Saturday, June 30, 2012


A Possible Solution

    In our last blog post we discussed several different ways that have been proposed to reconcile the Genesis account with the apparent old age of the earth, including the Day-Age Theory and the Literary Framework interpretation, and found them wanting. As we suggested, however, there is another possibility.
    Upon closer examination of the text there is one point of ambiguity. Verse 1 states, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (NKJV). This evidently describes the initial act of creation. Then follows, in verse 2, three clauses that describe the condition of the earth after the initial creation: "The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." (A more literal rendering of the first clause would be "And the earth was waste and emptiness.") There is no indication in the text as to how long this condition prevailed. In other words, for an unspecified length of time, conceivably for untold ages, the earth was a dark, cold, barren rock drifting through space. The first of the six days of creation is not described until verse 3. Perceptive readers will recognize this as a variation of the "Gap Theory."
    This would account for the problem of radiometric dating. The bare rocks might very well be billions of years old. The fossils, on the other hand, may be, and probably are, fairly recent (For the most part radiometric dating does not affect fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks.)
    This still leaves the problem of the stars. According to verses 14-19, the sun, moon and stars were not created until the 4th day of creation. Interestingly, light was created on the 1st day. There are several possible solutions to this problem. First of all, light could have been created in transit. God created light first. He could have then concentrated the light into beams flowing from heavenly bodies. Secondly, the stars could have actually been created earlier, with the light timed to arrive on the 4th day. Finally, since most of the stars that are visible to the naked eye are anywhere from 4.3 to 800 light years away, they could have been created on the 4th day and simply did not become visible until several centuries later.
    It must be remembered that the Bible generally describes nature from the standpoint of the ordinary observer standing on the ground, without the aid of modern scientific instruments. It should also be borne in mind that Genesis 1 describes the bare facts of creation, on successive days, but not the process of creation. The technical details are unimportant for the purpose of the text, which undoubtedly is to make a theological point.
    Scripture is always the final authority, since it is nothing less that the Word of God Himself. But God has left us to use our own reason when it come to the investigation of nature. Ultimately there is no contradiction nature and Scripture: the same God is the Author of them both. But we must be care how we undertake science, and we must be sure that we understand Scripture aright.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Evidence of an old earth
    In our last blog post we noted the discrepancy between the Genesis account of creation and the usual interpretation of the geological column, and suggested that the geological explanation may be faulty and that scientists are misreading the fossil record. But what about other evidences of an old earth? How do they square with Scripture?
    There is compelling evidence that the earth itself and the universe as a whole are considerably older than a few thousand years. Radiometric dating of rocks, based on the half-life of radioactive elements, indicates that the earth is billions of years old. Other evidence for the age of the universe is based on astronomical observations. We know from the speed of light that it would take light a certain amount of time to travel from a distant star to us. We can also gauge how long stars have been burning, and can tell by the Doppler effect that the universe is expanding, Based on all of these factors Dr. Hugh Ross, an astronomer and a Christian, estimates that the universe is approximately 17 billion years old (Creation and Time, Navpress, 1994, p. 95).
    But does that conclusion contradict Scripture? What does the Bible actually say about the age of the earth?
    Most young-earth creationists would acknowledge that there are gaps in the biblical genealogies upon which Archbishop Ussher based his calculations. But even making allowances for that, it is hard to conclude from the Biblical data that Adam was created more than tens of thousands of years ago. Dr. Ross tries to escape from the problem by relying on the
"Day-Age" Theory, in which the six days of creation mentioned in Genesis 1 are not taken as literal 24 hour days, but rather as very long periods of time. Another approach that has been suggested in recent years is the "Literary Framework" interpretation, which argues that it was not the intention of the author of Genesis to provide a literal description of the creation process. Rather, the author's intention was to make certain theological points. Genesis 1 is apologetics, not science.

