Do Science and the Bible Conflict?

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Do Science and the Bible Conflict?

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If we go back several centuries, students and teachers of science had no conflict with the Bible. In fact, scientists and others would state that the Creator revealed Himself in two books—the book of His words (the Bible) and the book of His works (the natural world around us).

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726), the brilliant English astronomer, physicist and mathematician most famous for the theory of universal gravitation, is an example. Modern-day physicist Gerald Schroeder notes that “Newton himself, though he was among the first to discern the universality of the laws of nature, found no conflict with his firm belief in the God of creation” ( The Hidden Face of God, 2001, p. 16).

Many would be surprised to learn that Newton “wrote and published more works on interpretation of the Bible than on mathematics and physics” (Francis Collins, The Language of God, 2007, p. 162).

The fact of the matter is that true science and true religion as found in the Bible are entirely compatible!

The science-vs.-the-Bible war

It wasn’t until the 19th century that the conflict between science and Bible advocates began to rage. Most of the aggression was exhibited—or it seems most of the publicity was gained—by the scientists.

The publication of Charles Darwin’s controversial book On the Origin of Species in 1859 was a scientific and philosophical watershed event. Yet Darwin himself was quiet by nature. His friend Thomas Huxley, though, was much more vociferous and outspoken. He became known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his aggressive call to arms in presenting the case for evolution.

“The old Victorian Big Fight [was] first popularized by Thomas Huxley, with God in the Blue Corner and Science waiting in the Red Corner to punch His teeth out” (A.N. Wilson, God’s Funeral, 1999, p. 224). It was Huxley who coined the term “agnostic.”

Not all scientists of that era rejected the Bible. A number who gave us notable scientific achievements were Bible believers. One of these was Joseph Lister, who discovered the role of germs in disease and pioneered in the field of sterile, antiseptic surgery. (Listerine mouthwash was named after him.) Another was Louis Pasteur, who invented the process of pasteurization of milk and wine to keep them from spoiling. He also pioneered vaccination for the prevention of disease.

From the late 20th century and into the 21st, skirmishes persisted in the war between science and religion. Since the early 1990s, the intelligent design controversy has attracted the attention of many scientists and theologians.

Retired Cambridge University mathematical physics professor and theologian John Polkinghorne states: “At the moment the biological world, particularly in its members who work with molecules rather than organisms, displays notable hostility to religion, at least in the writings offered to the general educated public” ( Belief in God in an Age of Science, 1998, p. 78, emphasis added throughout).

One such person who has gained notoriety is Oxford University biologist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. In their response The Dawkins Delusion? Dr. Alister McGrath, a theologian who also studied chemistry and molecular biophysics at Oxford, and his wife Joanna, a psychologist, describe Dawkins’ view this way: “Science and religion are locked into a battle to the death. Only one can emerge victorious—and it must be science” (2007, p. 46).

The McGraths see this war as unnecessary, stating: “One of the greatest disservices that Dawkins has done to the natural sciences is to portray them as relentlessly and inexorably atheistic. They are nothing of the sort” (p. 48). Many scientists would agree.

Taking God seriously

In recent years several scientists and philosophers have come forth and declared that God exists and that the Bible must be taken seriously.

Dr. Steven Meyer, who holds a doctorate in science philosophy from Cambridge University (his thesis concerned with interpreting origin-of-life research), commented: “I think of the wry smile that might be on the lips of God as in the last few years all sorts of evidence for the reliability of the Bible and for his creation of the universe and life have come to light” (quoted by Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator, 2004, p. 91).

The human body provides a great deal of evidence. It’s a marvelous creation—the apex of God’s physical workmanship. An adult body comprises about 75 trillion cells, any one of which is complex almost beyond comprehension.

As Dr. Walter Bradley, longtime professor of mechanical engineering at Texas A&M University states, “Each cell in the human body contains more information than in all thirty volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica” (quoted by Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith, 2000, p. 110).

