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Science and the Bible: Concordism, Part 3

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July 16, 2012 Tags: Biblical Interpretation
Science and the Bible: Concordism, Part 3
Frontispiece to Robert Bakewell's An Introduction to Geology (New Haven, 1839). Courtesy of Edward B. Davis.

Today's entry was written by Ted Davis. You can read more about what we believe here.

In my last two posts, I explained and analyzed Concordism. We conclude today with a short history of Concordism.

Historical Comments

Prior to the 18th Century, the six “days” of creation were often—not always, but more often than not—interpreted literally as ordinary days in succession. During the Reformation and the 17th century, the literal view received very strong support. Allegorical readings that had been viable alternatives in earlier centuries became increasingly unpopular among both Protestant and Catholic scholars. Thus, according to the famous wording of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which was drawn up in 1646, the whole period of creation took place “in the space of six days,” a phrase that even today is very influential on conservative Presbyterian approaches to origins. This language was grounded in the interpretation provided almost a century earlier by the greatest theologian of the 16th century, John Calvin. In his Commentary on Genesis, originally published in Latin in 1554, Calvin said (concerning Genesis 1:5),

Here the error of those is manifestly refuted, who maintain that the world was made in a moment. For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction. Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men… [God] distributed the creation of the world into successive portions, that he might fix our attention, and compel us, as if he had laid his hand upon us, to pause and to reflect. For the confirmation of the gloss above alluded to [see the first sentence], a passage from Ecclesiasticus is unskilfully cited, ‘He who liveth for ever created all things at once,’ for the Greek adverb κοιν which the writer uses, means no such thing, nor does it refer to time, but to all things universally.

In this pithy paragraph, Calvin juxtaposed the two main alternatives available to pre-modern interpreters of Genesis. The option Calvin defended, the literal creation week, was strongly favored by the early reformers and rooted in the earliest Christian commentaries. The option he rejected, in which all things were created instantaneously (sometimes based on Ecclesiasticus 18:1, as Calvin indicated with evident disagreement), fell out of favor in early modern times, but it, too, was rooted in the earliest Christian commentaries—to say nothing of the great Jewish scholar, Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Jesus. For example, around 200 AD Clement of Alexandria asked, “And how could creation take place in time, seeing time was born along with things which exist?” For Clement, everything was “created together in thought,” and since “all things [were] originated together from one essence by one power,” the six days could not be taken literally. (Stromata, Book 6, Chapter 16)

The instantaneous view was advanced especially by the most important Western theologian of the first millennium, Augustine of Hippo (354-430), who wrote a work (in multiple versions) called On the Literal Meaning of Genesis (ca. 391). Influenced by Ecclesiasticus 18:1, he taught that in the beginning God made matter and all material things simultaneously. “Those who cannot understand the meaning of the text, He created all things together, cannot arrive at the meaning of Scripture unless the narrative proceeds slowly step by step.” Some things were created to unfold in time, growing from “seeds” placed in the creation by God, but they were all part of the original conception that was brought into material existence in a single creative event. However, to aid our poor understanding, God told us about it in the pattern of six days. Augustine called the creation days “dies ineffables” (unknowable days), so majestic and profound that we cannot think of them in merely human terms as ordinary days. They indicate logical order, not temporal order, and must be interpreted subtly.

Regardless of which interpretation they favored, commentators have acknowledged a puzzling feature of the biblical text: the Sun is not “made” until the fourth day, yet the Sun is expressly given the task of producing the “day” and the “night” and there have been “evening and morning” since the first day. How can this be? Were the first three days unlike the next three days in some way? As we will see in my next column, the fourth day is crucial to the Framework view, but the questions addressed by that modern view are not modern at all.

Some Observations about Pre-modern Interpretations

Augustine’s view was not identical to any of the modern views I am presenting (Concordism, Framework, and Theistic Evolution), but it resonates in places with each of them, and therefore is often seen as a precursor of such views. Although such comparisons are not without value, we must keep in mind that neither Augustine nor any other early commentator imagined an “old” earth. Before the late 1700s, it was generally assumed that the entire pre-human world was (at most) only a few days older than humans. There was hardly any scientific evidence bearing on the age of humanity, the Earth, or the universe. People interpreted Genesis on its own, without knowledge of modern geology or modern astronomy or Ancient Near East literature. Peter Enns underscores the significance of this in his splendid book, The Evolution of Adam.

Given the pre-modern understanding, the question naturally arises: how old is the Earth, according to the Bible? Because the Bible contains detailed genealogical information about the descendants of Adam & Eve, it’s possible to estimate the date of creation. Several specific dates have been endorsed, all clustering around 6000 years. The traditional Jewish date (since the 12th century) for the creation of the world is either 29 March or 22 September 3761 BC. This reflects an assumption, accepted also by many Christian scholars: God would have placed Adam & Eve into the garden either in the spring or at the harvest, so that food would be abundant. The Byzantine date, based on the Septuagint (in which some of the genealogies are different from the Hebrew version), is 1 September 5509 BC. Martin Luther calculated 3960 BC. By far the most famous date among English-speaking Protestants, however, is the one given by James Ussher, a truly erudite scholar who did things very carefully. He arrived at 4004 BC after a very long and complex chain of reasoning, partly on the basis of the genealogies, partly by comparing the Bible with other ancient chronologies, partly because he knew that Jesus was born no later than 4 BC (in 1583, Joseph Scaliger established that Herod had died in that year), and partly because he liked a version of the traditional “world-week” interpretation of the six days, according to which each “day” of creation represents one thousand years of historical time and there were exactly four thousand years from Adam to Christ.

The literal creation week and the instantaneous creation were the two major alternatives for most of Christian history, but more than a few commentators took intermediate positions that I ignore here. I cannot adequately convey the subtlety and diversity of this grand conversation, stretching nearly 2,000 years, in 2,000 words. Those who want to dig deeper are urged to consult the references at the end.

The Discovery of Deep Time

Concordism in general is as old as references to the “book of nature” as a valid source of truth, supplementing the Bible. These go back at least to the Middle Ages and were very common by the 17th century, when Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei and many others acknowledged multiple sources of truth, using the same terminology. Concordism in natural history, however, began in the late eighteenth century, in response to the growing sense that the Earth was vastly older than humanity. Martin Rudwick has written extensively about what he calls “the discovery of deep time,” his term for the idea illustrated in an engraving of Niagara Falls, showing how the gorge was produced by erosion over time, that helped introduce American readers to an ancient Earth in the 1830s. Concordism in natural history is all about reading Genesis in parallel with geology, in order to get a single, consistent picture. The rest of this column outlines key aspects of concordism in America since the 1830s.

Benjamin Silliman (1825), by John Trumbull. Oil on wood panel, 19 ¼” x 15 ¾” National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Alice Silliman Hawkes

I introduced readers to Benjamin Silliman in the first part of this column. An outspoken concordist, Silliman explicitly endorsed Galileo’s approach to the Bible and Copernican astronomy. Applying it to natural history, he spoke of the “consistency” of geology with “sacred history.” Mapping geological evidence onto the six “days” of creation, which he interpreted as long periods of time, Silliman noted that the absence (at that time) of fossil humans indicated that “man” appeared only at the end of the geological process—fully consistent with Genesis.

