Bible and Science

THE COMPATIBILITY OF THE BIBLE AND SCIENCE

an excerpt from Reclaiming the Two Books of God, by Don Sailer

The religious elites were fond of attacking the credibility of the Bible based on alleged scientific inaccuracies. “With monotonous regularity,” Kirtley Mather argued, “the world discovers that science is right, that theology is wrong.”[55] Riley observed, however, that when “liberals have a conflict of science and scripture, they automatically dismiss scripture for science. Not because science has been proven true, but simply because they hold it to be a higher authority than the Bible.”[56] Straton added, “They dogmatize, too, not on the authority of a Divine revelation that has justified its claim for centuries, but only on their own hypotheses, theories and beliefs of what they think ought to be right.”[57]

The real issue was the detachment of the book of nature from the book of scripture, often referred to as general revelation and specific revelation by theologians.[58] The fundamentalists continued to hold to the view handed down by the Puritans [59] and revealed in Scripture.[60] “There is a two-fold revelation of God spread out in majestic array before every inquirer of our generation. The first and the simplest of those revelations is in the realm that men call nature,” Rimmer noted. The second form of revelation was the “written revelation that came to men by direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost, that deserves the highest place in the thinking of men today.”

The book of revelation was the supreme authority, not nature. “This modern craze to test Scripture by science, however would reverse the natural order,” Rimmer exclaimed. “When science is grown up and has achieved its majority, and has demonstrated its own infallibility, we may then be ready to test the Bible by science.” Rimmer wasn’t afraid to test the Bible, he simply was not willing to subject the Bible to unproven hypotheses. “If the Bible is true and if its revelations are indeed from Almighty God, we need not fear to have it tested by any standard of truth that is honest, and that is established.” Rimmer’s point was that religious liberals and modernists were quick to “surrender the eternal verity of God’s revelation for the unfounded theories propounded by men who are utterly without ability to prove their wild imaginings.” Rimmer countered, “Only a science that is free from error will agree with a true and accurate rendition of the text of the Bible.”[61]

That was the key. In order for science and the Bible to be compatible, both would need to be interpreted correctly. Science would need to maintain a view of nature that did not exclude the spiritual. “By nature we here mean not only physical facts, or facts with regard to the substances, properties, forces, and laws of the material world,” stated the venerable Baptist theologian Augustus H. Strong, “but also spiritual facts, or facts with regard to the intellectual and moral constitution of man, and the orderly arrangement of human society and history.”[62] John Polkinghorne in Belief in God in an Age of Science clarified, “At the heart of scientific realism lies the conviction that intelligibility is the reliable guide to ontology; that concepts and entities whose postulation enables us to make sense of wide swathes of experience, are to be taken with the utmost seriousness as candidate descriptions of what is actually the case.”[63]

Likewise, the Scriptures would also need to be interpreted correctly according to the original languages in order to discern its grammatical and historical intent. If the Bible was divinely inspired, then knowing the ancient languages was of utmost importance in discerning its meaning.[64] When all of the facts from both science and Scripture are understood, there can be “no final conflict.”[65] “The true interpretation of the Bible together with the true interpretation of science will result in perfect harmony, repeat, perfect harmony with no disservice to either,” stated Gorman Gray in The Age of the Universe.66

When it came to cosmology, misinterpreting the Scriptures was a problem that applied not only to the religious elites and atheists, but also to the fundamentalists. Fosdick continued to mischaracterize the Bible’s view on creation when he stated, “On the one side is the Semitic world-view with its flat earth surrounded by the sea, and the solid firmament a little way above; on the other our modern universe of immeasurable distances.”[67] Huxley charged “Moses with believing that heaven was a solid substance, resting like a canopy over the earth.”[68] Those fundamentalists who were strict literalists believed “that God created all terrestrial life – past and present – less than ten thousand years ago”[69] claiming in the process that God didn’t create the sun, moon, and stars until day four of the creation account.[70] Still others, who agreed with “geologists that the earth was far older than six thousand years” advocated the Gap Theory, which postulated that “most fossils were relics of the first creation, destroyed by God prior to the Adamic restoration.”[71] Theistic evolutionists “went still further to accommodate science by interpreting the days of Genesis as ages and by correlating them with successive epochs in the natural history of the world.” By the late 1800s theistic evolution “circulated widely in the colleges and seminaries of America.”[72] But with the publication of The Genesis Flood in 1961 by John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, young earth creationism made a tremendous comeback in fundamentalist and evangelical circles.[73] Morris “concluded that creation had taken place in six literal days, because the Bible clearly said so and ‘God doesn’t lie.’”[74 ]But in each case, either science or the scriptures were being distorted.

