Science

Today, many (perhaps most) people in Western society consider science and Christianity to be adversaries.  This has not always been the case.  Consider the following excerpt from the book Who Made God?

“…for more than three hundred years between the rise of modern science in the 1500s and the late 1800s, the relationship between science and religion can best be described as an alliance…  Historians of science now recognize the indispensable role played by the Christian faith in the rise and development of modern science…  As [Loren] Eiseley states, “it is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear, articulate fashion to the experimental method of science itself.  [Christianity views] the world [as] a rational place that is open to exploration and discovery.  Up until the late 1800s, scientists were typically Christian believers who saw no conflict between their science and their faith – men like [Newton], Kepler, Boyle, Maxwell, Faraday, Kelvin and others.  The idea of warfare between science and religion is a relatively recent invention of the late 19th century…”1

Things have been improving, though.  Today, numerous societies have been formed, conferences organized and professional journals created to promote a dialog between science and theology – and universities like Cambridge and Oxford have even established chairs focusing on the subject.  A 2002 Wired magazine article touches on some of the reasons for this increasing dialog.  In it, Gregg Easterbrook writes:

“[Decades] of inconclusive inquiry have left the science-has-all-the-answers script in tatters.  As recently as the ’70s, intellectuals assumed that hard science was on track to resolve the two Really Big Questions: why life exists and how the universe began.  What’s more, both Really Big Answers were assumed to involve strictly deterministic forces.  But things haven’t worked out that way.  Instead, the more scientists have learned, the more mysterious the Really Big Questions have become.

Perhaps someday researchers will find wholly natural explanations for life and the cosmos.  For the moment, though, discoveries about these two subjects are inspiring awe and wonder, and many scientists are reaching out to spiritual thinkers to help them comprehend what they’re learning.  And as the era of biotechnology dawns, scientists realize they’re stepping into territory best navigated with the aid of philosophers and theologians.  We are entering the greatest era of science-religion fusion since the Enlightenment last attempted to reconcile the two, three centuries ago.”2

Let’s take a look at some of the discoveries Gregg Easterbrook discussed in his article.

The Big Bang & Creation

Living in our high-tech day and age, it’s easy to forget that the big bang theory hasn’t been around that long.  The existence of a “primordial atom” of infinite density was first proposed in 1927 by a Catholic abbey and astronomer named Georges Lemaître.  (Notice he was both a religious man and scientist.)  Lemaître predicted that if there had been some sort of bang the galaxies would be rushing away from one another.  And that’s exactly what Edwin Hubble found in 1929 using his famous telescope.  From that point on, scientists have embraced the big bang theory.  (It’s interesting to note that Lemaître’s idea was criticized as an attempt to validate the book of Genesis.  Once his idea was validated, though, few acknowledged its implications regarding the creation account.)

The big bang presents a thorny set of challenges to scientists.  Quoting Gregg Easterbrook again:

“All this stuff — enough to form 50 billion galaxies, maybe fantastically more — is thought to have emerged roughly 14 billion years ago in less than a second, from a point with no physical dimensions.  Set aside the many competing explanations of the big bang; something made an entire cosmos out of nothing.  It is this realization — that something transcendent started it all — which has hard-science types such as [Allan] Sandage using terms like ‘miracle.’

Nobody knows beyond foggy conjecture what caused the big bang, what (if anything) was present before that event, or how there could have been a prior condition in which nothing existed…  [Scientific] explanations of how the mass of an entire universe could pop out of a void are especially unsatisfying.”3

Physicist Brian Greene, writing in The Elegant Universe, notes:

“We don’t know what the initial conditions of the universe were, or even the ideas, concepts, and language that should be used to describe them…  No one has any insight on the question of how things actually did begin.  In fact, our ignorance persists on an even higher plane: We don’t know whether the question of determining the initial conditions is one that is even sensible to ask or whether… it is a question that lies forever beyond the grasp of any theory.”4

Now let’s consider what the Bible says about creation.  First of all, the Bible does not fix the moment of creation at any particular point in time.  Genesis 1:1 simply states, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  There is no point in time given for this anywhere in the Bible.  Furthermore, Genesis 1:2 states, “The earth was empty, a formless mass cloaked in darkness.”  According to various sources, the Hebrew word translated was is more accurately translated became (also rendered came to pass).5  This is significant because it allows for the possibility that the earth existed for quite some time and underwent significant changes prior to the appearance of modern man.

