Faith in Focus

The Relation of Science to the Bible


The Relation of Science to the Bible

Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

In Thy light we see light. Psalm 36:9b

These truths are applicable to the scientist in the laboratory just as much as they are to the school teacher, the painter, the doctor, the orchardist, the lawyer, the mechanic and the minister.

We confess that the Bible is the Word of God and as such it speaks to every area of life. The Belgic Confession, Art. 5, says, "We receive all these books (of the Bible), and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt all things contained in them..." The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. 1, Para. 6 says, "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture..."

Scripture Provides the Foundation

These confessional statements apply to every human endeavour including science. This means that Scripture provides the foundation for our understanding of the universe which science investigates and seeks to describe. Because of man's limited perception and understanding, he must interpret what he observes through some conceptual filter: either a humanistic one or a Scriptural one. The Reformed Christian confesses that Scripture is his conceptual filter. To use John Calvin's phrase, we interpret the world using the spectacles of Scripture.

But, there are many who protest against this idea. They say that one's religious views and one's particular interpretations of Scripture must not be allowed to hold science hostage. Doctrine is fine in its place but it has no place in the laboratory or in the halls of science.

In their book Science Held Hostage, Van Till, Young, and Menninga (professors of physics and geology at Calvin College at the time of publication: 1988) say, "science held hostage to any ideology or belief system, whether naturalistic or theistic, can no longer function effectively to gain knowledge of the physical universe" (p.170). Their language 'held hostage' is strongly emotive. What they mean in this quotation is: beliefs which oppose current scientific theories must not be allowed to bind science thus keeping it from operating freely (i.e. independently of doctrine). But I ask, on what basis do they make this bold assertion? Frankly, nowhere in their book do they substantiate such a claim. The way science is actually done (by both believers and unbelievers) contradicts their claim. I am not referring to the way science is written up in the scientific journals, but the way it is actually done before being written up.

A secular author Philip Kitcher, (Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism, 1982) makes a similar charge in the introduction to his book,

One important theme that I shall emphasize is that, although the Creationist campaign is advertised as an assault on evolutionary theory, it really constitutes an attack on the whole of science... If we let Creationists have their way, we may as well go whole hog. Let us reintroduce the flat-earth theory, the chemistry of the four elements [i.e. earth, fire, air and water, BH], and mediaeval astrology. For these outworn doctrines [i.e. theories, BH] have just as much claim to rival current scientific views as Creationism does to challenge evolutionary biology... The 'scientific' Creationists have constructed a glorious fake, which we can use to illustrate the difference between science and pseudoscience. (p.4,5)

In Kitcher's view one's religious or philosophic views have nothing to do with science. He believes that allowing such doctrines to intrude into science produces pseudo-science. But Kitcher is simply wrong. If no religious or philosophic views are allowed to influence science, then science cannot function. Kitcher, if he is consistent with his own logic, must conclude that all science is pseudo-science. There is no science which does not arise out of doctrine. There is no science which doesn't depend on doctrine. This is because man does not have exhaustive knowledge and so all his observations must be interpreted using his doctrinal/philosophic perspective. Doctrine (whether unbelieving philosophy or Christian truth) provides the interpretive framework for all the observations made by the scientist.

Michael Denton (a non-Christian professor of molecular biology and a medical doctor in Australia, who has worked in London, Toronto and Sydney, and is best known for his work in biological research) flatly contradicts Kitcher with respect to evolutionary biology in his book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, 1986, pp. 353-5

No one has ever observed the interconnecting continuum of functional forms linking all known past and present species of life. The concept of the continuity of nature has existed in the mind of man, never in the facts of nature. In a very real sense, therefore, advocacy of the doctrine of continuity has always necessitated a retreat from pure empiricism, and contrary to what is widely assumed by evolutionary biologists today, it has always been the anti-evolutionists, not the evolutionists, in the scientific community who have stuck rigidly to the facts and adhered to a more strictly empirical approach... The idea that it was the opponents of evolution who were blinded by the error of a priorism is one of the great myths of twentieth-century biology. pp.353-5

