Introduction >>back home

The most urgent need of our contemporary world is to recover the conviction that God is Sovereign Creator. How can we be sure? Because of the biblical testimony. Why should we accept this? An answer is given addressed to fellow scientists, fellow clergy, and any thoughtful men and women concerned to know.

When an author sits down to write a serious book he needs to be clear about three things: What is his purpose? Whom is he writing for? Is his subject worth the effort? To these might be added a fourth: What are his presuppositions? Let me therefore say something about these matters. But let me first make my position clear. I am persuaded that the teaching of the Bible on the origin of ourselves and our cosmos is entirely consistent with anything that we have come to know through careful scientific enquiry, and it is also of more vital importance. Many eminent scientists today would heartily say "Amen" to both statements ‑ but there are many who wouldn't. There is a very significant difference between the two. Those who say "Amen" would know both their science and the Bible; those who don't, I strongly suspect, would know little of the Bible. For it speaks in ways and of matters in which they have little interest, at least not yet; and to those who can't spare thoughtful time for it, a book like the Bible will never yield up its secrets. All this should be obvious; the same thing could be said (with less poignancy) of many exciting things in science and mathematics. My own testimony is that the things the Bible speaks of are more significant and exciting than even those of the most sensational science.

The purpose of this book therefore is a simple one. It is to commend the biblical doctrine of God as Sovereign Creator. This suffers today from two things: first, propaganda by able popularisers for the neo‑Darwinian theory of evolution, propaganda which is very widely and effectively put across on the media; and second (and worse), the sad ignorance of most men and women of science and of the educated public of the Bible's profound teaching, and the hasty and in fact rather naive way anti‑Darwinists often respond. This means that the first and larger task must be to examine what the Bible does teach; and the second and smaller one must be to look at the neo‑Darwinian theory and see where any 'interdisciplinary' conflicts lie. The first task is an urgent one because (at least in the developed world) life is lived at a restless and superficial level, and very few stop to ask: "Has our existence come to us with any 'built‑in' meaning or purpose? or are we just flung fortuitously into something vacuous and pointless to make the best we can of it?" Very few men and women today seem to have any intelligently and conscientiously thought‑out philosophy of life worthy of the name. Yet the World problems our 21st century faces are more frightening than ever before. There is overpopulation, global warming, shrinking resources, environmental pollution, internet crime and seduction, proliferating nuclear know‑how, intercontinental missiles,, the known threat of asteroid collision, moral breakdown, ethical insolubles, gene manipulation, a capacity for evil and a general sense that nobody anywhere, above or below, knows where history is going ‑ or rather, where evolution is drifting. Even intelligent men and women fear there is no prospect of any welcoming future for our world; they have lost their belief in any Guiding Hand. The deep‑seated restlessness within them and a longing for something they vaguely call 'spiritual' torments them. "What's missing?" they wonder. Finding no satisfying answer some turn to religious cults of one of the plentiful sorts; for the majority life just goes on by routine ‑ with opportunist distractions. To any who are in real earnest these things can leave a suppressed hopelessness. It is for such that I am now writing, and I do so out of the conviction that life has been given us for a purpose, and that a glorious outcome (or its miserable opposite) lies ahead. Why? Because behind and overshadowing our very existence stands God, the supremely great Creator and Giver of all.

Some common reactions

On the face of it there would seem to be every reason for people to wish to subscribe to this belief. But an important obstacle to its reinstatement is a certain unwillingness to be intellectually and practically committed. Most people, it appears, have a native tendency to believe in God. Yet for various reasons scarcely acknowledged many, especially the well‑educated, prefer to remain rather vague in their beliefs, and to keep their formulation flexible or plastic. When intellectual questions arise their creed can then be reshaped as necessary to avoid confrontation. Thus they escape the discomfort of such demands as more solid convictions would impose on them. So far so good. But in shelving the problems they lose also the strength that comes from having convictions (to change the metaphor) with teeth and claws; what avoids fighting can never win battles, nor defeat foes. To be worthwhile therefore, my aim in writing must not be to commend a doctrine which is nebulous and ill‑defined. In fact, it is to commend the biblical doctrine, the source and anchor of all that is so tremendous in the Christian faith.

