The End


Let’s continue our walk on the Bible-side of the street. God had a purpose in creating the Universe.

The Universe will not always be as we know it. Indeed, The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI) is a theme explored by both Science and the Bible, but the eschatology of Science is often far removed from the eschatology of the Bible.

The Bible speaks of how God has intervened in History. First, of course, He started the ball rolling (Gen. 1:1), but of more personal importance to us, He has miraculously intervened in the lives of men. Adam, Noah, Jesus. Each of these were at the center of a change in the order of things as God has steered the course of history, and Christians believe that Jesus will again be central in a final miraculous change that Ends The World As We Know It. Continue reading

The Nature of Man


Man is the Only Animal that Blushes.  Or needs to.

—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar [1]

Thus far in this series of posts, we have looked mostly at the ways that the things we learn from nature through Science can inform and reinforce the things we learn from the Bible. Our journey is on a two-way street. Let’s go back the other way for a bit.

Modern Science came into existence during the middle of the last millennium in Christian Europe. Why there? I would argue that it was because Jews and Christians believe in a rational God Who created a rational universe that can be studied and understood. Hindus, as a counterexample, believe that the world is an illusion. Animists believe that nature is in the hands of fickle gods who might change their minds about how thing work. As scientific knowledge progressed and it became possible to make good predictions of the operation of physical systems, some began to feel that we were living a universe that was like a great clockwork—one that God had wound up in the Beginning and we were now watching wind down. Continue reading

Astronomy and Jesus


For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

—Matthew 12:40 (AV)

On what day of the week was the Crucifixion? If it occurred on a Friday and Christ was raised from the dead on the following Sunday morning, then He was in the grave for only one day and two nights. That’s not even a close approximation of the time He predicted.  It’s only half of the time specified.

When I googled “sign of Jonah” recently, the first hit was for an Islamic website that tried to use this traditional time line to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah. Was Jesus a false prophet, or is the traditional chronology of the Passion in error? Given that I believe that Jesus is the second Person of the Godhead and that one of my First Principles is that God does not lie, you should not be surprised that I believe that the traditional chronology is wrong. Moreover, I believe that many of the common assumptions about the dates of Jesus’ life and ministry don’t agree with the Biblical account.

Let’s start with when He was born. Continue reading

Did Noah’s Flood Cover Greenland?


The Greenland Ice Sheet is huge. It covers over 1,700,000 km2 (660,000 sq mi) and averages over 2 km (6600 ft) thick. There’s a tremendous amount of water tied up in the ice. If it were to melt, sea level would rise by over 7 m (23 ft). Ice cores taken in Greenland show annual layers that stretch back for more than 40 ky.

A worldwide flood would have covered Greenland, and in the process it would have left sediments or caused a hiatus in trapped air bubbles or caused a temporary change in salinity or left some sort of evidence. There are no such traces in the Greenland ice. Moreover, a worldwide flood sufficient to cover Mt. Ararat (not to mention Mt. Everest) would have provided sufficient buoyancy to float the ice cap off of the island. If the ice cap were floated off the island some time during the last few thousand years, why does it have over 40,000 annual layers? Indeed, why is it there at all? The climate of the last few thousand years has not been sufficiently cold to allow the Greenland Ice Cap to reform from scratch.

Perhaps Noah’s Flood did not cover Greenland.

Continue reading

Young Earth Creationism


I’m going to cut to the chase. As I pointed out in an earlier post, Young Earth Creationism is a religious doctrine, and it’s handmaiden, so-called “Creation Science,” is pseudoscience.

Science makes predictions based upon its theories. When the predictions are wrong, the theory is scrapped or modified. [1] Creation Science claims to be science. Let’s put it to the test. YEC doctrine states that the earth is certainly no more than 10 ky old and that Noah’s Flood occurred around 5.5 ky ago. It makes the prediction that we will find no living thing on the earth older that the supposed date of the Flood, and no remains of anything that lived more than 10 ky ago. A 4.7 ky old “Methuselah” bristlecone pine in the White Mountains of California is held up as proof of the predictions result from this theory.

First, the age of that pine tree does not prove anything other than that the date of the Flood is earlier than 2700 BC (Now – 4.7 ky).

