Vern Poythress: Redeeming Science

Dr. Vern Poythress, professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, was invited to dialog with the Christ the Center team at the Reformed Forum about his book Redeeming Science.

This was a very interesting discussion about science and the place it holds for a Christian.  Poythress provided a lot of good insight and helpful approaches to dealing with skeptics.

When he began talking about the 6 days of creation I soon got lost.  Admittedly, I’m not up on all the different ways that Christians explain the 6 days of creation.  Poythress holds to an analogous perspective of the creation account — meaning that the 6 days of creation were not necessarily a 24 hour cycle, but were an much longer period — though not millions of years either.  This perspective views the 7 “days” as being an analogus pattern set by God for man to follow, even though not 24 hour days. I disagree with Poythress on this issue.

One of the primary supports for this is the perspective that God rested on the 7th day, and that day of rest is eternal because his work of creation was finished.  So, because the 7th day is eternal, therefore, strict 6-day creationists have a problem.

I didn’t understand his argument well enough to be sold on it.  Certainly, I could be missing something, but I don’t see  why Poythress places so much weight on this 7th day of rest as being eternal.  I read the Genesis creation account as being a literary unit of thought.  Certainly God has not been at rest these past 5000 years or so, and neither has been his image bearer,  man.  But the 7 day week pattern has continued.  So this view falls apart in my understanding because it’s main supporting reason seems to be flawed. 

Another reason in support of 6 24-hour days of creation is that each day creates something that cannot survive long without what will be created the following day.  God is creating an eco-system.  How do flowers and other plants survive without the insects to pollenate them, for example?  But then, some smart people look at the 6 day creation account and say that it’s not a chronological 6 days.  If that’s true, then all I have to say is “Thank you God for being misleading”.  Because then every generation of mankind for thousands of years has been mislead by God who took him to mean 6 chronological days of creation.  And so again, man elevates science over Scripture and places God in subservience to scientific perspectives. 

Despite whether you agree or disagree with Poythress, this is a very valuable discussion that will sharpen you and will help you see science as reflecting the glory of God in his created world.  The 6 day creation account is only one of the subjects discussed.

Vern Poythress: Redeeming Science >>>

2 thoughts on “Vern Poythress: Redeeming Science

  1. I do not think you understood what Poythress was arguing in his Analogous view, and also, God did not mislead generations of Christians, but rather generations of Christians are at awe of God’s mystery. A careful review of Church History will show us that the debate of creation is not isolated to the period after the invention of Theory of Evolution. Almost from the very beginning we have variant understandings of the 6-day narrative of God, and most “Theological giants in Church History” from Augustine down to Bavinck take views opposing to the literal 6 days. So it is incorrect to assume (and most Christians do) that the Church was happy and consistent until Darwin crashes the party.

    What Poythress is arguing is this. The 6-day view not only take “day” to mean literal 24 hours, but they also take it to mean chronologically actuality in history. I.e. if somehow we are able to watch a video tape of creation on TV, it would take us 6 full days of sitting in front of the TV to watch everything, in chronological sequence, and in actual time-space continuum. Why do I speak in this way? Because Poythress’ analogous view does NOT deny the literal meaning of “day” as “day”, but it argues in how the word “day” is to be understood, i.e. NOT chronologically in actuality of 24 hours passed, but metaphorically analogous to the truth of the divine work-week in what the Israelite’s have already been revealed through Moses and already practice on earth.

    A quick modern example: when I say I have a “full work day ahead of me” I don’t mean I have a job that makes me work 24 hours a day. Rather, most people will assume (and correctly) that I work a “full-time” job in the proximity of 8-hour work day. Or typically, another way to say full-time work is “9-5 job” but it doesn’t mean the person really works 9 a.m. and stops at 5 p.m., but rather it’s a cultural term that means a full day’s work.

    That is Poythress’ argument. When Genesis says “there was morning, there was evening” it’s the Hebrew’s cultural term for our equivalent of “a full day’s work”, and doesn’t have to be literally 24 hours a day (notice this does not deny the literal meaning of ‘day’ as ‘day’, neither are we denying the literal meaning of ‘day’ when we say “I work all day everyday.”) Hence, Poythress’ challenge of the 7th day: it is exegetically inconsistent to say the first 6 days is 24 hours but not the 7th day when the narrative makes no such distinction but invites the readers to read all 7 occurrences of the Hebrew word “yom” the same way. To me it is more eisegesis to separate the meaning of the first 6 days from the 7th occurrence of “day” just to fit the 6-day creationists paradigm.

    Poythress, seeing this problem and unsatisfy with its solution, found another way to possibly understand this phenomenon. First, he correctly points out that the Pentateuch has one major theme and that is how to reflect heavenly life in the earthly world. The Ten Commandments is God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, the Tabernacle is Heaven on earth, and Exodus passages show us that the Israelites are ALREADY working 6 days and resting on the 7th day BEFORE the writings of the Pentateuch. (Moses argued that they practice the 6-1 week paradigm because this is how God created the world, thus showing that Moses already taught them to work 6 days and rest 7th day before Moses wrote Genesis.)

    Finally, since Moses is already so used to helping the Israelites reflecting heavenly glory on earth, it is no surprise that Moses, when records the Creation Account (when God works!) that he uses the same paradigm, or analogy, to what the Israelites are already used to doing: work 6 days but rest on 7th day.

    Personally I am not naive enough to declare this the ultimate winner and all other views can pack up and go home. As I realized there’s so many more rebuttals and counter arguments from each sides to make. However, I like Poythress’ view a lot because he seeks to be faithful to the Bible and consistent exegesis the most (in my humble opinion.) One irony I see from most 6-day creationists is that they argue all other views are in reaction of Evolution and Christians giving in to Darwinism, where in reality I believe it’s the other way around: 6-day creationism is so attractive today because Christians want to separate themselves from Darwinism, and thus abandoning sound exegesis and hermeneutics for the sake of ideology (i.e. WE ARE NOT DARWIN!) and assumes that non-6-day creationist Christians are cowards that kowtow to the pressure of Evolution.

  2. Reformed Sinner, thank you for your explanation. That did clarify some questions I had about Poythress’ view.

    I do like Poythress’ way of thinking through this. He definitely helped me think about some things I had not seen before. I hope I did not suggest that he was kowtowing to evolutionists with his view.

    I do not think that 6 day creationists arrived at their 6 day understanding to separate from evolutionists. The first reading of the text suggests 6 days of creation. It also suggests chronology. I have no reason to think Moses or the Israelites understood it any other way. I doubt they had an analogous understanding. We have no other Old Testament text to suggest a different reading is needed, as far as I’m aware of. My contention is that the text does not require an analogous view. Our scientific process does.

    I also stand by my view that God is not misleading generations. Mystery and awe is a part of any true Christian’s stance before God’s creation, be it 6-day or analogous. I would question that there is such a great difference among generations of Christians in church history. And when there is, there are other motives and faulty hermeneutical reasons for such an exercise. At the end of the day we have to deal faithfully with the text. Poythress is trying to deal faithfully with the text, just as are the 6-day Creationists. And, c’mon, you can’t really be serious to suggest that 6-day creationism is devoid of sound exegesis and hermeneutics, especially since you acknowledged that you’re not naive enough declare your view the winner.

    Thanks for the comment!

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