Genesis revisited

In the long-running debate between science and (Christian) faith, the standard view of those who want to preserve the truth of faith is that science answers the “how” questions and faith answers the “why” questions. According to that way of thinking, it’s no good expecting science to answer questions about meaning and purpose, nor is it right to expect the Bible to answer scientific questions about the way the world works or how it came to be. In his book Through a Glass Darkly Alister McGrath uses the metaphor of maps: just as maps come in many varieties (political, historical, meteorological, geological etc) to answer different kinds of questions, so religion and science offer different but complementary maps of reality. You can keep science and faith in separate sealed compartments. Case closed, problem solved.

But maybe not so fast. In his book Seven Days That Divide The World, John Lennox, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, argues that Genesis does in fact “address questions that have cosmological content”. Most obviously, Genesis tells us that the universe had a beginning, an idea which science only caught up with as recently as the 1960s. Before that the ruling scientific paradigm had been that the universe was eternal.

Lennox goes further. He argues from both Genesis 1 and biology that the universe came to its present state by means of “discrete acts of creation”, which equate to the six days of creation in Genesis. In support of this he refers to a book by Andrew Parker, Research Director at the Natural History Museum in London and an evolutionary biologist who does not profess to believe in God. Challenged to consider the Genesis account of creation, he was surprised by what he discovered:

Without expecting to find anything, I discovered a whole series of parallels between the creation story on the Bible’s first page and the modern, scientific account of life’s history. This at least made me think. The congruence was almost exact… I must admit, rather nervously as a scientist averse to entertaining such an idea, that the evidence that the writer of the opening page of the Bible was divinely inspired is strong. I have never before encountered such powerful impartial evidence that the Bible is the product of divine inspiration.

quoted in Seven days that divide the world pp143f

Lennox quotes a number of world-class physicists who have come to the conclusion that the only way to make sense of the scientific evidence is to postulate – in the words of Yale physicist Henry Margenau:

… creation by an omnipotent, omniscient God.

Henry Margenau & Roy Abraham Varghese [ed.], Cosmos, Bios, Theos: Scientists Reflect on Science, God, and the Origins of the Universe, Life, and Homo Sapiens

In other words, they’re saying there is a close match between the picture of the universe’s beginnings painted by Genesis and the one currently favoured by scientists. For example, Arno Penzias won the Nobel Prize for Physics for discovering the cosmic microwave background which confirmed that the universe had a beginning. He wrote:

The best data we have … are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms and the Bible as a whole.

Quoted in Seven Days That Divide The World p154

This is familiar ground. Physicists becoming convinced of the truth of Christianity is not new. Already in the 1940s C. S. Lewis had senior tempter Screwtape lamenting to apprentice tempter Wormwood that:

There have been sad cases among the modern physicists.

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 1

What really surprised me about Lennox’s book is the number of biologists who are raising questions about the explanatory power of natural selection. They may not yet be turning to Christianity quite as readily as the physicists, but, according to cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor:

… an appreciable number of perfectly reasonable biologists are coming to think that the theory of natural selection can no longer be taken for granted.

Seven Days That Divide The World p180

Another biologist argues that:

… the selectionist paradigm is a conceptual dead end for understanding innovation since it mistakenly views natural selection as a creative force in evolution.

Seven Days That Divide The World p181

Lennox packs a lot – very readably – into this small book. Prominent Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga says the book:

… is as good as it gets in the religion and science area.

There is much to learn from this wide-ranging discussion of the issues, including his deconstruction of the cosy idea that religion and science can safely be kept apart on the grounds that they deal with different ways of exploring reality. That is no longer as clear as it once appeared. Genesis may be making a comeback.

Published by markphilps

Came to faith at university while studying Russian. Brief career with the BBC. Married to Caroline. Ordained in the Church of England. Thirty-five years in parish ministry. Now retired and doing some writing.

2 thoughts on “Genesis revisited

  1. Fascinating. I cannot believe that evolution explains the development of life as we know it. Nor the complexity of the organisation of life.


  2. Glad to hear a trained scientist thinks this! Robert Laughlin (Nobel Prize winner for Physics and Professor of Physics at Stanford University) goes so far as to call natural selection an “anti-theory”: “anti-theories have exactly the opposite effect of real theories: they stop thinking rather than stimulate it”.


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