only after the great deep had receded, precipitated

its chemicals, and cooled. Neptunists maintained that fossil

remains occurred almost exclusively in mechanically depos-

ited rocks that were clearly superimposed on top of chemically

precipitated rocks.

Kirwan believed that surficial gravels, erratic boulders, and

many cave deposits were the result of the flood. The major

source of floodwater was from caverns in the earth that had

gradually filled during retreat of the primeval ocean. During

the flood the waters "were miraculously educed out of those

caverns."107  Since the universal ocean had once covered all

the mountains of the earth, there would be sufficient water

in the caverns to cover the mountains once more. Kirwan

specified that the floodwaters surged out of the south and

overflowed the northern continents, for it was on the northern

continents that the vast deposits of surficial gravels, erratic

boulders, and bone-filled cave deposits were recognized.108

 

2. Nineteenth Century Concordism- Genesis 1

 

By about 1830, both diluvialism and neptunism had been

rejected by the practicing geological community. Numerous

discoveries pointed toward a long, complex, dynamic earth

 

   105 Ibid.

   106 Ibid., 267.

   107 Ibid., 279.

   108 Ibid., 280.



262     WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

history that was totally incompatible with a global flood, and

newer studies in the early nineteenth century indicated that

rocks formerly interpreted as chemical precipitates from a

universal ocean had cooled from intensely hot liquids injected

into the overlying fossil-bearing strata.109  Stratigraphic evi-

dence also made it clear that the ocean had repeatedly ad-

vanced on and retreated from the landmasses: it had not

simply retreated uniformly. Moreover, successive advances

and retreats had been accompanied by significant extinctions

of large quadrupeds. Neptunism, like diluvialism, rightly fell

by the wayside. Although both diluvialism and neptunism had

temporarily provided useful frameworks for integrating the-

ories of earth history with the meager data available at the

time and had served as stimuli to further geological research,

the time had come for them to be discarded. Diluvialism and

neptunism could no longer adequately account for the wealth

of geological data that were known by the early nineteenth

century.

The recognition of the earth's vast antiquity caused little

alarm among leading British and American Christian geolo-

gists of the early nineteenth century. Many of the great ge-

ologists of that era were devout and enthusiastic Christian

believers who were fully committed to the infallibility of Scrip-

ture. Thus, even though Scripture played a diminishing role

in professional technical geology, many geologists developed

popular treatments of ways in which the results of geology

could be related to biblical teaching. Many of these geologists

sought to demonstrate how Scripture was fully compatible

with the latest discoveries of geology. The golden age of

concordism had arrived.

Two major schemes of harmonization were developed and

refined during the nineteenth century: these were the gap and

day-age interpretation of Genesis 1. The modern version of

the gap theory was probably first advocated by the great Scot-

tish minister and amateur devotee of science, Thomas Chal-

 

   109 Of particular importance here was the work of James Hutton as spelled

out in his Theory of the Earth (Edinburgh: Creech, 1795) as well as the discovery

that numerous layers of basalt, a rock that neptunists claimed had been

precipitated from the ocean, could be traced to several extinct volcanic cones

in central France.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 263

 

mers.110 Following his lead, several prominent Christian

geologists, including Englishmen William Buckland and Adam

Sedgwick and American Edward Hitchcock, espoused the gap

theory as the preferred method for correlating Genesis and

geology. There was relatively little difference among these

geologists in their use of that theory. The major point in

common was the interpretation of Gen 1:2. For the first time

the "chaos" of that verse was not regarded as a primordial

chaos of any kind but as a chaos that developed long after

the initial creation of the planet.

William Buckland attempted a synthesis between geology

and Genesis in his inaugural lecture at Oxford.111  He ex-

pressed the opinion that "the word 'beginning,' as applied to

Moses in the first verse of the book of Genesis.... [ expresses ]

an undefined period of time, which was antecedent to the last

great change that affected the surface of the earth, and to the

creation of its present animal and vegetable inhabitants; dur-

ing which period a long series of operations and revolutions

may have been going on."112  Later in his career, Buckland

stated that "it is nowhere affirmed that God created the heaven

and the earth in the first day, but in the beginning; this beginning

may have been an epoch at an unmeasured distance, followed

by periods of undefined duration, during which all the physical

operations disclosed by Geology were going on."113  In sup-

port of this notion Buckland appealed to several church fa-

thers who maintained that the work of the six days of creation

did not begin until Gen 1:3. He further suggested that "mil-

lions of millions of years may have occupied the indefinite

interval, between the beginning in which God created the

heaven and the earth, and the evening or commencement of

the first day of the Mosaic narrative."114  This long period of

time between verses one and two was the supposed gap of

 

   110 For the original quotation from Thomas Chalmers, see Hugh Miller,

The Testimony of the Rocks (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1857) 141.

   111 William Buckland, Vindiciae geologicae (Oxford: University Press, 1820).

   112 William Buckland, Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural

Theology (London: Wm. Pickering, 1837). Buckland's work is the sixth of the

Bridgewater Treatises.

   113 Ibid., 21.

   114 Ibid., 21-22.



264                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

the gap theory. Of the second verse of Genesis 1 Buckland

commented:

we have in this second verse, a distinct mention of earth and waters, as

already existing, and involved in darkness; their condition also is described

as a state of confusion and emptiness, (tohu bohu), words which are usually

interpreted by the vague and indefinite Greek term, "chaos," and which

may be geologically considered as designating the wreck and ruins of a

former world. At this intermediate point of time, the preceding undefined

geological periods had terminated, a new series of events commenced, and

the work of the first morning of this new creation was the calling forth of

light from a temporary darkness, which had overspread the ruins of the

ancient earth.115

 

This new creation, following upon the great catastrophe,

was described in the work of the six days. The new creation

brought the earth into its present condition and could there-

fore properly be described as a re-creation or reconstruction

of the earth. Thus the gap theory also became known as the

ruin-reconstruction theory. The days of Genesis 1 were as-

sumed to be ordinary 24-hour days, although Buckland was

not opposed to thinking of them as longer stretches of time.

To avoid having the entire world immersed in total darkness,

devoid of vegetation, and devoid of animals at the conclusion

of the catastrophe, some proponents of the theory, notably

John Pye Smith,116 suggested that the ruin and reconstruction

were localized in the middle eastern area that was the birth-

place of modern humanity.

As geology developed during the nineteenth century, Chris-

tian geologists became less enthusiastic about the ability of

the gap theory to achieve a satisfactory harmony with Scrip-

ture. Increasingly they turned to the day-age theory. The idea

that the days of creation could be interpreted as periods of

time was not new. De Maillet had long since suggested that

the days were metaphorical. His suggestion had been adopted

by the great French naturalist Buffon and by many early nine-

teenth century geologists such as James Parkinson, Robert

Jameson, and Benjamin Silliman. It was not until mid-nine-

 

   115 Ibid., 24-26.

   116 John Pye Smith, The Relation between the Holy Scriptures and some Parts of

Geological Science (5th ed.; London: H. G. Bohn, 1854).



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 265

 

teenth century, however, that day-age concordism became a

fine art and achieved a high degree of refinement and subtlety.

The most eloquent of the great day-age concordists was the

Scottish ecclesiastical journalist, onetime stonemason, and

amateur paleontologist-geologist, Hugh Miller. Miller's ma-

ture thought on the relationship of geology to the Bible is

spelled out in his great work The Testimony of the Rocks. 117  Miller

completely rejected the gap theory on the basis of its total

incompatibility with geology. Geology had made it plain that

there was no "age of general chaos, darkness, and death"

separating the modern era from past geological ages.118  In-

deed, "all the evidence runs counter to the supposition that

immediately before the appearance of man upon earth, there

existed a chaotic period which separated the previous from

the present creation."119

Miller contended that the drama of creation had probably

been revealed to Moses in a series of visions in much the

same way that God had revealed the pattern of the tabernacle

on the mount. Moses saw "by vision the pattern of those suc-

cessive pre-Adamic creations, animal and vegetable, through

which our world was fitted up as a place of human habita-

tion."120 This series of visions revealed "successive scenes of

a great air-drawn panorama."121  These visions were then de-

scribed by Moses optically. In other words, "the inspired writer

seized on but those salient points that, like the two great lights

of the day and night, would have arrested most powerfully,

during these periods, a human eye."122

The visions were described and presented in the format of

the six days. Unlike others who also held to the vision hy-

pothesis, Miller did not remove the days from the province

of chronology by restricting them to the province of prophetic

vision. Instead, he maintained,

 

we must also hold, however, that in the character of symbolic days they

were as truly representative of the lapse of foregone periods of creation

 

   117 Hugh Miller, Testimony.

   118 Ibid., 155.

   119 Ibid.

   120 Ibid., 190.

   121 Ibid., 196.

   122 Ibid., 171.



266                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

as the scenery itself was representative of the creative work accomplished

in these periods. For if the apparent days occurred in only the vision, and

were not symbolic of foregone periods, they could not have been trans-

ferred with any logical propriety from the vision itself to that which the

vision represented, as we find done in what our Shorter Catechism terms

‘the reason annexed to the Fourth Commandment.' The days must have

been prophetic days, introduced, indeed, into the panorama of creation

as mayhap mere openings and droppings of the curtain, but not the less

symbolic of the series of successive periods, each characterized by its own

productions and events, in which creation itself was comprised.123

 

The six days were small replicas of the vast periods presented

in the visions of Genesis 1, and, in answering the common

objection to the day-age theory based on the fourth com-

mandment, Miller used the scale-model analogy. "The Divine

periods may have been very great,-the human periods very

small; just as a vast continent or the huge earth itself is very

great, and a map or geographical globe very small. But if in

the map or globe the proportions be faithfully maintained,

and the scale, though a minute one, be true in all its parts

and applications, we pronounce the map or globe, notwith-

standing the smallness of its size, a faithful copy.”124

Miller suggested that Genesis 1 represented a prophecy of

the past. This notion provided a key to the interpretation of

the text. Just as historical fulfillment is the best interpreter of

revealed prophecies which point to events in the prophet's

future, so the historical fulfillment of a backward-looking

prophecy is the best way to interpret it. That fulfillment is

provided by science.

