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John Lennox

Ages between days

Oxford professor offers a different Creation theory

Ages between days

John Lennox (Photo by Robin Rayne Nelson/Genesis)

John Lennox, 73, is an Oxford University professor of mathematics and philosopher of science. He has written apologetics books such as Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists Are Missing the Target and Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science.

We spoke before Lennox gave a lecture at The University of Texas at Austin. I began by asking what students could learn from courageous Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: Lennox writes about them in his latest book, Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism.

If a graduate student in biology understands that God created the world but decides to pretend he’s a Darwinian—“I’ll get my Ph.D., then get tenure, so I can help someone down the road”—is that wrong? This is not an easy question to answer.

That’s why I’m asking it. We are told what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did, but we are not told how to apply it. You don’t always protest credibly by simply being in your face with people and saying, “I don’t believe X, Y, and Z.” It depends a lot on the person. I’ve had full professors weeping in my presence saying, “My colleagues have silenced me.” I’ve had bright graduate students saying, “We’re doing biology, and if we were to even suggest that we have a very dimensional Christian faith, we’d be looked at negatively, so we have to be very careful.” I would agree with that, but I think silence cannot be the answer because in my experience people who say, “I’ll wait until I get tenure” or “I’ll wait until I become CEO,” etc.—it never happens.

There’s always a reason not to go against the flow. When I was 19 at Cambridge I met my first Nobel Prize winner. I sat by him at dinner and didn’t keep quiet about my Christian faith. I tried to talk to him about God and wasn’t very successful. At the end of the meal he insisted I come to his room for a cup of coffee. He invited three other full professors and just me. He sat me down and said, “Do you want a career in science?” I said, “Yes, sir.” “Give up this childish stuff.” The pressure was colossal. I managed to screw up enough courage to say, “What have you got to offer me? If it’s better than what I’ve got …” He came out with some evolutionism. I said, “If that’s all you have to offer me, I’m going to take the risk.” He was furious, but somehow it put steel into my heart.

 ‘[Christian students’] professional education goes up very rapidly, but their education and knowledge of God through His Word remains almost at Sunday school level. That is disastrous.’

In Seven Days That Divide the World you propose that creation took place in 24-hour days but with long periods between the days. I look at Genesis 1 as minimalist. John unpacks it: “In the beginning was the Word.” That is of profound importance. This is a word-based universe. In Genesis 1 God, who of course could have done everything at once, did it in sequence. He spoke. Then He spoke again. And He spoke again. And it’s those facts of speaking not all at once that opens up a lot of magical possibilities if we are not stuck in assuming—which many people do—that even if they are actual 24-hour days, they are 24-hour days within a single earth week. That is an assumption, and when you look at the actual grammar of the text, it weakens that kind of impression and opens up the possibilities yet more.

Young-earthers and old-earthers debate the length of days, but you distinguish the question of the earth’s age from how long each day was. No matter what you believe about the days, Genesis says nothing about the age of the earth.

Could that short and long timetable go well with neo-Darwinist Stephen Jay Gould’s concept of punctuated equilibrium? In a sense, because punctuated equilibrium translated into ordinary language means periods of stasis, and then something special happens which scientists cannot explain.

But his NOMA idea is inadequate. Gould argued for NOMA [non-overlapping magisteria] as a way to have peace between believers and atheists. That sounds marvelous until you read the small print, which implies that science deals with reality and religion deals with hopes. That’s not very satisfactory.

Some of this gets back to Francis Schaeffer’s analysis of upstairs and downstairs in philosophy. That’s correct.

What do you remember from the time Francis Schaeffer spoke to you and other students in your room at Cambridge during the 1960s? I remember very clearly his capacity to listen to students. One dramatic moment left a great impression on me. A girl who was sitting on the floor (my room was absolutely packed) asked a question. Some of the others in the room started to laugh at her. Schaeffer said, “Your laughter shows you don’t understand what her question is. Her question is important and I want to listen to it.” By doing that he gained everybody’s respect and attention.

What was her question? I can’t remember.

What was his answer? I can’t remember that either, but Schaeffer was very good at unpacking people’s questions. If they didn’t quite understand their question, he would bring it back much better than they could have put it.

Was C.S. Lewis also a good listener? Not under the circumstances in which I met him. In 1962 he did a final eight lectures on John Donne and his poetry. I went and listened to those. It was very cold. Lewis came into the lecture room through double doors. He was wearing a hat, a very long scarf, and a very thick coat, and he started to lecture immediately as he came through the door. The room was full of people sitting on the windowsills, sitting on the floor. As he wound his way to the lectern he was getting his coat off and his scarf and his hat. So by the time he had done all that you’d had about five minutes of a brilliantly delivered lecture. The fun was at the end of it: He reversed the process precisely so he kept lecturing while he got dressed for the outside chill. His last words were uttered as he fled through the double doors.