Second, although the oldest living bristelcone specimen is only 4.7 ky old, there is a continuous tree ring history from older dead trees on the ground around the “Methuselah” tree that goes back 9 ky. [2] This record shows no interruption from a cataclysmic event such as a Flood.

Third, there are even older series of tree ring data that date back over 11 ky from oak and other trees that spread into northern Italy, southern Germany, and the Low Countries at the end of the last ice age. [3]

But finally, there’s the King Clone creosote bush in the Mojave Desert. It’s over 11,000 years old and still alive. [4]

The King Clone Creosote Ring. With the possible exception of some lichen formations in Antarctica, this is the oldest living thing on earth.

Continue reading

The Age of Rocks


Perhaps you remember Spencer Tracy and Frederic March playing this scene in the movie Inherit the Wind. [1] Henry Drummond (the Clarence Darrow character) has called Matthew Harrison Brady (the William Jenning Bryant character) to the stand as an expert witness on the Bible—

Drummond:  It’s sad that we don’t all have your positive knowledge of right and wrong, Mr. Brady.  How old do you think this rock is?

Brady:  I am more interested in the “Rock of Ages” than I am in the age of rocks.

Drummond:  Dr. Paige of Oberlin College tells me this rock is at least 10 million years old.

Brady:  Well, well, Colonel Drummond, you managed to speak here some of that scientific testimony, after all.

Drummond:  Look, Mr. Brady.  These are the fossil remains of a marine prehistoric creature found in this very county, and which lived here millions of years ago when these very mountain ranges were submerged in water.

Brady:  I know.  The Bible gives a fine account of the flood.  But your Professor’s a little mixed up in his dates.  That rock is not more than six thousand years old.

Drummond:  How do ya know?

Brady:  A fine biblical scholar, Bishop Usher, has determined for us the exact date and hour of the Creation.  It occurred in the year 4004 B.C.

Drummond:  Well, that’s Bishop Usher’s opinion.

Brady:  It’s not an opinion.  It’s a literal fact—which the good Bishop arrived at through careful computation of the ages of the prophets, as set down in the Old Testament.  In fact, he determined that the Lord began the Creation on the 23rd of October, 4004 B.C. at, uh, 9:00am. [2]

I can “amen” the thought that we ultimately should be more interested in the Rock of Ages than the age of rocks, but the rocks are out there as part of the creation, and their ages can tell us something about the age of the earth. Just how old are the rocks we find on earth?

Continue reading

On the Origin of Species


There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

—Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 1859, final sentence

No serious biologist doubts the theory of evolution is the best explanation we have thus far for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. [1] Given the genetic relatedness of all known organisms, it is hard to imagine how one would go about understanding biology without the foundation that evolution provides. Oh, one could do what was once called natural history and classify living things in various ways, but one could not engage in modern biology.

Let’s consider a few more things we have learned from genetics and molecular biology in the past decade or so.

When the Human Genome Project started, it was known that there were over three billion base pairs in the human genome. There was a general expectation that around 100,000 genes would be found. It turns out that only about 1.5 percent of the genome is used to code proteins; we have only about 20,000 genes. As Francis Collins, the Director of the Human Genome Project, commented, many researchers

were stunned to discover that God writes such short stories about humankind. That was especially shocking in the context of the fact that the gene counts for other simpler organisms such as worms, flies, and simple plants seems to in about the same range, namely around 20,000. [2]

Continue reading

DNA and Common Descent


Psalm 139 describes man as “wonderfully and fearfully made.”

Every one of us carries the assembly instructions for his own body. The cells in our bodies contain this information stored in each cell’s genetic material. Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA is the molecule that holds these instructions controlling the development and functioning of our bodies. In fact, DNA does this in all known living organisms.

DNA is often compared to a set of blueprints. This is because it contains the information necessary to build the components of our cells, molecules such as proteins and ribonucleic acid (RNA). DNA takes the form of a polymer made up of simpler units called nucleotides which are in turn held together by a backbone of sugars and phosphates. Each sugar is attached to one of four types of molecules called “bases.” [1] The physical structure of the DNA molecule is usually referred to as a “double-helix.” Imagine a long ladder that has been twisted so that the side rails form a pair of spirals tied together by the rungs. In DNA the sugars and phosphates make up the spiral rails, and each rung is made up of a pair of the bases. The sequence of the base pairs along the DNA molecule encodes the information being stored.

