The First Seven Days
by Dr. Benjamin Wiker
Mathematician and philosopher of science John Lennox has debated Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Peter Singer, and Michael Shermer. Always a Christian gentleman Lennox doesn’t back down from any fight for the faith. His new book, Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science, helps Christians understand the relationship between Genesis and Science.
No doubt you’ve read John Lennox’s The Theory of Infinite Soluble Groups, one of his two books in the prestigious Oxford Mathematical Monographs, or perhaps a dozen or so of the sixty or so technical mathematical papers written by this world class mathematician?
Perhaps not. I know that I couldn’t understand even the first paragraph of any of his signal contributions to mathematical theory. In any case, there’s no doubt of Lennox’s intellectual abilities. Unlike his usual atheist adversaries, Lennox has made his mark—a very big mark—in one of the most demanding of academic disciplines.
And he continues to do so, but now he’s twice as busy, given his life as an evangelical Christian apologist. As an evangelical who’s also an historian of science, Lennox is in a good position to offer careful reflections on the relationship of Genesis to science.
Whether one ultimately agrees with his reflections, fellow evangelical Christians will want to take them seriously because of Lennox’s evident deep faith and scholarship. Certainly, non-believers must take them seriously because of Lennox’s intellectual credentials in regard to both mathematics and science.
For Lennox, Christians must avoid three errors when trying to understand the relationship of Genesis to contemporary science.
One is to tie our interpretation of Scripture too tightly to the science of the day. In the day of Copernicus and Galileo, the Ptolemaic science posited a fixed earth with the sun moving around it. Many theologians rejected the notion that the earth moved based upon the authority of the science of their day, and saw Scripture as confirming the Ptolemaic view. The same error occurs today with those who uncritically accept Darwinism and try to mold Scripture accordingly.
A second, related error, one far more common today, is to accept the science of today uncritically, and then maintain that Scripture is concerned only with theology and morality, and not at all with science—a “science teaches you about the heavens, and religion about how to get to heaven” approach.
A third error is to reject science or press it to conform to our view of Scripture. Here, Lennox quotes St. Augustine, a great authority for both Protestants and Catholics. Writing in the early 5th century, Augustine warns his fellow Christians that non-believers often know something about astronomy. “Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these [scientific] topics.” To do so, invites unbelievers to “laugh it to scorn.” The essential problem, Augustine remarks, is evangelical. If unbelievers “find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well [e.g., astronomy], and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books [i.e., Scripture], how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven…?” In other words, if we show ourselves to be woefully ignorant of science, either distorting or dismissing it, unbelievers will simply dismiss Christianity in turn. We will then have failed in our Christ-mandated goal to go and make disciples of all the nations.
Lennox wants to avoid all three errors in his attempt to understand Genesis. “Let me make my position clear,” says Lennox early on. “I am a scientist who believes Scripture to be the Word of God. I am not shy, therefore, of drawing scientific implications from it, where warranted. However, saying Scripture has scientific implications does not mean that the Bible is a scientific treatise from which we can deduce Newton’s Laws, Einstein’s equations, or the chemical structure of common salt.”
We might put Lennox’s position this way. Since Scripture is the Word of God, and the Jesus Christ was the Word through Whom all things were made, we should expect to find that Scripture has something significant to say about creation (and hence has implications for science), even though its main purpose is the revelation of salvation. But that doesn’t mean we treat Scripture as a detailed science book.
Lennox therefore rejects the Young Earth Creationist position, and the notion that the creation week is simply defined by six literal, consecutive 24-hour days. For him, the evidence against these positions is not simply from science, but from a careful reading of Scripture itself. Scripture leaves the age of the earth indeterminate, and doesn’t demand that the six days be six 24-hour periods.
Yet, Lennox thinks that the six-day account leading up to the Sabbath does rightly correspond to “a sequence of creation acts,” each beginning with a sudden act of God’s creation, a “fiat” day in which “God injected a new level of information and energy into the cosmos, in order to advance creation to its next level of form and complexity.”
These “fiat” days, corresponding to the six creation days in Genesis, would each be followed by an “unspecified period of time after that particular creation day” when creation developed the potential of that particular day. Any particular creation day could, then, be followed by millions of years of working out the potential. Thus, while he admits evolution, this evolution has its origin in divine “fiat” days.
For Lennox, this conforms to what we actually find through science. A universe that pops into being from nothing, the sudden appearance of the most primitive life on earth, and the geological evidence that reveals the sudden appearances of new levels of complexity after that.
And the arrival of human beings? Obviously, even science must admit that the general pattern of development follows the biblical account in its order: the earth was here before there was any life, and a variety of life preceded the appearance of human life. But “on the internal evidence of Scripture, the dating of the age of humanity is indeterminate.” Even though it is indeterminate, Lennox rejects the purely Darwinian notion that human beings are merely the result of random mutations. Scripture is clear that human beings are somehow specially created in the image of God. “It is simply false to suggest, as some do, that the only alternative to young-earth creationism is to accept the Darwinian model.”
For Lennox, human beings really are, in the most important way, the centerpiece of the cosmos, the pinnacle of creation. And here, he brings science in as his witness. The latest science not only show that the universe was created out of nothing, but that it was intricately, finely-tuned, and in fact, finely-tuned for life. To be more exact, the universe and the earth itself are uniquely suited for human life. We are not an accident of evolution; the entire universe has been aiming at us.
While it is science telling us that today, it is obviously a glorious affirmation of what Scripture has been telling us from the very beginning.