Let’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:
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.
Very 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?
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!