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Don Stewart :: The Bible’s Scientific Respectability

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The Bible’s Scientific Respectability

Ten Reasons to Trust the Bible – Question 5

The Bible was written in what is termed, “the pre-scientific era” (before the rise of modern science). Even though it is not a scientific book, one of the wonders of the Bible is its remarkable scientific respectability. A number of introductory observations need to be made:

1. Is Science a Friend or Enemy of the Bible?

How should the Christian view science? Is science a friend or foe of the Bible? Cardinal Barberini, a friend of the astronomer Galileo, once said to him, “You teach how the heavens go; we teach how to go to heaven.” The Cardinal was implying that science is neither a friend nor a foe of the Christian faith because each has different goals.

The Bible and science, however, are closely related. Scripture teaches that God created the natural order. This means that God created the very subject matter that the scientist examines. The Bible and science may have different goals in mind, but one cannot ignore the other.

2. Science and Scripture Are Not Saying Two Different Things

Today, many people believe that the Bible and science are mutually exclusive; completely contradictory to each other. Once the facts are examined, however, we will discover that this is not true.

Indeed, if the God of creation is also the God of salvation, then such conflict is impossible. The same God will not create one testimony in the material record of the universe and then create a completely contradictory testimony in the written record of the Bible.

3. Science Is Not an Enemy of Scripture; Scientism Is

Though true science is not in conflict with the Bible, some scientific conclusions are. The term ‘scientism’ is often employed by writers to describe the mindset of certain scientists who interpret their data by a particular philosophical outlook that eliminates the possibility of anything miraculous or supernatural.

The job of the scientist is to test, repeat, observe and record the data. Scientism, which goes beyond the realm of science, accepts things only on a natural order and interprets all the data in that context. However, this is not science. The scientist should construct a theory that best fits all the facts no matter what the conclusion may be. While some scientists may disagree with the Bible, the facts of science do not. Hence, science is not an enemy of Christianity.

4. Science and Miracles

When the subject of the Bible and science is addressed, the question of miracles usually arises. Since we live in a scientific age, no longer bound by many of the superstitions of the past, some people assume that modern science has ruled out the miraculous because we now have a better understanding of how the universe functions. Unlike people of the past, we are able to explain why things happen because of our understanding of natural law.

However, natural law does not explain away the miracles recorded in the Bible. The laws that modern science has formulated do not rule out the possibility, or probability, of miracles. In fact, scientific laws are not laws at all, but theories that are being modified from time to time as new evidence or explanations are found.

5. The Terminology about Miracles Is Important

With regard to miracles and the laws of science, many of the misconceptions have to do with terminology. A miracle may be defined simply as an event disrupting the normal order of things. We must be careful when we talk about the “laws of science.” People use phrases such as “breaking the laws of science” and “unalterable scientific laws.” To the non-scientist this seems as if it is something impossible to do. But this is not the case. Scientific laws are generalizations made by human observation concerning cause and effect relationships.

For example, we have observed throughout history that a person who dies from crucifixion stays dead. They do not get up three days later and walk around. From this observation we formulate a law of science, namely, crucified people do not get up and wander around. The thought behind this and other scientific laws is that it will happen everywhere and in every case.

6. Scientific Laws Describe Normal Occurrences

But a scientific law neither dictates an event, nor does it explain an event. It generalizes and describes what normally occurs. Yet, the law does not determine what will always occur. If there is overwhelming evidence that on one particular occasion a crucified person did rise after three days, one cannot appeal to scientific law to deny the facts of the case.

Consequently, we need to be careful about using such phrases as “breaking the laws of science” when it comes to explaining certain unusual or miraculous events. The so-called laws are only observations of what we, as human beings, normally see happen. They do not tell us why any event happens, or that any event will always happen.

Therefore, one cannot point to the laws of science to rule out miracles. Miracles, by definition, are events that are not in the normal order of things. Scientific law does not, in any way, rule out the miraculous.

Science Is Limited: It Cannot Answer Many Crucial Questions

Why did life on earth begin? Why are we here on this planet? What is our purpose for existence? Is there an Intelligence who designed the universe, or is everything the result of chance? If an Intelligence did create the universe, who is He?

Unfortunately, science can never really answer the above questions. It can only describe our universe and the way in which it regularly operates. Science, as we shall see, is limited in what it can tell us. The following points need to be made about the limitations of science:

1. Scientists Cannot Directly Observe the Past

One limitation of science is that it cannot directly observe the past. Scientists study the earth as it exists today. Scientists who make observations through a microscope or a telescope record our universe as it presently stands. Science can gather evidence about the past, but it cannot prove what happened. This is because science relies on repeatable verification.

