Letter to the Editor

 

Fischer Responds to Dr. David Siemens

  Dick Fischer  

6623 Williamsburg Blvd. 
Arlington, VA 22213

From: PSCF 42 (September 1990): 182-184.

  I too would be disappointed, notwithstanding amazed, if everyone agreed with me. At the very least this constructive criticism serves to demonstrate that I did not have a napping audience. In Dr. Siemens' remarks, he has raised some valid issues, and I wish to express my appreciation for the depth and clarity with which he stated his case. To quote the late Francis Schaeffer from his book Genesis in Time and Space, "A Christian holding the strongest possible view of inspiration still does not claim exhaustive knowledge at any point." To which I would add, Amen. Alas, it is far easier to ascertain what is dead wrong than it is to know what is dead certain, and Creation is not an easy issue. However, let me address some of Dr. Siemens' arguments and objections in the order in which he raised them.

I do hold that "scriptural usage is vitally important," though I would hasten to add that I think the depth of our understanding of certain doctrinal issues such as the shed blood for remission of sin, for example, far outweighs the need for us to understand whether the creation days were 24 hours in duration or simply designated times of undesignated length. However, when some well-known young-earth proponents push the 24-hour day definition to the limit, and thereby advocate the creative week from the Big Bang to Adam's operation must have taken place in six consecutive 24-hour time periods, it only causes the majority of well-educated skeptics to label such proponents as half-witted Bible thumpers. Frankly, many evangelicals who hold to a "literal" interpretation of Scripture, such as I do, don't appreciate being painted with the same brush.

There is another explanation that I believe Dr. Siemens is alluding to, and that is that the days of creation were 24 hours in duration and in proper sequence, but were not necessarily consecutive. As this theory goes, God commanded, "Let there be light," but the implementation following his command could have taken any amount of time. These proponents argue that the "evening" and "morning" only applied to His divine fiat or command, not to the entire events which followed. So, the first 24-hour day may have occurred four and a half billion years ago, the second 24-hour day was, oh, a billion years later, with the third 24-hour day two and a half billion years after that, and so on. Separating those six 24-hour periods with at first billions and later millions of years may work for some, but I hope you will excuse me if I fail to see how this explanation fits Scripture any better than does the day-eon version.

First of all it doesn't take 24 hours to say, "Let there be light." Also, just as the sun never set on the British Empire back in the days when "Britannia ruled the waves," likewise the sun never sets on God. Sunset and sunrise are visual phenomena. As I tried to point out with my astronaut illustration, for one to see or experience evening or morning requires that such an observer be in a fixed position on one of the planets which revolve around our sun, in this case Earth.

But God is not fixed in time or space; we can't view the world as He views it. However, if any of us could be observers standing on the bright side of the Moon, a la Neil Armstrong, we could see the small hand on our watch make two revolutions without witnessing a sunrise or a sunset. A 24-hour day definition is truly the "red herring" because it demands a terrestrial observer which does not exist through the first four "days" of creation.

Morning (boquer) may have an absolute meaning on God's scale yet only have a symbolic meaning on our scale. Conversely, an early morning sunrise may be an absolute experience to us, yet be only symbolic to God as His sunrise is perpetual, as is His night. Thus Ryrie's 24-hour day definition is not just erroneous, it's superfluous.

As to whether the universe is old or young, well, it's old. That is, if roughly 16 billion years can be thought of as old. As to the conclusion that Dr. Siemens makes that, "the universe, whether it antedates Adam by days or gigayears, may be said to be `of old,'" I'd really have to take issue. In Genesis 18:11, does it make any difference that Sarah was "old" when Abraham was told they would have a son? The birth of Isaac was a miracle wrought by God simply because of their advanced age. A 45-year-old Sarah might be old to some, but where is the miracle in that?

