(Second in a series on the old-earth/young earth controversy.)
John Carson Lennox is a British mathematician, a philosopher of science and a Christian apologist. He is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and an Emeritus Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College, Oxford University. (Wikipedia.)
In Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science (Zondervan 2011), John C. Lennox examines the Genesis text and provides many enlightening observations.
I don’t recall how I heard about this book, but when I did hear about it I bought it immediately because Lennox is one of my favorite Christian thinkers.
I was hoping that Lennox would discuss the scientific theories of young-earth creationists. His focus, however, is on the scriptural text, the title of the book notwithstanding. At the outset of my investigation of this topic, it does seem to me that the science is crucial, since each side seems to criticize the other for both their interpretations of scripture and for their science. Young earth advocates accuse their opponents of subordinating the authority of scripture to modern science, while old earth advocates maintain that young-earthers adopt far-fetched scientific theories to accommodate their woodenly literal interpretation of the biblical text. It’s my intention to start boning up on the science right away.
Nevertheless, Lennox’s observations about the biblical text are illuminating.
The “Pillars” of the Earth
Lennox observes that the Copernican controversy arose partly out of a very natural, but ultimately discredited reading of 1 Samuel 2:8:
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world.
It wasn’t easy for the church to accept the idea that the Earth orbits the sun, but ultimately she did so under the pressure of irrefutable scientific observations. Lennox asks,
But now we need to face an important question: 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? (Page 19.)
One young-earth advocate commented:
Only when such a position became mathematically and observationally “hopeless,” should the church have abandoned it. This is in fact what the church did. Young earth creationism, therefore, need not embrace a dogmatic or static biblical hermeneutic. It must be willing to change and admit error. Presently, we can admit that as recent creationists we are defending a very natural biblical account, at the cost of abandoning a very plausible scientific picture of an “old” cosmos. But over the long term this is not a tenable position. In our opinion, old earth creationism combines a less natural textual reading with a much more plausible scientific vision. . . . At the moment this would seem the more rational position to adopt. [Moreland and Reynolds, eds., Three Views of Creation and Evolution (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1999, p. 73.] (Page 62.)
Neither old earth theory nor young earth theory is a recent invention
The Jewish calendar, for instance, has for centuries taken as its starting point the “Era of Creation,” which it dates to 3761 BC. (Page 40.)
Some of the early church fathers, such as Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho, and Irenaeus, in Against Heresies, suggested that the days might have been long epochs, on the basis of Psalm 90:4 (“For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night”) and 2 Peter 3:8 (“With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”). (Page 41.)
As for these days, it is difficult, perhaps impossible to think, let alone explain in words, what they mean.”
In his famous commentary On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, he added:
But at least we know that it [the Genesis day] is different from the ordinary day with which we are familiar.
In fact Augustine . . . held that God had created everything in a moment, and that the days represented a logical sequence to explain it to us. (Page 42.)
Four Distinct Usages of the Word, “Day”
The author of Genesis uses the Hebrew word yom in four different ways.
God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. Genesis 1:5.
What is the natural reading of this statement? Here day is contrasted with night; so a twenty-four-hour day is not in view, but rather “day” in the sense of “daytime.” (Page 49.)
The second time the word for “day” occurs, again in Genesis 1:5, it is in the context of saying that day one involves “evening and morning,” and “day” would naturally then be understood to refer to a twenty-four-hour day.
The third usage of the word “day” is in reference to the seventh day – a day of indefinite duration. (Page 50.)
Finally, in Genesis 2:4, the author refers to the entire period of creation as “the day” of creation. (Some translations render it “When God created . . .” but it should be rendered “In the day God created . . .” according to Lennox.)
Turning to the Six Days of creation, Lennox says,
[T]here is a clear pattern to the days: they each begin with the phrase “And God said” and end with the statement “and there was evening and there was morning, the nth day.” This means that, according to the text, day 1 begins in verse 3 and not in verse 1. . . . [T]he text of Genesis 1:1, in separating the beginning from day 1, leaves the age of the universe indeterminate. It would therefore be logically possible to believe that the days of Genesis are twenty-four-hour days (of one earth week) and . . . that the universe is very ancient. (Pages 52-53.)
