Origin Of The Universe According To Christianity – From N. F. Gier, God, Reason, and the Evangelicals (University Press of America, 1987), chapter 13. Copyright by the author
Author’s Note: Full bibliographic information for reference will be provided later. Until then check out the full hard copy bibliography of God, Reason, and the Evangelists.
- 1 Origin Of The Universe According To Christianity
- 2 What Do We Really Know About The Universe?
Origin Of The Universe According To Christianity
Many evangelicals believe in “precise inerrancy,” which means that the Bible, in the words of Francis Schaeffer, is “without error in all that it affirms” and contains “statemental truth where it touches on” the cosmos and history.”
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This was apparently not the position of historic Christianity and many evangelicals themselves reject this position.
The inerrantists cannot decide what “science” to use to prove that the Bible is inerrant on cosmological matters. Following the lead of Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield, writers for the Moody Bible Institute argue that the Bible is fully compatible with current theories about the evolution of the universe over billions of years.
On the other hand, we have “fiat creationists,” such as those from the Creation Research Institute, who reject cosmic evolution and claim that the universe is less than 10,000 years old.
Throwing an intelligent light on the question are the evangelical writers of the New Bible Dictionary. An author warns us that the Genesis account “should not be confused or identified with any scientific theory of origin. The purpose of biblical doctrine, unlike scientific research, is ethical and religious…. It is all poetic and it does not yield to close scientific correlations … Genesis neither confirms nor denies the theory of evolution, or any theory for that matter.”
What Do We Really Know About The Universe?
Evangelist J. J. Davis agrees: “Evangelicals have generally come to adopt the view that the Genesis accounts of creation are concerned primarily with the meaning and purpose of God’s creative work and not with the precise scientific details of how it was accomplished … the science of genetics to answer the scientific question of when human life begins and to the Bible for revelatory answers about the value and purpose of human life.”
Of course these evangelists are correct in denying any scientific basis for Old Testament cosmology.
I believe, however, that there is more than just poetry in the biblical creation account. In what follows I argue that we should take the Hebrew cosmology as a prescientific attempt to understand the universe. Parallel accounts in other ancient mythologies will be the main evidence I offer. One of the first problems we have is that there is no word in Hebrew for the Greek kosmos. Kosmos was first used by Pythagoras, who is said to have been the first Greek to conceive of the universe as a logical, unified whole. Such an idea is essential to the scientific idea that things operate according to law-like regularity. For the Hebrews the universe is not a cosmos, but a loose aggregate held together and directed by the will of God.
If God’s will is free – this is an assumption that is threatened in some evangelical doctrines of God – then the results of such a will are not predictable events. This is why the biblical idea of creation can never be called “scientific,” and why “scientific creation” will always be a contradiction in terms.
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The most prominent feature of the Old Testament world is the firmament, “a solid dome that separates “the waters from the waters” (Gen. 1:6). The Hebrew word translated in the Latin Vulgate as firmamentum is raqia’ which its verb form means “to spread, stamp or beat.” The material being beaten is not directly identified, but biblical and extrabiblical evidence suggests that it is metal. A verb form of raqia is used ‘ in these two passages: “And gold leaf was hammered…” (Ex. 39:3); and “beaten silver brought from Tarshish” (Jer. l0:9). Indeed, there is a figurative use of this term. A firmament is part of Ezekiel’s first vision (1:22, 26), and the editors of the evangelical Theological Word Book of the Old Testament cite this as evidence that the Hebrews did not believe in a literal sky-dome. It’ It is clear, however, that the chariot of Ezekiel’s throne is the cosmos in miniature, and the use of raqia most likely refers to a solid canopy (it shines “like crystal”) than to limited space.
The idea of a vault or vault of heaven can be found in many books of the Old Testament, e.g., “God places his vault on the earth…” (Amos 9:6). The Hebrew word translated as “vault” is ‘aguddah the verb form of which means “to bind, fit, or build.” Commenting on this verse, Richard S. Cripps says “here it seems that the ‘heavens’ are ‘bound’ or placed in a solid vault, the ends of which are on the earth. We have seen that raqia’ and ‘aguddah, whose referent is clearly the same, mean something very different from the empty spatial expanse that some evangelists suggest.