This book is addressed especially to fellow‑scientists1 and fellow-ministers, but I hope that many others will be interested and none will be put off by a few technicalities, but will read on (I make this plea urgently!). By science I shall mean the physical and biological sciences ‑ those which build on data which is in principle, accessible at will, to man as man. (See chap.II ref. 31).  'Sciences' such as psychology and sociology do not quite fit, but much of what follows will still apply to them. Scientists are no more anti‑religious than other people, but the nature of their work tends to fix their attention on physical mechanism (How?), and so questions of ultimate meaning (Why?), go out of focus. Ideas such as 'chance' and 'randomness' are involved here, and definitions quite adequate in science may be very inadequate when we think deeply about things. This can lead to serious loss of understanding, and I shall discuss these two ideas more fully later. Unfortunately, scientists in common with the majority of educated people today, have a very poor acquaintance with the Bible. It has a claim to be the most influential book ever written, and what it sets forth cannot be evaluated at a sitting. So I do not apologize for the early and major attention I have given to it.

I have a different reason for addressing my fellow clergy. Today many of them are suffering not only from a crisis of identity but also from a crisis of belief. Ultimately the Christian faith stands or falls with the authority of its foundation documents; of the Old Testament as the lively 'Oracles of God', and of the whole Bible as 'God's word written' 2. If the authoritative witness of the Bible is rejected or belittled what reason have they after all for believing such an otherwise incredible doctrine as the Incarnation 3, which most clergy profess to accept? In this respect a great many seem to have lost their nerve; they are content with such misleading half-truths as "God is love and nothing but love" (contrast John 17.25), which recently appeared in a diocesan periodical. Whereas G. K. Chesterton (I think) once described himself as "prancing with belief", they might be described as "dithering with doubt". Science and the "destructive criticism" of the Scriptures overawe them. I owe it to my readers to say something at least about where I stand in these matters, and why I hold with complete conviction the historic Christian understanding that, in Paul's words, All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine., for reproof. for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete (2Tim.3.16).

Is Scripture the Word of God?

In making up our minds on this question there are the standard arguments drawn from the testimony of Scripture to itself, and from the attitude of Jesus Christ to the Old Testament and to the New 4. These are of primary importance. Impressive too is the immense power the Bible has wielded, and continues to wield, over thoughtful men and women of all sorts in all ages and in many nations; it would be safe to say that no literature anywhere approaches the Bible in this. But I will add three other considerations not so often brought forward.

During the last two centuries or so a great deal of scholarly effort has been devoted to the question of how the books of the Bible have come down to us. The first five books, spoken of collectively as the Pentateuch and of obvious significance in the present context, have received a very full share of attention. The Documentary Theory, largely associated with the name of Wellhausen and still widely canvassed in various forms, was built around the suggestion that they result from the interweaving of several sources, once referred to as J,E,P and D after their presumed authors 5. This theory raises two issues quite distinct but often confused. The first issue is whether the theory is true. Though still accepted in one modified form or another, there are a few scholars who deny it 6. The second issue is whether it matters if it is. I maintain on this that if we accept the Bible's own lofty perspective of the Sovereignty of God, it doesn't. Luke compiled his gospel apparently after careful attention to many eye‑witness accounts; but its self‑authenticating authority as Holy Scripture is nevertheless recognized at the highest levels. But the important point is this: on biblical premises (my usual basis), God is sovereign over all the significant events of history, a matter which will be discussed further. He is thus able to use whatever detailed instruments and methods He chooses to preserve His message for generations to come (2 Kings 22.8‑10; Jer.36.27f; 2 Tim.3.15). How otherwise could they be held responsible for not receiving it? (see Matt.13.14f; John 5.47). All Scripture takes as 'given' the power of God to bring His purposes infallibly to pass (cf Matt.26.53f), and this has an obvious bearing on the present matter. Having given a revelation with immediate and permanent significance He takes steps to ensure its preservation for future generations. Thus although liberal scholars may insist on such things as the multiple authorship of Isaiah 7, this book is nevertheless often quoted in the gospels as God's authoritative word, and Jesus himself used it as such (Luke 4.17ff). The trouble with the scholarly doubters is that their God is altogether too small. Their doubt is misplaced. The Pentateuch, with which we shall be chiefly concerned, does not let us down here: it has its own intrinsic greatness and sublimity, and it is positively supported in this by the rest of the Bible; in fact it is referred to quite frequently by Jesus himself. We may take it therefore for both theological reasons and because of the evidence before us that it belongs where it is, and as we now have it (Matt.9.13; 19.4).