These two things eliminate the conflict many people perceive between science and Christianity regarding the creation of the earth and universe.  Some Christians count backwards through the family chronologies cited in the scriptures while assuming that each creation “day” in Genesis is a literal 24 period.  This places the creation no more than 10,000 years ago.  (Christians who do this are sometimes called “young earth” proponents.)  But this is not in agreement with the majority of scientific evidence.  It also ignores the points made in the previous paragraph while discounting alternative interpretations of the word “day.”  Consider the following text by William Lane Craig in Who Made God?

“I am not denying that a literal reading of Genesis is a legitimate interpretation, but it can hardly claim to be the only interpretation permitted by the text, nor does it represent the historic understanding of the majority of Jews and Christians…  [Furthermore,] Genesis tells us virtually nothing about how God made plants and animals.  Did he create them out of nothing?  Did he create them out of existing life-forms?  Did he use evolution to produce them gradually?  These are scientific questions the Bible does not address.  The main point of the Genesis story is to tell us that God is the Creator of everything in the world…  How he did so seems to be left open.  Now what this means is that the Christian is free to follow the evidence where it leads.”6

This statement, written by a well-known professor/theologian, is an example of a Christian who is open-mindedly searching for explanations that reconcile the biblical account of creation with the ever-increasing body of scientific evidence that supports an “old earth” view.  Francis Collins, a well know scientist and Christian, states a stronger position in his book The Language of God.

“Over the past century, the term “Creationist” has been hijacked (and capitalized) to apply to a very specific subset of believers, specifically those who insist on a literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2 to describe the creation of the universe and the formation of life on earth.  The most extreme version of this view… interprets the six days of creation as literal twenty-four-hour days and concludes that the earth must be less than ten thousand years old.

If these claims were actually true, it would lead to a complete and irreversible collapse of physics, chemistry, cosmology, geology, and biology.  [They are] the equivalent of insisting that two plus two is really not equal to four.

In fact, [the] narrow interpretation [of young earth proponents] is largely a creation of the last hundred years, arising in large consequence as a reaction to Darwinian evolution.”7

A number of explanations have been posited that harmonize the biblical creation account and scientific evidence.  One fascinating example was put forth by Dr. Gerald Schroeder in his book The Science of God.  In it, he compares the scientific model for creation with the Biblical description using concepts like Einstein’s time dilation to show a remarkable correlation between the two accounts.  He notes that both descriptions assume a beginning to the creation process, and that there is great similarity between the sequence of events described.  His explanation uses time dilation to show that the concept of a day meant something dramatically different during the initial formation of the universe than it does today.  For example, he hypothesizes that the first day of creation corresponds to an eight billion year period, the second day a four billion year period, and so on.  Such an explanation is line with a verse in the New Testament that states that, to God, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day.8

So what are we to make of all of this?  I think that Tim Keller summarizes my thoughts well in his book The Reason for God.

“Since Christian believers occupy different positions on the meaning of Genesis 1…, those who are considering Christianity as a whole should not allow themselves to be distracted by this intramural debate.  The skeptical inquirer does not need to accept any one of these positions to embrace the Christian faith.  Rather, he or she should concentrate on and weigh the central claims of Christianity.”9

In summary, “the most important aspect of the continuing [creation] discussion is not the process of creation, but the origin of creation.”10  The Bible basically states that the world had a beginning, and God is responsible for its creation.  Within the past century, science has come to agree with the first part of this claim, and I believe that a subjective examination of both scientific evidence and biblical revelation will naturally lead people to accept the second claim.

Delicate Balance (Why Life Exists)

It turns out that our universe and earth are finely tuned – incredibly and precisely tuned – to support life.  In his book A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson writes:

“If the universe had formed just a tiny bit differently – if gravity were fractionally stronger or weaker, if the expansion of the universe had proceeded just a little more slowly or swiftly – then there might never have been the stable elements to make you and me and the ground we stand on.

