Finally, after four chapters separately introducing science and faith, we can begin to relate the two. What we usually hear in the 20th century is that there is conflict between science and faith, especially Christian faith. In this chapter we must first deal with these apparent conflicts. Then in the next chapter we can proceed to the positive side, discussing the constructive relationship between science and Christianity.
Each category’s relationship with science
We will discuss each of the six categories introduced in ch. 3 sec. I.
This viewpoint rejects anything supernatural, and believes that science can explain everything by natural laws. For those who promote this position, science is their religion, so there cannot be any conflict between their science and their religion. They are reductionists, reducing all of human personality and society to the result of impersonal laws and processes (see the introduction of this term in ch. 2, IV). They object to the diagram at the end of ch. 2 showing the natural world as only a part of a larger reality. Materialists believe that the physical, material universe is all that exists. They believe there is nothing outside it that could be its cause, so it must be eternal, with no beginning or cause. They must believe that it “just happens to be” uniform and intelligible to our minds (the two basic assumptions of science), or at least believe that this is true of all that we have observed. They have no reason why it should be true, because such a reason would have to be something outside the material universe.
Atheists and many others hold the opinion that science is a war against religion in general and Christian theism in particular, and that Christianity in turn is inherently at war with science. As will be discussed in sec. F below, this view is not supported either by logic or by history.
Atheists often say that they choose to believe in an eternal and probably infinite universe, but Christians choose to believe in an eternal infinite God. They view this as simply a matter of philosophical preference, though of course they give many reasons why they consider their choice preferable. But in saying this they are at least honestly admitting that their opinions are a philosophical and religious choice, not a conclusion from facts or a necessary aspect of scientific thinking. In this they are inconsistent; in many other contexts they insist their position is a necessary conclusion from facts and is the only one consistent with modern science, not merely a personal choice. But, as atheists themselves would agree, truth is not determined by personal choice about what we like to believe or consider believable. There is an objective reality outside ourselves, about which our beliefs are either true or false (ch. 3, II, C). Christian belief is based on the Bible’s teachings, and we have many reasons why we believe the Bible is a true representation of reality, which is discussed in ch. 6, III. The origin of the universe, living things, and the Bible will be discussed in detail in ch. 6. An atheist has no way to explain many of these things, except to say they all must have just happened by lucky accident. Therefore, even if we view it as a choice, Christian teaching explains many more things than atheism, using simpler assumptions, so from a logical and scientific viewpoint it is a stronger theory. But of course the crucial question is not whether we like it nor how much it can explain, but whether it is true.
In their good-natured moments, atheists accept religious faith (for others) in a shadow world of uplifting fiction andpsychological effects, but it is clearly not allowed to encroach upon anything within the realm of science. Wherever faith and science overlap, science must come first. This is represented in the first, simpler diagram. What they really believe is represented in the second, more complex diagram: that all consciousness, thought and feeling is a subdivision of the natural world; humans and all other living things are merely complex physical and chemical systems, no different in principle from a computer. And personal religious faith is then a subdivision of this realm of consciousness.
The evaluation of atheism is continued in sec. V, A and B.
Agnostics often assume the same thing as atheists, or at least insist that religion is totally separate from science. For an agnostic who says “I don’t know whether there is a God,” we can discuss the many reasons to believe in the God of the Bible, and the many scientific questions that are left unanswered if we choose atheism.
But as introduced in ch. 3, sec. I, many agnostics also say “I know you don’t know either,” and the only thing we say in reply is to ask how he knows we don’t know. His answer is that it is impossible to know, and we then ask how he knows that!
Basically, he is saying that he does not dare be as presumptuous as the atheist who claims to know enough to prove God does not exist. We of course commend this glimmer of humility. But in denying that it is possible to know anything about God, he is denying that there could be any action into the physical world from a realm beyond it. The agnostic’s diagram places the X not on all wider reality beyond the natural world, but only on miracles. This makes God’s existence inaccessible to us, and if there is a God He is therefore irrelevant and indistinguishable fromnonexistent. So an agnostic’s view is in practice equivalent to atheism.
It may be true that, as many agnostics assert, we cannot by our limited human capacities locate or capture God. In fact, this is precisely what the Bible teaches, and therefore what Judaism and Christianity believe. But on what basis can agnostics assert that God, if He exists, might not wish, and be able, to locate and contact us? That possibility cannot be so summarily X-ed out of our diagram.
