One of the reasons Adventist cling so tightly to the idea of a literal interpretation of “day” during creation week, as opposed to defining day as long eons of time, has to do with the implications it would have for the Sabbath. While Sabbath legitimacy would not seem to necessarily rise or fall with this issue, I do happen to be somewhat sensitive to this concern as it does tend to muddy things up a bit. Interestingly, there may be a way of resolving this problem that could satisfy some of this unease, and at the same time remain responsive to the sciences.
The potential solution I have referenced comes from Gerald L. Schroeder who received his Ph.D. in physic from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Subsequent to his scientific training, he rediscovered his Jewish roots, along with the Genesis presuppositions for design. He approaches this issue operating on the premise that science and theology should find convergence. It is in this context that he has attempted to come to terms with a six-day creation week, and the biblical evidence supportive of a recent creation over against the scientific evidence.
Schroeder, like many Adventists, rejects the approach of some to identify the six active days of creation as six epochs because there is scant biblical basis for such. He also notes that the ancient Jewish commentaries all identified these six days as “twenty-four hours each, the total duration of which was the same as “the six days of our work week (1).”
His solution to this problem has to do with an accounting of time. In order for the reader to follow his argumentation, it is necessary to have a basic scientific understanding of “time.” For those unfamiliar with the “physics” of time, I will attempt to sketch out a few elementary details.
In the history of human concepts of “time,” it was long treated mathematically as a fixed value. Certainly, it intuitively seems to be a fixed commodity where, for example, the measurement of “one hour” would seem to be the same everywhere. However, it was Albert Einstein who first articulated the idea that it should be understood as a variable. His monumental proposal was to think of time as relative—contingent upon velocity and gravitational forces. What he envisioned was that as velocity or gravity increase, time slows down. For any physical entity that accelerates at near the speed of light, time essentially slows proportionately—including clocks, metabolism, and perceptions of time. The converse would also be true. His fundamentally new approach obviously had far-reaching implications for our concepts of both space and time. Over a period of decades, as science has studied and tested this concept, using multiple methods of testing, this theory has since been elevated to scientific law (2).
The practical significance of this law regarding “time” is that it will tick at an incrementally different rate on Earth than in other parts of the universe. Because of this reality, Schroeder notes that, “there are any number of ages for the universe, each being correct for the location at which the measurement is made,” and therefore he refers to this as “local proper time (3).” He further concludes that, “there are literally billions of locations where a clock, if we could place one there, would tick so slowly that fifteen billion Earth years would pass while it recorded only six twenty-four-hour days (4).”
It is on this basis that he proposes that in order to discover the Genesis account of a six-day creation week, we must understand the universal perspective of the Biblical space-time reference since there is no possible way for those first six days to have had an Earth-based perspective (5). In this connection he differentiates between what he terms, “cosmological time” based on cosmic background radiation (CBR), and “local proper time.” He further proposes that in the Genesis account of creation, that Earth-time does not enter the picture until day seven, when God rested from all his work. By approaching Genesis in this manner it is possible to think of “creation day” as a 24-hour period, but do so from a cosmological perspective so as to account for vast amount of time evident from an Earth-based perspective. In the same way we can think of creation as recent, as long as we do so from a cosmological perspective.
Perhaps the biggest shortcoming with this approach is that anyone who is not minimally literate, scientifically speaking, could have trouble grasping the significance or relevance of this proposal. Furthermore, some readers may view all of this as a bit of a semantic game, but it isn’t. The essence of the argument is that physical reality is perspective based, and for physicists contending with issues at the quantum level, or of space and time, perspective is a very crucial part of the equation. If we consider the problem of “time” in relationship to creation, our perspective can be understood as a key element to our understanding.
Whether or not the Church takes this approach seriously, it does provide a way for divergent interpretations to coexist. My guess would be that purists will probably not be satisfied with this solution, and in fact the solution could tend to break down to the degree that specificity of language is added to articulated beliefs. Furthermore, even if Schroeder’s approach were to be taken seriously, I would still have great reluctance for any use of the word “recent” in a reengineered statement of belief because of its ability to miscommunicate and misrepresent.
So while Schroeder offers up a potentially attractive solution for some of the conflict we face, there are significant doubts as to whether it will be of any value in the current controversy. Nevertheless, it could be the basis for achieving common ground in a way that allows for a form of traditional thinking, without running contrary to science.
Jan M. Long, J.D., M.H.A., works for the County of Riverside, California.
1. Gerald L. Schroeder, The Science of God (Broadway Books: New York, 1998), p.43.
2. Ibid, at p. 47; also, for those interested in a rather thorough treatment of time, please see generally Dan Falk, In Search of Time: The Science of a Curious Dimension (New York: St. Martin Press, 2008).
3. Gerald L. Schroeder, cited at note #8, p. 49.
4. It should be pointed out that since Gerald Schroeder published this book that the actual age of the universe has been revised downward to approximately 13.7 billion years. However, this fact has no bearing on the substance of his argument.
5. Schroeder, p. 50.
Next installment: Darwin Revisited
Read the previous parts of this series The Search for Common Ground on Genesis.