You Asked For It #2: What’s the Rub Between the Bible & Science?

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Here’s the audio for “What’s the Rub Between the Bible & Science” (January 17, 2010)

This Sunday, we ventured into our second question of eight with “What’s the rub between the Bible and science?”  This is a hot topic “outside” and “inside” the Church.  This post will give further resources and address further issues that I did not have the time to explore on Sunday.

Here’s an important personal and pastoral disclaimer: the contents of this blog post are in no way an exhaustive discussion on the issue of origins.  I must also confess up front that I am not a trained scientist.  I do have a Bachelor of Science degree that focused on molecular biology and physiology within the field of horticulture, but I’m in no way an expert in any of the sciences involved in the larger discussion (biology, chemistry, genetics, astronomy, physics, etc.).  I am however, a “trained” theologian and pastor, so my specialty, if you will, is the Bible, with training in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, as well as theology. All of that being said, I’m in no way an expert in this area either.  There are many theologians, biblical scholars, and pastors that I am indebted to as I’ve studied the issues of origins, faith, and science.

To help answer this big question, I posed three other questions:

1. How did all of this come to be?

2. How old is all of this?

3. So what?

So let’s take a look at these three questions:

QUESTION #1: How did all of this come to be? This is the ultimate issue of origins of life and the universe. There are three larger vantage points that attempt to answer this question:

  • Theistic Creation. Theistic creation sees the direct, dynamic, and integral hand of a Theistic Being (i.e., God) creating the heavens, the earth, and all of the life contained within them.  More on various viewpoints of theistic creation in a moment (see below).
  • Naturalistic Evolution. At the other end of the spectrum is naturalistic evolution, also known as Darwinian and Neo-Darwinian Evolution. Charles Darwin’s seminal work Origin of Species, published in 1859, attempts to explain how all living creatures have a common ancestor. There are two aspects of Naturalistic Evolution:

Pre-biotic evolutionbegins with “some warm little pond” (Darwin’s term) “in which appropriate organic compounds were exposed to light, heat, and electricity, eventually producing proteins” that combined with further chemical reactions, in which a single-celled organism ultimately resulted. This “pre-biotic soup” however has yet to be re-created, because there are numerous biochemical challenges to the emergence of life from this pre-biotic soup. Here’s a way to illustrate the challenge of pre-biotic evolution:

Imagine trying to find a blind date at a party filled with strangers.  Nobody can bring the two of you together, and neither of you knows what the other looks like.  Your only hope is to mingle and ask each person’s name.  If it is a small group of people, chances are that you will locate each other fairly quickly.  If the party filled a gymnasium, it would take a little more time.  But the party is not in a living room, or even in a crowded gymnasium… For all practical purposes, the two of you are lost among billions of other individuals… The unhappy prospect raises another important point.  If the blind dates don’t find each other, the party is as good as over (Robert Pyne, Humanity & Sin: The Creation, Fall, and Redemption of Humanity, 26)

Biological Evolution. In Darwin’s theory of natural selection, he believed that physical characteristics that organisms experienced during their lifetime could be passed to offspring.  This change continually occurs, and new species are created through mutations over time through natural selection whereby the best and most beneficial mutations survive (“survival of the fittest”).  Since Darwin did not have knowledge of genetics, Neo-Darwinists (scientists who have modified Darwin’s original theory) concede that natural selection must involve genetic changes, and these genetic changes are continually occurring.  There are some pretty big “gaps” or “missing links” in the fossil record, so some scientists have argued that an organism will rapidly change, and then the new, changed species will exist for some time until changes occur again.