From Sillman’s “Appendix” to Bakewell, An Introduction to Geology (1839). Courtesy of Edward B. Davis.

Silliman’s student, geologist Edward Hitchcock, was also a concordist. Briefly a Congregational minister, he became professor of geology and natural theology at Amherst College, where he also served nine years as president. His textbook, Elementary Geology (1840), the first to be written by an American geologist, contained a lengthy section devoted to biblical and theological issues that still makes fascinating reading today. Hitchcock preferred the “gap theory” over Silliman’s “day-age” view, because he thought it was a more literal translation, but he was careful to offer alternative interpretations and did not push his own view dogmatically.

A crucial theological issue discussed in Hitchcock’s book is what he, himself, called “death before the fall,” which he took as an incontestable fact of natural history. “Not only geology, but zoology and comparative anatomy, teach us that death among the inferior animals did not result from the fall of man, but from the original constitution given them by their Creator. One large class of animals, the carnivores, have organs expressly intended for destroying other classes for food.” Even herbivores “must have destroyed a multitude of insects, of which several species inhabit almost every species of plant,” not to mention the destruction of “millions of animalcula [microscopic organisms], which abound in many of the fluids which animals drink, and even in the air which they breathe… In short, death could not be excluded from the world, without an entire change in the constitution and course of nature; and such a change we have no reason to suppose, from the Mosaic account [Genesis], took place when man fell.”

Indeed, Hitchcock argued, on biblical grounds alone, apart from geology, one might have to allow animal death before the fall. Romans 5:12 (“Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men...”) explicitly limits the scope of death to humanity: death passed upon all men. And, unless Adam himself had seen death, how could the threat of death for disobedience have real force? At the same time, Hitchcock still accepted the traditional link between animal death and human sin. But, he also accepted the fact of animal death before the fall. To put these two truths together, he appealed to his Calvinist theological convictions: God had foreseen the fall and planned accordingly, creating a world in which animal death preceded the fall chronologically, but not theologically—if God in his foreknowledge had known that Adam & Eve would not sin, the creation would have been different.

Hitchcock’s way of reconciling sin and death with an old Earth was not very influential, but from his day forward most conservative Protestant writers accepted an ancient earth and animal death before the fall. However, William Dembski has revived Hitchcock’s theodicy (and explicitly credits it to Hitchcock) in his recent book, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World (2009). I said quite a bit about this in part two, so here I simply note the historical continuity and invite readers—especially fans of Dembski—to peruse the selection from Hitchcock linked above.

Concordism received a powerful boost in the mid-20th century, when Bernard Ramm published The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1954), which I have already introduced to readers. It was partly to counter Ramm’s considerable influence that Henry Morris and John C. Whitcomb, Jr., wrote The Genesis Flood (1961). One measure of the ongoing importance of Concordism is the fact that Scientific Creationism arose partly in response to it, and YEC leaders continue to devote significant energy to combatting contemporary advocates of Concordism, especially Hugh Ross. Theologian and ethicist John Jefferson Davis of Gordon-Conwell Seminary (not related to me) offers a different style of Concordism in his book, The Frontiers of Science & Faith (2002). The title of one of his chapters shows the continued relevance of Ramm: “Is ‘Progressive Creation’ Still a Helpful Concept? Reflections on Creation, Evolution & Bernard Ramm’s Christian View of Science and Scripture.” Davis originally published that material in the ASA’s journal, so it’s available on their website. If you get a chance to read it, please let me know what you think. Thus, Concordism remains a viable option for evangelicals today.

Looking ahead

My next column, on Tuesday, July 31, lays out the Framework View. Since it’s such a modern position, there will be less to say about it: don’t let the amount of coverage lead you to think that it’s less important than the other views. It’s not!

For further reading

As I’ve said before, most of the best material about Christianity and science is available only in print. If your interest in this topic is keen, the need to visit a library will not hold you back!

James Barr, “Why the World Was Created in 4004 BC: Archbishop Ussher and Biblical Chronology,” Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 67 (1984-85): 575-608.

Andrew James Brown, A History of the Christian Interpretation of the Days of Creation in Genesis 1:1-2:3: From the Apostolic Fathers to Essays and Reviews (1860). PhD Thesis, The University of Queensland, 2010. [There is no substitute for this very detailed account, but unfortunately it is very hard to obtain. A much shorter work by the same author is readily available here.

Edward B. Davis, “The Word and the Works: Concordism and American Evangelicals.” In Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, ed. Keith Miller (Eerdmans, 2003), 38-60.

Edward B. Davis, “Science Falsely So Called: Fundamentalism and Science.” In The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, ed. J. B. Stump and Alan G. Padgett (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2012), 48-60.

William A. Wallace, Appendix 7 in William A. Wallace, ed., Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae: Volume 10, Cosmogony: 1a. 65-74 (Cambridge University Press, 1967).

Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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KevinR - #71132

July 16th 2012

“Evolutionary theory deals mainly with how life changed after its origin. Science does try to investigate how life started (e.g., whether or not it happened near a deep-sea vent, which organic molecules came first, etc.), but these considerations are not the central focus of evolutionary theory. Regardless of how life started, afterwards it branched and diversified, and most studies of evolution are focused on those processes”

This from the NCSE which is closely connected to TalkOrigins which seems to be the reference site for refuting YEC claims.

I do hope that when Biologos has completed the series on Age of the earth etc. they’ll tackle the issues related to the origin of life. I’m hoping you’ll be able to explain where life comes from and if you cannot, then perhaps you’d like to explain how you can be so sure that life didn’t arrive on earth fully formed [and ready to diversify] as depicted via a plain and straightforward reading of Genesis 1.

From what I can get on the question of the probability of spontaneous origin of life in the questions section, it would appear that right now, everything needs to be taken by faith. This is faith in the ability of fallible human beings to somehow, someday comes up with a plausible explanation for how life arrived here on earth. Right now, there’s a lot of “could have, might have, it is possible, it is thought that” etc. There are statements of life suddenly appearing about 100 million years after the formation of the earth. But who was there to record such an appearance? How do you know that it happened 100m year ago? Did the people who witnessed the appearance also record in what shape, form and size life arrived?The idea being posited is that it was not necessarily God who started off life. So how did it arrive?

Please run a series on the explanation for that singular most important occurrence.

KevinR - #71133

July 16th 2012

Small correction: the “100m years ago” should be “100m year after the formation of earth”

Ted Davis - #71134

July 16th 2012


Thank you for the comments.

Your suggestion is noted, but I don’t see any direct relevance to the topic of this column, nor to any of the other posts I’ve done thus far in this series. And, I’m no expert either on the origin of life itself nor on the history of various speculations about it, so I’ll have to leave this topic alone.

