Seven Days That Divide the World: John Lennox on Creation, Science, and Scripture

John Lennox’s latest book, Seven Days That Divide The World, launches next month. In it, he sets out to answer one of the most fiercely debated questions of our day: can science and the Bible co-exist? Writing for a popular audience, Lennox examines the Genesis account of creation and addresses some of the issues that typically arise when trying to understand the Biblical narrative in light of contemporary science.

A Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and a recent visitor to New Zealand, Lennox argues in Seven Days that science and faith can in fact peacefully co-exist and that Darwinian evolution and young-earth creationism are not the only two positions available to Christians.

Talking to The Christian Post about his book, Lennox explains:

“I think that sometimes people have been taught there are only two possibilities: Possibility one is that if you are being faithful to Scripture, you have to be a young earth creationist. Otherwise you’re an evolutionist or a theistic evolutionist, and you’re not faithful to Scripture. I don’t think that is the case…”

“…it’s not a quest of trying to keep up [with science], but it’s a quest of looking at what God has revealed of Himself in nature, and looking at what God has revealed of Himself in the Bible and trying to make sense of those two.”

The central contention of Seven Days is that the Genesis account proposes a more complex process to the creation of the world than what is often thought. According to Lennox, the account was deliberately written, first of all, to be comprehended, not comprehensive:

“If the Biblical explanations were at the level, say, of twenty-second century science, it would likely be unintelligible to everyone, including scientists today. This could scarcely have been God’s intention. He wished His meaning to be accessible to all.”

To illustrate, Lennox cites Jesus’ own teaching in the New Testament:

“Jesus told parables about farming, building and fishing, not about factories, aviation and jungle exploration … His parables are accessible to anyone in any age. Similarly with Genesis.”

Seven Days is organized into five chapters with five appendices that explore, in greater depth, issues such as the cultural and literary background of Genesis, John Walton’s cosmic temple view of Genesis 1, the convergence of Genesis and science over the fact that space-time had a beginning, whether Genesis 1 and 2 are in conflict, and, finally, theistic evolution and the God-of-the-gaps arguments.

In presenting his own view of Genesis, Lennox believes “that the beginning of Genesis 1:1 did not necessarily take place in day one as is frequently assumed. The initial creation took place before day 1.” On such an interpretation, he believes there is much greater scope for the place of science in uncovering explanations for how the earth and the universe came to be.

Lennox, however, does not see any room for human evolution in the Biblical account:

“Genesis seems to go out of its way to imply a direct special creation [to make man], rather than suggesting that humans arose, either by natural processes or…out of preexisting hominids.”

The origins debate is one of primary flashpoints between the church and culture and in Seven Days, Lennox underscores the danger for Christians in withdrawing from the debate. If we fail to seek to reconcile the Bible and science, he suggests we risk giving the impression that science deals with reality while Biblical beliefs are fantasy.

In fact, Lennox argues that this isn’t the first time that the church has had to reconcile scripture with science. In the first chapter of Seven Days he describes how the discovery that the earth moved through space challenged the common sixteenth-century interpretation of the Bible. Yet, today, this scientific finding is no longer a source of conflict for the church and Lennox is confident that the same will happen again with the present debate:

“We’ve coped with controversy in the past where people have been split and we have resolved it so that virtually nobody I ever met…believes that the earth is fixed.”

Seven Days That Divide the World comes out on August 9.

 

9 replies
  1. Bob
    Bob says:

    I see that JL has another book coming out called “Gunning for God: A Critique of the New Atheism”.

    While it’s an unfortunate title (I wonder how much say he had in it?) I must say that I’m looking forward to reading his thoughts.

  2. Noel Byrne
    Noel Byrne says:

    I am both saddened and dissapointed by the thesises put forward in this book. I would respectfully suggest that John Lennox would be better employed making the case for reconciling science with scripture rather than the other way around! The only people who question whether the plain reading of Genesis 1 & 2 is meant to be taken as written are, generally speaking, “evangelical” Christians who have been influenced by the ideas of infallable men who seek…..intentionally or not…. to undermine the authority of the Bible .Even the most ardent athestists accept that Genesis 1 & were meant to be taken as read. As far as I can assertain there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience. They don’t all believe it, but they do believe it was meant to convey that as historical fact.
    Why do Christians feel the need to dispute the plain meaning of the written word?