C, D Pantheism and animism
Pantheists and animists are unsure whether
science can or should succeed, because they have no reason to expect uniformity
or intelligibility in the physical world. Pantheists invert the diagram
of atheists, asserting that consciousness is most fundamental and the physical
world is a mere illusion or dream, an unimportant byproduct of our consciousness,
as represented in this diagram.
Animists leave the atheist’s diagram unchanged, but they believe reality is ruled by capricious spirits instead of inherent natural laws.
Both groups can only be amazed that the two assumptions of uniformity and intelligibility of nature have succeeded as well as they have. In fact, they should expect these two assumptions to be false, so it seems that these faiths contradict science, and it is no coincidence that science did not begin to develop in cultures dominated by these viewpoints (see sec. II).
The most favorable thing that can be said, giving them the benefit of the doubt, is that pantheism and animism have no connection with modern science. There are some purported analogies between these religions and science (see VI, C below), but no support for the two assumptions. There are of course many who believe these religions and also have learned to be top-rate scientists, but their science and their faith must be kept mostly separated with a wall dividing them, as represented in this diagram.
Most liberal Christians would draw the same diagram. Some conservative Christians have also adopted this viewpoint, but this is inconsistent and unnecessary, as will be discussed in F below. This kind of faith is detached from real life. Is this the kind of faith we want? That question alone of course does not determine what is true, but it is significant, as discussed in sec. V, B.
Hinduism teaches that time is endless and cyclic, with a very long period. This too seems to contradict science, especially the second law of thermodynamics.
These two types of faith simply assume, but do not explain, the existence of living things, apart from some creation myths that are generally not taken as historical fact even by believers. Even such myths start from some population of gods or beings, and a material world, whose origin is unaccounted for. These faiths can accept the idea of a form of supernatural revelation and “religious experience,” but they cannot accept the Bible on its own terms nor explain the details of its content and origin (ch. 6, III).
Perhaps the closest approach to a basis for science among such religions is found in Chinese Taoism. The “Tao” is a rule, or order, or truth, giving some support to the first assumption, that nature is orderly. So there is a germ of truth in attempts to relate this particular faith to science (again, see VI, C). But from ancient times Taoism in practice also incorporated much that is animistic. It developed a mystical approach to truth, considering it inexpressible, or inscrutable, and this failed to support the second assumption. This left no motivation for pursuing research of some very interesting discoveries that were made in China beginning several centuries before Christ: the compass, gunpowder, paper, printing, timekeeping machines, breeding of plants and animals, many medicines, etc.
Thus a golden opportunity was missed; a potential scientific revolution was stillborn. In the many centuries since, there have been some amazing individuals in China who accomplished great things in what would now be called science and medicine, but with such a worldview in the society as a whole, their work was not encouraged nor developed by others. There was no consensus that it can and should be done. It is impossible (and tragic) to estimate how many people with the talents of a Newton must have lived and died in the great populations of China, India, and elsewhere, but due to the limitations of economy, society, and above all religious assumptions, their gifts could not be applied and developed for the benefit of humanity.
Deists borrow from Christianity the concept that nature is created, therefore it can and should be studied. But since they do not believe God has acted since creation, they cannot explain the Bible or Christian believers’ experience. They are in practice equivalent to agnostics.
The only remaining category of religious faith is theism, specifically monotheism. Theistic religions include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (ch. 4 sec.1). We often refer to the Judeo-Christian faith as a single entity in its concept of God and creation. Islam has a concept of God which is different in some important respects, but conservative Islam shares most of the Judeo-Christian outlook on God and creation, and therefore on the relationship between science and faith.
Monotheism is in some way based on objective written teachings considered to be revelation from God, or scripture, so the above diagrams must be modified to reflect this difference. This is more specific than a nebulous “faith.” The nature of the connection between scripture and faith is subject to debate, which is the essential difference between liberal and conservative theology.
As with other types of faith, the content of scripture-based faith either does or does not have an overlap with the realm of nature, or physical reality. If there is no overlap, then it is isolated or separated, as represented in the diagram above for pantheism. If there is an overlap, the next question is the extent and content of that overlap. Once that is determined, there are two options in dealing with the overlap, priority or consistency. If they are consistent, then there is no need for priority, because there is no genuine conflict to resolve. Another common term for consistency is “concordist.” If priority is assumed, the question is the order of priority: Which comes first?
