Creation: The Scientific Method is Biblical

scientific-methodLet’s talk science!

In my previous posts, I’ve presented some musings on the Bible’s creation narrative and our current scientific understanding of the record of nature. The response to this is to argue that these posts presuppose “uniformism,” the idea that the natural laws and processes that we see today have always been the same, and “naturalism” or “materialism,” the idea that the only things that act on the universe are things within that universe: space-time and energy/matter.

In many ways, the debate boils down to the questions, “What is science and what are its limits? What should be the goal of science?”

Science is the exploration of the physical universe. It cannot probe before the big bang, cannot probe other universes, and cannot probe any non-physical reality (like a purely spiritual world). While science can reveal hints of all of the above, since we can never directly observe the laws and interactions of any such worlds, we cannot create replicable experiments. This is why, for example, science cannot prove or disprove the existence of spiritual entities like demons or ghosts–the spirits could simply choose when and where to act, making replication of any experiment impossible. It also cannot prove historical events with absolute certainty (outside of cases where extreme distances and the finite speed of light provide direct observational evidence, of course). There is more than adequate historical evidence of the resurrection of Yeshua, but we can’t “prove” it by replicating it in the laboratory. Nor can we replicate Alexander the Great, for that matter.

This means that for science to work as a discipline, the scientist has to assume methodological materialism, that no supernatural entity is acting on the experiment. If he assumes supernatural intervention, there’s no reason why any experiment should happen the same way twice. This is why pagan societies tend not to develop scientifically. Deified nature is not subject to being tested, and you risk the ire of the gods by attempting to do so. While many scientists make a “leap of faith” from there to philosophical materialism–the belief that no supernatural entities exist–and abuse their positions of authority to attack faith in God, that doesn’t make the method itself incorrect. And in fact, it’s proven to be a very useful tool set in exploring the world God has made for us.

The goal of scientific inquiry is not to support a historically orthodox interpretation of any given passage of the Bible. It is to explore the physical world, plain and simple. In many cases, this confirms something in the Bible, such as confirming that the universe was created “in the beginning.” In other cases, it may cause us to go back and re-evaluate our understanding of Scripture.

 

Science is Biblical

This is important because scientific inquiry is a Divinely-mandated activity. The very first commandment recorded in Scripture is, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over all” its creatures (Gen. 1:28). Now, while it’s very possible that Adam as originally created was far more than what we consider today to be “human,” we know that he was still a physical being, created of the same substance as the earth (Gen. 2:7). For Adam and Eve to “subdue” the earth and hold dominion over all of its creatures, they would have to understand and exploit the laws that govern the heavens and the earth. To do so, they and their children would have to explore, discover, and test the world.

The key elements of the scientific method are actually derived from Biblical precepts. The first and foremost is “test everything; hold fast what is good” (1Th. 5:21). Testing everything that you think to be true is the very heart of the scientific method:

unscientific
Paul would have been all about the Mythbusters.

The second principle of science is that you don’t do anything “in a corner” (Acts 26:26). Instead, anyone with an experiment that proves or disproves a prediction must bring it before the body of their peers so that not just the results, but the questions, the assumptions, and the underlying methods may all be examined–just like Biblically, anyone with a prophecy must bring it before the congregation to be evaluated (1Co. 14:29, cf. 1Jn. 4:1).

Now prophecy isn’t science. It’s actually more than science and–if it is a true prophecy–comes directly from the Holy One. And yet prophecy is to be tested and evaluated by the community. How much more should scientific inquiry be subject to the community’s evaluation, aka peer review?

Sadly, so many Messianics and Christians depart from these principles of open, honest inquiry, and instead follow after “insider” teachers who promote ideas which have already been tested and found false! But it’s even worse than that. All too often, YEC teachers fall into argument by intimidation.

Argumentum Ad “You’re a Heretic!”

My in-laws recently went to a local presentation by Ken Ham. They knew where I stood on the subject of Genesis 1 and were eager to pick up some more facts to bring to the table in our own discussions. They ended up walking out after a half-hour. Why? Because after being asked to share the scientific evidence that the earth is indeed young, Ham instead spent 30 minutes attacking Christians who didn’t agree with him. My in-laws came for scientific facts, and instead the got a diatribe.

This is not an unusual event. This is the modus operandi of many in the current YEC movement. When Hugh Ross debated Kent Hovind, John Ankerberg asked Hovind to present the scientific evidence that the earth and the universe were young. Hovind instead launched immediately into insinuating that Ross worships a different God (thus attacking his Christian testimony and calling him a heretic) and within twenty minutes was outright calling Ross a cult leader. When Ross debated Ken Ham on TBN, Ham’s approach was pretty much the same.

