SCIENCE AND THE BIBLE
By Bruce Gerig
Chapter 1: The Hebrew Text and the First Creation Account
Chapter 2: The Evolutionary View and Genesis 1
Chapter 3: Five Approaches to Reconciling Science and Genesis 1
Footnotes, References and Translations
CHAPTER 3: FIVE APPROACHES TO RECONCILING SCIENCE AND GENESIS 1
Theologian and philosopher of science Bernard Ramm listed four general approaches that have been taken in relating science and the Bible, namely: (1) naturalistic evolution, (2) one-week (or fiat) creation, (3) theistic evolution, and (4) progressive creation.216 And to these we add another: (5) BioLogos.217 We now take a look at each of these positions.
Naturalistic evolution – This view, the standard academic view, derives from Charles Darwin (1809-82). Relating to organic evolution, he saw plants and animals as developing in a process of gradual, continuous change from previously existing forms, in a descent with modification. In this natural selection over time, inherited variations in individual organisms produced certain changes that turned out to be more advantageous for survival of the fittest than others; and genetic mutation was later looked upon as providing a satisfactory explanation for this. This does not mean that changes occurred in animals and plants in order that an organism would be better adapted to its environment, but rather this was a random process. Inorganic evolution applies the same view (a random process) to the past development of the physical universe, from unorganized matter. However, some scientists have acknowledged that major weaknesses in Darwinian evolution are gaps in its explanations of the mechanism of evolution and of the origin of species.218
William Purves and his colleagues in their biology textbook Life (7th ed., 2004) define “life” as “an organized genetic unit capable of metabolism, reproduction, and evolution” and they assert that the “first life must have come from nonlife” through chemical evolution. Then later, interacting “systems of molecules came to be enclosed in compartments” called “cells,” where “control was exerted over the entrance, retention, and exit of molecules,” as well as over other chemical reactions.219 “Once organisms began to be composed of many cells, it became possible for cells to specialize,” e.g. to perform photosynthesis, to transport raw materials, and to play a role in sexual reproduction. In the end, “all living organisms become successfully adapted to their environments” through a rich array of adaptations.220 Biologist Julian Huxley concluded that “the whole of reality is evolution – a single process of self-transformation.”221 Moreover, sociobiologist Edward Wilson cheerfully claimed that “The decisive edge enjoyed by scientific naturalism will come from its capacity to explain traditional religion, its chief competition, as a wholly material phenomenon.”222 More reservedly the coauthors of Life advise that “religion is not science,” although the former can give “meaning and spiritual guidance” to life and “values” to the scientific information which science provides.223 Biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976, 1989, 2006) praises the great achievements of random variation and natural selection, further declaring that “faith [religion] is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”224 Dawkins argues that all living organisms are “survival machines,” which are propagated by “selfish genes.” This does not mean that genes have actual motives or will, but only that they act as if they do. Therefore, all organisms are expected to evolve so as to maximize their fitness for survival. Moreover, genes work together like a “rowing team,” to improve their biological function. In addition, these genes may also display an “altruism” at times, showing that they are not only “selfish” but also “subtle” (able to ‘work’ toward larger goals).225
In evaluation of this view, it must be noted that Dawkins’ perception of a “blind pitiless indifference” that is conferred upon all of nature, along with its possession of a relentless drive to “survive”226 presents a fundamental paradox (contradiction). In fact, Duane Gish (Ph.D. in biochemistry, U.C. Berkeley) from the Institute for Creation Research simply does not believe that such a random process could ever have produced the millions of incredibly complex species that are now living (or have gone extinct) in a few billion years, or even in 500 billion years. Even mathematician Murray Eden (a secular scientist) declared, “[I]f ‘random’ is given serious and crucial interpretation from a probabilistic point of view, the randomness postulate [claim] is highly implausible” and “an adequate scientific theory of evolution must await the discovery and elucidation of new natural laws…”227 A. Standen has found evolutionary theory too often “vague” rather than “precise” (supported by real evidence); and Ramm suggests that evolutionists may sometimes place too much confidence in such theory. Ramm also suggests that it may be worthwhile remembering that science includes a history of ruined and discarded theories, even major ones like Ptolemaic astronomy (the earth is the center of the universe) and Newtonian physics (Newton’s laws of gravity explain all motion in the universe).228 Instead, geneticist Francis Collins points out that even if evolution could account for all biological complexity and the origin of humankind, this would still not prove that God had not worked out his creative plan through evolution. He says that Dawkins’ demand for an atheist philosophy goes beyond science, noting that he comes with a “vitriolic personal agenda.”229 Moreover, H. Allen Orr, an evolutionary biologist, after reading Dawkin’s latest book The God Delusion (2006), has called the author “an amateur,” noting that anyone who attacks theology should actually know some. He writes that Dawkins fails “to engage religious thought in any serious way” and that there is “no serious examination [here] of Christian or Jewish theology.”230 As paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould once wrote, “To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth millionth time: Science simply cannot by its legitimate methods adjudicate [decide as in a court of law] the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply cannot comment on it as scientists.”231
Yet, one has to wonder what is the source or cause of this relentless genetic impulse and its drive to survive? Why do not cells or organisms just appear and die, and that’s the end of it? Biochemist Michael Behe notes that “Maybe there’s some sort of self-organizational property in biochemistry that encourages parts of molecular machines to self-assemble,” e.g. water forms a little whirlpool as it pours down the drain, tornadoes organize themselves, and some chemicals change color when they are mixed together. Still, he writes, no convincing Darwinian naturalistic explanation has been offered to show how self-organization can account for something as complex as even the first living primitive organism. At the same time, we have abundant evidence which shows that intelligence can produce very complex interactive systems.232 Inorganic evolution faces another problem, with the “anthropic principle,” which Cambridge astrophysicist Brandon Carter described at an international astronomy conference in Poland in 1973. Here he noted how the myriad laws of physics seem fine-tuned from the very beginning to prepare for the creation of a universe where life and humankind could appear and survive.233 For example, if the nuclear weak force had been even slightly less than what it is related to gravity, all of the hydrogen in the universe would have turned into helium, and hence there would be no water. If the nuclear strong force had been stronger by only 2%, there would have been no protons or atoms; and if weaker by 5%, no stars. The very nature of water is unique in that it floats in a solid state; and if this were not the case, great quantities of ice would begin to build on the ocean floor, slowly cooling the earth until the whole globe became a block of ice.234 Owen Gingerich, retired astronomer and historian of science at Harvard, writes that, in spite of Darwin’s theories of natural selection, human beings are so astonishingly well constructed within the framework of possibilities, and the cosmic environment and the terrestrial environment are so wonderfully congenial to intelligent, self-conscious life, he can only conclude that the universe and earth are the work of a “superintelligent Creator [who exists] beyond and within the cosmos.” Instead of human beings being a glorious accident, they display design and purpose (teleology).235
One-week (or fiat) creation – This view holds that God on each of six days during a literal week issued an authoritative command (fiat), after which all that he called for instantaneously came into being.236 Proponents of this view hold to a traditional reading of Gen 1, even though an enormous amount of scientific data points in opposing directions. They promote a “young earth” position, i.e. the universe and the earth were created less than 10,000 years ago. They accept microevolution (small changes within species) but not macroevolution (one species evolving into another), and they hold that Adam and Eve were real historical figures created by God.237 The major organization supporting this view is the Institute for Creation Research, in Santee, CA, which claims over a thousand scientists as members since its beginning in 1972 (although it should be noted that many of these members, while believing in a Creator, hold instead to an “old” earth and universe). Henry Morris founded this institute, and his son John Morris serves as current president, both having doctorates in engineering.238 In The Modern Creation Trilogy (3 vols., 1996), they describe how any idea of a “gap” between Gen 1:1 and 1:2 only makes the “evolutionary problem … worse” and they believe instead that a “young earth” and the universe date back only about 7,000 years.239 They note that there is no way to actually “test” the evolutionary model, nor the creation model either; both must be accepted “by faith.”240