 

In what light, or on what principle, shall we most correctly read the pro-

phetic drama of creation? In the light, I reply, of scientific discovery,-on

the principle that the clear and certain must be accepted, when attainable,

as the proper exponents of the doubtful and obscure. What fully developed

history is to the prophecy which of old looked forwards, fully developed

science is to the prophecy which of old looked backwards.125

 

In Miller's judgment the geology of his day was sufficiently

developed that much light could be shed on the events of

several of the days of creation, just as the well-developed

astronomy of his day could shed light on the character of day

 

   123 Ibid., 205-6.

   124 Ibid., 176.

   125 Ibid., 194.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 267

 

four. He didn't think that geology was sufficiently advanced

that the work of days one and two could be specified with

confidence. Thus Miller focussed on days three, five, and six

as those to which geology could contribute the most, but he

also attempted a preliminary explanation of the other three

days.

The first and second days of creation were represented by

rocks of the "Azoic period, during which the immensely de-

veloped gneisses, mica schists, and primary clay slates, were

deposited, and the two extended periods represented by the

Silurian and Old Red Sandstone systems."126  During this time

the earth's surface and its primitive ocean may have gradually

cooled so that the primitive, thick, cloudy atmosphere became

less dense. Eventually the rays of the sun struggled through

and strengthened "until, at the close of the great primary

period, day and night,--the one still dim and gray, the other

wrapped in a pall of thickest darkness,--would succeed each

other as now, as the earth revolved on its axis, and the unseen

luminary rose high over the cloud in the east, or sunk in the

west beneath the undefined and murky horizon."127  On the

second day, attention was focussed on atmospheric phenom-

ena. To the prophetic eye absorbed in the vision such phe-

nomena would have attracted far more attention than the

appearance of invertebrate life of the Silurian period or the

fish of the Old Red Sandstone period. Such events would have

been "comparatively inconspicuous" to the prophet.

Of days three, five, and six Miller was more confident. The

vision of day three was more "geological in its character" than

days one or two. "Extensive tracts of dry land appear, and

there springs up over them, at the Divine command, a rank

vegetation. And we know that what seems to be the corre-

sponding Carboniferous period, unlike any of the preceding

ones, was remarkable for its great tracts of terrestrial surface,

and for its extraordinary flora."128  The Carboniferous period

was characterized by "wonderfully gigantic and abundant veg-

etation."129  The fourth day, devoted to astronomical features,

 

   126 Ibid., 196.

   127 Ibid., 198.

   128 Ibid., 200-201.

   129 Ibid., 201.

 



268                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

was identified with the Permian and Triassic periods geolog-

ically.

The fifth day was linked with the Oolitic130 and Cretaceous

periods.

The grand existences of the age,--the existences in which it excelled every

other creation, earlier or later, were its huge creeping things,--its enor-

mous monsters of the deep,--and, as shown by the impressions of their

footprints stamped upon the rocks, its gigantic birds.... Its wonderful

whales, not, however, as now, of the mammalian, but of the reptilian class,-

ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and cetiosaurs,--must have tempested the

deep.... We are thus prepared to demonstrate, that the second period of

the geologist was peculiarly and characteristically a period of whale-like

reptiles of the sea, of enormous creeping reptiles of the land, and of

numerous birds, some of them of gigantic size; and, in meet accordance

with the fact, we find that the second Mosaic period with which the

geologist is called on to deal was a period in which God created the fowl

that flieth above the earth, with moving [or creeping] creatures, both in the

waters and on the land, and what our translation renders great whales, but

that I find rendered, in the margin, great sea monsters.131

 

Day six was equated with the Tertiary period. Although "its

flora seems to have been no more conspicuous than that of

the present time; its reptiles occupy a very subordinate place;

but its beasts of the field were by far the most wonderfully

developed, both in size and number, that ever appeared upon

earth."132

Another prominent advocate of the day-age theory was Ar-

nold Guyot, a Swissborn geographer and geologist who spent

most of his professional career at Princeton University. Guyot

was a committed Christian completely convinced of the an-

tiquity of the earth. He sought to work out a harmonization

between Scripture and geology, and a series of early lectures

ultimately resulted in the issue of Creation.133  Although Guyot

recognized that the main point of the Bible was "to give us

light upon the great truths needed for our spiritual life,"134

nonetheless the "antique document" agreed in its statements

with the science of his day. In fact the "history of Creation

 

   130 The Oolitic was the equivalent of what today is referred to as the Jurassic

period (system).

   131 Ibid., 161.

   132 Ibid., 162.

   133 Arnold Guyot, Creation (New York: C. Scribner's, 1884).

   134 Ibid., 4.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 269

 

is given in the form of a grand cosmogonic week, with six

creative or working days."135  The problem for Guyot was to

demonstrate the coincidence of the sequence of events out-

lined by geology with the sequence of events outlined in

Genesis 1.

Guyot devoted far more attention to the "cosmological"

and "astronomical" parts of Genesis 1 than had Miller. For

Guyot Gen 1:2 referred to matter in its primitive condition.

The term "earth" (‘eres) "is an equivalent for matter in gen-

eral," and was the "primordial cosmic material out of which

God's Spirit, brooding upon the waters, was going to organize,

at the bidding of His Almighty Word, the universe and the

earth."136  Similarly, the "waters" over which the Spirit

brooded referred "to the gaseous atmosphere; it is simply

descriptive of the state of cosmic matter comprised in the

word earth."137  These were the same cosmic waters mentioned

in Ps 148:4. Once it was recognized that "earth" and "water"

referred to primordial matter Gen 1:2 became clear.

The matter just created was gaseous; it was without form, for the property

of gas is to expand indefinitely. It was void, or empty, because apparently

homogeneous and, invisible. It was dark, because as yet inactive, light

being the result of the action of physical and chemical forces not yet

awakened.  It was a deep, for its expansion in space, though indefinite, was

not infinite, and it had dimensions. And the Spirit of God moved upon the

face ... of that vast, inert, gaseous mass, ready to impart to it motion, and to

direct all its subsequent activity, according to a plan gradually revealed by

the works of the great cosmic days.138

 

As the great gaseous mass began to move, light developed

and the waters were separated. But Gen 1:6-7 was not re-

ferring to anything as ordinary as the clouds in the sky. Rather

the work of the second day referred to the organizing of the

heavens. "The vast primitive nebula of the first day breaks

up into a multitude of gaseous masses, and these are con-

centrated into stars."139  Thus the nebulous masses (galaxies)

of outer space were the heavens of heavens, that is, the waters

 

   135 Ibid., 11.

   136 Ibid., 35-36.

   137 Ibid., 36.

   138 Ibid., 38.

   139 Ibid., 63.



270                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

above the heavens. In contrast, our own immediate celestial

neighborhood consisting of the sun, moon, and nearby stars

were the waters below the heavens. The firmament, by im-

plication, meant the vastness of space between our own nebula

and those at a far distance.

By the third day the earth was like a cooling star. Chemical

interactions within its atmosphere and ocean produced a lu-

minous glow or "photosphere" like that of the sun. The glow

diminished as the earth cooled and became more suitable for

life. Only the simplest plant forms could appear under these

conditions. Guyot wanted to postpone the development of

complex plants until day five, but Genesis said that plants

appeared on the third day. To deal with this problem, Guyot

said,

Is this position of the plant in the order of creation confirmed by geology?

If we should understand the text as meaning that the whole plant kingdom,

from the lowest infusorial form to the highest dicotyledon, was created at

this early day, geology would assuredly disprove it. But the author of

Genesis, as we have before remarked, mentions every order of facts but

once, and he does it at the time of its first introduction. Here, therefore,

the whole system of plants is described in full outline, as it has been

developed, from the lowest to the most perfect, in the succession of ages;

for it will never again be spoken of in the remainder of the narrative.140

 

Thus Guyot introduced the idea that the events of the six

days might overlap one another.

The appearance of the heavenly bodies on day four had

nothing to do with an ex nihilo creation at the time. They

"existed before, and now enter into new relations with the

earth."141  Because the earth was self-luminous due to chemical

action during its early stages, the light of the sun, moon, and

star was "merged in the stronger light of its photosphere, and

therefore invisible to it. But after the disappearance of its

luminous envelope, our glorious heavens with sun, moon, and

stars become visible, and the earth depends upon this outside

source for light and heat."142

 

   140 Ibid., 89-90.

   141 Ibid., 92.

   142 Ibid., 93.



271                 SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS

 

Guyot correlated day four with the production of Archean

rocks.143  On day five, Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks were de-

posited with their contained fossils, and on the sixth day

Tertiary rocks were deposited. The boundary between the

Cretaceous and Tertiary periods was thought to occur at the

juncture between days five and six. There was an important

difference between Miller and Guyot in the correlation of

geological events with the days. Miller had assigned day three

to the Carboniferous period in the latter part of the Paleozoic

era, while Guyot did not even begin the Paleozoic era until

day five. Table II compares the two correlation schemes with

each other and with that of Dawson. The concordistic scheme

of the great nineteenth century North American geologist,

James Dwight Dana of Yale University, was nearly identical

to that of Guyot.144

One of the major concordistic works of the nineteenth cen-

tury was The Origin of the World According to Revelation and

Science145  by J. William Dawson, a great Canadian geologist

from McGill University and a devout evangelical Christian.

Dawson's work spelled out in great detail both exegetical

arguments for his conclusions and scientific interpretations

of a variety of correspondences between Scripture and ge-

ology.

Dawson argued that the days of Genesis 1 must be long

periods of time of indeterminate length. His major argument

centered on the nature of the seventh day. He assumed that

absence of the formula "the evening and the morning were

the seventh day" was an indication that the seventh day had

not yet terminated. The notion was further supported by

appeal to the continued rest of God in Hebrews 4 and to the

nature of God's working on his Sabbath day in John 5. Dawson

also maintained that the lack of rain in Gen 2:5 indicated that

 

   143 The term Archean is typically applied by geologists even today to the

oldest known rocks. Such rocks generally underlie other rocks and are typ-

ically though not always metamorphic and igneous rocks. Some of the strat-

ified Archean rocks contain fossil remains of primitive one-celled organisms.

   144 See, for example, James Dwight Dana, "Creation, or the Biblical Cos-

mogony in the Light of Modern Science," BSac 42 (1885) 201-24.

   145 J William Dawson, The Origin of the World according to Revelation and Science

(London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1898).



