Here’s a book, written by C. John Collins, Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, concerning issues of science and faith, evolution and creation. A friend of mine suggested I read it, and I eagerly read through it several times. But even before I started reading I had a few expectations. First, I was expecting a book supporting some kind of long age view of the earth, and possibly evolution. Second, I was expecting some persuasive arguments to make me rethink my beliefs. I was correct with my first expectation as Collins made an argument for an old earth and called this the “analogical days” interpretation. In this view he argues that the days in Genesis are not ordinary days… in fact the length of the days are irrelevant to the ‘real issue’ and purpose, which is God’s rest and work days. Even though I don’t agree, I’m glad Collins doesn’t support evolution. On the other hand, I didn’t find a persuasive argument to support his views or change my mind. I found his arguments poorly constructed, illogical, and easy to poke holes in. I also found that he violated some of his own rules and wasn’t very consistent. In some cases what he calls ‘facts’ are merely his opinion. He also chooses different Biblical versions based on which best supports his premise. My overall review is lengthy, so I’ve decided to post two versions. This is the in-depth version and provides some heavier reading. If you care for a condensed version, please click here.
Collins begins by describing the importance of philosophy and sound reasoning, defines his terms, and discusses misconceptions and biases in science. I find it interesting, however, that he admits he often believes second-hand data (someone reports it and I believe it). I don’t find this to be a product of sound reasoning (don’t believe everything you hear or read), even though it’s typical of how people reason. He did provide a disclaimer by stating that we can tell if we should believe someone if they use principles of sound reasoning and a good argument, and he also makes it clear that this involves making a judgment call that others may disagree with.
Despite his careful definition, he uses the term ‘science’ synonymously with undisputed fact or truth, which is partly why he’s correct that the term is controversial (this is also why I’ll often refer to science in quotations, or refer to it as secular science or modern science). I find Collins theology to be sound and right on-the-mark, but when it comes to applying theology to science I have many disagreements.
I do agree with Collins in several areas: we both agree the first verse in Genesis describes the initial creation event, and that it describes creation from nothing. He also presents the creation accounts in Genesis one and two, and we agree these are two accounts of the same event that support each other- Genesis one gives the big picture, while Genesis two fills out the details. However, where we disagree is when he asserts that Genesis two fills out the sixth day. I argue that Genesis two fills out and provides more detail to both days three and six.
Collins presented a chart to show that the creation account gives three days of setting up ‘locations’, and then three days of making ‘inhabitants’ for those locations. He describes the locations on days one through three, and inhabitants on days four through six, however he did not include vegetation on day three, and vegetation, of course, would be an inhabitant- not a location. I bring this up because he states he doesn’t really believe vegetation was created until day six, after man was created, which he thinks could be an indefinite period of time. So my point is that the chart is useless if one can simply rearrange the order and withhold items just to support one’s own theory.
Collins brings up those who try to harmonize the Bible, such as Augustine, and seems to be critical of it, but then he himself goes on to present a case for harmonizing the Bible with scientific research, as if the conclusions drawn from scientific research have the final authority and cannot be wrong. But I would argue that the Bible doesn’t need to be “harmonized” with science because they’re naturally in harmony. What we really need is a proper understanding of scripture and science.
One of my main issues with Collin’s interpretation is how he comes about his conclusions. He’s arguing against a literal interpretation of the word ‘day’ and asks himself whether the days necessarily mean that everything narrated on a given day is supposed to have taken place on that day. This is a reasonable question to ask, and I conclude that the events did take place on the actual day recorded, based on a straightforward reading of scripture. But as Collins makes his case, he begins to contemplate whether the great sea creatures from day five were listed there for logical reasons, or if they ‘appeared’ later. He then wonders how we could decide this, and concludes that we should consider the style of the account, its purpose, and how much the account is supposed to be ‘confirmable’ by scientific research.
