GENESIS AND SCIENCE: THE WAR OF THE WORLDVIEWS
There is no doubt that science and technology have transformed our world. We have developed medicines that help us live longer and resist deadly infections that previously killed millions. We have developed electricity, cars, computers, the internet, space craft.
Just think back over your day: how much science and technology have you benefitted from using – from the moment the alarm went on your phone, to your electric toothbrush, to boiling the kettle for a cup of tea …
Some people hope that one day science will be able to solve all our problems and answer all our questions about life, the universe and everything. At the same time, scepticism about the Bible’s account of creation has increased.
BRAINSTORMING SESSION: In light of science, what are some of the common questions/objections about the opening chapters of Genesis?
We’ll return to consider some of these specific issues later tonight but first I want to reframe the subject. There is no battle between the Bible and Science. The first scientists believed that the Bible and the natural world are God’s “two books” - they don’t conflict with each other when rightly interpreted. Instead, there is a battle raging between two worldviews or philosophies: Theistic Science vs Atheist Science. It is inherently a religious argument based on faith, although few scientists will admit that.
Everyone has some belief about what came first – what is the ultimate reality – that is the foundation of their worldview. For example, the atheist scientist Stephen Hawking once told this story:
“A well-known scientist once gave a public lecture on astronomy… At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant turtle." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the turtles standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"
It’s a funny story, but it makes the serious point that everyone believes in some ultimate reality, “all the way down,” that supports everything else. For an atheist the ultimate reality is eternally existing matter and energy – whereas for the Christian it is the eternal God who created all things out of nothing. This is important to bear in mind when we interact with the theories and claims of science. The Christian mathematician professor John Lennox has said
“What no scientist can avoid is having his or her own philosophical commitments. Those commitments are not likely to figure very largely at all, when we are studying how things work, but they may well play a much more dominant role when we are studying how things came to exist in the first place”.
In the war of these two worldviews, the question is which makes best sense of the things we observe in nature – and the very possibility of science (of mathematics, of rational thought) itself?
HOW COULD YOU RESPOND:
“SCIENCE PROVES THAT GOD DOESN’T EXIST”?
There is nothing in science that proves or forces you to conclude that God doesn’t exist, or that goes against the idea that God created the world. For example the atheist scientist Stephen Jay Gould once said:
“science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists”.
The reason science cannot answer the God question is because science interacts with the mechanism rather than the maker. “We don’t find God within creation…”– just as you don’t expect to find Steve Jobs, the inventor of the IPhone, hiding inside the one in your pocket – or Henry Ford under the bonnet of your Ford car! “but all of it points towards him!” (Michael Ots).
However, there are many in the scientific establishment (who control what gets published and funded) who have an entrenched belief system that is hostile to belief in God. For example, here is an extremely candid and rare admission from a secular biologist:
“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs … because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door” (Richard Lewontin)
HOW COULD YOU RESPOND:
“THE BIBLE HAS HELD BACK SCIENTIFIC DEVELOPMENT”
This charge is often made using the story of Galileo, who got in trouble with the Catholic Church for claiming that the earth orbits the sun (and not the other way around). Rather than this being the Bible and Church holding back science, in fact the church was defending the scientific and philosophical establishment which believed the sun orbited the earth on the basis of Aristotle. The lesson here is for the church to beware of trying to read scientific theories back into the Bible!
In fact, many of the first and great scientists like Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, Pascal, Faraday, Newton, Kelvin –believed in God, and their faith was strengthened by their discoveries in the natural world.
The historian Rodney Stark asks why did the scientific revolution happen only in the West centuries after the brief rise and fall of science in China and Arabia centuries before?
“Many societies pursued alchemy, but only in Christian Europe did it lead to chemistry; many societies developed extensive systems of astrology, but only in Europe was astrology transformed into scientific astronomy. Why? Science arose in Europe because only medieval Europeans believed that science was possible and desirable. And the basis of their belief was their image of God and His creation…. It was only because Europeans believed in God as the Intelligent Designer of a rational universe that they pursued the secrets of creation”.
