There is much debate in our culture between science and the Bible.1 Others suggest that science should drive our understanding of religion. Still others argue that religion should drive our scientific understanding. There are truly deep divisions in many senses as people claim different sources of authority on these issues.
But there are many contrasting ideas that are presented in the popular discussions of this topic that need to be carefully considered. Words have meanings, and we need to make sure that we are using our own words in a manner that is clear and does not hide or change the meaning of certain terms and concepts. We all recognize when a politician talks out of both sides of his mouth, but it can be a little harder to spot when we see religious leaders and scientists talking in the same manner.2 While we can learn from those who have studied various ideas, we need to be careful not to accept those ideas just because some scientist, religious leader, or news analyst says something is so.
Many people will try to tell you that they do not have such biases, but it is impossible to be neutral: our thinking always begins from a specific starting point.
Everyone has a point he or she is trying to make! Many people will try to tell you that they do not have such biases, but it is impossible to be neutral: our thinking always begins from a specific starting point. All of the arguments that we make are based in our worldview, and our worldview is based on specific assumptions we believe to be true. The goal of this chapter is to explore some of those underlying assumptions about science and the Bible, and their implications for the arguments that are often used in the broad creation-evolution debate.
What we understand today as the modern scientific method and the technologies and theories it produces has its foundations in beliefs about the nature of the universe and the God who created the universe. The scientific method is grounded in the ideas of repeatability, falsifiability, and testability. Each of these ideas assumes that there is a uniformity to the world that we live in. (This will be discussed in more detail below.) But on what grounds can we assume that the world should operate in a uniform way? Only on the grounds that God has created the universe to function according to specific laws.
Modern science blossomed in the fertile soils of Western culture where God was known as the Creator and Lawgiver of the universe. While some mathematical and technological concepts were known in the millennia prior to this time, rigorous experimentation and careful correlation of cause and effect became the focus of the discipline known then as natural philosophy. During the Middle Ages, there was much advancement in the study of nature, though it is often denigrated as a time of little advancement in the development of new ideas. These advances primarily came in the monasteries and universities that were funded and directed by the Roman Catholic Church. Surely, much of this thinking was misguided and has been corrected, but it was the notion of a Creator God who arranged an orderly universe that directed and encouraged the study of natural philosophy. It would be anachronistic to refer to these studies as scientific, but the foundation of scientific thinking was laid in these early centuries in the West.
And this perspective is not simply biblical creationist propaganda used to prop up a particular point of view. Dr. James Hannam, historian and physicist, writes in the conclusion to his The Genesis of Science:
The starting point for all natural philosophy in the Middle Ages was that nature had been created by God. This made it a legitimate area of study because through nature man could learn about its creator. Medieval scholars thought that nature followed the rules that God had ordained for it. Because God was consistent and not capricious, these natural laws were constant and worth scrutinizing. However, these scholars rejected Aristotle’s contention that the laws of nature were bound by necessity. God was not constrained by what Aristotle thought. The only way to find out which laws God had decided on was by the use of experience and observation. The motivations and justifications of medieval natural philosophers were carried over almost unchanged by the pioneers of modern science.3
Demonstrating that he is not interested in propping up the Bible or the existence of the Creator as truth, Hannam goes on to quote Sir Isaac Newton’s insistence on God’s existence to corroborate the diversity of life on earth, but states that Darwin later proved Newton wrong in this area.
“But wait, what about the Chinese in the East! They invented gunpowder!” you might protest. Developing gunpowder is one thing, but deciphering the underlying mechanics that explains how the gunpowder formed and why it explodes, even predicting how it will react with other chemicals, is an entirely different type of thinking. While a defense of this perspective is beyond the scope of this chapter, several authors have discussed this theme at length and proposed very plausible explanations for why scientific thinking and methodology did not develop in stable and flourishing cultures like China, India, and Egypt despite the talents and resources available to them.4 Scientific thinking cannot thrive in cultures where superstitions about capricious gods acting on whims influence daily events. It is only the biblical view of the nature of God and His creation that allows for the expectation of reliably discovering the underlying truths of the operation of the universe created by God. And it is only the biblical worldview that calls for a study of the creation to better understand the Creator and to properly rule the creation (Genesis 1:28) to find cures for disease, produce technology, increase food production, etc., for the good of mankind.
