Know Why You Believe: Chapter 9 Do Science and Scripture Conflict?

Source: Know Why You Believe Book by Paul Little

First edition published in 1968 by Scripture Press Publications, Inc.

The attempt to answer the question of science vs. Scripture has generated more heat than light. Most of the apparent conflict stems from making the Bible say things it really does not say and from “scientism,” a philosophic interpretation of facts. These interpretations are distinct from the fact themselves.

To the question, “Have some scientists and some Christians conflicted?” the answer would have to be a resounding “Yes!” We need only recall the Church’s persecution of Galileo, the famous Scopes trial of 1925, or the unfortunate confrontation, a century ago, between Bishop Wilberforce and T. H. Huxley, to know that this is the case. Part of the problem, as we have indicated, stems from some well-meaning but misguided Christians who make the Bible say what it does not say. One classic and harmful example is the Bible chronology which was calculated by Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656), a contemporary of Shakespeare. He worked out a series of dates from the genealogies in the Bible and concluded that the world was created in 4004 B.C.

It is thought by many people, including the famous Lord Bertrand Russell, that all Christians actually believe creation occurred in 4004 B.C. Some time ago I was visiting a non-Christian student on a Midwestern state university campus. I picked up a true-false exam in a course on Western Civilization. One question read, “According to the Bible, the world was created in 4004 B.C.” “I suppose your instructor wants you to mark this question true,” I said.

“That’s right,” the student replied.

“Interesting,” I mused. Pulling an Oxford edition of the Bible from my pocket, I said, “I wonder if you could show me where the Bible says that.”

The student was puzzled that he couldn’t immediately find the date on the first page of Genesis. Trying to be helpful, the Christian student who was with me volunteered, “It’s on page 3.” It was news to both of them that Bishop Ussher’s dates, which appear in many (but not all) English Bibles, are not part of the text.

On the other hand, some scientists are given to making statements that go beyond the facts. These statements are, in fact, philosophic interpretations of data which do not carry the same weight of authority as the data themselves. Unfortunately, the facts and the interpretations are seldom distinguished in the minds of listeners.

When a scientist speaks on any subject, he is likely to be believed. He may be speaking outside his field, but the same respect that should rightfully be given to his statements from within his field are almost unconsciously transferred to everything he says. For instance, Anthony Standen quotes R. S. Lull, professor of paleontology at Yale, as saying, “Since Darwin’s day, evolution has been more and more generally accepted, until now, in the minds of informed thinking men, there is no doubt that it is the only logical way whereby creation ‘can be interpreted and understood. We are not so sure as to the modus operandi, but we may rest assured that the process has been in accordance with great natural laws, some of which are as yet unknown and are perhaps unknowable.”1

But one may be tempted to ask, If some of the great natural laws are as yet unknown, how do we know they are there? And if some of them are perhaps unknowable, how do we know they are “logical?”

If we limit ourselves to what the Bible actually says and to what the scientific facts actually are, we shrink the area of controversy enormously.

Another area in which conflict has arisen is on the question of whether those things which cannot be verified by the scientific method are valid and real. Some people consciously, and others unconsciously, assume that if a statement cannot be proven in a laboratory by the methods of natural science, it is untrustworthy and cannot be accepted as reliable. The findings of science are considered to be objective and therefore real; statements that must be accepted by faith are looked upon as suspect.

But there are ways and means other than the laboratory to acquire real and genuine knowledge. Consider the process of falling in love. This surely is not done in a laboratory, with a battery of instruments, but anyone who has ever experienced it would be the last to admit that his knowledge of love is uncertain or unreal. We have seen earlier that the scientific method is valid only for those realities which are measurable in physical terms. God is a different kind of reality from the world of nature which science examines. God does not await man’s empirical investigation; he is a personal being who has revealed himself in love and can be known in personal response.

Faith is no detriment to the apprehension of reality. In fact, science itself rests on presuppositions which must be accepted by faith before research is possible. One such assumption is that the universe is orderly, that it operates according to a pattern, and that therefore one can predict its behavior.

It should be observed here that the scientific method, as we know it today, began in the sixteenth century among men who were Christians. Breaking with the Greek polytheistic concepts which viewed the universe as capricious and irregular, and therefore not capable of systematic study, they reasoned that the universe must be orderly and worthy of investigation because it was the work of an intelligent Creator. In pursuing scientific research, they were convinced they were thinking God’s thoughts after him.

