A review of Science & Christianity: Four Views
Edited by Richard F. Carlson
InterVarsity Press, Illinois, 2000.
This volume is yet another attempt at collating different views on an issue which currently divides the Christian community. The subject of this work is the relationship between science and Christianity. Four views are presented and the representatives of each respond to every other presentation.
‘Independence: Mutual Humility in the Relationship Between Science and Christian Theology’ by Jean Pond3—theistic evolution; the Bible has nothing to say about science.
‘Qualified Agreement: Modern Science & the Return of the “God Hypothesis”’ by Stephen Meyer4 —intelligent design.
‘Partnership: Science and Christian Theology as Partners in Theorizing’ by Howard Van Till5 —theistic evolution; supposedly consistent with the Bible.
Carlson goes on to describe the concept of Intelligent Design as ‘a relatively recent development’. Yet what was essentially Intelligent Design theory has been expounded by advocates of young-Earth creationism, such as Duane Gish and A.E. Wilder-Smith, for many years, and certainly long before anyone had even heard of Michael Behe, William Dembski, Phil Johnson, Stephen Meyer, Jonathan Wells etc. For example, in 1968 Wilder-Smith wrote:
‘What we are, in fact, saying is that chance today cannot be expected to be considered to be so important in upward evolution as it was thirty years ago. The corollary to this is that design, cell and genetic design, must take over the gaps left where chance has been deposed in today’s theories. … Perhaps we may hope that one day the argument from design may be reinstated in science to the position it holds in Romans 1 and Paley’s watchmaker may open shop once more!’6
Indeed, as Wilder-Smith notes, the idea of Intelligent Design can be traced at least as far back as William Paley whose watch and watchmaker analogy is essentially an argument for Intelligent Design. And Paley was just one of the most famous of these, since similar arguments can be found in the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle,7 the Roman statesman Cicero,8 and the design argument was the 5th of Thomas Aquinas’s ‘Five Ways’ that he thought would prove God’s existence.7
Carlson also claims there are relatively few active scientists who are supporters of young-Earth creationism, and that Frair and Patterson are ‘somewhat unique’ since they have earned Ph.D. degrees in science (p. 17). Obviously Carlson does not know many young-Earth creationists, otherwise he would not make such an absurd and demonstrably false claim.9,10
In their contribution, Frair and Patterson begin with this broad definition of science: ‘the formal study of the observable world’. They highlight the importance of the principle of repeatability where the same experiment can be performed again in order to obtain the same or similar results, and thus confirm the initial observations (pp. 20–21). They also note that scientists rarely live up to the common characterisation of detached objectivity. In addition, they also point out the revolutionary nature of scientific progress (p. 21).
It was most pleasing to see that Frair and Patterson are acquainted with sound evangelical hermeneutical principles and methods11 and rightly do not hold to a naïve literalistic hermeneutics (p. 27). They rightly point out that our observations must be interpreted in terms of our theology (p. 28). Indeed, Christians can only benefit from sound historical and scientific scholarship since this is essential for accurate Biblical interpretation. On page 107 they state: ‘The hard work of hermeneutics is worth the effort, and we have faith that unnecessary conflict will be reduced by careful exegesis’.
Their contribution includes good discussions of how various scientific fields such as cosmology, physics, chemistry and biology relate to Scripture,12 and they conclude that:
‘a Christian does not need to abandon a Biblical perspective in order to carry out effective science. … Accurate exegesis and reliable interpretation of the Bible along with valid scientific conclusions are the goal of all scientists who are Christians’ (p. 46).
Indeed, they wish to extinguish both poor Biblical exegesis and interpretation as well as unsubstantiated scientific assertions.
However, their endorsement of Henri Blocher’s book In the Beginning (p. 47) is strange given that:
Blocher is a non-concordist, i.e. he believes that science and Scripture speak on different matters and are essentially unrelated;
Blocher, unlike Frair and Patterson, is an old-Earth creationist, i.e. he accepts the standard chronology for the universe and the Earth.
In her response, Jean Pond refers readers to the Talk Origins Archive15 (p. 52) despite the fact that one would be hard pressed to find a single article on their website which contains reliable scientific data and sound reasoning.16 It also seems strange for a professing Christian to recommend an essentially atheistic website.