These points have some merit. But first I find myself wondering why he supposes the great sea creatures appeared later. After all, the Bible tells us quite plainly that these creatures were created on day five. And if the Bible is reliable and infallible, then I believe and trust it. If they actually appeared later, then it makes no sense for God to tell us that they were created on day five when they were really created or ‘appeared’ later. Surely God (who was there) could have described an accurate account of his own creation, rather than provide us with a poetic account that is purely fictional, leaving us in a state of utter confusion. In addition, the Bible says the sea creatures were “created” on day five, but Collins uses the word “appear”, and I find no logical reason to change the meaning of words to conclude otherwise. To me, Collins must do spiritual gymnastics to make the Bible conform to his personal views.
Collins explains how he came to an alternate conclusion based on the style of the account, its purpose, and how much the account is supposed to be ‘confirmable’ by scientific research. I agree we need to take into consideration the style of the account- this is just good Biblical practice. And in this case we can see that Genesis does have a poetic style. However, as Collins himself pointed out, while Genesis certainly has some poetic features, he doesn’t describe it as a poem or myth because that downplays the historical element. He considers the purpose of Genesis and concludes that it’s about making and preparing the earth as a place for humans to live, and that mankind is the crown of God’s creation week. I would go further and say that the purpose of Genesis is to tell us who we are and where we came from- it’s the origin of the universe, the earth, and mankind. It tells us who we are in relation to God, and why we were created. It’s an historical account and revelation of God’s creation.
Another point of contention is with how much the Genesis account is supposed to be ‘confirmable by secular scientific research. To me this is a loaded question which seems to suggest that Christians have to give up what we believe about the Bible and hand it over to secular scientists to figure out and tell us what ‘really’ happened. I have a profound respect and love for science, but I also know that scientists are often wrong, biased, have big egos, and many bring their secular and political beliefs into the ring. So we need to be very careful about the conclusions made by scientists when dealing with history- something that cannot be directly observed- and the supposed contradictions between the Bible and ‘science’. Collins comes across as if he’s saying that secular science must dictate what the Bible really means, and if it doesn’t confirm what the Bible says, then we need to come up with an alternative interpretation in order to salvage our faith. I have a serious issue with this line of reasoning because it’s contrary to what the Bible actually teaches.
My next point of contention is Collins’ claim that it doesn’t matter how long it took for any of God’s creations to come about; all that matters is that God’s wishes were carried out. But I argue that it does matter. If God issues a command, the orders are carried out immediately- the results are instant. If the results don’t happen for some unknown period of time, then that leaves the door open to criticism and skeptics. But if God is all powerful, then it’s logical to expect instant results at his command. For example, we know that Jesus spoke “Quite! Be still”, and the sea grew instantly calm (Mark 4:35-41). This is because he has authority over nature, and nature immediately obeys his wishes and commands. If nature had not obeyed him immediately, then the disciple’s astonishment becomes senseless. Likewise, when God gave the command, “Let there be light”, it’s followed by “and there was light”.
Collins provides a good summary of the creationist position, but then presents a serious mischaracterization, stating that we claim one needs to hold this view in order to have ‘opposition’ to modern materialist science. This is totally false; we’re not in opposition to modern science. We’re in opposition to junk science or pseudoscience. We’re in opposition to those who uphold secular science in authority over God’s Word. This is a big difference. If we reject what the Bible clearly teaches, then we’re conceding that the bible contains mistakes and errors, and it’s scientists whom we can safely rely upon to determine the real meaning of scripture. Thus the real issue is accepting scripture as God’s word and placing God’s word over secular science rather than the other way around.
Collins labels Protestants as the ones who mostly dispute over the days, but then immediately gives an example of the Catholic Study Bible disputing over the days, but seems to commend Catholics for not disputing the days. Of course anyone who takes a stand on the day issue is disputing the days in Genesis. Just because one group agrees with his position doesn’t mean there’s no dispute. In one sense Protestants do dispute the days, but this is because they accept the clear meaning of the word ‘day’ and see that reinterpreting it to mean a certain period of time is really compromising God’s Word. In this sense, it is those who dispute the clear meaning of the word ‘day’ who are disputing over the days.
Collins criticized the Catholic Study Bible for referring to Genesis as a “highly artificial literary structure”, but then used this claim to arrogantly suggest that the reason for that literary structure means that God was simply trying to teach the sacredness of the Sabbath rest- as if it had little or nothing to do with an historical event intended to reveal the origin of mankind and the universe. This leads me to wonder why he thinks God used a fictional event to teach us about the Sabbath day of rest; surely, if this is what God was trying to teach us, he could have qualified the creation event as a parable, or he could have used real events to teach us these truths. Or, if the days were really long periods of time, he could have accurately described them as such.
