When Science & Faith Collide – Steven Martins

by / January 11, 2016

Originally posted at the Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity website.

Is there a conflict between the sciences and the Christian scriptures? According to the Dover Case in 2005, most people believe so. It’s been referred to as the conflict between science and faith, between reason and religion. In response to growing complaints of textbooks teaching evolution, the administration of the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district passed a resolution. This involved providing an alternative to Darwin’s evolutionary theory, proposing the idea of intelligent design for those interested. The resolution required biology teachers to read the following statement before their ninth-grade classes:

“The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves. With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families.”[1]

In response, two of nine school board members resigned, and all the biology teachers in the district refused to comply, protesting that “intelligent design was religion rather than science.”[2] This also led numerous parents to challenge the decision in court, which would later result in a loss for the Dover school district. In a most telling decision, the judge ruled:

“[that] ID (Intelligent Design) is an interesting theological argument, but that it is not science… To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom…”[3]

Consider that the judge admits, having heard arguments for and against, that Darwinism is an imperfect theory, unable to render explanations on every point. Furthermore, he depicts Intelligent Design as an untestable alternative hypothesis, when the same could be said for Darwinism. Yet despite the inconsistencies, the majority of the scientific community are naturalists who deny biblical creation or intelligent design. Christians are often accused of being anti-science and anti-reason, which is ironic, considering that some of history’s greatest scientific men were professing Christians – men like Galileo, Blaise Pascal, and Nicolas Copernicus to name just a few.

There is no conflict between science and the Bible. The idea of faith conflicting with science is a myth, an invention meant to polarize Christians from the non-believing community.[4] This has led scholars like John H. Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, to propose alternative interpretations of Genesis in an attempt to dispel the myth. In Walton’s case, he writes in his book The Lost World of Genesis One that “[W]e should not expect anything in the Bible or in the rest of the ancient Near East to engage in the discussion of how God’s level of creative activity relates to the ‘natural’ world.”[5] According to Walton, the Hebrews – as a result of their limited knowledge – just didn’t know any better. Their studies of the time fall short when compared to modern-day scientific knowledge, and thus the first chapters of Genesis are rendered something other than a literal account of creation. Instead, Walton argues that the creation account is more concerned with assigning functions to the objects of the material world, while also illustrating a Cosmological Temple.[6]

Walton has effectively undermined the authority and integrity of God’s Word by reducing its relevance and application based on the medium God used to communicate His revelation. The source of revelation is not the human authors of Scripture, who are themselves fallible human beings, but rather God who is infallible, operating through men to write His infallible revelation.[7] To dispel the myth of conflict then in disqualifying the competence of the Mosaic authorship, based on the limited understanding of the times, would be wrong.  This would then place the authority of the Bible’s truthfulness and relevance on the person rather than God, in effect violating the authority of Scripture as God’s word. We can trust the Bible to be true in respect to “the creative activity of God as it relates to the natural world,” because it comes from the One who was, is, and forever will be, the One who is called Faithful and True (Rev. 19:11).

Where then lies the problem? Naturalists, and even other religious people, argue for an earth that is millions or billions of years old, serving as host to the evolutionary process of biological life, and all as a result of the Big Bang. Scores of scientists have published papers and books in support of Darwinism, propagating the theory as fact in academia. It has become so widespread that public education’s science department is now inseparable from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. At the same time, equally respectable and credentialed scientists have published papers and books in support of a literal interpretation of Genesis, rendering a young earth of no more than 7,000 years, faithful to the biblical genealogies of a historical Adam and Eve.

Both sides publish academic articles, both sides use scientific terms, both sides demonstrate scientific evidence, and at the end of the day, both sides are using and doing science. Why then is a creationist marginalized from the scientific community if he publishes an academic paper that suggests a biblical timeline?[8] Clearly it’s not a matter of the evidences, as both naturalists and creation scientists have plenty, but rather the way in which we interpret the evidences, our starting points in thinking and experience.[9]

Prior to consulting the evidence, the naturalist has already dismissed God from his own thinking, and as a result, his interpretations are biased. This axiom, this assumed truth of God’s absence, affects the way the naturalist views the real world. It elevates him to a state in which his own intellect is the absolute authority over all matters, setting himself up in hostility towards the Christian faith because of its implications. The Christian, however, accounting for sin and its effect on the mind, does not rely on his own intellect but rather depends upon Christ and His word.[10] He too is biased. This leads us to the question, which bias is the best bias to have?

We must understand that not all worldviews are true, otherwise reality would only serve as figments of our imagination, malleable according to our whims and desires. Instead, our worldviews must be able to correspond with reality, and the biblical worldview is the only worldview by which we see facts for what they are, it succeeds in making sense of reality. As Dr. Joseph Boot wrote, “We must ask which faith provides an adequate foundation for the sciences. And which faith renders the whole apparatus of science totally absurd.”[11]

Consider the example of soft tissue discovered in fossilized remains. The broad consensus in secular science is that the earth is billions of years old, and that dinosaurs walked the earth millions of years before human beings. But in the year 2000, Mary Schweitzer discovered soft tissue in a femur bone of a juvenile Tyrannosaurus.[12] The National Geographic reported in 2005 that the supposed 70-million-year-old thighbone had soft tissues that looked like “blood vessels, cells, and proteins involved in bone formation.”[13] Jeff Hecht, a secular writer for the New Scientist, commented on the discovery stating that “[the femur] was intact when found, and its hollow interior had not been filled with minerals. That is unusual for a long buried bone.” Why was this unusual? Because according to the uniformitarian timeline, soft tissue cannot survive millions of years. Researcher Mark Armitage made a similar discovery in 2012, discovering “soft tissue with bone cells” inside a Triceratops horn.[14] He published his findings in the peer-review journal Act Histochemica.[15] In a more recent event, in June 2015, scientists examined a set of eight fossil fragments from two dinosaur types, Ornithischia and Saurischia, and discovered soft tissue, likely “red blood cells and collagen fibres.”[16]