Lennox suggests another possibility:
[T]he individual days might well have been separated from one another by unspecified periods of time. . . . One consequence of this is that we would expect to find what geologists tell us we do find — fossil evidence revealing the sudden appearance of new levels of complexity, followed by periods during which there was no more creation. (Pages 54-55.)
Again, Lennox does not provide a detailed description of YEC scientific theories, nor does he critique them. He does mention, however, “The honest and admirable admission of prominent young-earth creationists that ‘recent creationists should humbly agree that their view is, at the moment, implausible on purely scientific grounds. They can make common cause with those who reject naturalism, like old earth creationists, to establish their most basic beliefs.’” (Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds, “Young Earth Creationism,” in Moreland, et al., eds., ibid.) (Page 86.)
The source just cited may be the next place I’ll look, despite its having been published 20 years ago. I have studied under both Moreland and Nelson and I found them both to be brilliant in their fields and of high integrity. However, another basis for critique of Lennox is his “cherry-picking” of unusually non-doctrinaire young earth advocates. He does not mention Ken Ham or Ham’s organization, Answers in Genesis (AIG), which is one of the leading young earth advocacies in the world, and certainly a more contentious one than Moreland and Reynolds. I am sure we will hear more about AIG in these pages in the near future.
A Live Series
The question of the age of the Earth is a touchy one. Expressing an opinion on the topic is likely to attract dismissiveness, derision, and sometimes even charges of heresy.
In addition to being a very controversial topic, it is a very complicated one – at least it is so for anyone who takes seriously both the account of the book of Genesis and the findings of modern science. These two factors – the controversy and the complexity of the topic – may explain why I have been reluctant to delve deeply into the subject until now.
But delving has become unavoidable. A number of Jesus’ followers in Eugene – Springfield (myself among them) have initiated an apologetics project to address the falling away of so many young people from the church. They prove incapable, apparently, of answering the religious skepticism which they confront upon leaving their parents’ homes on graduation from high school. It seems that much of that skepticism has to do with the biblical account of creation. Our profession of concern for such young people can hardly be credible if we do not address this particular problem.
The recent experience of a friend strikingly illustrates the situation. The local newspaper published a letter to the editor claiming that no reputable scientist doubts the neo-Darwinian account of the origin of humanity. My friend responded by publishing his own letter with a link to a web site where were published the names of over 3,000 US college faculty, all with PhD’s in life sciences, who wished to state publicly that they have serious reservations about neo-Darwinism. Three days later he received a letter from the author of the original letter to the editor, expressing in very offensive terms his contempt for anyone who believed that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Of course my friend had not written that he believes that, and in fact he does not believe in a young earth.
Part of the problem, I think, is that relatively few people, whether within the church or without, are even aware that there is a creationist alternative to young earth theory. Consequently, if an evolutionist college teacher discusses creationism, he or she will generally address young-earth creationism only, and will treat it with contempt and ridicule; and meanwhile, our 18-to-20 year old college student, who also hasn’t heard of old-earth creationism, is stuck defending what he was taught in church with appeals to scientific theories which admittedly sound a little far-fetched.
And by saying just that much, already I have offended half of my friends. Bear with me. I do have opinions about young-earth creationism (hereinafter, YEC) and old-earth creationism (OEC). But those opinions are at least somewhat tentative, because I have not studied the subject with any thoroughness, which is what I now propose to do. My views may change. Indeed, the reader is invited to attempt to persuade me to change them.
What I have in mind is this. Rather than waiting until my study is complete and then publishing a lengthy, crafted essay, I am going to publish my thoughts as I come across materials that I find to be especially useful. It will be a kind of “conversation with myself,” spoken aloud for anyone to hear, and then also, I hope, a conversation with anyone who wishes to join me in my quest for discovery.
So what are my opinions on the matter presently? I can think of the following.
1. God exists.
2. God is the author of “Two Books”: the Bible and the Cosmos. What we can learn from the Bible, therefore, should be expected to be compatible with what we learn from science, which is the study of Creation. Any apparent conflict would then indicate that we lack understanding, either of the Bible or the science. Science can inform our theology, and vice versa.