Pond admits to being unsure about what is meant by ‘inerrancy’, although it’s hard to surpass the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy17 for clear, detailed statements on what it is and is not, and which answers her facile questions. But her uncertainty does not stop her from rejecting the doctrine anyway. She says: ‘Scripture can be inspired without being infallible’, which entails the absurdity that God inspires error! Her ‘justification’ is that inerrancy sounds too ‘close to bibliolatry’ (pp. 52–53). To her, the Bible is just a book (p. 53).
It appears that her rejection of inerrancy is based on an existential approach to language—not uncommon in this postmodernist era. But the real problem here is not with inerrancy, but with her view of language. The standard works on inerrancy18 deal with this kind of approach to language in detail and show that it is far more objective than many people realise.
In order to justify her postmodernist approach to language, Pond cites examples of how Scripture has been used to support opposite beliefs (p. 53). But such examples simply demonstrate what happens when people handle the Scriptures the way Pond describes: people often twist and reinterpret it in order to support whatever beliefs they already have rather than letting the Bible speak for itself.
Pond also accepts tradition and reason as equally authoritative as Scripture (p. 54), consistent with the liberal Episcopalian denomination to which she belongs. However, a study of church history reveals that there are many and varied (and conflicting) traditions so which ones should be taken as authoritative? And the application of reason is guaranteed to result in correct conclusions only if the basic premises and assumptions are correct: wrong premises will often lead to a wrong conclusion regardless of the validity of the reasoning.
She also claims the Bible is irrelevant to the way science is practised (p. 54). Yet the Bible determines the presuppositions with which we approach science. For example, ‘Is the material world all there is?’ and ‘Are there universals?’ The answers to such questions will significantly affect the way science is practised.
On pages 55–56 she writes:
‘It seems arrogant to demand from God that our species arrived on earth in any particular manner. Why would it make a difference to Christians whether Homo sapiens is the product of a creative act sometime in the last few thousand (ten thousand or hundred thousand) years or the result of long eons of evolution?’
First, those who hold to young-Earth creationism do not simply ‘demand’ that God created human beings directly, but rather, we point out that this is what the Bible clearly teaches. Second, it makes a difference because if the Bible tells us that God supernaturally created us from the dust of earth when, in actual fact, we evolved from lower life forms over millions of years, then the Bible has misled us. This leads to questions such as: ‘Where else has the Bible misled us or given us wrong information?’ ‘Did God really create the world?’ ‘Does He exist at all?’ ‘Was Jesus really God?’ ‘Did He really rise from the dead?’ Given Pond’s approach to Scripture, she cannot know the answer to any of these question for sure. This once again shows that denial of the plain meaning of Genesis, as Pond does, is often a very slippery slope indeed to total apostasy, as demonstrated in people like Billy Graham’s former partner Charles Templeton19 and many others.
Stephen Meyer, on the other hand, agrees with most of what Frair and Patterson say, although he points out that they do not explain whether (or how) evidence from the natural world can lend support for belief in God, Creation or the accuracy of Scripture (p. 59). He also questions the intellectual basis for taking Scripture as a ‘starting point and regulative principle for doing science’.
Howard Van Till apparently also denies inerrancy, by claiming that is it a ‘humanly crafted proposition’ (pp. 61–62), when it’s actually a deduction from the doctrine of divine inspiration as taught by Scripture and Christ Himself. Of course this disqualifies Van Till from the evangelical camp, and is contrary to his own denomination, the Christian Reformed Church in North America. He complains that Frair and Patterson’s approach places ‘impossible demands on the text’ (p. 62) yet his own approach essentially ignores the text!
He asserts that a commitment to inerrancy and the Genesis account of Creation has led Frair and Patterson to conclude that ‘the creation was not equipped by God with the requisite capabilities to accomplish what science seeks to understand’ (pp. 62–63). Yet the very paragraph from Frair and Patterson’s essay which he cites in order to show this, states something quite different: It is the lack of scientific evidence which has led them to reject the evolutionary scenario!
Van Till complains about Frair and Patterson using the term ‘spontaneously’ to describe the appearance of life, and suggests an alternative like ‘the outcome of the creation using its God-given formational capabilities’ (p. 63). But such a definition is nothing short of pure waffle, and is devoid of both Biblical and scientific support. If no life exists at one moment yet comes into being in the next moment without any intelligent input due to properties inherent in matter itself, then that life has, by definition, come into being ‘spontaneously’. It seems that Van Till is desperately trying to obscure the absurdity of his own position by resorting to semantic subterfuge.
