Thursday, June 16, 2011

John Lennox on creationism, and my slip with a banana peel

“Do you have a place I can throw away this banana peel?”

That was me creating my usual good first impression as I entered Briarwood Presbyterian Church to hear John Lennox (pictured right), the first of six speakers at Fixed Point Foundation’s “In the Beginning” conference on three views of the Genesis account of creation.

The young woman to whom I spoke didn’t have a trash can but pulled out a box top with some scrap paper in it and had me deposit the remains of my supper-by-commute in there. Next, she found the lanyard with my name on it which would grant me access to the event.

After finding a men’s room, which, of course, contained a trash can, I sheepishly made my way back to the Will Call desk and begged her let me put the banana peel in a more appropriate place. As you can see, I have not been blessed with elegance.

I had contemplated bringing, rather than a banana peel, my camera to take decent pictures to illustrate this post, but feared “good photography” might not be allowed since I wasn’t attending as an accredited member of the press. So you are stuck with lousy cellphone shots.

I was way early, and got a seat front row, center. At least I’d be as close as possible for those lousy shots. I guess most of the attendees were Baptist since it was quite a while before anyone else joined me on the front row. When someone did, he introduced himself, and said he was from Huntsville, which is about 100 miles to the north.

Huntsville, Alabama is a space and defense industry hub, and sure enough this guy was semi-retired from the business. “You’re a rocket scientist, eh? Not me. I just gave the woman at Will Call a banana peel – THEN TOOK IT BACK.” I didn’t say that, but I probably will if I see him again tonight. There’ll probably be a brain surgeon from UAB sitting on the other side of me.

My neighbor suddenly thought to turn off his cellphone, then I told him way more than he cared to hear about mine – including the fear I’ll forget to put it on vibrate in church one day and it will go off to my ringtone of the old Emergency Squad 51 call.

God eventually showed the rocket man mercy and allowed the event to begin. Husband-and-wife duet Keith and Kristyn Getty kicked things off with a few hymns, some of which they wrote themselves. You can see the rotten cellphone photo at left that makes them appear as angels in their brightness; actually, it’s just overexposure. Though their singing and piano was indeed heavenly. I think they said Kristyn is John Lennox’s niece.

Lennox took the stage next. His purpose was to give an overview of the three views that will be presented over the next two nights: young earth creationism, old earth creationism and theistic evolution. Give-and-take among the views will be Saturday.

But Lennox added his own view: something in between. Noting that there are multiple interpretations for the word “day” in most languages, he pointed out that Genesis 1 says that God spoke things into creation and there was “evening and morning.” Young earthers say this proves the six days of creation are literal 24-hour periods. Old earthers and evolutionists say “days” refer to epochs. But Lennox posits that both could be true. That is, God spoke certain things into creation on an actual day, but “it might have taken a long time for what he said to work themselves out.”

Problems with his theory? One is the Bible’s claim that man’s sin in the Garden of Eden brought death. Lennox says that perhaps man’s sin brought death only to mankind, not animals and plants. But it brought decay and disease to all creation. A daffodil can get a disease and die, he explained, but if a daffodil blooms, then later dies out for the year, only to rise up again the next spring, that isn’t though of as disease or decay. It’s part of the natural cycle of the plant.

Lennox said he’s looking forward to hearing the other speakers – and perhaps even hearing them refute his theory. He admitted he might well be completely wrong. “I’m not willing to die for it,” he said, joking, “though some of you wish I would.”

Taking the Bible literally doesn’t mean that nothing should be seen as symbolic, Lennox noted. For instance, no one thinks that when Jesus said “I am the door” he meant he was an actual wooden door. “It’s because you have experience with doors.”

The Oxford mathematics professor said he got onto theology after one of his early students at Cambridge asked him whether he believed in God, then added, “Of course you do; you’re Irish. You believe in God, and you fight about it.”

The young man was making two common assumptions that Lennox didn’t care for: “He was saying my belief in God is genetically determined, and secondly, that it leads to violence.”

Lennox urged Christians, no matter what their view of creation, not to turn people off from faith by being overly dogmatic. He noted how Copernicus’ assertion that the earth circles the sun and not vice-versa wasn’t accepted by science or the church at first. And that debate was as hot as “creationism” is now. If the earth wasn’t the center of the universe it messed up the theology that the earth was important to God.

“The earth doesn’t have to be at the center of the physical universe for it to be at the center of God’s attention,” Lennox said.

Scripture talks about the origins of the universe, but it isn’t a science textbook, he said. “In Genesis, God encourages man to find things out for himself.”

He noted that many theologians of centuries past questioned whether the universe was created in six 24-hour days, among them Augustine, Justin Martyr and Origen. “And they weren’t influenced by contemporary geology.”

Lennox urged attendees to listen with respect to all points of view at the conference, even if their minds aren’t changed. He especially pointed out evolutionary biologist Michael Behe, who is taking a risk in his field by rejecting Darwinian evolution. “I am a mathematician, and I challenge it, too,” he said, “but not at the cost a biologist does.”

Fixed Point Executive Director Larry Taunton said he put the conference together because often in churches only one view is heard. “If you aren’t willing to submit yourself to some scrutiny within the church … I can assure you you’ll face some difficulty outside the church,” he said.

Oh, and my cellphone? It did go off with a call for Gage and DeSoto. I must have turned it off vibrate when I was taking one of those crummy pictures. Happily, I also accidentally turned the ring volume down to 1, which is 6 quieter than full blast.

It was my wife. When I called back she said a turtle was in the garage and she couldn’t coax it out. “Be careful when you come home,” she said. “Don’t run over it.”

And ruin part of God’s creation? Never.

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Photos: Owen Tew's cellphone and his wife