Continue reading

Time and Spacetime


There’s a chapter in C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity called “Time and Beyond Time.” In that chapter Lewis discusses God’s timeless (or perhaps it’s better to say time-free) nature.  God exists separate and apart from the universe He created. Time, as we experience it, does not affect Him.

So what is time?

In Science time, along with space, is considered a fundamental, a thing that cannot be defined in terms of something else. The only possible definition is an operational one where time is defined by process of measurement and units of measure. Periodic events are used as time standards. A day is commonly defined as the time from one sunset to the next. A second is officially defined as the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom. [1]

As a part of the fundamental structure of the universe, time is a dimension in which events occur in sequence. Isaac Newton believed that space and time form a container for events and that this container was as real as the events themselves. He believed that absolute time flowed at its own uniform rate. Albert Einstein showed that if space and time are measured using electromagnetic radiation (eg., light bounced between mirrors), then the constant speed of light causes space and time to be bound together as a four-dimensional spacetime.

This is the point where most scientific discussions of time become even more painful than a definition of the second that has to refer to caesium atoms. Indeed, when we passed this point in my undergraduate class on quantum physics, we began to refer to the class as “Science Fiction Physics.” However, try to stick with me for just a bit more. Continue reading

Science and the Bible


Is there a conflict between what we see in the Bible and what we see in Science?  Are those two views diametrically opposed and unreconcilable, or are they two sides of the same coin and complementary?

I’m not a scientist or a theologian.  I’m an engineer.  In practicing my profession, I’m often presented with a problem that is too complex to be solved all at once.  When this happens, my usual approach is to try to break the problem in to smaller chunks and to go after each simpler piece using what I know about the basic laws of Physics.  These first principles include such things as Newton’s Laws of Motion or the Laws of Thermodynamics.  It should not be surprising that I would take a similar approach to my understanding of how what we know of God from the Bible squares with what we know of God from the fingerprints He has left on His handiwork in creation.

What are the first principles that apply to this inquiry?

The very first principle is a belief in the existence of God and an understanding that He tells the truth.  I’ll take that as a given for this work.  If I’ve lost you at this point, let me suggest that you leave this post now and pick up a copy of a book such as C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity instead.

If you’re still with me, the next of these first principles is that, if God is who He says He is, then we ought to pay close attention to what He tells us—both the explicit things He tells us in the Bible and the implicit things we learn from our knowledge of the natural world.

The third of these first principles is that we will ask questions only where we can expect valid answers.  When we want answers concerning the general history of the universe or the laws of its mundane behavior, we will go to Science, but there are things for which Science cannot have an answer.  In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking asks

What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?  The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the question of why there should be a universe for the model to describe.  Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? [1]

Science is about how; religion is about why.  Thus, if we wish to know about God’s governance of the universe or His relationship with man, we will look first to the explicit statements of the Scriptures.

The fourth of these first principles is what I call The Principle of Economy of Miracles.  If there are two possible explanations for an event, one natural and the other supernatural, the preferred explanation is the one that does not require a miracle.  I’m not a deist; I believe that God continues to interact with creation, but I believe that He suspends or overrides the natural laws of His universe only sparingly.  Thus, if His providence causes a set of natural processes to unfold in a particular way, no miracle has occurred.  On the other hand, events such as the Resurrection of Jesus are clearly miraculous.  They happen—rarely.

The last of these first principles was well put by Augustine of Hippo:

In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received.  In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. [2]

While Augustine was writing about the interpretation of Scripture, his remarks apply to our interpretation of Science also.

Science and Theology are both attempts to learn true things, but they usually use very different methods.  The scientific method takes observations of nature, creates a theory that tries to explain the observations, and then uses the theory to make predictions that can be tested.  If a theory’s predictions fail, the theory must be scrapped or modified.  Theology is based on the study of things that have been revealed.  Of course, it is possible to make predictions based on revelation, but religion is generally not testable in the same way as science.  This is not to say that religious predictions are never verifiable.  I believe, for example, that prophecies concerning the Messiah can be shown to be true and fulfilled by Jesus—but proven by reason rather than the scientific method.

