Bible and Science (1)
(Bible Study - June 2003)
I consider thy
heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast
ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? (Psalm 8:3,4).
Bible and science have anything in common? The question is simple, the
answer complex, and without a doubt utterly dependent on the particular bias
of the responder. In setting out to write these essays, I make no apologies
for my own biases; readers will have to judge for themselves whether or not
the thoughts expressed have merit. I believe in both the Bible and
science and all that follows is written from that perspective.
blush it seems this is simply a contest between “knowledge” vs.
“faith.” Some would be so crude as to suggest that faith in the Bible
is based on blind obedience to superstition and legend. Equally, there are
people who would claim that science, and scientists in particular,
deliberately fabricate their observations to discredit the scriptures.
there is some minor credence to both of these negative views, my own
experience has been that the vast majority of people on both sides of the
Bible/scientific divide are honestly seeking for “truth.”
Furthermore, at the very heart of both approaches, they have in common a
desire to answer the same awesome question: “What is man and what is his
place in the Universe?”
Scientific inquiry, in its purest form,
unravels the question: “How?” The scientist observes nature as it
is and seeks by theory and experiment to understand how things
function. Controlled experiments then test these theories and observations,
which serve as a framework for establishing physical models; these are
subsequently refined in an iterative process until a satisfactory picture of
natural behavior is generally accepted. Eventually, if everything works
correctly, particular questions are answered definitively in the form of
“laws of nature.”
occasion, future observations require modifying, or even scrapping “laws”
when new experimental evidence shoots holes in old theories. An example of
this is the extension and modification of Newton’s laws of motion that took
place at the beginning of the 20th century. It turned out that
Newton’s laws were precisely accurate under ordinary conditions, i.e., in
low gravitational fields and at velocities usually experienced on earth.
However, as the velocity of matter approaches the speed of light[i]
the laws of Newton break down. Similarly, when immense gravitational fields
are encountered, the classical laws of gravity no longer were effectual.
The work of Einstein solved this dilemma when he developed the “special
theory of relativity” and a few years later the “general theory of
out that the laws of Newton were not wrong, at least under everyday
conditions; rather they are a limiting case for the usual velocities and
gravitational fields experienced on earth. These laws, discovered in the 17th
century, are still used every day to design automobiles, fly airplanes and
guide rockets to their destinations.
Nevertheless, there is still a fundamental conundrum; science hasn’t a clue
why the laws of Newton are of the form they take. Neither, for that
matter, can this question why be answered for Einstein’s equations,
nor for any other physical law of nature!
The law of gravity
Consider the gravitational law of Newton.
Please note that I will try to keep things simple so that they can be
readily understood by those without any detailed mathematical background.[ii]
This law states that the attraction between two bodies of matter depends
directly on the product of their masses and inversely as the square of the
distance between them. This simply means that if the distance between two
bodies of mass doubles then the gravitational attraction decays by a factor
of four; if it triples it decays by a factor of nine, and so on. Hence, if
I throw a ball into the air, the gravitational pull of the earth interacts
with the ball and both are mutually attracted toward each other. However,
since the planet is so massive compared to, for example, a puny ball, we
only experience the ball falling back to earth. Nevertheless, the earth has
also been attracted to the ball and in turn it moves a small virtually
imperceptible, amount. The harder I throw the ball the higher it will soar,
and if I give it enough velocity it will eventually escape the gravitational
field of the earth (which is exactly what NASA does when it sends a rocket
defined and exact as these laws of physics may be, and regardless of how
many times they are tested and perform correctly, nevertheless we don’t know
why they are of the form that has been uncovered by Newton (or
Einstein for more advanced problems).
the gravitational attraction between two bodies depend on the product of
their respective masses? Why not the masses divided by one another, or
multiplied by some power law function, or anything else for that matter?
Regardless of whether or not you understood the previous sentence, the key
mystery is: are the physical laws of the universe unique? If yes, why?
And if no, what other form could they take?
scientific thinking is that for the observable universe they are unique, but
why this is so remains unanswered. Scientists don’t like to call unanswered
questions “mysteries”; rather they consider such questions, works
in progress. Nevertheless, most scientists would agree that the
question “Why?” cannot be answered in terms of the usual scientific
method of theory and observation, because this will end up transferring the
question of “Why” from the realm of one set of equations to yet
another. For example, if one says that the general theory of relativity is
formulated the way that it is because of the four dimensional geometry of
the universe (which is probably true!), then you still have to ask why
is the geometry of the universe the way it is, and so on? The
general theory may be a beautiful and perfect (as far as we currently know)
description of gravity, but it still is necessarily only an answer to the
question “How?”, i.e. how the universe functions when masses
interact with one another.
Religion seeks to know
Religion, and for the purposes of the
discussion that follows, specifically the Judeo-Christian Bible, presumes to
answer the question: “Why?” It gives a very straightforward and
unambiguous answer to the question of why man is here on earth and
what indeed is the purpose of the earth (and, by extension, the reason for
all of creation).
prophet Isaiah says: For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens;
God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he
created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and
there is none else. Isaiah 45:18 (KJV).
did not create the universe in vain, but to be inhabited. This planet was
not just to be filled with vain, purposeless life forms, but with creatures
that could render glory to Lord as we are told by Moses in the book of
Deuteronomy: But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with
the glory of the LORD (Num. 14:21).
sense we might call this latter passage the “prime directive.” It
spells out the purpose of God for His creation, namely, to establish the
earth as a place that will eventually be filled with a great assembly of men
and women who will glorify their maker. By extension, if God created the
earth not in vain and intends to fill it with His glory, then a similar
purpose can be attributed to the rest of His creation.
is exact in spelling out the moral and spiritual circumstances that are
required for human beings to eventually become part of the glorified
multitude that will fulfil the “prime directive” for this planet as
outlined by the prophets Moses and Isaiah. It was certainly possible that
God could have created perfect beings from the very beginning, but that
would not have been very different from fashioning a multitude of robots.
Thus we can appreciate, at least from the Biblical prospective, why
we are here. On the other hand the Bible is very sparse in providing
detailed answers to the question: How?
is NOT a scientific textbook and the picture it supplies about the creation
of the universe, of the earth, and of all the life forms upon it, occupies a
scant chapter plus bits and pieces elsewhere, filling slightly less than two
to three pages of text in most translations. Similarly, other scientific
allusions are tossed out in scattered verses throughout the scriptures
virtually as casual discards. Needless to say, scientists have written
literally millions of pages over the past two centuries on similar topics.
Conversely, the Biblical literalists who believe that the universe was
created in the year 4004 B.C. appear to want to toss out all the
observations of modern science. Such thinking discounts the fact that the
Lord is also the author of nature and studying how it works is as
legitimate an enterprise as analysing the scriptures.
danger, especially for young people, is that often science is presented,
especially at the secondary school level, as the new religion. The
parallel danger is the blind faith approach to religion, which says,
in effect, that one must throw out all the observations of science and
simply have faith in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Of course, by
“literal” religious zealots mean their particular literal
interpretation of scripture!
essays reject the extreme views sometimes put forth by some in both the
religious and scientific communities. God is the God of the Bible, as well
as the God of nature, and studies of both are entirely within the purview of
men and women searching for the answers to the fundamental question of our
The velocity of light is 186,000 miles/sec. One has to travel very near
this speed to experience effects that differ from the equations of
motion originally found by Newton.
For those with scientific training the approach may seem too simple or
even appear trivial, if so I apologize in advance. I have decided to
eliminate math as much as possible throughout the text in the hope that
the general reader will not be put off.
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his
handywork. Psalm 19:1(KJV)