The Morrises criticize geologists for holding too rigidly to a uniformitarian view of the earth’s geology (that it developed primarily through age-long, slow-evolving processes of erosion and sedimentation), while ignoring the dramatic impact of regional and global catastrophes (which can produce very rapid and dramatic geological changes).241 Instead, the Morrises claim that the earth’s crust was formed primarily in a catastrophic and rapid way, and that its geological structures and fossils can only be rightly interpreted in relation to Noah’s Flood. Therefore, all fossils came from creatures that lived in the period from Adam to Noah. Death only entered the world after Adam sinned, after God had created everything “perfect and complete.”242 This view of interpreting geology as it might be related to the Flood became popular in conservative Christian circles after the publication of The Genesis Flood (1961) by John Whitcomb, a theologian at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, IN, and Henry Morris, then chairman of the civil engineering department at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, VA (where the recent Virginia Tech massacres occurred, on 4/16/07).243 Besides the possible impact of a worldwide flood, the Morrises raise other questions as well, such as: Why is there such an extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record? Why could homology (similar form and function found in different species) not point just as well to design to serve similar needs as to descent from a common ancestor? Also, what is the relationship of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (which notes how as energy dissipates, systems become disorganized, information becomes garbled, matter disintegrates, and environments decay, etc.) and the supposedly random yet upward movement in evolution?244
In evaluation of this view, we hold also to the historicity of Adam and Eve, based on Jesus’ witness; and it is true that neither the Darwinian creation model nor the Genesis creation model can be ‘tested’ in a laboratory. Yet, both science and theology require careful assumptions and cautious reasoning besides the simple ‘data.’ The rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record and the question of whether homology (similar form and function) in nature points to divine design or to a single ancestry raise important questions. However, Collins notes that the Second Law of Thermodynamics (that a closed system, where neither matter nor energy can enter or leave, will tend to show increased disorder) can hardly be used as an argument against evolution, since the whole universe, including the sun with all its energy, forms our ‘closed system.’245 Turning to the Bible, we note that our study of the Hebrew of Gen 1 does not support the Morrises’ view of a literal seven-day creative week. This is observed in the varied use of the word yom (“day”) throughout Gen 1 (note especially days 1 and 6). Further, “there was evening and there was morning, day –” appears to point to a 12-hour nighttime and not to a 24-hour period – although interpreters go beyond this and say that the wording is better understood as pointing simply to a period of time before God appears and then after God appears to perform a pivotal creative act (Cassuto, de Vaux, Sarna, Hamilton). Finally, the Hebrew numbers for days 1-5 given without the customarily added definite article (“the”) suggests that God’s appearances (“days”) here did not immediately follow one another – which, in turn, opens the door for long periods of time during which the Divine word was fully realized. Moreover, the Morrises’ reading of “good” as meaning “perfect, complete” is also suspect, since Adam and Eve fell so miserably into sin right away, with the evil serpent in the Garden whispering in their ears. A much better meaning for “good” is that all of God’s creation here “completely fulfilled the Almighty’s purposes” – part of which are probably not even known to us, but which did include preparing a wonderful home for humankind. Paul’s references to Adam bringing death into the world are best read as references to “spiritual death” (a separation from God), although when the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life were taken away, humans became destined to experience physical death as well.