For further reading see:

Charles Darwin’s On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution

Pre-biotic evolution (abiogenesis)

For an interesting read on new research on the Y chromosome differences between humans and chimpanzees

  • Theistic Evolution. In an effort to mediate the difficulty of the origination of that first single-celled organism that began the process of biological evolution, theistic evolution believes that only a Divine power could have “energized” or produced this pre-biotic soup.  According to most proponents of theistic evolution, God initiates the process by producing the matter and energies that will gradually develop into vegetable, animal, and eventually human life but refrains from asserting any divine intervention in the process of evolution. One of the most popular versions of theistic evolution is called Biologos as advocated by Francis Collins in his book The Language of God. Collins led the Human Genome Project and currently serves as the Director of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. Collins also founded the Biologos Foundation, which emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with what science has discovered about the origins of the universe and life.  The ultimate challenge to Collin’s Biologos view is that he does not take the creation accounts in Genesis 1 or Genesis 2 as literal or historic as well as the unique creation of Adam and Eve as literal or historic.  This has all kinds of implications for sin and what the rest of the Bible has to say about sin and the remedy for sin.
  • Intelligent Design. A relative newcomer to the discussion is the theory of intelligent design.  Intelligent Design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as naturalistic evolution.  One of the primary voices within the Intelligent Design movement is Michael Behe, who contends that certain biological systems within organisms are irreducibly complex. Here’s the way Behe defines irreducibly complexity: “By irreducibly complex I mean a single system which is composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning” (Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, 39).  It’s interesting that Intelligent Design resources are chalked full of hard-core scientific research and processes, but still bookstores like Barnes & Noble (following the example of the National Academy of Science) put them in the religion section instead of the science section. Seems like there’s a hidden agenda in all of that…

Here are some further web resources for Intelligent Design:

http://www.discovery.org/csc/topQuestions.php#questionsAboutIntelligentDesign

http://www.discovery.org/a/3059

http://www.intelligentdesign.org/

Here’s an interesting dialogue between atheistic evolutionist Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion) and Ben Stein in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

QUESTION #2: How old is all of this? If you turn on your TV to the Discovery Channel or open the average science textbook, the universe is approximately 14 billion years old and the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old.  If you talk with theistic creationists, you’ll get answers on the age of the universe and earth from 6,000 to 14 billion years old.  That’s quite a range! The two “camps” within theistic creationism are the young earth creationists and the old earth creationists.

Two more disclaimers:  (1) this seems to be much more of an intramural discussion among Christians… most “secular” scientists are not watching our sideline scrimmage about the age of the earth because they already rightly or wrongly assume a 14 billion year old universe and a 4.5 billion year old earth. (2) As we’ll discuss further in this question, conservative, Bible-believing evangelical theologians, pastors, and Christians who are committed to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures subscribe to both YEC and OEC views.  And as I said last week when I gave the ground-rules for this series, there’s room within Northshore for both of these views (i.e., we will not split Northshore over this issue).

  • Young Earth Creation (YEC). This view believes that the earth is somewhere between six and thirty thousand years old. In this model, God finished His creation in a literal six 24-hour days and then rested on the seventh day.  He created distinct “kinds,” thereby ruling out “common descent.”  YEC see the geological data that others use to prove the earth’s longer history as evidence of a universal flood in Noah’s days in what is called “flood geology.”
  • Old Earth Creation (OEC). Old Earth Creation is an umbrella term for a number of views of theistic creationism. This view is typically more compatible with mainstream scientific thought on the issues of age of the earth while still taking the accounts of creation in Genesis more literally and at the same time, rejecting macro-evolution that changes in organisms result in other species.
  • Key Interpretive issues in Genesis 1 and 2.

Genesis 1. Within interpretation of the creation account in Genesis 1, there are several exegetical and theological considerations:

1) Genre. What is the style of literature in Genesis 1?  Was it written by Moses to be a chronological, historic narrative to be taken literally (and for that fact scientifically) or was it an “epic poetry” illustrating that God “performed the creation as a perfect work, the greatest construction project of all time”?

