There is a large number of deviating views concerning the origin of the world. The denial of creation, just as is the case with so many other heresies, is nothing new. As is also the case with every other heresy that has arisen in the history of the church, this false doctrine of the denial of creation continually assumes new forms. Every time the church succeeds in putting down heresy and maintaining the truth, false teachers arise who present the same old lies in more refined and more deceptive forms. Moreover, it is usually not difficult to trace the historical origins of the various refinements of these heresies, and to demonstrate that they are indeed merely refinements of old lies.
We are not going to concern ourselves in detail with some of the earlier denials of the doctrine of creation, but will merely mention them, in order to busy ourselves with some of the views that are more important because they are still maintained today and are of concern to the serious minded student of Scripture.
First of all, we may make mention of the fact that in almost every heathen, polytheistic system there is some kind of theory as to the origin of things. And while the study of some of these theories is rather interesting, it is nevertheless of little importance, for the simple reason that all of them reveal at once the fundamental cleavage between heathen philosophy and myth and the revelation of the Word of God. The claim sometimes made that the Old Testament creation account has been borrowed from various heathen cosmogonies is on the very surface of it false. If anything, the contrary is true, namely that in the myths and legends of the heathen one can sometimes clearly trace perversions of the truth of creation as it was known in the generations of the people of God from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses. Some of the later Greek philosophies are historically more important because their theories undoubtedly influenced some of the early Christian scholars. Among the church fathers one finds clear evidence that Greek philosophy influenced their thinking, and sometimes the fathers’ writings show an attempt (whether conscious or unconscious) at synthesis between revelation and pagan philosophy. Moreover, the dualism of the Gnostics and Manichaeans, of course, cannot be traced to Scripture or to any development of the truth of Scripture, but is borrowed from heathen dualistic conceptions. The so called “emanation theory” also made its appearance at a very early date in the Christian church, and undoubtedly did so under the influence of heathen pantheism.
We are more interested in our present discussion in the modern views of the origin of things.
First of all, we call attention to the theory of evolution. We must remember, of course, that there is much more involved in the whole theory of evolution than the mere question of the origin of the world and of all things. The theory of evolution has an altogether different view of the worth of man, denying sin, denying total depravity, than does the Christian confession. The theory of evolution must necessarily deny the Scriptural “end of all things,” even as it denies the Scriptural “beginning.” It must needs deny the necessity and the reality of the Christ of the Scriptures. And so, this entire theory has vast ramifications. Usually, however, we think of evolution more in connection with the question of the origin of the world. And indeed, it is a theory that has not only gained wide acceptance, but which has also made a terrible impact upon the church in modern times.
Associated with evolutionism are the names of men like Lamarck, a French naturalist, and Charles Darwin, grandson of the so called “prince of humanists,” Erasmus. Lamarck, according to Charles Hodge,Systematic Theology, II, p. 11, “adopted the theory that all vegetables and animals living on the earth, including man, are developed from certain original, simple germs . . . Lamarck admitted the existence of God, to whom he referred the existence of the matter of which the universe is composed. But God having created matter with its properties, does nothing more. Life, organisms, and mind are all the product of unintelligent matter and its forces . . . Life, therefore, according to this theory, originates in spontaneous generation . . . Life, living cells, or tissues, having thus originated, all the diversified forms of the vegetable and animal kingdoms have been produced by the operation of natural causes; the higher, even the highest, being formed from the lowest by a long continued process of development!
Darwin’s theory is slightly different. In the first place, Darwin not only assumes the existence of matter, but the existence of life. He claims that all animals and plants are descended from some one prototype. He also developed the “refinement” of the theory of the “survival of the fittest,” or “natural selection.” But like Lamarck, Darwin maintains that all the development is by natural law, without purpose and without design. Darwin denies any divine intervention in the course of nature, and especially in the production of species.
