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Science and the Bible
By Gary F. Zeolla
Does modern-day science prove the Bible is false? Many today seem to think so. But an even a more pertinent question is, "CAN science prove the Bible is false?" A study of the history and nature of science is needed to answer these questions.
Throughout the Middle Ages, it was generally believed the earth was the center of the universe (geocentricism). But then Copernicus (1473-1564) theorized the sun was the center of our solar system (heliocentricism). Later, Galileo (1564-1642) utilized the newly invented telescope to verify Copernicus' theory.
But, in 1632, Galileo was tried by the Inquisition and forced to recant this view. Galileo's and Copernicus' writings were placed on the Index of forbidden books by the Roman Catholic Church (Moyer, pp.102, 155). Thus the Bible was standing in the way of scientific progress. Right? Well, not exactly.
A debate between geocentrists and heliocentrists occurred throughout ancient times. Plato (427-347 BC) initially believed in geocentricism but in old age changed to the heliocentric theory. "But then common sense and the authority of Aristotle (384-322 BC) convinced the majority the sun circles around the earth."
Later, Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy (c. 150 AD) worked out a complex system of "cycles, epicycles and excentrics" which rather accurately predicted the movements of the planets based on the geocentric theory. Geocentricism thus became the accepted scientific theory of the Middle Ages (Clark, Thales, pp. 305,306).
In the 1200s, the writings of Aristotle became available to the "schoolman" (Catholic theologians). The most notable of these was Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).
Aquinas attempted to merge the theology of the Roman Catholic Church with the ideas of Aristotle. As a result, "By some schoolman, Aristotle was considered as of almost equal authority with the church Fathers" (Moyer, pp.16,17).
Francis Schaeffer explains the result of this synthesis:
When the Roman Church attacked Copernicus and Galileo, it was not because their teaching actually contained anything contrary to the Bible. The church authorities thought it did, but that was because Aristotelian elements had become part of church orthodoxy, and Galileo's notions clearly conflicted with them. In fact, Galileo defended the compatibility of Copernicus and the Bible, and this was one of the factors which brought the trial (Schaeffer, p.156).
Historian Herbert Butterfield similarly writes, "... the Aristotelian view of the universe had become entangled with Christianity more closely than necessity dictated." And he attributes Galileo's condemnation to the "anti-Aristotelian argument" in Galileo's book, The Two Principal World-Systems (Butterfield, pp.56,68).
So the controversy surrounding the "Copernican revolution" was NOT "the Bible vs. science" - it was Aristotelian science (which had been merged with the Bible) vs. the "new" science. The real culprit was the changing nature of medieval science.
But modern-day science is more stable and reliable. Right? Well ....
Biologist Francis Hitching opens his book The Neck of the Giraffe by writing, "Evolution of life over a very long period of time is a fact.... the probability that evolution has occurred approaches certainty in scientific terms" (p.4).
The cry, "Evolution is a fact!" is heard from many other quarters today. But when someone makes such a claim, the first question that needs to be asked is, "Which evolution is it that you are declaring to be a fact?"
There are many different evolutionary theories. The one that is most commonly known is "Darwinism." This is the form of evolution proposed by Charles Darwin in his book The Origin of Species, first published in 1859.
Darwin put forth the hypothesis that the various species and varieties of animals and plants seen today evolved gradually over eons of time. Minor changes over time gradually changed one species or type of organism into another. "Natural selection" determined the course of the changes.
But many scientists today do not agree with Darwin. In fact, the above mentioned book spends the first four chapters demonstrating the impossibility of Darwin's theories. Hitching then defends a new version of evolution known as "punctuated equilibria" (p.136). This new theory proposes the change of one species to another did not occur gradually but very rapidly.
The last paragraph of Hitching's book sums up the situation well:
The new biology is looking afresh at living things - at their patterns, their dynamics and their relationships. If, after more than a century, natural selection has been tested and FOUND WANTING, and if we are left once again with A SENSE OF IGNORANCE about origins, Darwin would not have minded. Science is a voyage of discovery, and BEYOND EACH HORIZON THERE IS ANOTHER (p.226).
On September 17, 1993, this writer's local newspaper contained an article titled, "SCIENTISTS ALMOST SURE METEOR KILLED DINOSAURS." This conclusion was based on the discovery that a crater on the Yucatan peninsula (in Mexico) is larger than previously thought. This crater is believed to have resulted from an asteroid impact.
The article reported, "The theory holds that the violence of the impact 65 million years ago lifted dust and chemicals into the atmosphere, blocked the sun for months, allowing the Earth to cool and dooming the dinosaurs" (Valley News Dispatch, 9/17/93, p.A1).
However, the same newspaper, the very next month, ran another article titled, "NEW STUDY: LACK OF OXYGEN, NOT ASTEROID, KILLED DINOSAURS." This new study claims, "Dinosaurs were already on their way out by the time the meteor purportedly hit."