2) Interpretation of “Day” (yom). Another issue that evangelical theologians wrestle with is the meaning of the Hebrew word yom or day.  Does it specifically refer to a 24-hour day or can it have a broader meaning?  Even if the majority of uses of the word “day” in Hebrew refer to a literal, 24-hour day, are there exceptions (“yes”), and could Genesis 1 be one of those exceptions?

Genesis 2. When we get to Genesis 2, there are several other things we need to consider.

1) Hebrew Narrative. When we get to Genesis 2:4, the Hebrew language very clearly shifts to a historical Hebrew narrative, especially in the verb forms (preterite with waw consecutives), that carries throughout the rest of the book.  Even if you don’t take Genesis 1 as a literal, historic, chronological account, when you get to Genesis 2:4 and beyond, how you interpret it impacts how you interpret the rest of Genesis, including the special creation of Adam and Eve and the introduction and impact of sin into the rest of the Biblical story.

2) Scope of Genesis 2.  Is the “scope” of Genesis 2 another vantage point on the overall creation account or is it focusing in specifically on the creation of humanity and life within the Garden of Eden?

  • How YEC & OEC Interpret the Creation Accounts in Genesis

Young Earth Creation. YEC conclude that the word “day” in Genesis 1 is to be taken literally as a 24-hour day, which leads to a literal, 6-day creation of the earth.  They will also go to the various genealogies throughout the Bible to conclude that Adam and Eve, the first humans, arrived on the scene some 6,000 years ago.

For further resources on YEC, see:

http://www.icr.org

http://www.answersingenesis.org

Old Earth Creation. Once again, OEC is an umbrella term for many different viewpoints that align with the possibility of a much older earth.

1) Gap-theory states that there is gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. There are several different view of what happened in that “gap,” but the basic gist of the gap-theory is that God created the heavens and earth (who knows how long ago), and then between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, something happened… perhaps the rebellion and fall of the archangel Satan and a cosmic war that resulted.  And this caused a cataclysmic judgment and destruction of the earth, so re-creation begins in 1:2.  This is a very speculative view.  For a good critique of the Gap Theory read Mark Rooker’s “Genesis 1:1-3 – Creation or Re-creation?”

2) Day-Age does not take “day” as a literal 24-hour day but as the possibility of an “age” especially since the sun isn’t even created until the fourth day in the Genesis 1 account.

3) Progressive Creation. This position holds that “God worked directly to create particular organisms over a long span of time” while still holding to the special creation of humanity.  Progressive creationists do not believe in macro-evolution that changes in organisms can create new species (i.e., they reject Darwinian biological evolution).

4) Literary Framework. Sees Genesis 1 as an epic poem not to be taken as a literal, chronological history.  This viewpoint pays special attention to the literary structure and symmetry of  (e.g., Day 1 the “space” is created, Day 4 it is filled.  Day 2 the “space” is created, Day 5 it is filled, etc.)… along with the repetition of specific phrases… “God said… God saw” etc. Those that take Genesis 1 as an epic poem must still deal with Genesis 2 and clear historical narrative nature of the Hebrew verb forms.  For a good article on this position, see Tim Keller’s “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople”

5) Historic Creation sees the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 as only pertaining to the Garden of Eden.  From their viewpoint, Genesis 1 and 2 were never to be seen as a creation story of the whole heavens and earth.  See John Sailhamer’s exegetical notes on Genesis 1:1-2:4a

6) Summary/Special is a creative view that sees Genesis 1:1 as an overall, summary statement of God creating the heavens and the earth who knows how long ago, and then Genesis 1:2 and following is to be taken literally (including six literal days) as God specially preparing the earth for the habitation of humanity and the rest of created life.

For further resources on OEC, see:

http://www.reasons.org

http://www.reasons.org/resources/non-staff-papers/greg-moore-does-old-earth-creationism-contradict-genesis-1

http://www.reasons.org/age-earth/biblical-evidence-old-earth/age-earth-0

QUESTION #3: So What? Why does all of this matter?  If we get so caught up in the proverbial trees and miss the forest, I believe that we’ve missed the whole purpose of Genesis 1 and 2.  Here are some final thoughts on why I believe discussion on origins and interpretations of the Bible’s creation accounts.