  3. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Noel,

    Have you read the book itself? I have not, but from hearing Lennox speak of it, it is my impression that he argues for his position on scriptural grounds and consideration alone, before even considering the science involved. I’ll address the rest of you’re comments bellow with the relevant quotations.

    The only people who question whether the plain reading of Genesis 1 & 2 is meant to be taken as written are, generally speaking, “evangelical” Christians who have been influenced by the ideas of infallable men who seek…..intentionally or not…. to undermine the authority of the Bible.

    This strikes me as extremely unfair. Evangelicals seem to me to be genuinely interested in remaining faithful to what the Bible teaches. What they critique (and rightly so, I believe) is the interpretation that twentieth-century minds place on the text of Gen 1 and 2 when they give those texts “a plain reading.” Also, to claim that this re-examination of interpretation is under-taken because of the influence of fallable men, even in general terms, is far too simplitic. Infallible men have produced an incredible weight of science that suggests the earth is ages-old for instance, and this weight alone is adequate motivation for questioning fundamental assumptions regarding how a plain reading of Gen 1 and 2 is interpreted by modern minds.

    Even the most ardent athestists accept that Genesis 1 & were meant to be taken as read.

    Ardent atheists I’ve found, arn’t really interested in careful and responsible interpretation of scripture. Indeed, they seem to be motivated to place scripture in the most unfavourable light as possible, thus refusing to even consider what responsible interpretation requires. So why you use this group as a hermenutical authority is beyond me.

    As far as I can assertain there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience.

    With respenct to Hebrew or OT professors, I understood it was the standard position amongst them that Gen 1 and 2 particularly should not be interpreted with the preiscope of a twenty-first century textbook on science and history. I could cite names of highly-regarded, well-respected, conservative biblical scholars who hold this position, but let me instead quote Calvin, whose opinion this was as well (barring the ‘twenty-first century’ part).

    “For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception and therefore… the history of creation… is the book of the unlearned.” John Calvin, A Commentary on Genesis, (tr. J King, Banner of Truth, 1967).

    I could have equally easily quoted Augustine, or Origen to similar effect.

    With respect to the intention of the author/s to convey the meaning of ‘day’ as a 24 hour period this may well be the case. But what matters is not the meaning of the word and how it used there, but what the wider context of the story is. Is it the genre of plain history with simple historical facts, as is 1 Chronicles or 2 Kings for instance? Or is it an apologetic to the pagan nations around them that adapts the pagan epic-poetry familiar to ancient Mesopotanian readers to teach truths about God, and humanity’s relationship with him? Or something else? The interpretive situation is quite like the doctor who gets worried when he is told that his wife’s heart is bursting, when he should rejoice, since by this he should understand that his wife loves him. What matters is not the meaning of the word ‘bursting’ but the context (or genre) of the entire remark.

  4. TimNfrance
    TimNfrance says:

    Ms. Byrne, I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus.  I believe the word of God and its infallibility. I don’t think Science will every ‘disprove’ it.  Yet I don’t agree with your assumption that Genesis 1 and 2 can only be interpreted literally (at least the way you mean) in order to remain the inspired word of God.  Nor do I think that ‘No’ Hebrew or OT scholar would agree.  If this book exists, there are plenty who are reading Genesis differently than you and yet remain attached to the authority of the scriptures.  I can only suggest that maybe your view is not really as ‘plain a reading’ as you assume and is affected by your larger religious culture (probably one rooted in fundamentalism). 

    I personally have been pleasantly surprised to meet people who, without prior exposure to the Gospel or religious cultural baggage, have actually: read the scripture, assumed it was inspired, and relied on it for truth, yet did not assume it was to be taken in the litteral sense that you are meaning.   They can accept that God did what the scripture teaches albeit not explain to us exactly how he did (or did not) do it.  I wish we could do the same without the burden and yoke we put on ourselves (unnecessarily) to adhere to only your suggested literal interpretation and only that interpretation.  In sum, your approach is so narrow that it accuses anything else of being a ‘wrong’ interpretation and tantamount to not believing in the word of God.