Liberal Christians almost unanimously assert that scripture and nature are separate, which agrees with the pantheist viewpoint, and in fact in practice is indistinguishable from the atheist viewpoint. Some atheists happily notice this, accept liberal theology as the final authority on the content of the Christian faith, and therefore pronounce that faith meaningless.
Among conservative Christians, who believe the Bible is an authoritative revelation from the Maker of heaven and earth, there is a wide range of opinions on the precise relationship between our faith and science. We are unavoidably concerned about any possible conflicts that might call into question the authority of the Bible as God’s inerrant revelation.
Although we do not accept the conclusions of liberal theology, some among us agree with it up to the point of adopting separation as a seemingly happy solution to all possible apparent conflicts, letting science and theology go their separate ways with conflict impossible by definition. This gives a feeling of safety. It also avoids the complicated business of working out some form of relationship between scripture and nature. Those who adopt this viewpoint criticize as misguided all those who advocate either a priority or a consistency.
However, for conservative Christians this position is inconsistent, as briefly stated above in C and D, and discussed specifically in point 3 below. The Bible does not permit theology to go its separate way. The two circles have an undeniable area of overlap, and in that area they sometimes appear to conflict. Bible-believing Christians must resolve that conflict, through either priority or consistency.
I believe that any attempt to assign a priority between nature and the Bible is misguided and impossible. But both possible orders of priority are widely propagated by people who profess belief in the Bible, and both must be considered briefly.
If priority is given to nature, then discrepancies with scripture are expected to occur and must be accounted for in a way that retains some sort of validity for the Bible as a revelation from God. Advocates of this viewpoint assert that God for various practical reasons had to write the Bible with a misleading apparent meaning in some respects, but this cannot be called deception because He made the truth apparent to us in nature. They insist that the Bible was not intended to give accurate information in areas of overlap with nature. Thus this viewpoint leans close to, and in practice overlaps with, the liberal viewpoint of separation.
On the other hand, if priority is given to scripture, then discrepancies with nature are expected to occur and must be accounted for in some way that retains the reality and rationality of nature as the work of a real and rational God. Advocates of this viewpoint assert that God for various practical reasons had to create nature with a false appearance in some respects, but this cannot be called deception because He informed us of the truth in the Bible. They insist that nature was not intended to give us accurate information in areas of overlap with the Bible. Thus this viewpoint leans close to, and in practice overlaps with, the liberal viewpoint of separation, though its advocates would be horrified at any such association. One specific example is nature’s apparent permanence and autonomous order, leading many nonbelievers to conclude that a Creator or Maintainer is unnecessary and even excluded. Another example is the universe’s appearance of an age of billions of years, which clashes with many people’s understanding of the Biblical creation account as teaching an age of a few thousand years; this is the subject of ch. 7.
This viewpoint is widespread and influential among conservative Christians. It is the reverse of the polite atheist’s outlook: “Revelation (e.g. the Bible) is certain, but science is man-made, uncertain, often changing, and any scientific theory therefore will certainly be overthrown eventually. So revelation must take priority over science.” This gives the appearance of loyalty to the scriptures, and of rushing to the defense of the faith against the onslaughts of unbelief which often wield science as their primary weapon. It sounds like what a lot of us want to hear.
There is an obvious symmetry in the logical structure of both orders of priority. The advocates of each one present their case as obviously correct and convincing, and also convincingly point out fallacies in the other’s logic. Neither side seems to realize how readily all their statements can be transmuted into the other’s statements by the interchange of the words “nature” and “scripture.” Despite the differences between scripture and nature, they have much in common, and any flaws in one logical position can be expected to be present also in the corresponding point of the other position. The two should stand or fall together. But since they cannot stand together, they can only fall together. At the very least, all attempts to defend one or the other as the way things “must” be would seem doomed to self-inflicted failure, and one side’s valid criticisms of the other would almost automatically correspond with valid criticisms of itself. It would take very careful analysis to evade such failure, and I have seen no-one in either of these groups who seemed aware of the problem, let alone successfully solved it.
