God and the Scientific Mind
“Do not be afraid of being free thinkers. If you think strongly enough you will be forced by science to the belief in God, which is the foundation of all religion. You will find science not antagonistic but helpful to religion.” – Lord Kelvin
Many people have questions about how the truths of the Bible fit in with the truths found by scientific study. Often, these perspectives seem to be at war with each other. People claim only one can be right and the loser is forever doomed to obscurity when it is eventually disproven. Regardless of a person’s theological stance, it is important to realize that science is far from evil and should not be disregarded; in fact, there is no reason scientific discoveries cannot be used to support passages in the Bible. The belief that God’s Word conflicts with science is ridiculous.
Let me start by describing a little of my background. Currently a grad student, I’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a concentration in aerospace (in other words, I’m a rocket scientist) as well as a Master of Science in teaching. I have been a Christian since 2006, when I was just starting to work on my Ph.D. Part of me always believed the teachings of Christ, but I was put off by the representation of Christ in the media – namely, the very vocal critics of science. God rescued me in spite of this, and I came to realize that not all Christians are the science haters they are portrayed to be on television.
Needless to say, my perspective is usually quite different from my brothers and sisters in the faith, most of whom have not had the opportunity to explore science as extensively. While it is understandable that not everyone can be an expert in the field, in How Should we Then Live?, Francis Schaeffer wrote that the early Protestants followed the belief that the Bible was the true Word of God, but God had left other truths to find, both in how He had created the world and how it functioned.
The fact that God has left truths for us to find that are not in the Bible cannot be stressed enough, especially since it’s something most Christians may not consider. It is important to remember because this concept applies to many aspects of the world, such as history. Just because the Bible does not mention that the United States of America would come into being in the year 1776, doesn’t make it untrue. It happened, and in saying so, a person would be considered truthful. Likewise, just because the Bible does not expressly state Newton’s laws of motion, does that make them false? Again, the answer is no. These are all true statements concerning the history and nature of God’s creation.
Why is it, then, that so many Christians think they must either deny science or give up their faith when someone who does not believe in Christ presents a truth outside of the Bible? Most likely it is because they are not taught the fundamental principle of science and discovery: God is truth, and all truth is of God.
In my experience at the University of Maine, I’ve found that many science professors do not believe in God. These professors present the truths found in science – which are frequently subject to change – while simultaneously claiming that God is false. The biggest problem with this is that many students think their professors must be completely right or else they must be completely wrong; there is no middle ground. The fact is that nobody, with the exception of Christ himself, is right about everything, even professors. Except for rare cases, a science professor is not an expert in theology or religious studies, just like an English professor may not know anything about Einstein’s theories.
I’ll say it again – God is all truth. Everything true belongs to His children. Also bear in mind that science probably found less than 10% of what is true in all of God’s creation, since every new discovery leads to even more questions that consequently must be answered.
So let’s discuss evolution. Evolutionary theory may very well be the biggest chasm dividing Christians and scientists today, and it is one that must be bridged. One of the factors creating this division is the opposing argument that evolution is “just a theory,” implying that it’s not proven. This shows ignorance of the vocabulary used in science; the difference between a theory and a law is the nature of what it describes. Laws happen exactly the same way every time, while theories describe the nature of the process. Evolution cannot be a law, because it did not and does not happen the same way every time. If it did, there would be absolutely no difference between us and anything else on this planet – a human would be the same as, say, a blade of grass. Everything on the earth would be of a single species. Now, the “just a theory” argument would be tolerable if it was called the “Hypothesis of Evolution” and people said, “Oh, evolution? That’s only a hypothesis.” That would make sense. However, this is not the case.
What is different about evolution compared to everything else in science? Nothing at all. Evolution is not the final conclusion – it is a step on the way to the final conclusion. Some of it is likely to be true and some of it false, just like Newton’s laws of motion which were used to describe everything until relativistic theory was developed by Einstein.
This brings us to the next question: why has evolution become a problem? The basic situation is that, when Darwin published The Origin of the Species, several prominent Enlightenment thinkers thought it would create a spiritual dilemma, at which point lines were drawn where they should not have been. Christians should have no problem with evolution, yet many do. Their misconception comes from the very first chapter in the Bible, which describes God’s creation of the universe over a span of six days.
