Monday, July 3, 2017

Book Review: Genesis, Science, and the Beginning

Introduction

Those who follow Faithful Thinkers know that one of my favorite topics is science and the Bible. A while back, Christian apologist Ben Smith asked me to take a look at his book that addresses one of the many proposed ways to reconcile the claims of Genesis 1 with the scientific evidence. The book, "Genesis, Science, and the Beginning," defends the Prophetic Days View of interpreting Genesis 1. I was excited to read the book since it supports a view different from mine (the Day-Age View, defended by Reasons to Believe) and would, no doubt, provide another alternative if a particular part of the Day-Age view was a stumbling block for a skeptic coming to Christ. I also looked forward to challenges to my view coming from a fellow apologist who takes the Bible seriously. So, how did he do? This review is designed, as my usual reviews, to be a summary of the contents of the book (not necessarily critical, though), and I will end it with my thoughts and recommendations.


Chapter 1: The Big Picture

Author Ben Smith begins his examination of the Genesis 1 account of creation by quickly describing seven characteristics, primarily focused on the structure of the account. He will dig deeper into these characteristics in later chapters, but he wants to establish a quick base. His first characteristic is that the account appears to have been written with the intention of being simple, memorable, and unique among the cultures yet historically accurate in some sense. He observes that the descriptions of the actions of the days of creation follow a structured pattern. The use of terms is broad and generic to cover the events relating to animals common to human experience, and instead of the order of the events being chronological, it is topical. He notices that the way the statements describing the events do not always appear in the same chronological order. Finally, he offers that the simplest understanding of the word "day" is that it is the lit portion of a 24-hour earth day that Genesis DOES describe in chronological order.

Chapter 2: The Top Ten Views

To give a quick view of the landscape of current interpretations, Smith dedicates a page or two to describe the key tenets, similarities, and distinctions among ten different ways that have been offered by scholars to interpret the accounts in Genesis. The descriptions in this chapter are not intended to be comprehensive or a defense of the different views, but rather to set them up for further evaluation and comparison to the view he will defend in the book. The top ten views he describes are:
  • Young Earth View
  • Day-Age View
  • Gap View
  • Framework View
  • Analogical Days View
  • Intermittent Days View
  • Limited Creation View
  • Revelatory Days View
  • Cosmic Temple View
  • Prophetic Days View

Chapter 3: The Prophetic Days View

The view that Smith defends is the last of the ten described in the previous chapter: the Prophetic Days View. This view distinguishes between God's proclamation of what will happen and His fulfillment of that proclamation. It holds that the days in Genesis 1 are the days that God prophesied what would happen but are not necessarily the time in which the events did happen. The time of the days (24 hours on this view) constrains the utterance of the prophecy, not the fulfillment of the prophecy. This means that the duration of the days in Genesis 1 is 24 hours, but since Genesis, on this view, only describes the prophecy (not the fulfillment), fulfillments of any duration are compatible. Smith describes and defends the key distinctives of this view:
  • The earth existed before the seven days started- it was not prophesied; it was simply done.
  • The "beginning" in Genesis 1:1 was a block of time (not a moment) when God created "the heavens and the earth"- also not prophesied but already done.
  • The prophecy is given by God from our perspective on the surface of the earth.
  • The fulfillments of the prophecies do not necessarily take place on the days of the prophecy.


Chapter 4: Objections to the Prophetic Days View

As with all views on the Genesis text, many objections have been raised against the specific claims of the Prophetic Days View. In this chapter Smith addresses not only challenges he has heard, but also ones that he has thought of on his own over his years of contemplation. His goal is to be as thorough as possible in the range of challenges answered. He begins with challenges specific to the Prophetic Days View then moves to challenges more common among all (or most) old-earth creationist views. He provides a short and a long answer to most of the objections in order that the reader may go as deep as they wish. This is one of the longer chapters because Smith covers so much material, so his provision of shorter answers will be appreciated by those who may get lost in the details.