It must be admitted that abandonment of the logical defense of one of these positions does not require abandonment of belief in it as true. Such an abandonment would itself be an assertion of what God “had to” do. God in His transcendent wisdom has done plenty of things for reasons that for now are unexplained and inexplicable to us, and we cannot exclude separation or priority from possible inclusion in that category. In the absence of logical guidance on the subject, we can only seek evidence to indicate whether He has in fact acted in one of these ways. I have seen no such evidence, after listening to both sides’ claims to present such evidence. Both sides would lose their appeal if deprived of their claim to strong logical necessity.
It seems that the advocates of both positions do subconsciously sense the weakness of both the logical and the factual basis they present, and therefore they keep switching from one basis to the other, hoping that the two approaches cumulatively are reinforcing and convincing. But in fact it is the weaknesses of both that are cumulative and convincing.
I believe there is another alternative position with a better basis in both logic and evidence. I and many other Christians consider consistency between the Bible and nature to be more nearly correct, represented by a somewhat more complex diagram.
The first question is where to place God in the diagram. Neither inside nor outside the circle of reality seems right; God is neither merely a part of reality nor unreal. So we must first clarify the label on reality, calling it “created reality.” Then God is placed outside of created reality, as its source; all that exists outside of Himself was created by Him. (My thanks to Del Ratzsch for suggesting this point in personal correspondence.)
The information we can obtain from the Bible and from nature are mostly different, and each has its limitations. But they are not totally separated; the Bible makes many references to the everyday material world. They can be represented by two overlapping circles within the larger circle of created reality, with the Bible’s circle of information stretched beyond created reality to include what it tells us about God. This of course does not mean it tells us all about God.
Conservative Christians believe that the Bible is a revelation from the one true God, therefore it is absolute truth, not subject to correction by anything else (The concept of “inerrant” is discussed later in this section, and in ch. 6, III, A as “inspiration.”). But we believe that nature, the physical universe He created, is also an absolute thing, independent of our thoughts about it. Nature is as inerrant as Scripture.
If the Bible is God’s Word, and nature is God’s work or world, then it is impossible that there could be any genuine conflict between these two. Or they could be referred to respectively as His handwriting and handiwork. It is the same God and the same hand. Therefore we have neither basis nor need for assigning any priority to one or the other where they overlap. It is unnecessary and mistaken to try to say one or the other is “first,” or has priority.
The burden of proof is on any such assertion. All attempts to make this assertion have led to blunders. Liberal theologians say science and philosophy overrule the Bible, and they proceed to depart from all the basic Biblical teachings of God’s supernatural power and actions, Jesus Christ’s deity and role as Savior, etc. Church leaders in Galileo’s day, and present-day advocates of recent creation, say the Bible overrules science, and they stumble into countless embarrassing scientific errors; see ch. 7.
The fact that a particular assumption has led to errors does not in itself prove that assumption false. All truth has been misused. Perhaps the deductions were mistaken. Not all who accept these assumptions of an order of priority have fallen into all the errors associated with them. But these assumptions seem to have no inherent self-correction built into them. Whether priority is assigned to scripture or nature, they are both slippery slopes with no rocks or trees to stop the slide at any point. Those who stop partway down do so only by clinging to a rope attached to the path of balance at the top, though they often do not realize or admit that that is what they are doing.
Let us consider two aspects of priority: time and content.
Regarding priority in time, we contact nature sooner than we contact the Bible, and the Bible assumes and refers to this prior contact as teaching us some things about God (see examples listed in sec. 1). For instance, in Psalm 19 the wonders of nature are described in the first half, then the teachings of God’s word in the second half.
In many passages the Bible uses things in nature to teach us about God’s greatness, wisdom, and love: Psalm 8; 19; Job 38 to 41; Romans 1:18-20; and many more. Understanding nature helps us to understand God who created it. Job, Proverbs, and Jesus’ teaching contain many lessons drawn from weather, crops, flocks, trees, beasts, ants, etc. This all clearly means that God was very much involved in the origin of nature, and continues to act in various ways as the controller of present events. We are to observe and understand what we see. In John 10:38, Jesus said that if people could not believe His words yet, they should begin by believing because they saw His miracles. A major theme of the Bible is recording events which are interpreted as God’s action in the visible physical world, intended to teach us something about Him. This includes both His miraculous, or exceptional, actions, and His “natural” actions.