Why do these findings relate to our worldview and its ability to correspond with the real world? Because as paleontologist Marcus Ross writes, “no experimental results support long-age survival [of soft tissue], as the last paper by Schweitzer’s team readily admits… yet the discovery really makes sense if the bones were buried only a few thousand years ago during Noah’s flood.”[17] We find this to be an affirmation of biblical history, the biblical event of a global catastrophic flood which left millions of dead creatures scattered all over the earth, buried in rock layers; this is our fossil record. Consider that I used the term “affirmation” rather than “proof” of biblical history, because the ultimate authority is God’s word, not the evidence being put forward. These evidences are nonetheless countered by naturalists, who operate from a different starting point in their thinking and reasoning. In other words, before there is a fact, there is a faith about that fact. What naturalists have done is assert the unobservable as indisputable fact, but man has no way of verifying the ancient past by observational methods.[18] In order to understand our past we must first understand God’s word, for He was present from the very beginning. This is why we must place ourselves in their shoes and demonstrate that their “facts are not really facts” and their “laws are not really laws”, thus demonstrating the inconsistencies of their own worldview.[19] That is when we provide the right starting point, God’s authoritative word, and demonstrate how reality can only make sense from the Christian worldview.

This is not to say that Christians are anti-rational, blindly adhering to an archaic text, but rather that their reasoning is now guided by the word of God. It is a truism to say that the Bible is not a textbook on anatomy, or physics, or chemistry, or mathematics; it was never written with such intentions. Instead, the Bible provides us with guidance for how to understand the whole of reality, it communicates the truth of man’s role in the universe, his moral brokenness, and his need for redemption and renewal in Christ. Science then is not the Christian faith’s enemy, it is subject to the Lordship of Christ, it is a tool used by man to better understand the material world. As a manifestation of culture, it is either used to bring glory to God, or misused in rebellion against Him. In the end, however, science should be subject to God’s word with respect to its findings and its use. As Abraham Kuyper wrote, “No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!”[20] Christ, therefore, being sovereign over all, is Lord of the Sciences.

[1] Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005).

[2] Jerry A. Coyne, Why Evolution is True (Great Clarendon Street, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), xii.

[3] Cited in Jerry A. Coyne, Why Evolution is True, xii-xiii.

[4] Cornelia Dean, ‘Believing Scripture but Playing by Science’s Rules’, Science (The New York Times, February 12, 2007), accessed November 6, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/12/science/12geologist.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

[5] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 18.

[6] Vern S. Poythress, ‘Appearances Matter’, World Magazine(WORLD, August 29, 2009), last modified August 29, 2009, accessed November 6, 2015, http://www.worldmag.com/2009/08/appearances_matter.

[7] Jonathan D. Sarfati, The Genesis Account: A Theological, Historical, and Scientific Commentary on Genesis 1-11 (Powder Springs, Georgia: Creation Book Publishers, 2015), 151.

[8] Fox News, ‘Scientist Claims California University Fired Him over Creationist Beliefs’, Fox News (Fox News, July 30, 2014), accessed October 9, 2015, http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/07/30/scientist-claims-california-university-fired-him-over-creationist-beliefs/.

[9] Greg L. Bahnsen, ed. Robert R. Booth, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (Nacogdoches, TX.: Covenant Media Press, 1996), 67.

[10] Ibid, 17.

[11] Joseph Boot, ‘Frequently Asked Questions with a Christian Worldview’, Context with Lorna Dueck, accessed November 19, 2015, http://www.contextwithlornadueck.com/answers.

[12] Hillary Mayell, ‘T.Rex Soft Tissue Found Preserved’, National Geographic, last modified March 24, 2005, accessed October 9, 2015, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/03/0324_050324_trexsofttissue.html.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Fox News, ‘Scientist Claims California University Fired Him over Creationist Beliefs.’

[15] Mark Hollis Armitage and Kevin Lee Anderson, ‘Soft Sheets of Fibrillar Bone from a Fossil of the Supraorbital Horn of the Dinosaur’, Act Histochemica 115, no. 6 (July 1, 2013): 603-608, accessed October 9, 2015.

[16] Arielle Duhaime-Ross, ‘Soft Tissue Found in 75 Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Bones Is a Big Deal for Paleontology’, The Verge (The Verge, June 9, 2015), last modified June 9, 2015, accessed October 9, 2015, http://www.theverge.com/2015/6/9/8751897/dinosaur-cells-tissue-bones-75-million-years-old.

[17] Marcus Ross, ‘Those Not-so-Dry-Bones’, in Dinosaurs: Is There a Biblical Explanation?, by Answers In Genesis (Hebron, KY.: Answers in Genesis, 2010), 83-85.

[18] ‘Two Kinds of Science?’, Answers In Genesis (Answers in Genesis), accessed November 2, 2015, https://answersingenesis.org/what-is-science/two-kinds-of-science/.

[19] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1955), 118.

[20] Abraham Kuyper, inaugural lecture at the Free University of Amsterdam, October 20, 1880, quoted in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 488.

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Steven Martins is Staff Apologist & Junior Scholar in Residence at the Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity. He holds an undergraduate degree in Human Resource Management from York University, and is working towards a Masters of Arts in Christian Apologetics at Veritas Evangelical Seminary.

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