A personal testimony >>back home
I wish to conclude with a brief account of how I came to my convictions about ultimate things ‑ the things about which Richard Dawkins, Peter Atkins, Daniel Dennett and others have written in such strong antitheistic terms. I do this as an older man, nearer 90 than 80. They are convictions which have only grown stronger over the years. Let me briefly recall them. First, the foundation on which they rest and for which (barring cowardice) I would give my whole life over again, is without hesitation, the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. He is absolutely unique among all the figures who have ever appeared on the stage of human history; He is I firmly believe, what the New Testament declares ‑ 'God manifest in the flesh'. How did I come to know Him, and to call Him Master and Lord?
It began like this. I was encouraged as a boy to read the Bible daily, and though I very often missed out, I slowly learnt enough to excite my interest and imagination. The Old and New Testaments began more and more to grip me as I read them: the power and coherence of their message, their directness of speech, their relevance to ordinary life, the ring of truth which they had about them. What impressed me especially was a Figure who, long foreshadowed historically in the Old Testament, at first appeared dimly at the very start 1, became progressively clearer and more fascinating through the witness of the great prophets, until eventually He filled the stage in the New 2. I refer of course to Jesus of Nazareth. In the end, something happened to Him which (to hindsight) could be seen to be what the old prophets had long before foretold 3; He was rejected by His own nation 4, betrayed to the occupying power of Rome 5, and executed publicly by crucifixion, perhaps the most brutal and humiliating method ever devised by man 6. Three days later He appeared alive, apparently quite unexpectedly, to His downcast and demoralized followers 7, singly and together. He remained among them as Teacher for forty days, then He took them to a small mountain outside Jerusalem (the Mount of Olives) and in the sight of perhaps the "more than five hundred" of 1Cor.15.6 was taken up into a cloud. He left this very diverse set of men and women quite changed. From being cowards (the men at least) they went out into a hostile world to tell others about Him by earnest proclamation, self‑denying labours and often unresisting martyrdom 8. One early result was that within a few months a learned Pharisee named Saul, of Tarsus in Asia Minor, strikingly changed through the experience of a blazing light and audible voice when on a persecuting mission to Damascus, became the gentle and devoted apostle Paul9. He left a body of letters to churches he had founded which are without equal in world literature; they still exert an incalculable influence on those who read them. In the end this Paul, after long and arduous missionary labours, was executed by the Roman emperor Nero probably about AD 67. Many of the other apostles suffered similarly.
The account of these things is recorded in language which had always struck me as temperate though heartfelt. Its historical style is natural and convincing, though it has been subject to learned destructive criticism; but it has held its own. Even when it recounted the notably 'miraculous' it has never succumbed to this criticism (see C. S. Lewis's famous essay Fernseed and Elephants). The records have survived in extremely numerous papyrus documents (the abundant bibliographical sources of the New Testament) which together meet very strict canons for historical accuracy. They are the writings of men of widely different temperament and character ‑ the tax‑collector Matthew, the young man Mark, the (probably Greek) doctor Luke and the fishermen John and Peter, as well as the scholarly pharisee Paul ‑ and contain just enough of what is sometimes a little difficult to conflate to give positive support to their wide independence. Their substance must be essentially of early date; none records the epochal destruction by the Roman Titus of Herod's magnificent Temple in AD 70, (incidentally foretold by Jesus, Mark 13.1,2). As a young man I believed all this for a long time in a purely conventional way; but then things began to change. Through the sort of disappointments, failures, and problems many young men go through I had to look to my foundations, and it was then that Jesus Christ, as a living Lord, became real to me. As a result the whole Bible sprang to life. Especially it was how Jesus Christ Himself had referred to it that confirmed it as 'God speaking to men' 10, and it gripped me so firmly that I have for long read it right through every year, and still do. Of course, my previous understanding of many things changed as I did this: one thing was that of the creation narrative. But it has become to me as a result not less the authoritative Word of God, but more. I believe this conclusion is unaffected by the spectacular rise of the later faith of Islam11.
The understanding of the Creation narrative
The Bible addresses each successive generation of its readers in a way suited to their contemporary situation and its immediate demands. What did the Mosaic revelation then mean to impress on the rude and unstable Israelites when it reported that the world was 'made in six days'? The particular wording of this piece of revelation was chosen, I believe, to teach them to re‑fashion their daily living on the pattern of God's own, for acting as God does is always the secret of joyful and successful living12, and imitating Him is the way to proceed. Its choice of words was designed for this end. For this reason the raw and disorganised Israelites were commanded to order their lives on the basis of aseven‑day week: six of regular work followed by a seventh of rest and remembrance ‑ for this, according to the record given them, would be copying their Maker, and would keep Him, the Giver of their life, always before them13. It is this same moral and spiritual objective which Scripture as a whole still holds before us today. Moses sums things up in his final parting words to them in words I have often referred to: The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deut.29.29). The creation account is therefore worded for the express purpose of encouraging Israel to model its life on God's, an objective reaffirmed clearly again in the New Testament: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man ofGod may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3.16) ; and, Be therefore imitators ofGod, as beloved children (Eph.5.114). Any suggestion that the details of physical cosmology were being taught at the same time makes no added sense. It would have been irrelevant to the declared objective, and would only have confused the hearers; they might well have thought, "What on earth are we being told this for?" I take the 'days' of Genesis 1 therefore to be so named to give moral direction, not cosmic information. God is never, after all, the prisoner of time: One day is with Him as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day15.
