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Leading Question: Does the Bible point to any other kind of week than one consisting of seven, 24-hour days?

Our understanding of what the Bible teaches about creation is haunted by the modern impulse to treat the Bible as science. But if we worship science, how can we worship God? Our discussion this week focuses on science and the Bible, God, and creation.

1. Science and the Bible. If we recognize the truth of Isaiah 55:8-9, that God’s ways are far beyond human understanding, does that apply equally to our grasp of the Bible and of science?

The idea of “radical divine accommodation” is not one that devout believers easily accept. Indeed, to my knowledge, it is explicitly defined only once in the Bible and twice in the writings of Ellen White. In the Bible, Jesus makes the point in his statement about divorce, recorded only in Matthew 19:8. “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (NRSV).

Ellen White moves toward “radical divine accommodation” when she seeks to explain the divine appointment of the cities of refuge (see Numbers 35:9-28) as a kind of half-way house in dealing with the custom of blood vengeance, a custom that flies in the face of all our modern principles of justice. Her first comment comes in Signs of the Times, January 20, 1881, where she states that “without entirely destroying the custom of private vengeance,” God made “the most thorough provision that the guiltless be not rashly slain without trial, nor the guilty escape punishment.”

In Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 515, she refines that statement, noting that the appointment of the cities of refuge “was rendered necessary by the ancient custom of private vengeance.” She further explains: “The Lord did not see fit to abolish this custom at that time; but he made provision to insure the safety of those who should take life unintentionally.” I know of no other passage in the writings of Ellen White that so clearly states that the biblical law does not reflect the ideal, but is a radical accommodation to human custom.

Now if what we find in the Bible is an accommodation to what the people knew at that time, should we not be surprised if observational science, a thoroughly modern development, presents conclusions that clash with the concepts of an earlier age. If our understanding of justice, shaped by the story of Jesus, clashes with the ancient ideas of justice reflected in the Old Testament narratives, so the conclusions of modern science are likely to clash with the ideas of a non-scientific era.

But replacing what we have in our Bible with modern science hardly seems like a good option. University students know all too well that science textbooks go out of date the moment they are published. Is there a way to preserve both the authority of Scripture and the explanatory power of observational science?

Our problem lies in our rhetoric. The opening lines of the chapter on “Science and the Bible” in Ellen White’s book Education (1903), for example, could not be clearer: “Since the book of nature and the book of revelation bear the impress of the same master mind, they cannot but speak in harmony” (p. 128). Harmony in what sense? If we recognize that the Bible gives us adapted truth, not absolute truth, could not the same apply to our understanding of science? In other words, neither the Bible nor science should be worshiped as God, but both point to God.

Here are statements from Bart Kosko, mathematician/engineer/lawyer, Paul Feyerabend, philosopher of science, and M. Scott Peck, psychiatrist, all suggesting that scientific statements should be valued, but not worshiped:

Bart Kosko, opens his book, Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic (New York: Hyperion, 1993) with these words: “One day I learned that science was not true. I do not recall the day but I recall the moment. The God of the twentieth century was no longer God” (p. xv). Given his scientific credentials, his caution about the danger lurking in mere words is also worth noting: “There are just too many molecules involved in a ‘fact’ for a declarative sentence to cover them all. When you speak, you simplify. And when you simplify, you lie” (p. 86).

Paul Feyerabend, in “How to Defend Society Against Science” (Ian Hacking, ed., Scientific Revolutions [Oxford, 1981]), declares: “I want to defend society and its inhabitants from all ideologies, science included. All ideologies must be seen in perspective. One must not take them too seriously. One must read them like fairytales which have lots of interesting things to say but also contain wicked lies, or like ethical prescriptions which may be useful rules of thumb but which are deadly when followed to the letter” (p. 156).

