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John Stott and Science

From Dr. Ken Smith:

`Not many Christians today find it necessary to defend the concept of a literal six-day creation, for the text does not demand it, and scientific discovery appears to contradict it.’ John Stott, in “Understanding the Bible”

My copy is the 1984 revised edition.

Here are three paragraphs from the book, with bibliographic data.

author = {Stott, John}, title = {Understanding the Bible}, publisher = {ANZEA (Scripture Union Publishing)}, address = {Sydney, Philadelphia, London, Cape Town}, year = 1984, edition = {Revised}, annote = {An introduction to the Bible by the evangelical Anglican theologian. Pages 47–50 are headed “The Creation”, and indicate Stott’s attitude to modern science. On pages 48, 49 we read:

In general, we can say with assurance that Genesis 1 begins with God (`in the beginning God created . . .’), continues with progressive stages (`and God said . . . and God said . . .’), and ends with man (`So God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them’). How much further may we go than this? In particular, what may we say about the `how’ of God’s creative activity? Not many Christians today find it necessary to defend the concept of a literal six-day creation, for the text does not demand it, and scientific discovery appears to contradict it. The biblical text presents itself not as a scientific treatise but as a highly stylised literary statement (deliberately framed in three pairs, the fourth `day’ corresponding to the first, the fifth to the second, and the sixth to the third). Moreover the geological evidence for a gradual development over thousands of millions of years seems conclusive.

Indeed, speaking for myself, I cannot see that at least some forms of the theory of evolution contradict or are contradicted by the Genesis account of creation. It is most unfortunate that some who debate this issue begin by assuming that the words `creation’ and `evolution’ are mutually exclusive. If everything has come into existence through evolution, they say, then biblical creation has been disproved, whereas if God created all things, then evolution must be false. It is, rather, this naive alternative which is false. It presupposes a very narrow definition of the two terms, both of which in fact have a wide range of meanings, and both of which are being freshly discussed today. For example, although the great majority of scientists continue to believe that there had been a long evolutionary process, the Darwinian theory of `natural selection’ (or `the survival of the fittest’) as its operational principle is being increasingly questioned, and instead of a single and gradual progression a theory is being developed which posits multiple changes, in fits and starts, and sometimes by inexplicable major leaps. Of course any theory of evolution which is presented as a blind and random process must be rejected by Christians as incompatible with the biblical revelation that God created everything by his will and word, that he made it `good’, and that his creative programme culminated in Godlike human beings. But there does not seem to me to be any biblical reason for denying that some kind of purposive evolutionary development may have been the mode which God employed in creating.

To suggest this tentatively need not in any way detract from man’s uniqueness. I myself believe in the historicity of Adam and Eve, as the original couple from whom the human race is descended. I shall give my reasons in chapter 7, when I come to the question of how we are to interpret scripture. But my acceptance of Adam and Eve as historical is not incompatible with my belief that several forms of pre-Adamic `hominid’ seem to have existed for thousands of years previously. These hominids began to advance culturally. They made their cave drawings and buried their dead. It is conceivable that God created Adam out of one of them. You may call them _homo_ _erectus_. I think you may even call some of them _homo_ _sapiens_, for these are arbitrary scientific names. But Adam was the first _homo_ _divinus_, if I may coin the phrase, the first man to whom may be given the specific biblical designation `made in the image of God’. Precisely what the divine likeness was, which was stamped upon him, we do not know, for Scripture nowhere tells us. But it seems to have included those rational, moral, social and spiritual faculties which make man unlike all other creatures and like God the creator, and on account of which he was given `dominion’ over the lower creation.

Concerning Noah’s Flood Stott writes on page 50:

The flood seems to have been a comparatively local — though widespread — disaster. The assertion that `all the mountains under the entire heavens were covered’ (Gen. 7:19) is not to be pressed with strict literalism, but rather understood from the perspective of the observer, just as the `God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven’ who were in Jerusalem for Pentecost (Acts 2:5) evidently refers to the known world of the Mediterranean basin. For Luke goes on to list fifteen such groups. He was not alluding to distant peoples like Eskimos, Australian Aborigines and Maoris.

Were these views more widely known one suspects that creationists would find themselves in a quandary. They are clearly incompatible with what creationists preach, but condemning an evangelical scholar as eminent as John Stott would only do their cause much more harm than good.

While delving through my collection of quotations about sciece and religion looking for Stott, I came across a very nice extract written by a creationist.

