Phil Cox

Creation and science

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I tend to shy away from preaching on creation. I feel like I need to be a better scientist than I am before I can talk about the tensions between Genesis and what’s usually taught in schools about evolution and the big bang. This puts me, of course, in the same situation as most Bible teachers. But it’s important for us to have our say on so important a subject.

And it actually makes little sense for us to be inhibited from preaching on Genesis by our lack of scientific knowledge. After all, I’m quite happy to preach on the resurrection, and there’s a tension between the Bible and science there, as well.

But creation does seem to be – at least in our generation – the biggest single point of contention between scripture and science.

There seem to me to be only four positions you can take about this tension:

  • Either there’s no disagreement between what the Bible says and what scientists say
  • Or there’s a conflict because the Bible’s wrong
  • Or there’s a conflict because the scientists are wrong
  • Or they’re both wrong – and you can’t trust anybody

There is, of course, a possible fifth position:

  • I don’t know

But that really doesn’t get you very far. Unfortunately, it seems to be the position occupied by a huge number of Christians today. I think we need to at least try to do better than that.

I want to show respect for both the Bible and scientists. It seems to me that those who accept the first few chapters of the Bible as literal truth do so for a good reason, and those who accept current scientific teaching do so for a good reason. And yet they end up disagreeing. This paper tries to consider why this is.

Why scientists believe what they believe

To take a charitable view of scientists:

A scientist believes that he cannot accept any scientific statement without a scientific reason to do so.

He measures what he can measure, observes what he can observe, and deduces what he can deduce. He then formulates the best model he can think of that satisfies all the known facts – that is, all the facts that he has discovered by this (scientific) process. As he continues to observe, measure and deduce, he may find flaws in the model that he has constructed. If so, he may try to modify that model to take account of the new data. If he can’t do this, he may discard that model and invent a new one.

Of course, this is too simplistic, because scientists don’t work alone – they build on each other’s work. That is, they accept the data, deductions and models of other scientists (at least to start with) which is why science progresses; if every scientist had to start from scratch, then this generation of scientists wouldn’t have got any further that the first generation.

Throughout this process, it makes no scientific sense to take account of any data that is not scientifically obtained. Thus, for a scientist acting and thinking as a scientist, it would be nonsense to believe in any aspect of Bible history, merely because it’s in the Bible. It’s not really science to read God’s word and accept it as truth.

This doesn’t mean the scientist is deliberately rejecting God’s word – he’s just not accepting it into his scientific method – because scientific method isn't supposed to work by taking someone else’s word for something without a scientific reason to do so.

However, it’s rare to hear a scientist saying that his model (in this case, evolution) is limited by its own method, that it might not be correct because it’s based merely on scientifically derived data.

And, having spent his career building up his scientific model, he may find it difficult to accept that it’s wrong – just because the Bible says so.

This puts the person who is both a Christian and a scientist in an interesting position.

Why fundamentalists believe what they believe

For Christians of the Reformed faith – such as me –and others, it’s axiomatic that the Bible is the infallible word of God. If we decide that any one part of the Bible isn’t true, then how can we decide which bits are true and which bits aren’t?

And those of us who’ve been Bible-believing Christians for some years have found over time that the Bible has been demonstrated to be MORE (not less) reliable than we originally thought it was. Of course, many of us have always said that we believe the whole Bible, but privately we’ve had reservations about some parts of it. But I’ve found that many of my reservations about passages that I once thought were dubious have been answered. And I now confidently believe that there are answers to my remaining questions about scripture, even though I don’t know what those answers are yet.

That is, I am now confident that the Bible is absolutely true, even though I can’t answer every question that’s raised about it.

If you think that’s a bit unintellectual, let me say:

  1. I think that it’s absolutely logical, having tested the reliability of a witness (in this case, the Bible) for many years, to accept the testimony of that witness even on those occasions when his (it’s) testimony can’t be corroberated scientifically.
  2. An evolutionist is in the same situation. Some evolutionists are absolutely sure about evolution, but they can’t guarantee to answer every question that’s raised about it.