  • The Who of Creation. As we read the creation account in Genesis 1-2, we find that the story doesn’t tell us all we want to know about the how of creation, but it tells us everything that we need to know about the Who of Creation – God and His relationship with creation. The opening line of the story in Genesis 1:1, as the curtain rises on the stage, reveals to us the God that existed before anything or anyone else… and this God who is the eternal and all-powerful Creator King.
  • The God of New Beginnings. The backdrop to the whole book of Genesis is that it was written to give the people of Israel their bearings in a broken world… a people who had gone through hell (400 years of slavery), who had witnessed a miracle (escape and redemption from Egypt through the Red Sea), and who were at the doorway of a new beginning (the Promised Land).  And all of it points to the God of new beginnings… the God who is powerful, wise, and loving enough to get you where you need to go in a beautiful yet broken world.  The whole story calls us to come to and trust God in the midst of all of the beauty and even the brokenness of life.
  • God is dynamically present and active in creation and in our lives.  Ultimately I have a hard time accepting any naturalistic evolution or even theistic evolution that presents no direct hand from God in the process of humanity coming into existence.  The Bible never presents a God that removes Himself for billions of years… that seems much more like a deistic version of God.  On the contrary, the Bible always presents a loving, interested God who is dynamically and actively to His creation, especially the crown of His creation – humanity. This is best captured in Paul’s words in Colossians 1:13-20 (NASB).

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

God not only created you, but He came to die for you, in your place… to rescue you from the sin and rebellion that we have committed against the Him.  And He invites you to come back home… to recognize Him as the all-loving, all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth and you!

9 Replies to “You Asked For It #2: What’s the Rub Between the Bible & Science?”

  1. We appreciated your balanced presentation of the various views, and the evolutionary explanation boils down to the major problem that life does not come from nonlife. The one thing I would add when critics try to say that creationism is not science is that Christianity was the main impetus behind formation of the empirical scientific method. Thinkers who believed in God knew that He is a God of order and that He set the operational natural laws in place, and believed that God meant us to discover those laws. As author Rodney Stark demonstrates clearly in his book, “The Victory of Reason”, no other belief system besides Christianity would have led to modern scientific ideas. Creationists agree completely with “operations science”, which all scientists must use in order to test or experiment – the debate comes in “origins science” where no one was there to observe the beginning. There is no such thing as an “unbiased scientist” in a white lab coat who comes to the evidence and does tests to determine an age or origins. Every scientist begins with assumptions and a worldview. We all have the same evidence; it is the assumptions that lead to different conclusions.

  2. Great message! The creation account is critical to the Gospel for it is the basis of God’s credentials on earth. Jesus Christ doesn’t mean much to us if we don’t at least begin to understand His origin, mandate, and sovereignty (including power).

  3. An outstanding teaching (expository) experience this Sunday. Thank you, Pastor Jonathan, for your extensive study of this challenging issue. You stated that the creation age and Flood issues are “internal” to the church and that certain Biblical authorities such as those you named do not agree on their interpretation. I offer that in certain situations it is not sufficient to leave this particular issue “dangling” without resolution within the church, lest people assume that answers are not possible through good scholarship in theology and science in concert. I offer also that it can be important to evangelism and to the Great Commission for Christians to have explanations in reality according to I Peter 3:15, to be able to give reasons for their hope to seekers, agnostics, atheists and even to certain people in the church where division exists over such issues (and they do). For example, the earth cannot be simultaneously young (6000 years old) and old (4.56 billion years old). This violates the law of noncontradiction and the law of excluded middle. It IS possible to find the reality or truth concerning the creation age when God’s dual revelation is considered, both special and general, God being the Author of both as addressed in Psalm 19. By Biblically based testing reasonable truth can be determined. Through proper Biblical exegesis (which you addressed very well) of yom, reference to the other Biblical creation accounts, such as Psalm 104, and the application and proper interpretation of good scientific methodology, derived as it is from the Bible and developed in Christian western Europe beginning about 350 years ago, one can come to a conclusion that is not in violation of these principles of logic. If one maintains that no resolution of the creation age issue is possible within the church, then one will inevitably come into conflict with consistently validated data derived outside the church that speaks to the creation age. When seekers and such see such contradictions, they are susceptible to denying the very truths taught about the Gospel. I finally offer that it is incumbent upon Christian apologetics to have answers in truth about such issues as the creation age and the Flood since we are to go out into the world and into our communities to give witness to Truth, lest the Great Commission be hindered. Is this necessary for all Christians to address on a personal level? No. Your concluding statements addressed this point extremely well in your “So what” application. But for some, it is. Thank you.