M. Scott Peck, writing after he had become a Christian, addressed the twin dangers of judging God’s messages by current understandings, on the one hand, or waiting for science to confirm specific statements from inspired messengers, on the other. In People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil (Simon and Schuster,1983), makes the following observations under the heading, “The Danger of Cloaking Moral Judgment in Scientific Authority”:

This is a major pitfall. It is a pitfall because we ascribe to science much more authority than it deserves. We do so for two reasons. One is that very few of us understand the limitations of science. The other is that we are too dependent upon authority in general. When our children were infants we were blessed by the very best of pediatricians, a kind and dedicated gentle man of great erudition. When we visited him a month after the birth of our oldest child, he instructed us to start feeding her solid foods almost immediately, because such supplementation was needed for babies being breast-fed. A year later, when we visited him a month after the birth of our second daughter, he directed us to delay feeding this one solid food as long as possible so as not to deprive her of the extraordinary nutrition in breast milk. The state of “science” had changed! When I was in medical school we were taught that the essential treatment for diverticulosis was a low-roughage diet. Now medical students are taught that the essential treatment is a high-roughage diet. Such experiences have taught me that what is paraded as scientific fact is simply the current belief of some scientists. We are accustomed to regard science as Truth with a capital T. What scientific knowledge is, in fact, is the best available approximation of the truth in the judgment of the majority of scientists who work in the particular specialty involved. Truth is not something that we possess; it is a goal toward which we, hopefully, strive. – People of the Lie, 257.

To sum up, God’s two books do ultimately harmonize, but given our woeful human limitations, we must be much more modest in our claims and hopes to fully understand how that can happen. As far as faith is concerned, perhaps the most dangerous “solution” to the apparent conflict between faith and science is to attempt to replace the statements of Scripture with “current” scientific statements. Science is constantly changing. But the “adapted” truths of Scripture never change because they will always illustrate how God dealt with people in a particular time and place. We destroy the Bible if we think we can improve on what it says. And here Ellen White’s pointed comment is appropriate: “No man can improve the Bible by suggesting what the Lord meant to say or ought to have said.” – Selected Messages 1:16 (MS 16, 1888)

2. God. Is there any suggestion in Scripture that God might not be the Creator?However one might understand the various creation accounts in Scripture, God is always the creator. Sometimes, as in Genesis 1, it is a hands-off creation, probably because it was intended a polemic against pagan creation accounts. In other Ancient Near Eastern creation stories, the created world often emerges from the battle of the chaos monsters. In Genesis 1, God creates all creatures and he is always separate and distinct from his creation.

But if Genesis 1 were the only creation account, that would leave a very sterile picture of the Creator. So God has given us another account to complement the first. InGenesis 2, God is very much hands on, “forming” both the man and the animals from the earth, and “building” Eve from a rib taken from Adam. And for the man, God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. To get the full picture, one needs two separate pictures, just as they are in the Bible. If we try to blend them we may miss the point of both.

Given what we have in Genesis 1 and 2, do we know just how God created? Here Ellen White is quite clear: “Just how God accomplished the work of creation He has never revealed to men; human science cannot search out the secrets of the Most High. His creative power is as incomprehensible as His existence.” Patriarchs and Prophet 113 [1890].

Have you ever wondered how there could be evening and morning in the three days of creation before the sun was created on day four? Have you ever wondered about the food chain in a perfect world? Have you ever wondered what a vegetarian hawk would look like? We can wonder all we wish. But in Ellen White’s view, we can never know in this life. She simply reinforces the truth of Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.”

But what is so intriguing about her statement in Patriarchs and Prophets is the way she has modified her statement, revising the statements that she had written in 1858 and 1870. Here is her statement from 1864 and from 1870. They are identical:

Just how God accomplished the work of creation in six literal days he has never revealed to mortals. His creative works are just as incomprehensible as his existence. Spiritual Gifts 3:93 [1864] and Spirit of Prophecy 1:88 [1870]

Note that in Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 113, the phrase “in six literal days” has been dropped. It’s not that Ellen White is turning soft on the seven day creation week. Not at all. After all, the chapter title in Patriarchs and Prophets is entitled “The Literal Week.” But what she is doing is emphasizing that we simply don’t know. Based on Scripture, what we do know is that God is creator. We also know that a seven-day week is secure. But there are two seven-day weeks: a creation week of seven days (Genesis 1 and Exodus 20), but also a redemption week of seven days. In the ten commandments as found in Deuteronomy 5, deliverance from slavery is the reason given for remembering the Sabbath. Creation is nowhere mentioned. But putting all the pieces together, whether one speaks of a seven-day creation week or a seven-day redemption week, the seven day week is secure. And it is clear that it is a week of seven days, just like our days. There is no other kind of week.