One also has to question the Morrises’ rejection of carbon-14 as a reliable tool for long-range dating of rocks and bones, while they assert instead that God created “a complete and fully functioning universe right from the start” – meaning that it already contained partly-decayed chemical elements,246 and presumably light waves from distant stars and galaxies were already moving through space. Actually, astronomers use three approaches to calculate the age of the universe (all of which point to a date at least 13 bya): by estimating the expansion rate of the whole universe (and taking into account that this rate is accelerating), by studying different stars in various ages of their ‘lives’ in very old star clusters, and by measuring the age of the cooling cores of very ancient (and far-away) supernovas, after these stars exploded.247 Further, Ramm suggests that most young-earth geologists have never done any professional geological field work.248 David Young, a geologist and a Christian, notes, “A diverse and massive array of geological evidence indicates that the earth has experienced a long, complex and dynamic history that began about 4.5 billion years ago.”249 Young-earth advocates claim e.g. that evidence for a “young earth” can be seen in the decay of the earth’s diminishing magnetic field, thus pointing to an origin only a few thousand years ago, and in the thin layer (ca. 3”) of loose surface material that was found by astronauts on the moon, thus pointing to a moon that has only been bombarded for a brief period of time astronomically speaking. Yet Young notes that abundant evidence from archaeological sites indicates that the earth’s magnetic field in the past has increased and decreased cyclically, and the more compacted material on the moon’s surface averages a depth of 16-33’ and in some places well over 100,’ consistent with the moon’s real antiquity.250 There is virtual consensus among geologists that the earth’s rock structures do not all point back to a worldwide flood. For example, the Colorado Plateau is underlain with 10-20 thousand feet of spectacularly eroded, nearly horizontal sedimentary rocks which could only have been formed through a much longer history.251 The Navajo Sandstone achieves a thickness of 2,000’ at Zion National Park; and this also would have required a very, very long time for a desert to accumulate this much pure quartz sand, which then had to be thoroughly weathered and eroded out of previously existing rocks. Also, the Southern California Batholith (a massive dome-shaped formation, usually of granite, that forms the base of mountain ranges) would have required at least a million years to form.252 An old age for the earth is also backed up (and most precisely dated) through the radiometric measurement of certain chemical elements which are known to have very long half-life, including uranium which slowly changes into lead, potassium into argon, and the exotic strontium into rubidium. Such measurements all point to an Earth that came into being some 4.55 bya. The oldest rocks on earth date approximately 4 bya, while nearly 70 meteorites and a number of moon rocks date around 4.5 bya.253 In fact, Collins notes that if the one-week creationists’ claim is true, this would mean “a complete and irreversible collapse of the sciences of physics, chemistry, cosmology, geology and biology.” He adds that the idea that God intentionally designed the earth to look old when actually it was all created much later turns God into “a cosmic trickster.”254 Moreover, the Morrises’ idea that dinosaurs lived alongside Adam and Eve and their early descendents255 seems far-fetched; and one has to wonder how early humankind could have prospered, or even survived, with T. rexes and velociraptors running around (as visualized in Jurrasic Park). However, dioramas in the Answers in Genesis Ministries’ Creation Museum, which opened 5/07 in Petersburg, KY, still picture dinosaurs created on the “sixth day,” being herbivores in the beginning, and later taken into Noah’s Ark – in spite of the colossal size of some restored dinosaur skeletons.256
Theories of how Noah’s Flood may have impacted the earth are interesting but very difficult to assess, because the farther one goes back the more theoretical the discussion becomes and because mainstream scientists remain hostile toward Noah’s Ark. The latter is shown related to an expedition that was sent to Mount Ararat in 1968 sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Geographic Society. Later crates arrived at the Smithsonian containing many photographs that had been taken of the Ark, along with black wood samples, wooden pegs, old tools, other artifacts, and even a coffin-shaped alabaster box. Scientists were especially excited because infrared photos of the Ark’s interior (a thermite bomb was used to burn a hole in the hull) clearly showed decks, stalls and cages, and what looked like feeding and drainage troughs. Then, however, at a high level meeting top scientists decided to deny the expedition, suppress their findings, and hide away all evidence of the expedition in some storehouse or other location. However, four independent witnesses have testified of seeing the Ark artifacts at the Smithsonian, of hearing members of the expedition team speak excitedly about their trip, or of receiving a report from one member who was present at the cover-up meeting.257 Relating to theories concerning Noah’s Flood, Walt Brown (Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, MIT) proposes e.g. in his “Hydroplate Theory” that perhaps half of the water now in the oceans was originally sealed off in interconnected chambers located about ten miles below the earth’s surface. However, increasing pressure in these chambers kept stretching the overlying crust until finally, at the beginning of Noah’s Flood, the rock burst, exploding water upward out of a ten-mile deep slit that wrapped around the earth (corresponding to the modern-day Mid-Oceanic Ridge) and producing torrential rains such as the earth had never seen before or since.258 This cataclysm then caused the jigsaw-shaped continents to break apart into their present form, created the Mid-Oceanic Ridge and ocean trenches, formed major mountain ridges and canyons on dry land, and froze the fifty or so mammoths (elephant-like animals) and the few rhinoceroses which have been found buried in Siberia and Alaska.259
