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Scripture and Science In Conflict
by Philip Stott
Science and Christianity have an intertwined history. Even atheist historians of science find themselves having to admit that it was only under the Christian worldview that one could expect nature to behave in a way that would make science a reasonable pursuit. In spite of the fact that some steps towards a beginning in science had been taken by other cultures it was only in the Christian culture of Europe, and in particular that of Reformation Europe, that science came to fruition.
The great pioneers of science, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Euler, Maxwell, Faraday, Kelvin and many others professed Christianity and accepted the Bible as God's revelation to mankind. Many spent much time studying the Scriptures. Newton claimed the most important aspect of his work was in showing the greatness of God. Maxwell noted that his great pioneering work in field theory was inspired by the Scriptural revelation of the way God himself is and works.
But during the twentieth century science was taken over to a very large extent by secular humanists. Such a world-view actually has no rational basis for expecting science to succeed. Yet secular humanists have cultivated the idea that science is essentially an atheistic domain which is at loggerheads with Christianity.
In fact there have been three main topics on which Christianity and science have come into obvious and serious conflict. It is largely on the basis of these three areas that the idea that science implacably conflicts with Scripture have been deliberately cultivated. These three areas are:-
The theory of evolution. This originally dealt with ORGANIC EVOLUTION but logically proceeded to MATERIAL EVOLUTION leading to various theories of origins, the most popular currently being THE BIG BANG.
The age of the earth and the universe and their mode of formation. This topic embraces UNIFORMITARIANISM, GEOLOGICAL TIME and ASTRONOMICAL TIME.
The centrality of the earth in creation. This topic usually comes under the heading GEOCENTIRICITY, GEOCENTRISM OR GEOSTATIONISM.
Geocentricity was the first major point of conflict. The inerrancy of Scripture was challenged and the ensuing "Galileo affair" had a profound effect on both scientists and Bible scholars. Since that time the scriptures have been interpreted ever less in accordance with understanding of ancient languages and ever more as a harmonisation with "scientific truth". The influence of geocentrism on science has been equally profound. The rejection of the possibility that the earth could have a special place in creation led to the Theory of Relativity, the rejection of the "aether" (the medium through which light propagates) and its consequences - Quantum Theory - the whole of "Modern Physics". It is also the basis for assuming that the laws of science discovered here will be the same elsewhere - probably a good assumption if the earth is not in a special position, a bad one if it is. The whole of astrophysics depends critically on this assumption.
Geological time, popularised by Charles Lyell, was the second major point of conflict between Christianity and science. In his famous book "Principles of Geology" Lyell argued for an age of the earth far greater than could be accommodated by scripture. Later editions ridiculed the book of Genesis, particularly the section on Noah's flood. Since Genesis is the foundation on which the whole of Christianity is built his book became an attack on the whole of Christianity.
Evolution is a very old hypothesis which was long rejected by the scientifically knowledgeable as untenable in view of the obvious necessity for a designer to account for the complexities of life. When Charles Darwin proposed Natural Selection as a mechanism which could produce ever increasing complexity without design it suddenly became possible to be as Richard Dawkins put it, "a fulfilled atheist". Since then evolution has become perhaps the most commonly used weapon in attacking the credibility of the Scriptures. Its influence on society at large has been immense. Karl Marx noted that Darwin’s book was the foundation for "Scientific Socialism" (Communism). Stalin pointed out that "Evolution prepares for revolution and creates the ground for it." Many would argue that no other "scientific" concept has had such influence on not only the progress of Christianity, but the whole of society.
There are other topics which could be considered relevant. Archaeology has at times presented challenges to the Bible. However archaeology is a question of history rather than science, and challenges have been answered as new discoveries have thrown light on one disputed point after another. I believe the stage has been reached where few, if any, now consider Archaeology a serious challenge to their faith or the credibility of the Scriptures. In the case of the three topics mentioned above this is certainly not so.
