Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lennox and the Literal

John Lennox is an articulate spokesman for the interface of science and religion. He is  a mathematician and scientist and represents the evangelical intelligentsia. As a brilliant apologist for the Christian faith, he has achieved notoriety for his public debates with atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. In 2007, one of his live debates with Dawkins occurred at UAB. My commentary follows:

Recently, Lennox was guest on Janet Parshall’s In the Market radio interview program. Lennox highlighted many of his views including those in his volume “Seven Days That Divide the World.” One area of misunderstanding in integrating the message of Genesis with the message of science is the understanding of literality. Misunderstandings concerning literality of the days of creation in Genesis 1 unfairly generates accusations of unfaithfulness to scripture. Which meaning of Genesis 1 days must we adhere to? Lennox claims any Bible text should be interpreted according to its intended use. In Genesis 1:1 to 2:4 there are four intended uses of the term day. Terms should not be consigned to only one level of literality. Rather, we must interpret text according to the intentions of the writer.

The examples of a car “flying down the street” or Jesus Christ as “The Door” serve to highlight metaphors. The authority of scripture or the truth of such statements is not diminished in the least. Their meanings are clear. Questionable passages may be taken literally, but we don’t have to in order to ascertain their intended meaning. The question becomes how we relate scriptures to something real in spite of their obvious metaphorical or poetic flavor.

Lennox cited other beliefs resulting from errant application of literality. To illustrate, we cite passages like I Sam. 2:8, “For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the earth” (ESV) or Psalm 104:5, “He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.” Before Copernicus and Galileo in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, nearly all Christian theologians accepted a literal interpretation of foundations and pillars on which the immovable earth supposedly rested. Copernicus and Galileo were Christian believers in the avant guard of scientific discovery. Their observations propelled them to belief in heliocentricity—the belief that the Sun instead of Earth was at the center of the Solar System. For many years their ideas were scorned. A modern parallel is the disdain with which young earth creationists denigrate old earth creationists, sometimes even pronouncing them doctrinally deficient.

Earth’s age is not addressed in the Genesis Hebrew text. Our belief is that modern science supplies answers to such questions. The text, however, points out that the verses in Genesis 1:1-2 occurred before the recitation of events of sequential “day” events beginning in verse 3. Therefore, many billions of years transpired in the formation of the solar system and occurred long before the initial creation of primitive life. The appearance of light on Earth’s surface was no doubt related to the slow clearing of a cloud-shrouded planet, not the initial creation of the sun (Job 38:9). Herein is evidence of another interpretational flaw. The Bible does not express detail of the Solar System’s geologic history in two short chapters. The time sequence of events accords with modern scientists’ discoveries even though scripture is not a detailed science text.

Lennox’s highlighting of “And God said” is stated for all of God’s creative acts, but is significant in terms of the creation of life, the transition of inorganic to organic matter (non-life to life), and especially the creation of humanity. Man was created after advanced animals on the sixth day. New life, including man, appears as an outcome of God speaking. Microevolution—minor adaptations—Lennox explains, occurs all the time. It is not the same as macroevolution which, if it occurs, would produce new levels of life. We do not proceed from the production of inorganic to organic matter (the transition from non-life to life) or the production of new levels of life (macroevolution) without the caveat “And God said.” Lennox seems to disdain evolution, because it does not result from the action of “And God said.”

Finally, Lennox posits that man appears on Earth from “a direct supernatural intervention.” The creation of life and the creation of humanity is a supernatural miracle, he asserts. As a scientist, Lennox believes in miracles which are manifestations of the supernatural. He believes “the universe is a miracle.”

We are grateful to Janet Parshall for bringing many of the finest minds in Christian leadership to the attention of the public.