There is no indication in the Bible that the appearances of nature will mislead us (the second logical possibility listed above), or produce contradictions with the Bible, so there is no Biblical indication that there is even a need to assign priority between nature and the Bible. So there is no basis for the suggestion, as some said in the 19th century, that in order to test our faith God created fossils and many other things that appear to prove that the Bible’s story of creation is wrong. The same is true of the present-day assumption of “apparent age” or “created age” of the universe in order to explain the many evidences that the universe is billions of years old. These facts are there to tell us something, and we need not fear that it will overthrow the Bible. That is the subject of ch. 7.
Regarding priority of content, the Bible is verbal, and therefore more direct and personal than nature, and able to tell us things nature cannot: heaven, hell, God’s love and plan, forgiveness, the Trinity, inerrancy, etc. This certainly rules out any assertion that nature takes priority over verbal revelation, or can be considered equivalent to it. The Bible claims to be our sole guide for faith and life, true in everything it asserts. As the leaders of the Reformation put it in Latin, “sola scriptura.” But they said this primarily in response to conflict between the Bible and the Roman Catholic Church’s centuries of accumulated man-made tradition and philosophy. The reformers were not responding to any apparent conflicts between the Bible and the natural world that God made. It never occurred to them that there were or could be any such conflicts.
The Bible and nature are just objects, which become meaningful to us only as we study them. Meaning is the product of research and interpretation. Verbal and material subject matter must of course be approached with different methods, but both methods can be regarded as research. And here is the source of problems. Theology is our interpretation of the Bible. Science is our interpretation of nature. Both may be mistaken. Neither the Bible nor nature is entitled to priority in correcting our understanding of the other where they overlap. Theology does not determine science, nor does science determine theology. Rather, both are determined by the truth, and are two means in our search for truth, which must be self-consistent. Neither one can be, nor need be, overruled by the other. Both are seeking the truth, from different directions, and together they guide us toward the truth.
This means that theology must not be ruled by the current consensus of the scientific community, but it also meansthat science must not be ruled by the current consensus of the theological community. There must be a symmetry and balance in the relationship of the two.
When something in the area of overlap is approached from both directions, usually consistency results. But there may be, and in fact has been, conflict between theology and science, which is often misunderstood to mean there is a conflict between the Bible and the facts of nature. But it actually means that we have misinterpreted the Bible or nature or both. Our theology or our science is mistaken, or perhaps both. Conflicts between science and theology must be handled on a case-by-case basis, not by a rule of “science first” or “the Bible first,” which in fact means a particular theological viewpoint first. Inconsistency means our work is not yet done.
Christians often discuss the topic of “the Bible and science,” meaning resolving the apparent conflicts between them, but as can be seen in the diagram this is a mistaken phrase. The Bible and science are on different levels, and do not touch, let alone conflict. I myself sometimes lecture on this topic, and then proceed to explain what is wrong with it!
Francis Bacon and others referred to “two books,” meaning the Bible and nature. Some people refer to nature as “the sixty-seventh book of the Bible.” This expresses a legitimate point, which applies only in the area of overlap. Within this limitation, “two books” is no threat to “sola scriptura.” But referring to nature as a book is vulnerable to misunderstanding, as if it can be placed on a par with the Bible in areas where only verbal revelation is adequate. This may be one factor that led to overzealous attempts up to the 19th century to develop a “natural theology” in which all truth about God is obtained from nature alone with no reference at all to the Bible, and thus science and philosophy virtually displace theology. This overestimates the area of overlap. But the failure of such attempts is no excuse for going to the opposite extreme of neglecting the importance of consistency between our theology and our science, which amounts to underestimating the overlap or denying that there is any, or applying an arbitrary priority within it as represented by the earlier diagrams.
Unfortunately the conflicts between theology and science have generated a large amount of heat and smoke which has injured many people, and their faith in the Bible has never recuperated. Many people have the mistaken impression that wherever there is overlap there is conflict. The main reason is that this is not merely a detached matter of reconciling two systems of thought. Thought is done by thinkers, viewpoints are viewed by people, theology is produced by theologians, and science by scientists. So the conflict is not between theology and science but between theologians and scientists, who each have a deep sentimental attachment and investment in the products of their respective labors.
