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A helpful contribution to the debate
on 27 July 2017
There is much to commend in Seven Days that Divide the World. For example, the author points out that “it was Galileo (who believed in the Bible) who was advancing a better scientific understanding of the universe. He was doing so, as we have seen, not only against the obscurantism of some churchmen, but (and first of all) against the resistance (and obscurantism) of the secular philosophers of his time, who, like the churchmen, were convinced disciples of Aristotle. Philosophers and scientists today also have need of humility in light of facts, even if those facts are being pointed out by a believer in God! Lack of belief in God is no more a guarantee of scientific orthodoxy than is belief in God. What is clear, concerning both Galileo’s time and ours, is that criticism of a reigning scientific paradigm is fraught with risk, no matter who engages in it” (p35). The author rejects the idea that Adam & Eve originated from a race of Neolithic farmers (pp71-74), a view that, astonishing though it is, is nevertheless common among old earth evangelicals. He argues that the Genesis creation account is not a modification of the Babylonian account, but that the opposite is far more likely to be true. He also argues for an early date for Genesis, and rejects the view that the two accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 contradict each other (pp122-127).
Professor Lennox rejects deism and uniformitarianism (which is distinguishable from the concept of uniformity in nature’s operation). Likewise, he rejects the naturalistic origin of life. He holds that God’s creative activity was completed on day 6. Thereafter, he upholds the finished creation (pp160-161). He accepts the chronological sequence of the Genesis days. Although he rejects much of what is claimed in modern evolutionary biology, as is evident from God’s Undertaker, yet he seems to accept the gradual evolutionary development of living things (p55).
Overall, the author demonstrates a much higher view of Scripture than the vast majority of old earth evangelicals. For that, I am grateful. Nevertheless, I do have a few bones to pick with the author, especially with regard to his handling of the issue of deep time.
On p23 the author says “when we are dealing with a text that was produced in a culture distant from our own both in time and in geography, what we think the natural meaning is may not have been the natural meaning for those to whom the text was originally addressed.” True enough, but how can we possibly determine what the text meant to the original readers, who died several thousand years ago? The best one could do would be to consult the views of today’s orthodox Jewish theologians, who are at least proximate in culture if not in time. I have not found evidence from the book that the author has done that. It would certainly be helpful to know how orthodox Jewish theologians of today interpret the Genesis days.
2 Peter 3:8 is commonly used to justify the day-age interpretation of Genesis 1. It seems obvious to me that Peter is there conveying the idea that God is not restricted by time and duration as we are, not that a day equates to a thousand years. To use this text to justify the day-age theory seems to me to be rather contrived. In any case, those who employ the day-age argument as a means to harmonise with an old universe would have to take each Genesis day to mean, not just a thousand years, but a few billion! This strained interpretation is lessened in the Lennox model, but not by much. The creation days, or at least the creation week, would still span a total of 4.5 billion years.
Suggestions by ancient authorities like Augustine that the days do not mean literal 24-hour days stems from their belief in instanteous creation, so it is not valid to infer that they held an old earth/universe view. Those who held the day-age theory might have done. Augustine, on the other hand, held firmly to a young earth (YE) view. In chapter 10 of City of God he criticises “those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed.”1 An annotation explains that “Augustin here follows the chronology of Eusebius, who reckons 5611 years from the Creation to the taking of Rome by the Goths; adopting the Septuagint version of the Patriarchal ages.” Chapter 40 of City of God expresses a similar sentiment: “For as it is not yet six thousand years since the first man, who is called Adam, are not those to be ridiculed rather than refuted who try to persuade us of anything regarding a space of time so different from, and contrary to, the ascertained truth?”2.
Given that Augustine questioned the 24-hour day, yet held a YE view, it is not unreasonable to suppose that many (most?) other ancient authorities did the same. I am not myself familiar with the works of the ancient authors, and therefore refrain from further comment. But creationist Jonathan Sarfati3, using documented quotes of Josephus, Basil, Ambrose, Lactantius, and Irenaeus, challenges the claim that these authors rejected a 24-hour interpretation of Genesis 1. Sarfati also provides a quote from Origen, which shows his belief in a YE. The onus is therefore on Professor Lennox to provide documented quotes from those who held an old earth view. Even in the case of those ancient authors who held the day-age theory, would they really have countenanced the view that a day could be interpreted to mean billions of years? I hardly think so. Indeed, can Lennox himself (who does take the Bible seriously) justify so extreme a hermeneutical approach?