    We think, however, that there are serious objections to both the Day-Age Theory and the Literary Framework interpretation. For one thing, the word "day" is defined in the text itself: "So the evening and the morning were the first day" (v. 5; NKJV), suggesting a normal solar day. This impression is reinforced later on in the passage when the sun and the moon were created, "the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night" (v. 16). They are "to divide the day from the night" (v. 14). Here the normal rhythm of day and night is definitely in view. It is hard to see how an ancient Israelite could have been expected to take the language of the text any other way, and indeed, until the advent of modern science, virtually no one did take it any other way.
    Moreover, the days are numbered in sequential order. On each day it is asserted that God did something. Furthermore, an explicit connection is made between the seventh day and the weekly Sabbath observed by the Jews: "Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made" (2:3). Thus neither the Day-Age Theory nor the Literary Framework interpretation are construing the text very honestly, and hence are not likely to help us resolve the issue of a universe that has all the appearance of being very old.
    There is, however, another possibility. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Age of the Earth - I

The Fossil Record
Archbishop Ussher once famously calculated that the world was created on October 3, 4004 B.C. Most modern geologists believe that multicellular life appeared on earth some 550 million years ago. Obviously, both cannot be right. At least one is seriously in error. But which one is it?
    For the Christian, the implications of the question can be profoundly disturbing. If science is right, then Scripture might be in error. We would be left with a book written by fallible human beings, sincere, perhaps, but limited by their culture and environment. Our faith would have little left on which to stand.
    When faced with an apparent contradiction between science and Scripture, we must reexamine our understanding of each. Are we interpreting Scripture correctly? Have we interpreted the scientific evidence correctly? God is infallible, but we are not. When a problem like this arises, the fault most likely lies with us, not with God. We need the humility to acknowledge our own limitations.
    So, then, does the Bible really teach that the world was created in 4004 B.C.? Can science really prove that life on earth is hundreds of millions of years old?
    Scientists like to think that their conclusions are beyond question, at least as far as the theory of evolution is concerned. And yet so much of Darwinism is based on circumstantial evidence and circular reasoning that no Christian should automatically think that everything that a scientist says is necessarily true. The dating of the fossil record, in particular, is very much open to question. The 550 million years old figure was arrived at by calculating the rate of sedimentation and then deducing from that the length of time it must have taken for the various strata of sedimentary rock to have been laid down. But this calculation is based on an assumption, and the assumption is almost certainly false. The assumption is that sedimentation has always occurred at a uniform rate. Ironically, the problem with that assumption is the fossils themselves. In order for fossils to have been formed, the organisms had to have been buried quickly, in water, as in a massive flood. The very existence of the fossils points to a geological catastrophe, and the earth, in fact, is full of evidence of violent upheaval. In order to create fossils, each layer of sedimentary rock had to have been laid down in days and weeks, not hundreds of millions of years. In light of the evidence, traditional dating of the fossil record collapses.
    But what about the age of the earth itself? We shall come to that in our next blog post.



Friday, June 22, 2012

Science and Scripture

    As we saw in our last blog post, Galileo thought that in the natural sciences it was a mistake to begin with passages of Scripture. Science, he said, must proceed by "sensible experiments and necessary demonstrations." And for the most part we would certainly agree. The strength and beauty of science is its ability to get at the objective facts, and it is able to do so precisely because it uses a careful methodology based on observation and experiment. The results are indeed spectacular and have benefitted us all.

    But does that mean that the Scriptures have nothing at all to say to science? Most scientists, and certainly Tildeb commenting on this blog, would emphatically say "yes"! But we need to be careful here for several reasons.

    First of all, divine revelation forms the philosophical basis for science. It tells the scientist that there is a real, external world to study. Moreover, revelation tells the scientist that there is a rational order to the universe – nature follows certain patterns and laws, and it does so precisely because it was created by an intelligent Supreme Being. Science, of course, is able to discover these laws of nature on its own – the ancient Greeks, in fact, did so, without the aid of revelation. Bur revelation provides the underlying rationale, the reason why. Greek philosophers struggled with the problem of the one and the many, but never successfully resolved it, and the reason is that there is no solution apart from a personal, infinite God.

    Moreover, Scripture provides the ethical mandate for science and technology. Man was created in God's image, he is not just an animal, and was told to "subdue" the earth (Gen. 1:26,28). We are to engage in the responsible development of the earth's resources. Technology is not necessarily bad – it can be beneficial if used properly.

    But Tildeb says "religious consideration directly impedes good science." But what is "good science"? It may be helpful here to make a distinction between practical or experimental science on the one hand and theoretical science on the other. Experimental science uses the scientific method of observation and experiment to uncover the facts of nature, and the results are clearly beneficial. But cosmology is another matter altogether. Here we are in the realm of theoretical science, which is far more speculative.

    Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the theory of evolution. It purports to tell us what happened hundreds of millions of years ago. But there were no human observers hundreds of millions of years ago. Evolution, if it ever really happened at all, has never been directly observed. All that the evolutionist has to go by is the physical evidence, and the physical evidence is susceptible to more than one interpretation. Absent a means of testing the hypothesis, the hypothesis remains incapable of proof. The evolutionist is essentially engaging in philosophical speculation under the guise of "science." In some cases the perceived clash between science and Scripture is the result of faulty science.

    Some scientists have asserted that an appeal to a supernatural first cause is a "science-stopper." Revelation, it is claimed, would provide an absolute explanation for reality, and that, in turn, would bring scientific investigation to an end. "Hogwash!" we say. Scripture does provide us with an ultimate explanation of reality, but that hardly stands in the way science investigating the particulars. That is, unless the only aim of science is to provide an ultimate explanation of reality! But by settling the issue of the ultimate origin and purpose of reality, Scripture leaves science perfectly free to investigate the particulars. God is omniscient, and as the scientist investigates the creation he is confronted with a reality vastly more complicated than his feeble mind can grasp. A thousand scientists can devote their entire careers to the study of nature, and will never exhaust what there is to discover.

    Galileo was right – up to a point. Since God is the Author of both Scripture and nature, both are forms of revelation. When both are interpreted correctly, they do not conflict with each other. It is quite proper for the scientist to use the inductive method to study nature. But in the end Scripture, being an explicit verbal revelation from God Himself, must control our interpretation of all of reality. Science itself will collapse without it. (If you don't believe me, Tildeb, just ask your Post-Modernist colleagues in the Liberal Arts departments. They are atheists, too, you know.)

    If science would confine itself to the observable facts of nature there would be no conflict between science and Christianity.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Galileo’s Ordeal

    June 22, 1633 was not a day from which the western world will recover soon. For on that fateful day the famous scientist, Galileo Galilei, was forced by the Inquisition to recant. We have been living with the aftermath ever since.
    What was Galileo's great offence? He had advocated the view of Nicolaus Copernicus that the earth revolves around the sun. This, of course, means that the earth moves. The problem is that several passages of Scripture, when taken literally, seem to say something quite different. The earth stands still (Ps. 93:1; 96:10; 104:5) and the sun moves across the sky (Ps. 19:4-6; cf. Josh 10:13). There was an apparent clash between science and Scripture.
    The problem has vexed the western mind ever since. Does Scripture really contradict science? And if so, which is to be believed? Galileo's own view of the matter was stated in a letter he had written in 1615 "Methinks that in the discussion of natural problems, we ought not to begin at the authority of places of Scripture,  but at sensible experiments and necessary demonstrations . . ." God does not "less admirably discover himself to us in Nature's actions, than in the Scripture's sacred dictions." (Concerning the Use of Biblical Quotations in Science).  What Galileo did, in effect, was to assert the autonomy of human reason in the study of the natural sciences, although he was, in fact, following Thomas Aquinas' distinction between nature and grace.
    But is there a real clash between science and Scripture? Much of it depends on how one interprets Scripture. It must be borne in mind that when the Bible describes natural phenomena, it usually does so in terms of the common sense perception of the ordinary observer on the ground. As a general rule it is the aim of Scripture to make a statement about our relationship with God, and not to give a detailed technical explanation of how nature works. Thus a bit of hermeneutical sensitivity could have spared Galileo his ordeal. We perceive the earth to stand still and the sun to move across the sky, and for the purposes of Scripture that is perfectly adequate. The Bibl is indeed infallible – in all that it asserts. But is it really asserting that the earth is the center of the universe? The concern of Scripture is to demonstrate that God is the Creator of the universe, and that His wisdom and power are displayed in all that He has made.
    The Bible does purport, however, to teach real history. From the opening words of Genesis ("In the beginning . . .") to the closing verses of Revelation ("Truly I am coming quickly . . ." – Rev. 22:20), the biblical narrative is an account of what God has done in history. The history of redemption moves in a chronological sequence from creation to fall to incarnation to crucifixion to resurrection and finally to the Second Coming. All of these events occur in real history, in space and time. The Bible is not mythology. Real history is an essential part of Christian theism.
    The Christian is not obliged to ignore the proven facts of science. Galileo is right. If God is the author of nature, there can be no real conflict between science and Scripture. We must be careful, however, to interpret both aright. The error is with our interpretation, not with the facts of either nature or Scripture.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God? - III