272     WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

TABLE II

Correlation Schemes of Major Nineteenth-Century Day-Age Concordists

Miller                                     Guyot                          Dawson

Day one          Azoic period,                                                             Atmosphere

clearing of cloudy                                                     clears

atmosphere

Day two          Silurian and Old                     Primitive nebula        Clouds and

Red periods, de-                    breaks up into            oceans segregate

velopment of at-                    gaseous masses

mosphere                               and stars

Day three        Carboniferous                        Earth cools, sim-       Eozoic period,

period, lush vege-                  ple plants only           continents

tation  emerge

Day four         Permian and                           Archean period          Sun condensed,

Triassic periods,                    (equivalent of continents resub-

final clearing of                     Miller's Azoic),         merged

atmosphere                            sun becomes visi-

ble as glowing

earth loses its lu-

minosity

Day five          Oolitic and Cre-                    Paleozoic and            Paleozoic and

taceous periods,                    Mesozoic eras           Mesozoic eras

ichthyosaurs, ple-                  (equivalent of

siosaurs, birds,                       Miller's Silurian

pterodactyls                           through Creta-

ceous), marine

animals and com-

plex vegetation

Day six           Tertiary land                           Tertiary land               Tertiary land

mammals                                mammals                    mammals

 

the creation days were long periods of time, because it would

be absurd that any prominence should be given to a lack of

rain if the days were only 24 hours long.

Why should any prominence be given to a fact so common as a lapse of

two ordinary days without rain, more especially if a region of the earth

and not the whole is referred to, and in a document prepared for a people

residing in climates such as those of Egypt and Palestine. But what could

be more instructive and confirmatory of the truth of the narrative than the

fact that in the two long periods which preceded the formation and clearing

up of the atmosphere or firmament, on which rain depended, and the

elevation of the dry land, which so greatly modifies its distribution, there

had been no rain such as now occurs.146

 

    146 Ibid., 142.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 273

 

For Dawson, the initial earth was a ball of hot vapor and

liquid that had spun out of a primitive solar nebula. "The

words of Moses appear to suggest a heated and cooling globe,

its crust as yet unbroken by internal forces, covered by a

universal ocean, on which rested a mass of confused vaporous

substances."147 The great deep referred to the atmospheric

waters covering the earth, and the darkness of Gen 1:2 was

the darkness of outer space "destitute of luminaries." The

cooling of the vaporous globe took millions of years and would

continue until the "atmosphere could be finally cleared of its

superfluous vapors."148 The light that appeared on day one

"must have proceeded from luminous matter diffused through

the whole space of the solar system."149  This luminous matter

was gradually concentrated and "at length all gathered within

the earth's orbit"150 so that only one hemisphere at a time

would be lighted.

At first there was no distinction between sea and atmo-

sphere: "The earth was covered by the waters, and these were

in such a condition that there was no distinction between the

seas and the clouds. No atmosphere separated them, or, in

other words, dense fogs and mists everywhere rested on the

surface of the primeval ocean."151 Continued cooling led to

separation of the waters and the formation of a distinct ocean

and atmosphere. The ocean waters segregated into basins as

the dry lands appeared as suggested by Prov 8:25, Ps 119:90,

Job 9:6, and Job 38:4. Ps 104:5-9 especially referred to the

work of the third day.

 

In whichever sense we understand this line, the picture presented to us

by the Psalmist includes the elevation of the mountains and continents,

the subsidence of the waters into their depressed basins, and the firm

establishment of the dry land on its rocky foundations, the whole accom-

panied by a feature not noticed in Genesis--the voice of God's thunder--

or, in other words, electrical and volcanic explosions."152

 

   147 Ibid., 110.

   148 Ibid., 113.

   149 Ibid., 117.

   150 Ibid.

   151 Ibid., 157.

   152 Ibid., 176.



274                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Dawson saw geologist Elie de Beaumont's contraction hy-

pothesis as consistent with the biblical account of day three.

Geologists, noted Dawson,

have attributed the elevation of the continents and the upheaval and pla-

cation of mountain chains to the secular refrigeration of the earth, causing

its outer shell to become too capacious for its contracting interior mass,

and thus to break or bend, and to settle toward the centre. This view would

well accord with the terms in which the elevation of the land is mentioned

throughout the Bible, and especially with the general progress of the work

as we have gleaned it from the Mosaic narrative; since from the period of

the desolate void and aeriform deep to that now before us secular refrig-

eration must have been steadily in progress.153

 

Dawson identified the appearance of vegetation on day

three with the Eozoic period154 (see Table II). Dawson was

well aware that in the fossil record well-developed invertebrate

animals appear earlier than land vegetation. To evade the

force of the difficulty he assumed that many older deposits

of fossil plants had been metamorphosed and destroyed be-

yond recognition. He suggested that during metamorphism

the organic material was converted into graphite, i.e., crys-

talline carbon, a very common mineral in older metamorphic

rocks.

Dawson identified the Hebrew word min (kind) with bio-

logical species. In Deut 14:15 and Lev 1:14 the term was said

clearly to mean species, and so Dawson believed that the text

ruled out any development hypotheses. Long after the pub-

lication of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection

Dawson resisted biological evolution.

Each species, as observed by us, is permanently reproductive, variable

within narrow limits, and incapable of permanent intermixture with other

species; and though hypotheses of modification by descent, and of the

production of new species by such modification, may be formed, they are

not in accordance with experience, and are still among the unproved spec-

ulations which haunt the outskirts of true science.155

 

On the fourth day the concentration of luminosity in the

center of the solar system, that is, the condensation of the

 

   153 Ibid., 184-85.

   154 The term Eozoic was applied for a term to the very latest Precambrian

rocks, rocks that occurred just beneath the stratified Cambrian rocks and that

were thought to contain very primitive invertebrate fossils.

   155 Ibid., 189.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 275

 

luminous envelope around the sun, was completed. The sun

and moon could then become markers for the seasons and

years. In earlier periods there were no distinctly marked sea-

sons, and the limits of days and years were inaccurately de-

fined. Dawson suggested that during the fourth day a large

portion of the continental landmasses resubmerged because

the fifth day was predominantly the day of marine life.

During the third day the extent of terrestrial surface was increasing, on

the fourth day it diminished, and on the fifth it again increased, and

probably has on the whole continued to increase up to the present time.

One most important geological consequence of this is that the marine

animals of the fifth day probably commenced their existence on sea

bottoms which were the old soil surfaces of submerged continents

previously clothed with vegetation, and which consequently contained

much organic matter fitted to form a basis of support for the newly created

animals.156

 

All the animals created on the fifth day were attributed to the

Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras. The sixth day belonged to the

Tertiary period, the age of mammals. On the latter point he

was in general agreement with Guyot.

Brief mention may also be made of George Frederick

Wright, the last of the great nineteenth-century Christian ge-

ologists. Throughout his long career Wright addressed ques-

tions relating to the integration of Christianity and geology.

In 1882, in Studies in Science and Religion,157 Wright noted that

he was not impressed with the efforts of other geologists to

achieve concord. "In many of these attempts it is difficult to

tell which has been most distorted, the rocks or the sacred

record."158  Calling Genesis 1 a "remarkable ‘proem' " Wright

believed that

 

it was not modern science with which the sacred writers wished to be

reconciled, but polytheism which they wished to cut up root and branch....

When thus we consider it as a protest against polytheism, and an enforce-

ment of the first two commandments, it seems an impertinence to endeavor

to find all modern science in the document, however easy it may be for

science to find shelter under the drapery of its rhetoric.159

 

   156 Ibid., 205.

   157 George Frederick Wright, Studies in Science and Religion (Andover: Warren

F. Draper, 1882).

   158 Ibid., 365.

   159 Ibid., 366-67.



276                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Wright showed that in all the details of Genesis 1 it was

affirmed that God was Creator. The sun, sky, animals, and so

on were all creatures of the one true God and should not be

the objects of worship.

Wright later changed his mind and undertook the very effort

he earlier condemned. In Scientific Confirmations of Old Testament

History160 so Wright confessed that he had dwelt "too exclusively

upon the adaptation of the document to the immediate pur-

pose of counteracting the polytheistic tendencies of the Is-

raelites."161 Upon further reflection he was so impressed by

the writings of Dana and Guyot that he saw "in this account

a systematic arrangement of creative facts which corresponds

so closely with the order of creation as revealed by modern

science that we cannot well regard it as accidental."162  His

thumbnail review of the correspondence of Genesis 1 and the

order of geology was essentially taken over from the Guyot-

Dana position.

 

3. Nineteenth-Century Concordism--the Flood

 

Because concordists felt the cumulative weight of geological

evidence against the notion of a global deluge that deposited

the entire stratigraphic column, harmonistic concerns shifted

from the flood to the creation account. Nevertheless the flood

played an important subsidiary role in their thought. Here,

too, concordists adjusted their interpretations of the flood

story to the constraints of the geological data. During the

early nineteenth century there was still widespread belief in

a catastrophic flood of continental or global proportions even

among mainstream geologists and naturalists who were con-

vinced of the earth's antiquity. The presumed effects of that

flood, however, had been reduced. For example, William

Buckland, who was anxious that geology continue its support

for the Mosaic record of the flood, identified numerous sur-

ficial gravels, erratic boulders, and broad river valleys dis-

 

   160 George Frederick Wright, Scientific Confirmations of Old Testament History

(Oberlin, Ohio: Bibliotheca Sacra, 1906).

   161 Ibid., 368.

   162 Ibid., 370.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 277

 

tributed widely over northern Europe as the effects of a

catastrophic deluge.163

Buckland's proposals regarding the flood encountered op-

position on both scientific and biblical grounds. The Scottish

naturalist and Presbyterian minister, John Fleming, said that

Buckland's flood "occasioned the destruction of all the in-

dividuals of many species of quadrupeds."164 But that was

clearly contrary to the Mosaic account, for Moses expressly

stated that some of all kinds of animals were preserved in the

ark. This preservation was identified as a preservation of "spe-

cies ": "we have revelation, declaring that, of all species of

quadrupeds a male and female were spared and preserved

during the deluge."165

Secondly, Fleming maintained that Buckland's deluge was

"sudden, transient, universal, simultaneous, rushing with an

overwhelming impetuosity, infinitely more powerful than the

most violent waterspouts."166 Fleming took issue with such

diluvial attributes.