So what are the supposed conflicts between Science and the Bible?  The first things to pop into most peoples’ minds are the questions of the origin of the universe and man’s place in it.  Was the earth created in 4004 BC, or is it over 4.5 Gy old? [3]  Was the earth created when the entire universe was only a couple of days old, or is the universe 9.2 Gy older? [4]  Was man created around 6000 years ago, or did our earliest common ancestor live about 100 ky ago? [5]

There are other questions.  Did life evolve on earth over billions of years or were all the species that ever existed created a few thousand years ago?  Did dinosaurs coexist with humans?  Did natural processes carve features such as the Grand Canyon over millions of years, or were such landmarks created in about a year by a single catastrophic Flood about 5500 years ago?

More important, what bearing, if any, do questions such as these have on the spiritual relationship between God and man?

In explaining my views in this series of posts, I’ll have to contrast them with those of others.  While I’ll try to be accurate in describing what others have said, I won’t try to make their cases for them.  These posts aren’t balanced; they’re about my point of view.

In this and subsequent posts we’ll look at several topics.  First, we’ll look at what Science and the Bible have to say of about the origin of space and time.  We will also consider the spectrum of beliefs about the origins of the universe, the Earth, life, and man.  We will consider the nature of time and its relationship to God.  We will examine what our own DNA and the Bible reveal about the origin and nature of man.  We’ll look at what physics, geology, chemistry, biology, and Genesis tell us about how the earth got to be like it is today.  We will look at what astronomy can tell us about the life of Jesus.  Finally, we’ll examine what the Scriptures and philosophy have to say about man and personality and how things might turn out in the end.

In the end I believe that you will come away with a deeper sense of awe of the Almighty.

As Maria told the children, “Let’s start at the very  beginning/A very good place to start …”

“In the beginning God created …”  That’s how the Bible begins its story.  How does Science begin its tale?

Until recently, scientists were divided on whether or not the universe had a beginning.  The idea of an eternal universe that had always been had great appeal to many.  You see, Science deals with the natural order of things.  Having a beginning smacks of having a Creator, and that’s supernatural.  Or if we don’t allow for a Creator, it seems to violate the principle of cause and effect.  So, many scientists were comfortable with Carl Sagan’s statement that “[t]he Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” [6]  The odd thing about Sagan’s remark is that he wrote it many years after the Big Bang hypothesis was proposed, decades after George Gamow had predicted the existence of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation (CMB) that resulted from the Big Bang, and even after Penzias and Wilson had received a Nobel Prize for finding the CMB!

It is now generally accepted science that there was a time (t = 0) before which we can have no natural knowledge.  Not only has the CMB afterglow been found, but my colleagues at Goddard Space Flight Center [7] have used the COBE [8] and WMAP [9] missions to study and map the CMB.  Here’s some of what cosmologists now believe we know about the Big Bang:

The universe resulting from the Big Bang contains all of space and time as we know it.

The Big Bang did not occur at a single-point in space like some sort of explosion.  Rather, what happened is that all of space (the entire universe) appeared all at once, but the universe was more compact in the beginning that it is today.  It has continued to expand over time.

The resulting geometry of space and time is essentially “flat.”  That means that the universe will not begin to collapse on itself and that it is not cyclical.  Based on the data we have seen thus far, it is likely that there is not enough matter in the universe for gravity to stop the expansion.

The first thing that came into existence in space and time was energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation or light.  Initially, this light was in the form of x-rays, but, as the universe expanded and cooled, it became ultraviolet light, then visible light, then infrared light, and finally the CMB.

As the universe cooled, some of the light became matter.

There was a period of darkness during the cooling when the visible light had faded and before any matter had formed into stars about 400 My (400,000,000 years) after the Big Bang.

The Big Bang occurred about 13.7 Gy (13,700,000,000 years) ago.