With that foundation, let us turn to some of the common contrasting ideas that are used to frame the discussion of science and the Bible and examine them one at a time.
It is the very nature of language that the meanings of words change. If I had told you in 1947 that I found my missing mouse in my briefcase, you would have had a different reaction than you would today. The same is true for the word science. In its simplest form, science means knowledge. Examining the 1828 definition of science from Noah Webster, we find this:
In a general sense, knowledge, or certain knowledge; the comprehension or understanding of truth or facts by the mind. The science of God must be perfect.5
In a general sense, science means knowledge. Interestingly, the first definition in the modern Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (2003) is not that much different:
the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding6
Today, many have hijacked science, insisting that it can only be done within an atheistic frame of reference (or worldview), thus completely removing God from our thinking about the physical world.
In another sense, science is the systematic study of a subject and the knowledge that is generated by that study. In the past, theology was known as the queen of the sciences (as was mathematics) and the supernatural origins of the universe and the creatures7 on the planet were assumed to be true because they are revealed in Scripture. Today, many have hijacked science, insisting that it can only be done within an atheistic frame of reference (or worldview), thus completely removing God from our thinking about the physical world.
It is possible to categorize science into many different categories. Classically, the pure sciences were distinguished from the applied sciences. For an example, as we studied the pure science of how x-rays interact with matter, we were able to apply that knowledge to taking pictures of the bones inside the body. Christians understand this x-ray phenomenon as an extension of the natural laws God has programmed into the universe and employ this knowledge to exercise dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26–28) and to reverse some of the effects of the Curse (Genesis 3) that our sin brought into the world. They do this by finding cures for disease or developing new technology. Those who hold a naturalistic worldview believe that this phenomenon is just the product of some random events culminating in some beams of radiation that can shoot through some matter and not others. All of this involves testing, observing, and repeating experiments in the present to apply that knowledge in the present.
Another important distinction to make is between operational science and historical science. Operational science employs the pure and applied methods of scientific inquiry to figure out how physical things operate or function to find cures for disease, develop new technology, or otherwise improve our standard of living. In this kind of science, researchers use observable, repeatable experiments to test hypotheses and develop our understanding of the world. Most of chemistry, physics, astronomy, biology, engineering, and medical research are in the realm of operational or experimental science. These types of things can be observed and tested by different individuals with repeatability and can be falsified if contrary evidence comes to light.
Historical science deals with questions of history and origins, such as how the Grand Canyon formed or how living creatures came into existence. Paleontology, archeology, cosmogony, much of geology, and forensics (criminal investigation) fall in the realm of historical or origin science. It looks at evidence in the present to try to figure out what happened in the unobservable, unrepeatable past to produce the evidence that we see, though there is no opportunity to repeat the initial conditions and observe their outcome. There is much conjecture involved in historical science because scientists have to make assumptions about the past. Those assumptions may or may not be correct and, in many cases, may not even be verifiable. So we must take care to understand the limits of this approach. To be clear, both creationists and evolutionists engage in historical science, but biblical creationists look to the authority of the Bible to inform their understanding of the past because it contains the eyewitness testimony of the Creator about key events in the past that explain the world we live it. But in a naturalistic (atheistic), evolutionary viewpoint, there is no eyewitness of the imagined events of millions of years ago and thus no objective standards to judge the validity of the evolutionary stories. The past cause or sequence of events that produced what we see in the present must be inferred by assuming that present processes have always operated in the same way or at the same rate as we observe today.
While operational science surely involves some levels of inference, when we move into the category of historical science, the level of inference increases greatly. Biological, geological, and cosmological evolution are all based on chains of assumptions and inferences that cannot be observed, tested, or repeated. An inference based on an inference based on an inference leaves a very weak chain.
One example of this chain of assumptions comes in the materialistic view of the age of the earth. First, the assumptions of radiometric dating must be accepted. Then, rather than dating rocks that are from earth, meteorites that are found on the earth are dated. This assumes that these meteorites formed at the same time as the earth, so they will be the same age as the earth. This then assumes that the earth formed from a cloud of dust that encircled the young, forming sun, a process known as the nebular hypothesis, and the particles collected into the earth with fragments left floating in space and later falling to earth as meteorites. The nebular hypothesis assumes that the big bang is true. This is a long chain of assumptions with no directly observed evidence. From a biblical perspective, none of this is consistent with the creation account of Genesis, the eyewitness testimony to the events of creation. Science and the Bible simply refute evolution.