Collins goes on to cherry-pick which scientists and scientific theories he agrees with. He agrees with those scientists who believe in long ages, but disagrees with evolutionary theory. But why reject any scientific theory if you really believe ‘science’ has reliably ‘proven’ such historical events? Collins is confident with the ‘facts’ that support his case, but disagrees with the ones that don’t. Why not just accept evolution? After all these same scientists couldn’t be wrong about evolution when they’re right on the age of the universe (or can they)? Does he disagree that ‘science’ has confirmed evolution?
Collins claims that those who favor the ‘ordinary day’ interpretation say that any appeal to scientific data or theories fails to give the Biblical text its rightful place of authority. This is misleading. Appealing to scientific data or theories is fine when they’re compatible with scripture, and it’s also fine to discuss the merits of the theory, but if the theory is diametrically opposed to God’s Word, then the theory should be called into question. In fact I’d argue that scientific data does support the Bible and a young earth. And it’s not that all modern sciences are under suspicion, as Collins suggests. It’s that science must be interpreted by scientists, and those interpretations should be in agreement with scripture. Christians shouldn’t be ashamed to take such a stand.
Another mischaracterization Collins creates is the suggestion that all modern sciences have fallen prey to a naturalistic worldview and are under suspicion. To some degree, perhaps, but not entirely; it depends on how you choose to view the issue. Some modern sciences fully support the creationist account (such as baraminology). Creationists do, in fact, reject secular theories in conflict with the Bible, and may reject some historical sciences that make educated guesses about the past, but welcome operational sciences- those sciences that deal with repeatable, observable processes in the present and work by curing diseases, putting man on the moon, and solving real problems. ‘Science’, therefore, doesn’t trump the Bible. The Biblical text trumps ‘science’ in places where there’s an apparent conflict.
The fact of the matter is that ‘science’ and the Bible are not in conflict. Any so called ‘conflict’ is based on an interpretation of the ‘facts’. The interpretations, in turn, are based on unprovable assumptions about the past, with no regard for scripture, the existence of God, or the possibility that the earth is young. That’s the conflict. It should be no surprise that secular science doesn’t appeal to or accept a literal six day creation- not for lack of evidence, but because they generally complete their research without any reference to God, scripture or miracles.
Collins claims that creationists argue that since the vast majority of readers in the history of the church have held that the days are ordinary, so should we, and to do otherwise would be unbearable arrogance. This is yet another mischaracterization. It may be true that the vast majority of readers in the history of the church have held that the days are ordinary, but that’s NOT why one should accept the creationist position. If anything, it simply provides credibility and means that other positions need to take this into consideration. It’s not that it would be unbearably arrogant to reject ordinary days- it’s that the ordinary day position is the most logical and sound conclusion, and to come to any other conclusion would require a valid argument, and so far Collins hasn’t provided one. It’s logical that if this is the Biblical view held throughout all of history, then we should give that some credibility. The argument should only be rejected with good, sound reasoning skills. We are not assuming that the vast majority are right, as Collins does when he sides with the vast majority of secular scientists. This argument has further implications: it means that the early church wasn’t influenced by secular interpretations, long ages, and modern scientific theories. It also means the plain reading of the text clearly supports an ordinary day. I agree when Collins suggests we question what led them to their conclusions.
Collins then claims that another creationist faulty argument is that they claim that the ordinary day is in fact the ‘literal’ reading of the text. Collins defines the word ‘literal’ as interpreting the Biblical text in the sense the author intended. But creationists would agree with his definition, so there’s no faulty argument.