Image credit: NASA

How do these discoveries compare with what we find in Genesis?  An almost-literal translation of Genesis 1:1 … 5 reads:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth being a desolation and a waste, and darkness being upon the face of the abyss, and God’s Spirit hovering upon the face of the waters—then God said, “Let light be,” and light was.  And God saw that the light was good, and God divided between the light and the darkness.  And God called the light “day,” and He called the darkness “night;” and evening was, and morning was—one day.

Of course, the obvious point of agreement between Science and the Bible is that the universe had a beginning.  Also, both Genesis and the Science tell us that the first thing to come into existence (other than space and time) was light.  And then Science tells us that it got dark until the first stars formed.  Evening was, and morning was.

One day or 400 My?  Here we have what might be a significant difference.  However, before we assume that there is a problem, let’s remember the wisdom cited from Augustine above.  Is there a way of understanding Genesis 1:5 that does not abuse the text and allows us to believe what we see in nature?  Or is the meaning of yom echad (one day) so specific and literal as to force us into believing that Science must be misinterpreting the apparent age of the universe?

This is a very important point for us Christians who wish to convert others.  If we must ask our fellow men to give up their rational beliefs that they have gained through their personal observations of nature, we have a difficult task ahead.  Augustine also noted that

[c]ommonly, even the non-Christian knows about the earth, the heavens, and other elements of this world; about the motion and movements of the stars and even their brightness and relative positions; about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon; about the cycles of the years and the seasons; about the nature of animals, grains, stones, and other things—and he holds this knowledge with certainty from reason and experience.  Now it is disgraceful and pernicious and greatly to be avoided that one should hear a Christian, presumably speaking according to the Scripture, talking nonsense on these things; all should take notice of such error and laugh it to scorn.  The shame is not that the mistaken man is derided, but that some might believe our sacred writers said such things, to the great loss of the salvation to which we call them, while the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as men without learning.  If they hear a Christian embracing error in a thing that they know well, and hear him defend in the same way our Scriptures, how will they believe those books concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of life eternal, and the kingdom of heaven, when they believe they are full of lies about facts they themselves have learned from experience and the light of reason?  Presumptuous and imprudent ones bring extra trouble on their wiser brothers when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are reproved by those not under the authority of our sacred Scripture.  Then to defend their completely foolish and obviously false statements, they will go to the holy Scriptures for proof, bringing forth even from memory many words to bear witness for them, although they neither understand what they say nor the things about which they make assertions. [10]

Augustine lived in the 4th and 5th centuries and believed that the world was then only about 6000 years old.  Today, he would be classed as a Young Earth Creationist, but he held that belief based on the best scientific evidence available 1600 years ago.  Given our improved knowledge of the natural world, it would not be unreasonable to expect him to have changed his mind if he were alive in the 21st century.

For the time being, let me say that I do believe that there is a way to interpret yom echad without abusing the meaning of the text and that is consistent with modern science’s understanding of the age of the universe.  I’ll go into my reasoning in the other posts.  For now, let’s stick with the points of obvious agreement.

Genesis 1 is not the only part of the Bible that the science of cosmology tends to support.  The “flatness” of the universe that we see in the astrophysical data from WMAP means that the current expansion will go on until the universe is acted on by an outside force, and throughout Scripture we are taught that life will continue until God intervenes at the end He has chosen.  The Qur’an, on the other hand, teaches an oscillating universe (21:104).  Hinduism views the current universe as just a day and a night of Brahma with an infinite cycle of universes, each with its own gods.

The generations of scientists who lived by faith in the power of reason toiled year after year to learn the mystery of creation.  They traveled a long, long journey, and, as they turned the last corner, they found the theologians who had been sitting at the end of the road for centuries. [11]

Yet, the Bible is not a book about cosmology per se.  There’s no such thing as Biblical cosmology, but the Bible does give glimpses of the ancient world’s understanding of astronomy.  Through the years, various groups of Christians have ignored Augustine’s advice and tried develop cosmologies that fit particular understandings of Scripture rather than considering all the truthful things that God has told us.  Young Earth Creationist try to alter scientific thought to be compatible with a literal six days of creation.  Geocentrists believe that the Inquisition was right and Galileo was wrong about the sun being the center of the solar system.  Intelligent Design advocates try to alter scientific understanding in support of explaining certain features of the universe and living things as being the result of special creation rather than natural processes.  Theistic Evolutionists look at the Bible and nature, take both at face value,  and say, “God did it, and He appears to have done it this way.”

