In our critique of Dr. Howard Van Till’s The Fourth Daywe are up to a consideration of Chapter 5, entitled, “He Made the Stars Also.” This is the chapter in which the author’s denial of the Biblical truth of creation and, in fact, his denial of the authority of Scripture come into sharp focus.
Before we enter into a critique of this chapter, however, I wish to remind the reader of two things.
In the first place, the fact that one does not agree with Van Till’s billions of years of stellar evolution does not necessarily shut one up to the position of “scientific creationism,” especially not if by this is meant the position of the men associated with the Creation Science movement, the movement connected with the name of Dr. Henry Morris. Although I have much respect for men like Dr. Morris, I am not in agreement with the approach of that movement, nor would I want to be bound by its scientific teachings.
In the second place, it is not my purpose to criticize Dr. Van Till’s astronomical science, nor his scientific method, nor his scientific ability as such. This is beyond my capabilities. Neither is it incumbent upon me, when I have destroyed his position from the point of view of Scripture, to reconstruct a science of astronomy that is based upon and in harmony with Scripture and its principles. My sole concern is to demonstrate that Van Till’s position is contrary to Scripture and to show that while he claims that his “stellar evolution” is in harmony with Scripture, he in actual fact wrests the Scriptures and denies the Biblical truth of creation.
Having said this, I also want to emphasize that I do not believe for a moment that the whole question of “origins” belongs in the domain of scientific research. It is strictly a matter of faith. “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” (Hebrews 11:3) Van Till may call my literal understanding of Genesis 1 naive. So be it. Then I will be naive. I think that he makes God out for a fool when he presents his God as laying a foundation of billions of years on which He builds a superstructure of a few thousand years—years which are fast rushing toward their end.
And now let us turn to Chapter 5.
In the first place, it ought to be noted that Dr. Van Till certainly does not approach the question of Scripture’s teaching concerning creation—specifically, the creation of the heavenly bodies—objectively and unprepossessedly. This is plain from the entire introductory portion of this chapter. I will quote the opening paragraph, p. 75:
During the past decade I have taught more than two thousand students in an astronomy course called “Planets, Stars, and Galaxies.” Toward the end of that course we study what astronomers have learned about the life history of stars, or, as the topic is more generally known, “stellar evolution.” As we shall see in Chapter Eight, this topic necessarily leads to the consideration of a time scale involving billions of years. There is abundant evidence that stars have been forming during most of the multi-billion-year span of cosmic history. Some stars were formed more than ten billion years ago; others are forming at this very moment.
Bear in mind that the author is supposed to be writing here about the “Biblical View.” But before he ever begins to discuss the Biblical view, he makes it plain that he ‘is committed to the idea of a universe which is billions of years old. Notice: “As we shall see in Chapter Eight (Van Till is inserting his “Scientific View” here from Chapter 8. HCH), this topic necessarily leads to the consideration of a time scale involving billions of years.” Notice: he writes “necessarily.” And again, “There is abundant evidence that stars have been forming during most of the multi-billion-year span of cosmic history.” It is plain, therefore, that Van Till is committed to an evolutionistic view a priori. He is now forced to manipulate Genesis 1somehow in order to bring it into harmony with his evolutionistic billions of years.
Meanwhile, he calls the truth of six-day creation naive and employs the innuendo of referring to it as “a favorite tradition-laden interpretation” which must be relinquished “in order to increase one’s understanding of the Bible.” (p. 76)
In the second place, Dr. Van Till does lip-service to the principle that Scripture is its own interpreter. He writes, p. 77: “One of the important hermeneutical principles that was reemphasized in the Protestant Reformation is the principle of interpreting Scripture by Scripture.” This sounds good.
However, he immediately denies this principle when he adds in the same paragraph: “This does not mean, of course, that the Bible should ever be interpreted in isolation from the rest of God’s revelation in Creation or in the words or deeds of his creatures. Rather, it means that because of the unity and integrity of Scripture, the whole provides insights into the understanding of its parts.” Interpreted, this means that Scripture must be interpreted in such a way as to harmonize with the conclusions of astronomers!
Significant in this connection, too, is the statement in the preceding paragraph: “In making this study, we will have occasion to apply a number of the principles that we sought to establish in earlier chapters. Whenever it seems appropriate (Notice how arbitrary this is, and how contrary to the sound principle that Scripture is its own interpreter. HCH), we will employ the vehicle-packaging-content model for scriptural interpretation.”
I cannot refrain from remarking: how tremendously complicated it becomes to interpret the simple statement of Scripture which forms the title of this fifth chapter of Van Till’s book, “He made the stars also.”
With the above in mind, I wish to consider with you what Dr. Van Till teaches concerning Genesis 1. He also has something to say about the Genesis 1 to Genesis 11; and we shall consider this later. But he comes to the following conclusion concerning Genesis 1 (p. 84):
Thus, the proper question to bring to
is “Who is God and how are man and the world related to him?” The answer is given in the form of a story that illustrates the identity of God and his relationship to humanity and the cosmos. But the story so vividly portrays its action that we are irresistibly (sic) led to wonder about the chronology of the narrative. In the story, God the Creator is clearly portrayed as performing his creative works within a six-day period and resting on the seventh. What must we make of that chronology? What does the seven-day structure signify?
Notice: Van Till decides what is the proper question. Notice, too: Genesis 1 is a story, not the record of facts.
And how does Van Till answer his own questions? As follows:
The first point we should note is that, compared with the principal message of
matters of chronology and timetable are decidedly secondary in importance. (By Van Till’s say-so, of course. HCH) We may have an intellectual curiosity about these matters, and we may praise God the Creator that we live in a day when that intellectual curiosity can be at least partially satisfied, but we must recognize that questions of chronology are not pivotal. And we must recognize that questions of chronology beyond the limits of the human experience, whether past or future, whether “in the beginning” or at “the end of time,” are not the subject of the biblical message. The beginning lies shrouded in mist beyond human memory, and the end will come “as a thief in the night.”
The seven-day chronology that we find in
has no connection with the actual chronology of the Creator’s continuous dynamic action in the cosmos. The creation-week motif is a literary device, a framework in which a number of very important messages are held. The chronology of the narrative is not the chronology of creation but rather the packaging in which the message is wrapped. The particular acts depicted in the Story of the Creator are not the events of creative action reported with photographic realism but rather imaginative illustrations of the way in which God and the Creation are related.
The above is nothing but the so-called framework hypothesis proposed by N.H. Ridderbos in his book which was translated and published in 1957, as the author also acknowledges in a footnote.
Thus it is that Van Till simply rids himself of the factual character of Genesis 1, so that it does not stand in the way of the billions of years of his astronomy. Genesis 1 is simply not fact; it is fiction! Perhaps this fiction has some meaning; but it is fiction nevertheless.
Where does this fiction originate? Certainly, not from Scripture!