Personal Factors
    In our last two blog posts we considered several evidences that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. There is an additional factor, however, that must be taken into consideration. The Westminster Confession of Faith mentions several characteristics of the Bible "whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God," but then adds this qualification: "Yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts" (W.C.F. I.v.). For some people, the content of the Bible is actually an argument against its being divinely inspired. To them the message of sin and salvation is obscene – it condemns men as guilty sinners and requires them to believe on Christ in order to escape eternal punishment. That, they say, is too demeaning to be acceptable!
    What it comes down to in the end is a matter of perception. The average person does not like to see himself as being a sinner and in need of salvation. Thus to him the Bible's whole theology of sin and redemption looks unreal, if not patently offensive. But to the individual whose eyes have been opened to see his condition as God sees it, and is troubled by what he sees, the Bible speaks with a stark realism like no other book can. He knows that he has heard the voice of God speaking through its pages. His conscience tells him that what the Bible says is true, and so does the Holy Spirit when the individuals is in the throes of a conversion experience.
    We might add one other observation as well. Once a person becomes a committed Christian he is likely to find that the Bible is a sure and reliable guide through life's perplexities. He passes through "many dangers, toils and snares," to quote John Newton's famous hymn. He is surrounded by friends and acquaintances who have made shipwreck of their lives. But the believer, if he relies on Scripture as his guide through life, spares himself many sorrows and finds peace and rest at last. This, too, is a testimony to the Bible's divine authorship.
    An atheist, of course, can deny practically anything if he is really determined to do so. But on this issue the atheist has to deny too much. On his scheme of things none of the writers of the Bible knew what they were talking about, and half of them wrote under fictitious names. None of the miracles in the Bible ever took place. Jesus was flat out lying about His identity. The several dozen witnesses to His resurrection were all hallucinating. The apostles got it all wrong, and the entire Christian Church was taken in by the scam! At some point, however, it takes more faith to deny than to believe!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God? - II

The Unique Content of the Bible

    But then what about the content of the Bible's message? Does it look as though it might have been divinely inspired? When seen in the context of ancient history one of the most striking features of the Bible is its monotheism. Israel alone among the peoples of the ancient world held to the idea that there is only one God and that He is the sole Creator of the universe. Granted, there was one Egyptian pharaoh, Akh-en-Aton, who took a step in the direction of monotheism in the 14th Century B.C., but he may very well have been influenced by Moses and the events of the Exodus (the Amarna Letters, written at about the same time, describe the invasion of Palestine by the "Habiru," who may very well have been the Hebrews of the Old Testament). In any event, the reforms of Akh-en-Aton did not last long, and Egypt quickly reverted back to its older polytheism. To us the idea of monotheism seems fairly obvious, but in the ancient world only the Israelites held to the idea. Why?
    Another aspect of Israel's religion that made it stand out from the rest was its lofty ethical standards. The pagan gods worshipped by the surrounding nations were hardly better than their morally debilitated devotees, and pagan worship often involved licentious practices such as temple prostitution. But the Bible holds the human race accountable to a strict standard of morality, sternly condemning every form of dishonesty and exploitation, calling men and women to the strictest standards of fidelity in their relationships to each other.
    By the same token the Bible paints a dismal picture of the human condition. Originally created in God's image, we have fallen far short of His standards. The Bible records a long and depressing history of human failure and perfidy. Even the heroes of the Bible – Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Solomon – are deeply flawed characters who disappoint in the end.
    The question is, how could Israel have arrived at such an unusual religion, and how could such an unusual book have been written? How could a book with a purely human authorship paint such an unflattering portrait of the human race? What possible motive could its authors have possibly had? Again, the answer that the authors themselves gave is that they were telling the story from God's perspective, and they told it from His perspective precisely because they had gotten the message from God Himself.
    Then there is the phenomenon of fulfilled prophecy. This, of course, is controversial. Liberal critics will routinely date individual books of the Bible after the events they predict. But one class of prophecies is not so easy to dismiss, and these are the prophecies in the Old Testament about Christ Himself. New Testament writers could quote numerous passages from the Old that told of a Messiah that would come from the line of David who would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem, minister in northern Palestine, and suffer and die for the sins of the people. All that the modern skeptic has to do is to listen to a performance of Handel's Messiah and hear all these texts set to music!
    The Bible, then, contains an extraordinary message that is not the typical product of the human imagination. In short, the Bible bears the unmistakable imprint of the Divine.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God? - I

The Credibility of Its Authors
 The Bible is no ordinary book.  It claims to be nothing less than the inspired Word of God.  "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God . . ." (II Tim. 3:16; NKJV).  ". . . holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (II Pet. 1:21).