And some scientists are still upset to have found the theologians at the end of the road.  These scientists remain Atheistic Evolutionists.

There’s more about that in my post on the Spectrum of Belief.

NOTES

[1]  Hawking, Stephen, A Brief History of Time, Bantam Books, New York, 1988, p. 174.

[2]  Augustine of Hippo, De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim, Book I, chap. XLI.

[3]  That’s 4.5 gigayears, which is engineer-speak for 4-and-a-half-billion years.

[4]  That’s gigayears again.  9.2 billion years.

[5]  100 ky is 100 kiloyears, a hundred thousand years.  Look, I’m an engineer, and I write like one.  There’s going to be a lot of technical stuff in these posts, but I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible, using explanatory notes where necessary.

[6]  Sagan, Carl, Cosmos, Random House, New York, 1980, p. 4.

[7]  Since 2000, I’ve worked as an engineering contractor at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center designing instruments and power systems for satellites.  I am a contractor and not an employee of NASA.  All opinions expressed herein are mine and not those of any other person or organization.

[8]  COBE was the Cosmic Background Explorer.  It was launched in 1989.  In 1992 the COBE team announced that they had found the anisotropy (lumpiness) in the CMB that explains how the universe cooled in such a way as to form galaxies and stars and people who could notice the lumpiness of the universe.  John Mather (of NASA) and George Smoot (of UC Berkeley) received the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics for their work with COBE.

[9]  WMAP is the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe.  It was launched in 2001 and was in service through 2010.  It was COBE’s successor.

[10]  Augustine of Hippo, op. cit., Book I, chap. XIX.

[11]  Robert Jastrow’s God and the Astronomer makes a similar comparison that has the scientists scaling a mountain only to find the theologians waiting at the top.

A Spectrum of Belief


The following is adapted from a chapter in a book I’m writing called Science and the Bible:

There’s a wide range of beliefs concerning cosmology, evolution, and the nature of man. The figure below graphically illustrates this range. At one extreme (the blue end) we have people who believe only what they can see in nature. They have no use for the Bible or the God who gave it. At the other extreme we have people who believe so strongly in their own interpretations of Scripture that no natural evidence can shake their beliefs. Let’s work our way through this chart starting with the red end.

Yes, there really are folks who believe that the Earth is flat. The Flat Earthers can cite chapter and verse for their belief. They follow the reasoning espoused by John of Chrysostom that the earth floats on the waters gathered under the firmament. I don’t think I should say much more about the Flat Earthers. [1]

The Geocentrists allow that there is physical evidence for the earth being spherical. They don’t think that a ship’s disappearing over the horizon is merely a trick of perspective. They acknowledge that Isaiah 40:22 could refer to a round earth [2], but they have other verses that prove that the sun goes around the earth. [3] Needless to say, the Geocentrists reject all of the science concerning the Big Bang and the origin of the universe. Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein are all seen either as bumblers who could not understand what was before their eyes or as part of a Satanic conspiracy to delude the faithful. This is probably a good point to look at an example of how to apply Augustine’s principle of being ready to change our minds when new evidence appears. Let’s do a thought experiment.

Suppose we read Psalm 93 and find that it says that the world was established and cannot be moved [4], and suppose we see the sun and moon moving across the sky. We might conclude that the earth is the center of the universe and that the sun and moon are in orbits around the earth. During our sky gazing one night, we see a bright object that moves across the sky in a few minutes and then reappears on a similar track about an hour-and-a-half later. We investigate this and find that it is the International Space Station in orbit about 330 km above the earth.

How does this fit with what we think we know? The orbital period of an object 330 km above the earth is about 90 minutes. The orbital period of the moon (385,000 km away) is about 29.5 days. The orbital period of the sun (150,000,000 km distant) is 24 hours. There’s an inconsistency here. If, as we might suppose from the sun and moon data, orbital period deceases as the distance from the earth increases, then the Space Station’s orbit should take several months rather than less than 2 hours. We can either say that we have a problem with our understanding of the universe, or that the Space Station is some sort of fraud, or that we are misinterpreting Psalm 93. If we allow Psalm 93 to be non-literal poetry, admit that the International Space Station is really there, and apply the scientific method to our data, most of us will wind up accepting Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion, Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, and a heliocentric view of the solar system.