The Sovereignty of God in history and in nature

God's sovereignty is constantly emphasised in the Bible. Thus history, in the widest sense of the word, is never out of His control; He directs it as He will (Ps.135.6f; Prov.21.1; Dan.4.35). It is, in a profound sense, His story. But within this mastery and consistent with it rebellious men and woman may often he allowed to do just what they want and thereby to learn the sad consequences of sinful behaviour (Ps.81.11,12; Hos.4.17; Matt.19.8; Rom.1.24‑26). But through all this God remains firmly in control. In the story of Balaam (Numb.22-24) the soothsayer is compelled to cooperate in God's purpose; in the case of the proud Assyrian (Isa.10.5‑12), he is allowed to act as he will. But God's purpose is fulfilled in both cases; the avaricious soothsayer and the proud king each work their deserved downfall (Num.31.8; Isa.37.37f). The story of the Pharaoh of. the Exodus is similar (Rom.9.17). All these cases illustrate what the Bible means by the Sovereignty of God; He cannot be thwarted (Isa.43.13).

In the case of nature the considerations are naturally a little different. With history, the common tendency is to think of man (rather than God) as causal agent; with happenings in nature, the present tendency is to think of chance. But while 'chance' is a reality for man (it is a confession of ignorance), it means nothing to God (Prov.16.33; 1Kings 22.34 NIV, REB cf.vv.17ff; see also later chapters).

These considerations bring us to Genesis 1, the story of creation. Suppose the neo‑Darwinian account of how things arrived is true; would that at a stroke dismiss the biblical account as "mythical" or at least "superfluous"? Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins would I suspect answer "Of course" at once; but if so, there is an important possibility they could have overlooked. Reality may have 'dimensions' (see note 8) beyond those they know of. Let me illustrate my point. Suppose someone asks "Why is that kettle boiling?", he might get the answer "Because it's on the gas". A pure physicist (100% such) might find that answer satisfying, but few others would. They would want to know more. "A tired visitor is expected and a kind hostess is making tea". Here the explanation has been extended to a new level altogether. I don't mean that a 'body' has now been introduced as agent, lighting the gas and setting on the kettle; that would be merely adding to the previous mechanistic answer. But the mention of the hostess's kindness has nothing to do with mere mechanism, it introduces rather a meaning to the whole thing. It may only be introduced quietly, but it's the most important element of all. Two things are thus responsible for the boiling of the kettle, the physical effects of heat and its manipulation, and the personal attribute of kindness. This suggests that to peremptorily exclude the idea of Providence as "mythical" and "superfluous" in their Grand Cosmology as Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins want to do is either unfortunately blind or deliberately blinkered.

Of course, this does not prove my case, that there is a Person behind physical reality. Dawkins could have replied that a kettle on a high shelf under a leaky roof had filled with rainwater, overbalanced, hit a gas tap on the cooker and there you are; no need for any hostess. But if he follows this de‑personalizing line all the way back 9 he will eventually come to the point where he has to say that 'the whole show' ‑ our entire Universe (space, time and everything in it, including ourselves) ‑ is here through nothing more than "Quantum fluctuations in absolute nothingness. These had led also to an infinity of other universes, of which ours (by chance) had its physical constants so exquisitely balanced that carbon atoms and domestic gas and tin kettles and wooden shelves and (still by chance) humans finally appeared." 10 (quote my own). Do they really believe this? Well, well; but does it make better sense than believing in a Creator of wisdom, love and power? One Who appeared among men and women, historically well‑evidenced according to the New Testament? Being merely "survival machines, robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes", do they think themselves competent to pronounce on such an ultimate mystery, or to call it "a vacuous existential question"? 11 Apparently they do; but whatever has happened to their self‑estimate, let alone their commonsense?

