An Analysis of the Agreements and Disagreements on Some Important Issues
Many people think that the Bible and Science are always in conflict because of their assumption that one has to accept the Bible by faith (belief which has no support of evidence and reason) and science (or scientific conclusions) is always based on observation and experimentation.
There are others who think that Christians should not depend on science because of their assumption that science is anti-Christian and that scientific theories keep changing without giving us any settled conclusions. Because of these conflicting views many Christians wonder how they should integrate the scientific and the Biblical. So in this article we will discuss the broader issue of the relationship between science and scriptures (the Bible) and then analyze the agreements and disagreements on some important issues like the origin of the universe, origin of life, the age of the universe, the age of the earth and the age of humanity.
Science and Scripture: No final conflict
On the basis of the Bible we can conclude that there can never be a final conflict as far as the Biblical and scientific facts are concerned. The Scripture (Bible) and nature are both God-given means of revelation to Humanity. Both are sources of knowledge that have come from God, but the methodologies used in gaining knowledge from them are different. But because both are from the same God they cannot reveal conflicting facts on any given subject. The nature (handiwork of God) and the Scripture (written word of God) are both products of God’s spoken word and they reveal God to us. The universe reflects the mind of God and the heavens declare the glory of God. Many of the pioneers in the field of modern science saw science as the study of God’s handiwork. When we study the Scriptures we know the will or mind of God and discover the glory of God to a much higher degree. The psalmist talks about the nature and the Scripture as revealing God to us in the 19th psalm. So the general revelation (nature) and the special revelation (Scripture) will always lead to the same truth or be in agreement when properly understood and when all the relevant facts are known.
How come there are conflicts?
Often conflicts arise or contradictions (apparent) are seen when people fail to interpret the Scriptures correctly (and think that the Bible says something when it does not) or when people fail to distinguish a hypothesis from a theory or a theory from a law or when people mistake a theory for a fact. So let us take a brief look at science and scriptures and their methods.
Science limits itself to the study of nature, the material universe. Here repeatability is a key factor. Scientists gather observations, draw out hypotheses and theories by a process of induction, and perform experiments. If experiments and gathered evidences support a hypothesis (low probability) initially it moves to the level of a theory (moderate probability) and if further experimentation and evidences support the theory it moves to the level of a law (high probability). Otherwise hypotheses and theories are discarded. The scientific theories then are only an approach to truth, but not the final truth and they are subject to revision and possible rejection.
The scriptural revelation is final and unchanging. What might change is our understanding of the revelation. We understand the meaning of what is said by learning to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). This means learning sound rules/principles of biblical interpretation, applying them faithfully, and seeking the illumination of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:6-16) so that we might understand correctly.
The Bible is not a textbook of science in the sense that science is not its central theme. So it does not give us exhaustive truth about the universe. Therefore, science has a real function and we need to explore the universe scientifically to know more (than what is given in the Bible) about its origin, nature, etc. But the Bible does affirm certain truths concerning the universe just as it affirms certain religious truths. What God says in His Word is true and hence science is not free from the propositions set forth in the Scriptures. For example, the Bible says clearly that the universe, plants, animals, and humans had a beginning and hence they are all finite. Some biblical statements (Heb. 11:3; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2; Genesis 1-2; Neh. 9:6; Job 38; Isa. 45:18; Jer. 33:22; Job 26:7; Ps. 19:4-6, 102:25-27; Isa. 40:22, etc.) are of tremendous cosmological significance and there seems to be a great deal of cosmology in the Bible than most people realize.
How should we resolve the conflicts?
When we confront certain conflicts between science or present scientific theories (E.g. Evolution) and the teaching of the Bible (E.g. Creation) we need not be shaken in our faith (trust or confidence in someone or something that we have reasons/evidences to believe) thinking that scientific theories are always right. The history of science has often seen great dogmatism about theories that have been later revised or discarded on the basis of discoveries that confirmed a number of scientific truths that have lain hidden within the pages of the Bible for ages. For example, there have been many theories that propounded that the universe had no beginning because it is eternal (contrary to what the Bible says) like the steady state theory, which got discarded in the light of modern scientific discoveries. So there is no inherent reason why a current scientific theory should be accepted or rejected immediately and why a Christian should be shaken by a current theory that is opposed to the biblical teaching.
