Answer by Simon Turpin
All page references are from John Lennox, Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011 Copyright Zondervan 2011, ISBN 978-0-310-49217-7
John Lennox is a professor of mathematics and a fellow in the philosophy of science at Oxford University whose book Seven Days That Divide the World Lennox explores the ‘potential minefield’ of the controversy of Genesis and science. Lennox states he wrote the book for people who have been put off considering the Christian faith because of the ‘…very silly, unscientific story that the world was made in seven days (p12)’ and for convinced Christians who are disturbed by the controversy, but also for those who take the Bible seriously but do not agree on the interpretation of the creation account. (p12) Although the book is not intended to be exhaustive in its scope, it has been written in response to many requests made of Dr. Lennox over the years. Lennox, who is an advocate of a type of old earth creationism, does affirm that man is a ‘direct special creation’ (p69) by God and that humans have not evolved, but he asks the apparently contrary question as to whether ‘…it is crucial to the theology of salvation that Adam was the first actual member of a human race physically distinct from all creatures that preceded him?’ (p73)
A History Lesson
Lennox recognizes that this is a controversial topic and that disagreement over it has been, at times, acrimonious. In order to gain perspective on the way to handle this controversy he looks at another major controversy in history: the Copernican revolution. Unfortunately, all Lennox achieves by this approach is to raise the tired old issue of geocentrism, noting that the Bible in certain passages seems to suggest a fixed earth (1 Chron. 16:30; Ps. 93:1; Ps. 104:5; 1 Sam. 2:8) and that the sun moves (Ps. 19:4-6; Eccl. 1:5). (pp16-17) Presuming that his readers today accept the heliocentric view Lennox proceeds to ask: Why do Christians accept this “new” interpretation, and not still insist on a “literal” understanding of the “pillars of the earth”? Why are we not still split up into fixed-earthers and moving-earthers? Is it really because we have all compromised, and made Scripture subservient to science? (p19) For some reason he brings up this issue throughout the book, insisting that if we applied the same reasoning we use to interpret the days literally to the interpretation of the foundation and pillars of the earth, then we would be still insisting that the earth does not move. (p61) .
Lennox tries to show from the history of the Galileo affair that the church got it wrong; therefore we could be getting it wrong too. However, he totally misses the real reason, which is that the Roman Catholic Church in Galileo’s day accepted pagan Greek philosophy as real ‘wisdom’ and that this had to be accommodated in order to understand Scripture and derive theology. Therefore, when the pagan Greek scientist Ptolemy said the earth was at the centre of the solar system, then so be it – scripture had to accommodate this view. Galileo was fighting against the Geocentric view of the academic leaders in the church of his day, whose key interpretive principle was that autonomous human knowledge and traditions of men came first and their way of thinking had to be within the prevailing pagan Aristotelian philosophy.
The irony of this is that today academic leaders in the church such as Lennox use the key interpretive principle that human knowledge (in evolutionary science) and traditions of men (in Geological thinking on the age of the earth) come first. For them, the only way to read Genesis is within this naturalistic framework of Darwinian Old earth thinking, which is still essentially pagan philosophy.
A further irony of this history lesson is that in Galileo’s day the church was interpreting poetical passages, such as the Psalms, as real history to be read literally, whereas today many within the church are saying that Bible passages which are written as historical narrative, such as Genesis 1-3, must be read as poetry.
The sad and unlearnt lesson from Galileo’s day is that many church leaders, archbishops, academics, theologians, Popes etc. still have not learnt from history, insisting on taking the popular ideas of the age, i.e. uniformitarianism/evolution, as their authority rather than allowing the Bible to speak for itself. The historical events surrounding Galileo are a warning to theistic evolutionists and long-agers but not to young earth creationists. To answer Lennox’s question as to why we are not split into fixed-earthers and moving-earthers:
1: Because the Bible does not teach this.
2: Because observational science supports the heliocentric view.
Lennox is a well known evangelical, and he certainly is a skilful apologist for his views. Although Lennox claims to understand Genesis 1-3 as historical narrative, he struggles with an indeterminate date for man’s creation, as well as the problem of the existence of evil and death before the Fall.
A more detailed review of Lennox’s book is available as a PDF here.
The famous poem The Charge of the Light Brigade is about an actual historic event, but no one would or should use the poem as a primary data base. Instead the diaries of those who were there should be the reliable basis for understanding any poetic licence used by the poet. Likewise when the medieval church used the poetry of the psalms as a primary historic data base they ignored the fact that the Psalms are poetic books which include figurative speech so we should be careful of concluding that a specific verse should be read literally unless we have a text written as in literal historic form to use in justification. When the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 93:1b that ‘Indeed, the world is firmly established it will not be moved.’ there is no doubt he was writing Hebrew poetry and was simply using the earth as a poetic frame of reference, just as we do today.
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