The Crucifixion

On the decisive question of history the Bible makes a profound contribution to this whole debate. It offers, in effect, a naturalistic explanation of the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. There was priestly jealousy, a traitor's resentment, social unrest, Pilate's fear of Caesar 12. Given these (and a few other common circumstances) the secular historian could be reasonably satisfied that he knew why events took the course they did. "Any other explanation is superfluous" any atheist might similarly conclude. Yet the Bible writers robustly affirm that there is a truth towering over the merely sociological one ‑ that this happening was both in broad outline and in finer detail God's doing. Both in purpose and in execution, it was the central act of His plan for reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5.19). This Jesus, said Peter as he preached, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2.23 RSV). Sovereign Lord, Maker of heaven and earth . . . Herod and Pontius Pilate conspired with the Gentiles and with the peoples of Israel to do all the things which under Your hand and by Your decree, were foreordained (Acts 4.24,27f  REB). The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it? Jesus himself said on his arrest (John 18.11). This case does not stand alone; the Bible is full of lesser events woven in a profoundly meaningful way into the fabric of world history. His death on the Cross was the work of God, however much it was the doing of men. On what authority could anyone deny it?

This example makes clear that while the Bible sustains the view that the events of history can be understood in terms of their historical context, God is still the Sovereign Ruler behind the scenes. The story of Joseph (see Gen.50.20 RV) Ye meant evil . ., but God meant it [same verb] for good, puts the biblical position in a nutshell. The fact is, the secularist imagines God in his own image, and naturally He's too small. You are mistaken, Jesus said to learned men, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God (Matt.22.29). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus was emphatic too about the phenomena of nature; for if God is not here and now sustaining the earth's rotation, holding fixed the dewpoint of water, and here and now ordering the morphogenetic (form producing) processes in plants (Matt.5.45 NIV, REB; 6.28ff) his words are pointless, or worse, positively misleading. Truly, the God of the Bible "holds the whole wide world in His hands" ‑ immanent in all, and transcendent over all.

The New Testament Message

The next point is rather different. It concerns the authority and transmission of the New Testament message ‑ that Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory . . died for our sins according to the Scriptures. and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, that He bestows the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and that He is coming again publicly to bring justice and peace to this troubled world 13. Now most men and women of realism and goodwill (at least in the West) would agree that if true, this message is of supreme importance. Indeed, it is hard to conceive of anything which could excite greater longing in a humanity which is fast losing all sense of having any ultimate meaning, purpose, destiny or hope. Yet if this is truly a message from God, and if the views of the many destructive critics of New Testament authority are right, we would have to accept that God had provided for it to be available to us 'moderns' in a highly dubious form; 'shambolic' would not be too strong a word for it. But if this is so, how could we retain any confidence in the message itself? For it would have arrived in our hands as writings called the 'New Testament', which are often unreliable as history, incredible as fact, questionable as doctrine and in some ways seriously misleading as practice14. Clearly something is wrong; one of our 'ifs' has to go. For the present writer it is without hesitation the presumption that the liberal critics are right. If God is careless, or powerless to give us anything better than the New Testament, how can we put our trust in Him? It must be the critics who are wrong. They are at variance among themselves; their perceptions are constantly changing; and they are immensely dwarfed by their subject matter. Their conclusions are quite unacceptable if one believes in the God of glory Who appeared to our father Abraham and through him founded the nation to which were committed 'the Oracles of God', and from which came a long line of prophets who foretold the coming of a Righteous One and his betrayal and death on a shameful cross (Ps.22: Isa.53; Acts 7; Rom.3 ). There is an impressive consistency about the biblical testimony, and it heads up to the unique character of .Jesus of Nazareth. Of no one else in all history has anything so impressive been foretold in a way remotely comparable to what was foretold of him. To crown it evidentially is the well‑substantiated record of his resurrection, still intact after many determined assaults 15. All this is reason for holding that the Bible is 'God's Word written' (as the Anglican 39 Articles say), to be understood in the sense it conveys to the honest and careful reader. One simple presupposition undermines the destructive criticism which has become so prevalent in theological and religious circles: the Sovereignty of the power, wisdom and lovingkindness of God. If these are facts, it becomes impossible to accept that God has allowed the written record of His great acts in history to be transmitted to the vast majority of ordinary men and women in the unreliable form the critics suggest. To doubt His sovereign oversight of the very Bible we have in our hands is to impute fault to God 16. In it He still speaks to the humble listening heart: and to the others Jesus still says, "You are in error, because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God" (Matt.22.29 NIV).