You can’t openly test “all things” in an environment where you have to be afraid of being labeled a heretic. Refusing to test all things openly violates both scientific and Biblical principles.

Clinging to Failed Hypotheses

The fact is that YEC has to rely on ad hominem attacks because a) it turns out that there are indeed other ways to understand Genesis within the bounds of Biblical literalness (as we’ve shown over the past few weeks), and b) the record of nature just flat out disproves their position.

Young-earth creationists, of course, claim that they love science and dispute that “real science” disproves their hypothesis. However, they have to accept ideas that have been entirely disproved by both science and logic in order to make that claim. For example, Barry Setterfield’s hypothesis that the speed of light is slowing down still makes the rounds in YEC circles, even though it has been completely discredited (and misunderstands what “C” in E=MC^2 really means). In fact, YEC has no testable theory to explain how we can see the light of distant galaxies, as Danny Faulkner admits in his astronomer vs. astronomer debate with Hugh Ross:

This debate is extremely long, but well worth watching all the way through. It was actually held before a panel of judges who were themselves both Christians and credentialed scientists and who were therefore in a position to evaluate any scientific claims made by the two participants. Moreover, unlike some other YEC vs OEC debates, both participants presented their cases and addressed each other with all due brotherly love and respect. In other words, this debate upheld the highest New Testament principles in testing everything and doing so openly.

However, Danny essentially throws the debate in the first hour by admitting that there is no testable hypothesis for how we can see the light of galaxies billions of light years away if the universe is only 10,000 years old (the round number being used in the debate). He simply says that since the act of Creation was a one-time miracle, it may be impossible to understand how light made it all the way to the earth from distant galaxies. He’s admitting that his view is outside the realm of testability, which makes it outside the realm of 1 Thessalonians 5:21 as well as science.

He gets called on it too. The panel of scientists notes after the first phase of the debate that Faulkner’s arguments for a young creation all came down to pointing out anomalies, but that he had not actually put forth a positive case for a young creation:

“There will often be some data that appear to disagree with the rest of the evidence, this does not automatically provide evidence for alternative hypothesis’s. But often means that our theoretical understanding is not yet entirely complete. . .

“Ross’s arguments provide solid evidence that the universe is billions of years old. He presents several independent arguments based on a wide range of data, indicating that the universe, and most objects in it, are much older than 10,000 years. The light/travel time argument is particularly strong and it’s particularly simple, and based on sound theoretical principles. Faulkner does not produce evidence for a universe thousands of years old, but rather makes claims for isolated inconsistencies in the case for the great age.

“While it is common scientific practice to look for holes in well established theories, the new contrary evidence must either be very strong to counter the existing evidence for the theory; or else be supported by a new theory that readily explains both the new evidence and the old. We judge that the inconsistencies pointed out by Faulkner do not meet these criteria. In some instances, the observations are completely consistent with our current understanding of these systems in the context of an old universe. In others, while universally accepted interpretations don’t exist today and our knowledge is still incomplete, such explanations are likely to be forthcoming as observations and theory progress. It is our professional judgment that the weight of the evidence overwhelmingly supports a universe that is billions of years old.”

So, a Christian astrophysicist stood before a panel of Christian astrophysicists to present the case for a young universe, in exact accordance with both Biblical and scientific principles. He himself admitted that he could not put forth a positive case. That speaks volumes for the state of young-earth creationism today.

Seeking Truth Isn’t Compromise

A stubborn refusal to admit any new information into one’s understanding of the Bible is hardly limited to young-earth creationists. When Christian scholars actually began reading early Jewish sources like the Talmud in the 20th Century, it caused them to re-evaluate their understanding of the New Testament. It turns out that Judaism was never “legalistic” in the sense that two thousand years of Christians have believed and did not teach salvation by “works.” This has led to many re-evaluating their derived doctrine, and contributed to the spread of the Messianic movement. However, other Christians refuse to admit the new data, insisting that their understanding of Judaism must be more correct than the understanding of Judaism by the Jews themselves! These individuals are very quick to call anyone who disagrees with them a heretic or at least compromiser.

This happens even regarding small issues of practice. Some teetotalers believe that the Bible itself forbids alcohol altogether. Some go so far as to claim that the wine served at the Last Supper was grape juice. When presented with the additional information that the grape harvest came six months before Passover, and that it was literally impossible for there to be any non-fermented grape juice still left, many of them would rather claim that Jesus performed a (not recorded) miracle than admit that their theology might not be entirely correct. Or they’ll just ignore the information entirely and instead go on a diatribe about the evils of alcohol.