But, it will be objected, other religions make similar claims for their sacred texts as well.  How do we know that the Bible's claims for itself are true and that the others are false?

First of all, it should be noted that the Bible itself acknowledges that there have been and continue to be competing voices.  Right from the very beginning there were false prophets and false teachers, all saying different things.  In this cacophony of conflicting claims, how can we tell who is telling the truth?

At the time that the biblical prophecies were originally received there were a variety of ways to authenticate the message.  Could the prophet perform miracles?  Did the prophecy come true?  Was it consistent with earlier, known prophecies from God?  The nation of Israel had witnessed the dramatic events of the Exodus, and had every reason to believe that Moses had received his message from God.  Likewise Elijah, centuries later, could demonstrate through the miracles that he performed that he was an authentic prophet from God, and his prophecies came true.

But what of us today?  We can know these things only from the Bible itself.  How can we know whether or not this testimony is true?

If we were jurors in a court trial, and the witnesses were giving conflicting testimony, how could we tell which ones were telling the truth?  We would undoubtedly look for clues about the witnesses' character, we would look for internal consistency in their testimony, and we would look for corroborating evidence.  And so it is with our evaluation of Scripture.

First of all, what may we gather about the character of its human authors?    While we obviously cannot know them personally, what we can know about them leads us to believe that they were honest and sincere people.  They were earnest preachers of righteousness -- we would hope that they practiced what they preached.  Moreover their ministries often came at a great cost to themselves.  Their message was not always well received.  Elijah, Jeremiah, and Paul, not to mention Jesus Himself, put their very lives on the line.  Would they have done so if they had not felt a higher accountability to God?  It seems unlikely.

But secondly, we want to look at the consistency of their testimony.  They were united in preaching the true religion of the God of Israel as it had originally given to Moses, and they continued to do this even when it was unpopular and the tide of history was running against them.  What is especially striking about this phenomenon is the sheer number and diversity of the human authors involved.  Unlike the Koran or the Book of Mormon, which were both written by solitary individuals, the Bible was composed by at least 25 different authors writing in three different languages over a span of more than a thousand years.  The possibility of that that many different people could have conspired together to produce an elaborate forgery is zero.  What it does suggest, however, is that they had a common underlying source of inspiration, and they themselves identified that source as the Spirit of God illuminating their minds and speaking through them.

We should also note the consistency of the Bible with the known facts of history.  The biblical writers were insistent that they were reporting real history and not mere myths, and that the Lord could be recognized as the true and living God precisely because He actually did things in space and time.  The available archaeological evidence bears out the historicity of the narrative.  The authors were indeed describing real places and people that actually existed in history.

The biblical writers, then, were honest and truthful witnesses.  


Friday, June 8, 2012

Religious Hypocrisy

    Not everyone who seems to be religious really is religious. What we are outwardly, unfortunately, is not necessarily what is going on inwardly. And so, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus next comes to address the issue of religious hypocrisy.
    Having discussed the moral and ethical requirements of the Law, Jesus now takes up the duties of religious practice, which in First Century Judaism were mainly almsgiving, prayer and fasting (Matt. 6:1-18). In each instance Jesus warns against doing these things in such a way as to be "seen by men." It is, sadly, possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason.
    We do not know what was the actual practice of Jews in the First Century – whether they literally heralded their almsgiving with trumpets, stood on the street corners praying, or disfigured their faces when fasting – it is possible that Jesus was speaking figuratively. What we do know is that the scribes of that day occupied an honored place in Jewish society, and this certainly would have provided the occasion for ostentation. Human nature being what it is, if a given practice is held in high esteem among our peers, our natural tendency will be to take pride in doing it.
    But this raises a serious question: what is our real motive for engaging in these activities? A genuine concern to help the poor and a sincere desire to honor God? Or is it really to impress our fellow humans? And if the latter, what religious value does it have? The answer is, none at all. It is, in fact, a species of irreligion: instead of glorifying God we are glorifying ourselves – at His expense! Thus it is indeed possible to do the right thing for entirely the wrong reason.
    And in God's sight it is the reason that counts. He looks on the heart, and our real motives lie completely exposed to His view. If, as it turns out, our outward display of piety is really egotism in disguise, then it is abominable hypocrisy as far as God is concerned. And what counts is what matters to Him, not our fellow men. If our motive is really a desire to promote ourselves, the reward we have of men is the only reward we will get. The accolades of our fellow humans come with the price of God's frown.
    Is it worth it?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