What Prof. Denton makes very clear is that Darwinism came into existence, interprets the evidence it gathers, and continues to reign as king not as a result of the ideal functioning of naturalistic science, but as a result of science functioning contrary to that ideal. Prof. Denton concludes his book with these words:

Darwinism is still the only model of evolution ever proposed which invokes well-understood physical and natural processes as the causal agencies of evolutionary change. Creationist theories invoke frankly supernatural causes... Darwinism remains, therefore, the only truly scientific theory of evolution... Reject Darwinism and there is, in effect, no scientific theory of evolution... There can be no doubt that after a century of intensive effort biologists have failed to validate it in any significant sense. (p.355,357)

Prof. Denton sees that nature has not yielded to evolutionary biologists' dogma. Therefore he says there is no scientific theory of how life came about. Here he falls into the same trap as Van Till and Kitcher thinking that science functions apart from doctrine. He really should say, "Reject Darwinism and there is not any naturalistic theory of evolution. There is no theory which adheres to the dogma of naturalism by which life came about!

Because Prof. Denton is a non-Christian he believes that science must not operate out of a dogma of supernaturalism. He believes that nothing other than natural causes and processes can be allowed at any point in science. As Christians we can respect Professor Denton for recognising that Darwinism has failed, even while we must disagree with his doctrine of naturalism as the only basis for science.

Although Van Till, et al, are Christians, they have removed the Bible and all Christian doctrine from influencing science. They say,

As defined by conventional practice and exemplified by the professional scientific literature, natural science ordinarily strives to be blind to religious and ideological commitments in its assessment of scientific theories. (p.170)

Van Till believes this is the way science should operate. But in fact science does not and cannot operate apart from religious and ideological commitments. And in practice scientists certainly do not. I am well aware that many scientists claim this is what they do. They write up their results in the scientific journals using calm, impersonal, objective, abstract language. They claim to be scrupulously honest and disinterested in their evaluation of the data of their experiments. But the reality is far from this. If it weren't there would be no science! No person with such a cold, objective, disinterested outlook would be motivated to do the hard work of science. Science can only be done done by highly motivated people who are deeply committed to their beliefs for these provide the foundation on which they do their science and the perspective from which they understand all they observe.

John Polkinghorne, a nuclear physicist turned Anglican Priest, has a much healthier view of what actually happens when scientists do their science. He says, "science, both in its method and in its achievement, is a good deal more subtle than might appear on the surface. In particular, the story of clear theoretical prediction receiving unchallengable experimental confirmation and so leading to certain truth is altogether too simplistic a tale" (Beyond Science, 1996, p.4). I would be rather more blunt than Polkinghorne and say, "it is false tale"!

A Scientist’s Motivation

A scientist's beliefs and convictions come to bear in every aspect of his science. What motivates paleontologists to spend years of their life digging for and examining fossils? Is it not the strong beliefs they have? Is it not their conviction that they are looking for evidence of what they believe about the development of life. Is it not that they are convinced they will discover evidence for the things they believe? Darwin himself was well aware of the lack of evidence for the chain of life he proposed. Ever since then his followers have shown their faith by their works. That is, they have shown their deep commitment to the doctrine Darwin propounded by their tireless efforts to find the data which they are confident must be there!

One can see this in Carl Sagan, that tireless promoter of evolution during the last 40 years. Sagan is so convinced of evolution that evidence which others would see as casting serious doubt upon the theory, Sagan interprets as supporting the theory! Over the last 20 years the estimates of the time when life first arose have moved closer and closer to the time at which the earth's crust was thought to have formed. Recently blue green algae has been discovered in rocks 3.5 billion years old (according to the standard view). That leaves a gap of only 400 million years between the formation of the oceans and the appearance of life. Not very long for the chance appearance of the cell and its unbelievably complex DNA molecule to develop. But notice what Sagan said about this in 1975.