In the history of the Noachian deluge by Moses, there is not a term em-

ployed which indicates any one of the characters, except universality, at-

tributed to the geological deluge. On the contrary, the flood neither

approached nor retired suddenly.... There is no notice taken of the furious

movements of the waters, which must have driven the ark violently to and

fro.167

 

Fleming also disagreed about the geological capabilities of

the flood. Buckland's flood "excavated, in its fury, deep val-

leys, tearing up portions of the solid rock, and transporting

to a distance the wreck which it had produced." 168 But if that

had happened,

 

   163 See William Buckland, Reliquiae diluvianae (London: John Murray, 1823 ).

Later in his career, Buckland became convinced of the adequacy of the glacial

hypothesis to account for the boulders, gravels, widened valleys, and many

of the vertebrate deposits. As a result, he manfully recanted his earlier com-

mitment to a catastrophic deluge theory.

   164 John Fleming, "The Geological Deluge, as interpreted by Baron Cuvier

and Professor Buckland, inconsistent with the testimony of Moses and the

Phenomena of Nature," Edinburgh Philosophical Journal 14 (1826) 211.

   165 Ibid., 212.

   166 Ibid., 213.

   167 Ibid.

   168 Ibid.



278                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

the antediluvian world must have been widely different from the present;

lakes, and valleys, and seas, now existing in places formerly occupied by

rocks, and the courses of rivers greatly altered. In the Book of Genesis

there is no such change hinted at. On the contrary, the countries and rivers

which existed before the flood, do not appear, from any thing said in the

Scriptures, to have experienced any change in consequence of that event.

But if the supposed impetuous torrent excavated valleys, and transported

masses of rocks to a distance from their original repositories, then must

the soil have been swept from off the earth, to the destruction of the

vegetable tribes. Moses does not record such an occurrence. On the con-

trary, in his history of the dove and the olive-leaf plucked off, he furnishes

a proof that the flood was not so violent in its motions as to disturb the

soil, nor to overturn the trees which it supported; nor was the ground

rendered, by the catastrophe, unfit for the cultivation of the vine.169

 

Convinced of the tranquil nature of the flood and of its

general lack of substantial geological activity, Fleming com-

mented that he did not expect to find any marks or memorials

to the flood. As a matter of fact, if he had "witnessed every

valley and gravel-bed, nay, every fossil bone, attesting the

ravages of the dreadful scene, I would have been puzzled to

account for the unexpected difficulties; and might have been

induced to question the accuracy of Moses as an historian, or

the claims of the Book of Genesis to occupy its present place

in the sacred record."170

Fleming's tranquil flood theory was not widely adopted.

Later concordists who accepted the historical reality of the

flood believed that the flood had left significant geological

relics. However, the flood was considered to be geographically

restricted. Hugh Miller eloquently argued against the geo-

graphic universality of the flood and spoke of the "palpable

monstrosities" associated with universal deluge theories. In

the nature of the case, Miller argued, there could have been

no eye-witness to the extent of the flood. If Noah and his

family were the only survivors there was no way they could

have observed that the flood had been universal. God could

have revealed such geographic facts, but then "God's reve-

lations have in most instances been made to effect exclusively

moral purposes; and we know that those who have perilously

held that, along with the moral facts, definite physical facts,

 

   169 Ibid., 213-14.

   170 Ibid., 214.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 279

 

geographic, geologic, or astronomical, has also been im-

parted, have almost invariably found themselves involved in

monstrous error."171 The moral significance of the flood

would not be altered by a reduction in its extent. Miller stated

that universal language was commonly used in Scripture for

more limited events. In many instances it was clear from the

text that such a limitation was inherent, "but there is no such

explanation given to limit or restrict most of the other pas-

sages; the modifying element must be sought for outside the

sacred volume."172 The flood story fell into that latter cate-

gory.

Almost all the texts of Scripture in which questions of physical science are

involved, the limiting, modifying, explaining facts and circumstances must

be sought for in that outside region of secular research, historic and sci-

entific, from which of late years so much valuable biblical illustration has

been derived, and with which it is so imperatively the duty of the Church

to keep up an acquaintance at least as close and intimate as that maintained

with it by her gainsayers and assailants.173

 

For Miller science showed that there had been no universal

flood.

One of the compelling arguments against the universality

of the flood concerned the problem of getting animals to and

from the ark. Supposing for the sake of argument the validity

of the idea that the flood involved elevation of the sea bed

and sinking of landmasses, Miller poked fun at some of the

inherent impossibilities of the universal deluge.

 

A continuous tract of land would have stretched,--when all the oceans

were continents and all the continents oceans,--between the South Amer-

ican and the Asiatic coasts. And it is just possible that, during the hundred

and twenty years in which the ark was in building, a pair of sloths might

have crept by inches across this continuous tract, from where the skeletons

of the great megatheria174 are buried, to where the great vessel stood. But

after the Flood had subsided, and the change in sea and land had taken

place, there would remain for them no longer a roadway; and so, though

their journey outwards might, in all save the impulse which led to it, have

been altogether a natural one, their voyage homewards could not be other

than miraculous. Nor would the exertion of miracle have had to be re-

 

   171 Miller, Testimony, 300-301.

   172 Ibid., 302.

   173 Ibid., 302-3.

   174 Megatherium was a gigantic extinct sloth.



280     WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

stricted to the transport of the remoter travellers. How, we may well ask,

had the Flood been universal, could even such islands as Great Britain and

Ireland have ever been replenished with many of their original inhabitants?

Even supposing it possible that animals, such as the red deer and the native

ox might have swam across the Straits of Dover or the Irish Channel, to

graze anew over deposits in which the bones and horns of their remote

ancestors had been entombed long ages before, the feat would have been

surely far beyond the power of such feeble natives of the soil as the mole,

the hedgehog, the shrew, the dormouse, and the field-vole.175

 

Though firmly convinced of a local deluge, Miller admitted

being on "weak ground" when discussing the location and

mechanism of the flood. He suggested that the very large,

depressed area of central Asia around the Caspian, Black, and

Aral seas might have been the locus of the flood. He claimed

that if a "trench-like strip of country that communicated be-

tween the Caspian and the Gulf of Finland" were "depressed

beneath the level of the latter sea, it would so open up the

fountains of the great deep as to lay under water an extensive and

populous region."176  If the area were depressed by 400 feet

per day, the basin would subside to a depth of 16,000 feet

within forty days and the highest mountains of the district

would be drowned. If volcanic outbursts were associated with

such a depression of the land, the atmosphere would be so

affected that "heavy drenching rains" would have descended

the entire time.

Dawson, following Miller, suggested that the flood was a

local event and that subsidence of an inhabited land area

resulted in large scale flooding and entombment of the pre-

diluvian races beneath deposits of mud and silt around the

Caspian Sea.

 

The physical agencies evoked by the divine power to destroy this ungodly

race were a subsidence of the region they inhabited, so as to admit the

oceanic waters, and extensive atmospherical disturbances connected with

that subsidence, and perhaps with the elevation of neighboring regions.

In this case it is possible that the Caspian Sea, which is now more than

eighty feet below the level of the ocean, and which was probably much

more extensive then than at present, received much of the drainage of the

flood, and that the mud and sand deposits of this sea and the adjoining

 

   175 Ibid., 348.

   176 Ibid., 356.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS             281

 

desert plains, once manifestly a part of its bottom, concealed any remains

that exist of the antediluvian population.177

 

Wright, too, believed the flood had been a great local in-

undation of a huge tract of central Asia. To Wright the biblical

account "represents the Flood as caused not so much by the

rising of the water, as by the sinking of the land. It says that

all the fountains of the great deep were broken up."178 As a

glacial geologist, Wright related the flood to glacial action.

The removal of enormous quantities of water from the ocean

and their inclusion in massive glacial sheets caused redistri-

bution of weight on the earth's surface. The ice sheets de-

pressed the landmasses while the ocean beds were elevated

as the load of water was removed. These readjustments led

to pressures that reinforced depression of portions of the

landmasses.179 One of the great depressed areas was that of

central Asia in which early mankind was living. At the end of

the ice age, enormous amounts of glacial meltwater returned

to the oceans and also temporarily drowned the great basin

of central Asia. The Caspian, Aral, and Black Seas, and Lake

Baikal were said to be remnants of that vast depression.

 

4. Recent Concordism

Since the nineteenth century, Christian geologists became

a silent minority. For several decades few harmonizations of

Scripture with geological data were attempted.180 Then in

1977, a sudden flurry of concordist works appeared beginning

with my Creation and the Flood.181 My scheme resembled the

day-age proposals of Miller, Dana, Guyot, and Dawson. The

geological data were updated, and it was proposed that the

events of the six days were overlapping. A diagram illustrated

how the days of creation might have overlapped. Genesis 1

 

   177 Dawson, Origin, 256.

   178 Wright, Scientific Confirmations, 206.

   179 Ibid., 224-29.

   180 An important exception to the dearth of concordist literature during

this period is B. Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids:

Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1954). It should, however, be recognized that Ramm

spoke as a theologian trained in the sciences rather than as a scientist.

   181 Davis A. Young, Creation and the Flood (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977).



282                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

was said to contain summary reports of the major activities

of each day so that the creative events of each day were not

necessarily restricted to that day. For example, bird formation

was envisioned as possibly continuing into day six, and the

creation of mammals was viewed as being initiated prior to

day six and reaching its climax on that day.182

I suggested that the creation of earth on day one referred

to a partially organized body not yet fit for life and habitation.

The deep was an initial ocean that covered the globe prior

to continent formation.183  The light of day one had reference

only to earth; it was "radiant energy falling on the earth's surface

for the first time.184  I denied that this creation of light had

anything to do with the so-called Big Bang hypothesis.185

The division of waters related to the clouds above and

watery oceans beneath; the creation of the firmament involved

the development of the atmosphere. The waters accumulated

into ocean basins, and continental landmasses appeared on

the third day. It was admitted that "some difficulties are readily

apparent in correlating Genesis with paleobotany."186 The

problem was that "different categories of plants seem to have

arisen over widely-spaced times."187  Like Guyot and Dawson,

I noted that Genesis places plants before animals but that

geology reverses the order. I suggested that future paleon-

tological work would disclose more information about the

origins of plants and that the biasing of early Paleozoic rocks

in favor of marine deposits had led us to overlook the possible

importance of terrestrial land plants that might have existed

earlier than we had thought. After a century of intense pa-

leontological investigation and of day-age concordism, I did

no better with the plant-animal sequence than had Guyot or

Dawson. Although more open to evolution than Dawson, I

nevertheless thought that the expression "after his kind" sug-

 

   182 Ibid., 116-17.

   183 Ibid., 119.

   184 Ibid., 120.

   185 Ibid.

   186 Ibid., 128.

   187 Ibid.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS             283

 

gested an "independence of botanical classes that is incom-

patible with the general plant evolution.188

I, too, insisted that the absolute origin of the sun, moon,

and stars did not occur on the fourth day. The function of

the heavenly bodies with respect to earth was in view.  "The

point seems to be that at this time the earth comes into its

present and final relationship to the sun so that now the sun

and moon can serve as time regulators for the earth."189

In 1983, John Wiester published a fine summary of current

geological and astronomical findings within the constraints of

the day-age theory.190  Wiester said little about Gen 1:2 and

linked that verse with the moment of creation or even "before

the beginning." He made no effort to identify the great deep.