Collins makes several other comments I found fault with. He says we should make a distinction between what the author of a text meant, and our interpretation of that author (we both agree on this), and then comments on an example he gave by saying that his example shows the importance of testing our interpretation against the real world. I was left wondering what he meant by the ‘real world’. I know he opposes the ordinary day meaning. So when we test our interpretations against the real world, is this implying we cannot appeal to scripture? Atheists, secularists, and evolutionists would say so. Whose rules should we play by- the rules of the real world, or an imaginary world? Is the imaginary world God’s spiritual world described in the Bible? Does the real world acknowledge miracles, the resurrection, or Noah’s flood? If scripture actually contradicts the ‘real world’ (the secular world tells us that humans are descended from ape-like ancestors, are not raised from the dead, don’t walk on water, don’t perform miracles, and there is no heaven or hell or world-wide flood), then what do we do? Does Collins suggest we surrender to the ‘real world’, or do we reject the ‘real world’ in light of scripture? In rejecting the ’real world’, however, we are not truly rejecting the real world as indicted by the false premise, but we are in fact rejecting human reasoning and teaching, which is fallible. Instead we, by faith, believe that God is holding the entire universe together and created the universe in a way that may not be explainable from a secular worldview- or what Collins refers to as the ‘real world’.
Collins claims that the third faulty argument of creationists is that the “the doctrine of the clarity of scripture” is at stake. He interprets this to mean that the Bible must be transparent in its meaning, and this favors the ‘simple’ reading. This is a valid interpretation, but the reason he claims it’s faulty is because it misuses the doctrine it’s supposed to be upholding. He goes on to state that he knows of no responsible statement of this doctrine that claims that all parts of the Bible are equally easy to understand, or that we should prefer a simple reading no matter what. However, those he’s criticizing don’t make such claims. He’s using a straw-man argument in order to knock it down, which shows that he really doesn’t understand the creationist argument he’s opposing. Collins cites the Westminster Confession of Faith and goes on to state that the Puritans were confident that the parts of the Bible we need to understand and believe are clear, and that they don’t deny one has to study and think in order to get a right understanding of scripture. Of course this is all true, but creationists are in agreement. Here’s a quote from Answers in Genesis (one of the leading Creationist organizations) regarding the doctrine of the clarity of scripture:
“The principle of the clarity of Scripture does not mean that every passage is easily understood or that one does not need to diligently study the Word of God, but it does teach that the overall message of the Word of God can be understood by all believers who carefully and prayerfully study it. The principle also means that we should not assume or look for hidden meanings but rather assess the most straightforward meaning. Two of Christ’s favorite sayings were “It is written” and “Have you not read?” Then He would quote a verse from the Old Testament. By these sayings, He indicated that the Scriptures are generally clear.”
The point is that it makes sense that God would communicate in such a way that anyone can understand it if they’re serious about seeking truth. So Collins has failed to justify his criticism.
I’d think Collins would do well to follow his own advice. He states we should distinguish between what the author meant, our first impression from reading his work, and take the text in its whole context and in light of the entire work. I think if he actually studied Creationist material with an expectation of understanding the author’s meaning he would reach different conclusions. For example, God tells us that he made the heavens and earth in six days. The simplest interpretation of this statement means that it literally took God six ordinary days to complete his work. This meaning is transparent and understood from the text. Further, this interpretation is taking into consideration the author’s intent, as well as the rest of scripture. There’s no need to make other assumptions, do spiritual gymnastics, or twist scripture in order to turn the ordinary days into a long, indefinite period of time.
Collins goes on to make an honest admission that “it is certainly true that the attraction of many of the non-ordinary day views is, at least at first, the possibility of not having a conflict with scientific theories about the beginning of the universe or the age of the earth.” He also acknowledges that accommodationism does violence to scripture, and I applaud him for both these admissions. But then he goes on to agree with those who favor harmony (or accommodation) because they think the biblical account is true and that the bible could be read this way without any trouble. Of course I have contention with those who seek to bring the Bible into harmony with secular science rather than bringing science into harmony with scripture. So I ask, why is it that some Christians feel pressured to accommodate secular science instead of insisting that scientific theories accommodate scripture? Forcing the Bible to conform to science doesn’t come without cost. The danger with this accommodation or harmonization approach is that it weakens the authority of scripture any time it has to be reinterpreted in light of modern science. Why bother believing anything scripture says if its meaning can be so easily changed by the latest scientific discovery?
In fairness Collins claims that his aim is to find an interpretation for the days that account for all the details of the text without having to invent new grammar or to stretch word meanings. I just don’t think he accomplishes this.
