Thursday, November 20, 2014

OEC interpretations

i) One of the challenges for old-earth creationism is to specify what happened in Gen 1. Young-earth creationism has a straightforward position: everything happened in the way it's described. 

But for OEC, there's some distinction between what it describes and what it represents. And depending on the version of OEC, there are varying degrees of correspondence. For instance, some versions are sequential (day/age theory; analogical days) while others are nonsequential (framework hypothesis; revelatory days; cosmic temple interpretation). 

Part of the vagueness is due to the fact that OEC tends to treat Gen 1 as a thumbnail sketch whose details are pencilled in by astronomy and geology. But it balks at evolutionary biology. 

ii) One of the internal problems with the framework hypothesis is that it grafts a nonsequential arrangement onto a sequential arrangement. On the one hand, it views the days as a week of days. A 7-day week, based on a 6-day workweek, with one day off (the Sabbath). That's sequential, though it regards that as figurative schema.

On the other hand, it views the interrelationship of the days as nonsequential: 1 is to 4 as 2 is to 5 and 3 is to 6. The days match up in 3 paired days. Three sets of two days, in a staggered collation. 

Now one could be right, or both could be wrong, but they don't mesh. And that's even before you get to the baroque embellishments of late Kline's upper/lower register cosmology. 

iii) Let's turn to the cosmic temple interpretation. It's striking that, to my knowledge, proponents of this view, like John Walton, don't attempt to work it out systematically. By that I mean, if Gen 1 uses that architectural metaphor, then it's proper to ask what events correspond to what features of a temple. How does Gen 1 parallel the construction process of a temple? What items in Gen 1 correspond to parts of the temple? Items like a floor, walls, roof, doors, windows, interior furnishings. 

Let's give it a try:

Day 1. God creates light. A builder must have light to see by. (Anthropomorphic.)

Day 2. The sky corresponds to the ceiling or roof.

Day 3. The dry land correspond to the floor or foundation. Maybe hills and mountains correspond to walls or pillars. Flora are part of the interior decor or furnishings. 

Day 4. Stellar luminaries correspond to windows which admit light to illuminate the enclosed interior.

Day 5. Fish and birds represent the interior decor or furniture. 

Day 6. Land animals supply additional furniture. Man is like a statue of deity in the temple. The imago Dei.

a) There are, of course, some incongruities in this sketch. The order in which things happen doesn't reflect the order in which a temple is erected. Most obviously, you don't install the roof or ceiling before you lay the foundation or raise walls. So the order is backwards in that respect.

b) If flora correspond to decor or furniture, wouldn't a builder wait until the exterior was up? Perhaps, though, we could salvage that by saying they are like murals. Once the walls are in place, they are decorated. The temple had floral decorations.

I suppose you could say bodies of water correspond to the basin in the tabernacle or temple. Fish and birds are a bit of a stretch. 

There's also the enigmatic relationship between light on day 1 and lights on day 4. Part of the explanation is that you can't put lights in the sky before you make the sky. In that respect, day 2 must precede day 4. Likewise, it's the sky as seen in relation to the land, from the perspective of a ground-based observer. In that respect, day 2 must precede day 3, while day 3 must precede day 4–inasmuch as you can't see lights in the sky from earth until the earth (i.e. dry land) is made. 

Put another way, there's a distinction between light without land supplying the frame of reference (day 1), and light with land supplying a frame of reference (day 3). If the land is submerged, an observer can't see light overhead, because he has nowhere to stand. And that analysis of day 4 is true whether or not we endorse the temple interpretation.  

At the same time, I think this exposes some limitations of the cosmic temple interpretation. There's a lot in Gen 1 that doesn't correspond to a temple. Even if Gen 1 contains some temple motifs, the narrative doesn't use that an an extended metaphor to model creation. 

iii) Another possibility is if the the arrangement taxonomical rather than chronological. Based on different kinds of creatures. The day/night alternation is a way of grouping and demarcating different kinds of creatures. God creates one type of creature, then another type of creature. Or God creates several different kinds at a time. God creates groups of creatures.  

Even if God did this all at once, it can't be stated all at once. The narrator can only describe one thing at a time. On that interpretation, this isn't just an account of who made it, but what was made.  

Suppose, as an analytical exercise, we mentally we strip away the numbered 7-day schema. That's like muting the soundtrack on a movie to study the flow of images, as well as the transition from one scene to another. A soundtrack can impose a sense of continuity. 

Even without the day/night refrain, the sequence in Gen 1 still has a functional or teleological progression. Certain things must be in place before other things can be put in place. You can't have fish without bodies of water. You can't have land animals without dry land. You can't have trees without land. You can't have birds without a sky to fly in or trees to nest in or perch on. It's not just the explicit temporal markers (days 1-7) that give it a forward motion. 

So the arrangement isn't merely an abstract classification scheme by natural kinds. There's temporal succession. Mind you, OEC, as I understand it, doesn't deny that some things must happen first, as preconditions for other things happening. 


  1. My own view doesn't require OEC (in fact, if anything I lean more toward an instantaneous creation since I think time is a creation for man and has no reference apart from us in the first place--but that's a different topic for a different day), but I do have a view quite similar to the framework hypothesis in mapping day 1 -> 4, 2 -> 5, and 3 -> 6. Since I do a bit of computer programming, I find the illustration of a strongly-typed language to be analogous in a way. When programming in such a language, you need to declare your variables before you can use them, so you write things like "int counter;" to tell the computer that you're going to have an integer named counter, and the computer knows what will go into it (numbers, not strings), etc. In a similar way, the first three days of creation seem to be God saying, "These are the types of things I'm going to be creating" and then days four through six are Him saying, "These are the instances of those things I'm creating."

    Now obviously I'm not going to argue that God created the world like a computer program, because I don't think that's how He did it. But when we create something conceptually, we often mimic the approach used in computer programming in that we begin with what types of things we could make, and then flesh out actualizations of those things. So in that regard, I see it as Day 1 God says "I'm defining the concept of light" and Day 4 God says, "These are objects that will give off light." And so forth. So for people who find the computer programming analogy too on the nose, you could just as easily view it as concept -> object, or function -> form, etc.

    Just my $0.02. :-)

    1. I'd say that's fairly Augustinian. It reminds me of what Dembski says in The End of Christianity (107):

      "All things are created twice. There's a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things. Creation always starts with an idea and ends with a thing. Anything achieved must first be conceived. Creation is thus a process bounded by conception at one end and realization at the other.

    2. Peter, have you written on this topic? If so, would you care to share some links?

    3. Hello CR,
      I haven't really written on it, partly because I've been fleshing out my ideas over the past decade and a half and even now they're not completely finalized, but also because the topic doesn't hold a strong sense of importance to me. :-) I may go ahead and do so in the upcoming weeks, however, as I've got a bit more free time of late.