The Record of Creation

What has been written about the New Testament writings applies to Scripture as a whole, and not least to the Pentateuch. On biblical premises, the latter is clearly profoundly important if we are to know the truth about ourselves and our world. Who are we? Have we a destiny? Why is there so much suffering and misery here? Is God a nonentity, or must we conclude that there is no Creator ‑ only chance and the selfish genes we hear of (which "don't care about suffering because they don't care about anything" 17)? Is science the only hope left? This is not the place to examine the last question: that will come later. The comment to make here is that if science is our only hope the outlook is bleak indeed. But what is the biblical picture?

According to the Bible, God has always been deeply concerned for the heartfelt longings of man, His creature (Ps.107.9), and with Him the less‑advantaged sort have always had a particular place. Ho! everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price is a typical O.T. invitation (Isa.55.1). It is entirely in character with His revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ (whom "the common people heard gladly") that He has provided for ordinary men and women in concert with their fellows and no doubt with help from specialists, a guide at once plain and trustworthy 18. The great historic confessions of the churches (forged not in times of toleration and plenty but more often of persecution and poverty) have acknowledged the Bible to be just such a guide. Indeed, that was how Jesus himself regarded the Scriptures of his day, the Old Testament. In doing so he quite often used language closely resembling the very formula 'the Bible says' which periodically today comes under ridicule 19. It is for this reason among others that notwithstanding the loss of nerve in parts of the church I have based my arguments in this essay unashamedly on the Bible's teaching. The blasts of theological and religious scepticism have historically had a way of blowing themselves out, like other storms. The philosopher Wittgenstein is reported to have said that "philosophical analysis, if properly done, leaves everything as it is" 20. I have the feeling that the same will prove to be true of that sort of liberal criticism which makes the Bible not the Word of God, but only the 'insights', however brilliant, of men.

The Two Books

It remains now to set out clearly two more presuppositions of my argument. In doing this I shall use the old well‑established analogy that goes back through Francis Bacon, Kepler and Galileo to Augustine and Origen: Scripture. and Nature are the 'Two Books' through which the Creator Who gave them teaches man (see Luke12.27f; 24.45; Ps.104; Isa.28.23‑26). A book can of course be read21 in different ways; Oliver Twist can be read as entertainment, as social comment or as political propaganda. One very influential way of 'reading' the book of nature is science (the poet and the artist know others). The same sort of thing is true for Scripture, which is most obviously designed as a guide to wisdom and as a call to worship. But in the course of its basic 'brief' it has to speak sometimes of physical nature, and in doing so it inevitably overlaps the province of science; the two speak on the same subject for a moment before they go their own ways. Do they in such cases agree in what they say? It is here that opinions may appear sometimes to clash. But we must remember before deciding, how each handles the subject, here physical nature (in the widest sense of that term). Science properly investigates its mechanism; the Bible makes its declarations on its meaning. In secularist circles today science often strays into the sphere of 'meaning' where it has extremely little (if any) legitimate business. The Bible however need concern itself very little with 'mechanism', since the Creator has given man the means to investigate it for himself (Ps.111.2). Of course the terms 'mechanism' and 'meaning' as used here need to be correctly defined. In one sense the song of birds has 'meaning' (e.g. as an assertion of territorial rights), yet even so it can be quite a proper matter for scientific interest. But this doesn't alter what has just been said, for bird song is here to science just a mechanism, a means to a biological end where it terminates. Our term 'meaning' relates more fundamentally, ultimate origin to final fulfilment; in that way it expresses what is meant here by 'Purpose'.