Theistic evolution – This includes views which support evolution by natural selection, but also find a place for divine involvement. James Orr (1891) called this “creation from within,” although he also held to a sudden mutation for the origin of humankind.260 Geneticist Francis Collins, who places himself in this category, writes that he knows of many scientists who subscribe to this view, although they may be reluctant to speak out for fear of negative reactions from their scientific peers and/or from the theological community.261 He summarizes his beliefs in this regards in The Language of God (2006), as: (1) the universe came out of nothingness around 14 bya; (2) despite massive improbabilities, the properties of the universe turned out to be precisely tuned for life; (3) while the precise mechanism for the origin of life on earth is unknown, once life arose, the process of evolution and natural selection permitted the development of biological diversity and complexity over long periods of time; (4) once evolution got underway, no special supernatural intervention was required; (5) humans are part of this process, having evolved from apes; (6) and yet humans are unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation, displaying a spiritual nature which includes a sense of right and wrong and a need to search for God that has characterized all human cultures throughout history.262 He notes that science is the only way that one can investigate the natural world, and that science also is self-correcting. Still, science is not enough to answer all of the questions we have. Even Albert Einstein once wrote: “Science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind.”263 Collins believes that because God exists outside of nature, the Almighty knew beforehand with divine wisdom that evolution, driven by chance and given enough time, would eventually lead to humankind. Still, God gave to Adam and Eve a spiritual nature (soul) and a sense of moral law (conscience).264
Another advocate of theistic evolution is Joan Roughgarden, a biologist at Stanford University and also a Christian.265 In Evolution and Christian Faith (2006), she points out that random mutation should not be confused with evolution as a whole. Neither evolutionary biology or neo-Darwinism specifically assert that evolution is random, directionless, or unguided – only that the mutation process is random. (“Neo-Darwinism” simply refers to the modern version of Darwin’s theory which has incorporated genetic findings.) Evolution still could have been directed and guided by the hand of God.266 However, she explains that to her “God is an experience, not an idea.” She is content with experiencing God within a faith community, without “proving” (knowing for sure) whether God exists or not. She holds that all living forms came through the evolutionary tree of life, but also we receive individual “souls” when we are born.267 While evolutionary progress awaits the appearance of favorable mutations, God may have either controlled which mutations occurred or simply set the stage and then left the plot to unfold on its own.268 She sees no difficulty in holding to the evolutionary mechanisms of random mutation and natural breeding, and yet also to a divine causality.269 Still, she claims that saying that God is “intelligent” invites the “sin of idolatry” – and that if she was into “miracles,” she’d go for the big ones, like Jesus curing the lepers or feeding thousands of people.270
In evaluation of this approach, one can applaud the desire seen here to try to bridge science and the Bible. Roughgarden sees God as having a hand in evolution (in one way or another) and she also recognizes the unique spiritual character in humankind. Collins notes also the improbable anthropic character of our world, formed just right for life to exist. Collins’ credo is carefully worded to maintain a separation between science and philosophy/religion, and yet it leaves the door open for the Christian to see God as the Creator, his direction in the anthropic principle, his formation of humankind’s unique character, and even his special intervention in nature at certain points, although he writes that “once evolution got underway no special supernatural intervention was required.” Roughgarden’s views are clouded, however, by her description of God as ‘unintelligent’ and her uncertainty as to whether God exists or is a personal being. This contrasts dramatically with the assured declaration in Gen 1:1 that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” – and then, command by command, formed the earth into a marvelous home for humankind, with whom he continues to deal, as recorded through the Bible. Her view rather points back to Deism, a natural religion that developed in England in the 17th–18th centuries, which argued against Divine revelation and the supernatural altogether. The chief mark of later Deism was the belief in a Creator who afterward had little or no interest or involvement in his creation.271 Persons who hold to Biblical teaching will find her theology deficient and unsatisfying.