Chapter 5: Death Before The Fall

Animal death before the fall of Adam and Eve is a challenge that young-earth creationists and skeptics alike level against old-earth creationist Christians. Both use it as a defeater against the opposing view. It is a challenge that has much emotional committment from both types of challengers, so Smith's intention with this chapter is to be as thorough as he can be within a reasonable length. In this chapter he addresses nine of the most common ways in which this challenge is used against general old-earth views (not just his view of prophetic days) in detail. Some of the challenges are easy to address, while others require more detail and understanding of the nuances. He presents the challenges in the words of the critics to avoid any strawmen. The nine challenges are:
  • "Very good" in Genesis 1:31 necessarily includes no death or suffering
  • Genesis 1:29-30 necessarily limits the diets of humans and animals to vegetation
  • God's judgment on the creation due to Adam's and Eve's fall necessarily included animal death and suffering
  • Adam and Eve died immediately spiritually and began to die physically after the Fall
  • God caused all pain, thorns, and sweat as part of His judgment against humanity
  • God's judgment is necessarily the beginning point of the bondage to corruption experienced by the creation
  • God's promise to "restore all things" necessarily equates to a restoration of edenic conditions
  • Animal death before the Fall necessarily undermine the Atonement of Jesus Christ
  • If "very good" included suffering and death at all, then God is necessarily incompetent, impotent and/or cruel.

Chapter 6: Why I Repented of the Young-Earth View

The previous chapters have focused primarily on biblical evidence for old-earth creationism in general, the Prophetic Days View in particular, and against young-earth creationism in general. Smith now moves to discuss his own personal journey which included wrestling with various arguments premised by observations of God's actions: creation. He provides several arguments from nature that imply long periods of time. He takes some responses to the arguments, provided by some of the most respected young-earth creationist scholars and addresses them. He concludes the chapter by listing out where young-earth creationists can find agreement with the Prophetic Days View and where they are distinct. Ultimately Smith encourages the young-earth creationist to abandon the scientifically and biblically unsound interpretation of their view in favor of one that is both biblically founded and scientifically supported.

Chapter 7: Evaluating Other Old-Earth Views

If my math is correct, this is the longest of Smith's chapters. In this chapter he attempts to address the claims of the other nine old-earth creationist views that the Prophetic Days View disagrees with. This ranges from the Day-Age View's unique (among all the old-earth creationist views) that the days of Genesis 1 are long ages to the Framework View's unique claim that the days are merely analogical. He concludes the chapter by identifying the features that the view holds in common with the other views, and he gives the specific differences with each of the different views.

Chapter 8: Biblical Scientific Inerrancy?

Does the Bible make scientific claims? And if so, are they accurate. There is a debate among biblical scholars on this topic. Smith describes himself as a "concordist," one who holds to the idea the scientific claims in the Bible are reconcilable with nature in a way that they are accurate. The opposing view is called "accommodationism." This view holds that the Bible makes inaccurate scientific claims but this is explained by God's accommodating incorrect ancient understandings of nature. Many skeptics agree with accommodationists that the Bible does teach incorrect science, thus they use this as a test that proves that the Bible was not inspired and cannot be trusted on any matter (including salvation). Smith addresses the most common claims that the Bible makes erroneous scientific claims and provides an explanation of how all conclusions of supposed scientific inaccuracy are unnecessary. He concludes then that accommodationism is an unnecessary view to take and that the skeptic is just plain wrong.

Chapter 9: A Beautiful Picture of Our Creator

After providing a positive case for the Prophetic Days View and addressing its direct critics and competing views, Smith moves towards the more pastoral aspects of the Prophetic Days View. He reminds the reader that Genesis 1 is not merely a revelation of the origins of the God's creative acts, but it is a revelation of God Himself and our relationship to Him. In this chapter Smith takes the reader through the days of creation and explains how each one reveals important information about who God is and God's purpose for us. He concludes by explaining that our worship of our Creator is important (why God has given us accurate information of who He is), and it is important, as evidenced by God's resting on the seventh day, that we rest weekly and dedicate that time to worship of our God.