    It is precisely this quagmire that I hope Lennox can help us with.

  5. Michael (Brisbane Australia)
    Michael (Brisbane Australia) says:

    For all of the above readers, it is time to learn your science :)

    Learn the tenants of the GET, radio-isotope dating and go to the website creation.com (Creation Ministries International). We are so fortunate and blessed by God to have Christians who don’t do bogey science, but stay faithful to the Word when learning about the awesome creation of our Father. There have been many scientists throughout history ( the list is on their website ) who have stuck faithfully to the Word and in the creation of the world in 7 days. Alas – all theology comes down to how one interprets the occurrences within the Garden – and by deviating from a literal reading what occurred in Genesis 1-3, then you might as well stop being Christian. I know this sounds blunt – but Genesis is the Cornerstone of all God’s revelation.

    Beware friends,

  6. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Jesus is the cornerstone of all God’s revelation! With respect to the interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis authentically Christian theology had always allowed a diversity of opinion. To say a literal interpretation is necessary for authentic Christian theology, is to say Church Fathers, such as Origen, Augustine, even Calvin are not Christians, and that, I would suggest, is ridiculous.

  7. Jason
    Jason says:

    Of course the atheists think that Genesis should be taken as plainly read, because they know to do so is to prove the Bible as fundamentally wrong from the outset! 

    Although you are right in saying that scholars believe that the author regarded the days in a literal sense (ie 24hrs), but that doesn’t mean they were saying that God made the world in 24hr periods.  There is a distinction when you consider the genre (poetry) and understand the why Gen 1 was written – which was – to declare the power, majesty and awesomeness of God, not to tell us the science behind how he made the world. 

  8. Joe Black
    Joe Black says:

    Hi Noel,

    Thanks for your posts, they have given me much to think about.

    I just want to share something I’ve noticed….

    Genesis 2:17
    17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.” – HCSB
    17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” – NIV

    Now, either God was speaking literally, figuratively or lying:
    – If God meant it literally, Adam and Eve would’ve bore 2 sons who grew to certain age within 24 hours before dying.
    – If God spoke figuratively, he could’ve meant “spiritual death” coupled with “limited life span” i.e. on the 6th day. The relation between sin/spiritual-death and sickness/death are talked about more in the New Testament.
    – If God lied…. well… we know that’s not possible. =)

    Now you might say… WAIT!! there’s a 4th possibility!
    – God could’ve meant: “Your limited life will start on the day that you eat of the fruit, which will lead to your certain and sure physical death.”

    If the 4th possibility was true, why didn’t God just say it literally, clearly, unambiguously like that?

    Why did Jesus say, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26  When he could’ve said, “Unless you love me far more than your mother and father, you cannot be my disciple.”?

    I believe God is poetic as he is majestic and powerful. A Muslim said in a debate, “Why does the Christian faith have to be so complicated?” (Regarding trinity), and the Christian debater said, “God could’ve made scripture like a precise step by step printer manual… but I’m glad he didn’t!

    Noel, I believe you’re a true brother in Christ, and you take God’s word seriously, and I rejoice in that. I’m not a great or famous theologian, I don’t know exactly what God is saying in the bible all the time, but I know it’s not simple and shallow. I struggle and wrestle with the complexity and depth of God’s word with every Christian brother and sister in the world. It may be true that God made the word in 7 24hr days, or that he made it in 7 figurative days… and I respect all Christians who believe in either, because honestly, I don’t know for certain myself!!! But I know for certain that God created the world… and that he sent his son Jesus who willingly died for my sins so that I can have an everlasting relationship with the triune God!

    — Just another question I don’t have an answer to:
    How/why did God create light and darkness on day 1 to separate day and night, and then 3 days later he created the sun and moon on day 4 to separate light and dark again? Which interestingly is intended to mark days, years, seasons on day 4, which wasn’t mentioned in day 1.

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