Van Till repeatedly talks about ‘key formational capabilities’ and ‘God-given formational capabilities’, and states that he sees ‘no reason to presume that God could not have chosen to employ such processes …’ (p. 63). Which processes? He never actually states what these ‘capabilities’ are and how they produce new genetic information.
The Bible and the real world
In any case, most of Van Till’s response simply raises objections to the terminology used by Frair and Patterson, but he never actually deals with their major points.
Jean Pond holds to an independence view—science and Scripture are totally unrelated—advocating the non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) view of the atheistic Marxist, Stephen Jay Gould. She therefore openly endorses all the conclusions of modern science including chemical evolution. However, the following comments show that she understands neither theology nor the nature of science:
‘Science proceeds by human initiative and reason, whereas theology is wholly dependent on God’s initiative in reaching out to us [p. 72]. … detached objectivity remains a valid goal for scientists and an appropriate distinction between science and theology. It has been my experience in science laboratories that this goal is approached more closely and more often than contemporary criticisms would have you believe’ (p. 73).
Pond argues that science and theology are very different disciplines since (1) in science, new data arrives daily, while the primary data of theologians is relatively fixed, and (2) scientific knowledge is provisional (pp. 74–77). This is certainly true—indeed, this is precisely why theology based on the Bible is far more authoritative than the provisional conclusions drawn from the ever-changing interpretations of the necessarily limited data gleaned from nature. She also plays down the political and institutional forces that make it difficult for scientists to go against the current scientific consensus, and generally has an overly optimistic view of scientific objectivity (p. 78).
On page 81, she states, ‘I am a scientist, an evolutionist, a great admirer of Charles Darwin and a Christian. I’m not using science to deny the existence of God [emphasis in original]’. Such a comment, however, shows that she has absolutely no idea what evolution means and implies, nor how syncretistic her views are. And it’s the height of naïveté for a professing Christian to admire Darwin, whose whole aim was to destroy the Christian faith and the idea of God as Creator, as shown by Gould and others.20
She claims that science and theology provide truth but speak in different areas. Nevertheless, the Bible and Christian theology does have something to say about origins—something which clearly contradicts the current scientific consensus.
Pond includes a quote by Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Merton:
‘We must not therefore open the Bible with any set determination to reduce it to the limits of a preconceived pattern of our own … All attempts to narrow the Bible down until it fits conveniently into the slots prepared for it by our prejudice will end with our misunderstanding the Bible and even falsifying its truth’ (pp. 85–86).
Ironically, this is a remarkably accurate description of Pond’s approach to Scripture (and the approach of many others like her).
Pond also has a very syncretistic view of faith. In her response to Van Till’s essay, she states: ‘To believe in God requires (in my experience) faith beyond reason, and this faith is an essential element of “religion”’ (p. 242). In other words, her faith in God is entirely unreasonable and irrational and she is apparently quite comfortable with this!
After reading her essay, one can only conclude that Jean Pond is just plain confused—in regard to both science and theology.
In his response, Stephen Meyer rightly denies the idea that science can neither support nor contradict Christianity (pp. 111–112). Indeed, he points out that the early church creeds make it clear that Christianity makes factual claims about history, human nature and the origin of the world, and the life of Christ (p. 112).21 Meyer shows how the NOMA view of Gould, and his disciple Pond, has baneful consequences for the fundamental Christian doctrine of the Resurrection (p. 119), for Gould dismisses John’s historical narrative of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance to the doubting Thomas as a ‘moral tale’. This shows that Meyer is right that the Bible is not just about morality and meaning. He does a good job of showing that Pond’s belief in the independence of science and Scripture is incredibly naïve.
In regard to his own take on science and Christianity, he argues from an ‘intelligent design’ perspective, and includes a good summary of the current evidence and arguments for intelligent design. However, his arguments for theism are significantly weakened because many are based on the assumption of the big bang and related concepts. For example, he cites the big bang theory and Doppler effect as evidence for a finite universe (p. 142). But Halton Arp’s thorough and careful stellar observations strongly suggest that understanding the Doppler affect as indicating a large expanding universe is a mistake.22 Apologetics based on the big bang is dangerous given that there are numerous observations which big bang cosmology cannot account for (which Meyer is either unaware of, or simply ignores). If the big bang cosmology goes, then so do Meyer’s arguments for theism. In any case, the Kalàm Cosmological Argument works just as well without the big bang.23
Meyer also seems to accept the fossil evidence as an accurate indication that life began 3.5–3.8 million years ago (p. 172). Given that he does not appear to accept the Biblical account of Noah’s Flood, nor does he hold to any evolutionary scenario, I wonder how he would explain the existence of the fossil record with evidence of catastrophe, as well death and disease which long-agers must say occurred before Adam’s Fall? His essay does not say.