Thus the time available for the origin of life seems to have been short, a few hundred million years at the most. Since life originated on the earth, we have additional evidence that the origin of life has a high probability. ("The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence", Scientific American, 1975, 232(5), p. 82; quoted by Denton p. 352)

Such beliefs and convictions are what motivate any scientist in the dreary search for evidence to support his belief, or if he is a theoretician, in the dreary search for a theory that better describes the data which the old theory doesn't adequately explain.

For example the brilliant Einstein, after developing his general theory of relativity produced nothing else of substance for the remaining 35 years of his life. Why? because he was convinced that quantum theory is wrong—a theory which implies that randomness is inherent in the functioning of sub-atomic particles. He said, "God doesn't play dice." In saying that Einstein wasn't expressing a belief in God. He was expressing his deeply held belief that motion in the universe is not random. He believed there must be some formula that can explain the apparently random motions of the sub-atomic particles. He worked for 35 years but never found it.

All this to say that Van Till and his collegues and many, many other scientists who hold similar views are not describing real science when they divorce beliefs and convictions from the doing of science.

There is no fundamental difference between 1) a convinced evolutionist searching for missing links in the fossil evidence because he is convinced of the truth of evolution and 2) a convinced creationist searching for evidence that much of the earth's strata were formed during a recent global flood. They are both convinced of the truth of a theory for which they are seeking evidence. They are both so convinced that they willingly spend years of their lives in the search.

As Christians we believe the Scripture to be the Word of God. For that reason if I were working in molecular biology or historical geology, I would choose to work with a creationist. I believe his work is more likely to be fruitful since he has the Word of God as his foundation. Just consider all the thousands of man years which have been put into searching for evidence to support evolution. Darwin knew in his day the evidence was not there. The evidence is still missing. As Christians we believe it will never be found because the theory arises from beliefs contrary to the Word of God.

The Bible is not a Textbook of Science

However there is another objection raised to the idea that Scripture should provide the philosophic and theological foundation for science. (It would be interesting to consider why it is raised but that is another topic.) The objection is: "the Bible is not a textbook of science. It must not be allowed to undermine well-established scientific truth."

What is really meant by this objection? I have never heard of anyone who regards the Bible as a textbook of science. When this objection is raised today, it is usually made regarding some doctrine of Scripture which is contrary to a current theory of science, e.g. the doctrine of evolution, or the theory that the universe is 15 billion years old, or the standard theory of the earth's strata.

But similar objections were raised a century ago about the history recorded in the Bible. It was said then, "We can't allow the Bible to dictate the known history of civilisation." Those who rejected the historical accuracy of the Bible claimed there never was a Hittite civilisation. They had found no evidence of such a civilisation. Likewise, they said Daniel couldn't have written the book ascribed to him since the events he describes took place several hundred years after his lifetime. They also said that Jesus did not do many of the things the Gospel writers say He did. They are simply impossible.

This kind of argument is still used today today about moral issues. It goes something like this: Paul was a man of his times and didn't have the advantage of modern psychology regarding the nature of male and female sexuality. Because of modern psychology we have a much better understanding than Paul. Therefore we have to accept that Paul was wrong in condemning homosexuality. No doubt he did so in ignorance.

All this business about the Bible not being a textbook for science makes me think we've been there, done that. Previous generations of orthodox Christians have rightly rejected this practice of holding Scripture hostage by the historiography of man. Let us follow their godly example and refuse to allow Scripture to be held hostage by the current scientific theories of man.

Conclusion

So what is the relation of the Bible to science? The Bible is the foundation upon which science can be done. The Bible provides the motivation for science, the interpretive framework for scientific observations, and the moral boundaries within which science must operate. Christians do not need to be ashamed of using the Bible in their scientific endeavours. The true God who created and upholds the universe is pleased when we pay attention to His Word as we seek to understand His world.

I conclude with a few propositions which may be helpful in thinking about the relation of the Bible to science.