From what has been said it would seem to be entirely reasonable (on basic biblical premises). to regard the Bible in a way analogous to that in which the scientist regards Nature; as something fundamentally 'given' ‑ self‑consistent, authoritative, to be understood but not to be argued with 22; sometimes enigmatic and stretching our powers of comprehension 23; liable at times to upset our paradigms 24; challenging us to press on and always rewarding us as we do so. Of course, there are major differences. Science yields its top secrets to the highly gifted; the Bible is there for all, and often yields its top secrets more readily to those less gifted (Matt.11.25f).

This brings us at once to a second presupposition. When the revelation in Genesis was given, it is surely (rather, obviously) reasonable to suppose that it was given in terms expressly designed for its immediate recipients, to teach them the essential conditions for happy living ‑ obedience to the beneficent will of the good Creator (Deut.29.29; cf. Isa.48.18; Mark 2.22). Their progressive experience in doing so would build‑up to form a sound tradition for future generations who would thus have the benefit of hindsight. Today's interpreter needs to remember this. Those who take Genesis 1 as providing clues for 20th/21st century cosmologists are, I suggest, following quite a false trail. The creation account was given to an undeveloped nation for the purpose of teaching them their high calling as the people of God before the whole world 25, to be exemplary servants, workers together with God and imitators of Him (Gen.2.15; cf. 1Cor.3.6,9; Eph.5.1). Suppose we turn again to that definitive verse. Deut.29.29: it sheds light on several strongly contested points of interpretation. The length of the cardinal 'days' of Genesis is one of them, and this is discussed more fully in a later chapter. Their ordinal numbering is another. This latter imparts two pieces of wisdom. First, the Creator desires an ordered and disciplined life, first things first, a salutary lesson for a slave‑mob called out to be God's exemplars, and one perhaps referred to by Moses in his great prayer in Psalm 90.12: So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Second, it may be recalled that Darwin himself expressed doubts about whether natural selection does actually entail progress, and no satisfactory reason has been advanced since as to why it should do so 26. However, in the Bible God's creative activity does progress to a climax, which is man (Psalm 8). The ordinal numbers suggest this. Then the early mention of seed‑plants and trees calls attention to the importance of green things; they are the start of the 'food chain' (Gen.1.29f). Again, delaying mention of the sun, moon and stars and avoiding giving them their proper names may well be to deny them any prominence as objects worthy of worship: they were regarded as such by Israel's neighbours (Deut.4.19). Some of these points are brought out by Kidner in his commentary 27, to which I am much indebted. Finally, the vivid and rhythmical structure of this first chapter (see Blocher 28) must have helped to fix its substance firmly in the minds of those to whom it was first given: untutored, unable to read and in any case with probably little inclination or opportunity to do so. My own view of Genesis 1 is that it is perfectly compatible with any well‑established scientific cosmology, but that it has far more important things to impart than what can be found out with our telescopes, rocket probes and space stations – things of the kind that Jesus spoke of when he said, I thank You Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight (Matt.11.25f). When one considers all the instruction this key but untutored nation needed to fulfil the role which God had prepared for it (see Gen.12.1ff), it seems lacking in commonsense for 20th/21st century readers to treat this record as if it were given to the human race as an introduction to cosmology and anthropogeny. It should be read rather with an eye to the wealth of fundamental wisdom it manifestly contains, and to the prophetic significance of the nation to whom it was delivered29. Later generations should remember this when their dominating interest has turned (as it now has) from wisdom to scientific know‑how.