The only thing I will point out is this: your numbers (the two references to 100 MY) seem a bit confused. Are you basing them on the FAQ here: http://biologos.org/questions/the-origin-of-life? The fourth paragraph in that FAQ says, if read carefully, that the Earth was lifeless for about 700 MY, not 100 MY after its formation. It cooled roughly 4 BY ago, i.e., roughly 500 MY after it formed (if we use the approximate age of 4.5 BY, which to the best of my knowledge is slightly low), or roughly 600 MY after it formed (if we estimate the age of the Earth as 4.6 BY, the figure I’ve found in a number of geological texts and papers). Then, life appeared more than 100 MY after that point. Either way, very simple forms of life have been around for about 3.8 to 3.9 BY, not just 100 MY as you have it above.

As for witnessing this event, of course no one was there (other than God). This part of your comment goes to the topic of the legitimacy of the historical sciences, whice we discussed earlier in this series: http://biologos.org/blog/galileo-and-the-garden-of-eden-part-2. I invite you to read that column and put another comment here, if you wish. Indeed, let me take the opportunity to invite all readers who might be new to this series to read all of it, in order, before reading my next column (on the Framework view) on July 31.

wesseldawn - #71194

July 18th 2012

The Bible is quite clear that evolutionary forces created life on earth as man was of the dust/ground (mortar, clay, mud).

Then God put man in a new environment, an eternal one, the garden. Man was not on the earth at that time!

However, at the deception, mankind found him and herself back in the mortal environment where evolutionary forces had continued to change things while they were in the garden.

Jon Garvey - #71135

July 16th 2012

Hi Ted

Nice summary, as ever.

Just a comment about your troika: concordism, framework, theistic evolution. Are they not to an extent apples and oranges? The first two are attempts to say what the Bible “really” teaches, and I’ve seen both applied (with more or less success) both to evolutionary and special creation accounts.

Theistic evolution, though, starts from the science and a general faith position, with a tendency to generalise the Biblical accounts without trying to resolve the details. In some case that involves sidelining them almost completely as outdated and erroneous cosmology (Enns comes to mind). Those TEs concerned to deal with the text exhaustively tend to revert to concordism or framework approaches in conjunction with evolution.

You haven’t mentioned what seems to me a very different approach, which is that of John H Walton and others, which is that the Biblical account is literal (and from Walton’s viewpoint, true), but is not even attempting to describe creation in material terms, being literally about a metaphysical/spiritual conception. This has tended to appeal to TEs like me as a helpful resolution, though it too would fit a classical supernaturalistic, creationist approach if the sociological runes had fallen differently.

So maybe my own trio would be concordism, framework-ism and functionalism, with a counter-category of why-bother-it’s-only-a-myth-icism!

Ted Davis - #71142

July 16th 2012


My next column (Framework) will call for us to talk about just such things. I’ll make an “assignment” that I hope many will actually do, in order to provide focus for our discussion of the key issues—what is the genre of early Genesis? how should we view it, relative to science? what is it really trying to say?

I hope you’ll do that “assignment” and join in. When we get there. Soon.

Jon Garvey - #71159

July 17th 2012

Will try and get to the party


GJDS - #71136

July 16th 2012

I wonder if we can contemplate an alternative to concordism and/or interpretations of Genesis within a Geological framework (or indeed an evolutionary one), and instead try an analysis of the text to obtain something meaningful.

We all agree with the opening statement, that in the beginning God created the heaven and earth.

There is general agreement that the use of days is inconsistent with a specific time as we understand, e.g. the sun was not there to give us day (and night). Provided we think the writer understand what he wrote, we would agree that this would have been obvious to him.

We can continue with the narrative reaching the creation of Adam and Eve. Without introducing further arguments about humanity created from the substance of planet earth, I would pause at this point and ask a question. Just what meaning (and lesson) can we reasonably obtain from this account? I do not mean how many ways can we retell the story to suite our own outlooks, but can we analytically derive a lesson in all of this?

While I agree this meaning would be personal for most people, my response is the account shows that God had exercised care and concern for the creation, especially earth. It also shows that the creation is good ‘as a creation’ (science would attest to this as marvellous). It also shows that sin, although committed by human beings, does not originate from, or is intrinsic to, humanity, but is external in origin (i.e. mythological serpent, or Satan, is the author or originator of sin).

When considered in this way, Genesis 1 says a lot, using relatively few words.

George Bernard Murphy - #71137

July 16th 2012


Regardless of which interpretation they favored, commentators have acknowledged a puzzling feature of the biblical text: the Sun is not “made” until the fourth day, yet the Sun is expressly given the task of producing the “day” and the “night” and there have been “evening and morning” since the first day. How can this be? Were the first three days unlike the next three days in some way? As we will see in my next column, the fourth day is crucial to the Framework view, but the questions addressed by that modern view are not modern at all.:

Well I am going to makke the same comment that I always make when it comes up on Biologos.

 These mysterious contradictions cited in the above paragraph suddenly become clear WHEN YOU STUDY THE FINAL ANALYSIS OF THE DATA FROM OUR APPOLLO PROJECT,..... THE MOON SHOTS,....... THE MOST EXPENSIVE SCIENCE PROJECT IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND,..... THE CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT OF THE HUMAN RACE… or whatever you want to call it.

Science solved the problem of reconciling all of these seemingly contradictory statements.
It took 30 years and they had to awit the development of bigger computers.

Dr. Robin Canup of Boulder Colorado was awarded the prize for the solution.



1:14 God said, “Let there be lights34 in the expanse35 of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs36 to indicate seasons and days and years, 1:15 and let them serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” It was so. 1:16 God made two great lights37 – the greater light to rule over the day and the lesser light to rule over the night. He made the stars also.38 1:17 God placed the lights39 in the expanse of the sky to shine on the earth, 1:18 to preside over the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness.40 God saw that it was good. 1:19 There was evening, and there was morning, a fourth day. 

 The earth was hit by another planet.

It started the earth spinning.

It tilted the axis of spin 23 ’ but did NOT disturb our perfect orbit around the sun.[This gives us seasons and years.]

It created our moon, giving us months.


George Bernard Murphy - #71138

July 16th 2012

“The Big Splat” as th earth’s planatary collsion is called was miraculous in many ways.

 It did ot disturb our perfect orbit around th sun.

 It did not shatter our planet. It only took off some of the crust. The portion of crust dislodged did NOT get kicked out into space. This is quite a trick in and of itself.


And the core of the impactor sank into the earth,... WHICH ADDED NUCLEAR FUEL TO THE FURNACE AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH WHICH KEEPS OUR MAGMA CIRCULATING. But the smooth flow of magna [which is so essential to maintaining our protective magnetosphere, was not disturbed.]

In contrast mars was hit by an object which stoppd its magm circuation and it subsequently lost all its gases including water vapor and is now a dead planet.

 This collision was so precise that it accomlished only GOOD THINGS. [It make one think the God of the univere must love us doesn’t it.]

 Well why don’t we praise Him for this? 

Are our preachers to slothful to study the science?

It is out there

George Bernard Murphy - #71150

July 16th 2012

“ These go back at least to the Middle Ages and were very common by the 17th century, when Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei and many others acknowledged multiple sources of truth, using the same terminology. “

Galileo thought the Bible was inerrant truth,.

This comes as a surprise to many people. Galileo was NOT an atheist!

But he thought the Bible was “recondite”,..... only meaningful to people with special knowledge.