The scientific method requires multiple direct, or indirect, observations of repeatable events. The scientist in the laboratory does his experiment today and expects to be able to do it again tomorrow with the same results.

Since any conclusion regarding past events or circumstances cannot be made as a result of direct observation or experimentation, it places them outside of the realm of “scientific proof.”

2. Certain Things Are Beyond Scientific Inquiry

Since no human being can directly observe the past, no question about our origins can be answered scientifically because first origin questions involve events that are forever in the past. The very beginnings of the universe, and of life on earth, cannot be repeated. Neither was there any human being alive to observe and record them. Hence, questions about the origin of life and the universe are unable to be considered by the scientific method of experimentation and repetition. Therefore, any conclusion made on these subjects is ultimately based upon faith, not upon scientific proof.

3. There Is a Difference Between Operational and Origin Science

Sometimes people confuse “experimental science” or “operational science;” things that can be tested and repeated, with “origin science;” things which can neither be repeated nor tested. Since this is a common mistake, it is important that we understand the distinction.

“Origin science,” or “historical science,” is concerned with things that are neither testable nor repeatable; the beginning of the universe. Since the beginning of the universe has already taken place and can never be repeated, there is no scientific test that can give us the answer as to what exactly happened. Indeed, we cannot reproduce our beginnings.

Therefore, we must make the distinction between experimental science, which gives reproducible results in the present, and “historical” or “origin” science, which attempts to make educated inferences about what may have happened once in an unseen past. Unfortunately, experimental or operational science is often confused with origin or historical science. We must be careful not to do this.

4. Scientists Also Exercise Faith

This brings us to our next point; scientists exercise faith. Though the perception is often given that the evolutionary scientist deals with facts, while the person who trusts the Bible operates solely on faith, this is not the case. The unbelieving scientist is just as much a person of faith as a believing scientist or a theologian when it comes to questions of origin.

In fact, there are only two alternatives a person has with respect to our origins: (1) to believe in a Creator or (2) to believe that everything happened by blind chance. There are no other choices. Furthermore, whatever a person assumes about our origins, he or she does so by faith. Indeed, the explanation from both the creationist and evolutionist positions requires a person to exercise faith. This is crucial to understand.

Though the theory of evolution is the backbone of modern science, modern science is in an odd position because the theory of chance evolution is an unproved and an unprovable theory. Belief in the theory of evolution is basically the same as belief in special creation—both are concepts which believers know to be true but neither, by definition, is capable of proof.

The naturalistic explanation to our origins rejects the idea of the miraculous; the mechanism for bringing order out of disorder is said to be blind, random chance. On the other hand, the biblical explanation recognizes that nature is ordered and highly complex. Biblical creationism openly concludes that an intelligent Creator God was responsible for our universe and that miracles were involved in the process.

In either case, each view is based upon faith. There were no human witnesses to our origins, neither can what occurred be repeated in a laboratory. Therefore, each of these theories is essentially unknowable and unprovable as far as the scientific method is concerned.

Whether one believes life was supernaturally designed by the God of the Bible or evolved by blind chance, the belief is based upon faith, not repeatable scientific evidence or the testimony of a human observer.

5. Everyone, Including Scientists, Have Limited Knowledge

One other thing that must be appreciated is our lack, or shortage, of knowledge about the universe in which we live. Indeed, human beings have only gathered a tiny fraction of the knowledge that is possible for us to know. In other words, we know hardly anything in comparison to the facts that are out there.

To make matters worse, our understanding of this limited knowledge is itself limited. Therefore, we have a limited understanding of limited facts concerning the truths of our universe. All of our assumptions are based upon incomplete knowledge. This certainly does not inspire great confidence in any conclusions that human beings come to.

6. Scientific Theories Constantly Change

It should also be noted that the history of science consists of one new theory after another. Sometimes theories are abandoned entirely. Other theories have been changed so often that they lose their original identity. They become like the proverbial pair of pants that ended up more patch than pants. There are times that a theory seems so factual that it is unchallenged for generations, only to be later overturned by the uncovering of new facts. Thus, a scientific hypothesis, theory, or law is not in the same realm as absolute truth.

Dr. Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb, described the progress of science since the Second World War in the following way:

Practically everything that for years we believed to be true has been proven false or incorrect by subsequent discovery. In fact there is only one statement that I would now dare to make positively: There is absolutely nothing faster than the speed of light?maybe. (Readers Digest, September 1970, p. 20)

This statement speaks for itself!