So that’s why the first scientists were Christians. The scientific method they developed was driven by these convictions: that we can trust our senses and reason to lead us to truth; that the language of mathematics can accurately describe the world; that we can examine the universe to discover its order and laws, because it is not random— a rational mind stands behind it, who scripted its laws and breathed life into the equations. That’s why John Lennox writes:
“God is not an alternative to science as an explanation… he is the ground of explanation… God explains why science explains”
The atheistic worldview faces a problem to explain why science is possible and reliable. You see if the human mind is simply the byproduct of blind physical forces and unguided natural selection, then it opens up the question whether our minds can be trusted – what if they are geared more to survival than truth. Here’s what C.S. Lewis said about that:
“If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees.”
Rather than hold back scientific development, the Bible inspired and fuelled it!
HOW COULD YOU RESPOND: “WE DON’T NEED GOD, ONE DAY SCIENCE WILL EXPLAIN EVERYTHING AND SOLVE OUR PROBLEMS”
Will science ever be able to answer every question and solve our every problem? Some dream of it doing so – but it will always remain a dream.
The atheist scientist Philip Goff recently released a book entitled “Galileo’s Error”. He argues that it is naïve to believe that science can explain everything, based on Galileo’s decision that the language of science would only be mathematics – and ignore everything else. Henceforth science has proceeded on the basis of measuring and observing how things behave and how they work. It has been very successful – but only because it has ignored lots of other things. This quantitative method of science is unsuitable for addressing all sorts of questions and experiences – foremost for Goff is the experience of consciousness and the mind. For example, he points out that physical science cannot describe the experience of “the taste of mint, the redness of red, the smell of coffee” – we could add that science cannot address questions of morality (what makes a good or bad person… why is racism and sexism wrong?) or beauty (why is something beautiful or ugly) or meaning (who are we and why are we here?).
A good example from John Lennox (“Can Science Explain Everything?”): science can test and identify all the ingredients used in baking a cake, but it cannot tell us who made it (agency) and why they made it (meaning) and whether I can eat it (morality) – that instead requires revelation from the cake’s baker!
HOW COULD YOU RESPOND: “SCIENCE CONTRADICTS THE BIBLE’S TEACHINGS IN GENESIS”
Well actually there are many areas on which science agrees with the Bible:
- Science tells us that the universe had a beginning. Stephen Hawking has written: “All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago. This is probably the most remarkable discovery of modern cosmology. Yet it is now taken for granted…Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention… therefore there were a number of attempts to avoid the conclusion that there had been a Big Bang”. The Cosmological Argument says “Anything that begins to exist must have a cause” – the universe had a beginning, ergo it had a cause. The Bible was ahead of its time and its first words agree: “In the beginning God created”!
- Science tells us that we live in a universe that seems designed and finely tuned for life. Astrophysicist Dr Hugh Ross explains how unlikely this fine-tuning is due to chance: “Cover America with coins in a column reaching to the moon, then do the same for a billion other continents of the same size. Paint one coin red and put it somewhere in one of the billion piles. Blindfold a friend and ask her to pick it out. The odds are about 1 in 10^40 that she will”. Those are unbelievable odds against it being chance. Indeed, the mathematician and atheist Sir Fred Hoyle said of these things: “it is almost as if a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics as well as with the chemistry and biology – there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature”. The Bible describes for us the deliberate and careful design of God in creation.
- Science reveals that the chemicals in DNA function like letters and form a complex code of information that makes life possible. But the question is where does all that intelligent information come from? How could it arise from non-intelligent nature? Professor John Lennox says: “A building does not emerge from the bricks nor the writing from the paper and ink without the injection of both energy and intelligent activity”. The Bible reveals a God who is intelligent and who brought life into being.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE LINGERING QUESTIONS PEOPLE HAVE ABOUT THE GENESIS ACCOUNT OF CREATION?
Let’s look at three specific issues:
The Length of the Creation Days:
Is it seven literal 24 hour days? Or is it seven periods of time?
Many Christians would prefer the latter, because that would better fit with the suggestion that the universe is very old. However, what does the text say? It numbers the days chronologically and each day has a “evening and morning” – so that implies a normal day than a long-age-day.
In fact the Oxford Professor of Hebrew James Barr once wrote:
“probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that … creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience” (although he himself didn’t believe the biblical account was true!).
Of course it is possible for God to have created the world in seven days – He could have done it in a single moment if He chose to. However, the Scriptures say that God created the universe in a week – and it seems a normal week as we would recognise it.
