On the other hand, John’s account represents a highly theological retelling of the events at Cana. “On the third day,” he begins, thereby linking the narrative to the resurrection story. To further drive this point, he follows with Mary’s plea and a cryptic—and seemingly out of character—response by Jesus: “Woman, what does this have to do with us? My time is not yet come!” As such, the story is thoroughly eschatological, pointing forward to a much greater wedding feast that begins at the resurrection. There, God’s people will understand that He has saved the best for last (cf. John 2:10).
I am skeptical, therefore, of the systematic theological method by which analogy is drawn between Jesus’ miraculous, revelatory act of grace and the very formation of the cosmos. Are we not reading this backwards? Should we not begin at the story of God’s creation, and trace the theme of new creation canonically (cf. Genesis 1; John 1) so as to understand Jesus’ entire ministry as a divine act of creation? If not, then we shall miss the grander points of the gospel narrative. But if so, then those who would compare the history of the wine to that of the cosmos stand on shaky, exegetical ground.
Matthew’s gospel is equally explicit regarding Jesus and his ministry, and this pattern of thought should guide our reasoning. He begins with “The Book of Genesis of Jesus Christ…” (Matt. 1:1), and then chronicles the six days of Israel’s creation by capturing her covenant history within 42 generations (6 intervals of 7 generations each). Jesus—as the pinnacle of the sixth “day” who would also inaugurate the Sabbath rest of God—is identified intertextually as the new Adam, and his coming signifies new creation. God is moving once again on behalf of his people, advancing them toward the utopian portrait that is the Garden of Eden, and the ‘very good’ creation of Genesis 1—itself a cosmic temple in which we should all hope to worship.
The art of silence
Any argument that God’s creation ex nihilo (Gen. 1–2) warrants an appeal to the appearance of age is ultimately one from silence. The ‘maturation’ of man, beast, earth, and heavenly host is neither described nor implied. Rather, its presence or absence is inferred by 1) an appeal to extrabiblical evidence, or 2) the literary reduction of Genesis 1–3 to a monological narrative, respectively. In the latter case, the reader demands that the hexaemeron correspond to six days in earth history and be taken as a “God’s-eye view” of prehistoric events. Only then may we use Genesis 1 to formulate scientific hypotheses, or to differentiate between real and apparent history.
Though well intentioned and articulated, this hermeneutical principle runs contrary to early Jewish thought, as well as various Christian commentators from Augustine to Warfield and beyond. I don’t think it inappropriate, therefore, to examine its merit critically. Despite its ostensibly pious view of the text, for example, this approach tends to project a very Greek and highly nuanced view of history, narrative, and discourse back onto an ancient Hebrew script. In the next post, I will expand on this critique and explore Genesis as literature. Until then, suffice it to say that I believe the young-Earth deference to ‘appearance of age’ owes more to tradition than to the words of scripture.
Where Answers in Genesis gets it right
Following the lead of George McCready Price, Henry Morris, and others, ‘creation science’ ministries like Answers in Genesis work on the principle that science can accurately describe history as explicated in scripture. Young-Earth geologists like Andrew Snelling and Steve Austin believe that evidence for Noah’s flood is abundant in the geologic column. Michael Oard reconstructs the post-Flood ice age from glacial geomorphology. Physicists Russell Humphreys and Jason Lisle assert that astronomical data correspond to a complex—but recent—formation of the universe by appealing to time dilation and relativity. What do all these names have in common with each other and with myself? All believe that science, faithfully applied, may reveal to us the mysteries of God’s creation—in history and today—thereby bringing Him glory.
As a Christian, I commend their approach. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” says the Psalmist, and God’s people say “Amen”. Thus the folks at Answers in Genesis believe that science—as a method of understanding natural phenomena—should be able to answer how this truth plays out in practice. Insofar as parts of the universe were made with an appearance of age, however, even creation scientists must acknowledge that these phenomena are removed from scientific inquiry by definition. [And no, not merely by the confines of materialistic naturalism. One need not reject divine providence to deem such questions ‘unscientific’, though a consignment of all unscientific claims to untruth, irrationality, or meaninglessness constitutes an erroneous, philosophical naïveté in itself, called scientism, which is the extreme outworking of logical positivism.]
