RPM, Volume 16, Number 50, December 7 to December 13, 2014

Systematic Theology

By R. L. Dabney, D. D., LL. D.

Chapter 19: Creation

Terms Defined.
Creation out of Nothing.
The Atomic, Pantheistic and Platonic Schemes Refuted.
Proofs from Scripture, from Reason, and Objections to the Eternity of the Universe and Matter.
No Creature can be Enabled to Create.
The Creative Week.
Theories of Modern Geologists concerning the Age of the Earth.
Their Grounds and modes of Reconciling them with Mosaic History.
[Lecture 23]

Note: some of the "words" in the original text in unintelligible. We have left the original "words" just as they are presently found in the text.

Section Two—Basic Doctrines of the Faith

Chapter 19: Creation

Syllabus for Lecture 23:

1. What is the usage and meaning of the word 'create' in Scripture?
Turrettin, Loc. 5., Qu. 1. Lexicons. Dick, Lecture 37.

2. How else have philosophers accounted for the existence of the universe, except by a creation out of nothing?
Turrettin, ubi supra. Dick, as above. Brucher's Hist. of Phil. British Encyclopedias articles "Atomic Philosophy," and "Platonism."

3. Prove that God created the world out of nothing; first from Scripture, and second, from Reason and the objections to the eternity of the Universe and matter.
Turrettin, Loc. 5., Qu. 3. Dr. S. Clarke, Discourses of Being, etc., of God. Dick, as above. Hodge Theology, Vol. 1., pp. 558, etc. Thornwell, Lecture 9, pp. 206-7 Christlieb, Mod. Doubt and Chr. Belief, Lect. 3.

4. Can a creature receive the power of creating, by delegation from God?
Turrettin, Loc. 5., Qu. 2.

5. What was each day's work of creation, in the Mosaic week?
Genesis, ch. 1. Turrettin, Loc. 5., Qu. 5, 6. On this and the previous questions, see Knapp's Chr. Theol., Art. 5., 45 to 50.

6. What are the theories of modern Geologists concerning the age of the earth? Their grounds, and the several modes proposed for reconciling them with the Mosaic history?
Hitchcock's Relig. and Geology. Univ. Lectures, Dr. Lewis Green. Hugh
Miller, Testimony of the Rocks. Tayler Lewis' Symbol Days. David, N. Lord on Geol. Sir Charles Lyell's System of Geol. Dr. Gerald Molloy Wiseman's Lectures, etc.

Terms Defined.

The words rendered to create, cannot be considered, in their etymology and usage, very distinctive of the nature of the act. The authorities make ar;B; mean "to cut or carve," primarily; (from the idea of splitting off parts, or separation) hence "to fashion," then to "create;" and thence the more derivative sense of producing or generating, regenerating the heart, etc. The verb hc;[; carries, according to the authorities, more of the sense of the Greek verb poiew—to do or to make," and is used for fashioning, manufacturing, doing (as a function or business), acquiring property, etc. The verb rx'y seems to me to carry more distinctively the idea of fashioning out of pre–existent materials, as a potter rxe/y out of clay, etc. And it will be observed that wherever it is applied to making man or animals in Gen., the material out of which, is mentioned or implied, as Gen. 2:7. God fashioned man r10, yIYws out of the dust of the earth. The word usually employed from Greek in Septuagint and New Testament to express the idea of creating, as distinguished from begetting or generating is ktizw. This, authorities say, means primarily to "found," or "build," and hence, "to make," "create."

Creation Was Out of Nothing.

It will be clearly seen hence, that the nature of the creative act is but faintly defined by the mere force of the words. Yet Scripture does not lack passages, which explicitly teach, that God produced the whole Universe out of nothing by His almighty power; i. e. , that His first work of creation did not consist merely of fashioning materials already existent, but of bringing all substance, except His own, out of non-existence into existence. How impossible this seemed to the ancient mind appears from this fact, that the opposite was regarded as an axiom (ex nihilo nihil fit) and lay as such at the basis of every system of human device. So that it was from an accurate knowledge, that the author of Hebrews says (11:3,) that the true doctrine of creation was purely one of faith. And this is our most emphatic proof text. We may add to it (Rom. 4:17; perhaps 1 Cor. 1:28; 2 Cor. 4:6; Acts 17:28; Col. 1:17). The same meaning may be fairly argued for the word ar;B; (Gen. 1:1), from the fact that its sense there is absolutely unqualified or limited by any previous proposition, or reference to any material, and also from the second verse. The work of the first verse expressed by ar;B; left the earth a chaos. Therefore it cannot contain the idea of fashioning, so that if you refuse to it the sense of an absolute production out of nothing, you seem to leave it no meaning whatever. This truth also appears very strongly, from the contrast which is so often run by Scripture between God's eternity and the temporal nature of the creation. See Ps. 90:2; Matt. 25:34; 2 Tim. 1:9; Rev. 1:11 and especially Prov. 8:23-26, "nor the highest part of the dust of the world." It is hard to see how it could be more strongly asserted, that not only was the organization, but the very material of the world as yet all non-existent.