What is your most important advice to Christian students? I would encourage them to love the Lord with their mind and begin to take Scripture seriously, because in our university system the problem is the two speeds of education. Their professional education goes up very rapidly, but their education and knowledge of God through His Word remains almost at Sunday school level. That is disastrous, because when someone talks to them about their faith in God, they blurt out some totally inadequate answer, and people see that they haven’t thought it through. That often has the effect of privatizing them permanently. I would want to encourage them very strongly and try to build up their confidence in God and His Word. I know of no other way of doing that but expounding the Word of God, and you can’t do that in two minutes.

And to non-Christians? I would want to drive a very big hole in their notion that science has somehow made it impossible to believe in God.

Comments

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  • Just Me 999
    Posted: Thu, 03/09/2017 06:52 am

    Interesting article.

    People have talked about the long days scenario, etc before - the problem with it and Genesis 1 is that day 3 produces grass and seeds and Day 4 the great lights (Sun. Moon and stars). So how do you grow seeds with no great lights for possibly the billions of years between the two days?

    It is also hard to reconcile Exodus 20:11 where God mandated the Sabbath as the day of rest in the seven day week based on Genesis 1.

    Quoting from Exodus 20:11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Thu, 03/09/2017 11:05 pm

    Yes, I think the use of God's six days of work followed by a day of rest as the pattern for our week is probably one of the stronger Biblical arguments to be made for a literal (and consecutive) Creation week.

  • wgbEden Prairie
    Posted: Thu, 03/09/2017 08:37 am

    Thank you for publishing this interview. I've enjoyed and admired Dr. Lennox for several years via YouTube. There are a good number of his lectures and debates available for anyone to listen to. Check him out!

  • md_reader
    Posted: Thu, 03/09/2017 11:29 am

    Just You: perhaps take the implied advices from FS in the article and do some asking and listening before speaking. I would presume he has answers to your objections, which I would like to hear myself. 

    The reconciliation you desire is not as hard for some as it is for others, but n.b. it is possible for many.

  • Just Me 999
    Posted: Thu, 03/09/2017 12:50 pm

    With all due respect, I don't believe an ad hominem statement is necessary "do some asking and listening before speaking." It sounds like you don't have answers to my questions either.

  • Yokefellow
    Posted: Thu, 03/09/2017 04:23 pm

    First of all, I want to thank World Magazine for continuing to publish articles on the importance of how we interpret Genesis 1-11 so that believers will come to realize that this is a primary issue when it comes to how we interpret the Word of God. I'm very glad that Professor Lennox took such a strong stand with the Nobel Prize winner regarding his rejection of evolution.

    However, it is concerning to me that he would say that Genesis has nothing to say about the age of the earth with very lightweight supporting comments.  He clearly hasn't read Hebrew Scholar Steven W. Boyd's chapter entitled, The Genre of Genesis1:1-2:3 in the book Coming to Grips with Genesis.  In this article Steven Boyd makes a very strong case that Genesis 1-11 can only be read as historical narrative, and that allowing for long ages between days is not intellecutally honest.  Steven Boyd was also featured in the recent film, Is Genesis History.

    Additionally, Professor Lennox must not have taken the time to read Jonathan Sarfati's excellent commentary on Genesis 1-11 entitled, The Genesis Account: A Theological, Historical and Scientific Commentary on Genesis 1-11.  Dr. Sarfati, who has a PhD in Chemistry and has theological training in the original Hebrew and Greek languages, makes a very strong case that Genesis has everything to say about the age of the earth, and that the yearth is young.

    I know that World Magazine recently did a piece on the movie, Is Genesis History.  I am thankful that you are willing to present people that have intellectual gravitas that support that Genesis does have something to say about the age of the earth, and that science has something to say about the age of the earth, and that it is young.  Clearly, uniformitarian geology is crumbling, and the catastrophic geology is on the rise.  It is really the only intellecutally sound way to look at earth's geological history.  

    Professor Lennox encourages Christian students to take the Word of God seriously and he encourages them to build up their confidence in God and His Word.  There is no better way to do that than to see Genesis 1-11 for what it is:  A historical narrative of the creation of time, space and matter in six literal days with no gaps of time in between.  I hope he takes the time to read Steven Boyd and Jonathon Sarfati so that he can be encouraged to fully embrace the truth Genesis has to offer regarding the age of the earth.

     

  • VSKluth's picture
    VSKluth
    Posted: Thu, 03/09/2017 04:53 pm

    Thanks for the pointers to the books!