What is the likelihood that all of this somehow, somewhere came into existence by chance from non-living matter? Dr. Bradley observes, “It’s certainly reasonable to make the inference that this isn’t the random product of unguided nature, but [that] it’s the unmistakable sign of an Intelligent Designer” (ibid.).

The complexity of the human cell changed the thinking of British philosophy professor Antony Flew, long considered the world’s best-known atheist. In a symposium in New York in May 2004, he shocked everyone by stating that he had concluded God exists. He wrote, “To the surprise of all concerned, I announced at the start that I now accepted the existence of a God” ( There Is a God, 2007, p. 74).

At the symposium he was asked if recent research into the origin of life pointed to the involvement of a creative Intelligence. Dr. Flew responded: “Yes, I think it does…almost entirely because of the DNA investigations. What I think the DNA material has done is that it has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements to work together.”

He continued, “This statement represented a major change of course for me, but it was nevertheless consistent with the principle I have embraced since the beginning of my philosophical life—of following the argument no matter where it leads” (p. 75).

From conflict to harmony

Polkinghorne, who again is a physicist and a theologian, believes there is harmony between science and religion. The two “are friends, not foes, in the common quest for knowledge,” he explains. “Some people may find this remark surprising, for there’s a feeling throughout our society that religious belief is outmoded, or downright impossible, in a scientific age.

“I don’t agree. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if people in this so-called ‘scientific age’ knew a bit more about science than many of them actually do, they’d find it easier to share my view” ( Quarks, Chaos & Christianity, 2005, p. 10).

Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, was an agnostic early in life, then gravitated later into atheism. But his thinking took a sharp turn at around age 30. As he writes, “I had reached the conclusion that faith in God was much more compelling than the atheism I had previously embraced, and I was beginning for the first time in my life to perceive some of the eternal truths of the Bible” ( The Language of God, p. 198).

In June of 2000, when a working draft of the Human Genome Project was released, Dr. Collins stated, “It is humbling for me, and awe-inspiring, to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God” (p. 3).

Knowing more but believing less

It’s ironic that as humanity has increased in complex knowledge of the creation, many have less faith today that God created us than did people in ages past who had comparatively little knowledge of the mysteries of the human body.

In the days of King David some 3,000 years ago, people had no way of knowing precisely what was occurring in the womb of a pregnant woman. Yet David then wrote of God, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalms 139:13 Psalms 139:13For you have possessed my reins: you have covered me in my mother’s womb.
American King James Version×
, New Revised Standard Version).

David knew that the knitting together of a new young life inside its mother was the work of a great Creator. He added, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well” (verse 14).

People of that era had not invented microscopes; they had no equipment with which to investigate the workings of a cell. Yet they had, in many cases, more faith than some today who are able to probe the workings of the tiny cells of which our bodies are composed.

Having a greater knowledge of the workings of God’s creation should actually increase our faith. As the apostle Paul wrote, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20 Romans 1:20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
American King James Version×
, New International Version). Paul referred to some of the philosophers of the Greco-Roman world who had rejected the knowledge of God, even though His creative works surrounded them everywhere they looked.

He said also, “Nevertheless, He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and goodness” (Acts 14:17 Acts 14:17Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.
American King James Version×
).

The Bible tells us that it is God who gives rain. The circulation of waters in our earthly environment, which includes rainfall, is called the hydrological cycle. We find several references to this cycle in the Bible (Job 36:27-28 Job 36:27-28 27 For he makes small the drops of water: they pour down rain according to the vapor thereof: 28 Which the clouds do drop and distil on man abundantly.
American King James Version×
; Ecclesiastes 1:7 Ecclesiastes 1:7All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; to the place from where the rivers come, thither they return again.
American King James Version×
). With our modern-day understanding of this science, we can understand it better and realize how remarkable it is even more than those of ancient times could. Nevertheless, godly people of old looked at evidence in nature and knew it was proof of God’s existence.

The fact is, despite their technological limitations, those who served God at that time had more of the most important type of intelligence than many scientists of today have. They knew that God existed and that His Word was superior to all other knowledge.

