We should remember that our little digression into what John Calvin thought was after all not fundamentally a digression, but intrinsically related to our subject. Dr. Van Till in his The Fourth Day only does lip service to Calvin’s teaching on this subject. That is, he does not really believer that we can only properly view God’s book of creation and history through the spectacles of the Scriptures. Instead, he constantly adjusts Scripture in the attempt to make it conform to his evolutionistic view of the universe. This has become evident in our consideration of Van Till’s view of Scripture thus far in this critique. It will become clearer as we proceed.
Now we should bear in mind that this is the fundamental issue in all consideration of the creationversus evolution conflict.
One can, of course, bring many arguments against any evolutionistic approach to the natural sciences. To me, a most interesting and cogent argument has always been that of the unreliability of evolutionism, for example. On the question of the age of the universe evolutionism has changed its view many times. Theories have advanced from millions to hundreds of millions to billions to more billions. In fact, one can say that evolutionists can change their theories in this regard almost as easily as they can change their shirts. Evolutionistic science surely cannot boast a record of reliability!
Nevertheless, we should keep in mind the fact that the one, fundamental, all-determining factor is the testimony of Scripture. One must beware of adjusting the testimony of Scripture to make it somehow harmonize with the alleged results of scientific investigation. That is putting the cart in front of the horse. The matter stands just the other way around. The question is: what does Scripture say? And for the Christian scientist this implies that if and when the results of his scientific investigations do not conform to the testimony of Scripture, he must a priori conclude that he has erred in his science. Even if he cannot discover his scientific error, he nevertheless maintains that the testimony of Scripture stands.
It is for this reason that I refuse to become involved in a discussion of the science of astronomy in this connection. In such a discussion a lesser light than Dr. Van Till could lose me in less than ten minutes, I am sure. Nor do I have to disprove the scientific contentions of Dr. Van Till or any other astronomer in order to disprove their evolutionistic claims. The testimony of Scripture stands regardless!
Now Dr. Van Till seems in his book to sense something of all this. After all, he teaches at a Christian college; and he is obligated to teach in conformity with the Scriptures. He must needs leave the impression that his teachings are in harmony with the Scriptures. And this puts him in a bind. What is he to do? He must somehow leave the impression that he believes and holds to the testimony of Scripture in his astronomical science.
Hence, he begins his book by writing about “The Biblical View” and follows this with “The Scientific View.”
However, he does not present the “Biblical View” at all, but destroys it and substitutes a pseudo-Biblical view, in order to make room for his scientific opinions which conflict with the true Biblical view.
This is the reason why I am preoccupied in these editorials with a critique of Van Till’s “The Biblical View.”
There is an important lesson here for all of us, and especially for those of us who are confronted in our studies or in our work by evolutionistic science. The lesson is this. Negatively, you need not meet the evolutionistic scientist on his own ground, so to speak. You may very well fail if you attempt it. Creation cannot be scientifically proved; it can only be believed. Positively, your approach must always be that of the testimony of infallible Scripture; and you must be very careful to insist upon this testimony of Scripture and not to be misled by any pseudo-Biblical view.
Having made this point, I now turn to Chapter 3 of Dr. Van Till’s book in order to demonstrate that he does not really honor the testimony of Scripture though he seems to leave the impression, at least superficially, of doing so.
This chapter is entitled “The Heavens according to Scripture.” It is not my intention to offer a paragraph by paragraph critique of this chapter, in which the author cites many passages of Scripture concerning creation—mainly passages from Job, from the Psalms, and from Isaiah, plus a few New Testament passages. Rather will I point out three fundamental errors.
In the first place, Van Till’s position with regard to Scripture is very plainly that of higher criticism. What is higher criticism? Very briefly, it implies that the interpreter places himself above Scripture rather thanunder Scripture and its authority.
How does this become evident in this chapter?