When we confront a problem like the age of the universe we should take time to reconsider both science and the Scriptures and see if we can arrive at a final conclusion or not. If there isn’t sufficient information to draw a final conclusion we should remain open and wait for more evidence to come forth. When there is a conflict, we should see whether it is the scientific theory that is wrong or our own understanding of the Bible, to identify the source and nature of the conflict. Some times the conflict is not between science and the Scriptures, but between science/a scientific theory and a particular interpretation of the Bible.
History shows that there have been times when accepted scientific opinions and what people thought the Bible taught were in conflict. During the times of Copernicus (1472-1543) and Galileo (1564-1642) many people (including the Church leaders) thought that the Bible taught that the sun revolved around the earth. Hence the Church condemned Galileo who taught that the earth was not the center of the universe but that the earth and other planets revolved around the sun. The Bible does not teach what people thought it taught. Later on the Copernican astronomy made people look again at the Scripture to see if it really taught what they thought it taught. From the Galileo episode we can learn that some times careful observation of the natural world can cause us to go back to the Scriptures and reexamine whether Scriptures actually teach what we think they teach and sometimes, on closer examination of the text, we may find that our previous interpretations were incorrect. There were also times when biblical truth led to change in scientific views. When we take a closer look at the lives of the many founding fathers of moderns science (who were all Bible-believing Christians), we will realize that sincere Christian faith and strong trust in
the Bible led those scientists to the discovery of new facts about God’s universe and living beings, and those discoveries have changed scientific opinions on many matters for all of subsequent history.
When we take enough time to consider the major issues in the fields of cosmology and biology the broad picture that emerges will be one of agreement in primary areas, clear conflicts in some fundamental areas and differences with a lot of uncertainty on both sides on the remaining issues. Let us now consider some specific issues.
Analysis of the Agreements and Disagreements on Some Important Issues
Concerning the nature of the universe there is agreement – scientific laws and theories based on evidences lead to the conclusion that it is not infinite or eternal and the Bible says the same thing in Gen. 1:1. On the question whether creation is completed or not also there is agreement – the Bible says that God ceased/rested from his work of creation (Gen. 2:1) and the first law of thermodynamics (the law of conservation of mass/energy) also says that there is no new material being created. On the question whether life or living organisms had a beginning there is agreement.
But on the question of how the universe and life came into existence there is a clear conflict – the Bible says that God created and the theory of evolution says that everything happened by chance – random naturalistic processes. There are some Christians who try to reconcile these two ideas by positing the idea of “theistic evolution,” which says that God used evolution and intervened in the process at some crucial points like the creation of the original matter at the beginning, creation of the first/ simplest life form, and the creation of man. This is neither a consistently Christian nor a biblical view, because it is based in part on naturalistic principles (Eg. random mutations) that are contradictory to the basic biblical ideas of God’s purposeful and intelligent activity in creating different kinds of plants and animals and the special and direct creation of Adam and Eve from him.
It is neither the biblical doctrine of creation nor a consistent theory of evolution. So instead of trying to compromise, we should face the challenge honestly and study rigorously to see if the theory of evolution has adequate evidence in its support and hence is acceptable or if it suffers from lack of evidence and hence needs to be rejected. We need to remember that ‘evolution’ is just a theory and not a proven fact and as more and more evidence comes to light it might be revised or rejected or confirmed. But we already see many scientists rejecting and others revising it, purely on the basis of their scientific investigations and evidence and not because of their religious convictions. Evolution is now a theory in crisis and in the light of new evidences or findings more and more scientists are abandoning it.