Of course, some bits of the Bible are poetry, some are history, some are law, some are prophecy, some are apocalyptic, and so on, and it is reasonable – not to say important – to read any passage of the Bible as being of the literary form that it is. Apocalyptic, for example (such as the Book of Revelation) isn't written literally, and so shouldn’t be read literally – it’s full of symbols, which should be understood to be symbols. But Genesis is history. So we should read it as history.

This is confirmed by the way other parts of scripture regard Genesis. For example, the fourth commandment presupposes that six-day creation was real history:

Exodus 20:9-11
9 Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The historical accuracy of Genesis is the basis for the fourth commandment. Is it possible to accept the fourth commandment without accepting Genesis 1? And is it possible to reject the fourth commandment without rejecting the others?

You don’t have to believe in six-day creation to be a Christian. But it is what the Bible teaches. And I am convinced that it’s true. If you don’t accept six-day creation, you can still accept:

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

But you will have to deal with scriptures that seem to confirm six-day creation and other events in the early chapters of Genesis.

1. The writer to the Hebrews accepted six-day creation:

Hebrews 4:3-4
3 ... his [God’s] work has been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "And on the seventh day God rested from all his work." (“Somewhere” here is Genesis 2:2).

2. Similarly, Paul believed the story of Adam and Eve was literal (Romans 5:12-19, 1 Timothy 2:13-14).

3. Jesus accepted that the story of Noah was literal: Matthew 24:37-39 (also in Luke 17:26-27).

4. So did the writer to the Hebrews:

Hebrews 11:7
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

5. So did Peter (1 Peter 3:18-20, 2 Peter 2:4-9).

2 Peter 2:4-5
4 ... if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; 6 if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men 8 (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) — 9 if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.

This passage, in particular, is nonsense if Genesis is not literal. If Peter is describing something that didn’t actually happen, then he’s wasting his time writing these examples down and using them to prove that the Day of Judgement is coming. Peter is using an argument based on “if this is so”!

6. Paul wrote:

2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

Is that “all except Genesis”?

Why Creationists believe what they believe

Creationists – or creation scientists – have put together a model which is based on accepting the idea that Genesis is true history. This is bad science in the sense that it's not based purely on science. But it's good science in the sense that the creationist model meets the known facts just as well as the evolution model.

I know I’m not really qualified to say that, because I’m not a scientist. But I do say this: As a layman, I find myself more persuaded by the creationist model than by any other.

Questions like “why are there so many fossils all over the world?” and “what happened to the dinosaurs?” are answered by both models – evolutionary and creationist – in different ways.

To clarify, the differences between the creationist model and the evolutionary model are.

  • Many more contemporary scientists are evolutionists than are creationists (but this could be explained by the fact that many more scientists are non-Christians than Christians, and so have no motivation to find a model that is consistent with the Bible)
  • The evolutionary model is pure science (in the sense that it attempts not to take account of any data that hasn't been scientifically derived) but the creationist model takes account of divine revelation as well as scientific research

The creationist model and the evolutionary model have these similarities:

  • Both are supported by competent scientists
  • Both attempt to explain the known facts
  • Both remain theories (in scientific terms) – they have not been proved beyond dispute

In fact, I would suspect that evolution will be disproved first, although it may well be replaced by another “pure science” theory, rather than creationism. It seems to me to be full of holes.

The humourist Scott Adams is much more than a humourist. In his book “The Dilbert Future” he makes this prediction:

Prediction 63 – The theory of evolution will be scientifically debunked in your lifetime.

I’m confident that Adams is not a creationist. He explains his prediction by saying:

My prediction about evolution being debunked is part of a larger prediction. I believe that the next 100 years will bring about new ways of looking at existing things, as opposed to finding new things to look at. It will be about perception and not vision.

And he makes the interesting point:

The most well-documented blunder caused by our vision was the historical belief that the Sun revolved around the Earth. It sure looks that way. Until an alternative theory was suggested, no other possibility was obvious... People thought the Earth was flat because that was the only model that fit the way things looked. People didn’t change their minds until someone took a boat and sailed out for a look.