In the Anchor Bible translation of Psalm 77:18, Mitchell Dahood has found yet another reference to the dome of heaven, which has been hidden by previous translators. The RSV translates galgal as “whirlwind,” but Dahood argues that galgal is closely related to the Hebrew gullath (bowl) and gulgolet (skull), which definitely gives the idea of ” something vaulted or vaulted.” In addition, Dahood notes that “the parallelism with tebel, ‘earth,’ and ‘eres, ‘netherworld,’ suggests that the psalmist portrays the tripartite division of the universe — heaven, earth, and underworld.”
Some evangelicals claim that the Bible contains at least three references to a spherical earth (Is. 40:22; Job 22:14; Prov. 8:27). But this is just wishful thinking and an obvious imposition of modern cosmology on a Hebrew worldview. The Hebrew word cudsh used here cannot be translated as a sphere (which is rendered by a different word), but must again be interpreted as a solid vault over the earth. So I follow the Anchor Bible translation of Is. 40:22: “God sits on the dome of the earth.” Job 22:14 says that God “walks on the vault (hut) of heaven,” again implying something solid. Hug can also refer to the circular perimeter of the dome of the sky: “He drew a circle (hut) on the face of the deep … and confirmed the sky above” (Prov. 8:27-28).
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If some respond by saying that this is all just poetry, I think they are wrong for at least three reasons. There are many poetic images of the sky and the heavens, but the common thread that connects them is the idea of a solid dome. In Isaiah 34 God threatens the nations, and in verse four he will make “the sky roll up like a scroll” (presumably causing a flood like Noah’s). Job is put in his place by referring to the mighty works of God: “Can you, like him, expand the sky, hard as a molten mirror?” (37:18). In Isaiah 40:22 the true “dome of the earth” (AB) is followed by the poetic “he stretches out the heavens as a covering; he spreads them out as a tent to dwell in.” One of the psalmists also uses this simile: “God has stretched out the heavens like a tent” (Ps. 104:2).
The second and most definite reason for taking the Hebrew solid heaven literally is that there was such a scene throughout the ancient world of the age. We agree with evangelical Joseph Dillow that we must use the doctrine of “common implications,” which means that we cannot attribute to authors knowledge or experience that they could not possibly have had. Dillow is wise enough to refuse to violate this principle such as Harold Lindsell’s claim that Job 38:35 predicts wireless telegraphy; but he still believes, and this proves troublesome, that the “Bible provides a perfectly solid basis for understanding not only religious truth but also physical processes.”
Contrary to the claim of C.S. Lewis (see epigraph), the Hebrew worldview was not unique; and since the Hebrews were only religious pioneers, and not scientific, we can assume that they borrowed a lot from their neighbours.
The ancient Egyptians thought the sky was a roof supported by pillars. For the Sumerians tin was the metal of heaven, so we can safely assume that their metal vault air cell was made out of this material.
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Dillow cites this fact without realizing what this must mean for the Hebrew view and its principle of divisible implications. In Homer the sky is a metal hemisphere covering a round, flat, disk-like earth surrounded by water. The Odyssey and the Illiad speak otherwise of a bronze or iron airlock.
For the ancient Greeks Anaximenes and Empedocles, the stars are embedded in a crystalline sky. In Genesis 1:17 the stars are “set in” (as if they were implanted) in the firmament.
In Celtic mythology the dome of the heavens is the skull of the father god, which echoes the Arian idea that the sky evolved from the head of the cosmic man Purusha and that the earliest Vedic gods lived there (Rig-veda 10.90. 14, 16). The fear of Chicken Little comes from this ancient cosmology: when Alexander asked the Celtic leaders what they feared most, they replied that they were afraid that the sky would
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