“Love Your Enemies”

    To us loving your enemies seems like an absurdity. By definition an enemy is someone you hate. How can you possibly love someone who hates you and has wronged you in some way?
    Apparently there were a lot of people 2,000 years ago who felt the same way. Jesus noted "that it was said 'you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy'" (Matt. 5:43; NKJV). The first part is from the Bible (Lev. 19:18), but it is not entirely certain who actually said "hate your enemy." It may have been a common folk saying, an (improper) inference drawn from the verse in Leviticus. But given the tense political situation in First Century Palestine, the reference could very well be to certain militant Jewish groups opposed to Roman rule, and opposed to any Jews who collaborated with the Romans. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls is a manual of discipline which calls for new initiates in the organization "to love all the Children of Light – each commensurate with his rightful place in the Council of God – and to hate all the Children of Darkness, each commensurate with his guilt and the vengeance due him from God."* Radicals like these eventually became the Zealots, and their armed resistance against Rome reached a dramatic climax at Masada in AD 73.
    The militant attitude displayed by the Zealots was not entirely without precedent in the Old Testament. Ancient Israel was a theocracy, and as such the enemies of the state could be construed as the enemies of God. In the Book of Psalms David could write, "Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies" (Ps. 139:21,22).
    The Christian church, however, is not a political state. Rather it is a collection of sinners saved by grace, and the church's mission is not the annihilation of the wicked, but the proclamation of salvation. What should the church's attitude be toward those who oppose it? "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. . ." (Matt. 5:44). "Why?" you might ask. Jesus answered by pointing to the character of God Himself. By returning good for evil we "may be sons of [our] Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (v.45).
    One of the basic attributes of God is His mercy and compassion. When He revealed Himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai He declared Himself to be "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin . . ." (Ex. 34:6,7). And so it is that the prophet Micah could say "He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?" (Mic. 6:8).
    This leaves open the question of how David could say "Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate you?" What we see throughout the Old Testament is a tension between mercy and justice. On the one hand, if God is absolutely just He must punish sin, and as a result there is no hope for any of us, for we all sin. How could God exercise justice without destroying all of us? But how can He exercise mercy without appearing to condone sin? The answer is, through redemption. There must be a sacrifice to atone for our sin, and this God provided, remarkably in the person of His own Son. His death was prophesied in Isaiah 53: "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed" (v. 5). This effectively enables God to punish sin and forgive it at the same time.
    If we are unworthy sinners saved by grace, if our sins have been forgiven through God's mercy, then we ought to have patience and understanding when dealing with our fellow human beings. Yes, there is such a thing as righteous indignation, but it ought to be accompanied by the humble recognition that "there but for the grace of God go I."


*Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., & Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (Harper San Francisco, 1996), p. 127

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Are Science and Religion Compatible? – II