Collins examines Exodus 20:8-11, a passage creationists use to justify a literal six day creation, and states this passage “seems to suggest that the creation week consists of periods of time following one after another.” However I searched different Biblical versions and couldn’t locate one that said this or implied that the universe was created over the course of six days. Nearly every version I read says, “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth”. So I don’t buy his argument that the text seems to describe ‘periods of time’- especially when an ordinary day is implied and makes more sense. I think he’s reading into the text something that’s not there. Further, he seems to be inventing new grammar and stretching word meanings, exactly which he claims he won’t do. So if God intended these days to be taken as ordinary, 24-hour days, what kind of language would he have needed to use? I suggest the text conveys this intent quite well. However, if God intended the days to be unspecified periods of time, couldn’t he have just told us that his creative acts were carried out over long periods of time, one after the other, instead of in six days so that we’re not confused?
Collins tells us that it’s a ‘fact’ that Genesis 1:1-2 is not part of the first day, so therefore we don’t have to take the creation week as the first week of the universe. But what Collins calls a fact is not a fact after all. It’s merely his opinion, supported by weak evidence. I contend that Genesis 1:1-2 includes the first day and was the first week of the universe. Collins goes on to say once again that it doesn’t matter when all this took place when we consider Moses’ main picture, which was to describe how God prepared the earth as the ideal place for humans to live, love, and serve. But this dismissive statement would only be true if God didn’t tell us how long or when it happened. If God did tell us when and how long, then it surely does matter, otherwise reliability and trustworthiness of scripture can be called into question. This narrow view leads him to make the details unimportant. If none of this really mattered, then we could rely upon secular science to tell us our origins instead of relying upon God.
Collins ridicules an ordinary day because he thinks the events that happened on day six would require a long period of time and couldn’t have happened all in one day (God making the animals and Adam, planting a garden, moving Adam there, giving him instructions, having Adam search for a helper and name all the animals, casting a deep sleep over him, and creating Eve). Another bit of evidence he cites is Genesis 2:23, which says “this at last”, implying that it was a long period of time. However this is from the ESV version, so he is again cherry picking, declaring this the best translation. The NIV version says “This is now”, and I find this translation to be the better translation. Further, there’s no reason why the events stated couldn’t have happened in one ordinary day.
Collins goes on to bring up the sun, moon and stars referenced on day four. He points out that none of the verses in Genesis one says that God “created” these objects, so he supposes that they may have existed prior to Day Four, but only came into view during this period of time known as Day Four. This is important to Collins because he thinks it’s awkward and difficult to suppose that there was another source of light in Genesis 1:3. Collins arguments seem tough to follow and contradictory. He says that we don’t have to suppose the sun, moon and stars “appeared” on the fourth day since it says nothing about cloud cover. So which does Collins believe? Does he believe the sun, moon and stars came into view on Day Four, or that they appeared in the sky prior to Day Four (or whenever God created them)? He doesn’t make it clear which one he believes, or if he intends to leave both options open. He seems opposed to any cloud cover, so I’m assuming he believes the sun, moon and stars appeared in the sky prior to Day Four, and probably believes it took billions of years for starlight to reach earth.
I have several criticisms here: Firstly, I’m not sure why Collins would find it difficult or awkward to suppose there was another source of light in Genesis 1:3. He’s a professor of Old Testament and has a master of divinity. So why does he have a problem with there being another source of light prior to Day Four? Scripture makes it clear that there’s another source of light other than the sun or stars. Exodus 10:22-23 is interesting because it talks about Egypt being in darkness for three days while all the Israelites had light where they lived. This passage must be awkward for Collins to explain.
There are plenty of other verses that reference God as being light. Isaiah 60:18-20 and Revelation 21:22-24 give us a direct answer to this awkward and difficult problem: the LORD and the glory of God will be our everlasting light, not the sun or moon. They will give us light in heaven and the new earth. Therefore, since we know that God’s glory will give us light, why is it so difficult to imagine the glory of God being the source of light at the beginning of creation? I suggest there is no mystery, except for those who demand secular answers. Those who can accept Biblical explanations will find no difficulty understanding the source of light. But those who have problems reconciling matters in which science supposedly contradicts scripture will always reinterpret scripture so that it conforms to their philosophy and keep them in good standing with the scientific community.
