On science and faith

I am a fan of science and of scientists. I enjoy learning about science, and I enjoy the things that are accomplished in the world because of science. I admire scientists—especially those scientists who are humble enough to admit that science cannot answer every question or tell us everything we need to know about ourselves and the world around us.

Science can measure the measurable, but science cannot describe the things that are not measurable. No one can bring God into the laboratory for dissection or capture the human spirit in a test tube. Science cannot disprove the existence of a spiritual world, no matter how many people claim that science has done exactly that.

Science can measure the world as it is today. With those measurements, science can project forward or backward to describe the world as it will be in the future or describe the world as it was in the past. The caveat to these predictions and these theories about the past is contained in the words “all things remaining equal.” Science treats what it studies as a closed system; if a power outside the system interacts with the system, scientific projections of the past or the future are likely to be wrong.

I can take a radar gun to the highway and measure the speed of the cars and trucks traveling down the road. Knowing how fast a car is going at this moment does not tell me where that car was an hour ago or where that car will be an hour from now. A scientific projection based on the car’s current location, direction, and speed is more likely to be wrong than to be right, because the car is being operated by a driver.

The light from a galaxy a million light years away reaches the earth tonight. Does that prove that the universe is more than a million years old, or could the God who created that galaxy also create the rays of light that stream from there to here? Radioactive decay of certain atoms gives clear readings about the time that has passed since a living creature died. Can we be sure that radiation in the environment has been consistent through the past, or is it possible that environmental radiation was less in the past, causing living creatures to ingest less radioactive material than has been assumed? It takes a hundred thousand years for a coral reef to reach its current size, based on the measurable growth of coral. Could a different environment in the past have caused reefs to grow faster in earlier times?

My family once had a guided tour of a cave in Missouri. The tour guide told us more than once how long it takes stalactites and stalagmites and columns to form in a cave. The tour route had metal rails to keep tourists on the path. Those rails had stalactites. Another person in the group asked when the rails had been installed. I forget the answer, but by the statistics used by the tour guide, the stalactites on the rails should have been much smaller. “Those statistics are just an average,” the tour guide explained. “There are actually quite a few variables.” There are always quite a few variables.

History is both a social science and a liberal art. Archeology is a branch of history that is particularly scientific. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, archeologists said that they had found much evidence verifying historic accounts in the Bible. Now, many people claim that archeology has disproved much of the history reported in the Bible. It seems as if even the science of archeology depends upon the bias of the researcher for its results. Dating events by looking at the remains of cities and other structures is a challenge, although accepted results are becoming increasingly precise. At the same time, the history of Egypt and southwestern Asia is still dominated by records Greek historians developed about the Egyptian pharaohs and dynasties. These records were found in Egyptian temples by the Greeks, but they are no longer available. Some archeological evidence indicates that the Greek records are flawed. For example, the Greeks treated two late dynasties as successive, but those two dynasties are now known to have co-existed in Upper and Lower Egypt. This information casts doubt upon many of the dates that have been considered reliable in the study of ancient history in that part of the world.

Many religious groups have tried to compromise the Bible and science by adopting a version of the Big Bang theory in which God says “Let there be light” to begin the universe billions of years ago. At the same time, Stephen Hawking has proposed a process that omits the Big Bang from history, saying that universes can come into being instantly as a singularity. Hawking is not a Christian, and he would not approve of the way I use his theory, but I find it conceivable that the universe came into being six to ten thousand years ago as a singularity. God created Adam and Eve as adults (complete with useless navels), not as infants born of non-human creatures. God placed them in a garden with mature plants, not just seeds and soil. No doubt the trees had rings, even though they had not existed six days earlier. God did not create a mature world to trick future scientists; he created a mature world to be home to humanity from the beginning.

Of course I could be wrong. The universe might be twenty billion years old and the Earth 4.5 billion years old. Adam and Eve and the garden might be a parable to teach about goodness and evil. Arguments about science and history distract people from talking about the things that really matter. Sin and evil exist. Sinners cannot rescue themselves from evil. Sinners require a Savior. Jesus Christ entered this world to be the needed Savior. He died and rose again to defeat evil and to claim his people. When we focus on these basic truths, it does not matter what we believe about the age of the universe. J.

 

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