Fosdick either ignored or was unaware of the passages in the Bible that referred to the earth as a circle or sphere. He also failed to understand, as did many fundamentalists, that “the heavens and the earth” was a reference to the universe and all its “host,” meaning sun, moon, stars, and planets.[75] Therefore Genesis 1:1 was a description of a functioning universe and not “‘interstellar space’ with no celestial bodies,” an error that lead to the misinterpretation of day four by the strict literalists.[76] “This is significant,” Riley explained. “First of all the word ‘made’ is not ‘bara’ – which implies a creative act, but ‘asa’ – a Hebrew word that suggests appointment to function. There is, therefore, no harmony between Genesis 1:1 where God created the heavens and 1:16 where He appointed the sun and the moon ‘to rule over the day and over the night.’”[77] This mistake was probably the most significant error made by young earth creationists and later fundamentalists. It completely distorted their understanding of Genesis 1:1 and lead to the argument that this verse was a summary statement or heading and not the actual description of God creating out of nothing a fully formed universe.[78] In arguing for a young universe, they have also contradicted what astronomers now know to be true concerning the speed of light and the time it takes for light from distant solar systems to reach the earth’s atmosphere.[79] Contrary to Fosdick, the expansiveness of the universe was indicated by the biblical phrase, “he alone stretches out the heavens.”[80] Huxley simply got it wrong, Riley pointed out, when he failed to understand that the Hebrew word “rakiah” correctly translated means “a broad expanse” and not a solid substance.[81]

Used in the context of day two of the creation story, “rakiah” referred to the “sky” that was formed when the waters were separated.[82] Gap theorists, in proposing a previous creation on earth that accounted for science’s alleged “pre-adamic races”[83] contradicted the claims of the Bible that there was no human death on the earth until after the fall of Adam and Eve.[84] And the Day-Age theory did disservice to the normal understanding of the Hebrew text, that the days were literal 24 hour days.[85] In attempting to reconcile cosmology with the Bible and science, it appeared that there were only two options to choose from for those who take both the Bible and science seriously.

Either believe with old earth creationists, who claimed to have science on their side, that the earth was 4.5 billion years old; or believe with young earth creationists, who claimed to have the Bible on their side, that the earth was only 10,000 to 20,000 years old.[86] In considering the above attempts to harmonize science and the Bible, Gray wrote, “either science is bent to suit an interpretation of Scripture or Scripture is bent to suit an interpretation of science.”[87]

Since the Bible and science must be compatible as God’s two books, there must be another alternative. Gray’s solution to the age and form of the universe was so simple that it was breathtaking and highlighted the problem both sides had in becoming entrenched in their beliefs and traditions. As the Big Bang intimated and the Bible revealed, God created out of nothing a fully functioning universe in Genesis 1:1. This universe consisted of the starry host that God alone stretched out. This included the planets of our solar system, including the earth’s core,[88] which were revolving in their orbits around the sun. The earth was in darkness, “deserted and empty,” and covered in water.[89] The darkness was not throughout the universe, but only on the earth’s surface as a result of the thick clouds that surrounded the planet.[90] “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”[91] It was at this juncture that Gray realized that the Bible did not specify how long the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. The biblical record, therefore, allowed for an old universe. “If we leave the age of the universe undefined, answers appear for all of the problems,” Gray declared. “There is time for angels, the fall of Satan, the speed of light, radioisotope ratios and more.”[92]