Martin Rees, Britain’s [royal] astronomer… maintains that six numbers in particular govern our universe, and that if any of these values were changed even very slightly things could not be as they are.  For example, for the universe to exist as it does requires that hydrogen be converted to helium in a precise but comparatively stately manner – specifically, in a way that converts seven one-thousandths of its mass to energy.  Lower that value very slightly – from 0.007 percent to 0.006 percent, say – and no transformation could take place:  the universe would consist of hydrogen and nothing else.  Raise the value very slightly – to 0.008 percent – and bonding would be so wildly prolific that the hydrogen would long since have been exhausted.  In either case, with the slightest tweaking of the numbers the universe as we know and need it would not be here.”11

Rees has been quoted as saying that, when all six numbers are considered together, the structure of the universe is “unlikely to an absurd degree.”12  The late astronomer Fred Hoyle has been quoted as saying, “The probability of life originating at random is so utterly miniscule as to make the random concept absurd.”13

This combination of highly improbable conditions that make life possible has come to be known as the anthropic principle.  Scientists are so baffled by these perfect conditions that many have proposed that there are as many as an infinite number of universes and that we happen to live on the one that perfectly supports life.  This is known as the theory of the multiverse.  Now I have to ask you to stop and think about this for a second.  Can you imagine the reaction a Christian would get if he/she had proposed such a thing?  I would think that person would be laughed out of town, and yet our greatest thinkers have proposed such ideas rather than consider the possibility of a Creator.

It seems appropriate to close this section with the following scripture:

“The heavens tell of the glory of God.  The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship.  Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known…  their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world.”14

Evolution

And now we’ve arrived at one of the most sensitive subjects known to man – evolution.  It’s become quite popular these days to define two general types of evolution – micro and macro.  Micro-evolution generally refers to that which occurs over relatively short periods of time and can be reproduced in a microbiology lab.  The evolving resistance of bacteria to antibiotics is a good example of this phenomenon.15  Any reasonable person would agree that this form of evolution is very real, and it’s widely accepted today.

The other type of evolution is macro-evolution, and this is the one that causes a great deal of consternation.  Macro-evolution is that which occurs over great periods of time and therefore cannot be reproduced in a lab.  (Nobody’s ever seen an ape evolve into a human in a lab, have they?)  Difficulties arise when the concept of macro-evolution is extended to the extreme – when the appearance and development of all life forms is attributed to chance and random occurrences over great periods of time.  Much like the existence of God, these things can’t be proved using the scientific method, and there are simply too many unanswered questions – profound questions – to accept macro-evolution as a fact.

And what are these questions I refer to?  Well, first of all, science simply has no idea whatsoever how life began.  This is huge.  Gregg Easterbrook writes:

“The late biologist Gerald Soffen, who oversaw the life-seeking experiments carried out by NASA’s Viking probes to Mars, once outlined the early milestones in the evolution of living processes: development of organic compounds, self-replication of those compounds, appearance of cells isolating the compounds from their environment, photosynthesis enabling cells to use the sun’s energy, and the assembly of DNA.  “It’s hard to imagine how these things could have happened,” Soffen told me before his death.

No generally accepted theory exists [for how life began], and the steps leading from a barren primordial world to the fragile chemistry of life seem imponderable.”16

Now the fact that we can’t answer questions doesn’t necessarily disprove anything.  It does, though, clearly prevent us from making sweeping statements about macro-evolution.  It’s just as much a matter of faith to simply assume these things “evolved” as to believe a Creator brought them about.  Frankly, I think the latter is far more believable.

Magazine articles, books and other sources often talk about all the evidence that has convincingly “proved” macro-evolution.  We’ve already discussed the thorny issue of how life began.  Now lets turn our attention to the “evolution of man.”  Consider the following excerpts, again from Bill Bryson’s book:

“Since the dawn of time, several billion human (or humanlike) beings have lived, each contributing a little genetic variability to the total human stock.  Out of this vast number, the whole of our understanding of human prehistory is based on the remains, often exceedingly fragmentary, of perhaps five thousand individuals.  “You could fit it all into the back of a pickup truck if you didn’t mind how much you jumbled everything up,” Ian Tattersall, …curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, replied when I asked him the size of the total world archive of humanoid and early human bones.

The shortage wouldn’t be so bad if the bones were distributed evenly through time and space, but of course they’re not.  They appear randomly, often in the most tantalizing fashion [spread out over millions of years.]