Postscript ‑ a trenchant evaluation of some (at present influential) destructive criticisms of the New Testament

Rudolf Bultmann, Professor of New Testament at Marburg who died in 1976, maintained " that 'form criticism' of the Gospels showed it was next to impossible to know anything about the historical Jesus Christ". In effect he tried to 'demythologize' the Incarnation. Bultmann has had a profound influence on modern theology (not always in his direction, however). In the review of a recent book, THE SEVEN PILLORIES OF WISDOM 30 by the American writer David R Hall, Prof Howard Marshall of Aberdeen writes, "the author demolishes with wit and elegance what sometimes have been called the assured results of modern criticism" of the Bible, criticism such as Bultmann's. David Hall's terminal ploy in his book is to present an (imaginary) paper obtained, he says, by the (fictitious) discovery by physicists of backward transmission in time by a time‑reversal mechanism. This paper (he pretends), was published in Beijing in the Journal of Twentieth Century Studies in January 2090 when China had become the centre of Christian profession, the West, theological liberalism having failed, being sunk into a mixture of mediocre superstitions. The paper examines, by Bultmann's own 'form critical' method, Bultmann's actual treatment of the miracle of the turning of water into wine (John 2.1‑12). The result of this learned (serious yet hilarious) analysis by a (future) Chinese scholar is that

 "only when the literary form of a twentieth‑century work has been determined can the modern reader discern whether its statements are intended literally or humorously . . .the works of Bultmann, which are now little read except by researchers in twentieth‑century studies, will be appreciated for what they are ‑ masterpieces of twentieth‑century comedy".

David Hall's book is strongly recommended. I also recommend very strongly C S Lewis's perceptive essay Fernseed and Elephants 31.

NOTES

1       I was ordained in the Anglican non‑stipendiary ministry in 1973, five years before I retired from a chair of Plant Biophysics in the University of London.

2               The Coronation Service, cf.Rom.3.2; no.20 of the Anglican Thirty‑nine Articles, cf.2Tim.3.16

3               That Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh. John 1.1ff,14; 20.28; 1Cor.2.8

4       For the first, lest the argument should seem unacceptably circular see Appendix I; for the second, see J W Wenham, CHRIST AND THE BIBLE Tyndale Press 1972.

5       For sources see THE ILLUSTRATED BIBLE DICTIONARY vol.3, I.V.Press, Leicester 1980

6       e.g. the Jewish scholar U Cassuto. See Preface of his COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF GENESIS Jerusalem. 1961.

7       But see J A Motyer THE PROPHECY OF ISAIAH Leicester, IVP, 1993

8       In order adequately to describe or categorize an object we need to specify a certain number of independent pieces of information about it: its position, length, breadth and height are obvious examples. But shape, weight, hardness, temperature, motion, colour etc. and so on are others. The number is quite indefinite, and may include some with personal reference, such as value and purpose. Each such piece of information indicates what we may call (for our present purposes) a 'dimension', and it is by means of such 'dimensions' that we compare things which are sufficiently alike. The idea can be extended to events too.

9       THE BLIND WATCHMAKER p.316; for reliance on authority see ibid. pp14,15.

10     Compare the poetic daydreams of P W Atkins, THE CREATION, and CREATION REVISITED W H Freeman. 1981 ,1992; I have quoted these later (my chap. XVI). See also Paul Davies and John Gribbin, THE MATTER MYTH p.227 Viking, London 1991

11             R Dawkins RIVER OUT OF EDEN p.97

12        Matt.26.3f,14f; John 11.45‑50; 19.12

13     A few other refs. here are 1Cor.15.3,4,23,51ff; Matt.24;25.31ff; Acts 1.1-11; Rev. 1.7

14     This is hardly an unfair characterization of what many of the leading 'higher critics' have made of the New Testament. The Old follows too of necessity. On biblical premises, God is as much Sovereign Disposer of the ordinary as of the extraordinary: Pss.29; 104; Prov.16.33; 21.1; Lam.3.37ff; Matt.6.26,30; Luke 21.23ff; Rom.11.36; Gal.6.7 etc imply this. If critics such as Bultmann are right the Gospel message doesn't seem to be available to the common man in a user‑friendly form, and the great LORD of History seems to have acted with careless indifference towards him. I cannot accept this.