Tested truth, both Biblical truth and historical truth, must direct our theology, not the other way around. This is not compromising our faith in God and his Word. It’s fulfilling the commandments in that Word.

Summary

Jebel al-AqraaVery obviously, this series on Biblical creationism has been far from complete. In fact, I’ve caught some flack from not addressing this or that argument on this or that creationist website. This was a deliberate choice. All too often people trying to understand the various sides of the argument get lost in a thousand little arguments that they haven’t the education to be able to properly evaluate. I wanted to offer something a bit easier to understand, an argument that would get the wheels turning in my brethren’s heads. For those interested in delving deeper, I strongly recommend both Reasons.org and GodandScience.org as resources.

I began by showing that modern science has actually demonstrated that the natural, visible universe was created a finite time ago by a (by definition) supernatural, invisible reality, exactly as Scripture has always claimed. Furthermore, the design of the universe shows that the Creator is personal, intelligent, omnipotent, and very interested in creating and maintaining life, all properties expressed by the God of the Bible. I believe this to be an extraordinarily powerful apologetic that all of Yeshua’s disciples (and for that matter, all religious traditional Jews) should be proclaiming from the rooftops to counteract our society’s slide towards secularism. I believe that the main reason we have not is that those most inclined to evangelism are too busy arguing how old the universe is to take advantage of this incredible open door Hashem has provided for us.

I argued that the Genesis narrative was not primarily meant to address our modern scientific issues, but nevertheless had been supernaturally designed in such a way that when we gained more knowledge, we would see that it is still true. I then went on to show that the Biblical term for “day” does not necessarily mean a period of 24 hours, and that there are good reasons within the text to question the idea of short creation days. I addressed the issue of the sun, moon, and stars not appearing until the fourth day, demonstrating that they had been made before that, and that the sun, moon, and stars we see with our naked eyes are not, according to the Bible, the first stars and planets God ever made. I also explained that the Biblical words translated “evening” and “morning” can mean much more than that, and coincide with the concepts of chaos and order.

Only after establishing that an old universe fits perfectly well within the context of Genesis did I deal with the scientific issues. I presented the case that the universe is old based on the time it would take light to travel to us, and that the earth is far older than 10,000 years by way of ice core drilling. These are of course far from the only arguments, but because they are so simple and easy to understand, they establish that either the creation is older than 10,000 years, or God has designed the universe to lie to us–something that is utterly incompatible with his character.

And now we’ve established that, when presenting their case openly to those qualified to evaluate their arguments, even young-earth creationists like Danny Faulkner are forced to admit that the record of nature does not agree with their theology.

So if the record of nature indicates that the universe and the world are very, very old, and the Bible can easily be understood to indicate that the creation days are long periods of time, why are YECs so adamant that every other view is compromise with the world, or even heresy?

Future Articles

I’ve become a bit weary of this subject and feel that this is a good place to stop for now. Very obviously, there’s a lot left to be said. I’ve not even touched on evolution, for example. I will address that in a future post, after I’ve had a chance to catch up on the more recent discoveries and theories in biology. Before anyone starts tossing around accusations, no I’m not a theistic evolutionist, but that’s more due to scientific issues than theological ones.

For now, I’m going to return to return to my series on prophecy in the New Testament. Shalom!

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10 Replies to “Creation: The Scientific Method is Biblical”

  1. It seems to be the prevailing wisdom among more fundamentalist camps that their literalism represents the older and more established vein of thought, and that our allegorical take on some passages represents a sort of newfangled retreat to a more accommodating redoubt. Yet allegorical interpretation of religion is very old.

    Xenophanes lived in the 6th century BCE. He was against anthropomophizing the ineffable gods, goring the Homeric tradition with his satire.

    But mortals suppose that gods are born,
    wear their own clothes and have a voice and body. (frag. 14)
    Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and black;
    Thracians that theirs are blue-eyed and red-haired. (frag. 16)
    But if horses or oxen or lions had hands
    or could draw with their hands and accomplish such works as men,
    horses would draw the figures of the gods as similar to horses, and the oxen as similar to oxen,
    and they would make the bodies
    of the sort which each of them had. (frag. 15

    In the 1st Century, Philo of Alexandria describes Creation as such:

    II. (2) “And on the sixth day God finished his work which he had made.” It would be a sign of great simplicity to think that the world was created in six days, or indeed at all in time; because all time is only the space of days and nights, and these things the motion of the sun as he passes over the earth and under the earth does necessarily make. But the sun is a portion of heaven, so that one must confess that time is a thing posterior to the world.”

