Time. This is the awkward four-letter word that has now slipped into the debate over Genesis 1 and whether some form of Christian evolutionary belief can indeed be true.
The belief that the world was created in 6 literal days, and that the world is young, has been challenged in the church at various points during its existence. It didn’t align with the beliefs of the intellectuals of Augustine’s day (the Manicheans and the Platonists), and neither does it align the with the beliefs of intellectuals of our day (the Scientific establishment). So is there an eternal divide between faith and philosphy, between faith and science, between faith and reason?
Skepticism is one of those insidious things that creeps into our minds. Merriam Webster defines skepticism this way: “an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object.” This attitude of doubt has often been set toward a particular object: the claims of Scripture. The Higher Criticism of the 1800s lives on in various different forms, and challenges us to be skeptical. As Immanuel Kant challenged the world in the 1700s: “Dare to know! Have the courage to use your own intelligence!” He may have meant something different, but now we use this to challenge authority and testimony.
David Hume (who was a little more skeptical than Kant) once said: “I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another.” Thus, it can be expected that the foundation of Christian belief would be challenged: the Word of God. As one Old Earth Creationist said to me: “the Bible, in and of itself, is merely words on a page.”
The problem with this skepticism is that it can turn back on itself, and that is what Thomas Purifoy and Del Tackett do in their movie ‘Is Genesis History?’ The use time as an argument to make the evolutionist more skeptical of his evolutionary dogma. Their argument isn’t primarily about having different exegesis, or the odds and ends of the phenomenological evidence. The question they ask is: what is time? The very question itself encourages the evolutionist to be skeptical towards his skepticism.
So, according to the Christian who wants to integrate Scripture and evolution, the Bible isn’t recording history, and we know this because of the rock strata and other various pieces of evidence. But if we were looking at Mount Saint Helen’s today we would say that some of these valleys carved out over millions of years, when it was only a couple days. Scientists at the Grand Canyon record catastrophic activity (major volcanoes), and then go on to dogmatically claim millions of years for its formation. Yes, phenomenologically, the rate of change demands millions of years, but we also have data to point to a very fast rate of change.
According to the skeptics, I shouldn’t accept Genesis as history, and as a history of the world that might have implications for the rate of change. But me being a skeptic like them can push back and say why can’t the testimony of God in Scripture challenge your narrative? In fact, when so many of the records among the cultures of the world record a great flood, doesn’t that give me more evidence? Why doesn’t the Bible factor into your data? Or to the “Christian evolutionist”, why would Ancient Near Eastern Literature carry more weight than Scripture? Is there nothing unique about Scripture? Or as my Old Earth Creationist friend said, is it merely words on a page?
I submit that Purifoy and Tackett are winning this debate on the question of time. Rather than nit-picking the details, it would be interesting to see evolutionists responding too the actual argument, and responding with the same philosophical and historical rigor as Purifoy and Tackett used. The actual argument is about time. I do find the movie ‘Is Genesis History?’ interesting, because it has helped me to develop a stronger philosophical argument against evolution. And this is important because many scientists don’t recognize the philosophical implications behind their science.
The 4th century church father, Ephrem the Syrian, puts it beautifully in his commentary on Genesis:
“No one should think that the Creation of Six Days is an allegory; it is likewise impermissible to say that what seems, according to the account, to have been created in six days, was created in a single instant, and likewise that certain names presented in this account either signify nothing, or signify something else. On the contrary, we must know that just as the heaven and the earth which were created in the beginning are actually the heaven and the earth and not something else understood under the names of heaven and earth, so also everything else that is spoken of as being created and brought into order after the creation of heaven and earth is not empty names, but the very essence of the created natures corresponds to the force of these names.”