 He advocated science as a source of supply  for the wisdom to properly interpret the recondite bible.

Getting back to the Big Splat, the capture of the moon gave our earth a sort of an outrigger that prevents it from tilting as it spins, a process called “precessing”

 Ordinarily  spinning top in a gravitational force field will precess.[wobble as it spins].

 Earth does precess about 1 degree but it has been calculated that without the stabilizing effect of our moon we might precess as much as 80 degrees.

Imagine an earth that tipped over on it’s side so that the north pole and/or south poles each faced the sun half the year and earth stayed in that position about 23,000 years and then slowly returned to the original  upright axis of rotation.

The fact that we captured the moon in earth orbit prevents that from happening.

 If you go back to particular  scripture that Galileo was accused of flouting it praises God for giving the earth a stability so that it “shall not be overturned”.

IT DOES HAVE THAT UNUSUAL STABILITY. Because it forms a single gravitational unit with the moon giving it a wide base.

That was misinterpreted as meaning that the earih could not orbit the sun, ..the very motion that gives us years and seasons. The Bible only says it will not tip over.

The summary is Galileo was right.   AND,...

The Bible was right!

 They were not in conflict! But because the Bible was recondite,[As Galileo said it was],

 Galileo seemed to be in conflict with the bible’s meaning,.. because we did not have the scientific knowledge to realize how both could be true.

 We had to study a lot,[and send men to the moon], to realize the Bible can be inerrant and science is also a reliable tool.We need to study them together.

 Both were written by God.

wesseldawn - #71197

July 18th 2012

Very interesting George.

“But he thought the Bible was “recondite”,..... only meaningful to people with special knowledge.”

Did Galileo think that science was the special knowledge, or rather that ‘science confirmed the Bible’?

wesseldawn - #71140

July 16th 2012

Prior to the 18th Century, the  six “days” of creation were often—not always, but more often than not—interpreted literally as ordinary days in succession.”


Perhaps the Europeans believed in six days but having been in Western Evangelical circles for a long time, I clearly remember being taught a ‘seven’ day creation. I believe that changed some 20 some years ago as someone realised that “God rested on the 7th”, which meant that the work had to have been finished by the sixth!

Ted Davis - #71141

July 16th 2012

And, wesseldawn, there was no “evening and morning” on the seventh day. I’ll underscore that point in my next column. Some have even suggested that the seventh day is prophetic, a reference to the rest we will share with God in the eschaton. Robert Newman (see part two of this column) holds this view, and so did Edward Hitchcock in the 1840s (see the link above), so it’s not just a recent idea.

wesseldawn - #71147

July 16th 2012

Just telling you what I (and so many other Evangelicals) were taught. This was my own personal experience and understanding for some time, based on what was preached from the pulpit! I clearly remember the day that my Pastor at the time (who had just found out himself from someone else) waved it around like a personal flag. I recall my surprise and wondered how we all bought into the seven days for so long!

Ted Davis - #71145

July 16th 2012

More to the point—there is a whole genre of patristic writing about Genesis known as “hexameral” literature (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hexameron), b/c God created in six days rather than seven.

There’s no “perhaps” about this at all. Biblical commentators have written about the *six* days of creation since the beginning of commentaries, whether or not they were Europeans, or even Christians. Jewish authors have done likewise, such as Philo whom I mentioned above.

Jon Garvey - #71161

July 17th 2012

I don’t know if I’m sadder that a seven-day creation was taught in US evangelical circles, or that none of the congregation evangelical enough to read Genesis 1 and check. A Pope in a pulpit is not Evangelicalism.

wesseldawn - #71195

July 18th 2012

We were hoping that our teachers had done their homework!!

HornSpiel - #71151

July 16th 2012

The problem with concordism as I see it is two-fold:

  • It is complicated and subjective trying to align biblical details with natural historical events
  • It necessarily changes as the state of natural history changes.

Moreover it does not inform us about God, or rather, I believe, it obscures what Genesis it teaching us about God.

Take for instance the hypothesis that there was death before the fall, in the concordist view. If you accept this, no matter what theological position to take, you need to explain what this means. so you get a Calvinist position that says:

God had foreseen the fall and planned accordingly, creating a world in which animal death preceded the fall chronologically, but not theologically.

So somehow God created a good world that was already corrupted by the future disobedience of Adam. To correct one problem he introduces a bigger one and obscures the main point, that Creation is good.

This analysis however applies as well to Ramm as well. In Davis’s paper on Ramm he states,

The foregoing survey has shown that momentous discoveries have occurred in the life sciences since Bernard Ramm wrote over a generation ago. Nevertheless, it remains my conviction that Ramm’s concept of progressive creation is still a helpful way of interpreting both the biblical and scientific data relating to origins.

His conclusion is that everything about Ramm’s version of progressive creationism has been debunked the big three origin events—the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin of self-reflective and God-aware life—and the so-called Cambrian Explosian.

Ultimately, in my view, is there is really nothing left to differentiate Davis’s revised Progressive Creationism from Theistic Evolution except for questionable creative interventions like the Cambrian Explosion, which are just a dominos waiting to fall to scientific evidence.

By the way, love your statement on Calvin and the six days. It is so important to know the historical context in which statements are made in order to correctly interpret them. This is the fatal error of most “literal” interpretations of any document, especially biblical ones.

I look forward to the assignment on the genre of Genesis. It seems to me though, that one cannot reasonably assign a genre without making a determination on the provenance of the account. It does make a difference if you think that Moses wrote it down from scratch, dictated, as it were by God, or that he based it upon oral tradition, or that the author was not Moses at all but a later theological counter to Mesopotamian creation accounts edited and compiled by post-exilic scribes.

Ted Davis - #71152

July 16th 2012

Good comments, Hornspiel, keep them coming!

George Bernard Murphy - #71153

July 16th 2012

I don’t think concordance between scripture an science is something you can choose.

 It is a fact.

 You can choose to be ignorant,..... and then you will never encounter concordance.

 Otherwise you have to deal with it.

HornSpiel - #71158

July 16th 2012

I agree. It’s either there or it isn’t.

Jon Garvey - #71160

July 17th 2012

Hornspiel: “So somehow God created ...that Creation is good” (sorry, the editor won’t let me cut and paste.

I understood that differently, perhaps wrongly, but it gave me a way of seeing how such an idea might be useful, when “retrospective fallen nature” has always seemed to me the worst possible scheme since I first encountered it in the 60s.

I understood not that God created an evil world in response to foreseen sin, but that he created the most suitable world in response to foreseen sin, which is surely unexceptionable if we believe that Christ is the lamb slain before the foundation of the world.

In the end, is theodicy not resolved eschatologically by our seeing just why God did things the way he did, whilst our best theories here and now can’t possibly see the big picture?

Punishing mankind in advance for the fall makes no sense at all. But taking account of history in the world he chooses to create is just orthodox - the alternative being that an unwise God allows himself to be wrongfooted by unforeseen consequences.