    St. Augustine wrote in reference to Psalm 104:2:

    “…to satisfy the tiresome people who persist in demanding a literal explanation I will say what in my opinion should be obvious to anyone of sense (Augustine 2002b, II.22)”

    In 12th century Spain, Rabbi Moses Maimonides also felt persuaded against a literal six days of Creation.

    This was all in the Pre-Scientific era, before Darwin and Hubble could supposedly bulldoze these men into concessions.

    My point in bringing this up is to explode the fatuous notion that allegory is “new,” and literalism is “old.” They’ve been conjoined twins since Man has been plaintiff in the paternity suit called religion.

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    1. I think the ancients, which included all of the Biblical authors, were smart enough to know just how much of the full picture they were missing–and I think that the Spirit, the true Author of Scripture of whom the men were mere scribes, is smart enough to realize the limitations of language and concept. Consequently, I think the original (human) author of Genesis was intentionally writing somewhat allegorically (again, I think the p’shat of the text falls within the Framework hypothesis) but that on a midrashic level, the Spirit made sure that the human author used the right Hebrew words so that millennia later we would read it and say, “Wow! That’s actually correct, once we get past our Sunday school preconceptions.”

      There’s an incredible power to allegory and myth that is only denied by moderns when they’re specifically attacking the Bible–but I think the ultimate Author included details for us moderns as well.

      Incidentally, I’m re-reading Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy,” mostly because you pointed out how much Gaiman enjoyed Chesterton’s work. I should probably do a post on that when I’m done.

      Shalom!

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  2. You very correctly, if someone disingenuously, point out the problem with YEC in this article. Unfortunately by doing so you destroy your own position and don’t realize it. Anyone who has any understanding of the issues should realize that you cannot, ever, test one time events via methodological naturalism. As you point outmethodological naturalism is utterly incompetent at investigating one time events, and events where one ‘reality’ impinges upon another. Ie miracles.

    Thus while we can use methodological naturalism to investigate the surface tension of water, we cannot use it to determine of Christ could walk on water. We can use it to determine the rate of fermentation, we cannot use it to determine if Christ turned water into wine. And we can use it to determine the speed of light, but we cannot use to to determine when God created the entire universe in six days ex nihlo.

    It is simply incompetent and irrelevant to the discussion.

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    1. “You very correctly, if someone disingenuously, point out the problem with YEC in this article.” If it’s correct, how is it disingenuous?

      “Anyone who has any understanding of the issues should realize that you cannot, ever, test one time events via methodological naturalism.” Very true–except where we have direct photographic evidence. We DO have direct photographic evidence of the development of the universe, thanks to the Creator choosing to give it a very long history and a finite speed of light. All astrophysicists recognize that we can’t even infer what happened before one Planck second (10^-32 seconds) after the Big Bang, let alone before it. That era is forever closed to us. Nevertheless, we DO have direct observational evidence going back to the cosmic microwave background, which emerged some 13.8 billion years ago, estimated to be 400,000 years after the creation event. We have direct observation of stars and galaxies just 200,000 years later. Heck, we have direct observational evidence that Andromeda existed 2 million years ago–yet you persist in ignoring that evidence for the sake of your theology, which I’ve shown has some problems simply if we look carefully at the Bible itself.

      The problem with YEC is that it keeps insisting that no one was around to witness these events when–thanks again to the extreme distances, extreme age, and a finite speed of light–we can indeed witness them in real time. You can argue about the accuracy of our inferences before the first stars and the cosmic microwave background formed, but you can’t argue with their age unless you argue from ignorance. Again, watch the video I posted. Even Danny Faulkner, a YEC astrophysicist, admits that he doesn’t have a case if you read between his lines.

      Shalom.

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      1. >>“You very correctly, if someone disingenuously, point out the problem with YEC in this article.”

        >>>If it’s correct, how is it disingenuous?

        It is disingenuous because it strikes just as much at your position as it does at YEC. Both fail at this juncture. Both attempt to use methodological naturalism to examine one time events. And both fail. YEC has a bit of an easier time of it, due to the issues of proof, but both fail.

        >>“Anyone who has any understanding of the issues should realize that you cannot, ever, test one time events via methodological naturalism.”

        >>>Very true–except where we have direct photographic evidence.

        Ummm, no. Photographic evidence does not change whether, for one time events, we use methodological naturalism to examine them. Photographic evidence does not fall into the realm of testable and repeatable.