Many people try to discredit biblical creationists and say they can’t be real scientists if they don’t believe in evolution. However, this is a silly argument. Many will say that it is hypocritical for a biblical creationist to talk on a cell phone and take antibiotics, yet reject the “truths” of the big bang and biological evolution. But what does the big bang have to do with designing a cell phone? And what does the acceptance of a fish changing into a frog over millions of years have to do with testing bacteria in a petri dish to see what chemicals kill the bacteria? To make such claims is to confuse categories of science and appeals to the emotions by getting people to fear that technology cannot advance if people look at the world through the lens of Scripture. Knowing that many of the founders of scientific disciplines were Bible-believing scientists should give those using these scare tactics pause, but they continue to make such claims in the face of many biblical creationists carrying out scientific research and advancing our understanding of the world that God has created.
As mentioned earlier, because God has created the universe, it follows that certain natural laws were put into place by Him. He has chosen the laws that determine how the planets orbit the sun, how water molecules form and stick to one another, how electricity travels through wires, and every other conceivable interaction of matter and energy in the universe . . . not to mention the spiritual elements of the universe. God has created a universe that operates in uniform ways, and as we study the creation we are uncovering the ways that He has ordered the universe to function or operate. Isaac Newton did not invent the laws of gravity; he simply described the way God had ordained for the universe to function. He was able to do this because God had created an orderly universe in the first place, proving again that science and the Bible work together.
We see the principle of uniformity present in the early chapters of Genesis where God created the various kinds of plants and animals to reproduce after their kind. More explicitly, Genesis 8:22 communicates God’s intention to uphold the earth in a way that is consistent. Connecting this to passages like Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:17 provides a solid foundation for understanding why the universe is the way it is.8
Someone who rejects the Bible can believe that there is uniformity in the universe, but he has no reason to believe that the universe should be a place of order. He is making an arbitrary assumption about the universe with no reasoning to support that assumption. Extending that assumption, many believe in the doctrine of uniformitarianism. This doctrine is often summarized in the phrase “the present is the key to the past.” As an example, the doctrine of uniformitarianism is often applied to the layers of rocks we find under our feet. We can observe the rate at which layers are forming today. If we assume that the rates we see today are the same as they were in the past, we can just look backward and see how long it took for all of the layers to form, right?
Well, the Bible makes clear that there was a global Flood that covered the entire surface of the earth about 4,350 years ago. If that is true, then that would have a major effect on the surface of the earth — the present would be dramatically different from the past. While the laws of nature were in effect during the Flood — uniformity of nature — the rates of the layers being deposited would have been dramatically different because the magnitude and duration of that catastrophic Flood far exceeded the scale of any floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis we observe today. The present is not the key to understanding the past. Rather, the Bible is the key to understanding both the past and the present because it gives us the key events in history to understand both! Science and the Bible work together to help us understand the world around us.
Many people have bought into the myth of neutrality — the idea that people can examine ideas in a truly neutral manner. Everyone has a bias, and everyone starts their reasoning from their foundational worldview. Many people claim that those who have a naturalistic, atheistic scientific worldview, what is also called philosophical naturalism, are neutral and approach their study of the world (its operation and its history and origin) in a totally objective way. But stop and think about that: if you believe that there can be no supernatural influences in the world, you are biased against the supernatural. In that sense, the discussion of science and the Bible always leans one way or another.
The question becomes this: "Which bias is the best bias to be biased by?" Put another way, which worldview provides the true foundation for examining the world we live in? Every person takes these starting assumptions on faith. Faith is inescapable when we examine the world around us, regardless of whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, or whatever.
If we start from a biblical definition, faith is believing things that we have not seen or, by extension, experienced (Hebrews 11:1). “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). Christians trust that God created the universe out of nothing because He has told us that He did, not because we have seen or experienced the origin of the universe. This is taken on faith in light of the truths of Scripture, which is the absolutely truthful eyewitness history from the eternal Creator. A Christian’s faith does not stand isolated from evidence but is affirmed by examining evidence in light of the truths of the Bible. Looking at science and the Bible together gives us interesting insights.