HornSpiel - #71167

July 17th 2012

Your understanding goes along with the idea that God made the “best of all possible  worlds” mentioned here for example. I think though that the statments saying “God said it was good” are also saying God is good. There is no hint of any negative downside in Genesis One. The goodness of creation reflects God’s goodness. So the point is that Creation is wholly good because God is wholly good.

That point is clouded when we mix the scientific how of creation with that theological statement. The result is that we start parsing Creation to determine what things are really good and what things are tainted by sin. So we might say that predation is maybe the result of sin, but the deaths of microbes and plants that form chalk, marble, oil, and coal are not. So what about eathquakes, volcanos, and meteor strikes?

But actually that is not what the Bible teaches. The book of Job gives credit to God for lions and leviathon, for disaster and destruction. What would be evil for man to do is not for God, because God is God. In fact the evil that afflicted Job was a result of Satan. Who made Satan anyway?

So sin gave Adam the knowledge of good and evil—along with the moral responsibility he already had because of his relationship with God. What we call evil (and good) was already there. He and Eve just did not recognize it. 

The take away for me is that our evolutionary inheritance, our genes, and the “example of nature,” are not excuses for bad or evil behavior. God is good, and we are called to be also.

Jon Garvey - #71168

July 17th 2012


I agree with this. But “good” in Genesis carries the sense of “fit for purpose” rather than best-of-all-possible-worlds (or else the eschatological cosmos would have to be less-than-the-best).

Yet in one sense our world can be said to be the best - for as you say, God created Satan, and for a purpose, not in the mistaken belief that he’d be a thoroughly nice chap.

What is wrong with Prof Pangloss’s (aka Leibniz) conception is that it overstresses its ability to understand what God says is beyond human conception in this age. It’s the sophisticated philosophical version of the person who tells you your mother’s road accident was probably God telling you to fix the brakes.

And it’s not possible even to begin a valid theodicy without factoring in the cross in some way or another.

HornSpiel - #71169

July 17th 2012

Actually I would not say that “our world can be said to be the best…” because that would minimize us, people, as free moral agents. I believe world actually becomes better as people behave more righteously.  I think the Bible teaches that our decision have real consequences and can truly affect the world.  

An interesting corrolary is that a concordist view tends to see accidents, and even evil, as part of God’s plan, usually as some sort of judgement. 

Jon Garvey - #71176

July 18th 2012

Hornspiel - I wouldn’t say that only concordists see “accidents and even evil” as part of God’s plan - there’s a pretty strong biblical witness to such interpretations ... like most of the book.

But I agree with your other point - it’s almost impossible to avoid Russian dolls of meaning. The world could be seen as “best” simply because it gives the opportunity for free agents to make it better or worse in actuality. That’s why my concept of “good” in terms of creation is “good in relation to God’s purposes”. Those purposes may well have elements that elude our understanding or even seem evil because we don’t see with God’s eyes - that was Augustine’s position; not that the world is a Utopia, or even a Utopia spoiled by sin, but that it has a plan that renders evils subservient to a greater good conceived by God’s supreme wisdom.

I’d even go further than what you say here: Gen 1 seems to suggest that God left elements of “untamedness” (tohu and bohu) within creation for mankind to rule subdue on his behalf. As Walton points out, for example, the serpent of ch2 is a wilderness (chaos) creature, like the owls and vultures in prophetic literature. Man in God’s image would, in some sense, complete God’s creation in fellowship and obedience. The command was “Fill the earth and subdue it,” rather than “Fill the earth and enjoy it.”

So even in the primaeval creation, the world would become better, in ways we can only guess at, as people behaved more righteously. Conversely, the descent into sin actually causes increased chaos even as mankind becomes more able to control - a kind of zombified version of Gen 1 stewardship. Science/technology tames the planet and boils it to death in doing so. People decide on the greatest moral goods - and kill each other to achieve it. And also, of course, people blame God for how things are when they were given a job to do to change it.

HornSpiel - #71211

July 19th 2012

Definiely agree with your insights about “untamedness” (tohu and bohu) within creation.” I would say that creation, like God, is dangerous but good.

Interesting point:

The world could be seen as “best” simply because it gives the opportunity for free agents to make it better or worse in actuality.

I like it.

My point is that concordists will tend to be more passive in the face of evil,  pain and suffering, seeing it as judgement as opposed to something they should confront. Yes God can use evil, but how do we tolorate it when it come “from nature”. For example a concordist will be more likely see AIDS as a judgement against gays, after all didn’t God create “natural consequences” after the Fall for A&E?

But I would say that is a faulty lesson. Not only do I think it is clear that women’s pain in child birth, the difficulties of farming, and snakes slithering all things that would have been facts of life before any “historical” Fall. And I do think it is a god thing if we can make childbirth safer and less painful and farming less tedious. Though I stop short of wanting to reactivate the leg genes for the Serpentes!

David Tyler - #71162

July 17th 2012

Ted, you concluded: “Thus, Concordism remains a viable option for evangelicals today.”

Please clarify how you move from a historical study of Concordism to this conclusion.  History certainly tells us that some evangelicals (past and present) have followed the concordist route – but how does that lead to the conclusion that this approach is a “viable option”? 

Can I suggest caution about using the word “literal”?  It has a historical context (via Augustine), but discussion today can become sidetracked by it.  Those who defend the “literal creation week” approach are doing it on the basis that Genesis is history, and that Jesus and the Apostles referred to Genesis as history.  This is worth our attention, because there are many non-YECs who wrestle with such issues – particularly over the historicity of Adam and Eve.  Those who take this approach are frequently faced with the charge of being “literalists” and failing to understand the language and culture of the Ancient Near East.  This is an unjust charge – which is why I suggest that care be taken about using this word.

Ted Davis - #71165

July 17th 2012


You may have noticed that I often use the word “literal” exactly that way, in scare quotes, precisely b/c definitions differ and it matters. My own definition would refer to original intent of the author(s), but then if we realize that our knowledge of the ANE has changed dramatically in the past two centuries, we must be ready to say that the “literal” sense has also changed dramatically—insofar as it makes no sense to refer to the “literal” sense apart from our own understanding(s) of what that actually means, at any given moment in time. I’m sure you realize that.

Your call for me to spell out how I conclude that Concordism is a “viable” option for evangelicals today is fair, and I’m afraid that I’m going to disappoint you. If this were a real, in-person class, we’d go out for coffee and spend 90 minutes talking it through. With my schedule this month, the electronic equivalent can’t happen: I doubt that I can defend that word adequately, for you (knowing of your background and views on the larger issues), in the time I have available to type in the next two weeks. So, for you (not necessarily for others), let me just modify as follows: “Concordism apparently remains a viable option,” and I’ll let you argue that out with Dembski and Jack Davis and Jack Collins .... and, you can fill in the blanks.

Denis Lamoureux, on the other hand, thinks that evangelicals need to dump Concordism. Perhaps you would agree with him, David, but that’s not for me to say. If you do, then it might be for different reasons, since he’s an EC/TE and you are not. Again, I’ll let you reply to the brief comment, if you wish.

Sorry not to take you up on this myself. However, if you want to make the case for not being a concordist—for not seeing concordism as “viable” today, I encourage you to do so here.