7. Scientific Statements Must Be Challenged

It is important that statements made in the name of science should be challenged. Yet, this does not often happen. In fact, over and over again we read and hear such phrases as, “scientists have proven that such and such happened,” or “science has shown this to be true.” The way these phrases are stated seemingly prevents them from begin criticized. Indeed, if a person can begin a discussion with the phrase “science has shown” or “science has proved that” then they can basically say almost anything and get away with it.

However, no scientific statement is indisputable and no theory should be regarded as final. Yet we often find scientific theories stated as though they are fact and that there should be no further discussion on the issue. This is not the way we should address this issue.

8. Scientists Are Not Always Objective

There is also the matter that scientists are human beings. The usual picture of a scientist is a person who is open-minded, willing to explore all areas and to study all the data. It is important to understand that there are some scientists who are not always detached, dispassionate observers. These scientists are not very quick to abandon their own particular theory even though they may find contradictory evidence. Only if all efforts fail and additional facts incompatible with the accepted theory are uncovered will they begin to consider other explanations. Scientists, like the rest of us, are sinful, fallible human beings. This must always be remembered.

9. Some Scientists Admit Their Prejudice

Some scientists have even admitted that they wanted to get rid of the idea of God as Creator. Aldous Huxley, one of the early advocates of the theory of evolution, wrote about his prejudices:

I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for that assumption... The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way they find advantageous to themselves... For myself as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt; we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever. (Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1937, pp. 312,315, 316)

The theory of mindless evolution is not always believed because people are convinced that it has the better evidence to support it. Rather, it is often accepted as true because people do not want to believe in God’s special creation and be responsible to the Creator for their behavior.

In fact, when speaking of human behavior, the Bible says that people love the darkness rather than the light. We read the following words in John’s gospel:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19-20)

We must always remember this; our motives are not always what we think they may be.

10. The Majority of Scientists Can Be Wrong

Because the majority of scientists believe something does not make that thing true. The majority can be wrong. For example, the majority of people reject the Bible as God’s Word—they are wrong. Jesus emphasized that the majority of people would be lost. Jesus said:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Therefore we must be careful to accept as true what the “majority of scientists” might say upon a particular subject. This is especially true when it deals with areas that the Bible speaks about; the supernatural creation of our universe.

11. Science Cannot Give Ultimate Answers

We cannot, therefore, look to science to provide us with any ultimate answers about our origin, purpose or destiny. Indeed, the purpose of science is to describe the universe in which we live, but science can do no more than describe.

Science can help us answer questions about what exists in our universe, but it cannot answer questions of why they exist or how they came into existence.

It is the job of science to observe the natural world and seek to understand it through that observation. Science can often say, “This happens,” or “This is how such-and-such happens,” but it is usually outside scientific jurisdiction to say, “This is why such-and-such happens.” Unfortunately, scientists often overstep their domain and attempt to deliver declarations on subjects with which science, by definition, is unable to deal.

While science may unravel some of the mysteries of physical life, it cannot address the question of right or wrong. The same science that can unlock the power of the atom cannot help us choose between good or evil ways of using that power.

Therefore, terms such as good and evil, right and wrong, meaning and purpose, do not belong to the vocabulary of science. Ultimate answers must come from some other source.

Fortunately, we have that source; the Bible, the Word of the living God.

The Bible Is Scientifically Unique and Ahead of Its Time

With regard to the Bible and science, three important points need to be emphasized: (1) Every ancient religion had certain unscientific views of astronomy, medicine, hygiene, etc. Ignorance and superstition were the order of the day. (2) The one notable exception is the Bible which does not contain any of the scientific absurdities that were common among their contemporaries. (3) The Scriptures were far ahead of their time in many scientific areas with which they dealt.

1. There Are Scientific Absurdities in Ancient Religions

As one might suppose, scientific beliefs in the ancient world showed a high degree of superstition. Scientific teaching in ancient religions fared no better. The Hindu Scriptures, for example, taught that the earth was riding on the back of four elephants which stood on top of a giant sea turtle swimming in a sea of milk. Other religions had similar superstitions. With one notable exception, the Bible, scientific errors and absurdities were found in all of the religious writings of the ancient world.

Furthermore, the teachings concerning humanity and nature in many ancient religions actually hindered the development of scientific progress. When various cultures made progress in the sciences it was not reflected in their sacred books.

For example, in many sacred writings medical references are non-existent. The reason for this is that these religions taught that human life was of little or no value. Consequently, there were no real medical advances made in the society.

The religious writings of the ancient world reflected the common thought of the day. The authors of the sacred writings of ancient religions reveal themselves to be imperfect humans searching for answers. There is no difference between their writings and the secular writings of the time. They all made the same mistakes. It is important that we understand this!

