The clash of science and the authority of the Bible
Modern science arose in harmony with Christian creationist beliefs. But in recent years science has adopted an assumption that is not founded on Christian doctrine. What has happened?
The creation vs evolution controversy is seen by some as a conflict between the Bible and modern science. Another area of contention is the matter of miracles vs the laws of science. Why do such conflicts arise? And what can we learn from them about the Bible and about science?
We can learn something extremely important about the authority of the Bible from such conflicts. Here’s why.
The origin of science is firmly founded in the Christian doctrines of creation and revelation, for science is founded upon three unprovable presuppositions:
1. That the external world exists.
2. That such external world is ordered.
3. That such ordered external world is accurately perceivable by our senses.
Does the external world exist?
The existence of the external world, that is the world which I perceive outside of myself, really does exist and is not a figment of my imagination. This is important to the origin of science because there is little point in investigating the external world if it is an illusion. How do we know it is not? Because, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The existence of the external world is assured because of its creation by God.
Is it orderly?
The order of the external world is guaranteed by God’s revelation of Himself as a rational, orderly Creator. Jeremiah 33:25–26 and many similar verses tell us that the Lord fixed the laws of the heavens and the earth, guaranteeing their order.
“Thus says the Lord: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.”
Can we perceive it?
Finally, our accurate perception of the external world is guaranteed by the mode of God’s revelation. We perceive the creation through use of our senses. God spoke and men heard. He appeared and men saw Him. Jesus touched and people were healed. This guarantees, at a fundamental level, that what we perceive actually does bear a relationship to what really exists.
These presuppositions are unprovable because they cannot even be questioned by science without it calling itself into question. For example, science cannot question the existence of the external world because any data upon which such questions are based must themselves exist in the external world. Also, a method based on observation becomes absurd if there is no way of being able to relate one’s observations with certainty to objective reality.
Science is founded upon these three presuppositions. Their basis in biblical theology explains why science arose in Christian Europe—and, for that matter, why it arose in Protestant northern Europe in the milieu of the Reformation and the Great Awakening rather than in southern Europe.
Many of the early men of science were also men of God. The founders of many areas of modern science were Christians: Robert Boyle (who founded chemistry), Louis Pasteur (bacteriology), Michael Faraday (electromagnetics), James Clerk Maxwell (electrodynamics), Carolus Linnaeus (taxonomy), and the list goes on. It might be objected that they were only men of their time and that ‘everyone’ was Christian then. But that is precisely the point. That is why science arose then and there.
Basis for science
In short, men began to discover the laws that govern science when they began to apply the logical ramifications of believing that God, the Creator of the universe, is there and that He is not silent in relation to their studies of the physical world. To put it another way, a basis for science was supplied by the recognition that the Bible indirectly speaks authoritatively about the physical world.
Conflicts between the Bible and science have arisen in recent years because a fourth assumption has been added to the three listed above. This assumption is naturalism; the belief that the supernatural does not exist, or, if it does, it does not operate in the physical world. Like the three previous assumptions, this is not provable. Unlike the others, it is not founded on Christian doctrine. To quote one of contemporary science’s best popularizes, Carl Sagan: “The cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be.”1 This is an extreme statement by an outspoken humanist, but it serves to illustrate the point that scientific dogma, as it is now structured, will not admit the existence of the supernatural.
By way of example, let us consider one area of conflict, that of miracles and the laws of science. To quote Charles Darwin: “ … the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become.”2 Miracles are rejected because they supposedly break the ‘laws of science’. The only rationale for doing so is the fourth presupposition—that no supernatural world exists. Application of the first three will lead to the development of ‘laws of science’, but only as observed regularities in the external world. These laws are not causal—they are only observed. They do not prevent anyone or anything that has the power to do so from ‘breaking’ them, that is, causing something other than that which is normally observed to happen. Miracles, being acts of God which result in this latter, can only be excluded on the grounds that God does not act—the fourth presupposition.
Dragged up by bootstraps?