In contrast, astronomer Owen Gingerich of Harvard looks to a more powerful Creator-God to provide a coherent understanding for why the universe seems so congenially designed for the existence of intelligent, self-reflective life.272 He notes the difficulty in trying to bridge science and the Bible. Yet, one need not take a materialistic approach to the universe; one can take both science and the Bible seriously. Further, he has no trouble believing that “God’s miraculous intervention in natural history is a relatively frequent occurrence.” It might be that the physics and chemistry of life’s origins will remain forever beyond human comprehension, yet scientists should still keep trying to find answers. Science rightfully works within its own (natural) framework, the only way in which it can work.273 Still, Gingerich finds nature too amazing to leave God out of the picture. For example, he points to the complexity of the human brain, with roughly 35,000 genes coded by DNA in the human genome and half of them found in the brain. Plus, there are about 100 billion (100,000,000,000) neurons in the brain – nerve cells, many with long dendritic extensions intricately interconnected with each other; and the number of connections in the brain exceeds the number of stars in the Milky Way. He notes also how the level of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere is about 20% (of the number of atoms), enough to sustain fire but not so high as to allow cataclysmic combustion. In fact, the acceptable oxygen limits for advanced life are fairly narrow; and yet the earth’s atmosphere is just right for human life. Such anthropic observations, then, become an argument for design.274 Still, Gingerich says he has trouble with Intelligent Design as a political movement, which seeks to replace Darwinian evolution.275 Yet he agrees with astronomer Fred Hoyle, normally an agnostic, who acknowledged: “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”276
Progressive creation – This is the label that Bernard Ramm applied to his view, which holds clearly to a dynamic personal Creator upon whom nature depends for her origin, character and movement to her destined ends, as the Spirit of God (cf. Gen 1:2) brings about the divine will in nature – even though this was and is achieved over long periods of time and by progressive means.277 The major group representing this view today may be said to be the Discovery Institute, with its Center for Science and Culture, in Seattle, WA, which now lists 700 scientists worldwide as members, who have signed a statement saying that they are “skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life” and they call for Darwinian naturalistic evolution to be reexamined.278 The great majority probably also hold that the universe and earth are very old. Microevolution (abundant changes seen to occur in existing species) is not in question, but macroevolution (the appearance of new species, organs, and body plans, out of entirely different kinds) is. With regards to gene mutation, the Discovery Institute states that all actually-observed, large-scale gene mutations affecting anatomy have been harmful, and the larger the change, the more the harm.279 Moreover, relating to the Cambrian explosion (543-490 mya), even more recent finds of pre-Cambrian fossils have failed to reveal any “transition forms” for the large number of new animal phyla (major classes) that then suddenly appeared, which evolutionary biologist Jeffrey Levington has even referred to as “life’s big bang … [and] evolutionary biology’s deepest paradox [contradiction].”280
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