Science depends on law

Through the mental abilities God has given man, we are able to experiment and arrive at many conclusions about the physical creation. The last few centuries have produced an explosion of new knowledge that has enabled us to come to predictable conclusions regarding the world as well as outer space.

We have progressed through the industrial age and the space age—and now we’re in what some call the information age. It’s no coincidence that the Bible foretold a rapid acceleration of innovation and knowledge in our time (Daniel 12:4 Daniel 12:4But you, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.
American King James Version×
).

For man even to exist, let alone make the amazing technological strides of today, requires a stable world of laws and predictable phenomena. The same applies to the whole universe. Increasingly, scientists talk about the “anthropic principle.” This refers to the conditions of our planet and universe being remarkably well suited to human habitation.

The oxygen level in the earth’s atmosphere (21 percent) is only one example. “If oxygen levels were 25 percent, fires would erupt spontaneously; if it were 15 percent, human beings would suffocate” (Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 2004, p. 98).

Another anthropic factor enabling the earth to support life is the strength of the pull of gravity. Newton wrote of this universal attraction, but he didn’t realize the critical balance in which it exists in creation. The gravitational attraction of the sun on the earth and of the earth on the moon is just right to keep our planet in a position to support life.

“The extent of the universe’s fine-tuning makes the Anthropic Principle perhaps the most powerful argument for the existence of God…There are more than 100 very narrowly defined constants that strongly point to an intelligent Designer” (ibid., p. 105).

What about miracles?

Of course, there are some who accept the existence of an Intelligent Designer who assume that the Bible is false in its claim to be the revelation of that Designer.

One dynamic that produces doubt in the minds of some is how the Bible can be scientifically accurate when it relates accounts of miracles. Miracles seem to go against laws of science. For example, when God divided the sea for the Israelites when they fled from Egypt (Exodus 14:16-22 Exodus 14:16-22 16 But lift you up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the middle of the sea. 17 And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honor on Pharaoh, and on all his host, on his chariots, and on his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten me honor on Pharaoh, on his chariots, and on his horsemen. 19 And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: 20 And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night. 21 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the children of Israel went into the middle of the sea on the dry ground: and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand, and on their left.
American King James Version×
), this went against the normal behavior of the elements involved. If we are going to accept the Bible as the Word of God, we have to accept that the accounts of miracles it contains are factual.

What are miracles? David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher and historian, believed that miracles are violations of nature. But Dr. William Craig describes miracles differently.

In reference to a person catching an apple that falls from a tree before it hits the ground, he stated: “It’s merely the intervention of a person with free will who overrides the natural causes operative in that particular circumstance. And that, essentially, is what God does when he causes a miracle to occur” (quoted by Strobel, The Case for Faith, p. 63).

If God designed the creation and natural law, He has the power to intervene and perform miracles whenever and however He chooses. In other words, “God may command natural things such as water, wind, or trees to behave according to their natures or against them. In both cases their action and end depend on Him” ( God and Nature, edited by David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers, 1986, p. 177).

God’s dominance in this way is illustrated in the Bible: “Who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth and issued from the womb…When I said, ‘This far you may come, but no farther, and here your proud waves must stop!’” (Job 38:8 Job 38:8Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?
American King James Version×
, 11).

We should consider: If a God exists who could create and sustain our marvelous universe—a vast miracle in itself—does He not have the power to perform smaller-scale miracles here on earth? And would He not also have the power to inspire the Holy Scriptures to provide us guidance in all facets of our lives?

What will you believe?

The fact of the matter is that the Bible is God’s Word, and it does not conflict with science. We can reap the benefits of a relationship with God through the Bible, as well as utilizing the good gifts that modern science has bequeathed to us. It is a blessing to have both.

God gave man the ability to think and reason and inquire into the purpose for our existence. Satan corrupted that ability, exploiting man’s intelligence to rationalize around the abundant clear evidence of our Creator’s existence.

We need to hold fast to the true values, understanding that the Bible is God’s Word and that it has no real conflict with the laws of science. We can profit from the study of both, but we should especially treasure the Bible—because, unlike science, it reveals why we are here and contains the keys to eternal life.