The first missing piece is that the Hebrew word “yom” that is translated as “day” in Genesis 1 actually has at least ten different meanings in Hebrew, including a “vague amount of time,” and “forever.”1 Additionally, the apostle Peter later declares that a thousand years are only a day to God, and a day like a thousand years.2 Some Christians tend to literalize specific interpretations of Genesis, often in a way that confuses the purpose or minimizes other purposes. For instance, when we observe God creating the world here, many forget that He is providing us with a model for a working week as well as the story of creation. Simultaneously, it would be just as problematic if someone were to assume that the only message there was that of the basic work week. We cannot take the entire Bible literally – when Paul said Jesus’ second coming will be like a thief in the night,3 he doesn’t mean He will break into your house or that He will definitely come at night – but we also can’t assume it is all oblique spirituality with no direct, literal instructions. After all, when God said “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” 4 He wasn’t kidding around.
With that in mind, the first chapter of Genesis describes the creation of a world that logically fits the order that has been determined by science. On the first day, there was the creation of light and matter (in science, we call it “The Big Bang”). Following that, stars were created, then planets, then oceans, then continents, then plants, then animals, and, finally, man. And here is where God allows us to determine His truth by exploring science – it is very possible that evolution may be the exact way God used to create this world.
According to Genesis chapter 1, there is no plausible reason why evolution could not have been God’s mechanism for developing life, just like Newton’s laws of motion are God’s way of governing movement of objects in relationship to each other. Evolution does not disprove the existence of God, but it does disprove the line drawn between two uncompromising parties engaging in a fight that is not at all justified. Both perspectives must be objective in discovering new truths and discarding falsehoods until it ceases to be an emotionally charged battle of politics.
Due to the difficulty of remaining objective, a person actively seeking to disprove what the Bible states may find problems with the miracles performed by God, Jesus, the Apostles, and the Prophets. The Bible was written under the presupposition that God exists, that He created the heavens and the universe, as well as all the physical laws governing it, and thus something like forcing a drought, parting a sea, or even bringing the dead back to life would not be difficult for Him or those to whom He chooses to bestow power. Therefore, trying to find a strictly scientific explanation for any of these miracles would require even greater leaps of faith than believing in God.
In J.P. Moreland and Mark Matlock’s book, Smart Faith, there is an outline of several things a person must believe in order to conduct science in a laboratory environment. The goal of this outline is to present a way for Christians to argue philosophy with those who choose only to trust in what is scientifically proven. The beliefs held by the supposedly rational people are, surprisingly, philosophical in nature and must be maintained in order to conduct science, regardless of whether or not a person wants to believe them.
The first and most fundamentally important of these is that a scientist must believe that truth exists. If a scientist does not believe this, it is impossible to conduct science. There are two kinds of truth that can be sought in science: absolute and relative, and the difference between the two is vast. Scientists who have sought absolute truths in science include Newton, Pascal, Galileo, and Einstein. Take the works that came about because of Newton. The ancient Greeks created a steam engine thousands of years before they were officially invented, but it served no significant purpose, and the science behind it was never explored. After Newton developed the laws of kinematics and thermodynamics, the science behind steam engines was understood, and they were capable of being used to fuel the industrial revolution. Relative truth is what many scientists are now exclusively exploring, and as a result, the only things being created by these scientists are more inventions, not breakthroughs that change the course of human understanding of the world itself.
The belief that truth exists is a philosophy. It does not have scientific backing, nor can it be proven in a lab, yet it is necessary for lab science to prove anything at all – without it, science could not be conducted. The scientist must believe that it is possible to collect the truth, and that humans are reliable truth collectors. These two beliefs are also critical for Christians seeking to understand science. If you still think that the only things that are true in this world are found in the Bible, you will never be able to conduct science, because you will never believe that what you find is true.
If you are seeking to follow Christ or seeking science (or both), you are searching for truth. Forgetting a fundamental bond exists between these two overlapping groups is part of what has led to the intellectual decline of the Christian community, and the decline in science that can be generalized and applied as breakthroughs. God rewards those who seek Him, and not everyone finds God when they are seeking Him, even in the Bible. All those that seek truth in the world are on a path that will bring them closer to God, so long as they pursue the truth with intellectual honesty. By studying science, Christians will grow closer to their Creator, not farther away from Him. Likewise, if scientists were to accept the existence of an absolute framework of the universe, they would be more likely to find contributions to science that reflect the works of the great scientists in the past.
1Neyman, Greg. “Word Study: Yom.” Answers in Creation, 16 March 2005. www.answersincreation.org/word_study_yom.htm
22 Peter 3:8.
31 Thessalonians 5:2.
4Exodus 20:3, King James Version.