Collins addresses what he believes to be the best arguments for a young earth: 1) The ordinary days of Genesis. 2) The genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11. 3) The statement of Jesus that seems to put Adam and Eve at the beginning of creation.
He argues against Jesus implying that man was created at the beginning of creation (Mark 10:6 and Matthew 19:4). But his argument seems to be that he doesn’t believe in a young earth, so he’ll find a reason not to believe it, regardless of how strong the argument is. He examines the Greek, but provides little insight into his conclusions. I thought he might tell us that the Greek word actually means something else, but he doesn’t provide an alternate translation. Instead he merely tells us that the Greek expression “from the beginning” appears many times in the New Testament, and he considers this phrase with and without a qualifying text, and wonders if the beginning of creation really means the initial creation act. He eventually concludes that the verse couldn’t mean the beginning of creation, but has to mean the beginning of the creation of the first pair of humans. So how does he make this determination? By concluding that the total time since the absolute creation is irrelevant to the point Jesus was making.
I agree that the total time since the absolute creation is irrelevant to Jesus’ point concerning divorce, however his mentioning a time frame certainly is not irrelevant, otherwise he wouldn’t have mentioned it. And since he clearly said that man was there at the beginning of creation (as opposed to the beginning of the first pair of humans), I think Collins has failed to provide a sound argument.
Collins states we have a problem if we take Genesis 2:17 to mean that Adam and Eve’s bodies will die, although he eventually admits that both Adam and Eve did die. He seems to be under the impression that they’d have to die instantly in order for the verse to make any sense from a literal perspective. But this is not the case. Genesis 2:17 states, “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” God didn’t say they would die immediately after eating from the tree… only that they would surely die, and they surely did die! In other words, if they hadn’t eaten from the tree, they would be alive and well today.
I find it unlikely that Adam and Eve misunderstood God’s command. I think they took God literally, believing they would die if they ate from the tree. But Satan deceived them, saying “you will not certainly die”. Satan’s deceit is brilliant, precisely because he knows they aren’t going to die immediately. He plays off God’s words. Notice that Satan doesn’t tell Eve that “you won’t die immediately”. His actual response is crafty, leaving the meaning open to Eve’s interpretation. So, in effect, Collins is agreeing with Satan that their bodies wouldn’t die from eating of the tree God commanded them not to. But then again God never said they would die immediately. The implication Satan was trying to achieve is that God was lying, fooling them, wrong, or didn’t mean it. Satan, I’m sure, knew full well that God meant they would die spiritually, and that their physical bodies would eventually die. So Collin’s argument falls apart simply because they did die. Nowhere in scripture does it indicate that God’s promise was nullified because they didn’t die instantly, or that they would have to die immediately if we’re to take the verse literally. The fact that they did die shows that God wasn’t fooling around and didn’t change his mind. Collins acknowledges that the death was spiritual in nature, but denies that God’s promise was fulfilled when their bodies died. He thinks the death was spiritual, and not physical, but it certainly was both!
The last thing I’ll comment on is that I don’t like how Collins states, “nor should we suppose that it’s easy for God to change his mind when it’s a matter of justice”. According to Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should change his mind.” So it’s not that it’s hard or easy for God to change his mind- it’s that God doesn’t change his mind.
If you’ve followed me to the end, I’ll close my critique by explaining why I’m so critical. I believe those in the church should be equipped to answer the questions raised by the secular world (1 Peter 3:15). Not only that, but we need to provide answers to those who have questions and concerns about their faith, science, and evolution. I believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God; it speaks to us about the real world, and we can use it for all the most important questions in life, including history and science, and that it is the final authority on all matters. I believe Collin’s book, while he has much the same objective, promotes accomodationism by conforming scripture to science, rather than the other way around. I think once people try to do this they weaken the foundation of scripture. Once that foundation is weakened, they may question the authority and truth of scripture, and ultimately may decide to reject or leave the faith. But if we recognize that the Bible is the infallible Word of God and can be trusted in all areas, then we have a firm foundation and will be better equipped to better understand science and the world God created for us.