How I Evolved
I was once a devotee of Biblical creationism. I challenged my college professors and fellow biology students; corresponded with the Institute for Creation Research in California; conferred with the head of one branch of that movement in Philadelphia where I attended an annual conference; lectured before professional chemists (at Hoffmann La Roche); and utilized my time and money to distribute literature advocating “creationism.” However, after years of study I reversed my opinions on the subject. The questions that proved decisive in my case were not merely ones of scientific importance but also of Biblical import: I could not help wondering, “Does the Bible teach scientific creationism?”
An examination of the Bibleʼs depiction of the cosmos and its creation (along with similar depictions found in ancient Near Eastern records) convinced me that the Bible does not depict the structure of the cosmos in scientific terms at all. To name just one instance of what I found, the Bible (in Genesis, chapter one) has the earth arise in the midst of primeval waters after those waters have been “divided” and a “firmament” created to keep those waters separated. Only after the earth has arisen are the sun, moon and stars “made” and “set” in the firmament above the earth to “light the earth.” But that is the opposite order of creation according to modern astronomy. Furthermore, since the sun, moon, and stars lay “in the firmament,” and the Bible speaks of waters “above the firmament” then there must be “waters” above the sun, moon and stars. That was exactly what Martin Luther, the Father of Protestant Christianity, pointed out, based solely on taking the Bible at its word. Below are relevant passages from the Bible followed by Lutherʼs summation:
“God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters,’ and God made the firmament, and separated the waters which were below the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament…Then God made the two great lights…(and) the stars also. And God set them in the firmament to light the earth.”
— Genesis 1:7,16-17
“Praise the Lord!…Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him stars of light! Praise Him highest heavens, And the waters that are above the heavens!”
— Psalm 148:1,3-4
“Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of the heaven, below and above which heaven are the waters…It is likely that the stars are fastened to the firmament like globes of fire, to shed light at night…We Christians must be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding.”
— Martin Luther, Lutherʼs Works. Vol. 1. Lectures on Genesis, ed. Janoslaw Pelikan, Concordia Pub. House, St. Louis, Missouri, 1958, pp. 30, 42, 43.
I wish to add that information concerning the Bibleʼs pre-scientific cosmology has not only been pointed out by “liberals” and “atheists,” but also by Protestant Bible-believing Christians. I have mentioned Martin Luther above, but the authors of two concordances of the Bible often praised by Evangelical Protestants, namely Cruden (author of Crudenʼs Concordance), and Strong (author of Strongʼs Exhaustive Concordance), were both aware of the firmness of the Hebrew “firmament.” Other conservative Christian commentators who recognized the pre-scientific or non-scientific nature of cosmological statements found in the Bible include the famous conservative Protestant theologian, B. B. Warfield, along with contemporary Evangelical Protestants, John H. Walton, Gordon Wenham, David C. Downing, Paul H. Seeley, and Stephen C. Meyers:
B. B. Warfield wrote that an inspired writer of the Bible could “share the ordinary opinions of his day in certain matters lying outside the scope of his teachings, as, for example, with reference to the form of the earth, or its relation to the sun; and, it is not inconceivable that the form of his language when incidentally adverting to such matters, might occasionally play into the hands of such a presumption.” [B. B. Warfield, “The Real Problem of Inspiration,” in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1948) 166-67.]
John H. Walton is past professor Old Testament at Moody Bible Institute and now teaches at Wheaton Theological Seminary. He is the author of Genesis: The NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 2001) that takes the ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis seriously.
Gordon Wenham is the author of Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1987) that takes the ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis seriously.
David C. Downing is the author of What You Know Might Not Be So: 220 Misinterpretations of Bible Texts Explained (Baker Book House, 1987) in which he addresses a verse in Isaiah (40:22) that speaks of the “circle” of the earth, a verse that many Evangelical Christians believe refers to a spherical earth. Downing explains that the original Hebrew does not support such an interpretation.
Paul H. Seely is a graduate of Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, and the author of numerous articles in The Westminster Theological Journal and in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, including:
“The Three-Storied Universe,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, No. 21 (March 1969)
“The Firmament and the Water Above,” Part I, Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 53 (1991)
“The Firmament and the Water Above,” Part II, Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 54 (1992)
“The Geographical Meaning of ‘Earth’ and ‘Seas’ in Genesis 1:10, Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 59 (1997)
“The First Four Days of Genesis in Concordist Theory and in Biblical Context,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, No. 49 (June 1997)
Stephen C. Meyersʼs masterʼs thesis in theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1989 was titled, “A Biblical Cosmology.” After that he went on to co-found the Institute for Biblical and Scientific Studies and speak out about how seriously the Bibleʼs ancient Near Eastern context must be taken when discussing its creation accounts:
Genesis 1:7 — “The waters above the firmament”
Isaiah 40:22 — “The circle of the earth”