[According to Tattersall,] “It’s from these kinds of fragmentary pieces that you’re trying to work out the histories of entire species.  It’s quite a tall order.  We really have very little idea of the relationships between many ancient species…”

With so little to be certain about, scientists often have to make assumptions based on other objects found nearby [where remains are found], and these may be little more than valiant guesses.

Finally, perhaps above all, human nature is a factor in all this.  Scientists have a natural tendency to interpret finds in a way that most flatters their stature.  It is a rare paleontologist indeed who announces that he has found a cache of bones but that they are nothing to get excited about.”17

Bryson goes on to note that museums often create incredibly detailed scenes of early humanoids in their exhibits using little more than, say, some footprints.  He notes that most everything in these scenes is “imaginary” and “suppositional.”18  When Bryson asked Ian Tattersall if he was troubled by the amount of license taken to construct these scenes, he responded by saying, “We simply can’t know the details of what they looked like.”19  (Please remember these excerpts the next time you read an article or book that authoritatively speaks about the origins of man.)

Now let’s stop and think about this.  We basically have a pickup truck’s worth of “humanlike” fragments from which to draw conclusions about all of human prehistory.  And it’s highly fragmented and spread over millions of years, sometimes consisting of little more than a molar or some small portion of a skull.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not convinced in the least about the evolution of modern man.  Bryson goes on to note that modern man “seemed to arise from out of nowhere.”20  Sounds like the creation account to me.

Scientists insist that the gaps in the “human” fossil record are regularly being filled by new discoveries, but I have yet to see a clean summary of all of these discoveries along with an honest description of: exactly what each consists of (e.g., is it just a tooth or a tiny portion of a skull?); what techniques were used to date each one (e.g., carbon dating, positioning in the rock strata, proximity to other objects?); any suspicions that the discovery was fudged; and other important information.  This information simply isn’t out there.

Is it possible that God allowed the process of evolution to play some part in the development of the world prior to the creation account found in Genesis 1:3-31, and then he created man and the animal/plant life we see today.  Who’s to say?  An all-powerful, omniscient God can do as he pleases.

Before closing this section, it’s interesting to note that Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory, was different than most laypeople view him.  Darwin:

  • “…did not become an atheist because of evolution.  Instead, his growing resistance to Christianity came from his moral criticism of 19th century doctrine, compounded by the tragedy of his daughter’s death.  Darwin did not believe that evolution proved there was no God.”21
  • “…never claimed” humans are descended from apes.22
  • “[was] far from being anti-religious.  [He] saw evolution as evidence of an orderly, Christian God.  [He] believed he was showing… God’s hand was present in all living things.”23

Darwin described himself as an agnostic24 in the latter part of his life.  While he believed in a deity, he no longer felt it was the personal God he had first believed in.

Other Examples

The Bible touches on other topics that are simply too numerous and complex to discuss here without taking up significantly more space.  Here’s a sampling, though, of some of the things written in its pages thousands of years ago:

  • A limit on man’s age that endures to this day.25
  • Observations of the enormous number of stars, which scientists are increasingly confirming is nearly limitless.26
  • Details about the earth and its position in space.27
  • Reference to four key elements of physics (time, energy, space, matter) in its first sentence.28
  • A summary of dietary principals that we’re increasingly coming to appreciate these days.29
  • Rules of sanitation, many whose importance was only understood in the past couple of centuries.30
  • A description of under-sea terrain.31
  • A description of sea currents.32
  • An introduction to the concept of dualism – the combination of body and consciousness.

The “Faith” of Unbelievers

It’s worth pointing out that non-Christian scientists often act with the same sort of faith they criticize Christians for, except that it’s cloaked in the robe of scientific theory.  Physicists like Alan Guth of MIT presume unknown pre-big bang conditions to make their theories work.33  Brian Greene talks about hidden dimensions in space (ten of them!), additional time dimensions, and vibrating strings so small we would need a particle accelerator “the size of the galaxy” to see them.34  Physicists propose concepts like dark matter, the multiverse and numerous particles (e.g., quarks and tachyons) at the quantum level, all that cannot be seen, and all that are needed to make sense of the things we observe.

Frankly, a lot of this sounds like appealing to the supernatural.

