Science vs. Scripture?

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Genesis 2:8-17
Genesis 3:1-7

Is it possible to be both a Bible-believing Christian and to accept the modern, scientific account of the origin of the universe? Or are Christians forced to choose between biblical fidelity and intellectual respectability?

For the past two hundred years the scientific and religious worlds have thundered at each other in a series of battles over God. Traditionally, the conflict has focused on these key questions: Does God exist? If he does, is he the God of the Bible? If he is the God of the Bible, how involved was he in forming the universe . . . and the human race. Is the Bible free of contradiction and error?

Hugh Ross, Creation and Time, p. 8

That there is an apparent conflict between science and scripture is obvious to everyone. This conflict has come to be especially focused on the opening chapters of the book of Genesis. One of the common things those who want to discredit the Bible do is to point to the biblical creation story and say that no modern, thinking person could possibly believe this. In Genesis we read of a world made according to the plan and by the power of the word of an almighty Creator God. He called into being the whole universe of matter, energy, time and space out of nothing. He shaped the earth, formed the seas and the continents, hung the sun, moon and stars in space, filled the ocean and the land with living animals, and finally crowned his beautiful creation with his ultimate work, human beings. And God did all this, according to some interpretations, in just six twenty-four hour days only a few thousand years ago.

Science appears to give a very different account of where everything came from. It talks about a “Big Bang” event at the dawn of time, some 15 or so billion years ago, when the universe exploded out of a single, infinitely dense point, and time and space began. Then followed an unimaginably huge length of time, during which whirling gas clouds condensed into stars and planets, galaxies and solar systems. Four and a half billion years ago our home, the earth, took shape, and eventually – again, after an immensely long time – life emerged and evolved. Simple forms became more and more complex until at last, several million years ago, man-like animals (hominids) appeared. Finally some 30 or 40 or perhaps 70,000 years ago, homo sapiens – modern man – came on the scene. Nobody knows exactly when or how. Moreover, many scientists (and modern people in general) believe this whole process from beginning to end unfolded without any design or purpose or superintending assistance from any higher mind or power. It all just happened. The universe, and each of us, is essentially an accidental collection of atoms.

Can the account of the origin of the world given in Genesis be reconciled with the account given by modern science? At first glance, it doesn’t seem like it. So then are science and the Bible basically incompatible? Can a Christian both believe Genesis 1 and accept some of the elements of the scientific model? Or do we have to “check our minds at the door” in order to enter the church as believers?

SECONDARY MEANS

As you may have guessed, I believe – admittedly, as a non-scientist – it is possible to reconcile the Bible and science. I think you can be both a faithful, biblical Christian committed to the authority of scripture and an intellectually honest person who accepts the conclusive evidence of modern scientific investigation of the world. But to attempt to understand creation in a way that also takes the best scientific evidence into account, we have to remember certain things.

First some reminders for biblical believers. Bible-believing Christians need to remember that there is a difference between our interpretations of scripture and what scripture actually teaches. Some of the apparent contradictions between the Bible and science are due not to what Genesis actually says but to Christians interpreting what it says incorrectly. For example, for a long time many English-speaking Christians believed that God created the world in 4,004 b.c. because this date was printed in the marginal notes of many editions of the English Bible. That date was based on an erroneous interpretation of the biblical genealogies, and no knowledgeable Bible scholars would argue for it today.

Another very important principle for Christians to remember is that God usually works through natural processes. Another way of saying this is that God uses secondary means. The primary cause of whatever happens in the universe is the will of God, and the primary means by which it happens is the word or the command of God. God speaks and it comes to pass as he decrees. But this does not exclude the additional use of natural events or processes, including human actions, as the secondary means through which God accomplishes his intended results. Let’s take a personal example from my own life. How did I become a Christian? I heard the gospel as a child, and at some point – I can’t even remember when the first time was – I believed it and I committed my life to the Lord Jesus. I had the wonderful privilege of being born into a Christian family. My parents first told me about the Lord. I was also taken to church and Sunday school faithfully from the time I was an infant. But the messages I heard, the songs I sang, the books and stories I read, the lessons I was taught – these were all just the secondary means. It was really God who converted me and brought me to know and love him. The influence of my parents and the witness of my church were merely instruments. But they were important nonetheless because God chose to work through them.

The Bible teaches that this same principle of God’s use of secondary means holds true throughout the natural world. Do you remember the story of the prophet Elijah? After three years of drought, God told Elijah to prophesy the coming rain. But Elijah immediately sent his servant to look for a cloud. Rain doesn’t come from an empty sky. God uses a natural process, the meteorological cycle of evaporation and precipitation, to bring rain to the earth. Or consider the case of children. In the Bible, Hannah cried out for a child, and God heard and answered her prayer. Hannah and her husband Elkanah returned home and the Bible says that “Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son” (1 Samuel 1:19-20). The primary means of Hannah’s receiving her child was the promise of God; but the secondary means was the natural method of human reproduction.