Both science and theology have a spectrum of certainty. While science is technically incapable of absolute certainty, some things are now beyond reasonable doubt (ch. 2, III). Things that were once unconventional speculations are long since in the category of simple fact and common knowledge. They are no longer even theories. If the planets, including the solid earth beneath our feet, are not really circling the sun, and many diseases are not really caused by microbes, then our sense perceptions are meaningless. Despite the limitations of language (sec. 4), theology can regard as certainties the doctrines of God’s divine attributes, the deity of Jesus Christ, salvation by faith alone through Jesus Christ, and many more. If these are not true, then Biblical language is meaningless.
The conflicts between science and theology are in areas of lower certainty. Each one’s area of highest certainty is mostly beyond the realm of the other, while their overlap is mostly in areas of lower certainty. The trouble is that it is difficult to admit that a long-accepted point has a low certainty. There is a very human tendency to develop a mind-set, which a layman would call a rut. Theologians who devoted much labor to developing a particular theological position tend to assume that when conflict occurs it must of course be science that is wrong, though even the most conservative theologian when pressed will not claim that his conclusions are as infallible as the inspired Scriptures on which they claim to be based. Similarly, scientists who spend long years on research and analysis leading them to a particular conclusion tend to assume that conflict must indicate an error in theology, though of course no scientist will claim that the final unquestionable interpretation of nature has flowed from his pen (well, computer keyboard). To make such a claim would be to invite unemployment. Thus the conflicts are polarized and exaggerated. A calmer bystander viewpoint is more objective and constructive. I attempt to take such a viewpoint, though I stand well within both camps, with my official credentials mostly on the scientific side.
Another phenomenon is that only conflict is news, so attention is attracted to problem areas, giving the impression that those areas dominate the overlap. We will never read an article or hear a news broadcast beginning with the information that today theologians and scientists agreed on 100 things. But we will hear about one thing they disagree about.
Many previous “conflicts” have been solved when an interpretation was found to be wrong. Sometimes theology has been wrong. For instance, Christians were misinterpreting the Bible when they thought it says the earth is immovable at the center of the universe. I believe the present-day young-universe recent-creation interpretation of the Bible is also wrong (see ch. 7). Sometimes science has been wrong. Many anti-Biblical interpretations of history have been proven wrong when further historical information was discovered. I believe the evolutionary interpretation of biology is wrong (see ch. 6, II). Both recent creation and evolution are deeply-entrenched mindsets that inspire great attachment and loyalty but in fact have a low degree of certainty based on their respective data sources. But neither camp is ready to agree to those assessments.
The Bible and nature can provide input to each other’s interpretation, even to the extent of correcting errors that have become widespread. The Bible clearly teaches that there is no natural origin of the universe, living things, design, or human consciousness. It tells us miracles can and do occasionally occur. The scientific community should have heeded these teachings long before it belatedly discovered so much natural evidence for a beginning of the universe (ch. 6, I), and the scientific community still is resisting the overwhelming evidence regarding the origin and design of life (ch. 6, II). The universe clearly shows that the earth moves about the sun, and we now clearly see that the theologians who denied this misinterpreted the Bible and resisted the evidence for too long. The Bible was not wrong, but their interpretation was. Many facts about the universe also clearly indicate that it has been around much longer than a few thousand years, and this should be allowed to direct us to a different interpretation of the Bible no matter how popular or widespread the recent-creation viewpoint may be. This requires hard work to pinpoint where that viewpoint goes astray and what contrary textual information it overlooks (see ch.7).
An objection, in defense of the supremacy of the BibleVery conservative Christians who have listened to this presentation nod approvingly up to the point where theologymust accept input from science, and then they suddenly raise startled objections to this conclusion. They insist that theology must be immune to influence from science, but must be guided by study of the Scriptural text alone. They insist that science must be interpreted through the glasses of Biblical revelation, and not vice versa. But they have not yet been able to show me a flaw in the reasoning that led to my conclusion. It seems obvious and irresistible, and it seems that any different conclusion must therefore be false.
To support their contention against this conclusion, they invoke a doctrine called “perspicuity,” which is a big word for clear, direct meaning. They insist this means that the text must be interpreted by itself with no input from scientific considerations, and that to accept such input is compromise, accommodation, and abandonment of the principles of inspiration and perspicuity. The concept of perspicuity has become so deeply entrenched in their minds that it is maintained even in the face of such a conflict with the logic represented by the above diagram of the relationship between theology and science.