The Professor suggest a 3-part structure to Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 (p48 + p52f). He claims that “day 1 begins in verse 3 and not in verse 1” (p52), and justifies it on textual grounds. “This implies that “the beginning” of Genesis 1:1 did not necessarily take place on day 1 as is frequently assumed. The initial creation took place before day 1, but Genesis does not tell us how long before. This means that the question of the age of the earth (and of the universe) is a separate question from the interpretation of the days ... quite apart from any scientific considerations, the text of Genesis 1:1, in separating the beginning from day 1, leaves the age of the universe indeterminate.” “It would therefore be possible to believe that the days of Genesis are twenty-four hour days (of one earth week) and to believe that the universe is very ancient.” (p53). So in the beginning, God did not create the universe instantly, but caused it to evolve over a period of about 9 billion years, up to day 1 when he started to create the earth. But wouldn’t the evolution of the universe have produced, not just the gas clouds followed by the galaxies and stars, but also the solar system and the earth? It seems somewhat contrived to exclude the earth (and possibly the solar system?) from that evolutionary development.
The Professor further suggests that “the six creation days could well have been days of normal length, spaced out at intervals over the entire period of time that God took to complete his work. The outworking of the potential of each creative fiat would occupy an unspecified period of time after that particular creation day” (p55). So God’s creation commands only initiated the process, which then took unspecified periods of time to evolve. He does not explain how he views the sudden appearance of novel body plans. Did these come about on each creation day, or during the unspecified period of time after that particular creation day? In any case, I cannot take seriously the assertion that this strained interpretation is not influenced by the modern scientific concensus!
Lennox sees a problem with day 4 (pp58-59), i.e. the phrase “evening and morning” deos not make sense because the sun had not been created, and we know nothing about another light source. Yet Genesis 1:4-5 clearly says that on day 1 God created light, and divided the light from the darkness. Hence “evening and morning” makes perfect sense to me.
In order to persuade readers that the sophistry commonly employed by old earth evangelicals is not an attempt to harmonise Scripture with the scientific concensus (pp60-61), the author claims a parallel situation arose half a millenium ago. Some church authorities took the foundations and pillars of the earth (Ps 104:5, 1Sam 2:8) to mean a fixed earth, instead of allowing the science of their day to guide their interpretation. I fail to see any parallel. If those church authorities had applied the principle of interpretating Scripture with Scripture (e.g. God hangs the earth upon nothing, Job 26:7) they would have realised that the pillars and foundations are to be interpreted as metaphors. This nullifies the claim that the metaphorical interpretation “relies on (new) scientific knowledge”. It does not.
On the creation of the sun, moon and stars on day 4, Professor Lennox says: “It is, surely, the purpose of the sun, moon, and stars that is being emphasised in day 4, not how and when they came into being” (p105). Allowing, for the sake of argument, that this is true, it still does not imply that they were not created on day 4. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.
One common objection to the day-age, old earth view involves the question of animal suffering prior to the Fall. In order to avoid this problem, The author raises the possibility that the Fall of the human race was preceded by a fall in the animal kingdom, and quotes C. S. Lewis for support (pp82-84). I am puzzled by this. It seems to me that a “fall” in the animal kingdom would presuppose moral awareness and responsibility on the part of animals. But surely animal behaviour is driven by instinct, not guided by moral sensibility. The earlier “fall” must surely have occurred in the angelic realm, and has nothing to do with the animals. Satan can possess an animal, just as easily as he can possess a human being.
In spite of disclaimers, my overall impression is that the ultimate reason for resorting to the kind of sophistry so common among old earth evangelicals is their belief that the secular concensus must be right regarding the question of age, rather than a true conviction that Genesis 1 really is compatible with such vast time scales. This herd instinct is so strong that they never bother to invest the time and energy to investigate the technical literature produced by YE creationists (YECs) on this issue.They simply assume it must be wrong!