It was only after the Spirit of God was done hovering that God said, “Let there be light.”[93] Rimmer explained: Light illumined the planet on the first day of creation. The second day was given up to the establishment of the laws of meteorology that guide and direct what we call weather. On the third day three mighty works were wrought. The oceans were gathered together into their one bed, the vast realm of botany was born, and the world of biology came into being. Up to this time, the light that had been shining on the planet had been filtered through that aqueous envelope which had not been dissipated. Then on the fourth day, the atmosphere cleared so that the direct rays of the sun reached the planet with all the brightness characteristic of our modern daylight.[94] We might add, for the very first time. Without light on the earth, there could be no day or night. Thus, the first day from the perspective of the earth began when God called for light,[95] though an unspecified period of time, perhaps billions of years, could have already elapsed in the universe. The seven days of creation, therefore, did not consist of the creation of the universe, but rather the fashioning of the earth’s biosphere, forming it and filling it, in order to make it habitable for man! The prophet Isaiah said it perfectly, “He who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited.”[96]

Gray’s interpretation was profound in its simplicity and also solved the old earth/young earth controversy. The earth could be both old and young! The earth’s foundation described in Genesis 1:1 may be very old as geologists claim, but the earth’s biosphere fashioned in seven literal 24 hour days as recorded in Genesis 1:3-31 may be quite recent as the flood genealogy indicates. That these concepts were once taught by fundamentalists before the reaction to evolution settled in and buried these ideas in an avalanche of rhetoric ought to be encouraging to anyone who cares about a literal interpretation of the Bible. “Because the age-of-the-universe issue is the primary force leading to the rejection of biblical literalism, the correction of this error will neutralize that destructive tool,” Gray predicted.

Unfortunately, Gray was wrong. Young earth creationists continued to denounce anyone who did not affirm a seven day creation of the entire universe,[97] misapplying Exodus 20:11, which refers only to the “sky,” “land” and “sea,” and all that is in “them” of days two through six,[98] and not to the initial creation of the universe which took place before the first day.[99] Old earth advocates continued to speak of days as long periods of time. And evolutionists continued to deny the supernatural work of God. There can be no excuse for proponents of an “inspired” Bible to ignore Gray’s thesis.[100]

Modernists, on the other hand, had a built in excuse. They had changed their reference point from the supernatural to the natural.[101] Nature had become their highest authority. But not the nature of the Bible that revealed God, but the materialistic kind that excluded God.[102] Since they started from an assumption that science studied only the natural and is our only reliable path to knowledge, God, “who can never do anything that makes a difference, and of whom we can have no reliable knowledge, is of no importance to us.”[103] William Provine, professor of biological sciences at Cornell University, insisted “that the conflict between science and religion is inescapable, to the extent that persons who manage to retain religious beliefs while accepting evolutionary biology ‘have to check [their] brains at the churchhouse door.'”[104]

This same denial of the compatibility of science and the Bible took place recently at Baylor University, an institution connected historically with the Southern Baptist Convention. The faculty of the school reacted vehemently and forcefully against President Robert Sloan’s attempt to turn Baylor into a world-class research university while also strengthening its Christian identity. Former president, Herbert Reynolds, claimed “that ‘fundamentalists’ [had] taken over the university.” He asserted that he held to the “two-spheres” approach, in which faith had nothing to do with the “pursuit of objective knowledge.”[105] When Sloan hired William Dembski, author of The Design Inference with doctorates in philosophy and mathematics, to head up a new research center to test the theory of intelligent design as a component of Baylor’s Institute of Faith and Learning, the faculty senate voted 27-2 to shut it down. Despite a positive report by an outside review committee that Dembski’s work was legitimate and had a rightful place at the university, Sloan was forced to ask for Dembski’s resignation due to the incessant embarrassment “creationism” was causing the university’s science departments within the academic community. One thing was certain, Baylor was not willing to lead the way in opening up “science” to the concept of “a designer,” a view that “challenges our entire worldview.”[106] Just the whiff of the idea that the Bible and science might be compatible brought the project to a screeching halt. There could be no room for “design” that hinted of a supernatural designer on the campus of Baylor University, not even in the Institute of Faith and Learning, if it was linked in any way to “science.”[107]