2. There Is Nothing Scientifically Absurd in Scripture

In dramatic contrast to primitive and mythological religious writings, the Bible is faithful to scientific evidence. Indeed, whenever a scientific statement is attributed to the God of the Bible, we discover that, when properly interpreted, it matches up with the known facts of our world. In other words, statements by God or by His spokesmen would always correctly reflect the world as we know it. It is truly amazing that we don’t find Scripture making unscientific statements.

Even today, no scientific observation in the Bible contradicts known scientific evidence. However, we must emphasize that the Bible is not a scientific textbook; it is not meant to be understood only by the scientific elite.

The Bible primarily is a book about God’s revelation of Himself and His dealings with humankind. Consequently, the language of Scripture is neither scientific nor unscientific, it is non-scientific. The language of Scripture is the language of common communication. Yet, in the ancient world, the Bible is the only religious book that has scientific credibility.

Although errors were made by the hundreds in other religions, there are none found in Scripture. Among all of the Holy Books of the world’s religions, the only document that reveals an accurate understanding of science and nature is the Bible.

3. The Bible Is Scientifically Far Ahead of Its Time

The Bible is not only scientifically correct in its understanding of the world, in a number of areas it was far ahead of its time. When we consider the times in which the Scriptures were written and the common beliefs of the day, the fact that the Bible makes no outlandish scientific statements is even more incredible.

Indeed, the writings of Moses did not reflect the widespread ignorance of Egypt in which he was raised. He did not repeat the errors that he had been schooled in since childhood.

An Example of the Bible Being Ahead of Its Time: the Laws of Sanitation

An illustration of the Bible being far ahead of the scientific knowledge of the times would be in the laws of sanitation. It was not until modern times that medical science learned the value of sanitation. The man credited with this discovery was Ingnaz Semmelweis. The story is as follows:

Semmelweis was in charge of one of the maternity wards at the famous Vienna hospital Allegemeine, Krankenhaus, in the mid-1800s. In the hospital, there was a very high mortality rate for mothers who had just given birth. No one could understand why and Semmelweis decided to investigate the problem. He noticed that more deaths were occurring from the section where the student doctors examined the mothers, than from the section where midwives worked.

Semmelweis observed that the student doctors examined their patients immediately after performing autopsies on those who recently had died. The students went directly from performing the autopsies to examining the mothers without any sanitary precautions. Semmelweis instituted the rule that all doctors must first wash their hands thoroughly before going to the maternity ward. Once this new rule was instituted, the mortality rate dramatically decreased. It took some time to convince his fellow doctors that the solution to this problem was a simple matter of sanitation. Eventually, he was recognized for making this important contribution.

Semmelweis actually rediscovered the laws of sanitation that were put down over three thousand years earlier in the Bible. Moses had commanded the people not to come into contact with anyone who had just died or who was diseased. They were considered unclean. Anyone who did come in contact was commanded to wash themselves repeatedly in running water (Leviticus 13-15, Numbers 19). It is sad to think how many people needlessly died by not observing the simple sanitation procedures that are laid down in the Bible. The command, given over three thousand years ago by Moses, is just as valid today.

How Were the Writers of Scripture Able to Know These Things?

We have discovered that when the Scriptures record the God of the Bible speaking, we learn that it is scientifically correct in all that it states. In addition, some statements are found to be ahead of their time in many areas pertaining to science and nature.

We also know that the Bible was written by about forty different authors. Furthermore, we realize that many of them addressed areas of science and nature and, when they did so, they were scientifically correct. Now this is even more impressive since their view of these issues went against the common scientific beliefs of the day. So here’s the question, “How are we to explain their accuracy?” We have a few possible options.

Option 1: They Have Superior Intelligence

One may argue that the Israelites were of superior intelligence to all their contemporaries. This argument falls to the ground when we examine their non-sacred writings. We find that they contain the same misconceptions, the same errors and the same limited perception of their contemporaries. It is only their sacred Scriptures that are free from absurdities, not their secular writings. One cannot appeal, therefore, to their superior intellect as an answer to this question.

Option 2: They Were Lucky

Another possibility is that the biblical writers were just plain lucky, but this argument cannot be taken seriously. When we consider the fact that every biblical writer who wrote about the natural world was always correct when he spoke of this subject, and that the Bible deals with many different authors separated by hundreds of years of time, the idea that they all could be lucky in every scientific statement is not very plausible. We need to find a better explanation.

Option 3: The Bible Is God-Breathed Scripture

Neither of the above solutions explains the facts. The best explanation is that God supernaturally inspired the writers to avoid the common superstitions of their day. No single human author could have compiled this scientific information without the intervention of the supernatural. The Bible itself claims to be a God-breathed book. Paul wrote to Timothy:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)

This is where the evidence leads us: to a Bible that is divinely inspired.

Why the Apparent Conflict Between Scripture and Science?

If there are no genuine conflicts between science and Scripture, why do we have apparent conflicts? Shouldn’t everyone acknowledge that science and the Bible are always in agreement? Why do we have such problems?

Same Data, Different Interpretations

It must be emphasized that all scientists work with the same data. The facts are the same; the difference lies in the interpretation of the facts.

We need to make several points:

1. There Are Different Assumptions, or Presuppositions, That Are Held

The interpretations are different, in many cases, because the presuppositions are different. For example, if an individual already has presupposed that the world came into being through organic evolution, they will interpret data within the framework of their theory.

Therefore, the evidence will be made to fit the theory they have already accepted to be true.

Consider the following admission about this subject by scientist J.W.N. Sullivan:

It became an accepted doctrine that life never arises except from life. So far as actual evidence goes, this is still the only possible conclusion. But since it is a conclusion that seems to lead back to some supernatural creative act, it is a conclusion that scientific men find very difficult of acceptance. (J. W. N. Sullivan, The Limitations of Science. New York; New American Library, 1933, p. 94)

This shows that it is not so much the evidence that guides some people, as it is what they presuppose, or assume to be true.

2. People Have the Same Facts, but Come to Different Conclusions

It is important to note that two people who look at the same facts with different assumptions will come to different conclusions. We find an example of this in the New Testament when Jesus was speaking to the multitude. He said:

Father, glorify your name! Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. (John 12:28-29)

From this account, we find that all of the people had the same facts (hearing the voice of God the Father). Yet some would not believe what they clearly heard. They attributed it to thunder. Why? It was because of their assumptions. Since these people did not believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah, they therefore assumed God the Father would not approve of His ministry.

When the Father spoke His approval of Jesus and His ministry, certain people chose not to believe what they clearly heard. The voice was not rejected because of the evidence; it was rejected because of their previous assumptions. This illustrates how people can have the same facts before them and come up with different interpretations of those facts based upon their assumptions.

Scientific theories fit into the same category. The assumptions the scientist brings to the data he discovers will influence the way the data is interpreted. The difference lies not in the facts, but in the interpretation of the facts.

3. There Is an Incorrect Understanding of What the Bible and Science Are Saying

A further cause of the apparent conflict between the Bible and science lies with believers and their incorrect interpretation of the Bible. The mistake is not with the Bible. Rather, it is with our wrong interpretation of it.

Indeed, we often find that the so-called contradictions between faith in the Bible and the data of science are not conflicts between the Scripture and assured scientific knowledge.

Instead they are incorrect interpretations of the Bible and certain scientific theories. Therefore, Christians must be careful not to assign blame to a scientific theory that contradicts Scripture until they are assured that their interpretation of Scripture is what the Bible actually says on the issue.

On the other hand, the scientific theory is only a theory which may be refuted by later evidence. This possibility must also be kept in mind.

4. Jesus Showed What the Source of All Error Was: Ignorance of the Scripture, Ignorance of God’s Power

The main reason for the seeming conflict between the Bible and science was pointed out long ago by Jesus. He told the religious leaders they were ignorant of two basic things. He said:

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29)

A correct understanding of what the Scriptures truly say, and the power of the God of the Bible, would go a long way to solve the apparent conflicts between science and the Bible.

When the relationship between the Bible and science is properly understood, there is no conflict. To sum up, for such an ancient book to earn scientific respectability is a true wonder.

Summary – Reason 5
The Bible’s Scientific Respectability

While science and the Bible are often seen as enemies, a proper understanding of what each of them is saying will find that they are indeed friends. The God who made the universe is the same God who divinely inspired the Bible. Therefore, the facts of science and the teachings of the Bible will not ultimately be in conflict.

The scientific descriptions found in the Bible are accurate in the way they were written. Moreover, Scripture has also anticipated some of the findings of modern science.

Consequently, one does not have to be scientifically embarrassed by the things written in Scripture. The reasons for the apparent conflict between science and Scripture are due to either a misunderstanding of the scientific evidence or a wrong interpretation of the Bible. When the Bible and science are properly understood, we find that there is no conflict between them.

It is indeed amazing that this ancient Book, the Bible, is scientifically respectable in the twenty-first century.

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