In "General Considerations" I look in more detail at the broad claims made above, present what I hope are thought-provoking insights into the workings of science, and also into the interpretation of scripture as influenced by science and scientists. I would suggest looking through these general consideration before going on to whichever of the topics on the side-bar you would like to consider further.
End of Introduction
To appreciate the relationship between Science and Scripture we need to consider:
The next to last point is highly subjective, and I shall often be putting forward my own perspective, usually in the form of articles responding to those of other authors. The last point needs, I believe, more serious consideration than usually given.
What is Science and What Authority Does It Have? is an introduction to the first of these questions. An introduction to the second can be seen in Comments on Villee, Walker and Barnes and How Firm is the Ground You are Standing On? Many Christians have for long accepted popular secular humanist propaganda about incompatibility between Christianity and science, but as can be seen in Christianity and the Scientific Enterprise a somewhat different story is coming to light.
Perhaps the majority of Christians who are professional scientists retain almost total respect for the position of their professional disciplines. This usually means viewing the Scriptures as largely symbolic, containing valuable gems mixed together with myths which had some value to former generations. Generations who did not have the benefit of modern science to explain the real truth about the creation. Such are typified by Hugh Ross and John Polkinghorne, whose Creation and Structure of the Physical World assumes the standard theories proclaimed by the scientific establishment to be so certain as to be unworthy of any comment. It is possible for a Christian to adopt this approach by accepting a style of interpretation, or hermeneutic, far from that used by previous generations of Bible students. One might ask if this is a valid way of treating the Scriptures.
The soundest method of understanding the Scriptures was proclaimed by the great reformers: the Scriptures should be given the most natural interpretation possible unless there is very good ground for doing otherwise. In cases where there could be doubt then Scripture must interpret Scripture, clear statements being used to throw light on the less clear. Such a situation is essential in view of the many warnings of the fallibility of the wisdom of man. (e.g. Romans 1:22, 1Corinthians 1: 20.). It is not only the atheists who can be deceived by the wisdom of this world. Jesus often pointed to the Doctors of the Law - the theologians, the experts in the scriptures - as the most deceived of his generation. A look at interpretation is given in Hermeneutics, Science and Scripture: A Brief Introduction. Attempts to accommodate secular science are common. Herman Hanko's The Framework Hypothesis and Genesis 1 looks at one of the many hermeneutical schemes which have been devised by Christians convinced that science has shown the Scriptures to be wrong. His assessment of all such attempted accommodations to science is very well made. One consequence of such accommodations can be seen in Atheism In Decline Everywhere. Articles dealing with hermeneutics in greater depth can be found in the links.
The Christian can avoid the pitfalls of being "snowed" by unscrupulous secular humanists by taking the trouble to look into the real situation in science. A valuable article, Frederic Soddy's Address to Nobel Prize Winners is worthy of study by anyone serious about understanding science, its authority, how it should be taught, and whether it is where it ought to be.
To equip oneself with an understanding of the validity of science's claims it is useful to examine texts on the foundational ideas. While not perhaps quite as easy to understand as texts in the other sections I present here Einstein's Relativity: the Special and General Theories with annotations. His Sidelights on Relativity is also presented. Almost the whole of current cosmology is based on Einstein's theories. There could hardly be more disagreement possible between the Biblical account of creation and that of the Big Bang. Looking at Einstein's text should give an idea of how reliable the anti-Biblical theories arrayed under the proud name of science really are.
The question of what Christianity has to offer towards the progress of science is addressed informally in The Christian and Science, and formally in the Foundational Statement on Christianity and Science.
Science and Belief (units 1 to16 ); The Open University; Open University Press, 1974.
Science at the Crossroads; Herbert Dingle; Martin Brian & O'Keeffe; London, 1972.
Betrayers of the Truth; William Broad and Nicholas Wade; Simon and Schuster, 1983.
Physics of the Future; Thomas G. Barnes; ICR, 1983.