13 The Bible and Science
Bible and Science
It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter (Prov. 25:2).
It is a common fallacy to claim that science has proven the Bible wrong. The corollary to this statement is that scientists supposedly don’t believe in God because the concept of an omniscient divine being cannot be proven by any rational means.
Belief among scientists
In the 1920’s, at the time of the Scopes trial on teaching evolution, it was believed by many educated people that eventually science would triumph and would explain all things in the universe in terms of rational quantitative laws – that is, physical laws that were inherent in nature and that did not require the invoking of a divine being to explain our existence.
There was also a strong undercurrent in intellectual circles of agnosticism,1 whose thinking can be epitomized in a quote from the writings of the Scopes trial lawyer, Clarence Darrow: To say that God made the universe gives us no explanation of the beginnings of things. If we are told that God made the universe, the question immediately arises: Who made God?2 In 1916, only a few years before the Scopes trial, there was a survey taken of scientists questioning their belief in a God; this survey was repeated again in 1997 and the results were quite startling. The following is an excerpt from a report on these two surveys, which were taken almost 80 years apart:
Repeating verbatim a famous survey first conducted in 1916, Edward Larson of the University of Georgia has found that the depth of religious faith among scientists has not budged regardless of whatever scientific and technical advances this century has wrought.
Then as now, about 40 percent of the responding biologists, physicists and mathematicians said they believed in a God who, by the survey’s strict definition, actively communicates with humankind and to whom one may pray “in expectation of receiving an answer.”
The figure of unqualified believers is considerably lower than usually cited for Americans as a whole. Gallup polls, for example, have found that about 93 percent of people surveyed profess a belief in God. But those familiar with the survey said that, given the questionnaire’s exceedingly restrictive definition of God – narrower than the standard Gallup question – and given scientists’ training to say exactly what they mean and nothing more, the 40 percent figure in fact is impressively high.”3
In my own experience, I have not found much difference in the degree of belief and commitment to religion among fellow scientists compared with almost everyone else I know in other professions. In fact, it has often been my experience that it is non-scientists who are the ones who make the most vociferous claims that science has made religion superfluous! Why this happens is hard to fathom; perhaps working scientists are more aware of the limits of science and less inclined to worship it as if it were a new religion.
Regardless of the circumstances, the fact remains it is common lore that the Bible and science are in conflict and many of the stories in the scriptures will not hold up to scientific scrutiny. Darrow, in his famous cross-examination of William Jennings Bryan on the witness stand at the Scopes trial, raised many pseudo-scientific issues in an attempt to prove that the Bible was unsound. These issues boil down to the type of queries often posed to this very day by skeptics who claim that the Bible narratives are myth and legend. Let’s examine some of these difficult questions posed by Bible critics.
Who made God?
First and foremost is the question of the existence of God. Let’s try to answer Darrow’s question: Who made God? The idea of this question is to show that one can never get to an ultimate answer concerning our existence, thus the cynic considers belief in God to be irrational. One thing should be clear from earlier chapters of these essays namely, that both the Bible and science agree that the universe was created instantaneously from “nothing.”4
Who, or what, caused the original enormous energy burst that propelled the universe into existence? The glib scientific answer would be that the perturbation that caused our universe was simply a ripple in the fabric of space/time. This assumes that the cosmos is composed at unseen dimensions5 of a vast hidden energy foam, which from time to time just happens to erupt to form a universe. This concept may sound incredible, but it is one potential physical model that physicists have considered to explain how our universe formed.
Of course this still begs the question: who, or what, created the unseen energy foam that supposedly exists at an unseen dimensional level in the vacuum of space? At some point all these physical models require a degree of faith – faith in the scientific model, because so far they appear to be beyond any capability of being tested by actual measurement. The bottom line is: Can science ever find the ultimate “first cause?” So far the answer to every scientific advance on understanding the universe has only raised new questions that need to be considered. A definitive closure appears to be near impossible.
The Bible’s answer
Now what does the Bible say with regard to the question of who created God? The Bible actually confronts this issue head-on. The very first time God reveals His name to Moses on Mt. Sinai the Lord tells him: And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you (Ex. 3:14). The Hebrew word translated in the Authorized Version as “I am” is a curious expression that has possible past, present and future meaning (see Strong’s footnote).6
In one sense, we can translate this expression that God revealed Himself to Moses as the “self-existent one.” There are reinforcements to this idea in the Psalms where it is said: Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God (Psa. 90:2).7 Here the Psalmist clearly states that, before everything, there was first God.
There is an echo of this idea in the New Testament where the apostle Paul wrote: who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen (I Tim.6:16). The tie-in of God with light (which is a form of pure energy) is interesting and certainly is worth some contemplation. Could this be the explanation of the so-called ‘big bang’ and the creation of our universe? Did God use a portion of this (His) light (or energy) to expand and create the cosmos? I don’t have a scientific answer because ultimately it boils down to faith; either you have faith in God, or you have faith in a physical model.
The “first cause” of the scriptures is the Lord God: And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Heb. 11:6). It’s up to each and every one of us to make our own decision about where we chose to place our faith. The agnostics’ view offers no hope and only despair, while faith in the Lord God holds out the prospect of an eternal blessing. Which is the better choice seems pretty obvious, especially, as we have seen repeatedly in this series, where one piece of evidence after another cries out for the existence of God.
Who did Cain marry?
Skeptics often raise other difficult questions which mainly focus on the Genesis record of miracles. This is the heart of their attack on scripture because they know that in these areas believers are most likely to resort to “blind faith” arguments. This is a bad mistake for believers because, in my experience, rational arguments can always be given and such an approach has had the effect many times in my life of seeing someone turn to God.
One of these difficult questions centers on the question: Whom did Cain marry? Here is one approach to answer that question: First of all, we are not told how old Adam and Eve were when they had Cain (or Abel, for that matter). We do know that the scriptures record that Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born (Gen. 5:3)..8 Since the Bible genealogy in Genesis 5 only gives the male descendants, we don’t know how many women were born to Adam and Eve, but the scriptures tell us: After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters (Gen. 5:4). With the help of a little population statistics, it is easy to show that with a doubling period of 20 years for Adam and Eve’s descendants, by the time they reached 200 years old, they could have produced 10 generations.9 Thus the original pair would have expanded to 210 people, which equates to more than a thousand inhabitants.
Given this normal population growth Cain certainly would have had a number of possible mates to chose from, assuming that differences in age weren’t as significant in those days as they are today and assuming that marrying a close relative did not have the same potential for harm as today.
It can easily be shown that with only a small variation in the doubling time the available mates for Cain increases enormously. For example, if we use 15 years instead of 20 years, we find at the end of 200 years the population would have increased to 10,297 people, roughly half of whom would have been female. This would have provided a large selection of available mates for Cain or anyone else for that matter. Hence the answer to the question whom did Cain marry is simple: he had lots of potential choices!
Miracles regarding the sun
Another question Bible skeptics ask, which was also raised at the Scopes Monkey trial was: How did the sun and moon stand still when Joshua fought the Amorites? (Joshua 10:12, 13). No other ancient people record in their histories any incident of the sun or moon standing still. It is also obvious from the physical laws of gravity that if the earth had stopped its rotation for a day (or even the smallest fraction of a second) the effects would have been catastrophic. The vast gravitational forces unleashed would have obliterated everything on earth. Of course, God could have vastly extended the miracle to fix all of this, and some creation science sources claim that there is a missing day in the earth’s history. However, reputable cosmologists have never verified their claims.
Before going any further it would be best to carefully examine, without any preconceived notions, what the Bible is actually saying. The text in Joshua never says that the earth stood still, nor does it claim that the effect was global! Joshua 10:12 states: And he (Joshua) said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. The text is pretty straightforward in limiting the effect to the region of the battle with the Amorites. It should also be obvious that this limitation was more than sufficient to accomplish the Lord’s purpose that day.
Bible skeptics also scoff at a related type of miracle that occurred during the reign of King Hezekiah. The incident is recorded in II Kings 20:10,11: And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the LORD: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz. The text is unambiguous, it simply states that the shadow went back ten degrees on the dial of Ahaz; there are no claims of any global effects.
It is also interesting to note that later on in the same chapter it is recorded that Hezekiah meets with emissaries of the king ofBabylonand makes the dreadful mistake of bragging too much. The Babylonians came because they heard of Hezekiah’s recovery from his seemingly terminal illness, yet no mention is made in the text of these emissaries being aware of a worldwide reversing of the sun’s course. This is especially interesting because we know today that the Babylonians were keen observers of the heavens and surely such a noteworthy connection with Hezekiah’s healing would not have escaped their notice. Obviously, the Bible confines the miracle to the sundial of Ahaz and we would be amiss to claim more. How then could the miracle have been performed?
During the Vietnam war, the United States military had actually considered erecting a giant space mirror that would focus the sun’s rays throughout the night over the jungle trails that the Viet Cong used in the dark of night to reinforce their positions. A change in the refractive/reflective properties of the gases in the upper atmosphere of the earth could likewise produce an effect that could focus light on a specified land area that would light up the night sky as if it were day, or even make the shadow of a sundial appear to move backward. This doesn’t diminish the miracle, but it does keep it in accord with both a careful reading of the Bible text and the facts of known history in other regions of the world.
The evidence of witnesses
Bible skeptics today still point to various miracles recorded in the scriptures as “unscientific.” We might be able to understand an underlying scientific basis for some of these miracles, as we have shown above, but that doesn’t detract from their power. After all, by what means can mankind rearrange the molecules in the upper atmosphere to make sundials appear to move in reverse?
More importantly one must concede that God is not only the creator of the universe, but also of the laws that govern its behavior. The rational approach to believing in miracles cannot be based only on science, because we do not yet know all the intricacies involved in the machinery of the universe. There may still be laws yet to be discovered. Furthermore, manipulation of those we do know to perform something at a particular time and circumstance, is beyond our limited power. However, that doesn’t mean we have to resort to “blind faith” either. Ultimately the proof of miracles resides in the testimony of reliable witnesses and this is something a lawyer like Clarence Darrow should have been able to appreciate. As the apostle Paul stated in his trial before Agrippa and Festus: Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? (Acts 26:8). This is the core miracle of the Christian faith and we accept it on rational grounds because of the testimony of very dependable witnesses (I Cor. 15). The reliable witness of the prophets, apostles, and most assuredly of our Lord Jesus Christ is the bottom line answer to all difficult questions.
By John C. Bilello, Ann Arbor, Michigan
1 An agnostic is “a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known about the existence of God or about things outside of [direct] human experience.” The World Book Dictionary © 2001 World Book, Inc.
2 Internet Modern History Sourcebook, © Paul Halsall, July 1998.
3 San Francisco Chronicle, Friday, April 7, 1997, page A12. With a headline reading: “Scientists Still Believe in God, Study Shows: 4 of 10 are religious – same as 1916”.
4 The so-called “standard model” of the universe (colloquially known as the ‘big bang’) postulates that all the matter in the heavens and earth came from the instantaneous expansion of an incredibly high energy pulse originating in a region of space infinitely smaller than a pinhead.
5 It is currently thought that the universe actually may be composed of a 10 or 11 dimensional space, i.e. beyond the usual length, breadth, height and time dimensions that we usually associate with reality. These extra dimensions have “folded” in upon themselves in some manner and are unobservable, but they profoundly influence the physical laws of the universe.
6 Strong’s number 1961: hayah, haw-yaw; a primary root to exist, i.e. be or become, come to pass. Christadelphians will obviously be aware of the discourse of Bro. John Thomas on the names of God and the distinctive doctrine of God manifestation.
7 See also Psalm 106:38.
8 Some have quibbled at the ages given in Genesis to the patriarchs, however, the average life expectancy in the USA, however, will approach the 100 level in the near future, something thought impossible when I was a child. Given the clean environment, the wholesome food, and the lack of over crowding of mankind in the Genesis period long life was not only conceivable, it is most certain.
9 This is exactly following the reasoning of evolutionists in explaining how a new species supposedly multiplies in response to environmental stimuli. (See: The Book of Life, editor Stephen Jay Gould, W. Norton & Co, NY, 1993, p56-57). A doubling time of approximately 20 years is not unreasonable for human populations.