  4. I enjoyed the sermon as a scientist (hydrology/geomorphology) and a Christian. It was aa accurate presentation of the spectrum of beliefs surrounding creation and the age of the earth. While I believe that one’s beliefs about the age of the earth have absolutely no bearing on one’s salvation I do find that it can be a barrier in our society. As Jonathan said, outside of the church the question of the age of the earth is considered answered and I have to agree with Stan that seekers in my circle of colleagues would tune me out at the mention of a young earth. As a scientist I look at the data to learn about the physical world and the Bible for my faith. I don’t consult the Bible to learn how salmon find the stream of their birth and I don’t consult streambank erosion data to understand grace. I enjoy and pursue science for the faint glimpses into our glorious Creator’s mind that each new discovery can provide. Since the God who reveals through both creation and the Bible is one in the same I don’t believe that His revelations contradict. This is not to say that science is infallible in all things as data can certainly be misinterpreted (and has been many times) but the scientific data on the general age of the earth broadly and consistently support an old earth. Too often I have come across literature or videos picking and choosing bits and pieces of data to support various interpretations of the Bible (the Great Flood seems to be a favorite) but they just don’t fit with the natural processes we see going on around us on a daily basis and are dismissed out of hand by society in general. I believe taking data out of context is just as dangerous as taking a Bible verse out of context when reaching out to those outside of the church.
    Evolution and naturalistic origins is entirely different in that it is theory but in many ways it cannot truly be tested. The entire concept rests on minute little chunks of data across a wide range of scientific fields and I believe it is extrapolated far past where it should be. In defense of the scientists, they are trying to draw the best conclusions they can based on the evidence they see but in my opinion, as a theory it is given much more latitude and weight than typical rigorous science would allow. This is still a touchy subject outside of the church but in my experience much more debatable.

    A few books I have found interesting.

    Christianity and the Age of the Earth. by Davis A. Young 1988 Artisan Publishers

    Darwin on Trial. by Phillip E. Johnson Intervarsity Press

    The Galileo Connection Resolving Conflicts between Science & the Bible. by Charles E. Hummel Intervarsity Press

    Maker of Heaven and Earth: The Christian Doctrine of Creation in the Light of Modern Knowledge by Langdon Gilkey University Press of America

  5. It’s sermons like this that make me wish I was still on the west side (I’m currently studying at WSU). Based on what I read, Pastor Jonathan talked about something that I’ve often thought about as a scientist, which is the incorrect assumption that God and science are incompatible. In all my biochemistry, physiology, and biomedical engineering classes, I consistently find myself in awe of just how well-engineered we are and how amazing God must be in order to create such intricately interconnecting living systems so perfectly in our bodies (systems which we’ve been failing to reproduce mechanically for decades—at least with the same level of results compared to what God has created in us).