    In our last blog post we noted that Dr. Jerry A. Coyne challenged the notion that science can accommodate religion. Science, he says, is grounded in a naturalistic worldview, and as such cannot be made compatible with religion.
    We would have to agree that, insofar as a naturalistic philosophy goes, "science," in the broader sense in which Dr. Coyne uses the term, most certainly is incompatible with Christianity. It is, in fact, an anti-Christian ideology. But is a naturalistic philosophy an essential component of science?
    Dr. Coyne certainly thinks so. He argues that a naturalistic philosophy is a logical corollary of a naturalistic methodology. The problem here is that he is expanding the scope and reach of the scientific method to include too much. According to him the scientific method does not just study nature, it seeks to understand and interpret the universe. It aims at nothing less than a comprehensive explanation of reality. But there is a problem here. Since the scientific method relies on the physical senses, it can discern only physical matter. And if it can discern only physical matter, any worldview built exclusively on the senses will inevitably be a materialistic one. But the problem here is not that the immaterial world does not exist, but rather that a naturalistic methodology cannot recognize it. It is a limitation inherent in the method. What we have here is philosophical overreach.
    There is something more to reality than just bare physical matter. Nature points to something beyond nature, to a first cause and an organizing principle, and divine revelation is necessary to elucidate the ultimate purpose and design of things.
    The scientific method works perfectly well within the framework of Christian Theism. Thousands of physicians, many of them devout Christians, use the scientific method every day to diagnose their patients. Their belief in God does not compel them to discard the germ theory of disease. Indeed, their faith has provided them with the motive to devote their talents and energy to science and the healing arts. Many hospitals were founded by religious organizations.
    Evolution, of course, remains a problem. However, if we set aside the naturalistic worldview, would evolution still be "proven"? Dr. Coyne would no doubt argue that the idea of a supernatural first cause is superstitious nonsense. But we reply that the idea that matter can bring itself into existence without the aid of an external force is even greater nonsense. Matter does not create itself.
    The stakes could hardly be higher. Dr. Coyne himself says "Evolution, of course, contravenes many common religious beliefs – not just those dealing with Biblical literalism, but those dealing with morality, meaning and human significance" (p. 2). But science and religion are completely compatible as long as science confines itself to the observable facts of nature. It is only when science tries to become the exclusive method of discerning truth and an all-encompassing worldview that it becomes "scientism," and comes into conflict with Christianity.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Are Science and Religion Compatible? – I

    We are indebted to a fellow blogger, Tildeb, whose blog is called "Questionable Motives" ( for drawing our attention to a recent article in Evolution by Jerry A. Coyne entitled "Science, Religion, and Society: The Problem of Evolution in America." Dr. Coyne teaches in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, and is a well known proponent of evolution. He is also the author of the best-selling book Why Evolution Is True.

    Dr. Coyne, it appears, is very much distressed by the state of evolution in America. Polls show, among other things, that only 16% of Americans subscribe to the completely naturalistic version of evolution favored by Dr. Coyne. And this bothers him, for to Dr. Coyne it shows an abysmal ignorance of science on the part of the public. This, in turn, he says, is the result of the widespread presence of religion in America.
    Does this mean that science and religion are somehow incompatible? Dr. Coyne thinks so. He discusses several attempts by scientists to accommodate religion, and pronounces them all failures, including the late Stephen J. Gould's concept of "non-overlapping magisteria." Dr. Coyne then suggests that the only way to gain greater acceptance for evolution is to weaken the hold of religion on America. Astonishingly, he specifically suggests persuading Roman Catholics and liberal Protestants to give up their faith! (Presumably we evangelical Protestants are beyond hope!)
    But the question remains, are religion and science really incompatible? Dr. Coyne discusses three different aspects of science, as he conceives of it, that come in conflict with religious belief: methodology, outcome, and philosophy. Dr. Coyne says that the scientific method "relies on reason, empirical investigation, criticism, doubt, predictive power, and repeatability of observations by different investigators" (p. 3). Religion, on the other hand, is based on "dogma, authority, and revelation."
    This, in turn, results in a difference of outcome. Here Dr. Coyne simply asserts that science has "disproven" the claims of religion, and that "not one scientific truth has been disproven by religion." (This latter statement is, of course, a tautology: if it is really a "truth" then by definition it has not been "disproven." Aside from that, however, most conservative Christian apologists would deny that science has "disproven" the claims of religion, and would insist that the subject of evolution is very much in debate.)
    Thirdly, there is, Dr. Coyne says, an incompatibility of philosophy. The scientific view, he says, is that "supernatural beings are not just unnecessary to explain the universe (methodological naturalism), but can be taken as nonexistent (philosophical naturalism)." This is an extraordinary claim on Dr. Coyne's part. Assuming that he includes God as a "supernatural being," what he is saying, in effect, is that science is necessarily atheistic. It will be recalled, however, that some of the most scientists in history, such as Robert Boyle and Sir Isaac Newton, believed in the existence of God. Indeed, they thought that what they were studying was God's handiwork. Nature makes rational sense precisely because it was created by an Intelligent Being.
    If Dr. Coyne is right about the implications of science, then he is right about the larger question as well: science and religion are indeed incompatible. But we think that he is wrong, and will attempt to show why in our next blog post.