It was in reaction to this type of bias concerning the supernatural origins of the Bible that prompted Paley to ask in 1824, “Why should we question the genuineness of these books? Is it for that they contain accounts of the supernatural?” Paley knew that if they had recorded ordinary history they would have been accepted just like “Josephus or Philo.”[108] By denying the two books of God, philosophical naturalists were distorting what could be known about reality and the universe. By suppressing the truth concerning the compatibility of the Bible and science, and denying the philosophical nature of scientific materialism, modernists, who had abandoned the authority of the Bible, were primed to march head long into the camp of the humanists.

by Don Sailer, Reclaiming the Two Books of God. Excerpt from chapter Four: “The Authority of the Bible.” Used with permission. Order the book

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Footnotes
 

55 Kirtley Mather, Science in Search of God (New York: Holt, 1928), 33.

56 Riley, Antievolution Pamphlets, 10.

57 Straton and Potter, The Battle over the Bible, 21.

58 Erickson, Christian Theology, 153, 175.

59 The Puritans believed “relating faith and science was a matter of relating two approaches to universal truth” within the dogmatic context of their theological tradition. “The truths learned from Scripture and those learned from nature were assumed to be complementary.” “The principal issue in the seventeenth century was not natural science versus the Bible; rather it was the new natural philosophy versus the ‘peripatetic’ philosophy of Aristotle” in Marsden, Soul, 50, 48. It was science versus science!

60 Romans 1, Psalm 19:1

61 Rimmer, Harmony, 35, 48, 59, 12, 12, 56.

62 Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1907), 26.

63 John Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 109. Polkinghorne in describing the book of scripture and the book of nature gives more credence to nature. He labels Genesis 3 a “powerful tale” and understands it “mythically”

64 Fundamental and evangelical seminaries that hold to a high view of Scripture continue to require their students to study Hebrew and Greek, whereas many liberal seminaries that no longer hold to the historic position in regards to the inspiration and authority of the Bible have reduced or eliminated the “language” requirements in their degree programs.

65 Francis Schaeffer, No Final Conflict (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), quoted in Grudem, Systematic Theology, 274.

66 Gorman Gray, The Age of the Universe: What are the Biblical Limits (Washougal, WA: Morning Star, 2000), 31.

67 Fosdick, Modern Use of the Bible, 44.

68 Riley, Antievolution Pamphlets, 14.

69 Ronald L. Numbers, “The Creationists,” But Is It Science?, ed. Ruse, 228.
70 John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961), 228. Shailer Mathews in rejecting the inerrancy of the Bible stated, “Our knowledge of astronomy makes it impossible for us to think that day and night existed before the sun was created,” a clear reference to the interpretation of biblical literalists in regards to day four of the creation week in The Faith of Modernism, 142.

71 Numbers, “The Creationists,” 228.

72 Ibid., 229. “Scientists were discarding Darwinism at the turn of the century, but not evolution. This was misunderstood by emerging fundamentalists, who thought evolution was collapsing. The Fundamentals barely addressed the threat of evolution” in ibid., 230.

73 The belief that the Bible teaches that the universe was created in six literal days approximately six to ten thousand years ago.

74 Numbers, “The Creationists,” 242, from interviews with Henry M. Morris, 26 October 1980 and 6 January 1981.

75 Psalm 33:6, Isaiah 40:26. In asking the question, “Who created all these stars?” the biblical writer used the verb “bara” connecting it to Genesis 1:1 (bara) and not to Genesis 1:16 (asa).