The new theory is based on "A new analysis of air trapped in 120 million year old fossils ...." Due to this analysis, "They found that the proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere fell from a high of 35 percent to a low of 28 percent within the relatively short period of time."
This research is said to show, "... worldwide atmospheric changes can occur 10 to 20 times faster than previously thought." But no explanation is given as to what caused the oxygen levels to fall so rapidly (Valley News Dispatch, 10/27/93, p.A2).
These contradictory theories, both proclaimed with such confidence, are only two of many such theories scientist have proposed for what killed the dinosaurs. Astronomer Jay M. Pasachoff lists several other proposals (Pasachoff, p.204).
Notably missing from his list is the possibility a worldwide flood led to the demise of the dinosaurs. But is it not possible the proposed lack of oxygen (which is now supposed by some to have killed the dinosaurs) resulted from changed environmental conditions which would have existed after such a flood?
The 1993 Season Finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation opened with an interesting poker game. Commander Data was on the "holodeck" playing poker with three scientists. They included Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Albert Einstein (1879-1955) and Stephen Hawking (a present-day astrophysicist).
As the scene opened, Hawking was telling a story. When he finished, Einstein chuckled and Data said it was, "quite amusing" - but Newton just stared. Apparently, to understand why the story was "quite amusing" required a knowledge of the interrelationship of time, space, matter and energy.
When Data tried to explain this to Newton, Newton replied, "Do not patronize me; I invented physics." But the physics Newton "invented" did not include any ideas about such interrelationships. But then came Einstein, "He had set for himself the task of linking time and space, matter and energy" (Phillips, p.244).
Pasachoff writes about this situation:
The intuitive notion we have of gravity corresponds to the theory of gravity advanced by Isaac Newton in 1687. We now know, however, that Newton's theory and our intuitive ideas are NOT SUFFICIENT TO EXPLAIN THE UNIVERSE in detail. Theories advanced by Albert Einstein in the first decades of this century now provide us with a more accurate understanding (Pasachoff, p.251).
The differences between Newton's conception of physics and Einstein's are subtle, but have far reaching implications. For instance, "... it was Einstein's 'Special Theory of Relativity' that provided the basis for the development of atomic energy" (Phillips, p.241).
However, to his dying day, "Einstein believed his theory was 'highly convincing,' but DIDN'T REALLY KNOW WHETHER HE WAS RIGHT OR WRONG" (Phillips, p.245).
Further, Einstein's "theory of relativity" was doubted by some scientists in his time, such as Albert Michelson (the first American to win the Nobel Prize in physics), and it is still being doubted by some scientists today. Among these are Pert Beckmann (Ph.D. in electrical engineering) and Howard Hayden (professor of physics at the University of Colorado).
Beckmann claims his experiments, "... definitely refutes Einstein." Hayden concurs with this conclusion, "Without any equivocation." Beckmann even declares, "EINSTEIN IS DEAD. But it will take decades to bury him" (Bethell, pp.16,17).
(For those of you who are not Star Trek fans, a "holodeck" is a recreational center on the Star Ship Enterprise. It converts energy into matter in order to form very life like reproductions of people or things. The computer is able to instill into these "people" the personalities and knowledge of a real person).
Science and science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, wrote an article titled, "NEW FACTS CAN RESURRECT DISCARDED THEORIES." In this article, Asimov discusses how an abandoned theory on the limit of the size of stars by Arthur S. Eddington from the 1920's is now accepted again.
Eddington had proposed that, due to gravitational forces, it is impossible for a star to be greater than 60 times as large as our sun. But in the early 1980's a star was discovered which was hundreds as times as large as the sun. So Eddington's theory was discarded.
But then, in 1988, the star was looked at with a more powerful telescope. This showed the star was actually a cluster of at least SIX stars. So Eddington's theory is once again accepted.
Asimov said in regard to this flip-flop, "Does this have any importance aside from vindicating Eddington's theory? Yes. For one thing, it once again demonstrates that scientists must be constantly probing and testing their conclusions, and their FINDINGS ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE."
And further, what were thought to be single stars elsewhere in the universe could also actually be clusters of stars. This would mean they are much farther away than originally thought.
Asimov wrote about this possibility, "In that case, the universe is much larger and much older than we thought, and that would SEND ASTRONOMERS BACK TO THEIR DRAWING BOARDS" ("The Rocky Mountain News" 11/13/88).
A similar situation occurred with reference to the planet Mercury. At one time astronomers, "... thought that one side always faced the Sun and the other side always faced away from the Sun. This led to the fascinating conclusion that Mercury could be both the hottest planet and the coldest planet in the solar system."
But later studies of Mercury's radio radiation revealed, "The dark side of Mercury was too hot for a surface that was always in the shade." Eventually it was determined, "... the planet rotates three times for each two times it revolves."
