Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Correct Time Scale

In science, we have the concept of the appropriate scale of the problem. When discussing astronomical distances we use lightyears or parsecs. When discussing human extents and movements we typically use meters. (Or, in what we officially denote as the bizarro system of units, feet and yards.) We could use lightyears, accurately, to describe how far a home run was, but it doesn't "smell" right: "what a blast! It went 1.803×10-14 lightyears!"

Young Earth Creationists have two common "proofs" that the days of Genesis One are ordinary days. One is based on an erroneous claim: that anytime the word yôm is used with an ordinal number, it always refers to a twenty-four hour day. (Excepting, of course, when it is and yet it doesn't.)

The other kevlar-lacking argument is in reference to the fourth commandment. For example, in Exodus 20 we read:
9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex. 20:9-11) 
Clearly, the argument goes, given that God is telling mankind to work six ordinary days and not six "ages" or six "indeterminate periods" before entering the Sabbath rest, the "days" in the analogy—which refer to God's activity, must mean the same thing.

Well, no—of course it doesn't demand any such thing. The bible is chock full of anthropomorphisms. God is longsuffering yet we do not believe that God suffers, in the sense that humans suffer, at all. Nor do we believe that God sits around hoping that humans will pleasantly surprise him until He finally says to himself "enough is enough." God hates Esau—but do we believe he hates in the same ugly visceral way that we hate? God "changes his mind" on numerous occasions—but do we not believe that God ordains what comes to pass, and that no argument from man can "hold back his hand?" (Dan. 4:35).

The same, I submit, is on display here. God has established by creation, and by providence, a six out of seven rule, a practice that is both honoring to God and beneficial to man.

In other words:

God worked, or at least described his work, as six periods followed by a seventh period of rest. (Which, by the way, is still continuing—a fact which does not fit the literal interpretation.)

God then applies that model to human activities. What is the correct time scale for human activities? Should humans work six minutes and rest the seventh? Six years and and take a year off? No, the correct and natural time scale for humans and their labors is the ordinary twenty-four hour day. The model, applied to humans, naturally uses days.

But the model is more general. This we can see in another passage in Exodus, but since it is also found in Leviticus we'll quote that book, since you always feel a minimum of 23% cooler when you use a passage from Leviticus:
1 The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, 2 "Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD. 3 For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. (Lev 25:1-4) 
Here the same six-of-seven creation principle is applied to the land, but for the land the appropriate time scale is a year. Note that it is not just an independent agricultural principle—it is connected directly to the concept of the Sabbath.

This passage is just as much a "proof" that the yôm  in Genesis One must be years as the Ex. 20:9-11 passage "proves" they must be days.

Finally, we note that the anthropomorphic nature of the creation analogy used in the forth commandment is more evident in the later rendition—not Exodus 20 but Exodus 31:
16Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'" (Ex. 31:16-17)
Again, we do not believe that God has any sort of emotional or physical degradation from which he is literally refreshed. Instead, we understand that God is (through Moses) explaining his activity in human terms and instructing us to follow his model in a manner that is appropriate for our endeavors and limitations, and for our time scales.

That's all for today. God willing I'll post again in approximately 2.738×10-6 millennia.


  1. Very interesting. I hadn't thought about accommodated language using human-scale units of measurement.

    I wonder if a weakness in YEC is it makes God temporal by His act of creation. I had been taught that once the universe was created, God is now confined to those laws. Therefore, all explanation of God's act of creation or even miracles need to be from our point of view as though God can only go about the process of doing whatever He does in the same way we would.

    1. Wow, I never heard that argument, that God is bound by the laws of the universe he created. I'm glad I'm not bound by the universes I create (buggy Java programs that are always crashing.)

  2. Thanks for this good post. I have referred to it in two of my own posts, one due to come out tomorrow, and the other one here:

    1. Thanks Martin, I look forward to your post tomorrow.

    2. It's not substantive -- I merely point to your post.