3. As far as I can tell, both YEC and OEC are compatible with biblical teaching.
4. The science on which YEC advocates rely appears very shaky to me.
I am very confident about #1. and #2.; less so about #3. and #4. Let’s see where the journey takes us.
Here is an important blog post from the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon. There is a lot going on there, as you may have heard.
This was my comment:
As an American Christian with roots in Jordan, I want to say AMEN to Nabil Habiby’s wise counsel. Jesus is the LORD of Lords, the KING of kings. Therefore there is no escaping the political implications of the Gospel. Moreover, the primary political significance of the Gospel is what happens when the governor repents of his sins and gives honor to the One to whom honor is due: then there is political freedom! How then can the church neglect her prophetic role in society?
The American church is praying for you. Courage, my brothers and sisters! God is with us!
Here is a link to the latest from Reasons to Believe (reasons.org).
Some scientists have maintained that the water habitable zone is wide because even if a planet is farther from its star, more carbon dioxide can keep the planet warm enough for ice to melt. This new study shows that above very strict limits, CO2 becomes toxic to oxygen-breathing animals. The water habitable zone just got much, much, smaller. There is much more. Treat yourself. Here it is:
The “fine-tuning of the universe” for complex life gets finer and finer the more we learn about nature. The bottom line: it was very, very hard to create a universe in which even one earthlike planet could exist. It would not happen by accident in a trillion, trillion, trillion years.
 Water habitable zone: The range of distances from its star within which a planet must be located in order for the temperature to be mild enough for liquid water to exist on the surface of the planet.
We want to be “useful” because we think that our usefulness is a measure of our value. But our value resides first in our ability to appreciate God’s greatness, to admire him and worship him.
We assign value to our accomplishments in order to feed our pride: “Look what I’ve done!” But we should not be bragging about what we have done, but about what God has done.
For starters, he has made a human being! A human being is a wonderful thing, precisely because of his or her capacity to love God; and that is without being useful at all.
Then he has also shown himself to be love. He was love incarnate, and redeemed us from the abyss at astonishing cost to himself. And to cap it off, he has given us his Holy Spirit. The Creator of the universe is our intimate friend and companion!
Usefulness? The only usefulness we need aspire to is to declare the wonderful works of God.
Otis Graf is a member of Reasons to Believe’s Apologetics Community. He recently posted a message which deserves to be known to everyone.
I have written often about “the fine-tuning of the universe” (see joshualetter/blog, “The Existence of God – Four Philosophical Arguments,” June 28, 2018 post, chapter II). Otis presents yet more evidence that our hospitable planet could not have occurred anywhere in the universe by chance, not even once. Here is Otis’ message, with almost no editing.
A team of five scientists from NASA and several universities has, for the first time, shown that most exoplanets that were thought to be potentially habitable are, in fact, toxic to complex life. Here, “complex” means oxygen-dependent multicellular life.
Here is the popular article which is a news release from Univ. California Riverside: “New study dramatically narrows the search for advanced life in the universe. Toxic gases limit the types of life we could find on habitable worlds.” Here is the paper that was published in the Astrophysical Journal. “A Limited Habitable Zone for Complex Life”
It turns out that for Sun-like stars, most of the “traditional habitable zone” [where water can exist in liquid form] is ruled out because those regions require poisonous concentrations of CO2 in order to remain warm enough to host liquid surface water. The smaller M dwarf stars will produce atmospheres of toxic carbon monoxide.
The search for intelligent life (SETI) takes a particularly hard hit from this research. This is a conclusion from the published paper:
One implication is that we may not expect to find remotely detectable signs of intelligent life (“technosignatures”) on planets orbiting late M dwarfs or on potentially habitable planets near the outer edge of their HZs. These CO2 and CO limits should be considered in future targeted SETI searches.
The paper’s authors even invoke anthropic reasoning: “More broadly, limitations on complex life by CO2 and CO may partially address why we find ourselves near the inner edge of the HZ of a G-dwarf star rather than near the center or toward the outer edge of the HZ around one of the much more numerous M-dwarf stars.”