This Inscrutable, But Not Impossible.

How almighty power brings substance into existence from absolute non–entity, our minds may not be able to conceive. Like so many other questions of ontology, it is too impalpable for the grasp of our understandings. As we have seen, the mind neither sees nor conceives substance, not even material; but only its attributes; only, it is intuitively impelled to refer those attributes (of which alone it has perception, to some substratum as the substance in which they inhere. The entity itself being mysterious, it need not surprise us to find that its rise out of non-entity is so. It is objected that a creation out of nothing is a contradiction, because it makes nothing a material to act on, and thus, an existence. We reply that this is a mere play upon the meaning of a preposition; We do not mean that "nothing" is a material out of which existences are fashioned; but the term from which an existence absolutely begins. God created a world where nothing was before. Is it objected that, in all our experiential knowledge of causation, the object to receive, is as necessary as the agent to emit power? True; but our knowledge of power is not an experimental idea, but an intuitive, rational notion; and in the most ordinary effect which we witness, is as really inscrutable to our perception and imagination, as the causation of a totally new existence. The latter is beyond our finite powers; we are certainly incompetent to say that it is beyond the reach of infinite power. So, all the transcendental difficulties which Pantheists make against a creation ex nihilo, have this common vice: They are attempts to bring down to our conceptual forms of thought the relations of the infinite, which inevitably transcend them.

There are three other schemes which offer us an alternative to this of an absolute creation; that of the atomic philosophers, that of the Platonists, and that of the Pantheists.

Atomic Theory. Refutation.

The ante-Socratic Greek philosopher Democritus, along with Leucippus, proposed the Atomic theory of the Universe, which was later adopted by Epicurus, and greatly opposed by Plato and his followers. This particular theory might be expressed in such a way, if it were freed from the mechanical technicalities of the Greeks, so as to embrace as few absurdities as perhaps any possible anti-Christian system. That is, it has the merit of atheism, of making two or three gigantic falsehoods, assumed at the outset, supersede a whole train of minor absurdities. Grant, say the atomists, the eternal existence of matter, in the state of ultimate atoms, endued by the necessity of nature, with these three eternal attributes, motion, a perpetual appetency to aggregation, and diversity of ultimate form, and you have all that is necessary, to account for universal organization. Now, without dwelling on the metaphysical objection (whose soundness is questionable) that necessary existence is inconsistent with diversity of form, these obvious reasons show that the postulates are not only unproved (proof I have never seen attempted) but impossible. First: motion is not a necessary attribute of matter: but on the contrary, it is indifferent to a state of rest or motion, requiring power to cause it to pass out of either state into the opposite. Second: Intelligent contrivance could never be generated by mere necessary, mechanical aggregations of material atoms; but remains still an effect without a cause. Third: the materialistic account of human and other spirits, which this theory gives, is impossible.

Platonic Scheme. Refutation.