I don’t agree with everything Adams says, but these examples show that:

  • Science changes in unpredictable ways.
  • It’s naive to assume that today’s scientific model is true – it’s just the best one we’ve got at the moment.

The theory of evolution may be the best pure science model we have for the existence of species today. But it would be arrogant to claim that it’s true, especially in the light of the problems within it, and the history of changes in science.

The current debate – Intelligent Design

The focus of the current debate is not about six-day creation, it’s moved on to what’s become known as Intelligent Design.

You may be aware that, particularly in America but also in Britain, there is a move to encourage schools to teach that it might be true that animals were created by an intelligent designer, not by random selection. This has provoked predictable anger from some scientists, but has been supported by others.

The theory of Intelligent Design doesn’t include the idea that the intelligent Designer is the God of the Bible. It doesn’t say that the world was created in six days. It doesn’t include any reference to the gospel or to Christianity. It just says that, when you examine nature, you find phenomena that couldn't have evolved slowly or randomly, and that this shows that some other being must have been involved in creation.

Supporters of ID will say that some parts of the anatomy – such as the eye – can’t have evolved slowly, because (as I understand it as a non-scientist) there would be no reason for a creature to have an eye that was partially developed, so the selection process wouldn’t have favoured those animals that were developing eyes – until the development was complete, which evolution teaches takes thousands of years.

I agree with this. It may not quite prove that there was an intelligent designer but I think it does prove that evolution is nonsense. There may be an alternative scientific theory (which no-one’s thought of yet) that's neither evolution nor Intelligent Design.

Evolutionists understandably dislike the theory of Intelligent Design, for several reasons:

  1. It would mean that their careers were a waste of time (a very powerful reason)
  2. It is largely supported by Christians. Thus, it smells a bit like religion (and it is – to an extent – motivated by religion). Thus it feels like faith, not science
  3. They worry that Intelligent Design is the thin end of the wedge – and if they accept that it should be taught as an alternative theory, then it will be taught as an equally scientific theory, and then it will be taught as six-day creation
  4. Many scientists (like many members of any other profession) are anti-Christian. Any theory that sounds vaguely Christian scares them

This might be summarised by a quote from an article in the Guardian, dated 28th August 2006:

Advocates of the theory [of Intelligient Design] argue that some features of the universe and nature are so complex that they must have been designed by a higher intelligence. Critics say it is a disguise for creationism.

But whether it’s a disguise for creationism is less important then whether it’s true. When a critic of a theory is reduced to attacking the motivation of its proponents, I always suspect that critic is on shaky ground. It’s an example of “if you can’t disprove the message, then discredit the messenger”.

I would say that, from the basis of my own limited understanding:

  1. Evolution is nonsense
  2. Intelligent Design is true
  3. Intelligent Design does not, of itself, prove six-day creation

My own view

As a non-scientist, I tend to find that I’m persuaded by whichever scientist I listened to last. They can be very persuasive, both in promoting their own ideas and in ridiculing everyone else’s ideas. It’s easy to poke fun at any scientific model that we don’t accept. Evolutionists are very good at mocking creationists and creationists are very good at mocking evolutionists.

I believe, as you probably expect, that Genesis is literally true history – that God did create the world in six days, that Adam and Eve were the first humans, that they did commit the first sin by a human (not the first sin – Satan was first – not even the first sin on Earth – Satan did that by tempting Eve) that there was a flood in which all of humanity except Noah and his family were destroyed...

But I also believe that the scientists are right, so long as they stay within the realm of science and own up to the limitations of their method. That is, as I’ve already said, there is nothing that a scientist can measure that will prove that the Earth was made in six days. Thus, from the point of view of absolutely pure science, it is good science to say that there is no evidence that the Earth was made in six days.

