As the coronavirus spreads in China, so does fury at the government
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.