As to the charge that my view must imply that, "God chose language that necessarily confused and misled everyone studying the Word until the modern period was reached;" these words have much the same ring as those that thundered down to a man named Galileo who dared to put forth what was then a remarkable claim. In direct contradiction to the "orthodox interpretation," he believed, in fact observed, that the sun only appeared to orbit the Earth. In fact, the earth itself revolved, Galileo proclaimed. Apparently the clergy were persuasive in rebuttal. Of course, imprisonment and having been threatened with torture might have had an impact.

His poignant public recantation should be sobering to us all: "I, Galileo, being in my seventieth year, being a prisoner and on my knees, and before your Eminences, having before my eyes the Holy Gospel, which I touch with my hands, abjure, curse and detest the error and the heresy of the movement of the earth."

Even though the sun still, "rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race," and "his going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it," (Psalm 19:5-6) still it's the earth revolving on its axis that causes the race. Shall we reopen that issue as well?

Language in Scripture was not chosen to mislead earlier generations, but many passages had diminished meaning until the fullness of time revealed their greater meaning. In Exodus 12:5, did the Israelites of that day realize what the significance was in choosing lambs without blemish? How many years would pass before the true meaning of the blood covering in Exodus 12:7 would be known? How many years was Psalm 22 recited in the synagogues before these words bore home? "They pierce my hands and my feet... they part my garments among them and cast lots..." (Psalm 22:16b,18). In fact, the Bible is replete with passages which only give fullness of meaning to future generations.

As to the argument that some members of the animal world appear to predate certain species of the plant world, that should not be a sticking point. The mechanics of plate tectonics and continental drift which have only been understood in recent years bear directly on Buckland's objection that the "order of appearance in the strata did not match the order in Genesis 1." Just as evidence of early marine life can be found on mountaintops today, so too might evidence of early plant life on what was then dry land be found on ocean floors, except that any hope of finding such evidence borders on the impossible for obvious reasons. A further complication of finding evidence is that continental plates override one another such that the ancient surface of one plate may underlie another plate today. If the reference to "winged fowl" in Genesis 1:21 is translated as "winged creature," a possible description of insects, then that objection too is erased.

Dr. Siemens furnishes a valuable lesson in logic, "An elementary truism in logic is that demolishing view A does not prove view B unless it has been previously demonstrated that A and B jointly exhaust the possibilities." I would like to ask what rules of logic apply to this sequence of sentences taken from Dr. Siemens' critique? "Applying this philosophical and theological insight that God is timeless, what is `a day of God's time?' Since this is a nonsense question, Fischer's day-age interpretation must also be nonsense."

Just how does one author's ability to construct a nonsense question cast aspersions on another author's ability to interpret? Not just interpret, mind you, but to place difficult passages of Scripture into a modern context without violating well-accepted findings of science as some of the other popular interpretations do.

To answer the question directly, I see no discrepancy between God's eternal existence, sometimes understated as "timelessness," and His ability to function in real time. (See Exodus 9:5-6, for example). Dr. Siemens, in his critique, has misapplied the word "timeless" as if it were a constraint.

If Dr. Siemens had difficulty reconciling God at rest in Hebrews 4:1,3 with God at work in John 5:17, his quarrel is with the authors, not with me. Try matching up Ephesians 2:8-9 with James 2:17-18, or Luke 23:43 with Acts 2:31, to cite just two examples. May I just suggest there should be no incongruity with God in His rest from creation on into the New Testament, while hard at work at the task of redemption?

I hope readers of these two articles will appreciate that it is far more difficult to take a stand and attempt to provide cogent answers to some of the most taxing parts of Scripture than it is to take no stand at all and simply hurl questions. I don't have all the answers, nor do I know of any individual who is in possession of all the answers. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't attempt to eliminate the barriers to understanding which trap so many unbelievers in the world system.

Even if we do fail to interpret every passage with absolute precision, it isn't total understanding that is asked of us. If we can just bring the Bible to the unbeliever with a little more relevance, if we can just present the gospel with less barriers to comprehension, isn't that a worthy goal? The sin is not in the failing but in the failing to try. May God strengthen our faith in the task and help us to be obedient to His Word.

1990