In the UC news release, the lead author of the paper is quoted as saying this:
I think showing how rare and special our planet is only enhances the case for protecting it. As far as we know, Earth is the only planet in the universe that can sustain human life.
That sums it up. Earth really is an Improbable Planet.
And remember: there are not one but eleven known habitable zones. For advanced life to be possible, its planet must be in all eleven HZ’s at the same time and must remain there for a long, long time. See https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/03/04/tiny-habitable-zones-for-complex-life.
In his April 2009 debate with William Lane Craig (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tYm41hb48o), Christopher Hitchens presented a long string of arguments which I regard as irrelevant to the question which those gentlemen were actually debating, which is whether or not God exists. In this post I’ll discuss one example. Following is a close paraphrase of what Hitchens said.
You are free to believe that this creator put himself to the trouble of creating all these species, 99.9% of all of which have become extinct – as we nearly did ourselves.
We are supposed to believe that all this mass extinction and death is the will of God – all done with us in view. That’s solipsism. [Solipsism: 1. The theory that only the self exists or can be proved to exist; or 2. Preoccupation with and indulgence of one’s feelings, desires, etc.; egoistic self-absorption. (Dictionary.com.)]
The wastefulness, cruelty, and incompetence of it! It doesn’t work for him. Believe it if you can or if you like.
We’ve heard this argument before, from Darwin himself and ever since, so the question may deserve some consideration.
The existence of waste in nature is irrelevant to God’s existence or non-existence. The question for debate was not whether a wasteful creator exists, but any creator. Supposing, for the sake of the argument, that what Hitchens sees as waste is indeed waste, if the waste itself could not exist without God, then the fact of waste in nature would not diminish by one iota the probability that God exists.
And that is our case. Given that anything at all exists – say, the universe, for example, with all its waste – then an eternal cause of the universe must also exist necessarily; for otherwise one must posit either an eternal universe (which we know is not the case), a universe that caused itself to exist (which is absurd), a universe which came into existence without a cause (which is implausible), or an infinite regress of prior finite causes (which is absurd).
Those four alternatives to theism are exhaustive: there are no other alternatives. All of them being clearly false, theism must therefore be true – despite waste in nature (if that’s what it is).
Besides, as Craig points out elsewhere, a lack of economy would not be the same for a being who has infinite resources as it might be for Mr. Hitchens.
Finally, if God exists and was wasteful and Mr. Hitchens doesn’t understand why, then the fault is probably with Mr. Hitchens’ understanding and not with God, because, well, He’s God! If He exists, He can be profligate if He wants to!
Fuzale Rana is a biochemist with Reasons to Believe. This video is an excellent example of the outstanding work which this organization has been doing for over 30 years now.
Dr. Rana opens by describing the recent discovery that the duckbill platypus may hold the key to the treatment of type-2 diabetes in humans. The male platypus has a venom in its hind feet which contains a hormone that causes its attackers’ blood sugar to crash, causing the attacker to become lethargic. The hormone is similar to one in humans which also regulates blood sugar, but which is not as long-lasting. By studying the hormone, scientists may be able to devise a treatment for type-2 diabetes, which is characterized by dangerously high levels of blood sugar.
Evolutionists insist that similar structures in various species must be interpreted within an evolutionary framework as evidence of common ancestry. Indeed, they cite such similarities (which they call “homologies”) as the most compelling evidence for evolution. Rana explains how such similarities make more sense within a design framework.
Why would a creator employ common designs?
Homologies make the biological realm intelligible. If the body structure of every species were fundamentally different, studying one species would offer us no insight as to the functioning of any other species. Biology as a discipline would be nearly impossible. The similarity of life-forms enables us to comprehend life generally. This, in turn, enables us not only to devise treatments for human illness by studying other species, but also to fulfill the divine command to be stewards and caretakers of the planet.
There is more! Budget 40 minutes for Dr. Rana’s remarks, but don’t miss the Q and A. Enjoy!
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff interviews William Lane Craig of Talbot School of Theology and Houston Baptist University, asking about Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth. The interview was published in the Times on December 21, 2018. Click here. Enjoy!
Click here to read Dr. Craig’s replies to detractors commenting on the interview. Very much worth reading! Happy New Year!