It becomes evident from the fact that Van Till adopts, without criticism, the view that the Prophecy of Isaiah is really three separate and distinct books of which only the first (Chapters 1-39) is of Isaiah the prophet in the period from King Uzziah to King Hezekiah. “Second Isaiah,” according to this theory, is “The Book of the Consolation of Israel,” consists of Chapters 40-55, and is of unknown authorship. And Third Isaiah consists of Chapters 56 to the end and is of still different authorship. Here is the evidence. On page 43 Van Till states in a footnote: “‘Second Isaiah’ is the common designation of the unidentified prophet whose writings appear in chapters 40-55 of the book of Isaiah.” And on page 47 he writes:
Another portion of Scripture rich in references to the Creator is “The Book of the Consolation of Israel,” chapters 40-55 of Isaiah. Written toward the end of Israel’s exile in Babylon, Second Isaiah has as one of its principal themes the praise of Yahweh, who is now redeeming his created nation from a second captivity. Israel evidently needed some reminders concerning the identity of their God, because the prophet (and skilled poet) repeatedly appears to address the question of who Yahweh is and what he is like.
The reader should understand that by this theory the very prophetic nature of Isaiah is denied. For example, according to this view the entire section concerning Cyrus, who is mentioned by name by Isaiah long before he appeared on the stage of history, is changed from prophecy, proclaimed and written beforehand, into history written after the fact. (cf. Isaiah 44, 45) Now it might be objected that this has nothing directly to do with the passages which Van Till cites concerning creation from this part of Isaiah. However, the important thing to remember is that it reveals Van Till’s fundamental view of Scripture.
In the second place, from his discussion of “The Heavens according to Scripture” Dr. Van Till adroitly eliminates a priori Genesis 1-3:
Now, where shall we look to find Scripture’s references to stars as Creation and its instructions concerning what it means for something to have the status of Creation? I strongly suspect that most Bible readers would look first at the creation narratives of
However, since these particular accounts and their varied interpretations within the Judeo-Christian community play such a prominent role in current discussions about creation (the revived creation/evolution debate, for example) we will deal with
in a separate chapter. In any case, the book of Genesis is not the only place in which the Bible speaks of creation. The most extensive Old Testament references are found in Job, Isaiah, and the Psalms. We will explore these first, and then consider what is contributed by the New Testament.
The fact of the matter is, however, that Genesis 1 is the only place where Scripture offers us a historical account of creation. Van Till is going to deny this in a later chapter and call Genesis 1-11 “primeval history” (whatever that may be) and he is going to adopt the framework hypothesis with respect to the days of creation-week (and a hypothesis it is, indeed!). But the fact of the matter is that one can only properly understand the poetic references to creation in the light of and on the basis of the historical, prose account of creation found in Genesis 1. Divorce such passages as Psalm 33:6 (“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.”) or Psalm 33:9 (“For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.”) fromGenesis 1, and it becomes impossible to understand them. In other words, Van Till violates flagrantly the principle that Scripture is its own interpreter, or that Scripture interprets Scripture.
I will be brief about my third objection. Dr. Van Till knowingly and arbitrarily decides upon the meaning of Scripture by arbitrarily deciding with what question he will approach Scripture (pp. 40-41). First he writes, “Instead, I believe we should bring appropriate questions to Scripture and search for answers in a way that gives evidence of our taking the Bible seriously.” Then he writes (and correctly so): “It might be objected that even the bringing of questions to Scripture gives opportunity for human bias to enter into Bible study. The selection of which questions to bring allows for the exercise of personal prejudice.” Hence, he proposes that the questions must be “appropriate.” And then he proceeds to determine arbitrarily what constitutes an appropriate question. That question, according to him, is as follows: “I am convinced that it is the question of their (the heavenly bodies, HCH) status.” And to this question concerning “status” he gives the vague answer: “Stars have the status of Creation.” That is all. Thus he generalizes and beclouds the testimony of Scripture concerning creation and eliminates all the detailed language of Scripture concerning this wonderful work of God.
Again, of course, the fundamental error is that he violates the rule that Scripture is its own interpreter. Both questions and answers concerning Scripture must be derived from Scripture itself. But if one arbitrarily and on his own authority approaches Scripture with questions of his own choosing and delimitation, he is bound to end with wrong answers. Thus it is that Van Till destroys the testimony of Scripture under the guise of presenting “The Biblical View.”