Of this verse he said, "The most we can say scientifically about

‘before the beginning’ is that we know nothing about it. The

scientific quest has reached a barrier it cannot penetrate. Time

and space have no meaning or existence. We must turn to

the Scripture at this point."191 Creation therefore began with

the pronouncement of God, "Let there be light." This light

was identified with the Big Bang of modern cosmology. "Sci-

ence now fully agrees with the Bible that the Universe began

with light. It is time our textbooks reflected the harmony of

science with the first creation command in Genesis."192

Wiester attributed the formation of the atmosphere to day

two. During its early history the earth went through a molten

stage, characterized by segregation of materials in the interior

as well as outgassing of volatile substances. The outgassed

material separated into seas and a cloudy atmosphere. The

waters were gathered into ocean basins and continents ap-

peared. Wiester claimed that the creation of the sun on day

four related to clearing of the atmosphere. He suggested that

"the primordial atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other

smog-like gases had to be purified,"193 and that Gen 1:15 has

in view "the transformation of light from the Sun into a ben-

 

   188 Ibid., 127.

   189 Ibid., 129.

   190 John L. Wiester, The Genesis Connection (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983).

   191 Ibid., 36.

   192 Ibid., 45.

   193 Ibid., 115.



284     WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

eficial energy source" for "we do know that scientific history

places the appearance of sunlight beneficial to advanced life

in the same sequential order as this fourth creation command

in Genesis."194

Another recent attempt at concordism is The Genesis

Answer195 by William Lee Stokes of the University of Utah.

Although Stokes worked out a correspondence of cosmic and

geological history with the days of Genesis 1, he asserted that

the days did not represent figurative periods of time. The

days "were not of equal duration and are not intended to be

measures of time. They are not the periods, epochs, and eras

invented by geologists. Their meaning is celestial and not

terrestrial. They are God's divisions of his own creations."196

This view he called the Genesis code. Even though the days

were not periods of time, each creative day was said to consist

of a period dominated by darkness and a period dominated

by light.

Stokes maintained that in Gen 1:2 the original, primitive

"earth" was "universal unorganized matter, primitive, basic,

and elemental--but with endless potential for future devel-

opment."197 Since there was no planet yet, neither the deep

nor the waters of Gen 1:2 could refer to an ocean. The face

of the deep "is to signify that there was a mass, at least a

separate entity, with a surface or discontinuity surrounding

surrounding the material which God intended to organize."198

The water of Gen 1:2 was water in outer space. Stokes stated

that "water exists in the clouds of space and is known to be

abundant in areas where new stars are forming. Reasoning

and speculating from these facts it may be assumed for the

sake of continuing the story that water may be essential to

the formation of solar systems like the one to which the Earth

belongs."199

 

   194 Ibid.

   195 William L. Stokes, The Genesis Answer (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice-

Hall, 1984).

   196 Ibid., 53.

   197 Ibid., 30.

   198 Ibid., 32.

   199 Ibid., 40.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS             285

 

Stokes admitted difficulty in explaining the origin of light.

He said that the creation of light on day one was not to be

identified with the Big Bang of modern astronomy but to a

later stage of development. Thus the Big Bang fireball could

have occurred before the six creative days. As the original

brilliance of the fireball gradually diminished, the universe

approached a period of universal darkness. This darkness was

the evening of the first day. "The appearance and dominance

of light in the galaxy we call our own would be the `morning'

of the first day.200

Stokes' astronomical approach carried over into the dis-

cussion of day two. The waters above and below the firmament

were waters of space, and the "production of the Firmament

is equivalent to events that followed the production of the

first light-producing objects of the galaxy.”201  The creation

of the firmament was essentially completed when the spiral

arms of our galaxy appeared. The waters under the firmament

and the waters above the firmament were the two opposite

spiral arms of the galaxy! The next step was to explain the

evening and morning of the second day. "Certainly a black

hole appears to be exactly what is needed for the dark phase

of the second day. Here, more dramatically than any other

known arrangement, light is separated from darkness. The

separation is forceable--light is restrained from escaping."202

On day three the waters were gathered together. Stokes

proposed that some of the water on one side of the evolving

galaxy came together and developed enough material from

which to build several solar systems. "The emphasis is on a

process that would eventually give rise to the earth."203 More-

over, "The theme of Gen 1:9 is clearly the emergence of a

solid planet from formerly diffuse, unorganized material.204

The separation of earth from water was identified with seg-

regation of earth from the nebular dust cloud. "The burning

process literally ‘cleaned up’ the solar system by sweeping

away the remnants of the nebular cloud. This was the final

 

   200 Ibid., 63.

   201 Ibid., 78.

   202 Ibid., 82.

   203 Ibid., 85.

   204 Ibid., 87.



286                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

event which brought the planet earth into existence as a sep-

arate solid body. The earth had at length ‘come up dry'."205

Still further, "the gathering together ‘in one place' seems to

be a very acceptable description of the accumulation of matter

in a specific region of space that is an essential step in for-

mation of a solar system and also in the formation of individual

planets and satellites."206 As the process continued "it is not

difficult to visualize the planet emerging form enclosing mists

or clouds. The references to ‘dry land’ or a dry earth is [sic]

scientifically very significant. The use of this wording forces

the conclusion that the earth was at one stage without surface

bodies of liquid water."207  The darkness of day three ensued

as the matter of the spiral arm of the galaxy passed from the

luminous region into the dark inter-arm region.

As the dust and gas that had been diffused throughout the

solar system were cleared away by solar light, radiation, and

wind, the sun became visible. This passage from the obscurity

of dust clouds into the clear light of the sun marked the

passage from the darkness of evening into the light of morning

of the fourth day.

One final work that merits attention is Genesis One and the

Origin of the Earth208 by Robert C. Newman and Herman Eck-

elmann. Although the primary interest of Newman and Eck-

elmann was in astrophysics rather than geology, their

approach bears on geology. Our authors suggested that "each

day opens a new creative period, and therefore each day is

mentioned in Genesis 1 after the activities of the previous

creative period have been described, but before those of the

next period are given."209  Moreover, the days were "sequen-

tial but not consecutive" and "the creative activity largely

occurs between days rather than on them."210  Each day of

Genesis 1 was a 24-hour day that introduced a particular

creative activity of God. The activity was not confined to that

 

   205 Ibid., 92.

   206 Ibid., 97.

   207 Ibid.

   208 Robert C. Newman and Herman J. Eckelmann, Jr., Genesis One and the

Origin of the Earth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977).

   209 Ibid., 64-65.

   210 Ibid., 74.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS             287

 

day, for each day was followed by a long period of time in

which the activity continued. Thus, although the beginning

of the creation of vegetation preceded the beginning of the

creation of land animals, the appearance of vegetation may

have continued after the animals began to appear. "It is not

necessary to suppose that the fruit trees ... were created

before any kind of animal life, which would contradict the

fossil record understood as a chronological sequence. Instead,

we assume that the creative period involving land vegetation

began before the creative periods involving sea, air and land

animals of sorts big enough to be noticed by an average human

observer."211  Newman and Eckelmann named their view the

intermittent-day view. The 24-hour days of creation were sep-

arated by long time gaps of indeterminate length, and most

of the creative activity occurred during those unmentioned

stretches of time.212

Newman and Eckelmann suggested that in Gen 1:2 "the

earth at this point in the narrative is not yet a solid body, but

is shapeless and empty, perhaps even invisible. This is an

excellent, though nontechnical description of the gas cloud

that would eventually form the earth.”213 The darkness on

the earth was a subsequent darkness that developed as the

"shapeless, empty cloud, becomes dark as contraction raises

the density enough to block out starlight."214 Similarly the

"deep" was equated with "the gas cloud, now a dark, cloudy

and unfathomable region of space.”215 A large body of ice or

of water, a mass of ice crystals, ice droplets, a cloud of water

vapor, or even some other fluid would be within the range

of usage of the word mayim (waters, Gen 1:2) in Scripture.

"All of these would have a surface over which the Spirit of

God might ‘move’ or ‘hover’. In agreement with the scientific

  

   211 Ibid., 79.

   212 An early exegetical defense of a view very similar to the intermittent-

day view can be found in F. Hugh Capron, The Conflict of Truth (Cincinnati:

Jennings and Pye, 1903) 162-99. A similar view has also been proposed in

Alan Hayward, Creation and Evolution (London: Triangle, 1985).

   213 Newman and Eckelmann, Genesis One, 70.

   214 Ibid., 71.

   215 Ibid.



288     WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

model proposed, a dark nebula would be expected to contain

some water vapor.”216

As the gas cloud contracted it would heat and begin to

glow. An hypothetical observer would first see darkness every-

where and then light,

then some of both after they are separated. From the viewpoint of an

observer riding along with the material of the earth as it is being formed,

this is just what our scientific model would predict. When the gas cloud

first begins to contract, the observer can see stars outside.... Later the

contraction becomes sufficient to absorb light from outside the cloud, and

the observer within is in the dark ('darkness was over the surface of the

deep'). After further contraction and heating, however, the whole cloud

lights up and the observer, immersed in light, can see no darkness anywhere

('and there was light'). Then, when the observer follows the equatorial

band of gas and dust out from inside the cloud, both darkness and light

are simultaneously visible.217

 

The firmament (atmosphere) formed by degassing of the

earth's interior. The sun and other astronomical bodies ap-

peared on day four as the cloudy atmosphere cleared.