The question of the age of the universe, earth, and humanity is slightly different. We notice that there is disagreement. But there are differing ideas and uncertainty on both sides. The Bible does not say anything directly about these issues. But some Christians think that creation is recent and that the earth is very young. Some even think that the earth is not more than about 6 thousand years old. This is not based on what the Bible teaches, but on what a great scholar said. Irish Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656), a great scholar of his day, added together all the dates in the genealogies of the Bible and concluded that Adam was created in 4004 B. C. Now the “young earth” creationists say that the earth is 10, 000 to 20,000 or 35,000 or 50,000 years old. There are other Christians, the “old earth” creationists who agree with the consensus of modern science that the earth is 4,500,000,000 (4.5 billion) years old and that the universe is 8 or 10 to 15 0r 20 billion years old. There are some biblical and scientific reasons why Christians hold to these different views.
Both views are supported by some evidences. But there are also problems with each of these views. One problem for the “young earth” position is that genealogies in the Bible have some gaps in them and we cannot be sure as to how many gaps are there and how many generations are missing, because God only caused to be recorded those names that were important for His purposes. Moreover, the genealogies are certainly not given for the purpose of doing chronological calculations. One problem for the “old earth” position is that there are doubts and uncertainties about the dating methods. Over the past five decades opinions have changed in the secular scientific circles regarding the age of humans. During the late 1950s it was put at 5-15 million years. By mid 1970s it came down to 5-7 million. By late 1970s it came further down to 1 million. During mid 1980s it was thought to be 800,000 years and finally by late 1980s it came down to 50,000 to 200,000 years.
There are two conflicts here and not one: First, an internal one (between the young earth and old earth Christian views) and second, a conflict between what some Christians think the Bible is teaching (the young earth position) and the scientific view. At the higher level the conflict is between the biblical view of creation by intelligent design and the scientific view of evolution. The internal conflict between the young earth creationists and the old earth creationists is centered on the interpretation of the length of ‘days’ in Genesis 1. The former say that the six ‘days’ of Genesis 1 are twenty-four hour days and the later say that they are rather six long periods of time (millions of years) during which God carried out the creative activities described in Genesis 1.
The debate has been a heated one and is far from being settled decisively. Both sides offer good biblical reasons in support of their views and both views are valid options for Christians who believe the Bible today. Giving some words of wisdom on this controversial issue, Grudem says, “ . . . the possibility must be left open that God chose not to give us enough information to come to a clear decision on this question, and the real test of faithfulness to him may be the degree to which we can act charitably toward those who in good conscience and full belief in God’s Word hold to a different position on this matter.” Grudem makes these comments after considering and evaluating, in a balanced way, most of the biblical reasons or evidences that are offered by both sides to support their views. Let me now draw this discussion to a conclusion by giving some suggestions.
I think we should recognize that the battle on which we should focus our attention and invest more of our energies and resources is the battle for the minds of an unbelieving scientific community and many others that are influenced by the scientists. We should lay aside our differences over the age of the universe, earth, and humanity and cooperate much more in amassing the extremely strong arguments and evidences for creation by intelligent design and help people to come to know the Creator God. This will be possible only when the Christian theologians and scientists on both sides of the debate become more open and willing to talk to each other without hostility, emotional accusations, personal attacks, and a spirit of condescension or academic pride.
1.See Francis Schaeffer, No Final Conflict (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975).
2.The lives of Johannes Kepler, Blaise Pascal, Robert Boyle, Nicolas Steno, Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilee, Michael Faraday, Charles Babbage, Louis Agassiz, James Young Simpson, Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, William Thompson (Lord Kelvin), Joseph Lister, James Clark Maxwell, etc., are examples of this. See Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton,
The Soul of Science (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994) and Roy E. Peacock, A Brief History of Eternity (Eastbourne: Monarch Publications Ltd., 1992), 146-150.
3.Read 1) Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, and Roger L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories (New York: Philosophical Library, 1986), 2) Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: The Free Press, 1996), 3) Michael Denton, Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, Maryland: Adler & Adler, Publishers, Inc., 1986), and 4) William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
4.Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 273.
5.See News Week, January 11, 1988, p. 46 and Discovery, August 1990, p. 52.
6.Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 297.
Copyright 2006 Sudhakar Mondithoka. All Rights Reserved. This article first appeared in Rev. Sudhakar’s blog http://theapologia.blogspot.com/. You can visit his website http://www.mondithokas.com/. For reprint permission, contact Rev. Sudhakar Mondithoka.