(There is scientific evidence for the flood, but let’s leave that for today)

Since scientific method is to construct a model that fits the known scientific facts (not those given by divine revelation) it’s good science to build a theory of creation that doesn't require a six-day timescale. But we make a fundamental error when we say that pure science – without divine revelation – must be the truth.

God has given us the ability to study both science and the Bible. We can construct a model of the universe that fits the known facts – both Biblical and observable.

A pure scientist would point out that this is not pure science. And he’d be right. But creationism can give us a model that’s more true than what pure science can provide – because it’s more complete, because it takes as input more data than scientists can observe for themselves.

But – here’s the crux of the matter – the average popularisers of science (such as state schools and the BBC) do not make this distinction. There is a difference between (1) what pure science can teach us and (2) the truth.

One scientifically observable fact is that science is not perfect. That’s why we still have scientists – because there are still things that science hasn’t told us, and it’s why this generation's scientists disagree with the last generation’s scientists – because our scientific models are always changing or being replaced (hopefully, but not always, improving). That is, what science tells us is not perfect – if it was, all scientists would be out of a job.

What the scientists are telling us is not THE TRUTH – it’s just the best model of the truth that scientists can give us today. Tomorrow’s science will (in all probability) provide us with a better model.

As an example, for many years, Newton’s laws were accepted as the TRUTH. From the time of Einstein, however, they were proved NOT to be the truth – just a very close approximation to the truth for most things.

Since what the scientists say today is observably not the truth, we should not be teaching it as truth – just as the best available scientific model.

The question, then, is:

When the Bible disagrees with the current scientific model, do we go with the science – because it’s science, or do we go with the Bible – because it’s the infallible word of God?

That is, the answer is a matter of FAITH – either your faith in the Bible (and, I would argue, in the God who inspired it) or your faith in scientists.

Either you trust this generation of scientists more than you trust the God-breathed scriptures (and, incidentally, other generations of scientists) or you trust the scriptures more than the scientists.

Charles Spurgeon said, rather sarcastically, in 1877:

We are invited, brethren, most earnestly to go away from the old-fashioned belief of our forefathers because of the supposed discoveries of science. What is science? The method by which man tries to conceal his ignorance. It should not be so, but so it is. You are not to be dogmatical in theology, my brethren, it is wicked. But for scientific men it is the correct thing. You are never to assert anything very strongly; but scientists may boldly assert what they cannot prove, and may demand a faith far more credulous than any we possess... the march of science... may be traced by exploded fallacies and abandoned theories.

I wouldn’t go quite so far – I believe science is of great value. It’s just not infallible.

For me, it’s significant that the Bible is unchanging – so either it’s always wrong or it’s always right – but science is changing all the time – so if it’s right at any moment in time, then it’s wrong the rest of the time. And the only reason to go on being a scientist is because you think science is wrong now.

Why most of us are confused

Firstly, scientific theory is taught as fact.

But, of course, all scientific theory is precisely that – theory. Much of what was believed and taught by scientists a generation or two ago – or a decade or two ago – is now considered to be ridiculous from our more advanced scientific standpoint. Consider, for example, what you’ve been told about your diet – what foods are good and bad for you.

Secondly, there are scoffers in the world:

2 Peter 3:1-7
1 Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. 2 I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Saviour through your apostles.
3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, "Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

Those who want to poke fun at religion will say:

  • Nothing ever changes;
  • God doesn’t intervene in history;
  • Therefore there will be no second coming;
  • Therefore there will be no day of judgement;
  • Therefore I can do what I want.

They deliberately forget that “by God’s word the heavens existed and the Earth was formed out of water”. That is, they choose not to believe Genesis chapter 1.

We can be browbeaten – or made to feel defensive – about these things. We can almost (or actually) be afraid to say we believe in six-day creation, for fear of being laughed at.

Indeed, there are times when Jesus’s teaching in

Matthew 7:6
Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

seems to apply here. How much good does it do to debate creation with someone who will just laugh at you? Sometimes, an understanding that there’s more to life than scientists can teach might be an important step towards faith, but often doubt about six-day creation is just an excuse not to believe.