In these recent efforts, the flood received scant attention;

the focus has been on the interpretation of Genesis 1. My

Creation and the Flood was the only one of these works to deal

with the flood. Only the final chapter was devoted to the flood,

and the intent of that chapter was to criticize the global di-

luvialism of scientific creationism rather than to make positive

proposals. The only widely publicized contemporary flood

theories available to evangelicals are those of scientific crea-

tionism. Small wonder that on the issue of the flood evan-

gelicals are so attracted to that voice; it is virtually the only

one speaking among us!218

Selected interpretations of nineteenth and twentieth cen-

tury concordists are summarized in Table III. Concordists

 

   216 Ibid., 72.

   217 Ibid., 73.

   218 A variety of local and large regional flood hypotheses have been pro-

posed by such writers as E. K. Victor Pearce, R. E. D. Clark, and F. A. Molony

in Faith and Thought and Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute but

none of these is well known to the general evangelical public. Perhaps the

mot extensive evangelical treatment of the flood from a nonscientific crea-

tionist viewpoint is Frederick A. Filby, The Flood Reconsidered (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan, 1970).



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 289

 

TABLE III

Summary of Concordist Interpretations of Key Texts in Genesis

 

Gen 1:2                                  Gen 1:6-8                   Gen. 7:11

Kirwan            Global ocean              Atmosphere               Caverns and

that precipitates                     formed by evap-         ocean

chemicals, heat-                    during chemical        

ing ocean which                     precipitation

then vaporizes to

thick darkness;

Spirit-evapora-

tion

Buckland        Devastated state                                                         Oceanic tides ac-

of world after ca-                                                      counting only for

tastrophe prior                                                           surficial gravels

to re-creation

Fleming                                                                                              Tranquil flood

Miller             Primitive ocean                     Development of         Depression of

                                                                        atmosphere; de-         central Asia and

                                                                        posit of Silurian         subsequent

                                                                        and Old Red               flooding

                                                                        rocks

Guyot              Matter in primi-                     Primitive nebula       

tive condition;                        breaks up into

gaseous atmo-                        gaseous masses

sphere                                     and stars

Dawson           Atmospheric                          Clouds and                 Flooding around

water covering                       ocean segregate         Caspian Sea

earth

Wright                                                                                                Depression of

                                                                                                            earth by glacial

                                                                                                            ice and flooding

                                                                                                            of depressions

                                                                                                            by melting gla-

                                                                                                            cial ice

Newman and Gas cloud that

Eckelmann     blocks out star-

light

 

Stokes             Universal unor-                      Opposed spiral

ganized matter                       arms of galaxy;

and water in                            darkness of sec-

space                                       day due to

black hole



290                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

have been as inventive as the literalists. Gen 1:2 has been

interpreted as a global ocean precipitating chemicals and pro-

ducing a great evaporation, atmospheric water, a simple prim-

itive ocean, primitive matter, a gas cloud, or as the devastated

condition of the world after a great catastrophe long after

creation. Events of the second day of creation have included

formation of the atmosphere by evaporation of the ocean or

by outgassing of earth's interior, the segregation of a primitive

nebula into stars, and the formation of spiral arms of a galaxy

together with black holes. The flood was of continental scale

and formed surficial features, it was completely tranquil and

left no effects, and it inundated central Asia by flooding of

the sea or the melting of glacial ice. The range of suggestions

for the interpretation of these and other portions of the bib-

lical text indicates that concordism has not given us reliable

answers about relating the text to scientific questions. The

Christian concordist still does not know from God's Word

what happened on the second day of creation or how the

flood occurred. Despite many attempts, concordism has not

successfully explained the making of the sun, moon, and stars

on the fourth day. Nor has concordism accounted for the

creation of vegetation on day three prior to the appearance

of sea creatures in relation to the prior appearance of sea life

as disclosed by paleontology. As more and more concordist

suggestions have been advanced in light of the latest devel-

opments in science, one becomes increasingly suspicious that

the biblical text has been pressed into the service of a task

for which it was not intended. I sense that the Bible does not,

even incidentally, provide answers to detailed technical ques-

tions about the structure and history of the cosmos. Scripture

contains no anticipations about the physical development of

the cosmos that awaited the scientific discoveries of the nine-

teenth and twentieth (or future!) centuries to be brought into

the open.

Concordism is not only the pet of Christian scientists. Con-

cordism has also been warmly embraced by theologians and

exegetes. In the nineteenth century Charles Hodge, A. A.

Hodge, and B. B. Warfield, as well as such Scottish Presby-

terian stalwarts as James McCosh, James Orr, and Alexander



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS             291

 

Maclaren were kindly disposed toward the day-age theory.219

James Murphy and Herbert Morris defended the gap theory

in their writings.220 More recently J. 0. Buswell, Jr., and Har-

old Stigers adopted the view that the days of Genesis 1 were

periods of time longer than 24 hours .221  I suggest that we will

be well served if commentators recognize that concordism has

not solved our problem of relating Genesis and geology any

more than literalism. Commentators should not try to show

correlations between Genesis 1 and geology and should per-

haps develop exegeses that are consistent with the historical-

cultural-theological setting of ancient Israel in which Genesis

was written.

 

IV. Conclusions and Suggestions for the Future

 

No doubt not all will choose to follow this trail out of the

swamp. Those who have done so will need to survey coop-

eratively the terrain carefully before setting out a new path.

In taking stock, I propose that several matters need to be

stressed and faced if evangelicals are to follow a path that will

lead to satisfactory integration of biblical interpretation and

scientific study.222

 

1. Literalism and concordism are failed enterprises that evangelicals

should abandon.

A review of 300 years of literalistic and concordistic har-

monizations between the biblical text and the results of em-

 

    219 For a more comprehensive listing of many prominent theologians and

exegetes who adopted the day-age theory see my Christianity and the Age of the

Earth, 55-67.

    220 Herbert W. Morris, Science and the Bible (Philadelphia: Ziegler and

McCurdy, 1871), and James G. Murphy, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis

(Andover: Draper, 1887).

    221 J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., A Systemic Theology of the Christian Religion (Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1962), and Harold G. Stigers, A Commentary on Genesis

(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976).

    222 It is not the purpose of this paper to work out the areas of integration.

That is the future task of Christian exegetes and scientists working in concert.

Nevertheless I suggest that, if a proper integration should focus less on the

precise correlation of presumably historical details, it should also focus more

on broad biblical principles such as God's providence, the orderliness of

creation, and man's role as steward of God's creation that are fundamental

to the scientific task.



292                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

pirical geological study shows that there has been absolutely

no consensus among evangelical Christians about interpre-

tation of the details of the biblical accounts of creation and

the flood or about texts such as Psalm 104, Proverbs 8, or

other wisdom literature that bear on the creation, the flood,

or the physical character of the earth. There has not been a

Christian consensus about the identity of the great deep, about

the firmament, about the waters above and below the firma-

ment, about what happened on the fourth day of creation,

about the sequencing of events and their matching with the

geological evidence, or about the nature of the fountains of

the great deep. Given this history of extreme variation of

understanding of these various elements of the biblical text,

it is unwise to insist that the teaching of the biblical text on

any of these matters is "clear and plain" or that one's own

interpretation is obviously what the biblical text has in mind.

As science developed and new theoretical frameworks were

constructed in light of new discoveries, interpretations of bib-

lical data were repeatedly adjusted to match the new under-

standing of those data. Both details and overall approaches

to Genesis 1 or the flood were adjusted again and again. Such

adjustments will continue with advances in the physical sci-

ences so long as evangelicals assume that the biblical portrayal

of creation gives us a skeletal outline of a scientific history of

the planet or cosmos. The result would be still more variations

of interpretation of texts from which to choose. We would be

farther than ever from approaching an evangelical consensus.

Perhaps the time has come to make the adjustment, in light

of the extrabiblical evidence, away from the idea that the

biblical text gives us a scientifically verifiable history of the

planet.

The inability of literalism to provide a satisfactory agree-

ment between the biblical text and geological knowledge can

be seen on two counts. In the first place, modern literalistic

interpretations of the creation and flood texts yield results

that are wildly at variance with geological knowledge. In the

second place the wide variation of interpretation demonstrates

that we have not yet discovered the proper understanding of

"scientifically relevant" biblical texts. Literalism, after 300



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 293    

 

years, has failed and no longer provides a fruitful approach

for achieving the appropriate biblical view of geology.

Concordism has been unable to provide a satisfactory agree-

ment between the biblical text and geological knowledge.

Concordistic efforts have never been able to do justice to the

fourth day of creation and to the relative positioning of the

third and fifth days of creation in relationship to geological

knowledge.223 On the other hand the variation of suggestions

further demonstrates that concordism has not helped us to

understand "scientifically relevant" biblical texts any more

than has literalism. Concordism, after 250 years, has also

failed and no longer may be assumed to provide a fruitful

approach for achieving an appropriate biblical view of geol-

ogy.

It is doubtful that, after centuries of failure, either strategy

is going to be effective in the future. I suggest that evangelicals

give up the attempt to identify the role of the great deep in

terrestrial history, to work out a geophysics of the flood, to

settle disputes between theistic evolutionists and progressive

creationists about the origin and development of life from

studies of the word "kind" or from the arrangement of dif-

fering life-forms on days three, five, and six, or to work out

the sequence of geological events from biblical data. If evan-

gelicals are to achieve an appropriate understanding of the

relationship between biblical texts and scientific activity, then

literalism and concordism should be abandoned and new ap-

proaches developed.

 

   223 Genesis 1 does, of course, convey the impression of sequential chro-

nology. But even if we do not press the chronology too hard and simply take

refuge in a vaguely sequential interpretation of Genesis 1 and a general

similarity between Genesis 1 and the events of geology, we still cannot avoid

the fact that day four cannot be explained easily in such a way as to allow

formation of the heavens long before earth, and thus achieve concord with

one of the more thoroughly established scientific conclusions. Moreover,

geological evidence makes it clear that marine life preceded land vegetation,

contrary to the view of Genesis 1 that assumes sequence of creative events.

These severe difficulties suggest that we should at least give serious attention

to the possibility that the chronology does not belong to the temporal se-

quence of events on earth but in some way accommodates human under-

standing to divine actions that transcend time.



294                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

            2. The failure of literalism and concordism suggests that the Bible

may not be expected to provide precise "information" or "data" about

the physical structure and history of the planet or cosmos.