1. The Bible is God's Word. It is infallible in all that it teaches and without error (in the original writings) including matters of history and statements about the nature of the universe.

2. We may legitimately make deductions from Scripture which are not stated explicitly (e.g. that the flood covered the whole earth since Scripture says the water covered the mountains by 15 cubits (7.5 metres) for a period of 150 days).

3. Because Scripture is revelation from God, it comes with His authority and therefore we must observe and interpret the universe in accord with His revelation (i.e. through the spectacles of Scripture). The spectacles of Scripture correct our blurred vision as we observe the world around us.

4. It is therefore legitimate, even necessary, that a Christian do his science using the teachings of Scripture. Where clear scientific evidence exists that appears to contradict the teachings of Scripture (e.g. modern geological theory vs. a global flood), then the scientist and his theological collegues ought to review their interpretation of Scripture, always maintaining the principle that Scripture must interpret Scripture, not modern geology or modern psychology or some other human discipline.

5. The Bible is not a reference book for any particular discipline of science but it does provide the religious/philosophic world-view out of which the Christian lives his whole life and therefore out of which a Christian scientist does his science. The Scriptures not only provides this framework, it guides and limits by its moral imperatives the work of science and it motivates the scientist to work for the glory of God.

6. As Christians we must conduct ourselves in a godly manner in this present world. When there are differing interpretations of Scripture that result in opposing scientific positions, we should be patient with one another, seeking to persuade rather than condemn. Personal name-calling (e.g. 'heretic' & 'pseudo-scientist') brings reproach upon the Name of Christ.

7. We should always seek to show how our presupposition of the truth of Scripture leads us to a particular scientific viewpoint. We should seek to show the implications of our viewpoint and the reasons for some particular hypothesis we may chose to investigate and why we evaluate the data the way we do.

8. We should also try to show how naturalistic beliefs lead to another scientific viewpoint, to the formulation of different hypotheses and to different criteria for evaluating the data.

Mr Bruce Hoyt is the Minister of the Reformed Church of Hastings.

 

Two books which will disabuse you of any idea that science works in a cold, objective fashion without reference to dogma are The Golem: What Everyone Should Know about Science, by Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch, 1993, and Betrayers of The Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science, by William Broad and Nicholas Wade, 1982. Consider the dubious support of Einstein' theory, The Golem, p.27ff. And the faulty experimental support for Pasteur's theory, The Golem, p.79ff. Also Ptolemy's use of data gathered by Hipparchus as though it were his own (Betrayers, p.24-26), Galileo's adjustments of his experimental data to fit his theory and claim regarding experiments he never did (Betrayers, p.26-27), Newton's tweaking of his data to bolster his claim that his data proved his theory correct (Betrayers, p.27-29), Mendel's selection of peas so that his data supported his genetic theory with an accuracy that is astonishing, in fact unbelievable! A certain journal of horticulture evaluated Mendel's work this way:

In the beginning there was Mendel, thinking his lonely thoughts alone. And he said: "Let there be peas," and there were peas and it was good. And he put the peas in the garden saying unto them "Increase and multiply, segregate and assort yourselves independently," and they did and it was good. And now it came to pass that when Mendel gathered up his peas, he divided them into round and wrinkled, and called the round dominant and the wrinkled recessive, and it was good. But now Mendel saw that there were 450 round peas and 102 wrinkled ones; this was not good. For the law stateth that there should be only 3 round for every wrinkled. And Mendel said unto himself, "Gott in Himmel, an enemy has done this, he has sown bad peas in my garden under the cover of night." And Mendel smote the table in righteous wrath, saying "Depart from me, you cursed and evil peas, into the outer darkness where thou shalt be devoured by the rats and mice," and lo it was done and there remained 300 round peas and 100 wrinkled peas, and it was good. It was very, very good. And Mendel published. (Betrayers, p.33)

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@xtra.co.nz / revised July 2000 / Copyright 2000