Science in Christian Perspective
Creationism and Inerrancy
Davis A. Young
Department of Physics
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49506
From: JASA 34 (June 1982): 106-107.
Among the many claims that have been made by leaders of the "scientific creationism" movement is the claim that special creation and biblical inerrancy are logically inseparable. Henry Morris in his The King of Creation insists that adherents of biblical inerrancy should logically also be adheremes, of creationism. He laments the fact that in the past, creationist efforts failed to get the International Council an Biblical Inerrancy to incorporate literal-day creationism and a worldwide flood in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. He is disappointed by the inerrantists who will not take a stand for scientific creationism. He argues that we should believe the literal reading of the creation account, and that failure to do so by adopting some interpretation that seeks to make room for the geological ages is in effect m acknowledgment that there are grave errors in the biblical accound of creation. Morris also concludes that failure to maintain crcationism will inevitably lead to a rejection of the Bible's errorlessness.
Evangelical acceptance of Morris' contentions would effectively drive some leading inerrantists out of the inerrancy fold, and plaw them in a highly anomalous position. Perhaps the doctrine of biblical inerrancy has received its most thorough development in the writings of the theologians of the Presbyterian Princeton/Westminster tradition. The idea of the errorlessness of the Bible in all matters, including statements of scientific, historical, and geographical interest, was most carefully articulated by such nineteenth century theologians as Charles Hodge, Benjamin B. WaF field, and A. A. Hodge at Princeton Theological Seminary. These men were the leading spokesmen for inerrancy in their day. Yet' spite of the vigorous espousal of inerrancy these men where literal creationists. Hodge in his Systematic Theology clearly s ports the efforts of contemporary geologists to teach the antiquity of the Earth and argues that such antiquity presents no conflict with the biblical record. The days of creation, he said, could be viewed as long time periods. B. B. Warfield, although retreated from an earlier commitment to evolution, always argued that the Earth could have been very old. A. A. Hodge agreed with the geological conclusion of the vast antiquity Of the Earth in Outlines of Theology. None of these men were literal creationists. Must we reject them as imposters in the inerrancy camp?
The Princeton theological tradition has been carried on by Westminster Theological Seminary in the twentieth century. To be sure, Princeton Seminary is no longer committed to inerrancy, but any claim that such departure from inerrancy happened because of the failure of the older Princeton men to adhere to creationism is not sustained by the historical facts. Westminster has continued the strong commitment to inerrancy that was a hallmark of the Princeton. Westminster's position has been articulated in a faculty symposium The Infallible Word and in E. J. Young's Thy Word is Truth. But Westminster Seminary has never been committed to literal creationism. Of Westminster's Old Testament Theologians E. J. Young thought the days of creation were not necessarily 24 hour days, Meridith Kline is an adherent of the framework view of Genesis 1, and Ray Dillard of the present Old Testament department is not a literal creationist. Shall we now charge Westminster with a false view of inerrancy because it does not support literal creationism?
Cteationism's linking of inerrancy and literal creationism, does grave injustice to these inerrantists (and a host of others) who have earnestly wrestled with the text of Genesis I and made an honest effort to understand exactly what it is that God is saying there.
Creationists might counter that in spite of the professed sincerity of the above men in dealing with the text they simply avoided the plain literal sense, the sense intended by the writer. The difficulty here is that creationists, too, stand condemned by their own charge. Not even creationists take the text literally without doing plenty of "interpreting." For example, we read that God placed lights in the expanse of sky on day four, and we are told that on day two the firmament divided the waters and that some of those waters were placed above the expanse. Now a literal reading would lead to the conclusion that the heavenly waters are above the sun and moon and that the latter are actually in the sky where the birds fly and not in outer space. If one believes that day two speaks of an upper atmospheric vapor canopy (which is, of course, not literally in the text but an inference) then the sun and moon must be below the canopy. Creationists do not believe that and so generally do not accept the literal reading of day four. Instead they interpret the text so that the text is said to speak the language of appearance rather than literal truth.
A literal reading of the description of day four seems to indicate that the sun and the moon (and incidentally these are not identified as such in the text) are the biggest objects in the sky. But reliable scientific measurements show that the sun and moon are not literally the largest objects so the common interpretation of the text (and the one adopted by Calvin) is again to say that Scripture speaks the language of appearance.
The creation account does not mention that there was an evening and morning for day seven. The conclusion to be drawn from a literal reading might be that the day did not end (the text does not say that it did), but the text is interpreted by creationists to teach the conclusion of the seventh day because they think the days must have been 24 hours long.
In the Genesis record we are told that God created the earth. The Hebrew word for earth, however, refers to land or the solid inhabited surface. The word does not contain any ideas about a globe-shaped planet. The Hebrews likely did not think of the Earth in those terms, Hence to speak of the creation of a globular planet Earth is an interpretation of the language in terms of our scientific understanding and not the literal meaning of the text.
With regard to the days, even these are interpreted as 24 hour days. The literal reading does not necessarily imply that the days were that long. If the days were defined by alternating periods of light and dark we interpret the text by assuming that the Earth was rotating on its axis at this time. But Dillmann says that the text says nothing whatever of rotation. We read into the text when we speak of rotation.
Now I happen to agree with some of these creationist interpretations. What I want to stress is that they are interpretations that are not necessarily based on a literal reading of the text. In the same way most creationists have also interpreted those biblical texts that, when taken literally, would imply geocentricity.
My conclusion is that if creationists want to say that Christians who do not hold to literal creationism and the literal reading of Genesis are being inconsistent with inerrancy, then they must include themselves as inconsistent inerrantists.
Adherence to inerrancy does not lock us in to one interpretation, but grants us the freedom to interpret the errorless text as faithfully as we can in order to understand as best we can through the direction of the Holy Spirit exactly what it is that God is saying to us.