Given the wide diversity of available interpretations, it is

unlikely that the Bible provides "high quality data" about

details of the history or internal structure of the planet any

more than Revelation yields "high quality data" about events

of the future as in The Late Great Planet Earth. If the Bible does

provide such data, we have been totally unable to determine

exactly what it is! For example, it is unwise to claim precision

for biblical data about the mechanism of the flood in view of

proposals about subterranean abysses, vapor canopies, caves,

comets, melting glaciers, oceanic tides, colliding asteroids,

and so on. We know nothing from the Bible about how the

flood started except that water was involved!

The fundamental--and understandable--assumption (one

that I made previously) behind the search for "data" or "in-

formation" by both literalists and concordists through the

centuries is that Moses wrote strictly as a "sacred historian."

Thus the creation and flood stories (as well as related wisdom

literature texts) have been read as if they were reports pro-

viding detailed information with quasi-photographic, jour-

nalistic accuracy and precision. And it has been assumed that

these events can potentially be recognized, identified, and

reconstructed from the effects they left behind by using the

tools of geological, cosmological, biological, and anthropo-

logical investigations. Such historical reconstruction has been

thought to be essentially no different from efforts to recon-

struct the historical events of the Roman Empire or Hitler's

Third Reich from extant documents and monuments. The

failure of literalism and concordism suggests that we may have

been mistaken in such attempts.

 

3. Although the so-called "geologically relevant" biblical passages

do not provide data for historical geology in that they are not straight-

forward reportorial chronicles, they nonetheless bear witness to genuine

history.

Even though the creation and flood stories probably should

not be read as journalistic reports or chronicles, they none-

theless treat of events. We must reject the idea that the biblical

account of creation does not speak of origination and can be



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 295

 

reduced solely to the notion of dependence of the material

world on God. Genesis 1 teaches not only the dependence of

the world on God but also its divine origination. God did

bring the world into being (Heb 11:3). Even though Genesis

1 may not yield a sequence of datable events, we must insist

that God did bring plants, animals, heavenly bodies, seas,

earth, and man into existence. Any thought of the eternity of

matter must be rejected. A bringing into being came about

because of God's creative action. What should be addressed

by evangelicals is the manner in which Genesis 1 and other

creation texts portray God's bringing the world into being.

The flood story of Genesis 6-9 also witnesses to genuine

history. The flood story tells us about God's action in this

world and cannot be reduced to mere fable. Even though we

may be unable to reconstruct a "historical geology" of the

flood, behind the flood story of the Bible was an occurrence

in the physical world in which God clearly acted in judgment

and in grace. The task that lies ahead for evangelicals is to

discover in what way the flood event is presented to us in

Scripture.

 

4. In future wrestling with "geologically relevant" texts such as

Genesis 1-11, evangelical scholars will have to face the implications

of the mass of geological data indicating that the earth is extremely old,

indicating that death has been on earth long before man, and indicating

that there has not been a global flood.

Evangelicals can no longer afford the luxury of ignoring

the implications for biblical exegesis of the enormous mass

of extrabiblical data provided by geology, cosmology, and

anthropology. It is unwise to proclaim belief in creation and

ownership of the world by the sovereign Creator and then

ignore the discoveries in God's world. Such an attitude is like

receiving a beautiful Christmas package, profusely thanking

the giver, and then failing to open the gift--ever. We insult

our Creator if we fail to appreciate and appropriate what he

has given us in the world.

Nor can evangelicals expect to provide an effective witness

to unbelieving scholars in geology, cosmology, biology, and

anthropology if we ignore or distort what is known about the

world. We place unnecessary stumbling-blocks in the way of

an unbelieving geologist if we persist in the claim that the



296                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

literalistic approach to the flood is the only legitimate ap-

proach. Any geologist knows that a literalistic view of the flood

flies in the face of the accumulated knowledge of the past

several centuries. Will such a person be led to Christianity?224

Future wrestling with Genesis 1 and the flood story must

come to grips with the mountainous mass of data that indicates

that our planet is billions of years old and has undergone a

complex, dynamic history. No longer can competent, aware

Christian theologians naively insist on a recent creation by

taking refuge in the so-called evidences for recent creation

emanating from the scientific creationist camp. Those who do

so do the Christian community a disservice. No longer can

Christian theologians claim that the Genesis story talks about

a geographically universal deluge that has left observable,

physical remains all over the earth's surface. No longer may

we tell our children about the flood in which pairs of penguins

from Antarctica, kangaroos from Australia, sloths from South

America, bison from North America, pangolins from southeast

Asia, and lions and elephants from Africa all marched two by

two into the waiting ark. The biogeographical data rule out

such migrations of animals. Though it is difficult to make such

assertions and very painful for evangelicals to accept them,

the evangelical world must face up to the implications of the

geological data that exist if we wish to do justice to the biblical

text.

The very tempting response that many evangelicals might

wish to make is that the geological, biogeographical, and

anthropological data have no real force because the present

reconstructions of terrestrial history have been made largely

by unbelievers who were controlled by world-views that are

hostile to Christianity. What is needed, it may be claimed, is

for Christians to reevaluate the data and to reinterpret it in

the light of biblical principles. Such an assertion may compel

those who have little knowledge of the practice of geology,

but we delude ourselves by falling back on such an illusory

hope. The historical reality is that geology as a science was

 

    224 I fully sympathize with the deep desire of literalists to achieve a biblical

view of geology and to bring unbelieving scientists to Christ. Nevertheless I

am persuaded that their basic approach fails to achieve a proper view and

also has had a detrimental effect within the scientific community.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 297

 

developed largely by those who were active evangelical Chris-

tians or shaped to some degree by Christian principles. The

force of the accumulating data led to the understanding that

the world is ancient and that there was no global flood. Chris-

tian geologists who loved Scripture and the Lord were re-

peatedly confronted with new discoveries that could not be

squared with the traditional interpretations of the Bible. Chris-

tian geologists were compelled by the observations they made

of God's world to conclude that there had been no global

flood and that their world was extremely old.225

 

5. The idea of apparent age is an unacceptable way of facing the

issue.

There is only one way to avoid the force of geological data

regarding the history of earth, but one must be willing to face

the consequences. That way is to take refuge in a literalism

that insists on a series of purely miraculous, ex nihilo, nearly

instantaneous, fiat creations in six ordinary days and that

insists on a flood in which the water was miraculously created

and annihilated, physical effects were miraculously removed,

and animals were miraculously transported to and from the

ark.

The result of this view is that any evidence for the elaborate

history and antiquity of the earth is purely illusory. On this

view rocks are not old; they must be interpreted as indicating

appearance of age and history only.226  Such a conclusion must

be applied to all rocks that were formed prior to the beginning

of human history. Only of rocks formed since human history

began, that is, rocks not miraculously created, may it be said

that they contain a historical record that can be reconstructed

from internal evidence. All other rocks were miraculously

created to look as they do; they did not go through any

process. Not only basement rocks composed of igneous and

metamorphic rocks, but virtually the entire column of sedi-

 

    225 For aspects of the history of geology see, for example, Charles C. Gil-

lispie, Genesis and Geology (New York: Harper, 1951), Roy Porter, The Making

of Geology (Cambridge Press, 1977), Claude C. Albritton, The Abyss of Time

(San Francisco: Freeman, Cooper, 1980).

  226 The apparent-age theory of creation was adopted in John C. Whitcomb

and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Re-

formed, 1962).



298                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

mentary rocks with their enclosed fossil remains must be cre-

ated in place. Despite scientific creationism's contention that

stratified rocks were formed during human history by the

flood, the evidence accumulated during the past two centuries

overwhelmingly indicates that stratified rocks, as in the Grand

Canyon, were deposited long before the appearance of hu-

mans. Such rocks, if prehuman, would have been formed

during the six days of creation and were therefore created in

place. Proponents of this literalism must then be willing to

accept the consequence that fossil elephant bones, fossil di-

nosaurs, and fossil trees are illusions created in place, and

that such "fossils" tell us absolutely nothing whatsoever about

formerly existing elephants, dinosaurs, or trees.227

If we wish to avoid the force of the geological data in dealing

with the flood story we must also take the flood as a purely

miraculous event. Physical mechanisms for the source and

draining of floodwaters and migrations of animals land us

squarely in contradictions and absurdities. Thus we must ul-

timately conclude that the floodwater was miraculously cre-

ated and annihilated and that the animals migrated and

emigrated from the ark in a purely miraculous way. We must

accept, too, the notion that all physical remains of the flood

were miraculously eliminated from the earth, because there

is no recognizable physical evidence for a global flood.228

 

    227 If we choose to explain most of the geological record in terms of mi-

raculous creation of apparent age, then let us be consistent and give up all

efforts to appeal to scientific evidence that supposedly indicates that the earth

is young. If we want to appeal to scientific evidence, then let us be consistent

and willingly accept that the evidence in total overwhelmingly points to long

historical development. We cannot have it both ways by appealing to science

when we think it supports a young earth and then appealing to apparent age

when the evidence suggests antiquity.

   228 The issue is not whether there have been miracles in history or whether

God can perform miracles. It is unquestioned that God can perform miracles

and that he has performed miracles, e.g., the resurrection. The issue here is

only whether the flood or the whole of the act of creation was purely mi-

raculous. For example, if we postulate that God miraculously brought the

animals to the ark and miraculously returned them to their native lands, we

could ask why God bothered to put animals on the ark at all. If he wanted

to preserve the animals why did he not just miraculously recreate them after

the flood?



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 299

 

The idea of creation of the total rock column with an ap-

pearance of age is so fraught with problems that it ought to

be rejected. Just as no theologian wants to work with a Bible

that was suddenly created out of nothing and in which the

many evidences of history in its composition were purely il-

lusory, and as no individual wants to regard his life before

last night as pure illusion, so no geologist wants to study rocks

whose evidences for historical development are purely illu-

sory.

In addition, the idea of creation of apparent age was not a

component of Christian thinking until the mid-nineteenth cen-

tury. The idea, proposed by Gosse229 and currently espoused

by scientific creationism, was suggested only as a means of

evading the force of geological data while retaining a tradi-

tional reading of Genesis 1. So far as I am aware, neither the

church fathers nor the Reformers ever held to the notion of

creation of apparent age.

The literalistic, apparent-age view of Genesis 1 and the

purely miraculous view of the flood story are unduly rigid,

for Scripture uses the terms "creation" and "create" in a

variety of ways. Although bara always has God as its subject,

the word does not necessarily imply creation ex nihilo. The

context must determine whether creation ex nihilo is in view.