It is not our purpose to present arguments against this view of evolution in our present discussion. Faith and unbelief come to a parting of the ways at this point. The Word of Scripture and the theory of evolution stand diametrically opposed to each other; and there is no value in arguing intellectually against that which is ethically of the he. We have called attention to this theory because it is the origin of another theory that has made vast inroads into the church under a religious guise. We refer to what is called theistic evolutionism. This theory, which has several variations, maintains the various tenets of evolutionism, but attempts to insert God into the process as the intelligent and controlling power. It maintains, in effect, that God never works except by second causes or by natural laws. Even creation is by law. God uses everywhere and constantly physical laws to produce not only the ordinary operations of nature, but to give rise to things specifically new, even to new species in the vegetable and animal world. These natural laws are God’s tools. And hence, all worldly things have developed out of original matter, or from an original life-cell, but according to divine design and purpose and as a result of divine operation through second causes and natural laws.
It has been especially this idea of a “theistic evolution” that has given rise to the various attempts to pour a new content into the Genesis account of creation. Whether these attempts have been to harmonize the Genesis account with an actual evolutionary process, or whether they have had an eye only to the time element of Genesis 1 as compared to natural science’s theory as to the age of things (computed in terms of hundreds of millions of years); the fact is that these various attempts have been made. There is a renewed emphasis on such attempts in Reformed circles today, although the attempts themselves are not altogether new even in Reformed circles.
N.H. Ridderbos, Prof. of Old Testament at the Free University, gives a summary of various views of Genesis 1in his little book, “Is There a Conflict Between Genesis 1 and Natural Science?” (Eerdmans, 1957) on pp. 9ff.: ‘It is really not possible to classify the various interpretations in sharply defined categories. The reader will observe that the lines of demarcation among the following schools of thought are fluid.
“1. According to some thinkers, the word ‘day’ in Genesis 1 is to be interpreted as meaning a real day. On this view we must accept the fact that creation took place in six real days.
“Among those who share this view there is some diversity of opinion. Some think of ordinary, ‘earthly’ days. Others think not of ordinary days, but nevertheless of real days. The view of G. Ch. Aalders is that they are real days, that is continuities of light, but they are days of God. ‘They need not have lasted longer than our days, they may have been much shorter; they may by our chronometric standards have lasted only a few seconds.'”
We may note here that Ds. J.G. Feenstra in his commentary on the Belgic Confession makes reference to. Dr. Aalders’ view. He points out that Dr. Aalders rejects the period-theory, but that then Aalders grants the possibility that the days may have been longer or also shorter than 24 hours. Feenstra himself writes: “We cannot go along with this. We hold to days like our days. On exegetical grounds we cannot conclude otherwise . . .” p. 127.
And now we continue to quote Ridderbos:
“2. Next to be mentioned are the concordistic theories. The most important is the one that interprets the word ‘day’ as a period of possibly millions of years.
“Related to this theory is the inter-period theory, which inserts periods of millions of years between the days of Genesis 1, and the restitution theory. According to this latter theory the first creation, described in verse 1, called into being a world which was complete and similar in shape to ours. This first world was destroyed by a series of mighty catastrophes (v. 2) and the present world was then brought into being out of these ruins by a second creation.
“3. There are interpreters who believe that the arrangement of seven days is intended as a literary form. This view was already current in the early Church (Philo of Alexandria, Origen, Augustine). Nowadays it is popular with Roman Catholic authors, but it is also defended by Protestant writers.” This is frequently referred to as simply the “framework theory.”
Finally, Ridderbos makes mention of a fourth class, namely, a large number of exegetes who hold the opinion that the days of Genesis 1 are six ordinary days, but who do not regard themselves as bound by this view.
We may add to these, that class of interpreters who hold that Genesis 1 is merely a myth. And remember, there was a time when a Reformed man would be deposed for holding to such a theory. Think, for example, of the Dr. Geelkerken case in the Netherlands, 1926.
We will allow Dr. Ridderbos himself to state what he means by the “framework” theory. He does so on p. 45 of his book:
“By the framework-hypothesis I mean the following. In Genesis 1 the inspired author offers us a story of creation. It is not his intent, however, to present an exact report of what happened at creation. By speaking of the eightfold work of God he impresses the reader with the fact that all that exists has been created by God. This eightfold work he places in a framework: he distributes it over six days, to which he adds a seventh day as the day of rest. In this manner he gives expression to the fact that the work of creation is complete; also that at the conclusion of His work God can rest, take delight in the result; and also that in celebrating the Sabbath man must be God’s imitator. The manner in which the works of creation have been distributed over six days is not arbitrary.”
We will comment briefly on these various views next time, D.V.