This leads me to, respectfully, ask the Professor whether he has made any serious attempt to research the scientific thinking of YECs on the question of deep time. Has he, for example, consulted the detailed research done by scientists at the Institute for Creation Research, i.e. “Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth”? This was published in two volumes in 2000 and 2005 respectively, totalling nearly 1,500 pages, and available as a free download. Has he consulted geologist Andrew Snelling’s two-volume work, “Earth’s Catastrophic Past”, published in two volumes in 2009 and totalling 1,100 pages? Has he read anything from the Proceedings of the International Conference on Creationism, or the Journal of Creation, or the Answers Research Journal (the last is freely available online)? If the answer is no, then on what grounds did he exclude the YE view from discussion in his book?
Instead of interacting with the scientific model that creationists have constructed, Lennox contents himself with quoting the (totally unrepresentative) view of Paul Nelson, while ignoring the views of the vast majority of informed YECs. Many scientists who are now YECs have testified to the fact that they came from either a theistic evolutionist or an atheistic background, and came to embrace the YE view for scientific reasons. Of course, questions and anomalies arise within the YE model, and there is discussion and debate between YECs who are working at resolving them. Anomalies arise in any widely encompassing scientific model, and most certainly in evolutionary cosmology.
Professor Lennox is evidently convinced about the validity of the establishment view on cosmology. Yet John Barrow & Frank Tipler quote G.F.R. Ellis as follows:
We are unable to obtain a model of the Universe without some specifically cosmological assumptions which are completely unverifiable.4
Below is an extract from a Scientific American profile on George Ellis:
People need to be aware that there is a range of models that could explain the observations", Ellis argues. "For instance, I can construct you a spherically symmetrical universe with earth at its centre, and you cannot disprove it based on observations." Ellis has published a paper on this. "You can only exclude it on philosophical grounds. In my view there is absolutely nothing wrong in that. What I want to bring into the open is the fact that we are using philosophical criteria in choosing our models. A lot of cosmology tries to hide that.5
The effect of this philosophical straitjacket is illustrated by the recent experience of physicist John Hartnett:6
in early 2013 I published a cosmology paper in a special journal7, where I found that using a finite bounded expanding universe, with a unique centre and an edge, one could describe the observed large-scale structure of the universe very well.
And one could do so without including ‘dark energy’ or ‘dark matter’, the fudge factors assumed in the standard big bang model.
Soon I received a call from my university’s publicity department who wanted to write a press release on it. She asked me what I felt was important about the paper. I told her that the paper was consistent with the notion that our galaxy could be located in a privileged location in the universe.
This was contrary to the oft quoted cosmological principle which states that there are no privileged locations - that our location is purely random and the universe has no centre or edge. My paper suggested that that is not necessarily so.
Once she understood what I was saying, her facial expression told me everything. She said: “I don’t think we can do anything with this.” I never heard from her again.
I had published the science, passing secular peer-review, but the real story could not be told because it was contrary to the one the establishment promoted.
Modern day cosmology has developed a good ‘story’. The general public know it very well. ... The system adheres to the usual script. If you don’t depart from that you can get out your message. But if you suggest something different - for example, that our galaxy is in a special location in the universe - the response is deafening silence. You, the author, will be ignored. But those who accept the standard paradigm - the big bang story - won’t have any problem getting their message out.
I have to say that Professor Lennox’s confidence that ideologically driven evolutionary scientists “are prepared to modify their theories if evidence warrants it” (p86) is somewhat naive. Yes, they would modify individual theories held within their given paradigm, but they would never compromise on their evolution + deep time paradigm. That is non-negotiable. It is sacrosanct. It is the scientific equivalent of political correctness. And that is the intractable problem facing creationists when it comes to discussing the question of deep time. The Professor is surely aware of this?
Let me end by saying that, having previously read three of the author’s other books, I have come to develop a great respect for the Professor. Although I do not accept the central thesis of Seven Days, and am somewhat disappointed by the book as a whole, my high regard for him as a champion for the Christian faith has not in any way diminished. I wish him God’s blessing.
1. Can be accessed at Christian Classics Ethereal Library website
2. Christian Classics Ethereal Library website
3. Refuting Compromise, Master Books, 2004, pp110-116.
4. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Oxford University Press, 1988, p434.
5. W. Wayt Gibbs, “Thinking Globally, Acting Universally”, Scientific American Oct. 1995, p29.
6. Creation Magazine vol.39 no.2, 2017, p48.
7. Hartnett, J.G., “A valid finite bounded expanding Carmelian universe without dark matter”, Int. J. Theoretical Physics 52(12):4360-4366, 2013.