        And in calling it ‘photographic evidence’ you are begging the very question you are attempting to prove. Both ex nihlo and materialistic creation stories deal with the exact same ‘photographic evidence’. It only ‘proves’ age if you assume naturalism and uniformitarianism.

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  3. >>St. Augustine wrote in reference to Psalm 104:2:

    “…to satisfy the tiresome people who persist in demanding a literal explanation I will say what in my opinion should be obvious to anyone of sense (Augustine 2002b, II.22)”

    Wow. Talk about a quote taken out of context!! I am always suspicious when I see a quote that seems to have neither beginning or end and, sure enough, this quote has literally nothing to do with the question of whether the world was created in six days. What Augustine thought about that I do not know, but this quote, anyway, has nothing to do with it. He is discussing here wether the heavens are a globe, or a dome, and is saying it makes no difference because a sphere looks like a dome from the point of view of someone on Earth, so that is a perfectly natural way to describe it.

    Indeed reading more in the same book one really sees why the quoter here didn’t use the fuller text. Later on Augustine says, “How the first three days passed before the lamps in the heavens were made.” Wow, sounds like a YEC to me. Or, rather, like me, a philosophical creationist.

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    1. I don’t see what’s out of context.

      Augustine thought that the Earth and all that was in it was created in an instant, more or less. HIs view was that the Genesis tale is not literal; it’s figurative standing in for the arcane and unknowable and that trying to torture books about meaning to be about pure science is likely to elicit ridicule. That was his stance. The context is a man who spent much of his career refuting Manichees and their hyper-literalism. He refers to literalism on such matters as “crass.”

      And he’s still a saint.

      “It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation” (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20 [A.D. 408]).

      “>>>With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith.<<>>but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation<<<" (ibid., 2:9).

      Wow. So… if you discover new information at variance with the literalizing of obscure passages, just let the literal interpretation go and let it give way to discovery; it's not necessary for your salvation anyway. The Bible is not a science book. That's in Augustine's "literal" commentary, by the way. Augustine had a natural posture of hesitancy to take the rash course you seem to be taking.

      "Later on Augustine says, “How the first three days passed before the lamps in the heavens were made.” Wow, sounds like a YEC to me. Or, rather, like me, a philosophical creationist."

      He also problematized it in his arguments if you read onward, but that's no surprise. Peppered throughout his cosmological observations he constantly says things like, "if new information comes to light…" or "if we discover," ensuring faith was forward-compatible to discovery. Very aristotelian. He spent a career furnishing both literal and figurative interpretations of Genesis alike, proffering the idea that G-d simply created everything in an instant and eschewing the weekly model. Thus his figurative interpretations have been a source of Christian rebuttals for centuries.

      But all this is idle pedantry. My original point: non-literal interpretations of holy texts are probably as old as the literal ones. Augustine is pretty old, and so is Xenophanes. You are not a "traditionalist" any more than I.

      Now what I would really like to know is how old the light was emanating from the star of Bethlehem. This question is going to keep dogging you.

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      1. >>I don’t see what’s out of context.

        The quote. This quote:
        >>“…to satisfy the tiresome people who persist in demanding a literal explanation I will say what in my opinion should be obvious to anyone of sense (Augustine 2002b, II.22)”

        The implication here, from the original post (and several others which quote it in the same way) is that Augustine is mocking those who believe in a literal six days, literally a few thousand years ago. When in reality he is doing nothing of the sort.

        >>Now what I would really like to know is how old the light was emanating from the star of Bethlehem. This question is going to keep dogging you.

        This question does not ‘dog’ me in the slightest. The Scriptures don’t say. End of discussion.
        The silliness of trying to measure something past a creative discontinuity makes hash of pretty much everything argued on this page, and that issue is simply ignored. How old did Adam look one day after he was created? How old did the wine seem to be five minutes after it was water?
        Those questions, assuming they were being asked seriously, would be just as irrelevant to the discussion of the Earth’s age as the one about the age of light.

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    2. Vaughn, just a word of warning: I know few men who are as versed in the classics as the Sleepwalker, and none of them have I the honor to know personally. Don’t try to cross swords with him in his area unless you really have a classical education and are really prepared for a fight.

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      1. >> Don’t try to cross swords with him in his area unless you really have a classical education and are really prepared for a fight.

        I will yield fully to him in the area of ‘knowledge of the classics’. However that doesn’t prevent him from using a quote out of context. Luckily the context is on Google books so I was able to read the entire section in translation.

        My response to him, by the way, was not to argue regarding Augustine’s view of the matter… which matters to me not at all. I am, as you may have seen over the years, much more concerned with matters of basic logic, linguistics, and the like. As in using a quote out of context :)

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