Although bara might imply instantaneousness of effectuation

in some contexts, the word does not everywhere demand such

instantaneousness. Although in some contexts bara might not

entail secondary causes, process, and providence, the word

by no means necessarily rules out secondary causes, process,

or God's providential activity in every context. There are many

instances in Scripture, for example, in the creating of Israel

(Isa 43:1), the creating of the wind (Amos 4:13), the creating

of animals (Ps 104:30), and the creating of future generations

of people (Ps 102:18), where creation does not involve pure

miracle and instantaneousness and does involve providence,

ordinary processes, and means. These are not ex nihilo crea-

tions. It is therefore unwise, given the flexibility of the biblical

usage of "create," to insist that creation in Genesis 1 involves

only immediate, purely miraculous, instantaneous production

 

    229 Philip H. Gosse, Omphalos (London: J. Van Voorst, 1857).



300                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

of every item out of nothing. Capable theologians have main-

tained otherwise for centuries.

An instantaneously created, mature creation that shows only

an illusory history is also inconsistent with the nature of God

and of man as God's imagebearer. In the absence of an in-

controvertible word from the Lord that he has created an

illusion, we must conclude that God would be deceiving us

by placing us within a complex world which bears myriad

indications of a complicated history that did not actually hap-

pen.230  Mature creation is also incompatible with the character

of man as one created in the image of God and given dominion

over the earth. God has given us the mental tools with which

to make sense of the world and placed us in a world that

makes sense. In every sphere of intellectual endeavor we as-

sume the genuine character of the world. Why should the

world's past be any different? Why should our intellectual

tools be mismatched against an illusory past in an effort which

God blessed when he told us to "subdue the earth"?

Creation of apparent age also forces us to conclude that it

is impossible to carry out any scientific reconstruction of ter-

restrial history prior to the advent of humankind. We can

study the world scientifically only in terms of known or know-

able processes. The past can be reconstructed scientifically

only by analogy with what is known of the present. The only

history that could legitimately be investigated scientifically

would be that history which begins immediately upon con-

clusion of the miraculous six-day creation. "Prior" to that

would be off limits to scientific research. We could only state

of anything produced before genuine history began, that it

was created and that it bears only an illusion of history. Even

terrestrial history that coincides with human history would be

 

   230 Appeal in favor of the idea of apparent age or mature creation is often

made to Jesus' conversion of water into wine in John 2. However, in John

2, the conversion is designated as a "sign" performed in full view of the

servants with the result that Jesus "revealed his glory, and his disciples put

their faith in him." The same cannot be said of creation or the flood. There

were no eye-witnesses to the creation, and the flood story is not presented

as a "sign" and the details of the story imply predictable effects of a lot of

water!



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 301

 

questionable if a purely miraculous global flood had occurred

of which all traces were miraculously annihilated.

If we adopt this approach we are confronted with the prob-

lem of deciding exactly, and on compelling grounds, how long

real history is. When did creation cease and history begin?

Biblical literalists and scientific creationists believe that real

history is between 6,000 and 15,000 years long. Thus far, I

have seen no compelling argument in favor of any specific

date of creation.

Suppose that history began exactly 10,000 years ago. If so,

any rock formed within the last 10,000 years could be studied

scientifically. We could legitimately talk about the processes

involved in the formation of that rock. We could talk about

its being an igneous or sedimentary rock. We could legiti-

mately try to decide just when it was formed and whether it

was older or younger than some other rock nearby. But sup-

pose we found some rocks that appeared to be older than

10,000 years. Then those rocks must have been created mi-

raculously during the six days. It would be inconsistent with

our Christian belief to study them scientifically, that is, to

attempt to discover the processes by which they were formed.

Even though the rocks might look like lava flows or sand-

stones, we could not identify these rocks as igneous rocks or

sedimentary rocks, for those terms imply processes. We could

not even say anything about the relative age of those rocks

compared with some other created rocks. We could not, for

example, claim that the rocks were 20,000,000 years old while

some rocks beneath them were 30,000,000 years old because

the world was created 10,000 years ago. Therefore, created

rocks are scientifically off limits.

But how do we decide that a rock was created? How do we

determine that a rock has an apparent age greater than 10,000

years? How do we decide that a rock may not legitimately be

studied by the methods of geological science? The only way

that we can possibly demonstrate that a given rock is "older"

than 10,000 years, short of a direct biblical revelation which

we do not have, is to presuppose the validity of the scientific

enterprise and to carry out a scientific investigation of that

rock. It is only through scientific argumentation that we can

claim that rocks might be 100,000 years old or 16,000 years



302                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

old or 2,000,000,000 years old. In order to claim that a rock

is "old" and therefore created and that it may not be legiti-

mately studied scientifically, we must study it scientifically. We

must presuppose that which we are attempting to rule out!

Such an approach is clearly destructive of the entire scientific

enterprise. Any approach to creation which entails creation

of illusory history ultimately undermines all scientific effort

and should be rejected by the evangelical community.

 

6. In view of the complexity of the issues, Christian scholars must

work in community in an effort to arrive at a satisfactory understanding

of the relationship between Scripture and the various sciences.

Too often evangelical scholars have worked in isolated

groups. The theologians have often worked without much

insight into developments within geology or other sciences,

and geologists have often worked independently of theolo-

gians. For example, some of the harmonization schemes that

we have reviewed, particularly the more recent ones, were

developed by scientists working in relative isolation from bib-

lical scholars. It seems to me that evangelicals can no longer

afford to tackle the issue of origins without a lot of cooperative,

interdisciplinary discussion. Evangelicalism will be successful

in developing a fruitful understanding of the relationship be-

tween Scripture and terrestrial history only if biblical scholars

work closely with geologists, archeologists, anthropologists,

astronomers, paleontologists, and historians and philosophers

of science.

We can ill afford to remain in isolated academic enclaves

shouting at one another. Geologists ought to be more cautious

about proposing interpretations of the biblical text on their

own than we have been. In turn, biblical scholars ought to

be more cautious in insisting that geologists reinterpret their

data to conform to some traditional rendering of the text

when they have little idea of the compelling force of those

data. We will have to work together in the future.

 

7. Approaches to Genesis 1 that stress the contemporary cultural,

historical, and theological setting of ancient Israel are potentially fruitful

and ought to be worked out more fully.

Biblical scholars are, of course, the ones who are qualified

to indicate the direction in which biblical interpretation ought

to go in the future and to work out the details of that program.



SCRIPTURE IN THE HANDS OF GEOLOGISTS 303

 

Thus I make no original proposals of my own at this point.

Some evangelical scholars have already begun to work in the

direction that I am suggesting.231

I suggest that we will be on the right track if we stop treating

Genesis 1 and the flood story as scientific and historical re-

ports. We can forever avoid falling into the perpetual conflicts

between Genesis and geology if we follow those evangelical

scholars who stress that Genesis is divinely inspired ancient

near eastern literature written within a specific historical con-

text that entailed well-defined thought patterns, literary forms,

symbols, and images. It makes sense that Genesis presents a

theology of creation that is fully aware of and challenges the

numerous polytheistic cosmogonic myths of Mesopotamia,

Egypt, and the other cultures surrounding Israel by exposing

their idolatrous worship of the heavenly bodies, of the ani-

mals, and of the rivers by claiming that all of those things are

creatures of the living God. The stars are not deities. God

brought the stars into being. The rivers are not deities. God

brought the waters into existence. The animals are not deities

to be worshipped and feared, for God created the animals

and controls them. Even the "chaos" is under the supreme

hand of the living God. Thus Genesis 1 calmly asserts the

bankruptcy of the pagan polytheism from which Israel was

drawn and that constantly existed as a threat to Israel's con-

tinuing faithfulness to the true God of heaven and earth.

As a sample of the kind of approach that is potentially

fruitful, we might consider Genesis 1 as a preamble to the

historical prologue of the Sinaitic covenant as suggested by

Kline.232  If so, then Genesis 1 introduces the great divine King

who enters into covenant with his people Israel at Sinai. In

the first chapter of the Bible we are made privy to the King's

council chamber. We see the great King of the universe issuing

 

   231 See, for example, Meredith G. Kline, "Because It Had Not Rained,"

WTJ 20 (1958) 146-157; Henri Blocher, In the Beginning (Downers Grove,

IL: InterVarsity, 1984); Conrad Hyers, The Meaning of Creation (Atlanta: John

Knox, 1984) 1-114; Gerhard F. Hasel, "The Polemic Nature of the Genesis

Cosmology," EvQ 46 (1974) 81-102; Bruce K. Waltke, "The Creation Ac-

count in Genesis 1:1-3," BSac 132 (1975) 327-342.

   232 Meredith G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: Wm.

Eerdmans, 1972) 53.



304                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

a series of royal decrees, bringing the ordered world into

permanent being by his all-powerful, effective word. In Gen-

esis 1 the King stakes out and establishes his realm, the sphere

of his dominion. The King issues the royal decrees, "Let there

be," and the King's will is carried out.

The decrees of the divine King are recorded as a set of

"minutes" or "transactions" by analogy with the decrees of

earthly kings. Thus we may view the days not as the first seven

earthly days or periods of time, but as "days" of royal divine

action in the heavenly realm. If we receive an impression of

chronology from the chapter, it is a divine "chronology, " not

an earthly one. Perhaps God's creative work is portrayed in

the form of a group of seven days to signify completeness

and perfection, thus establishing the weekly pattern of six

days of work and one day of rest for Israel as a copy of the

divine "week."

God's final royal action is to set up his image in his territory,

the created universe. Thus man is set in the earth as God's

image and given derived authority and dominion over the

King's property.233

Clearly the previous paragraphs present only the barest

outline of how Genesis 1 might be viewed. There are many

unanswered questions and many details to work out. More-

over, the development of a new approach to the flood will

also require the turning over of much new ground. But we

cannot let fear of what lies ahead allow us to fall back into

the old comfortable approaches and deter us from the task.

May God give the entire evangelical community the grace and

courage to work together in developing new and deeper in-

sight into the character of his amazing creation and his in-

fallible Word.

 

Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship

Calvin College

Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

    233 I am indebted to Professor John Stek for his thoughts about Genesis 1

and its extensive usage of royal-political metaphor.

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Westminster Theological Seminary

            2960 W. Church Rd.

            Glenside, PA  19038

www.wts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu