The Bible and Science

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In today’s world, it’s important to justify everything we claim based on accepted truth. “Follow the science” has become the byword for the day. How does this comport with our Christian belief in the Bible as God’s authoritative source of truth? I know many people who self-identify as Christians, but are predisposed to believe everything that modern (popular) science espouses. These people believe in God, have accepted that Jesus is the only way to God, and have given Him their lives; but sometimes people haven’t given God their minds—especially when it comes to science and origins.

The problem I see is that many people have been told that God, the Bible, and religion are all one kind of truth, and science is another. The Bible is for moral things like how you should behave in society, but science is how you determine your diet and exercise or what precautions are sensible. People end up wrongly thinking of science as “whatever the scientists say,” not as an operational activity of discovery by observation, hypothesis, and experimentation. Society has told us that to be truly smart we need to believe that scientists’ opinions are a source of truth. They believe science is not biased and is derived from just the data. However, this is quite untrue. These days, ”follow the science“ actually means, “shut up and believe what we tell you.”

This is not science at all; it is dogma—a set of principles laid down by some authority and asserted to be incontrovertibly true. So to distinguish the popular notion of “science” (whatever the scientists say) from operational science (based on observation and experimentation), I will call the dogma of popular science scientism going forward.

Just so you know, I do understand the scientific process. The diplomas on my wall prove that I was somehow able to convince a college board, a master’s committee, and a doctoral committee that I understood science well enough for them to sign their names. However, science is only a means to arrive at truth; it is not a source of truth. Science is a shovel. It allows you to dig for truth. But it is not itself a source of truth. So when people start to judge other people’s intelligence or relevance based on whether they believe in the dictates of science, I conclude that they are not talking about the scientific process I know and love. They are talking about conformance to the ideology of Scientism as a source of truth. This is a very religious view of science that I find personally repugnant.

A few items from my “I love me” wall of diplomas and awards

Science as a tool is very powerful and good. In contrast, Scientism is a dogma that is ugly, ignorant, and highly problematic. Science is not an all-powerful oracle of truth; science is the application of human reason to the visible universe. It is a means to discover and understand many things, but there are limits.

Science is a shovel. It allows you to dig for truth. But it is not itself a source of truth. Click To Tweet

Science can never tell us about anything we cannot observe and (to some degree) quantify. Observation is generally confined to things we can sense directly or with instruments that convert the unseen into something seen. Part of the power of science is that through careful reasoning, people can create models of parts of the universe they wish to understand. These models are only useful if they tell us something about reality that allows us to predict the existence of new things we have not yet observed. These models help us reduce these predictions to actual quantities that we should be able to measure. Measuring quantities is called quantification. Armed with quantified predictions about reality, we can go on the exciting hunt to make new observations through experimentation.

For example: for over a hundred years, scientists have believed that black holes existed, even though they were only mathematical toy models that were predicted by the larger body of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. By definition, black holes are invisible—they are black on black, tiny dots far away in space. Unless they are actively eating something that lights up around them, direct observation is not possible. Also, oddly, they bend the light from behind them, cloaking themselves so it looks like they are not there at all.

For decades, generations of astrophysicists studied their models without a single observation. Artists, novelists, and movie producers imagined what a black hole might look like and what it could do. But it wasn’t until late 2019 that a group of hundreds of scientists from 104 organizations worldwide (collectively called the Event Horizon Telescope) were actually able to make observations of the light emitted by material thought to be entering a black hole at the center of the (relatively) nearby Messier 87 galaxy. The authors painstakingly compared these observations to the carefully curated theoretical models and published a paper that showed images of the heat emitted by the black hole.

First observations of the Messier 87 black hole from The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration et al 2019 ApJL 875 L4, accessed Jan 5, 2021, https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/2041-8213/ab0e85.

If you are not an astrophysicist, you might take a passing glance at their grainy images with no more than faint interest. However, it is hard to describe the global effort involving millions of hours and hundreds of millions of dollars that went into combining the observations from telescopes across the world into a single set of blurry pictures. These images are not photographs. A real black hole would look nothing like this to the human eye. It is so massive, so far away, and emits light in so many unseen wavelengths that taking a snapshot would be impossible. But what is impossible to see with our eyes has been visualized by monumental efforts, careful observations, and worldwide collaboration of generations of scientists.

Science is only a means to arrive at truth; it is not a source of truth. Click To Tweet

Although this was a massive undertaking that proved how powerful groups of informed humans can be at discovering rare truths about the universe, there are some things that no amount of effort, reason, or science can uncover. Even this massive undertaking only produced images of data that could later be reproduced by subsequent observations. But some events are not repeatable, so no amount of experimentation can reproduce them.

The best example of an unrepeatable event is the origin of the universe. No camera existed to photograph it, and no instruments were available to measure the unfolding phenomenon of the universe’s birth. No human was there to see what it looked like. Our observations can only lead us to know that there had to be an absolute beginning. The universe we see today had an origin, and science—which relies on observations of this event that cannot be repeated—can never know what that looked like. We can make models and we can observe quantities today, but we cannot turn back the clock, and we absolutely cannot verify or reproduce the conditions and phenomena of the forming universe.

Fortunately, there was an eyewitness who saw and recorded events as they unfolded. He did not record measurements, but the Creator did provide a phenomenological description in an organized account of the order of creation. Genesis 1-2 contains not one, but three accounts of creation. The first account covers the entire creation week in verse 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The second account, contained in the rest of the first chapter, zooms the telescope in a little closer to show us the creation of the major sections of creation during each of the six first days: Light, sky, land/sea and plants, sun/moon/stars, fish and birds, animals and man. The third account of creation is in chapter 2, and here is where telescope pulls in close to show us the details of the sixth day when mankind was created and the animals were named.

The Bible is not a science book, but it is a reliable source of data. True science may only interpret its data, it must never be at odds with it. Click To Tweet

As the rest of Genesis unfolds, the telescope continues to zoom in, looking ever more closely to the nation, tribe, clan and family of Jesus the Messiah. After Jesus, the Bible zoom the telescope out farther and farther as we see the ever-expanding kingdom of God reaching all nations—and eventually the universe itself.

The Bible is not a science book, but it is a reliable source of data. True science must never be at odds with the data. Science is only allowed to interpret the data. So there is no conflict between science and the Bible until someone pulls out the religion of scientism and tries to contradict the data found in the Bible. That is not the proper role of science. Science serves the data; it does not create the data.

Because science generally studies only matter and energy, some people think that nothing else (nothing immaterial) exists. This is sort of like losing your car keys in the yard, but looking for them in the house because there is light there. Scientists can certainly limit what they study, but they have no right to say that nothing outside of their scope exists.

Mind and spirit are real, but they are so hard to quantify that the scientists who study them (sociologists and psychologists, primarily) are often criticized by scientists in other disciplines as not being “true” sciences. The problem is that things like psychology are very hard to measure precisely, and experiments in these disciplines are much harder to control. But even these softer science disciplines rely on observation, hypothesis generation, and experimental testing.

Scientific fields arranged by purity (“Purity” illustration, from the website XKCD: A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language, accessed January 5, 2021, https://xkcd.com/435).

I would even say there is a science of the spirit. God does not fit into a test tube, and the kinds of experiments that can be conducted on spiritual matters are very different from those used by scientists in other fields. Neither is the science of the spirit necessarily paranormal mysticism where there are no definite theories or ways to measure. However, I would say that the greatest scientists of the spirit were often called mystics because they were investigating a mystery.

So science (the tool) is not in conflict with the Bible (a data source), nor is it in conflict with God, who ultimately is the subject of every scientific investigation. In fact, science would be impossible without God. God is the one who has made this universe intelligible. Scientific theory, prediction, and experimentation are only possible because He has incorporated concrete, repeatable, predictable processes in His creation. Without this substrate, humans would never have advanced beyond shamanism. The first scientists (like Isaac Newton) became scientists because they wanted to study God’s orderly universe. They found the glory of God revealed in His creation. Only after the so-called Enlightenment did people start to try to find an alternative to God in scientism.

Science would be impossible without the God who has made this universe intelligible. Click To Tweet

In my own inquiry, I try to apply a scientific approach to the examination of the gospel. Human reasoning is an important tool to understand what God is doing. However, I encourage people who would try the science of the spirit to allow the Spirit of God to be their guide. This is what I have attempted to do in this article and in the larger book I have excerpted it from.

I believe that the Bible gives us important clues about the nature of the universe that material science has no concept of. Love is one example. From the very beginning, God’s Spirit hovered over the unformed universe. The phrase “hovered over” is actually a Hebrew idiom that is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. A husband tenderly hovers over his bride on their wedding night. He implants into her the seed, the life, the information, that can make a new person. In Genesis 1 we see God giving form to the formless universe through His Spirit, the information source of the cosmos. He uses the metaphor of impregnation to convey the action and power of the Spirit. The universe was born out of His love!

So it is very reasonable that God expects us to use the reason and science He gave us to gain information about our universe. But we must not stop our inquiry at the merely material. We must allow His Spirit to illuminate our search so we can see the Creator, the lover, behind the creation. Theology was once rightly called “the Queen of Sciences” and, God willing, we will make it that once again.

Excerpted from my forthcoming book, The Gospel, God’s Great Undoing, coming this Fall wherever you buy books.

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