That the Creator made a sharp distinction between man and the animals was another vital matter. The creation of the latter is described in broadly similar terms to that of man 16, but in both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 important additions are made in the case of man. In the first his 'making' is qualified by in Our image and after Our likeness (v.26); then he is as a person addressed and given responsibility (v.28). In the second, God breathes into his nostrils the breath (nesama) of life, places him under the obligation of moral law, and gives him the very significant right to namethe animals. These are great God‑given ennoblements, recognized as such in the New Testament 17, and to be accepted with thanksgiving 18.
A far‑reaching element of biblical teaching is that God created man to be His fellow‑worker 19, a role implying familiar verbal intercourse. Biblically this was usually through chosen spokesmen, the prophets; and as a wise instructor God always did this in words clear and positive; He was never like the Delphic oracle. Many well‑known passages illustrate this: the Ten Commandments themselves, and such words as e.g. Matt.6.25‑34: 7.7‑11: and Isa.55.6‑10. If His audience could not comprehend what was spoken to them, it was never for their lack of erudition! His message was never indistinct or trivial; and it came always with aptness for the particular moment 20, as well as for God's future related purposes. I have tried to apply these principles impartially, for they lead on to something more challenging. If God is truly sovereign throughout history, if all His communications are important, and if He still cares enough for the common man and woman, then the very Bible now in our hands must be taken as the Word of God for us, our abiding guide for 21st‑century life. This conclusion is far different from what some leaders in the western churches now seem to think; a common view is that our hand‑held Bible is so full of outmoded ideas, cultural differences, contradictions, copyist errors, and so on that it is dangerous to regard it as still a God‑given guide. Even the teaching of Jesus21 comes into this criticism: He was but a Jew of His time, it is said, and taught what is now out‑of‑date. These conclusions I emphatically reject. Copyist and other errors there may be; but I hold the strong conviction that in His wisdom and power, God has providentially withheld anything seriously misleading from gaining entrance; the Bible now in our hands is a guide to be trusted. The scholarly critic or the mere dabbler may disagree, but not the earnest enquirer. To think differently is either to deny the Living God His sovereignty over history22, or to regard Him as out‑of‑contact, powerless or indifferent to the needs and longings of today's ordinary men and women. We have therefore to take our Bible seriously. When we do so, we find that our cosmos faces one of two futures: that of Darwinian fundamentalism ‑ a bleak, grey and icy darkness for everything; or that of Faith ‑ a warm, glowing and everlastingly bright newness for those who serve God23. My language here may have nothing of his flowing rhythm, but Richard Dawkins must recognize that it does have nevertheless the sort of thing he calls "good poetic science"24; I hope he and his friends will come to agree. All that Darwinist fundamentalism offers to offset its ultimate melancholy ‑ a grey frozen graveyard ‑ is the fascination of seeing how intricately living things manage their business while they live; and that includes the ugliness of the loathsome parasite, as well as the beauty of the swallow's flight; the blood‑lust of the predator as well as the gracefulness of the gazelle. You take it or leave it when you've had enough, and at last you yourself go into oblivion. Prof. Atkins, an able advocate of secular Darwinism, writes:
"We are the children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe."25
On the other hand, here is the teaching of JESUS CHRIST: When He returns as King of glory and all stand before Him, He will separate them into two. To some He will say:
"Come ye blessed of my Father, take the kingdom prepared for you."
To others ,
"Depart from me , ye cursed, into the eternal fire."
For what reasons? They are given in Matthew 25.31-46. Whom or what do we believe? JESUS CHRIST or secular atheistic Neo-Darwinism? We must make our choice; it will influence greatly our ambitions and our way of life.
