Lyon is a retired clergyman who divides his time between Guelph,
Ontario and Melaque, Mexico. He taught high school English,
Latin, Greek and science, and served as an officer in the
Canadian Armed Forces Reserve, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
His latest book, Don’t Throw Out Your Bible,
from which the essay below is excerpted, should be available
by the end of the year (2023). His monograph, A Christmas
You Can Believe In, can be requested as a PDF file from
Darwin’s day, much ink has been spilt about evolution
by sincere and well-meaning people on either side of the debate.
But despite the arguments of creationists, most scientists,
many devout Christians among them, agree that all life forms
are related by common ancestry, though Darwin and his contemporaries
did not know enough genetics to understand how that came about.
rejecting creationism, we are not denying that God is “Maker
of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”
Rather, we are rejecting the idea that Genesis tells us how
he did it.
in the 19th Century experienced the same sort of resistance
over evolution as Copernicus and Galileo did in the 16th and
17th Century over heliocentrism, the idea that the earth moves
and the sun is the centre of our solar system. At least Copernicus
managed to escape suppression for 60 years, but just as the
Inquisition forced Galileo to recant, so too Copernicus was
eventually placed on The Index of Forbidden Books.
He was removed from it in 1835, but Galileo was not officially
restored to favour until 2009.
for Darwin, it was not until Pope Pius XII’s pastoral
letter Humani generis in 1950 that Roman Catholics were free
to explore evolution. Sadly, that was too late to restore
the career of priest-scientist Teilhard de Chardin. The Protestant
leaders Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin and
John Owen also opposed Galileo’s heliocentrism, just
as creationists today continue to oppose evolution.
consistency of that opposition reveals a serious problem in
doing systematic theology. A systematic theology is a set
of inter-connected doctrines that fit together as a unified
system of thought. Creationist beliefs are so inter-dependent
that to deny a particular doctrine is to collapse the whole.
So those who hold a creationist theology are living in an
intellectual house of cards. What is at stake for them is
the truth of the Bible – as they interpret it. How keenly
they feel that problem can be seen in the words of a creationist
pastor who rejects not just evolution but even theistic evolution
– that is, the view that sees evolution as God’s
method of creation. He says: “The hermeneutics behind
theistic evolution . . . are a Trojan horse that once inside
our gates must cause the entire fortress of Christian belief
creationists (who read the Genesis creation stories as history
and science, and believe that creation happened less than
10,000 years ago), and old-earth creationists (who also read
those stories as history and science, but accept that the
Earth is 4.6 billion years old and the universe is 13.8 billion)
are dependent not just on the Bible for their theology (which,
of course, is where we ought to get our theology) but on a
particularly problematic way of interpreting the Bible. For
them, the Bible is not merely true, but true in a way that
disregards not only science but also the history of the composition
of the text and the various genres that comprise it. That’s
no way to persuade the skeptic that Christianity has any intellectual
view of the Church from its earliest days is that God has
“spoken through the Old Testament prophets” and
that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are “in
accordance with the Old Testament Scriptures” (Nicene
Creed, 325 AD).
of the Old and New Testaments share this view of the truth
and inspiration of Scripture: Every word of God proves true.
All scripture is inspired by God. But we must always be careful
not to make a text say more, nor less, than it intends. So
one may believe (as I do) that “every word of God proves
true,” for God cannot lie.
does ‘word’ in that proverb refer to every ‘word’
on the page – presumably, every word in the author’s
Hebrew or Greek original, languages that most Bible readers
don’t understand – or does it refer to every meaning
that God wants his hearers and readers to take from those
words? If you've ever done any translating from one language
to another, you know the answer.
word will indeed accomplish all his purpose and fulfill the
thing for which he sent it. But was God’s purpose in
sending it to make prescientific people believe in a walking,
talking snake (Genesis 3:1)? Was it to persuade modern physicists
and astronomers that the sun really can stand still (Joshua
10:13)? Was it to tell us that the devil, who some believe
was cast out of heaven before Creation, could actually return
there in the days of Job and interrupt a heavenly staff meeting
(Job 1:6)? Again, I think you know the answer.
us that “all Scripture is inspired by God” (2
Timothy 3:16 – the Greek literally means “God-breathed”).
