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The Timothy Test - A Continuing Saga

Philip Stott

Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal Vol.11 no.2 1997 carries three interesting articles on the validity of Russel Humphreys’ "Timothy Test" in the interpretation of the Bible. This test assumes that the correct interpretation is that which someone like Paul’s disciple Timothy, well versed in Greek and Hebrew Scripture, but not in the theories of modern science, would make. While disagreeing with many aspects of Perry G. Phillips stand-point, there is one issue on which I think he is absolutely correct, and the responses by Jonathan D. Sarfati and D. Russel Humphreys are not adequate. Joshua’s long day is a very significant problem for biblical interpretation, and therefore for creationism.

Phillips is correct in stating1 that the straightforward, face-value interpretation of the passage:-

"the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed not to go down about a full day"

implies that the sun moves around the earth. He would have been justified in making the same observation for Psalm 19 v. 6:-

"His (the sun’s) going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it.",

or for Ecclesiastes 1:5:-

"The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose."

and other passages also.

Phillips is right in pointing out that it was such scriptures which led to the conflict between the Catholic Church and the Copernican model of the universe as championed by Galileo.

But they have been the cause of far more conflicts than that.

The Protestants saw - no less clearly than the Catholics - that Scripture is geocentric. Luther vehemently opposed the Copernican system because he saw it as an attack on the inerrancy of God’s Word. Calvin, in his commentary on Psalm 93 v. 1 displays his stand. Copernicus had said it is more reasonable to assume that the earth rotates about an axis than that the entire universe revolves around the earth each day. Calvin, with his "The heavens revolve daily; immense as is their fabric, and inconceivable the rapidity of their revolutions" set himself deliberately against this - on scriptural grounds.

In the first half of this century the well known Dutch theologian G.C. Berkouwer made a dramatic change in his stand on Biblical inerrancy. After championing absolute inerrancy for several years he declared that the Scriptures cannot be inerrant because they teach geocentricity, which science has shown to be untenable. The consequence for his theology was drastic.

As far as the cause of biblical creation is concerned, this point is vital, for if the Scriptures are misleading concerning the location of the earth, then they may be misleading as far as its age is concerned - or on the way in which its population came into being. This very argument was used recently at a trial of a ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the U S A. The elder had been teaching that Adam had animal ancestors. The defence noted that the church had been wrong in its interpretation of Scripture as far as geocentricity was concerned, and hence it could also be wrong in its interpretation of origins.

This is a situation which has plagued the church for many years. Mortenson in "British Scriptural Geologists" (in the same issue of E N Tech.Journal) notes "The old-Earth proponents believed that prior to the work of Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo, it was quite natural for Christians to take various verses in the Bible to imply an immovable Earth surrounded by the revolving heavenly bodies because they had no philosophical or observational reasons to think otherwise."2 It is important to note that taken at face value, these scriptures have always led Bible readers to deduce a stationary earth and a moving universe, and it is only "philosophical or observational" reasons which would make any Bible believer think otherwise.

Mortenson continues "But once the new mathematical descriptions and telescopic observations had been made known, they were forced to reinterpret those verses so as to remove the apparent contradiction between the truth revealed by Scripture and that revealed by God’s creation." Notice that this statement accepts that Scripture is subservient to mathematical description and the interpretation of telescopic observations - in other words, to science. Mathematical description and current interpretation of telescopic observations are accepted as unquestionable truth, the Scriptures must be interpreted to fit in with them. This naturally leads to Mortenson’s next alarming, (but, given this assumption, entirely logical) statement:- "In exactly the same way, the old-Earth proponents reasoned, geology has brought forward observational proof that the Earth is much older than previously thought and so Christians must interpret Genesis 1 and Genesis 6-9 differently, so as to harmonise Scripture with this newly discovered teaching of creation."

Not only creationism, but every aspect of Christianity is critically affected. Bertrand Russel, one of the most influential philosophers of the century noted3 that the authority of the Ten Commandments "rests upon the authority of the Bible, which can only be maintained intact if the Bible is accepted as a whole. When the Bible seems to say that the earth does not move, we must adhere to this statement in spite of the arguments of Galileo ...."

How we deal with this question is obviously vital.

Sarfati’s answer4 is fairly typical of the present day theological position. He points to two factors, "phenomenological language" and the influence of an Aristotelian world-view. While both are popular arguments, both are lacking in credibility. Attributing it to the influence of Aristotle’s world view is not convincing for Luther, Calvin, Owen, Wesley, or a host of other reformers. It is certainly not true of Perry G. Phillips. His primary influence is the Newtonian word-view, not that of Aristotle, but he can still see that the scriptures are geocentric if taken at face value.

Sarfati’s other explanation:- "the Biblical writers were merely using phenomenological language (language of appearances)...", is also unconvincing. This is simply another way of stating Russel Humphreys’ explanation 5, that the Bible deals with "the earth’s reference frame". To state that a Biblical statement is only describing appearances implies that we actually know the true truth. Equivalently to say it is only referring to "the earth’s reference frame" implies that we know there is a more fundamental reference frame - or that there is absolutely no fundamental frame at all! In cases where the Scriptures themselves make it clear that a passage is figurative or phenomenological we have no difficulty. But in a case like this, where there are repeated statements pointing to the same idea, not one refuting it, and no Scriptural indication why it should be considered figurative, we are pitting science against Scripture . We are claiming that science knows the truth about something of which the Scriptures know only appearances.