1 Genesis 3.15, the protevangelium
2 See the cases of Simeon, Luke 2.25‑35; Nathanael, John 1.43‑51;
Peter, Matt.16.13‑20; Paul, Phi1.2.9,10
3 For example, Deut.l8.15,18; Isa.52.13‑53.12; Micah 5.2‑5a;
Zech.9.9,10 with John 12.12‑16
4 Matt.16.21‑23; Luke 17.25; John 11.27,45‑53; see Luke 24.13‑35
5 John 18.28‑19.16
6 Mark 15.1‑20; John 19.31‑37; cf. also Ps.22.1,16,18
7 Mary Magdalene, John 20.1‑18; Peter, Luke 24.34; Thomas, John 20.24‑29
8 Acts 2.14‑47; 3.11‑47; 4.1‑22; 7.51‑8.3; John 21.17‑19
9 Acts 9.1‑29; 22.1‑21; 26.1‑32; 1Thess.2.1‑12
10 For instance: Matt.4.4ff; 5.17‑19; 19.3‑6; 22.29,32; Luke 4.17‑21;
24.25‑27,44‑47; John 10.35f; 19.28-37
11 What about the Koran then? Mohammed came about 600 years after Jesus Christ. Almost from the first he was ready to use arms; before the end of his life (c.632) he subdued Mecca by force, and after his death Islam's spectacularly rapid spread owed much to military power. Jesus called his disciples to follow a very different way of life; see John 10.17ff; 12.20-33; 15.13; 18.10f; Acts 7.59; 20.17ff. With Constantine's conversion (in 312), 'Christianity' ( as it came to be called) became popular and the challenge of the life of self-sacrifice faded; the church lost its first love and corruption set in (Matt. 24.3-14; Acts 20.29ff; 2Pet. 2.1f; Rev. 3.14ff)
12 Isa.48.17ff; Zeph.3.17. The first question in the famous Westminster
Shorter Catechism of 1647 was "What is the chief end of man?" Answer,
"To glorify God and enjoy Him for ever".
14 See also Matt.5.48
15 2Pet.3.8. Note the subject matter of the preceding verses.
17 Matt.10.31; 12.12; James 3.9; cf Gen.17.5; 32.28
18 Psalm 8
19 Matt.28.19,20; Mark 16.20; Acts 15.28; 1Cor.3.9
20 e.g. 1Kings 19.9‑19; Acts 9.10‑17; 10.1‑6
21 A number of prominent churchmen today accept homosexuality. But the
Bible is definite (see Gen.18.16‑19.29; Rom.1.24‑27; 1Cor.6.9,10).
and Jesus regarded the judgement on Sodom as an historical act of God
(cf.Matt.11.22‑24 with Matt.5.27‑30; Luke 17.28ff; and Rom.1.32).
Rejecting the Holy Spirit's witness to Jesus was a sin even worse.
22 For God's sovereignty over natural events, see e.g. Ps.89.9, etc. and over
historical, Hab.1.5f; Mark 4.35-41 etc., etc.
24 UNWEAVING THE RAINBOW Richard Dawkins Penguin
25 Ibid. Preface p. xi
Books recommended for further reading
The literature on both sides is voluminous. The following is a highly selective list of recommended books:
Alexander, Denis Rebuilding the Matrix Oxford, Lion Pub., 2001. A very impressive book on 'Faith and Science in the 21st Century'; highly recommended for serious readers.
Blocher, Henri In the Beginning, Leicester, I.V.Press, 1984. A luminous and scholarly study of Genesis by a French professor.
MacKay, Donald Science, Chance and Providence, Oxford Univ.Press, 1978 A strong defence by an eminently lucid and logically‑careful writer; the orthodox, biblical view of God's activity in nature and history.
Houghton, John Does God play dice? IVP, 1988. A discussion of the role of 'chance' by an Oxford Professor of Atmospheric Physics and Director General of the Meteorological Office
Hooykaas, R. Religion and the Rise of Modern Science, Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, 1972 Prof Hooykaas was Professor of the History of Science at Utrecht; a fine introduction to a fascinating subject.
Wenham, John The. Enigma of Evil IVP 1993: Lewis, C S The Problem of Pain London, Geoffrey Bles. 1940. Two telling discussions of a perennially difficult problem
Ward, Keith God Chance and Necessity Oxford, One World, 1996 The Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford writes a calm, carefully argued, point by point refutation of the scientific atheism of Richard Dawkins, Peter Atkins, Stephen Hawking, and Michael Ruse.
For wider reading:
Cameron, Nigel M de S Evolution and the Authority of the Bible Paternoster, 1983 One of the best conservative statements of a position different from the present author's.
Taylor, Gordon R The Great Evolution Mystery London. Seeker and Warburg 1983. An able and provocative review of the difficulties facing orthodox Darwinism by a secularist writer.
Midgley, Mary Evolution as a Religion London, Methuen, 1985. The author writes as a university philosopher, not sectarian either way.
Lovell, Bernard In the Centre of Immensities Granada 1980 A work of "brilliant analysis and passionate humanity" by a great radio-astronomer, dealing in ultimate terms with man's place in the Cosmos.
Moore, James R. The Post‑Darwinian Controversies, Cambridge University Press, 1979 A fine historical study of the period 1870‑1900
Sire, James W, Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All? IVP, 1994. A very fascinating discussion.
P.S. I have just come across a book now unfortunately out of print:
F.A. Filby Creation Revealed (1964, Pickering and Inglis). Dr Filby a Senior Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry shows how our understanding of the biblical account of the origin and development of the cosmos has changed with time and study, and that the same applies to the scientific account of cosmic history. "The conviction grows upon me that there is a great deal in common in these two aspects of truth," he writes – "hence this book."Also very strongly recommended is an old book by Dr. A.T. Schofield (1888, 1926) The Fourth Dimension, it is highly suggestive.