As do the Young Earth Creationists. Young Earth Creationism (YEC) is a religious doctrine that holds that God created the universe, the earth, and all living things in six literal 24 hour days—and that He did it only a few thousand years ago. Because of this view, YEC rejects much of the findings of modern science in astronomy, cosmology, paysics, chemistry, geology, molecular biology, genomics, linguistics, archeology, and anthropology. Many YEC adherents are active in “Creation Science” which seeks to find real-world empirical evidence for their beliefs. However, “creation science” is really pseudoscience. While it claims to employ the scientific method, it does not adhere to the scientific method’s requirements for testability and falsifiability. YEC will be covered in more detail in another post.

As we move farther away from a My-Interpretation-of-Scripture-Only view toward a balanced approach that begins to consider the evidence in nature as trustworthy, we find the various Old Earth Creationists. The first type we’ll consider are the Gap Creationists who hold the view that life as we know it was recently created on a pre-existing old earth. This view rests on translating Genesis 1:1, 2 as “In the beginning when the earth became formless and void …” [5] The idea is that the earth existed for a long time and passed into a decayed state, but that God chose to freshen things up a bit. This can be compatible with a main-stream scientific view of the age of the earth, but in all other respects it follows the YEC six literal days. Gap Creationism is a relatively recent development that was popularized in the Schofield Reference Bible in the early 20th century.

A more common form of Old Earth Creationism is the Day-Age variety. Its advocates hold that the Hebrew word “yom” does not always mean “day” in the sense of a 24 hour period. If the days of creation are allowed to be as long as God wants them to be, then the age of the earth could be quite old. It should be noted that the general order of creation described in Genesis does track with what we think we know from Science—if we assume that Genesis was written from the point of view of someone on the earth beginning on the Third Day. First, the universe comes into being and light is created. On the Second Day, the firmament of heaven or matter comes into existence. On the Third Day, the surface of the earth comes into being, and life begins with the first plants. On the Fourth Day, the atmosphere becomes clear enough for the sun and the moon to be visible. On the Fifth Day, fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds appear. On the Sixth Day, mammals arrive. As a general rule, most Day-Age Creationists reject natural evolution and believe that all of God’s critters were specially created one species (or one “kind”) at a time.

The Progressive Creationists might be viewed as the liberal wing of the Day-Age camp. Progressive Creationism believes that God allows certain natural processes (such as natural selection) to affect the development of life, but that He has also directly intervened from time to time. God is viewed as doing this to guide the processes or, in some cases, to create new species altogether.

Intelligent Design (ID) is a recent repackaging of the Teleological Argument [6] for the existence of God. Its proponents claim that ID is a scientific theory that is at least the equal of (if not superior to) the current theories of evolution and the origins of life. However, ID has never had any scientific evidence published in peer-reviewed journals to support it. Science uses the scientific method to find a posteriori evidence derived from observations of nature. ID seeks to replace the methodological naturalism of Science with “theistic realism.” ID, like Creation Science, is pseudoscience, and, like YEC, it will have its own post later.

As you can see from the figure, I am a Theistic Evolutionist. Although we Theistic Evolutionists all believe that God created the universe and that the best evidence shows that He used cosmological and biological evolution along the way, we come in several versions. Some of us are Deists who believe that the God created the universe and then left it pretty much on its own. I’m not one of those. Some of us believe that the Genesis account is allegorical. I’m not one of those either. I believe that the both the Genesis account and the evidence we see in nature are true, but that neither gives an exhaustive picture of the history of creation. Can I resolve all of the ambiguities? No, I’m not that smart, but I am convinced of God’s existence and His truthfulness. Furthermore, it seems to me that none of the difficult questions are show-stoppers for my belief in God or my reliance on Christ. I just try to give full faith and credit to everything God has said—in the Bible and in nature.