3. Creation: The Biblical References. If one allows each of the following passages to stand on their own, what does each one tell us about creation? Do we have to harmonize them? Or can we simply allow them to stand a witnesses to the great truth that the Bible everywhere presents that God is our creator? Explore each of the following passages to see what kind of “picture” the inspired author is presenting for us:

Genesis 1: The hands-off Creator who speaks everything into existence in seven days.

Genesis 2: The hands-on Creator who forms his creatures from dust, breathes into Adam’s nostrils and builds Eve from Adam’s rib.

Psalm 104: A celebration of creation that seems unconcerned about chronology and the order in which aspect of the created world came into existence.

Proverbs 8:22-31: Wisdom, the beginning of Creation and God’s assistant. [In the early Christian church, this passage was much debated in connection with Son’s role in creation and his relationship to God. In Hebrew, wisdom is a feminine figure.

Finally, some comments and some excerpts from a significant 1955 essay by C. S. Lewis, “On Obstinacy of Belief,” in which he seeks to negotiate the differences between believer and scientist. The essay was originally delivered to the Socratic Society at Oxford University. It is currently available in a collection of Lewis’ essays, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays (Harcourt, 2002). He introduces the essay by contrasting “a supposedly Christian” and a “supposedly scientific attitude” to belief. In this misleading model, he notes, the Christian is presented as someone who continues to believe in spite of the evidence while the scientist is presented as someone who correlates belief with the evidence: the stronger the evidence, the stronger the belief; the weaker the evidence, the weaker the belief.

If that comparison is correct, argues Lewis, he cannot imagine how two such creatures could exist within the same species. That’s why we must distinguishes between belief and knowledge. It is the work of the scientist, states Lewis, to escape from belief and unbelief into knowledge. We don’t use the word “believe” about something we know. No one, for example, “believes” the multiplication tables. That’s not something you believe, it’s something you know. “We must look, then,” writes Lewis, “for the scientist’s behavior about belief not to his scientific life but to his leisure hours” (p. 14).

These three quotes from that essay help to explain what he means:

To love involves trusting the beloved beyond the evidence, even against much evidence. No man is our friend who believes in our good intentions only when they are proved. No man is our friend who will not be very slow to accept evidence against them. Such confidence, between one man and another, is in fact almost universally praised as a moral beauty, not blamed as a logical error. And the suspicious man is blamed for a meanness of character, not admired for the excellence of his logic. – World’s Last Night, 26

Our relation to those who trusted us only after we were proved innocent in court cannot be the same as our relation to those who trusted us all through. – World’s Last Night, 29

Our opponents, then, have a perfect right to dispute with us about the grounds of our original assent. But they must not accuse us of sheer insanity if, after the assent has been given, our adherence to it is no longer proportioned to every fluctuation of the apparent evidence. They cannot of course be expected to know on what our assurance feeds, and how it revives and is always rising from its ashes. They cannot be expected to see how the quality of the object which we think we are beginning to know by acquaintance drives us to the view that if this were a delusion then we should have to say that the universe had produced no real thing of comparable value and that all explanations of the delusion seemed somehow less important than the thing explained. That is knowledge we cannot communicate. But they can see how the assent, of necessity, moves us [29/30] from the logic of speculative thought into what might perhaps be called the logic of personal relations. What would, up till then, have been variations simply of opinion become variations of conduct by a person to a Person. Credere Deum esse [believing that God exists] turns into Credere in Deum [believing in God]. And Deum here is this God, the increasingly knowable Lord. – World’s Last Night, 29-30

To sum up, if we know God, we will continue to ponder the evidence that our world presents to us. But we will trust him because he know him. There is much that we cannot understand, both in Scripture and in nature. But we must seek to be faithful to both, recognizing that “as the heavens are higher than the earth,” so are God’s ways and thoughts higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).

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