Chapter 10: The Beginning and You -- What Now?

The final chapter provides a quick summary of the Prophetic Days View, Smith reiterates that he believes that this view provides reconciliation between a literal reading of Genesis 1 and the scientific record. He enourages the reader, whether convinced or not of the view, to continue to investigate and deepen their faith. He concludes the chapter with an identification of Jesus Christ as the Creator (John 1) and invites unbelievers to recognize their sinful position and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Reviewer's Thoughts

"Genesis, Science, and the Beginning" was definitely a rollercoaster of a read for me. Smith's intention with the book was to be as detailed and thorough as he could in presenting his view and defending it against challenges from the various other views (no small feat in a book less than 250 pages in length). Because he squeezed so much detail into a relatively few pages, the book was very heavy in many areas and did get more difficult to read, which caused me to lose interest in certain chapters (specifically in chapters 3, 4 and 7). Luckily, my interest was regained between and after those chapters, which helped me to make it through the book. The level of detail provided in the book in his defense of his view is great (highly recommended for those already involved in the science/Bible discussion), I particularly found his contribution to the discussion on animal death to be quite useful without being a book dedicated to the topic. I very much appreciated his humble approach to the science/faith discussion and his dedication to the inerrancy of the Scripture.

While I am not convinced of the truth of the Prophetic Days View, I think that Smith did do a good job and provided a good contribution to the discussion on science and Genesis 1. For those who are relatively new to these discussions (or do not at least hold to a general old-earth view), it is very possible to get overwhelmed very quickly; don't get discouraged, rather focus on the areas where he agrees with you to take you through the heavy chapters. I recommend the same for those who do hold a general old-earth view as well; Smith offers challenges to opposing old-earth views that do warrant thought, so this book is certainly worth going through. While my recommendation of this book for beginners comes with that caveat, I do recommend it for those already passionate about the discussion and want to go deeper by being exposed to challenges they may not yet be aware of. I also highly recommend it for scholars involved in the science/faith discussion, who do not hold to the Prophetic Days View, as some of Smith's challenges may need to be addressed in your own future writings, if they have not been already.

More Great Books Genesis And Science:


3 comments:

  1. Excellent, as always, thank you. Bruce - bcooper.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. The view that Genesis 1 was "based on ancient Near Eastern myths" seems the most cogent:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=UJ1vPJ1GLKcC&lpg=PP1&dq=the%20christian%20delusion&pg=PA109#v=onepage&q=cosmology&f=false

    Also see this piece about the cultural gap between ancient Near Eastern explanations and modern ones: https://edwardtbabinski.us/scrivenings/2015/the-cultural-divide-between-ancient.html

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    Replies
    1. Edward,
      Considering the fact that the writers of Genesis 1 were theists, and theism is purpose driven, an accurate record of history is necessary to analyze their progression towards the purpose of the deity. The writer believed that he was recorded was true, not merely a story to explain natural phenomena. Please see the book "The Bible Among The Myths" by John N. Oswalt:

      http://lukenixblog.blogspot.com/2014/10/book-review-bible-among-myths.html

      And considering the amount of accurate scientific information included in Genesis 1 about the history of our universe's, solar system's, and planet's formations, it is more logical to conclude that the author had special information as opposed to merely "got lucky." See the arguments in the book "Navigating Genesis" and "A Matter of Days" by Hugh Ross:

      http://lukenixblog.blogspot.com/2014/07/book-review-navigating-genesis.html
      http://lukenixblog.blogspot.com/2015/07/book-review-matter-of-days-resolving.html

      Let us also not forget that, if naturalism is true, then our brains are the product of a survival-driven process, not a truth-driven process. And considering all the "useful fictions" that one must believe to get through the day, we have no reason to believe that anything we believe is true, including your conclusion that Genesis 1 is better explained as being "based on ancient Near Eastern myths." See this post:

      https://lukenixblog.blogspot.com/2017/02/is-religion-practice-of-avoiding-truth.html

      Delete

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