A creation less than 10000 years old vs a universe over 15 billion years old is a huge difference. What explains it? The ways that scientists use to calculate the age of the universe involve many assumptions and interpretations of the data. When astronomers noticed that galaxies were moving away from us, they realised the universe was expanding – and so they worked backwards to estimate that at one time the universe was much smaller, closer and hotter – the Big Bang. However, there are more and more problems with the Big Bang understanding of the universe and its age. To make things work they have had to make up things like Inflation to explain how the temperature across the universe could be so uniformly distributed. They have had to postulate the existence of things like dark matter (to explain the gravitation force that holds galaxies together) and dark energy (to explain the expansion of the universe) to explain things that don’t fit. And now in recent months they have begun having to invent another thing (dark radiation: to explain the different speeds of expansion) – although some scientists have begun to complain that perhaps what we need is a whole new cosmological model that explains the development of the universe!
The point is that science always changes but the Bible doesn’t – and one day, when all things are known, then what the Bible says and what Science says will agree!
The Age of the Earth
If you work through the genealogies in Genesis and throughout the Bible, then you will find that the human race (and the world) is less than 10,000 years old (interesting that modern science suggests a similar date). However, then geologists suggested that rocks and sediment layers suggested the earth is much older than the Bible would allow. But rocks don’t come with a label that tells you how and when they were formed. Instead there are assumptions that govern how the data is interpreted.
The atheist geologists James Hutton and Charles Lyell revolutionised our understanding of the history of the earth by asserting that we can rightly understand what has happened in the past by looking at similar conditions today: “the present is the key to the past”. This is the principle of “uniformitarianism”. They assumed that the universe is a closed naturalistic system and so things have always operated in the same way without changing. They concluded that the lengthy time involved in laying down sedimentary layers or erosion of rocks today, must have been the same in the past – and when you look at something like the Grand Canyon it would take millions of years to form - thus the theories about the old age of the earth. However, the Bible tells us that things have not unfolded uniformly since creation – rather there has been the catastrophe of the Fall and the Global Flood. The latter resulted in fossils, vast rock layers, and mineral deposits all forming in a very short period of time - rather than millions of years like it would naturally take. When Mount St Helens exploded the mountain was transformed and many features that resembled the Grand Canyon were formed – although they would look like they had been carved out and laid down over thousands of years according to uniformitarian assumptions, in fact they had been laid in minutes due to a catastrophe!
So it’s no surprise that you can make out that the Bible is wrong when you set out with the assumption that the Bible is wrong - and create an alternative paradigm through which to explain ancient history!
The Theory of Evolution
Although many Christians have argued that the theory of evolution is compatible with the Bible, it does require significant reading between the lines – and it causes problems – that there were millions of pre-hominid beings before Adam and Eve who lived, suffered and died, before sin entered the world.
Evolution is a theory, not a fact. It belongs to historical scientific theory, but observable scientific fact. We can observe micro-evolution, natural selection and adaptation – but never have observed macro-evolution – interspeciation: the development of simple lifeforms into more complex species over time branching out of the tree of common ancestors. Nor does the fossil record yet contain compelling evidence of transitionary common ancestors between different species.
The theory of evolution is in crisis today – it cannot account for many things: – the first living cell, genetic information, new biological forms, and the narrow limits of change that random mutation processes can achieve. That’s why in the big book “Theistic Evolution” dozens of Christian scientists, philosophers and theologians warned against the church trying to read the theory of evolution into the Bible in search for scientific credibility – since the theory itself is in serious trouble! That was the very mistake the church made with Galileo – reading a secular philosophy into the Bible in the search for intellectual credibility.
Instead as Francis Schaeffer often reminded people: on the last day, when all things are truly, fully, and perfectly known – then there will be “no final conflict” between the book of nature and book of scripture. But we’re not yet there – there are vast amounts we do not know and there are many with a sinful desire to suppress the truth and refusal to countenance believing in or bowing to anything more than the natural material world. Until the final day, we should humbly but confidently put our trust in God and His unchanging word amid the shifting sands and winds of change in scientific investigation. And we should never be ashamed to be Christians who are biologists, mathematicians, engineers, physicists, astronomers, etc. – because it is God who makes the sciences possible!