It is disappointing that Meyer does not deal at all with the teaching of Scripture in regard to origins and the natural world. Nor does he deal with Biblical authority or the accuracy of Scripture. Rather than dealing with the actual relationship between science and Christianity, his contribution is nothing more than an apologetic for intelligent design. At best, intelligent design points to a Creator but it cannot identify the creator as the God of the Bible, nor can it provide support for the truth of Christianity. So it is deficient—although there are many Christians who are ID theorists, some non-Christians are too, even some surprising ones indicated by James 2:19. Thus, much of what Meyer has written is more or less irrelevant to the issue of how science and Christianity are related.
Limitations of intelligent design
Indeed, Frair and Patterson, in their response to Meyer, point out the limitations and weakness of the intelligent design argument:
‘We believe that design is a coherent explanation for the observations of the physical world, but the presupposition of design is a metaphysical issue rather than a scientific one. Many of the classic design arguments are appeals to ignorance. Any material artifact in biology could be constructed one atom at a time, at least in a thought experiment. To assert that because we do not know how it actually arose, there must be a God, links a majestic conclusion to a meagerly premise’ (p. 176).
Furthermore, scientific methods cannot reveal whether God was directly involved—only Scripture can tell us this.
Jean Pond, however, rejects the argument for intelligent design outright:
‘I reject the hypothesis of intelligent design both on the basis of what I know as a scientist and on the basis of what I believe as a Christian. I find myself unwilling to reduce God to a really smart guy. I refuse to try to fit God into a scientific box’ (p. 187, her emphasis).
It’s amazing how often professing Christians try to dress up in such pseudo-pious verbiage their blatant unbelief in what God plainly said He did!
Howard Van Till, on the other hand, believes that God created everything with built-in capabilities to adapt/evolve/change/develop into whatever is required by the situation. In other words, he holds to a form of theistic evolution. Such a belief, however, is pure conjecture with not the slightest bit of scientific support let alone Biblical support.
In his essay, he talks of his ‘respect for historic Christian theology, particularly its doctrine of creation’ (p. 195). This is hard to believe, given that Van Till believes in theistic evolution, which is rejected by virtually all evangelical theologians and was never a part of historic Christian doctrine, and in turn denies Biblical inerrancy which was undisputed in historic Christian doctrine.
Van Till does not believe the relationship of science to faith is the most important question. Rather, he believes the most important questions are ‘who are we, and what is the identity and character of the universe in which we find ourselves?’ (p. 196). But is this not what the early chapters of Genesis explicitly teach?
On page 208, he is certainly correct to point out that we must be careful not to impose modern ideas back onto the text, but again, given his theistic evolutionary view, it appears that he has failed to take his own advice.
We would agree (to a certain extent) when he writes:
‘I would judge it extraordinarily improbable that answers to modern scientific questions regarding the particulars of the creation’s formational history—questions totally foreign to the conceptual vocabularies of the very people to whom the original text was directed—were somehow cleverly hidden in the ancient text, only to be discovered in the twentieth century’ (p. 209).
This is surely true in regard to scientific particulars, but certainly not true in regard to historical particulars. In other words, the early chapters of Genesis do record real history even though it is not a strictly scientific account.
He claims that questions regarding the particulars of Creation’s formational history should not be directed at Scripture, because such questions are not part of the agenda of the Biblical text. Again, Van Till appears to simply ignore the early chapters of Genesis, which paint a very different picture.
In regard to the question of ‘ontological gaps’ in the natural world, he suggests we ask the professional scientific community for their opinion and then assures us that the answer would certainly be ‘no’ (pp. 215–216). But this is a very poor line of argument indeed. First, what scientists ‘believe’ is simply irrelevant—only what can be demonstrated and tested counts as true science. Second, there is no known mechanism whereby new genetic information is created.24,25,26 Evolutionists (including theistic evolutionists like Van Till, who isn’t even qualified in biology), have no answer to this problem. Nor do they have an answer to the problem of irreducible complexity. The only thing Van Till can offer is the ambiguous and contentless concept of ‘God-given formational capabilities’. Even Jean Pond points out that such a view does not coincide with what is already known about the chemical structure of DNA and what is known about the origin of information (p. 252).