The Pantheistic theory has been already refuted, as space would allow, in the first Chapter. The Platonic is certainly attended with fewest absurdities, and best satisfied the demands of thinking minds not possessed of Revelation. Starting; with the maxim ex nihilo nihil fit, it supposes two eternal substances, the sources of all that exists; the spiritual God, and chaotic matter; the spirits of demi-gods, and men being emanations of the former, and the material universe having been fashioned out of the latter, in time, through the agency of the Nous or Dhmiourgos. The usual arguments against the eternity of the unorganized matter of the universe, have been weighed in the Second Lecture, and many of them found wanting, (which see). I now aim only to add to what is there said, such considerations as human reason seems able to advance solidly against this doctrine. You will remember that I there argued, 1st: From the testimony of the human race itself, and 2nd, from the recency of population, history, traditions, arts, etc., on the earth, against the eternity of its organized state. To this we may add: 3rd. If matter unorganized was eternal, it must have been self-existent, and hence, whatever attributes it had from eternity must have been absolutely necessary. Hence there was a necessary limitation on the power of God, in working with such a material; and it may be that He did not make what He would have preferred to make, but only did the best He could under the circumstances. (Indeed, the Platonist, knowing nothing of the doctrine of a fall in Adam, accounted for all the disorders and defects in the world, by the refractory nature of eternal matter. The creator excuses himself as a smith does, who, though thoroughly skillful, produces an imperfect edge-tool, because he had nothing but bad steel). But, if this is so, then: (a) God as Creator is not infinite; there are limitations upon His powers, as necessary and eternal as His own attributes. And these limits obstruct His providential action as they did His creative. Hence, He is no longer an. object of religious trust, and perfect confidence. He is only an able artifices. (b) Then, also, God's knowledge of this self–existent matter, external to Himself, was experimentally gained; and the doctrine of His omniscience is fatally vitiated. 4th. The elementary properties of matter, which on this theory, must have been eternal and necessary, have an adaptation to God's purposes in creation, that displays intelligent contrivance, just as clearly as any organized thing can. But matter is unintelligent; this design must have had a cause. 5th. The production of spiritual substance out of nothing is, we presume, just as hard to account for as material substance. Hence, if an instance of the former is presented, the doctrine of the eternity of the Universe may as well be surrendered. But our souls each present such an instance. No particle of evidence exists from consciousness or recollection, that they pre-existed, and everything is against the notion that they are scintillations of God's substance. They began to exist: at least man has no knowledge whatever of any other origin: and by the rule: De ignotis idem quasi de non existentibus, any other origin is out of the debate. They were produced out of nothing. In conclusion, it may be said that, if the idea of the production of something out of nothing is found to be not impossible, as we think, when we have supposed an Almighty Creator, we have cause enough to account for everything, and it is unnecessary to suppose another.

No Creature Can Be Enabled To Create.

The question whether a creature can receive, if God choose, delegated power to create, has been agitated between the Orthodox and some of the Roman Catholics, (who would fain introduce a plea for the making of a Savior by the priest, in the pretended miracle of the mass) and the old Arians and Socinians, who would thus evade the argument for Christ's proper divinity, from the evident ascription to Him of works of creation. We believe not only that the noblest of finite creatures is incapable of exercising creative power proper, of his own motion; but of receiving it by delegation from God, so that the latter is one of those natural s which it would argue imperfection in omnipotence to be capable of doing.

(a) God, in a multitude of places, claims creation as His characteristic work, by which His Godhead is manifested, and His superiority shown to all false gods and idols (Isa. 44:7, 24, 40:12 13 18, 28: Job 9:8; Jer. 10:11, 12; Isa. 37:16; Ps. 96:5). Thus Creator comes to be one of God's names.

(b) To bring anything, however small, out of non-existence is so far above man's capabilities, that he cannot even conceive how it can be done. In order that a work may be conceivable or feasible for us, it must have subject and agent. Man has no faculty which can be directed upon non-entity in any way, to bring anything out of it. Indeed, however small the thing thus produced out of nothing; there is an exertion of infinite power. The distance to be passed over between the two is a fathomless gulf to every finite mind.

(c.) To make one thing, however limited, might require infinite powers of understanding For however simple, a number of the laws of nature would be involved in its structure; and the successful construction would demand a perfect acquaintance with those laws, at least, in their infinite particularity, and in all their possible combinations, and with the substance as well as attributes. Consider any of the constructions of man's shaping and joining materials God has given him, and this will be found true. The working of miracles by prophets, apostles, etc., offers no instance to the contrary, because it is really God who works the miracle, and the human agent only announces, and appeals to the interposition of divine power. See Acts 3:12.

The Creative Week.

If we suppose that Genesis 1:1 describes a previous production in a time left indefinite, of the heavens and the matter of the earth, then the work of the first of the six days will be the production of light. It may seem unreasonable at the first glance, that light should be created, and should make three days before the sun, its great fountain at present, was formed. But all the researches of modern optics go more and more to overthrow the belief that light is a substantive emanation from the sun. What it is, whether a substance, or an affection of other substance, is still unknown. Hence it cannot be held unreasonable that it should have existed before the sun; nor that God should have regulated it in alternations of day and night. On the second day the atmosphere seems to have been created, (the expanse) or else disengaged from chaos, and assigned its place around the surface of the earth. This, by sustaining the clouds, separated the waters from the waters. The work of the third day was to separate the terrestrial waters from the dry ground, to assign each their bounds, and to stock the vegetable kingdom with its genera of trees and plants. The fourth day was occupied with the creation, or else the assignment to their present functions, of sun, moon and stars. And henceforth these became the chief depositories, or else propagators, of natural light. The fifth day witnessed the creation of all oviparous animals, including the three classes of fishes, reptiles and birds. The sixth day God created the terrestrial animals of the higher order, now known as mammalia, and man, His crowning work.