76 Gray, Age of the Universe, 36.

77 Riley, Antievolution Pamphlets, 18.

78 Gray, Age of the Universe, 43.

79 Ibid., 87. To solve this problem, young earth creationists postulated that God created pre-encoded starlight; a speculation every bit as extreme as those proposed by evolutionists.

80 Job 9:8, Psalm 104:2, Isaiah 40:22, Zechariah 12:1

81 Riley, Antievolution Pamphlets, 14.

82 Genesis 1:8 (NIV)

83 Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1964), 204.

84 Ibid., 206-7. Romans 5:12

85 Genesis 1:3. The effect of light reaching the earth’s surface resulted in morning and evening, the first 24 hour day, as observed from the perspective of the earth’s surface.

86 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 289-290.

87 Gray, Age of the Universe, 31.

88 The earth’s core as described in Genesis 1:2 and Job 38:4-9 is repeatedly referred to in the Bible as the “foundation of the earth” in Isaiah 48:13, John 17:24, Ephesians 1:4, Hebrews 1:10, 1 Peter 1:20.

89 Genesis 1:2. The Hebrew phrase “tohu wabohu” is better translated “deserted and empty” in Gray, Age of the Universe, 29. While “tohu” may mean chaotic, context dictates its meaning. By subtracting the six days of Genesis 1:3ff, one is left with the contextual description of “tohu wabohu” in Genesis 1:2; the earth’s core surrounded in water and darkness – a barren and empty planet.

90 Job 38:4-9

91 Genesis 1:2 (NIV)

92 Gray, Age of the Universe, 89. 93 Genesis 1:3 (NIV)

94 Rimmer, Harmony, 102-103.

95 The text does not say God “created” light on day one in Genesis 1:3-5.

96 Isaiah 45:18 (NIV). “He who created (bara) the heavens” is a reference to Genesis 1:1; “he who fashioned (yasar) and made (asa) the earth” is a reference to God fashioning it in Genesis 1:3ff.; “he did not create (bara) it to be empty (tohu)” is a reference to the original creation of the earth’s core in Genesis 1:1 indicating that a deserted earth was not God’s final purpose for the planet; “but formed (yasar) it to be inhabited (loshebet)” is a reference to God making the earth a dwelling for life in Genesis 1:3ff. “Bara” and “asa” are not interchangeable as Leupold mistakenly argued by comparing Genesis 1:21 with 1:25 in Exposition of Genesis, 61. They have an entirely different semantic range of meaning which is obvious when one understands “asa” to mean “do, fashion, accomplish.” “The word bara carries the thought of the initiation of the object involved. It always connotes what only God can do and frequently emphasizes the absolute newness of the object created. The word asa is much broader in scope, connoting primarily the fashioning of the object with little concern for special nuances” in TWOT, #1708. It is only in the context of God creating that “asa” can be understood to mean that God “made” something. When God created (bara) the living creatures, birds, animals and man, he accomplished (asa) what he intended to do by forming or making them after their kinds.

97 Dan Batten, “Soft Gap Sophistry,” www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v26/i3/soft gap.asp.

98 Gray, Age of the Universe, 23. Genesis 1:6-31 (NIV)

99 Genesis 1:1-2. The first day didn’t begin until God said, “Let there be light” in 1:3.

100 “Young – and Old – Earth Creationists: Can we even talk together?” sonlight.com /young_or_old_earth.html.

101 Marsden, Soul, 213.

102 Romans 1:20-25

103 Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991), 115.

104 Ibid, 124, quoting Provine, “Evolution and the Foundation of Ethics,” MBL Science 3, no. 1: 25-29.

105 Gene Edward Veith, “Baptist Brawl,” World, 14 February 2004, 29.

106 Lauren Kern, “In God’s Country,” Houston Press, 14 December 2000, and “Monkey Business,” Dallas Observer, 11 January 2001.

107 Blair Martin, “BU Science-Religion Center Draws Critics,” Baylor Lariat, 6 April 2000, www3.baylor.edu/Lariat/Archives/2000/20000406/art-front01.html.

108 Paley, Evidences, 110-111.

 

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