On the contrary, those who believe that the big bang was the origination of the universe do so with a faith that rests on many assumptions rather than the infallible Word of God. They take on faith that which they have not seen. Despite the claim that we can “see” the beginning of the universe in the cosmic microwave background radiation and other features of the universe, that belief is based on assumptions about those observations and should rightly be called positions of faith — a faith based in naturalism rather than the testimony of our Creator God.
Likewise, the formation of the solar system by the nebular hypothesis is taken on faith. The supposed steps in the process have never been observed, but only inferred. Moving forward, the chance origin of life from non-living matter is another point that the naturalistic scientist can only hold to by faith. “It must have happened,” they say, “since we are here.” Within that context, the origin of the information coded in the DNA of every living organism must be taken on faith since there is no known natural mechanism that can explain its origin. Continuing on in the chain of assumptions, the evolution of one kind of organism into another different kind of organism (e.g., a reptile into a bird or mammal) must be taken on faith since it has never been observed, but is only inferred from interpreting the fossils and comparisons of biochemical molecules.
It takes a lot of faith9 to believe in the naturalistic origins of the universe, our planet, and all of the life on it.
In many contexts, the big bang, geologic evolution, and biological evolution are referred to as scientific facts, though these are only “facts” in some redefinition of the word (special pleading). In Science, Evolution, and Creationism, produced in 2008 by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, there is a page dedicated to the question of whether evolution is a theory or a fact. In the conclusion to that discussion, they state:
In science, a “fact” typically refers to an observation, measurement, or other form of evidence that can be expected to occur the same way under similar circumstances. However, scientists also use the term “fact” to refer to a scientific explanation that has been tested so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it or looking for additional examples. In that respect, the past and continuing occurrence of evolution is a scientific fact. Because the evidence supporting it is so strong, scientists no longer question whether biological evolution has occurred and is continuing to occur. Instead, they investigate the mechanisms of evolution, how rapidly evolution can take place, and related questions.10
So, in the minds of those who believe evolution is a fact, it is a fact. Within that paragraph, we also see the subtle assertion that “scientists” no longer even question evolution. So if you question evolution, you must not be a scientist. This is known as the “no true Scotsman” fallacy and is simply an approach used to defame those who question or reject evolution. In fact, I have many colleagues who have earned PhDs in various scientific fields who reject evolution, so that assertion is patently false.
If you ever hear someone say, “Science says such and such,” a flag should go up in your mind. Used in an argument, this is called the reification fallacy, giving personal qualities to an abstract idea. Science can’t say anything, but the scientists can. Related to this idea is the use of the term “data.” When you read that “the data all points to conclusion X,” you should again take pause. Rather than the data (the actual observations from experimentation or measurements of a geological formation or of light from a star or galaxy) these are likely interpretations of the data. The data from the observations are facts and are the same for everyone (creationist or evolutionist), but data may not include all the relevant observations that could be made and also must always be interpreted to arrive at conclusions. In order to interpret the data, we will always apply our worldview to present an explanation that makes sense of the data. Neither science nor the data can ever truly tell us anything. Facts are always interpreted in light of faith (our unprovable worldview assumptions).
To be very clear, there is no conflict between evolution and religion — the conflict arises between evolution and biblical Christianity - often referred to as the conflict between science and the Bible. In fact, many people have made evolution a fundamental tenet of their religion. For example, Hinduism, Buddhism, animistic religions of all sorts, liberal theology, and other expressions of Christianity that do not hold to Scripture as the supremely authoritative, inerrant Word of God are perfectly compatible with evolution and millions of years. Those who call themselves humanists and look to the Humanist Manifesto III as a document with guiding principles also embrace naturalism and unguided evolutionary processes. In that document we find the following statements about how humanists understand the world we live in and how life evolved:
Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience — each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.
Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.11
The modern Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines religion in several forms, including:
a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith12
While humanists might argue that they do not hold to these views on faith, they have no other foundation upon which to build their case. How do they know that knowledge can only come through “observation, experimentation, and rational analysis”? What experiment can be done to show that this is true? If they say they know that by rationally analyzing what they have observed, they have worked themselves into a vicious circle of thought that must be accepted by faith — the very thing they try to denounce.
In many cases, the people who are making this comparison are seeking to exclude the teaching of biblical creation from the public school classroom and other settings, believing religious views should be censored from the science classroom. However, they fail to recognize that evolution is a religious tenet of the religion of humanism and that they are forcing their own religious views into the classrooms and publicly funded museums that exclude a biblical view of the world we live in. Rather than excluding religion from the classroom, Christianity has been replaced by the religious teachings of secular humanism (which is really the religion of atheism).
The issue is not science vs. religion, but one religious view set against another. Science and the Bible each represent two different religions in a manner of speaking. The Bible offers us an authoritative source of truth from which to begin our study of the universe. It is the only rational faith that can even explain the existence of scientific thought in the first place.13
Regardless of which of the ways the science and the Bible conflict is presented, Christians must always look to the Bible as the supreme source of truth and authority in every area. We must also call those who do not believe to look to the Creator as the truth and help them to see that we can only ultimately make sense of the world around us by starting with the truths God has revealed in the Bible.
While some people try to suggest that the facts of nature speak for themselves, a rock does not tell you how old it is — the age of the rock is an interpretation. You must make several assumptions in order to arrive at the supposed 4.5-billion-year age of the earth, including the assumptions of uniformitarianism. These assumptions are in direct conflict with the clear teaching of Scripture and deny a global Flood and the special creation of the universe only about 6,000 years ago.
Unlike rocks and fossils, the Bible does offer clear propositions and descriptions of the past. We must read the Bible much differently from how we read the “book” of nature. We can only understand what nature reveals when we understand that the world we are living in has been cursed by God as a result of man’s sin. We must also take into account the effects of other events like the Flood and the Tower of Babel. Ignoring these truths will naturally lead to faulty conclusions about the history of the earth and all the life on it.
Scientific thinking was born in the cradle of Christian Europe because the men who believed in the true Creator God believed they could understand the world He had created. They believed they could understand the creation because they knew God was a God of order. They believed He was a God of order because that is what the Bible clearly reveals. We must surely acknowledge that we would not have the scientific understanding that we have today apart from what God has revealed to us in the Bible. We would be fools to set aside the Bible as we continue to pursue a deeper understanding of what we see as we peer through our microscopes and telescopes or look with unaided eyes to examine God’s creation.
But that is exactly what many scientists are trying to do. Having stood on the shoulders of men who trusted in God’s revelation, they have denied the need for God to continue their study.
But that is exactly what many scientists are trying to do. Having stood on the shoulders of men who trusted in God’s revelation, they have denied the need for God to continue their study. It would be just as foolish for a man who has flown to the moon on a rocket to deny the rocket that took him there, claiming that he can return to earth on his own without the rocket. Sadly, he will perish there on the moon without acknowledging his need for the rocket for his safe return to earth.
Likewise, those who deny the God of the Bible as the foundation for understanding the world we live in do so at their own peril. God has created the universe, this world that we live in, and each one of us. Through the first man God created, Adam, all have become sinners. Each of us has chosen to rebel against God and His authority as our Creator. Unless we trust what God has said about our condition in the world (that we are sinners), His just judgment against our rebellion lies on our heads and we will never know His wonderful love, mercy, and grace. Just as Scripture calls us to acknowledge God as the Creator, it also calls us to look to Jesus Christ as the only remedy for avoiding God’s wrath against our sin. Each person must acknowledge those truths and look to Christ in repentant faith for the forgiveness of their sins.
As we continue to pursue scientific understanding about the universe we live in, let us do so by building on the firm foundation of what God has revealed to us in His Word. The God who has revealed Himself to us in the Bible makes science possible. Let God be true and every man a liar.
The idea of “non-overlapping magisteria” was promoted by the late Dr. Stephen Jay Gould and proposes that science cannot answer the questions of religion, and vice versa. This forces a false dichotomy between secular and sacred, a concept that is foreign to the Bible. Christians are called to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), not to compartmentalize their thinking and actions into secular and sacred.