So it is with creation of the world. God used natural processes: gravity and other laws of physics to form the stars and the sun, the earth and moon; geologic activity -physical events like earthquakes and volcanoes and tectonic shifts in the earth’s crust – to form the continents; chemical and biological processes to create the building blocks of life and eventually to make plants and animals and even human beings. But not through some random, impersonal, merely evolutionary string of events. All was and is planned, guided, superintended, executed directly by God. So Christians believe. Science can only try to discover and describe the processes, the secondary causes and means which God has used. Scripture wants to tell us about the God who directed it all according to his will and executed it all by the power of his divine word.

DIFFERENT QUESTIONS, DIFFERENT ANSWERS

Next, a reminder for scientists: they need to remember that they don’t have all the answers. More than that, science cannot ever have all the answers because it can’t even ask all the questions. Generally speaking, science and scripture ask and answer different kinds of questions. Science is concerned with the investigation of the natural world. It asks questions like what, when, and how. But science has no ability to address the deeper questions of meaning. The Bible, on the other hand, is less concerned with most of the when and how questions. Instead, it wants to answer the question of why, and most of all, who. As Galileo, one of the earliest participants in the science vs. scripture battle, famously remarked, “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

The reason Genesis doesn’t give the sort of information science is interested in about the mechanics of creation is that it is offering a different kind of answer to the basic question, “How did everything get here?” Therefore it uses a different kind of language. The language of science is technical and precise; the language of Scripture is popular and general, but also personal and spiritual. The Bible tells the story of creation in a way that ordinary people of all times and places can understand, and it covers the general outline of things without spelling out the details or the mechanics. The Bible especially focuses on the God who made everything, and it communicates the purpose for which he created us. Think of it like this: Suppose your little daughter comes to you and asks, “How was I born?” Now you have two choices. You could answer by explaining to her in detail the physiological processes of ovulation, fertilization, gestation, and birth. Or you could answer her by saying, “Honey, God gave you to us; he caused you to grow inside Mommy until you were born into our family, and we are so thankful for you.”

The first of those answers is the answer of science. The second is the answer of faith. Which answer is right? Both of them, of course. Which one is true? They both are. Nor does one contradict the other. But which answer do you think is more important to know? That seems obvious to me. We can find out all about the biology and the geology and the physics in due time; what we can’t know, unless we’re told, is that we come from God. This is exactly what God tells us through his revelation in the Bible about his creation of the world. All that God tells us in the book of Genesis is true, but he doesn’t tell us all the truth there is. He doesn’t tell us what we don’t need to know in order to know him, nor does he tell us what we can discover for ourselves eventually through exploration or scientific research. So there is room alongside the Bible for much of what science says in answer to the questions about how the world began.

THE MYTH OF EVOLUTION

The conflict between science and the Bible diminishes when scientists and theologians listen carefully to each other.

But if there’s no real disagreement between good science and good biblical interpretation, there is a definite conflict between some scientists and the Bible. Many scientists are philosophical materialists who reject the idea that anything exists beyond what can be studied and measured here in the physical, material world. As long as science confines itself to scientific questions, Christians have no quarrel with it. But when it turns itself into an atheistic philosophy and claims scientific proof for the proposition that there is no God, we must object. Science has absolutely no grounds for that. What many non-believing scientists promote is not the theory of evolution, but what might be called the “Myth of Evolution.”

It is the Myth of Evolution whose account of the origin of the world contradicts the biblical creation story. That myth goes something like this: No one can say where the universe came from, or why it exists. But we can say absolutely that it has no higher meaning or intelligent cause. As for life, it all began in the primordial slime of some chemical-filled pool. By an infinitely remote chance organic life emerged. It grew, it developed, it changed, from protein strands to single cells to fish to amphibians to reptiles to mammals. Then came the next “miracle.” By another infinite chance, modern humans somehow emerged out of a mass of apes, monkeys and hominids. Man wasn’t much to look at at first, but he matured quickly, leaving behind the superstitions of his infancy as he grew more confident in his intellectual powers. And now finally humanity is coming of age. No longer needing recourse to belief in a Supreme Being, thinking that his computers and genetic engineering will finally grant him infinite knowledge and eternal life, man places himself on God’s throne, and moves boldly into the future, confident in his limitless possibilities.

To all of which Christians respond, “Oh yeah? Sez who?” We absolutely reject these fantasies of atheistic ideology posing as science. We say instead, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The modern atheist thinks the Bible is a myth. The truth is: it’s the atheist’s vision of infinite evolutionary progress that is the real myth. Humans did not emerge from nothingness by chance, or develop out of a chemical soup by accident. We’re not recreating ourselves through evolutionary progress, able to make up new moral rules as we go along. We are not free to reject all limits and discard all absolutes. Real truth and goodness do exist – in the kingdom of God. We are God’s creatures, made in his image and likeness. God made people to know him and love him and to experience the joy of his presence forever, and through Christ he has saved people so that they can once more fulfill the purpose for which they have been created.

And that is no myth.