Ted Davis - #71170

July 17th 2012

It’s in my earlier columns where I often use “literal” in quotes, and (David and others) in my mind this is all one topic. That’s what I was thinking of. I don’t see that I did this here, however. I hope I confused no one.

David Tyler - #71202

July 19th 2012

Ted, Thanks for the feedback.  I’m happier to read your piece with “literal” in quotes.  I recognise that some YECs have used this language, so associating some YECs with a “literal” reading of Genesis is justified.  However, I am still of the opinion that the real issue is whether Genesis is history, and that’s where I’d like to see the focus in debate.

My concern about concordism is that the concept is often given a meaning that is too narrow.  It seems to me that YECs are also advocates of concordism and the principle that all truth is God’s truth.  It is reasonable to refer to humans reading the book of nature and the book of revelation – the problems come when the book of nature is treated as autonomous. 

Consideration of these issues can be inclusive of all perspectives if the focus is on the historicity of Adam and Eve.  Some follow a concordist approach and seek to identify when/where they lived.  Others treat the whole issue as mythical and look only for symbolic meanings – they reject the concordist approach.  The same logic that says: “Concordism apparently remains a viable option” also leads to the opposite statement: “The rejection of Concordism apparently remains a viable option”.  I should add that I affirm the principle of concordism – understanding that this word has a broader meaning.  I would expect everyone who thinks the Bible has a historical content to take this view – as it encompasses also biblical archaeology in both Old and New Testaments.

Ted Davis - #71214

July 20th 2012

Again, David, your points are well taken. As I already noted in this series, there are different conceptions of Concordism, and for my purposes I’m using Ramm’s. A book I already recommended (http://biologos.org/resources/books/origins) includes the YEC view as a form of concordism, as you do here, and for similar reaons. However, as I briefly pointed out in an earlier column (http://biologos.org/blog/galileo-and-the-garden-of-eden-part-2), John Whitcomb explicitly rejected the “two books” model in 1963, and I also quoted Terry Mortenson’s reasons for rejecting Galileo’s approach to concordism. The Genesis Floood was written at least substantially to oppose Ramm, whose definition of Concordism I am using. Since Galileo’s approach is by far the most widely employed type of concordism in natural history, and Ramm’s attitude is typical of many contemporary concordists, I think it’s fair to say that the YEC view is not a type of concordism; indeed, that YECs reject concordism, at least in its most common form.

Ted Davis - #71215

July 20th 2012

I agree with you, David, that concordism can’t easily be separated from historicity (I hope I’ve not misinterpreted you on this). I’ll say more about this on Jul 31, when we turn to the Framework View. I’ll lay out two quite different forms of it then, one a concordist/historical version and the other “mythical,” for lack of a better word.

In stressing that concordism remains viable, here is what I meant: the hermeneutical attitude of Galileo and Ramm (they are IMO quite similar) continues to inform some influential contemporary authors. Dembski was my most prominent recent example, but I named several others from the 1970s to 2000s.

David Tyler - #71358

July 25th 2012

Thanks, Ted, for these responses.  Apologies for not being able to get to them before now.  Regarding the Two Books approach, I recall a session on this at the CiS/ASA meeting in Edinburgh some years ago - and you were the chair.  There is plenty more to be said on this!

But I’ll comment just on Galileo. Yes, his stance has been very influential, but I also think he has led people down a cul-de-sac.  The issue is all to do with the autonomy of science.  Galileo was under some pressure to justify his dissenting position, and he needed robust arguments to stand against the traditions of the Church.  He used the two books argument to establish science as a separate sphere of knowledge - which the theologians could not touch.  The thought that the Bible has language accommodated to the erroneous ideas of unlearned peoples enabled him to defend the autonomy he sought.  I think we need to free ourselves from the historical context that influenced him and develop a more robust approach. 

Ted Davis - #71476

July 30th 2012

You make an interesting point, David. I agree with your analysis (as far as it goes here) of Galileo’s approach, but we apparently differ on its ongoing relevance and importance. As I look at the ongoing debate about origins issues, especially in light of the very wide following that YECs have among American Protestants (ignoring the wide following they also seem to have in Korea, some parts of Europe, and among Turkish Muslims), I continue to see Galileo as a crucial text for our own day. The notion of accommodation, of course, did not originate with Galileo. It’s at least as old as Augustine; it was often employed in very sophisticated ways by Calvin, who even believed that David, in Psalm 58, “borrows his comparison from a popular and prevailing error.” (http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/calvin/cc09/cc09023.htm)

The root question here appears to be whether or not God would do what Calvin thought he sometimes does do: does God actually employ erroneous notions to convey the Truth? I’ve had a brief exchange on this point with theologian Ken Keathley at http://biologos.org/blog/southern-baptist-voices-expressing-our-concerns-part-2. He offers Denis Lamoureux as a proponent of a view he does not accept; I like how Lamoureux approaches things. I gather, David, that your view is closer to Keathley’s than to Lamoureux’s?

GJDS - #71163

July 17th 2012


These two references are useful; Chapter 1 of C. B. KAISER, “Early Christian Belief in Creation and the Beliefs Sustaining the Modern Scientific Endeavour,” and J. J. Davis Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 50 (1998): 250-259.

Two interesting points:

(1)               The terminology, “progressive creation,” is broad enough to encompass both the immanent presence of God working within the laws of nature and the transcendent power of God above the laws of nature.

(2)        The basic idea of creation in Scripture is that the entire universe is subject to a code of law which was established at the beginning of time. This idea has two major implications for our view of the world: (1) nature functions with a high degree of autonomy (meaning literally, “having its own laws”); and (2) the natural world is comprehended by God and therefore comprehensible to human beings created in the divine image.

Ordinarily, the term ‘law’ is used as: (1) legislative law, or laws of a community; (2) scientific law, or the laws of nature; and (3) the law of God. The first phrase refers to a legal statement introduced by a community and is enforced within the community. The second phrase may be considered as something intrinsic to an object that ensures the object and its dynamic properties are so in time and space. The third phrase is self-explanatory.

The ‘law of God’ is central to the Bible and indeed the Christian Faith. I would welcome comments on concordism with the way ‘law’ may be discussed. For example, is it conflating the law of God with that of nature? I am especially drawn to Ps 19:1-6, which declares the Glory of God and the creation’s ‘speech of silence’ and Ps 19:7-14, which commences with the Law of God and continues with a prayer for how to live.

Ted Davis - #71188

July 18th 2012

The more fundamental question here, GJDS, is about the concept of the laws of nature: does it have theological roots? I’ll make an “assignment” for you or anyone else to do, if you wish, asking only that if someone does it they will report their findings here.

Read the article by Peter Harrison, “The Development of the Concept of Laws of Nature,” in this book: http://store.fortresspress.com/store/product/3879/Creation-Law-and-Probability. There are other articles about this also, but I’d start with this one.

Any takers?

George Bernard Murphy - #71164

July 17th 2012

“(2)        The basic idea of creation in Scripture is that the entire universe is subject to a code of law which was established at the beginning of time. “

 Agree. And I have always thought these laws were established  when,“The spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters.”

That is when God decided such things as ,... how strong gravity should be,... and how much the proton should weigh.