The View of Modern Geology Explained.

In our age, as you are aware, modern geologists teach, with great unanimity, that the state of the structures which compose the earth's crust shows it to be vastly more than 6,000 years old. To explain this supposed evidence to you, I may take for granted your acquaintance with the classes into which they distribute the rocks and soils that form the earth, so far as man has pierced it. Lowest in order, and earliest in age, are the azoic rocks, many of them crystalline in texture, and all devoid of fossils. Above them are rocks, by the older geologists termed secondary and tertiary, but now termed palaeozoic; mesozoic, and cainozoic. Above them are alluvia, the more recent of which contain remains of existing genera. Only the barest outline of their classification is necessary for our purpose. Now, the theory of the geologists is, that the materials of the stratified rocks were derived, by disintegration, from masses older than themselves; and that all this material has been re-arranged by natural processes of deposition, since the creation of our globe. And hence, that creation must have been thousands of ages before Adam. (a.) Because the crystalline rocks, which are supposed to have furnished the material for all the later, seemed to have resulted from a gradual cooling, and are very hard, disintegrating very slowly. (b.) The made-rocks and earths are very abundant, giving an average thickness of from six to ten miles. Hence a very great time was requisite to disintegrate so much hard material. (c.) The position of these made strata or layers, indicates long series of changes, since they were deposited, as upheavals, dislocations, depressions, subsequent re-dissolvings.

(d.) They contain 30, 000 species and more, of fossil remains of animal life, besides vegetable; of which, not only are whole genera now extinct, but were wholly extinct ages before another cluster of genera were first created; which are now extinct also. And the vast quantities of these fossils, as shells in some limestone, remains of vegetation in vast coal beds, etc., etc., point to a long time, for their gradual accumulation.

(f.) There are no human fossils found with these remains of earlier life, whence they were pre-Adamite.

Last. Since the last great geologic changes in the strata of the made rocks, changes have been produced in them by natural and gradual causes, which could not have been made in 6, 000 years, as whole deltas of alluvial mud deposited, e. g. Louisiana, deep channels dug out by rivers, as Niagara from Lake Ontario to the falls, water worn caves in the coast lines, and former coast lines of countries, e. g., Great Britain, which are rock-bound.

Attempts To Reconcile This With Moses. 1st Scheme.

Modern divines, usually yield this as a demonstration: and offer one of two solutions to rescue Moses from the appearance of mistake. 1. Drs. Pye Smith, Chalmers, Hitchcock, Hodge, etc., suppose Genesis 1:1 and 2, 1st clause, to describe God's primeval, creative act; which may have been separated by thousands of ages from Adam's day, and in that vast interval, occurred all those successive changes which geologists describe as pre-Adamite, and then lived and died all those extinct genera of animals and vegetables. The scene had been closed, perhaps ages before, by changes which left the earth's surface void, formless and dark. But all this Moses passes over with only one word; because the objects of a religious revelation to man were not concerned with it. The second verse only describes how God took the earth in hand, at this stage, and in six days gave it the order, the genera of plants and animals, and last, the human race, which now possesses it.

The geological objections which Hugh Miller, its ablest Christian assailant, brings, may be all summed up in this: That the fossils show there was not such a clean cutting off of all the genera of plants and animals at the close of the pre-Adamite period, and re-stocking of the earth with the existing genera; because many of the existing co-exist with the prevalent pleiogenera, in the tertiary rocks, and many of those again, with the older genera, in the palaeozoic rocks. This does not seem at all conclusive, because it may have suited God, at the close of the pre-Adamite period, to suffer the extinction of all, and then to create, along with the totally different new genera, some bearing so close a likeness to some extinct genera, as to be indistinguishable by their fossils.

Exegetical Difficulties.