Do we really have so much confidence in fallible science? A discipline dependent wholly on the wisdom of man, and with a very poor history of reliability! As Douglas Jones pointed out in Credenda6 :

"The odd thing is that science has such a ridiculous track record to serve as such a powerful veto-house of truth. If we think in terms of centuries and millennia, few other disciplines turn inside-out so flippantly and quickly as the natural sciences. Nothing can take the puff out of the scientific chest more than a study of its history. Perhaps that's why it's so rare to find science departments requiring courses in the history of science. The history of science provides great strength to the inductive inference that, at any point in its history, that day's science will almost certainly be deemed false, if not laughable, within a century (often in much less time)."

Do we not have further reason for doubt about the infallibility of currently accepted theories in the light of the "Quotable Quote" (from one of the world’s most respected cosmologists) on page 180 of CEN Tech J. Vol.10 part 2:- " ...I can construct you a spherically symmetrical universe with Earth at its centre, and you cannot disprove it based on observations".7 If observations cannot discredit the Biblical view then what good reason have we for preferring the establishment’s opinion?

Even if we do accept the authority of establishment science and treat the verses which former generations of Christians considered authoritative as only "phenomenological", we have more difficulty today in ignoring the Bible’s geocentricity than they did. We need to take into consideration not only the apparently geocentric verses, but also the Bible’s implied cosmology. Genesis 1 clearly has the earth in a stable condition, with its water gathered into the sea and its land populated with vegetation, before the other heavenly bodies (and the sun in particular) were created. From the point of view of Newtonian mechanics (which was the factor which firmly established geocentricity as untenable) there are major problems if the earth is suddenly to start circling the newly created sun.

One can get over this difficulty (accepting again the authority of mathematical description!) by appealing to Einstein’s theory of gravity, with its Riemanian geometry of warped space-time. God could then have created space and time with such a warp that the earth would be effectively circling the spot where the sun would eventually be created. But here we have more problems. Firstly, Job 26:7 tells us "He hangeth the earth on nothing" rather than that He sets it hurtling around a warp in space-time at well over a hundred thousand kilometres per hour. Secondly if we are going to base our cosmology on Einstein’s theories, we have to assume an unbounded creation to avoid the conclusion that the universe is geocentric anyway. Since the scriptures point to a bounded universe the modern Bible-reader has more "explaining away" to do than ever before.

Perhaps the solution might be found in Mortenson’s: "In exactly the same way, the old-Earth proponents reasoned, geology has brought forward observational proof that the Earth is much older than previously thought and so Christians must interpret Genesis 1 and Genesis 6-9 differently, so as to harmonise Scripture with this newly discovered teaching of creation."

I think few creationists are convinced today that geology had actually brought forth observational proof that the Earth is much older than the Bible says. Certainly there were observations which were very convincingly interpreted in terms of great age. There were observations which seemed to many at the time to have no convincing explanation except great age. But many competent scientists now doubt that those popular interpretations actually constitute irrefutable "proof". Could it be that "in exactly the same way" there are deficiencies in the proof that the creation is not geocentric?

A warning bell should ring when one considers R.G.Elmendorf’s longstanding offer of a cash prize for proof that the earth is moving. No such proof has so far been presented.

Another bell can be heard in the remarkable statement from Harold Gee, in Space: The eye of the beholder in Nature - Science Update 15th January 1998, Nature’s Internet edition :

"Since the days of Copernicus and Galileo, astronomers have gone to great lengths to stress that mankind is not at the centre of the Universe. It is ironic, then, that there are times, even today, when this line of anthropocentric thinking is the only way to make some aspects of the cosmos intelligible."

In a specialist Internet discussion group, Dr. Arnold Sikkema, a physicist from the university of Florida stated8 "... no physicist I know says that the earth in any absolute sense travels around the sun." .... "Science today does not claim that there is an absolute reference frame in which the earth is moving. Newton thought that, but after Einstein, no informed scientist still makes that claim."

Which leads to Humphreys’ explanation:-Scripture looks at things "In the earth’s reference frame". If the Bible deals with truth, with absolutes, it is surely dubious to explain away the "geocentric" implications as just applying to an arbitrary frame of reference, even if this is a view acceptable to today’s scientists - a view based on the authority of Einstein, who said there was no such thing as an absolute frame of reference.

Genesis 1:16 states: "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also." Throughout history the greater light which rules the day has been taken as the sun, the lesser light which rules the night has been taken as the moon. From some arbitrary reference frame, in the Andromeda Galaxy, for example, could the sun in any way fulfil its God-given function of ruling the day? It would be invisible without an extremely powerful telescope! The sun can fulfil its designated function only within the solar system. The moon is even more restricted. It can fulfil its God-given role in creation from only one reference frame - the frame centred on the earth.

Since science now admits to being unable to prove that this is not the absolute reference frame for creation, is there any good reason why we should not accept the Bible’s clear statements as absolutely true? Have we any solid ground for claiming that its clear statements are only "figurative", or only apply to an arbitrary frame of reference? Have we any grounds for thinking that the interpretation that Timothy would undoubtedly have made is wrong?


(1) Phillips P.G., C.E.N. Tech J Vol 11 no.2, 1997, p.190

(2) Mortenson T., C.E.N. Tech J Vol 11 no.2, 1997, p.224

(3) Russel B., Religion And Science, OUP, (1970) p.11

(4) Sarfati J.D., C.E.N. Tech J Vol 11 no.2, 1997, pp.195-198

(5) Humphreys D.R., C.E.N. Tech J Vol 11 no.2, 1997, pp.199-201

(6) Jones D., A Rating System for Science, Credenda Vol 9 no 1.

(7) Ellis George, cited by Gibbs, W.W. in Scientific American 273(4):29 1995

(8) Sikkema A., "Absolute Frame", REFNET Geocentricity Study Group, 24 Jul 1997

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