Another unprovable presupposition that must be accepted by faith is the reliability of our sense perceptions. One must believe that our senses are trustworthy enough to get a true picture of the universe and enable us to understand the orderliness we observe.

Christians, then, believe that science is one avenue to the discovery of truth about physical things, but that there are other non-material realities and other means of attaining truth. A Christian exercises faith and has presuppositions, as does a scientist, and in this he sees nothing incompatible with reason or intelligence. There are many Christians who are scientists. They do not consider themselves intellectual schizophrenics, but view themselves as following in the footsteps of the Christian founders of modern science.

It should further be recognized that science is incapable of making value judgments about the things it measures. Many men on the frontiers of science are realizing that there is nothing inherent in science to guide them in the application of the discoveries they make. There is nothing in science itself which will determine whether nuclear energy will be used to destroy cities or destroy cancer. This is a judgment outside the scientific method to determine.

Further, science can tell us how something works but not why it works that way. Whether there is any purpose in the universe can never be answered for us by science. As one writer puts it, “Science can give us the ‘know-how,’ but it cannot give us the ‘know-why.’ “2

We are dependent on revelation for many kinds of information, the absence of which leaves us with a quite incomplete picture. The Bible does not purport to tell us the how of many things, but it clearly gives us the why’s.

This is not to say that when the Scriptures refer to matters of science and history they are inaccurate, but rather to point out the focus of their attention.

Humility, then, is a valuable virtue for a scientist.

Some have erroneously thought that God was necessary to explain areas of life and existence for which at the moment there was no other explanation. Unbelieving scientists seize on this concept to point out that these gaps are narrowing. “Give us enough time,” they say, “and man will be able to explain how everything in the universe works.”

Those who adopt this point of view forget that God is not only creator, but also sustainer. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). The universe would fall apart without his sustaining power. Even if man understands and explains everything, he will still need God. Knowing how the universe is sustained is not the same thing as sustaining it.

For instance, there is much talk today about the possibility of scientists creating life in a test tube. (It should be noted that one’s definition of life has much to do with how close he thinks he is to the threshold of creating it. ) Some fear that should this unbelievable event take place, God will somehow have been torn from his throne. But what in fact would have happened? What will it prove? Only that life did not come by blind chance, but by an intelligent mind. It will be apparent to even the most simple-minded that this new “life” has not come into being by the random coincidence and interaction of matter, but as a result of prodigious thought and work under the most rigidly controlled conditions. It would clearly argue for theism. And we still must account for the elements used to produce life. Where did they come from? The most logical explanation is that God made them. If man can, in fact, think God’s thoughts after him, it should not be so inconceivable that man may be able to bring life out of a test tube – but he has not thereby become God.

Perhaps no greater contemporary battleground is being faced daily in educational institutions than the question of evolution. The very word starts the adrenalin glands working overtime. Part of the tension arises from casting the problem into black-and-white terms. Many think that either a person believes in total fiat creation or he is a completely agnostic or atheistic evolutionist.

Whenever the term “evolution” is used, however, we should be careful to define what we mean and to ask others, when they use it, to define what they mean. There are many theories on evolution. Ramm has a helpfullist.3

For one, there is an anti-Christian, naturalistic theory of evolution. Evolution as a theory has been expanded to fields far outside biology and, in fact, has become for many a philosophy of life which explains history, society, and religion. With this expansion of the theory of evolution into a philosophy of life there is no common ground with biblical Christianity.

Not all who hold a form of evolution fit into this category, however. There are those who hold it in a spiritual context. The modern Thomistic interpretation of evolution says that ‘evolution is merely the way God chose to work, and that there would be no evolution if there were no God.

Then there is the theory of emergent evolution. Those holding this view believe life and mind appeared miraculously. From original life to mind, life kept emerging on higher and higher levels. The new levels were not reached by chance evolution, but were sudden and novel appearances.

Two extremes must be avoided. First is the assumption that evolution has been proven without doubt and that anyone with a brain in his head must accept it. The second is the notion that evolution is “only a theory,” with little evidence for it.

Scientific theory is a matter of the highest degree of probability based on the data available. There are no absolutes in it. Furthermore, science is a train that is constantly moving. This is one reason for being somewhat tentative about accepting any form of evolutionary theory as the final explanation of biology. It is also why it is dangerous to try to “prove” the Bible by science. If the Bible becomes wedded to today’s scientific theories, what will happen to it when science, ten years from now, has shifted?