    I haven’t been able to find the recording of the service online so he may have gone over this already, but something I would like to add in regards to the debate over evolution is this: I have a hard time accepting evolution—not as a christian, but as a scientist. Based on what I’ve read and learned, it’s actually fairly hard for macro-evolution to take place. There are many different environmental factors that have to be ideal, DNA is meticulously proofread several ways to prevent mutation, the fact that even if one member of a species had a mutation that was beneficial, how quickly the trait would be diluted in subsequent generations, and many other hurdles that would have to be overcome. Given the difficulty involved for one evolutionary step, I just can’t bring myself to believe that the number of mammals alone which exist today, sprung up from a few rodents in less than 60 million years without God’s direct intervention leading every single solitary individual step that would have to occur at the exact right time. I don’t think it’s possible that evolution, as Pastor Jonathan puts it, “presents no direct hand from God in the process of humanity coming into existence.” Rather, I believe that in order for evolution to occur the way science says it does, it requires God to be directing thousands of events simultaneously in a way that glorifies his power. Sure he could have just gone “poof!” and made every species exist instantaneously, but I think it’s more amazing for him to go “Hey! Look at what I can make with a single cell in just 3 billion years!”

  6. Thank you for addressing this subject. We do have to keep in mind that while we may enter into animated discussions on whether the Bible holds to a young earth or old earth senerio, this is not an issue that affects our salvation. As you said, God loves us. Salvation through Jesus Christ by accepting him as Lord and Saviour. Young earth/old earth has nothing to do with it.

    Scientists are interesting peoiple. As a group they are sincerely seeking truth about how this universe works. Even so, within thier disciplines, there are politics, resistence to change and hierarchies that affect decisions and advancement of ideas (just like everywhere else including the church). Ultimately though, the Bible and science have to tell the same story, there cannot be two parallel tracks or dualism.

    My personal belief is the old earth senario. I do feel the evidence for age is significant.

    One of the resources I have used is a web site call:

    “Reasons to Believe” (www.reasons.org).

    It was started by Hugh Ross Ph.D. He has written several books on the subject. There are additional scientist involved with the site as staff and contributers. He is an astro physicists and pastor, an interesting combination. There is a wealth of well written information on the site on a variety of sientific/Christiian subjects. It is worth a look.

  7. Speaking to the points made by Ryan and Bryan, I really like Owen Barfield’s wording about the relatively weak epistemological foundation on which evolutionary theory is built. This is from page 64 of “Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry” (which is by no means a book about evolution):

    “It was found that the appearances on earth so much lack the regularity of the appearances in the sky that no systematic hypothesis will fit them. But astronomy and physics had taught men that the business of science is to find hypotheses to fit the appearances. By a hypothesis, then, these earthly appearances must be saved; and saved they were by the hypothesis of—chance variation. Now the concept of chance is precisely what a hypothesis is supposed to save us from. Chance, in fact, = no hypothesis. Yet so hypnotic, at this moment in history, was the influence of the idols and the special mode of thought which had begotten them, that only a few–and their voices soon died away–were troubled by the fact that the impressive language of technological investigation was being used to denote its breakdown; as though, because it is something we can do with ourselves in the water, drowning should be included as one of the ways of swimming.”

    C. S. Lewis, in “The Discarded Image” also makes the point that Dante was the first to theorize that chance held dominion over the earthly sphere, and that was apparently a huge innovation.

    (FWIW, gene adaptation through random chance can be demonstrated and repeated in laboratory settings, and techniques based on chance have been extremely powerful in cases from monte carlo simulations to genetic algorithms, so it’s not as if chance is useless to science. But he’s making a more general point about epistemology, and it’s a very strong point)

  8. Pastor Jonathan:
    Thanks for opening up this conversation. Your willingness to entertain such a dialog is further evidence you believe the church grows through Biblical truth spoken in love. (Hebrews 4:15)

    1. thanks tim… i truly love this dialogue… seeking to be faithful to the Sovereign Creator God who has revealed Himself through His word and through the majesty of the creation! thanks for your interaction and intellect.

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