In the same verse he explains why that matters: Scripture
is useful for “teaching, correction, and training in
righteousness”, and to make us “equipped for every
good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). Paul uses this same word,
“teaching” (or “doctrine”, KJV), at
1 Timothy 1:10, where “contrary to sound teaching”
refers to a long list of offences against the Law. The “teaching”
or “doctrine” that Paul has in mind is clearly
moral teaching. There is nothing in those verses to suggest
it includes opinions about biology, geology, or cosmology.
this must seem a long way from a discussion of evolution,
but in fact evolution is not the real problem. The problem
is that creationists, of both the young-earth and old-earth
varieties, believe in a hermeneutic (a way of interpreting
Scripture) and a systematic theology that are not truly Biblical.
We have just now noted some examples of that sort of hermeneutic,
by which the applicable texts may have been interpreted too
The diverse systems of belief in our churches are largely
our inventions, and they reflect an intellectual method that
is often more Greek than Jewish. Rightly, we try to assemble
the information given in Scripture in some systematic way,
as the Church has done from its earliest days, to help us
to clarify what we believe. But if we ever think that any
of our systems could definitively capture all the truth that
God has revealed, we are presuming too much.
dramatists called that hybris; it is the stuff that tragedy
is made of.
DAY THE SUN STOOD STILL
Bible seems to say that during the conquest of Canaan, Joshua
won a significant battle because God made the sun stand still
for a day (Joshua 10:12,13). A story like that is guaranteed
to generate skepticism. But again, we may have misunderstood
for example, what happens when a fast moving automobile brakes
abruptly: all occupants and unsecured objects fly forward,
striking the windshield, the steering wheel, or the backs
of the front seats; then when the inertia is expended, everything
and everyone is jerked back to the rear again, with the prospect
of whiplash or worse.
picture the sun as an automobile grinding to a sudden halt
– with all the planets, moons, and everything on earth
in its back seat. We cannot imagine what chaos would result.
The Hebrew verb that most versions translate ‘stand
still’ (dom) and ‘stood still’ (yiddom)
actually has no adverb following it. The word ‘still’
is supplied only by our English translations, and it may be
misleading.We might better understand it without the ‘still’
– preferring simply ‘stopped’ or ‘ceased’
– which is also what it says the moon did, likewise
with no adverb following (Joshua 10:12,13).
a 2017 research paper, Professor Colin Humphreys1 notes that
“an alternative meaning could be that the sun and moon
just stopped doing what they normally do: they stopped shining
– in which case, it may refer to an eclipse. This interpretation
is supported by the fact that the Hebrew word translated ‘stand
(still)’ has the same root as a Babylonian word used
in ancient astronomical texts to describe eclipses. Astronomers
have determined that an eclipse did occur over Canaan on the
afternoon of 30 October 1207 BC. It was an ‘annular’
eclipse, that is, shaped like an ‘annulus,’ a
ring or a circle. As the moon passed in front of the sun,
a red ring of fire would have appeared around the moon. The
Hebrew root ’dm (stand / stood) also has connotations
of red and blood.
the later date for the Exodus is correct (around 1250 BC),
an eclipse occurring a few decades later in 1207 BC would
be about the time when Joshua and the Hebrews were fighting
to possess Canaan.
The writer of the book of Joshua records that event just as
his pre-scientific contemporaries would have experienced it.
That does not make the telling of it untrue: he recorded what
they saw, in language that they understood. What they saw,
Humphreys says, included “two dusks” – the
first as the moon obscured the sun’s light, followed
by a second “dawn” as the eclipse cleared, and
then a second dusk at day’s end – as the Hebrew
text says, “like a whole [extra] day” (Joshua
10:13). Of course, the word ‘extra’ is also an
interpretation; it, too, is not in the Hebrew text.
with the Exodus and the Christmas Star, we can account for
“the day the sun stood still” as if it, too, were
just a natural event. But for Joshua, the miracle was again
in the timing. The eclipse occurred just when the Israelites
needed it, and you could hardly expect Joshua and his men
to chalk that up to dumb luck.
tactical advantage it may or may not have afforded, it certainly
heartened those who were on God’s business, and terrified
those who were not. As Jesus taught, God knew their need before
they asked, and already had a solution waiting for them. Perhaps,
then, we should think of miracles as exceptional acts of God’s
Providence, the difference between them and normal events
being a matter of scale rather than of kind.