Part 1: Why the Bible enables science to work
Published: 28 March 2019 (GMT+10)
Imagine that humanity has emerged from the rubble of a nuclear holocaust. All the science textbooks are gone. Years have passed and many things have been forgotten. In many cases, we don’t know what’s true and what isn’t. Is the earth round or flat? Does the earth go around the sun, or is it the other way around? We don’t have access to any of the sources we would normally turn to with questions like this, and if we want to find out, we have to build the tools to do so from scratch. But as you stagger forward from the ruins of civilization, you’re not completely bereft of everything, because you’re still holding a Bible, and your thinking is shaped on a fundamental level by the culture that arose from it.
Can you rebuild modern science from this starting point? We ask this question because it mimics the situation many people find themselves in today. People with a natural tendency to think independently (which is generally a good thing!) can sometimes become entrenched in a radical skepticism that refuses to believe anything unless they can see and prove it for themselves. But one reason we need ‘authorities’ is that no single person can master every possible realm of knowledge. The attempt to prove everything by oneself is idiocentric (idios being the Greek word for ‘self’). In our attempt to rebuild science, we are going to need to reach outside ourselves and work with others, we are going to have to accumulate knowledge, perhaps over generations, and we will be forced to carefully document all findings.
However, this rebuilding would happen much more quickly than the original building, because we would be thinking with minds that are fundamentally shaped by biblical assumptions. The culture we initially came from has been influenced by the Bible in profound ways, so we are not starting with a blank slate.
First, we need theology
It might seem counter-intuitive, but before we get to science, we need theology. This is because it’s not enough to just have the Bible; we need to have a way of interpreting and reading it in its context to extract the meaning. You would get rudimentary theology very quickly. For example, people will read the Bible and see statements about there being one God, yet multiple Persons in the Godhead. This will allow them to come up again with the doctrine of the Trinity.
Because the Bible presents a God who is the Creator of the universe, who is intimately concerned with the Earth, who has interacted with the Earth often, and who reveals His nature through what is created, theologians would also eventually come up with the following two conclusions:
1. The earth is real, and our perceptions of it conform closely to reality.
Scripture states that God created the world (Genesis 1:1) and that He created human beings to have dominion over creation (Genesis 1:26), which means we have to study nature in order to best take care of what we have been given. Obviously, God must have given us the ability to reason and to learn so that we could fulfill our God-given purpose on earth. We are also told that creation bears witness to God’s power and divine nature (Romans 1:20). Beholding the glory of creation is meant to cause us to praise the Creator (Psalm 104). This also means that we must be able to generally perceive reality correctly.
These statements are critical. They are, in fact, the nucleus of the modern scientific revolution. We can know that the physical reality around us actually exists. We are not part of a computer simulation, the world is not an illusion (as many Eastern religions teach), and we are not plugged into the Matrix.
God created the world in such a way that it reflects His glory and provokes us to worship. This has always encouraged believers to study creation, in order to better understand and worship the Creator.
The earth is real, we have been told to study it, and we have been given the necessary mental tools to do so. So far so good.
At the same time, the Bible tells us that what we observe is not the entirety of reality. There is an entire spiritual realm that we do not directly experience with our senses, and to know about that, we are primarily dependent on God’s revelation about it in Scripture. The fact that there is ‘another’ world that cannot be explored with ‘science’ is a very important thing to remember. But the physical world is real, testable, and, as we are about to see, predictable.
2. Nature works in ways that are generally consistent.
Because God is the Creator, and since He is a God of order and not of chaos (e.g. James 1:17), we would expect creation to act in ways that are generally consistent. Would not the ultimate Lawgiver create a universe that operates according to Law? Most of the time nature acts in ways that are generally predictable, and that allows us to do science. If you drop a ball, it falls down, not up. Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius, always, and the minor deviations from that can easily be explained by appealing to differences in atmospheric pressure or the salinity of the water. You can float in water, but you can’t walk on it, unless it is frozen. And so on.
Nature is predictable because God has built the universe to act in a predictable way. And God did that because He operates in a predictable way. For example, by definition, He never does anything that contradicts His own nature. This is why we can express the patterns of the universe mathematically and in the form of the laws of physics, despite the occasional miracle, which, by definition, is a rare one-time event not accessible to scientific inquiry. The universe behaves according to a set of laws and follows the rules of logic because it derives from the ultimate source of law and logic, the God of the Bible. In fact, Jesus, who is the agent of creation, is called the Logos (the word from which we get the word logic) in John 1.
In the laboratory, the Christian can expect things to work according to their ‘natural’ way. We approach an experiment with confidence that there are not little pixies hiding among the test tubes or pushing buttons when we are not looking. We expect the universe to behave for us because it was created to behave. The Bible does not allow us to embrace complete methodological naturalism, however, because we’re told that God intervenes into and interacts with the creation in ways that transcend the normal order He set in place. So events like Creation, the Flood, and the miracles of Christ are not accessible to the same type of scientific inquiry because they aren’t explainable by the normal ‘laws of nature’.
Thus far we know that God is the Creator, that the creation should reflect His basic attributes of being predictable and orderly, and that we have been given what we need to study His works. We now have everything we need to start our exploration of science.
How does this apply when we’re thinking about the shape of the earth or whether we went to the moon? We’ll talk about that in Part 2. But for now, we can rest assured that the Bible gives us a foundation for saying that the universe is real, knowable, and accessible to scientific examination.