The exegetical objections are chiefly these. 1. That the sun, moon and light were only created at the Adamic period. Without these there could have been neither vegetable nor animal life before. 2. We seem to learn from Genesis 1:31; 3:17-19; Romans 5:12; 8:19-22, that all animal suffering and death came upon our earth as a punishment for man's sin; which our conceptions of the justice and benevolence of God seem to confirm. To the 1st the common answer is, that the chaotic condition into which the earth had fallen just before the Adamic period, had probably shut out all influences of the heavenly bodies; and that the making of sun, moon, etc., and ordaining them for lights, etc., probably only means their apparent creation, i. e. , their reintroduction to the earth. To the 2nd it is replied, that the proper application of the texts attributing all terrestrial disorder and suffering to man's fall, is only to the earth as contemporary with man; and that we are too ignorant of God's plan, and of what sin of rational free agents may, or may not have occurred on the pre-Adamite earth, to dogmatize about it. These replies seem plausible, and may be tenable. This mode of reconciling geology to Moses, is certainly the least objectionable, and most respectable.

The Theory of Six Symbolic Days.

The second mode of reconciliation, now made most fashionable by H. Miller, Tayler Lewis, etc., supposes that the word µ/y day, in the account of creation, does not mean a natural day of 24 hours, but is symbolical of a vast period; during which God was, by natural laws, carrying on changes in the earth's surface and its inhabitants. And they regard the passage as an account of a sort of symbolic vision, in which God gave Moses a picture, in six. tableaux, of these six vast series of geologic and creative changes: so that the language is, to use Dr. Kurtz' (of Dorpat) fantastic idea, a sort of prophecy of the past, and is to be understood according to the laws of prophetic symbols. This they confirm by saying that Moses makes three days before he has any sun or moon to make them: that in Genesis 2:4, the word is used for something other than a natural day; and that it is often used in Hebrew as a general and undefined term for season or period. Miller also argues, that geology reveals the same succession of fossils which Moses describes; first plants, then monstrous fishes and reptiles and birds, (all oviparous), then quadrupeds and mammalia, and last, man.


The following objections lie against this scheme. Geologists are not agreed that the succession of fossils is that which its advocates assert. Some of the weightiest authorities declare that plants (assigned by this scheme to the third day, and to the earliest production of organic things) are not the earliest fossils. Crustaceous and even vertebrate animals precede the plants. Second. The narrative seems historical, and not symbolical; and hence the strong initial presumption is, that all its parts are to be taken in their obvious sense. The advocates of the symbolic days (as Dr. G. Molloy) attach much importance to their claim that theirs is not an afterthought, suggested by geologic difficulties, but that the exposition was advanced by many of the "Fathers." After listening to their citations, we are constrained to reply that the vague suggestions of the different Fathers do not yield them any support, because they do not adopt their theory of explanation. Third. The sacred writer seems to shut us up to the literal interpretation, by describing the day as composed of its natural parts, "morning and evening." Is the attempt made to break the force of this, by reminding us, that the "evening and the morning "do not make up the whole of the civic day of twenty–four hours; and that the words are different from those just before, and commonly afterwards employed to denote the "day" and the "night," which together make up the natural day? We reply: it is true, morning and evening do not literally fill the twenty-four hours. But these epochs mark the beginnings of the two seasons, day and night, which do fill the twenty-four hours. And it is hard to see what a writer can mean, by naming evening and morning as making a first, or a second "day"; except that he meant us to understand that time which includes just one of each of these successive epochs:—one beginning of night, and one beginning of day. These gentlemen cannot construe the expression at all. The plain reader has no trouble with it. When we have had one evening and one morning, we know we have just one civic day; for the intervening hours have made just that time. Fourth. In Genesis 2:2, 3; Exodus 20:11, God's creating the world and its creatures in six days, and resting the seventh, is given as the ground of His sanctifying the Sabbath day. The latter is the natural day; why not the former? The evasions from this seem peculiarly weak. Fifth. It is freely admitted that the word day is often used in the Greek Scriptures as well as the Hebrew (as in our common speech) for an epoch, a season, a time. But yet, this use is confessedly derivative. The natural day is its literal and primary meaning. Now, it is apprehended that in construing any document, while we are ready to adopt, at the demand of the context, the derived or tropical meaning, we revert to the primary one, when no such demand exists in the context. Last. The attributing of the changes ascribed to each day by Moses, to the slow operation of natural causes, as Miller's theory does, tramples upon the proper scope of the passage, and the meaning of the word "create;" which teach us this very truth especially; that these things were not brought about by natural law at all, but by a supernatural divine exertion, directly opposed thereto See Gen. 2:5. If Moses does not here mean to teach us that in the time named by the six "days" (whatever it may be), God was employed in miraculously creating and not naturally "growing" a world, I see not how language can be construed. This; decisive difficulty is wholly separate from the questions about the much debated word, "day," in this passage.

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