George Bernard Murphy - #71166

July 17th 2012

Jon said,

I understood not that God created an evil world in response to foreseen sin, but that he created the most suitable world in response to foreseen sin, which is surely unexceptionable if we believe that Christ is the lamb slain before the foundation of the world..

Jon as strange as it may seem,... with modern string theory and M-theory it may be possible to change, the past.

Don’t ask me to explain it but every event may have multiple pasts.

When I heard about this I rejoiced because for the first time I understood what Christ means when he said our sins are washed away.

Perhaps with modern quantum physics the old sins ......just never happened ,.....WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT OUR LORD SAID.

A universe with multiple pasts,an object in two places at one time, vacuum energy, Light being both a wave and a particle at the same time,.....THESE THINGS ARE ALL DISCUSSED SERIOUSLY TODAY.


Francis - #71174

July 17th 2012


“In fact the evil that afflicted Job was a result of Satan. Who made Satan anyway?”

Maybe that was supposed to be a rhetorical question, but in case it wasn’t, I’ll answer:

God made Satan; but God did not make Satan sin.

Jon Garvey - #71177

July 18th 2012

God made Satan, but God did not make Satan sin.

True. But also God used Satan’s sin almost as a job spec - Satan is represented as a professional accuser who presents himself dutifully before God with the other “sons of God”. And God both allows and limits Satan’s malevolent activity with, as the rest of the book shows, a good purpose for Job never dreamed of by the accuser.

The book invites us to scream, “But what on earth is God playing at here?” And pointedly refuses to give us the answer we want - which is its genius as theology.

HornSpiel - #71212

July 19th 2012

God made Satan; but God did not make Satan sin.

Right, but God made the world a dangerous place by allowing Satan into the garden. The world was good but not safe.

George Bernard Murphy - #71178

July 18th 2012

Well God bless you guys.

Sharing God’s love with other Christians is a wonderful joy,.....[even if we do get a little bit off-topic sometimes.]

Francis - #71183

July 18th 2012

Jon Garvey,

“Science/technology tames the planet and boils it to death in doing so.”

Are you an authority on global warming, as well as on other matters scientific and religious?

Jon Garvey - #71187

July 18th 2012

Francis, I wasn’t really aware that discussion threads depend on arguments from authority. And over here in the UK global warming hasn’t become a doctrinal shibboleth yet, believe it or not.

But my training is in both natural science and theology, so am I allowed to post?

GJDS - #71193

July 18th 2012

Hi Francis and Jon Garvey,

Science and technology have made wonderful contributions to our wellbeing, but they have also brought great suffering - no past and present suffering will be as great as that which may occur becuase of Climate Change resulting from ever increasing levels of Greenhouse gases. I have been active in seeking economical ways to reduce Greenhouse gases from coal fuelled plant for about 20 years. I can thus speak with some authority on the subject. I think people of faith should become concerned with this problem and pray for an answer.

Jon Garvey - #71199

July 18th 2012

Amen, GJDS. Your work, and the need for it actually speaks to the Genesis issue of stewardship, and the effects on that of the Fall.

I’ve picked up (from discussion on US sites, mainly) the ideas of some Christians that (a) people aren’t actually powerful enough to mess up ecology - it’s just arrogance. Which neglects our creation remit to rule and subdue, or

(b) That God has committed to a new creation because the old is irredeemable, making man’s efforts futile. Which is much the same argument as “Let us sin that grace may abound.”

Other than that, there just seems to be a lot of right v left politics involved, as if the way you vote gives you scientific nous.

GJDS - #71189

July 18th 2012

Reply to Ted Davis #71188 (for some reason the reply button is not responding)


I will be happy to take this assignment; I will try and get the book you have suggested from my library; do you have any articles from journals I may download, as this will be quicker. 

Francis - #71190

July 18th 2012

Jon Garvey,

“I wasn’t really aware that discussion threads depend on arguments from authority.”

They obviously don’t. But what, if any, “arguments from authority” would you value?


“so am I allowed to post?”

Of course, you know you are. In fact, anyone can post posts, no matter how sophistic, unscientific, unbiblical, unorthodox, illogical or inane.

Just so long as they do so politely. (Not semper veritas. Semper politus (sp?))



We had a very mild winter in the U.S. How did the U.K. fare? I know Europe had the most severe cold and snow in 20 years, causing about 450 deaths. Maybe we need a new term: “continental warming/cooling/change.”

Jon Garvey - #71200

July 18th 2012


We had the severe effects of a diverted jet stream, causing a drought over the winter followed by record-breaking flooding recently. The concrete-trucks are passing my house to shore up the road that collapsed down a hill, and we were cut off from the outside world for a few hours by the worst local inundation in 43+ years.

The cold winter was last year, and again it seems our marginal position on the Atlantic jet stream has a lot to do with it. Severe global warming would quite likely make us colder, because if the Gulf Stream is diverted we lose our nice winter duvet.

What arguments from authority would I value? If you ask anyone round here you’ll find it’s the unchanging word of God. But the authority comes from the word, not from the poor way it’s often handled by those presenting the arguments.

wesseldawn - #71198

July 18th 2012

I would think that truth would be more important than politeness!

Jon Garvey - #71201

July 18th 2012

Wesseldawn - I agree with that, too, except that, as the New Atheists have demonstrated very nicely, impoliteness tends to make truth subjectively indistinguishable from lies.

wesseldawn - #71247

July 21st 2012

Still Jon Garvey, when was Jesus ever nice to the scribes and teachers of the law?

He called them hypocrites and ‘blind Pharisees’ to their faces!!

Jesus was never interested in friendly politics (politeness), he was in fact, very direct with such people that had twisted the laws of God to suit their own purposes.

GJDS - #71203

July 19th 2012

Reply Jon Garvey #71199

You are right Jon; I noticed that since ths issue has become politicised, the advances needed for this problem have slowed, and the opposition to recognising the problem has gained momentum. Does not speak well for us as a race of humans. The ability to self-decieve is extraodinary - I lump both political camps in this criticism.

GJDS - #71204

July 19th 2012

Reply to Ted Davis, #71188

I had a couple of hours during this cold day and have the following. I am sure you can edit the material and fill in any gaps I have in all of this. I have 3 posts. I have taken salient points from four references for an overview of the historical development of the notion of law of science. These would occupy our minds for a considerable amount of time. For today, I think, a widely held view by Scientists (the exact sciences) is the scientific method provides a description of the physical world, and the occurrence of universal constants is a strong indicator of an aspect that is uniquely suited to human beings. The bio-area appears to be an exception to this view, as noted below by Baetu. It may be the notion of science laws has undergone various transformations.