Unfortunately, my agreement with the young-Earth creationist ends with this basic principle. As a scientist, I cannot maintain intellectual honesty while affirming that the Earth is young and was subjected to a global catastrophe some 5,000 years ago. Not only is the evidence missing, but overwhelming evidence stands against it. The methodology of creation scientists, moreover, is fundamentally flawed and unscientific. In almost every case, the conclusion is known in advance and used to paint the data accordingly. Lastly, numerous claims of creation scientists have been documented as false, leaving one to speculate whether they are made disingenuously or simply out of ignorance. I pray for the latter.
A diluvial dilemma
For the sake of argument, assume that Genesis 1 does describe a fiat, ex nihilo, more or less instantaneous creation of the heavens and the earth in recent history. A geologist/astronomer in Adam’s company might conclude erroneously that the universe had been around for eons, and he/she could use the scientific method to establish his case. This scenario, I get—an appeal to appearance of age would be valid for those in Adam’s day. It is impossible to escape, however, the effect of Noah’s deluge on an apparently old world—especially for the literalist. Global catastrophes tend to leave a mark and would effectively reset the evidential ‘clock’.
Are we to argue, then, that God made it appear as though such a flood never occurred? Keep in mind that geology as a scientific discipline was born out of the hypothesis that Noah’s flood could explain geological strata, especially marine sedimentary rocks found in continental settings (e.g. the Alps). The past 350 years of geological investigation have thoroughly falsified this notion, however, and recent attempts to defend it have been deemed intellectually dishonest, even by the majority of Christian researchers.
The catastrophic deluge of Noah thus creates an insurmountable challenge to those who claim that an appearance of age can save the young-earth paradigm. One may respond by rationalizing or by qualifying the nature of evidence, but such would ultimately call God’s redemptive work into question. In the wilderness, Moses exhorted Israel to faithfulness by appealing to God’s wondrous acts in Egypt. These events were not hidden from sight or done by magical/mythical creatures—by and large, the plagues were rather extraordinary, ‘natural’ events, visible by all. The New Testament appeal to evidence and witness in the case of the resurrection is equally vital, if not more so. Can we reduce the resurrection to docetism, claiming that Jesus only appeared to have risen before those so desperate to find him alive? From a historical-critical standpoint: no. From a theological standpoint: absolutely not.
Case in point
I was inspired to write this post after reading part of an online discussion found here. The pseudonymous blogger TurretinFan offered five responses to the charge that God knowingly created the universe to look old, despite the fact that it would draw people away from him. I do not intend to offer an exhaustive response to a conversation in which I had no part, but several points are highly relevant to this discussion.
Resolution and redirection
There is another possibility, I think: God did not create the cosmos with an ‘appearance of age’. That apparent age is real, and the liturgical text of Genesis 1:1–2:4 was never meant to inform us about the physical origins of the universe, let alone the mechanism by which all things were formed. The repeated fiat declarations (e.g. “Let there be light…”) reveal something rather about the God of Israel’s unrivaled authority in heaven and earth. It is a polemical statement that undermines pagan notions regarding the limited power of deities in creative acts. Pagan deities strived against each other and against the reigning chaotic realm. According to the author of Genesis, neither chaos nor the gods nor the elements can challenge the providential decree of the one true God.
I am not the first to offer such an alternative, but many Christians are still desperate to reject it. Why? Foremost, because it challenges traditional nuances of the cosmology presented in Genesis 1. We should not be shocked, however, if these traditions turn out to be mistaken, given the severe time and culture gaps between Genesis and the modern (post-Reformation) reader. We all have a natural tendency to project our own worldview (our Sitz im Leben) back onto the text, as though it were written specifically to address the concerns of our day. For the post-Enlightenment reader, an endemic fascination with science and empirical verification has caused many to overreact by rereading the text as a documentary history that is capable of critiquing modern science and skepticism.
I have no intention of dismissing such readings out of hand, misguided as they may be. Even a misreading of a text can be appropriate in certain contexts. Regardless, I believe that a fresh perspective on Genesis is in order—one that is not shaped a priori by recent controversies over the age of the earth. In light of this goal, I would invite you try reading Genesis for what it actually is: a piece of ancient, divinely inspired literature. To that topic I will turn in my next post.