I’ve changed one word in the following, and suppressed the title of one work which might have given things away. Would anyone like to have a guess at the author?

Is it not a wonder that anyone can bring himself to believe that a number of solid and separate particles by their chance collisions and moved only by the force of their own weight could bring into being so marvellous and beautiful a world? If anybody thinks that this is possible, I do not see why he should not think that if an infinite number of examples of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet, made of gold or what you will, were shaken together and poured out on the ground it would be possible for them to fall so as to spell out, say, the whole text of the [title concealed]. In fact I doubt whether chance would permit them to spell out a single verse!

So how can these people bring themselves to assert that the universe has been created by the blind and accidental collisions of inanimate particles devoid of colour or any other quality? And even to assert that an infinite number of such worlds are coming into being and passing away all the time. If these chance collisions of atoms can make a world, why cannot they build a porch, or a temple, or a house or a city? A much easier and less laborious task.

In fact these people talk such nonsense about the universe that I wonder whether they have ever lifted their eyes to the glory of the skies above their heads, which I shall next consider. Aristotle put it well:

Let us imagine a race of men who have always lived beneath the earth in fair and noble dwellings, beautified with paintings and statues and furnished with everything requisite to wealth and the blessings that wealth can bring. Let us imagine that these men have never come up to the surface of the earth but have heard by rumour and hearsay of the existence of the divine kingdom of the gods. Then let us imagine that at some point of time the jaws of the earth were opened and they were able to escape and come forth from those hidden abodes of theirs into the places where we live. When all at once they saw the land and sea and sky, beheld the majesty of the clouds and felt the power of the wind, and looked at the sun in its splendour, and came to understand its power, how it brought daylight to the world and shed its light across the sky: then, when night cast its shadow over the earth, they saw the whole heaven bright and glorious with stars, the varying brightness of the waxing and the waning moon, the rising and the setting of these heavenly bodies, and their sure and changeless course through all eternity. When they saw all these things, would they not be immediately convinced of the existence of the gods and that all these wonders were their handiwork?

That is how Aristotle saw it. But let us make our own picture. Let us imagine a cloak of darkness such as that with which the eruption of the volcano of Etna is said to have shadowed all the lands around. For two whole days no one could recognize his neighbour, and when on the third day the sun broke through, men felt as though they were all risen from the dead. Now suppose this were to happen to men who had passed their whole lives in darkness, so that they suddenly for the first time saw the light of day. How would the heavens look to them? From daily habit our eyes and minds have become accustomed to this sight and we no longer wonder at it, or seek a reason for something we have always known. In our folly we become incurious about anything, however marvellous, if it is not new. But can there be any man worthy of the name who can consider the regular movements of the heavenly bodies, the prescribed courses of the stars, and see how all is linked and bound into a single system, and then deny that there is any conscious purpose in this and say that it is all the work of chance?

The truth is that it is controlled by a power and purpose which we can never imitate. When we see some example of a mechanism, such as a globe or clock or some such device, do we doubt that it is the creation of a conscious intelligence? So when we see the movement of the heavenly bodies, the speed of their revolution, and the way in which they regularly run their annual course, so that all that depends upon them is preserved and prospers, how can we doubt that these too are not only the works of reason but of a reason which is perfect and divine? So let us put aside all casuistry of argument and simply let our eyes confess the splendour of the world, this world which we affirm to be the creation of the providence of God.

The quotation from Aristotle is from the lost work “De Philosophia”.

Scroll down for the solution – but after you’ve had a bit of a think about the author.

The word I changed was “one” to “six” in the number of letters of the alphabet.

The title which was concealed above is the “Annals” of Ennius. This may give a clue about the venerable age of the work, which is:

author = {Cicero, Marcus Tullius}, title = {The Nature of the Gods}, publisher = {Penguin Books}, address = {Harmondsworth, Middlesex}, year = 1972, note = {Translated by Horace C. P. McGregor, with an Introduction by J.M. Ross}, annotate = {The book, written about 45 BC, is in the form of a discussion. In book 2, which records the discussion on the second day, the speaker is Balbus, and in sections 92-97 (on pages 161-163 in the Penguin edition) he says: … (see above)

So creationist ideas aren’t really very new. But whetrher modern-day creationists would wish to claim support from Cicero is another matter. 🙂


Ken Smith

— Dr Ken Smith – Christian, husband, unpaid mathematician, skeptic, … “We sang `Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight …’ but just let one of those red, yellow or black children try entering our church.” Philip Yancey in “Soul Survivor”


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