Christian Men of Science

As noted in the Science introduction, many of history’s greatest scientists were men of faith including Sir Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler and James Maxwell.  But what about today?  Are there contemporary scientists who we can look to for understanding?  The answer is yes, and four are listed below.

  • Allan Rex Sandage, perhaps one of the greatest cosmologists in the world, who decided to become a Christian when fifty years old.
  • Francis Collins, the head of the international Human Genome Project, who has recently written a book entitled The Language of God.
  • Sir John Houghton, “widely recognized as one of the world’s preeminent climatologists.”35  An interview with him can be found at the link in the footnote just cited.
  • John Polkinghorne, a British particle physicist, Templeton prize winner (for progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities), and author of numerous books on faith and science.

I invite you to learn more about them, listen to them and/or read their writings.  I believe you’ll get an interesting perspective from each of them.

Summary

Once again, there are many more things we could discuss in this section.  The important point is that there are fundamental areas, like the finite beginning to the earth/universe and the need for something to have made it all, where science and Christianity agree.  Admittedly, there are things they still seem to disagree on as well.

I also invite you not to judge the various opinions you’ll hear from Christians (and the Christians themselves) on this topic.  None of us has all the answers, and many of the issues being debated are not central to the core gospel message which we’ll review below.

Remember what Einstein said.  Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

– – –

  1. Ravi Zacharias & Norman Geisler (Editors), Who Made God?  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003, page 50.
  2. Gregg Easterbrook, The New Convergence.  Wired Magazine, December 2002, Page 166.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe.  New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999, Pages 365-366.
  5. The Companion Bible, King James Version, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1990, Page 3 and Appendix 7.  Also, see Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, Dugan Publishers, Gordonsville, TN, Pages 1332 and 32 (the latter in the Hebrew Dictionary portion).
  6. Ravi Zacharias & Norman Geisler (Editors), Who Made God?  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003, page 67.
  7. Francis S. Collins, The Language of God.  New York: Free Press, 2006, pages 172-175.
  8. 2 Peter 3:8-9
  9. Timothy Keller, The Reason For God.  New York, NY: Dutton, 2008, page 94.
  10. Life Application Study Bible, New Living Translation.  Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996, page 5.
  11. Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything.  New York, New York: Broadway Books, 2003, Pages 15-16.
  12. Lee Strobel, The Case For A Creator.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004, page 139.
  13. Gregg Easterbrook, The New Convergence.  Wired Magazine, December 2002, Page 167.
  14. Psalm 19:1-4 – New Living Translation.  Also, see Romans 1:19-20.
  15. For an interesting timeline of the battle between bacteria and antibiotics, see The Bug Wars on Pages 52-53 of the October, 2005 issue of Wired magazine.
  16. Gregg Easterbrook, The New Convergence.  Wired Magazine, December 2002, Page 169.
  17. Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything.  New York, New York: Broadway Books, 2003, Pages 440-442.
  18. Ibid, Pages 444-445.
  19. Ibid, Page 445.
  20. Ibid, Page 449.
  21. Gary Wolf, The Church of the Non-Believers.  Wired magazine, November, 2006, Page 191.
  22. Bill Allen, From The Editor.  National Geographic magazine, November, 2004, letter-from-the-editor page.
  23. Shankar Vedantam, Eden and Evolution.  The Washington Post Magazine, February 5, 2006, Page 24.
  24. Wikipedia defines agnosticism as “the philosophical view that the truth value of certain claims — particularly theological claims regarding metaphysics, afterlife or the existence of God, god(s), or deities — is unknown or (possibly) inherently unknowable.”
  25. Genesis 6:3 – New Living Translation.
  26. Jeremiah 33:22 – New Living Translation.
  27. Isaiah 40:22; Job 26:7 – New Living Translation.
  28. Genesis 1:1 – New Living Translation.
  29. Deuteronomy 14:1-21 – New Living Translation.
  30. Deuteronomy 23:12-13; Leviticus 11:31; Mark 7:2 – New Living Translation.
  31. Johan 2:6 – New Living Translation.
  32. Psalm 8:8 – New Living Translation.
  33. Gregg Easterbrook, The New Convergence.  Wired Magazine, December 2002, Page 169.
  34. Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe.  New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999, Pages xi, 203-204 & 215.
  35. http://www.pbs.org/moyers/faithandreason/portraits_houghton.html.