Van Till admits that he is frustrated with the Creation/evolution debate because he does not consider them as opposing and irreconcilable perspectives (p. 220). Yet I suspect his frustration is a result of the fact that neither creationists nor evolutionists take him (and others like him) seriously, presumably because both groups find his position confused at best, and totally absurd at worst.
The book is concluded with a good summary of the issues by Richard Carlson.
If you want a book that offers a thorough analysis of the various views on how science relates to Christianity, you will be disappointed with this book. Only the contributions by Frair/Patterson and Pond really deal with issues such as the authority of Scripture in regard to statements about the natural world. The contributions by Meyer and Van Till are merely apologies for Intelligent Design and Theistic Evolution respectively. Thus, the book should probably have been titled ‘Origins: Four Christian Views’ or something similar. The book does, however, contain much good information, and is certainly a much better work than Zondervan’s Three Views on Creation and Evolution edited by J.P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds, which was reviewed in a previous issue of this journal.27
- Biologist and former president of the Creation Research Society. Return to text.
- Professor of Chemical Physics and Polymer Science at Carnegie-Mellon University. Return to text.
- Biologist and former visiting associate professor of biology at Whitworth College. Return to text.
- Associate professor of Philosophy at Whitworth College and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. Return to text.
- Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin College. Return to text.
- Wilder-Smith, A.E., Man’s Origins, Man’s Destiny, Harold Shaw Publishers, Wheaton, p. 215, 1968. Return to text.
- Craig, W.L., Apologetics: An Introduction, section 3.123, Moody, Chicago, 1984. Return to text.
- Grigg, R., A brief history of design, Creation 22(2):50–53, 2000. Return to text.
- Ashton, J. (Ed.), In Six Days: Why 50 [Ph.D.] scientists choose to believe in creation, New Holland, London, 1999. Return to text.
- See Present-day Creationist Scientists. Return to text.
- I second their recommendation of Grant Osborne’s book The Hermeneutical Spiral, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1991. Return to text.
- For some reason, a discussion on geology was not included. Return to text.
- Pipa, J., From chaos to cosmos: a critique of the framework hypothesis, Draft January 13, 1998. Return to text.
- Kulikovsky, A.S., A critique of the literary framework view of the days of Creation, Creation Research Society Quarterly 37(4):237–244, March 2001 (Download PDF file from <http://www.geocities.com/biblical_hermeneutics/Framework.pdf>). Return to text.
- See <http://www.talkorigins.com>. Return to text.
- See True Origins for a number of rebuttals to essays found at Talk Origins. Return to text.
- See Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy — with exposition. Return to text.
- See Geisler, N.L. (Ed.), Inerrancy, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1979; Radmacher, E.D. and Preus, R.D. (Eds), Hermeneutics, Inerrancy and the Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984; Carson, D.A. and Woodbridge, J.D., (Eds), Scripture and Truth, Baker, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992; Carson, D.A. and Woodbridge, J.D., (Eds), Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon, Baker, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995. Return to text.
- Ham, K. and Byers, S., The slippery slide to unbelief: a famous evangelist goes from hope to hopelessness, Creation 22(3):8–13, 2000. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Darwin’s real message: have you missed it? Creation 14(4):16–19, 1992. Return to text.
- Claims based on the Bible itself: Genesis 1:1, Hebrews 1:2. Return to text.
- Arp, H., Quasars, Redshifts and Controversies, Cambridge University Press, 1987; Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology and Academic Science, Apeiron, Montreal, 1999; see reviews in Journal of Creation 14(3):39–45,46–50, 2000. See also Galaxy-Quasar ‘Connection’ Defies Explanation. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J.D., If God created the universe, then who created God? Journal of Creation 12(1):20–22, 1998. Return to text.
- Gitt, W., In the beginning was Information, CLV, Bielefeld, 1997. Return to text.
- Spetner, L.M., Not By Chance, The Judaica Press, Brooklyn, 1997. Return to text.
- See also Q&A: Information Theory. Return to text.
- Kulikovsky, A., A balanced treatment?? Journal of Creation 14(1):23–27, 2000. Return to text.