  • mp
    Posted: Fri, 03/10/2017 08:32 am

    People much smarter than me come down on different sides of this argument. One can take God's Word seriously, believe that the Genesis account of creation is True, and not believe that the Genesis account is an historical narrative (as we usually use the term).

  • psubrent
    Posted: Thu, 03/09/2017 04:32 pm

    Just me: You're asking a question about an account of a miraculous creation of the universe, ex nihilo.  If one miracle is possible, why would it be so hard to fathom another?

  • Just Me 999
    Posted: Thu, 03/09/2017 05:53 pm

    Simply because when you have two conditions that directly oppose each other it's not a miracle - it's illogic.

    As far as we know our miraculously created universe is still completely logical. So the question remains how do you have seeds that survive on Day 3 without the Sun created billions of years later on Day 4?

  • Laura W
    Posted: Thu, 03/09/2017 11:03 pm

    I think the usual reason for using less intuitive readings of the Genesis account (and related Scripture) is an attempt to construct a plausible interpretation that is more consistant with certain observations about the world, or with the prevailing scientific thought. This usually means trying to find a timelline with the smallest number/degree of supernatural events. So if the proposed timeline adds in a new inconsistancy with normal physical laws in the process of attempting to remove another, it doesn't really accomplish anything. So the question about plants without sun is still relevant.

  • Tuck
    Posted: Tue, 03/14/2017 01:41 pm

    I believe that it happened exactly as stated, in 6 days. Look at the complexities in human anatomy. The way your eye works for example. You can also look at list of many marvelous miracles done throughout the Bible, parting of the Red Sea to raising the dead. A God that can do these things can create a world that appears much older than it really is. 

  • Hans's picture
    Hans
    Posted: Wed, 03/15/2017 10:04 am

    If we are so intent on "taking the Bible at its word" when it comes to matters of creation, why do we not subscribe to the fact that God made the world in the aftermath of his defeat of the great primordial sea monster, Rahab (Job 26.7-13; Ps 89.9-11, Isa 51.9)? Or maybe it was when he defeated the primordial monster Leviathan (Ps 74.12-17). It is worth pointing out that especially in Isa 51, this creation myth is understood in direct parallel to the exodus from Egypt, and used as two key historical examples of God's power in defating the forces of darkness as the grounding for the hope of restoration from exile in Babylon. It is no more "figurative" than the exodus is understood as figurative.

    Of course, none of us (unlike ancient Israelites) believe in primordial cosmic sea monsters, so none of us take this creation myth to be historical fact; instead, we understand it to be teaching us something about God, making use of ancient motifs and imagery. We do not need to follow the ancient Israelites in their belief in its historicity to sing the same praises to the same God who has all power and remains faithful to his people. Why do people get so hung up on "six days" from Genesis 1 when the very redactor of Genesis was perfectly willing to set Genesis 1 alongside Genesis 2, which gives a different creation myth in a completely different chronology and setting?

  • HR
    Posted: Fri, 12/15/2017 11:48 am

       The most significant problem with any old-earth interpretation of Scripture is that of death and decay before Adam.  Clearly the fossil record is replete with a nature that is "red in tooth and claw," full of violence and destruction.  Yet the Apostle Paul insists that death came as the result of Adam's sin, and that "the creation was subjected to futility" but "will be set free from its bondage to corruption" at the redemption of the sons of God.  If that occurred before Adam and the fall, one is left with a spiritualized death as the only impact of Adam's sin.  If not the result of Adam's sin, from where does nature's bondage to corruption come?  And how does that align with a "very good" creation?  But death entering creation because of Adam's sin is central to the need for a savior.  Undermine the sin-death linkage and the need for Jesus to die disappears.  

        William Dembski's "Christian Theodicy" is the only serious attempt I've seen to reconcile long ages with faithful biblical interpretation on the sin-death linkage.  (Dembski suggests that God introduced death and corruption as a consequence of Adam's sin, but did so in advance of the fall because God knew Adam would sin.  That's not not very persuasive, in my view, though to his credit he at least tries, which is more than can be said for most other old earth proponents.)  

       What's also at stake is the integrity of Scripture.  This is easily illustrated by the inconsistency of long ages (or gaps) with other biblical sources, most notably Jesus and Paul.  Both assigned Adam and Eve's place on the historical timeline to "the beginning."  An old earth interpretation pushes them ahead several billion years, or even several hundred million years, after the beginning.  That hardly fits.  So were Jesus and Paul simply ignorant?  Or maybe they were just playing with the language?  If they got this wrong, then why trust the other things they say or write?  The fact is, there is no good reason to disbelieve that God was capable of doing exactly what to a straightforward reading of Genesis states he did, namely created everything in a 24-hr/day, six-day creation week--with no gaps.