15     Biblical references are many: Mark 16.6f; Luke 24.25ff, 44ff; John 20.19‑29; 1Cor.15.5f; 2Cor.5.18ff; 1Pet.1.20f; Rev.1.18. See also C E B Cranfield THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST MARK pp.462ff (CUP, Cambridge 1959)

16     This is an a fortiori argument about the ways of God of a type sanctioned by Jesus (Matt.6.30; Luke 11.5‑13; 18.1‑7), as well as often used in the Old Testament (Exod.4.11; Ps.94.9).

17     Richard Dawkins RIVER OUT OF EDEN pp.131‑133

18        Deut.30.11‑15. There is a strange idea abroad that the very desire for an authoritative guide is a denial of a mature spirituality rather than a consequence of it. The logic of this idea is never explained. The words of Jesus in Matt.11.25f, spoken with peculiar emphasis, are very much to the point here. So are Paul's in 2Tim.3.15 and 1Cor.1.26‑29, and the Psalmist's in Ps.119.99.

  • This formula is virtually synonymous with 'It is written' or 'The Scripture says' as used by Jesus: see Matt.4.4,7,10; 9.13; 15.4,7; 19.4,5; 21.13,42; Mark 12.10,24; 14.21,27; Luke 4.17,21; 7.27; 21.22; 22.37; 24.27,44‑46; John 5.39; 6.45; 7.38; 15.25.
  • Quoted by A R Peacocke in his Bampton Lectures, CREATION AND THE WORLD OF SCIENCE (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1979).

21     It can also be seriously misread, especially when the reader wishes to find fault. I hope I have myself avoided this folly, as well as that of misapplying the 'book analogy', which must be kept within the bounds justified by the parallelisms (see later chaps. XIV. XV, XVI)

22     Science has often been recognised as an authoritarian discipline. No scientist is a free‑thinker ‑ cf. T H Huxley: "Sit down before fact as a little child . . follow humbly wherever . . Nature leads, or you shall learn nothing" (letter to Charles Kingsley, 23 Sept 1860); or Sir Cyril Hinshelwood's Preface to his CHEMICAL KINETICS OF THE BACTERIAL CELL (1946): ‑ "It is better to be put in one's place by Nature than by any other authority". Hinshelwood was President of both the Royal Society and the Classical Society. As biblical parallels might be instanced the words of Jesus in Matt.22.29, You err not knowing the Scriptures, or Paul's in Rom.4.3, What does the Scripture say?

23     So the wave‑particle question was not an 'either‑or' but a 'both‑and'. Compare the paradoxes of Gen.50.20 (RV, NIV), or Acts 4.27,28 (RV, NIV).

24     Thus Classical Physics was dethroned and Relativity put in its place, and the Uncertainty Principle displaced Determinism. All these changes were not for fashion's sake; they resulted from a further study of the Book of Nature.

25        Gen.12.1‑3; 15.5,6; 17.1‑5; 18.17,18; 22.1‑18; Rom.1.1‑5; 3.1; and Rom.chaps.4,9,10,11; Eph.2.11ff; etc.

26     The concept of anything like 'progress' (amoeba to man) is hardly mentioned in the books of the antitheistic authors discussed; they seem to have nothing worth saying. See Dawkins' THE BLIND WATCHMAKER pp.178‑181, or consult the index in Dennett's DARWIN'S DANGEROUS IDEA. In the Bible it assumes main prominence.

27             Derek Kidner GENESIS An Introduction and Commentary (IVP, Leicester)

28             Henri Blocher IN THE BEGINNING (IVP, Leicester 1984)

29     History is not something capricious and uncertain, according to the Bible; it follows a course sovereignly directed by God, however paradoxical this may seem to our limited understanding; see Gen.15.1‑16; Jer.29; Matt.24; Acts 1.1‑7; 15.18; Rom.11.25f; 1Cor.15.3,4,23,51ff; Gal.4.4 etc.

30     David R Hall THE SEVEN PILLORIES OF WISDOM (Mercer Univ.Press, Macon, Georgia 1990); strongly recommended.

31     Fernseed and Elephants has given its name to a book (Collins. Fontana 1977), and is in other C S Lewis titles too.