C. B. KAISER, Early Christian Belief in Creation and the Beliefs Sustaining the Modern Scientific Endeavour.

P. Harrison, Concept of the Laws of Nature, Harrison.

P. Harrison, Voluntarism and Early Modern Science.

T. M. Baetu, Mechanistic Constraints on Evolutionary Outcomes.


  • During the Second - Temple period (fifth century BCE to the first century CE ), the Jews developed the idea of the relative autonomy of nature considerably, partly as the result of their dialogue with Greek natural philosophy. One of the earliest and best - known examples is Yeshua ben Sirah.
  • For Basil of Caesarea ….. the cycles of nature were imposed on the earth by the command of God, not by the motion of the sun along the ecliptic. Basil thus eliminated the hierarchical subordination of earth to the heavens and established each process as being “natural ” in that it manifested its own God - given law.
  • The idea that motion is conserved and that its magnitude depends only on the initial impulse…… Philoponus, and also through the Syriac hexaemeral tradition, it was passed on to Arab philosophers of the eleventh and twelfth centuries like Ibn Sina….taken up, with significant alterations, by Western scholastics of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries like Thomas Aquinas, Peter John Olivi, and Francis of Marchia..
  • For early Christians, however, belief in divine creation also implied that mathematical characteristics like weight, number, and measure were imprinted on the human mind as well as on creation.
  • Like Gregory long before him, Kepler thought of the divine ideas such as those of mathematical geometry as being imprinted on the natural world and also impressed on the human mind as part of the image of God.

There were two sides to the …. debate. On the one side, naturalists …. desired to comprehend the world in its own terms stressed the autonomy of nature and the power of human reason to the point where they lost sight of the dependence of all natural law on God….. conservatives who defended the importance of God’s role in history attacked the naturalists and stressed the absolute power of God and the authority of the Church.

GJDS - #71205

July 19th 2012

... continued


1 – Theological assumptions have underpinned the notion that there are laws of nature.

2 – Most (if not all) laws are mathematical statements in physics; different disciplines have differing views on ‘laws of nature’.

3 – Middle Ages and Aristotle views held sway over thinkers: purposeful, causal efficacy exists in natural objects; mathematics and science are primary, with ‘subordinate’ sciences.

4 – Protestant reformers repudiated the pagan nature (Aristotelian) and instead decided that God issued laws of mathematics and geometry (similar to the moral edicts in the Bible).

5 – The world was a divine artefact; we could extract knowledge from the ‘machine like’ objects; the distinction between divine knowledge and that of nature was blurred.

6 – An important development was the ‘merging’ of philosophy and mathematics; this would provide a realist understanding of nature (esp. cosmology and astronomy) which was considered contrary to Aristotelian philosophy.

7 – Kepler shows his belief in a Creator justified his use of mathematics to treat astronomy; God had imbued the creation with mathematics.

8 – Descartes included mechanical items as operating to eternal laws (there was a distinction between rules, as human constructs, from laws indelibly etched into nature). These laws originate in the Divine will (rather than in the human imagination) and guaranteed by the immutable will of God.

10- Causation and the nature of matter were additional developments; thinkers had now viewed an externally imposed order, in contrast to Aristotle’s view of intrinsic to objects that constitute nature.

11- Causation and occasionalism became dominant views; physical necessity was grounded in God, and the exceptionalness character of laws of nature was attributed to divine immutability.

12 – Newton provided the basis that all powers and mechanisms are dependent on the Deity. God governs directly by using His bare word or command.

13 – Controversy between the Cartesian approach and that of Newton (problem of induction; Descartes believed laws could be intuited from the Divine Nature as the constancy of nature is grounded in the qualities of God, while Newton said they must be discovered by experimentation).

14 – In the 19th Century, laws of nature came to be regarded not as imposed on nature by God, but literally as laws of nature itself.

15 – The transformation of the bio-sciences and the insistence that these had their own laws, similar to physics, caused the idea of a rational order that pervades the universe.

16 – The history shows that the lawfulness of nature is not a self-evident feature of the universe but an implication of certain theological convictions.

... continued

GJDS - #71206

July 19th 2012

.... continued


  • “Descartes stated that when God formed creatures he also created eternal truths (logical necessity, truths of maths, laws of nature) … such truths are contingent in the sense they depend on the divine will, but are eternal and unchanging….”
  • “..if we consider voluntarism as….. to apply to moral laws,……. Upon divine revelation for knowledge of good and evil……… for knowledge of the operations of nature …must be through divine revelation…. Knowledge of God … gleaned from nature …. Was uncongenial to medieval thinkers and Protestants…”
  • “Christian theologians … held that God’s relations with nature involved an original act and the continuous sustaining of the created order ….. dependence … on the will of God…”
  • “The idea of a divine legislator whose rule is directly imposed upon matter underpins the very idea of laws of nature …..”
  • The distinction between divine law and natural law may arise from considerations of God’s absolute power and ordained power. This seems to revolve about the Laws of God and God ‘not being above His Law”. This distinction was also used to deal with ‘normal’ or ordinary activity as distinct from miraculous activity. God’s willing of moral laws is governed by ‘reason’ or ‘wisdom’.
  • For the theologically-motivated natural philosophers, the created order provided evidence … of the divine power, wisdom and goodness.
  • …. One that takes ….. the relative impotence of human cognitive powers… reformers laid considerable emphasis on the limits of human knowledge….

Baetu on Evolution (these are samplers and not a summary of the paper).

  • …… the notion that one may find universal or necessary laws in biological sciences is vigorously debated.
  • ….generalizations in biology are also bound to be contingent because they are the result of evolution, and “evolution can lead to different outcomes from the same starting point, even when the same selection pressures are operating.” … even if there are generalizations in biology, they are not akin to the strict laws of mechanics.
  • ……. all biological generalizations have their share of exceptions, and all seem to be contingent on the peculiarities of life on earth. Thus, while many acknowledge their usefulness, it is not clear how biological generalizations can allow for explanations or how to account in a principled way for the myriad exceptions plaguing them.

This completes my material.

Ted Davis - #71216

July 20th 2012

Thank you so much for the carefully written outline of these sources, which are among the best we have. Your service to this “course” is much appreciated, GJDS. I note only that I differ from Harrison in my approach to Descartes (whom I see as a rationalist who ironically used an extreme form of voluntarism to ground his rationalism) and to the rationalism question more generally. (This is an in-house argument that is quite minor in the context of your outlines.) If you want more on Descartes, contact me privately. If you want more on the larger voluntarism question, read John Henry’s essay here: http://www.research.ed.ac.uk/portal/files/1843480/Voluntarism.pdf. John interacted extensively with me as he wrote this, and for our purposes you can take his view for mine on this specific topic. He and I think that Peter undestates the role of voluntarism. We think that it’s both the fall and voluntarism that are important.

GJDS - #71233

July 20th 2012

Glad I can do something useful Ted. Your essays have been informative and also provided in a ‘digestible’ form which I appreciate. My interest in this area is more as a scientist, and thus the notion of scientific laws is cetral to my outlook to nature. Just as an aside, I cannot reconcile the notion of Holy and Sacred, with either views (e.g. we extract laws from nature that are regulations God has placed there, or that we intuit ideas that ‘are in the mind of God’. I do not think the creation shows us God’s mind; it declares His Glory in silence. We are endowed with an extraodinary ability to understand nature. The history however of how we humans have tought and consdiered these matters is truly fascinating - keep your essays comming. I have Henry’s paper and am looking through it. I did look through Descartes some time ago and if I go back to him I will certainly contact you - thanks for the offer.

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