Another logical flaw is in defining “clear, direct” meaning. We are all influenced by our background in countless ways, of which we are mostly unaware. Once a particular way of understanding a concept has become widespread, it becomes a habituated mindset that is rarely brought up for careful review. A perspicuous word for this phenomenon is “rut.” We must preserve some sort of check and balance on our interpretation or there is no hope of getting unstuck from our ruts.
There is an extenuating circumstance that helps understand these Christians’ attachment to their position on perspicuity. Objections to the principle of equal authority of the Bible and nature are in fact objections to the abuse of that principle, and I agree with those objections, but I believe this should lead us to reject the abuse but not the principle. As already stated, it does not mean uncritically accepting the current consensus of the scientific community even if that contradicts our theology. I myself reject that consensus on naturalistic evolution, and fortunately find strong scientific reasons for that rejection as well. But those who insist on the priority of scripture over science must respect the integrity of fellow believers like myself who feel that what we know about nature is irreconcilable with a particular theological viewpoint purportedly derived from the Bible. Others must not impugn our motives, accusing us of insufficient faith in God’s Word, attempting to win the approval of the non-believing scientific community, or protecting our careers. We cannot in good conscience ignore either nature or the Bible, and must seek a resolution consistent with both. We believe there must be one, and cannot rest until we find it. We take very seriously the limitations of verbal communication (discussed below), and believe in the perspicuity of both God’s Word and works.
This means that science and theology are different parts of our worldview, spectacles through which we view all reality, including the Bible and nature. If the views seem different through different spectacles, then there must be something wrong with at least one of the spectacles. Over-conservative theologians insist on viewing science through their theological half of the spectacles, but object to viewing their theology through the scientific other half. This leaves their vision fuzzy.
In this imprecise world, absolute certainty is never attained, only approached, both in theology and in science. No matter how certain a particular theological or scientific point may seem, there must be some threshold beyond which a sufficient degree of evidence from nature or theology respectively can require a reconsideration of the other. When that reconsideration is done, it may be discovered that the threshold was placed far too high. If both thresholds are high and lead to conflict, then at least one of the thresholds must be too high. I repeat: God’s Word and God’s work cannot conflict.
This points out another difference between science and theology. There is far more input of new information in science than in theology. The Bible text seems for now to be completed, with no additions made for 2000 years, nor expected (see ch. 6, III, A). New information regarding its meaning comes from ongoing research in history, archaeology, and ancient languages, but this still does not begin to compare with the rate of expansion of scientific knowledge. Therefore the threshold concept will almost always be applied when increasing scientific evidence reaches a point which requires reconsideration of a theological viewpoint, rather than vice versa, although in principle both are possible.
To raise the classic case of Galileo once again, the theologians felt there was overwhelming Biblical evidence that the earth does not move, and no amount of natural evidence could indicate otherwise. It was considered to be tied to other essential doctrines, and if this was not what the Bible taught, then language is meaningless. To be fair to them, we must note that there was not a strong scientific case yet, and some of Galileo’s arguments were later found false. Review this history in ch. 1; observational proofs that the earth rotates and moves were not found until 100 to 200 years later. So it often happens that some people are wrong for the right reasons, and some are right for the wrong reasons. It is advisable for all of us to remain humble and open to correction.
The limitations of verbal revelationWhile the Bible is not overruled by nature, it does have some inherent limitations. All verbal communication, even divine revelation, is limited by the language, culture, and people through which it comes. Christians believe God created language and culture in general, and prepared a few particular ones as His means of communicating His revelation to us in the Bible. The Bible is limited by these languages and cultures, though it certainly stretches those limits, introducing new concepts never before heard or thought of. And it contains truths that even the authors themselves probably did not fully understand, but were clarified in succeeding centuries of theological debate. God was of course aware of these limitations. There are many things that this vehicle could not possibly contain, and accepting such limitations on the vehicle does not at all imply any limitation in God’s knowledge. When the Bible was being written, God knew about energy, Maxwell’s equations, relativity, the structure of DNA, global ecology, nuclear reactions, the age and size of the universe, and the detailed mechanism of its formation. He could have carved the equations of physics in their late-20th-century form on Moses’ stone tablets, and preserved the tablets from then until now. But the Bible gives no reason why He would wish to do so, and that would make it incomprehensible to everyone before the 20th century, and after as well. There is nothing eternally final about our particular generation’s mathematical notation and terminology for these concepts.