The real consequences of this fourth presupposition are shown by considering the conflict between creation and evolution. Evolution is based upon the fourth presupposition, naturalism, for once the possibility of reference to the supernatural was removed from science there was a need for a naturalistic explanation of origins—hence the rise of evolution. Throughout history there have really been only two theories of origins. Either the universe was created supernaturally, or it somehow dragged itself up ‘by its own bootstraps’. Evolution is modern naturalism’s version of the latter.
Macroevolution (the evolution of amphibia into reptiles, reptiles into mammals, or reptiles into birds, etc.), as opposed to microevolution (variation within or between species, like the evolution of black peppered moths from white peppered moths during the industrial revolution in England), is without empirical support. Dr Michael Denton, then a molecular biologist at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, Australia, notes this in his book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis:
‘His [Darwin’s] general theory, that all life had originated and evolved by a gradual successive accumulation of fortuitous mutations, is still, as it was in Darwin’s time, a highly speculative hypothesis entirely without direct factual support and very far from the self-evident axiom some of its more aggressive advocates would have us believe.’3
Dr Denton is not a creationist, nor even a Christian. Yet his book is a devastating attack on Darwinian orthodoxy.
The teaching of the Bible is also very clear. The first chapter of Genesis describes the creation of the world in six days, and Exodus 20:11 confirms this. The New Testament writers speak of Adam, Noah, and other Old Testament figures as historical persons. Many crucial doctrines have their origin in the events of the first three chapters of Genesis. These chapters answer questions such as: Why do we believe in marriage? What is the moral basis for wearing clothes? Why are we sinners, and what does that mean? Why is there death and suffering in the world?—and so on. When the early chapters of Genesis are not taken as historical, then the biblical answers to these questions are undermined.
Dr Denton, an outside observer to the creation/evolution debate, comments on the centrality of Genesis:
As far as Christianity was concerned, the advent of the theory of evolution and the elimination of traditional teleological thinking was catastrophic. The suggestion that life and man are the result of chance is incompatible with the biblical assertion of their being the direct result of intelligent creative activity. Despite the attempt by liberal theology to disguise the point, the fact is that no biblically derived religion can really be compromised with the fundamental assertion of Darwinian theory. Chance and design are antithetical concepts, and the decline of religious belief can probably be attributed more to the propagation and advocacy by the intellectual and scientific community of the Darwinian version of evolution than to any other single factor.4
In short, the historicity of Genesis is both a clear and crucial teaching of the Bible. Conversely, evolution is an unproven hypothesis proposed by naturalistic science by its adoption of the fourth presupposition—the denial of the supernatural.
Acceptance of Bible’s authority
The first three presuppositions we mentioned are derived from the acceptance of the authority of the Bible in the study of the physical world. The fourth, naturalism, is a denial of this.
The rejection of what the Bible says about the physical world has led to the rejection of the Bible as the Word of God. Denton comments that the twentieth century would be incomprehensible without the Darwinian revolution. He says that the social and political currents which have swept the world would have been impossible without its intellectual sanction.
“It is ironic,” he says, “to recall that it was the increasingly secular outlook in the nineteenth century which initially eased the way for the acceptance of evolution, while today it is perhaps the Darwinian view of nature more than any other that is responsible for the agnostic and skeptical outlook of the twentieth century. What was once a deduction from materialism has today become its foundation.”5
The message is clear. Rejection of the authority of the Bible in the area of the physical world leads inevitably to its rejection in every other area. As Cornelius Van Til put it, it is only if you reject the Bible as the Word of God that you can separate its so-called religious and moral instruction from what it says about, for example, the physical universe.6
What can we learn from conflicts between the Bible and science? That the Bible is authoritative in all areas, and that to reject its authority in one area undermines its authority everywhere else.
References and notes
- Sagan, C., Cosmos, p. 4, 1980. Return to text.
- Barlow, B., (ed.), The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882, Collins, London, 1958, p. 86. Return to text.
- Denton, M., Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Adler and Adler, Bethesda, Maryland, 1986, p. 77. Return to text.
- Ref. 3., p. 66. Return to text.
- Ref. 3., p. 358. Return to text.
- Van Til, C., The Defense of the Faith, , p. 8, Third edition, Presbyterian and Reformed, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1967. Return to text.