Thoughtful evolutionists are ready to concede that the matter is not an open-and-shut case, but they feel the theory must be accepted despite some seeming contradictions and unexplained factors.

The following is of such interest that I quote it at length to illustrate this point. After discussing how pathetically theology students at Cambridge, in a former century, accepted dogma and teachings they did not fully understand or personally investigate, G. A. Kerkut, an evolutionist, points out that many present-day undergraduates have succumbed to the same unthinking tendencies in their studies in general, and in accepting evolution in biology in particular.

“For some years now [he writes], I have tutored undergraduates on various aspects of biology. It is quite common, during the course of conversation, to ask the student if he knows the evidence for evolution. This usually evokes a faintly superior smile….’Well, sir, there is the evidence from paleontology, comparative anatomy, embryology, systematics, and geographical distributions,’ the student would say in a nursery rhyme jargon, sometimes even ticking off the words on his fingers. He would then sit and look fairly complacent and wait for a more difficult question, such as the nature of the evidence for natural selection. Instead I would continue on evolution.

” ‘Do you think that the evolutionary theory is the best explanation yet advanced to explain animal interrelationships?’ I would ask.

” ‘Why, of course, sir,’ would be the reply. ‘There is nothing else, except for the religious explanation held by some Fundamentalist Christians, and I gather, sir, that these views are no longer held by the more up-to-date Churchmen.’

” ‘So you believe in evolution because there is no other theory?’

“ ‘Oh, no, sir, I believe in it because of the evidence I just mentioned.’

” ‘Have you read any book on the evidence for evolution?’ I would ask.

” ‘Yes, sir.’ And here he would mention the names of authors of a popular school textbook. ‘And of course, sir, there is that book by Darwin, The Origin of Species.’

” ‘Have you read this book?’ I would ask.

” ‘ Well, not all through, sir.’

” ‘The first fifty pages?’

” ‘Yes, sir, about that much; maybe a bit less.’

” ‘I see. And that has given you your firm understanding of evolution?’

” ‘Yes, sir.’

“ ‘Well, now, if you really understand an argument, you will be able to indicate to me not only the points in favor of the argument, but also the most telling points against it.’

” ‘I suppose so, sir.’

” ‘Good. Please tell me, then, some of the evidence against the theory of evolution.’

” ‘But there isn’t any, sir.’

“Here the conversation would take on a more strained atmosphere. The student would look at me as if I were playing a very unfair game. He would take it rather badly when I suggested that he was not being very scientific in his outlook if he swallowed the latest scientific dogma and, when questioned, just repeated parrot-fashion the views of the current Archbishop of Evolution. In fact he would be behaving like certain of those religious students he affected to despise. He would be taking on faith what he could not intellectually understand and, when questioned, would appeal to authority of a ‘good book,’ which in this case was The Origin of Species. (It is interesting to note that many of these widely quoted books are read by title only. Three of such that come to mind are the Bible, The Origin of Species, and Das Kapital. )

“I would suggest that the student should go away and read the evidence for and against evolution and present it as an essay. A week would pass and the same student would appear armed with an essay on the evidence for evolution. The essay would usually be well done, since the students might have realized that I should be rough to convince. When the essay had been read and the question concerning the evidence against evolution came up, the student would give a rather pained smile. ‘Well, sir, I looked up various books but could not find anything in the scientific books against evolution. I did not think you would want a religious argument.’

” ‘No, you were quite correct. I want a scientific argument against evolution.’

” ‘Well, sir, there does not seem to be one, and that in itself is a piece of evidence in favor of the evolutionary theory.’

“I would then indicate to him that the theory of evolution was of considerable antiquity, and would mention that he might have looked at the book by Radi, The History of Biological Theories. Having made sure the student had noted the book down for future reference I would proceed as follows:

” ‘Before one can decide that the theory of evolution is the best explanation of the present-day range of forms of living material, one should examine all the implications that such a theory may hold. Too often the theory is applied to, say, the development of the horse, and then, because it is held to be applicable there, it is extended to the rest of the animal kingdom with little or no further evidence.

” ‘There are, however, seven basic assumptions that are often not mentioned during discussions of evolution. Many evolutionists ignore the first six assumptions and consider only the seventh.

” ‘The first assumption is nonliving things gave rise to living material, i.e., that spontaneous generation occurred.

” ‘The second assumption is that spontaneous generation occurred only once.

” ‘The third…is that viruses, bacteria, plants, and animals are all interrelated.