Methodological Materialist Evolutionists attempt to strictly follow the scientific method in their consideration of the origins of the universe and life. Just as Luther’s approach to religion was sola scriptura (“just the scriptures”), Methodological Materialist Evolutionists take a Joe Friday, “just the facts, Ma’am” approach to the study of origins. Data and the scientific method settle all questions. Religious belief is not objected to in any way; it is just considered non-germane to the question. Stephen J. Gould proposed the idea of Non-Overlapping Magisteria or NOMA. He defined a magisterium as as a domain of knowledge where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse or resolution. In Gould’s scheme the magisterium of Science covers empirical knowledge—what the universe is made of (facts) and how it works (theory)—and the magisterium of religion deals with questions of ultimate meaning and values. Gould asserted that these two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they cover all of human knowledge. There is, for example, a magisterium of art. While Gould described himself as an agnostic, there are many deeply religious scientists who hold this view. [7]

Some scientists are very critical of the very idea of NOMA. In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins argues that the proposition that a supernatural being designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us, is a scientific theory that is testable. He also asserts that it has been tested and found to be false. Dawkins is an Atheistic Evolutionist. [8]

Let’s do another thought experiment, an expanded version of one proposed by Francis Schaeffer in The God Who is There. Suppose you were looking through the attic one day and found an old diary in a storage box. When you opened it, you found that it had been mutilated by having large pieces of each page torn out. Some time later, while going through another box in the attic, you found an envelope that contained photocopies of the the first twenty or so pages of the diary before it was ruined. Then, while going through an old trunk in the attic you found a shoe box with all of the missing pieces of the pages from page 10 to the end. You could use your powers of reason to match the newly-found pieces to their respective pages, to verify the photocopies of some of the pages were accurate by comparing them to the reconstructed pages they were copied from, and to have reasonable confidence in the other photocopies. You would also be able to read the whole diary and discover what the writer had to say.

This is analogous to our situation. When we look at the universe and man in the fallen state, it’s like looking at the ruined diary. We don’t see an accurate picture of what God has said to us about Himself and His relationship to creation and to man. The Bible is like the photocopies, an intact replica of what God explicitly said. The physical universe is like the shoe box full of page scraps. It contains bits of the actual handiwork of the Author. If we ignore either, we prevent ourselves from looking at some of the things God has given us to know.

It’s my opinion that the groups on either end of the spectrum have blinkered vision. On the one side, we have a curious disregard for basic facts of the physical world because they contradict a view of the Bible that is not demanded by the text of the Scriptures. On the other extreme, we have an opposition to the idea of God that forces one to view all of nature mechanistically. Man becomes a machine, and there is no basis for personality.

As we move to the center, we come closer to a true appreciation of reality. As we move from red to green, we put more stock in the evidence in the natural world. As we move from blue to green, we move away from compartmentalizing science and religion as separate entities and begin to treat knowledge as a unified whole.

There is a spot at the middle of the spectrum that admits God’s truthfulness in all things and His sovereignty over all things. He is the Lord of all, and His truth covers all. That’s where we should be. It’s where I hope I am.

NOTES

[1] You’ll notice that I put them close to the edge of the spectrum, but not so perilously close that they might fall off.

[2] In the King James Bible this verse reads, “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth …”

[3] For example, Genesis 15:12 (“Now when the sun was going down …” [NASB]) is seen as proving that the sun moves while the Earth stands still.

[4] In the King James Bible Psalm 93:1 reads, “… the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.”

[5] In order to make this work, one must render the Hebrew verb usually translated as “was” as “became.”

[6] The Teleological Argument goes like this: X is too complex (or orderly or beautiful or whatever) to have occurred randomly. Therefore, X must have been created by a sentient (or wise or powerful or whatever) being. God is that sentient (or wise or powerful or whatever) being. Therefore, God exists. Q. E. D.

[7] Since I created the figure, Stephen Hawking has clarified his beliefs.  I should probably place his name among the atheists.

[8] Dawkins is an outspoken secular humanist and defender of atheistic evolution. If Thomas Huxley was “Darwin’s Bulldog,” Richard Dawkins is “Darwin’s Rottweiler.”