Pasachoff writes in his college textbook in regard to this change:
No harm was done by the scientist's original misconception of Mercury's rotational period, but the story teaches all of us a lesson: we should not be too sure of SO-CALLED FACTS. Don't believe everything you read in this book, either. It would be fun for you to look back in twenty years and see how much of what we think we know about astronomy actually turns out to be true (Pasachoff, pp.167, 168).
So in the fields of biology, physics, and astronomy, theories and "facts" which were once accepted as true had to be modified or replaced by new ones.
Karl Popper, a leading philosopher of science, sums up the situation:
First, although in science we do our best to find the truth, we are conscious of the fact that we can NEVER be sure we have got it.... We know that our scientific theories ALWAYS remain hypotheses....
In science there is NO "knowledge" in the sense in which Plato and Aristotle understood the word, in the sense which implies finality; in science, we NEVER have sufficient reason for the belief that we have attained the truth....
Our attempts to see and to find the truth are not final, but open to improvement; ... our knowledge, our doctrine is conjectural; ... it consists of guesses, of hypotheses, rather than of final and certain truths (quoted in Robbins, p.3; all emphases in original).
Even Dr. Paul Kurtz (drafter of Humanist Manifesto II) states, "The change of a theory is to the credit of science. SCIENCE IS NOT ABSOLUTE. IT'S NOT FIXED. IT'S NOT FINAL. It's an open method of investigation" (quoted in Ankerberg, p.14).
Theologian John Robbins explains why science is of such a nature:
One of the insuperable problems of science is THE FALLACY OF INDUCTION; indeed, induction is an insuperable problem for all forms of empiricism [attempts to attain knowledge by the senses]. The problem is simply this: Induction, arguing from the particular to the general, is ALWAYS A FALLACY. No matter how many white swans one observes, one never has sufficient reason to say all swans are white (Robbins, p.2).
So science is, "always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth" (see 2Tim 3:7). As such, the second question posed at the beginning of this article can now be answered, science CANNOT prove the Bible is false. A discipline which is always changing, and which can never be sure it has actually arrived at truth, cannot be used as a standard for determining truth
Of what use is science then? Theologian Gordon Clark writes:
The bare assertion that science leaves us in ignorance of the workings of nature is not a sufficient philosophy of science. Something must be said of the nature and use of science. Therefore, OPERATIONALISM is offered, not as a general epistemology [way of acquiring knowledge], but as the best available philosophy of science. It is a better statement of what science is, what science actually does, and what science can do....
Science then must not be regarded as cognitive, but rather as AN ATTEMPT TO UTILIZE NATURE FOR OUR NEEDS AND WANTS (Clark, Science, p.93).
Moreover, science is unable to tell us what "our needs and wants" should be. In other words, even if science is able to do something, that doesn't necessarily mean it SHOULD be done. A good case in point is the recent cloning of a human embryo.
Needless to say, this event raises many ethical questions. And in reference to the potential capabilities of this scientific research, Cynthia Cohen (executive director of the National Advisory Board on Ethics in Reproduction) states, "We need to develop guidelines before these questions become live possibilities" ("Valley News Dispatch" 10/27/93, A3).
But what standard does one turn to when trying to develop such "guidelines?" And how can "truth" itself be determined. Given the changing and fallible nature of science, it cannot provide the answers.
To determine issues of truth and falsehood, and right and wrong, we need an unchanging and infallible standard. And this standard is found only in the Bible.
The Bible is God's unchanging revelation of truth. Only it presents a reliable, logically consistent, and coherent explanation of reality (Acts 17:22-31). As such, the Bible is the standard by which all claims to truth, including those of science, are to be judged. It is also the starting point for discussing all ethical issues.
"To the law
and to the testimony!
If they do not speak according to this word,
it is because there is no light in them"
Bibliography: Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all
emphases in quotes are added.
All Scripture references from: The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
Ankerberg, John. Secular Humanism. Chattanooga, TN: John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association, 1986.
Bethell. Tom. "Doubting Dada Physics" in The American Spectator. August 1993, 16,17.
Butterfield, Herbert. The Origins of Modern Science. London: G. Bell & Sons LTD, 1965.
Clark, Gordon. The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God. Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1987.
Clark, Gordon. Thales to Dewey. Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1985.
Hitching, Francis. The Neck of the Giraffe: Darwin, Evolution & the New Biology. New York: Mentor, 1982.
Moyer, Elgin. The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church. Chicago: Moody Press, 1982.
Pasachoff, Jay M. Journey Through the Universe. Fort Worth: Saunders College Publishing, 1992.
Phillips, Joseph. "He Charted the Cosmos" in Great Lives, Great Deeds. Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest association, 1964.
Robbins, John. W. "An Introduction to Gordon Clark: Part 2" in The Trinity Review, August 1993.
Schaeffer, Francis. Complete Works. Vol. 5. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982.
Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light
Science and the Bible. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (http://www.dtl.org).
The above article originally appeared in Darkness to Light
newsletter in 1994.
It was posted on this Web site in July 1996.
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