” ‘The fourth…is that the protozoa gave rise to the metazoa.

“‘The fifth…is that the various invertebrate phyla are inter- related.

” ‘The sixth…is that the invertebrates gave rise to the vertebrates.

” ‘The seventh…is that the vertebrates and fish gave rise to the amphibia, the amphibia to the reptiles, and the reptiles to the birds and mammals. Sometimes this is expressed in other words, i.e., that the modern amphibia and reptiles had a common ancestral stock, and so on.

” ‘For the initial purposes of this discussion on evolution I shall consider that the supporters of the theory of evolution hold that all these seven assumptions are valid, and that these assumptions form the general theory of evolution.

” ‘The first point that I should like to make is that the seven assumptions by their nature are not capable of experimental verification. [Italics mine.] They assume that a certain series of events has occurred in the past. Thus, though it may be possible to mimic some of these events under present-day conditions, this does not mean that these events must therefore have taken place in the past. All that it shows is that it is possible for such a change to take place. Thus, to change a present-day reptile into a mammal, though of great interest, would not show the way in which the mammals did arise. Unfortunately, we cannot bring about even this change; instead we have to depend upon limited circumstantial evidence for our assumptions, and it is now my intention to discuss the nature of this evidence.’ “4

As Ramm observes, “There as yet remains the proof of the inorganic origin of life. It may be assumed, but it is not yet verified. There is the problem of the rugged species which have endured without change for millions of years. There is the problem of the sudden appearance of new forms in the geologic record.”5 It is erroneous to speak of the missing link. In fact there are thousands of missing links.

There is the further problem of the apparent conflict of the evolutionary theory with the second law of thermodynamics. This is also called the law of entropy. It says, in essence, that “in any energy transfer or change, though the total amount of energy remains unchanged, the amount of usefulness and availability that the energy possesses is always decreased.”6 Evolution and entropy are seemingly incompatible. The universe is running down, not building up. As Ramm says, “We are faced clearly with the two theories of (1) the recoverability of energy and (2) the irrecoverability of energy. If energy is irrecoverable we are faced with the doctrine of creation. To this hour no known process of recoverability is proven.”7

Much of the problem and controversy over evolution hinges on the definition of species. It seems to me that once this is understood a good bit of hassling becomes unnecessary. If we identify species as we know them scientifically today with the term “kind” in Genesis 1, then we have enormous problems when we speak of the fixity of species. But this is an incorrect identification. Even so staunch an antievolutionist as Henry M. Morris says, “It is well to observe…that the Bible does not teach the fixity of species, and for this simple reason no one knows just what a species is. There are few issues more alive among biologists today than this matter of what constitutes a species. Certainly, according to many definitions of the term, many new species have been evolved since the original creation [italics mine]. Genetic research has proved conclusively that chromosome changes, gene mutation, and hybridization can produce, and in fact, have produced, many distinctly new varieties in both plants and animals. These varieties are often considered new species, or even genera, by most modern methods of classification.

“However, all evidence thus far in the genetic field seems to prove conclusively that these agencies of change cannot go beyond certain comparatively narrow limits, and can very definitely not produce new kinds. The Genesis account merely says that each created group was to produce ‘after its kind,’ with no clear indication as to what constitutes a ‘kind,’ except the implicitation that different kinds would not be interfertile (if they were, they would not be reproducing after their respective kinds). Thus, the Biblical account leaves ample room for just such conditions of change within the smaller groups, and stability within the larger groups, as is indicated by modern discovery.”8

In the same vein, Russell Mixter says, ” As a creationist I am willing to accept the origin of species from other species, called micro-evolution.”9 He rejects macro-evolution, which would be evolution of everything from one original. Carnell likewise thinks there is a wide possibility of change within the kinds originally created by God. These variations, however, cannot cross certain prescribed boundaries.

We reiterate that the so-called conflicts of science and the Bible are often conflicts between interpretations of the facts.

The presupposition one brings to the facts, rather than the facts themselves, often determines one’s conclusion. For instance, one might be told that his wife was seen riding around town with another man. Knowing his wife, he draws a different conclusion from this fact than does the town gossip. The different conclusions result, not from the different facts, but from different presuppositions brought to the facts.

In everything we read and in everything we hear we must ask, “What is this person’s presupposition?” so that we may interpret conclusions in this light. There is no such thing as total objectivity, in science or in anything else.

While there are problems for which there is as yet no explanation, there is no fundamental conflict between science and Scripture.

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