Communication is a fearful and wonderful phenomenon. We do not have a clear concept of what concepts are as they reside in one person’s mind. That concept is then transferred to another mind, expressed through a totally arbitrary language system of sounds, motions, or symbols, and the resulting concept of the comprehender hopefully has a degree of resemblance to that of the expresser. The world contains literally thousands of such language systems. Our concepts and languages are woefully inadequate to express what is going on in the expression of concepts.
Verbal communication almost always has a range of possible interpretations. Within that range, we must select an interpretation based on various criteria. In fact, it is very possible that the range is larger than we at first realize; sometimes an interpretation exists that we had not thought of. We encounter this problem every day, in our little routine misunderstandings. The problem rarely is that we selected the wrong one of several possible apparent interpretations, but that the correct one did not even occur to us. Or, to give a less routine example, have you ever thought of the other two possible interpretations of “time flies like an arrow” (see below)? Scientific considerations must not be allowed to lead us outside the range of possible interpretations of the Biblical text, but they can be consulted for guidance within that range, and they may even point out a possibility that had previously been overlooked. If God has given us minds and access to this information, what justification is there to reject it? Such a prohibition seems baseless, foolish and dangerous.
In taking the principle of sola scriptura to the extent of claiming to interpret the text with no other considerations, it seems this cure is worse than the disease. It is similar to taking an antibiotic that kills a particular harmful bacteria, but kills all the beneficial ones in our system too. That may be necessary sometimes for our bodies, but I do not think it is necessary in the case of Bible interpretation.
In insisting on interpretation of the text alone, the advocates of this policy are trying to keep the sheep always in the fold and the wolf out, by welding the gate shut. But the fold alone cannot possibly contain all the sheep’s needs, and the wolves are not all outside the fold. Healthy sheep need to get out to exercise and find pasture (and other body functions), and the wolf will find other ways in if the shepherd does not maintain constant vigilance. There is no simple solution, and the “text only” weld must be removed. We must keep watching the gate and the flock, whether in the fold or out. The Pharisees tried to have answers to prevent every possible problem, such as their intricate Sabbath regulations, and Jesus soundly rebuked them for inventing man-made rules that violated God’s intended principles instead of protecting them (Mt. 12:1-14).
Speaking of input from sources outside the Bible
text, it is interesting to note that the most conservative Bible scholars
very happily accept guidance from the study of history, geography, archaeology,
and ancient languages. There is not always a clear line between these fields
and science. These studies may indicate what the text meant to its contemporary
listeners, which is ordinarily what we assume to be the correct interpretation,
and is certainly the starting point in the study of the text. This sometimes
is very different from the interpretation that seems natural after the
text is transmitted through a translation and large time and culture gap.
It is also common to view current world events and conditions to guide
our interpretation of prophecy about the end of the world. So even the
staunchest defenders of Biblical authority and perspicuity in fact credit
considerable authority to at least some information outside the text itself,
and outside the opinions of generations of Bible scholars.
The Bible invokes input from common sense and experience even in matters of spiritual truth, for instance in the scathing ridicule of idol worship and Jesus’ denunciations of the Pharisees’ rules and interpretations (ch. 3, VI, A). Jesus Himself emphasized the necessity for logic in theology.
The final authority is the mind of God Himself. Even the contemporary listeners, even the inspired writer himself or herself, may not have completely understood, and may have somewhat misunderstood, the message (see the following section). Following generations are even further removed from the message. Science may many centuries later discover things that tell us more about what God was thinking than those present at the time ever dreamed of.
Some Christians try to define the limits of the Bible’s revelation by limiting the scope of the knowledge that God intended to reveal to us. But I have seen no satisfactory basis for that limitation; it seems to be based only on their own opinions projected onto God. Who can presume to speak authoritatively on God’s intentions, beyond what He Himself has told us? So the only limits I am convinced of are the limits of the medium of communication itself.
Let’s discuss those limits. There are experts in languages, who have highly developed their skills in analyzing many languages. I am not an expert in either theology or languages, and deeply respect those who are, so I will not attempt to beat them at their own game. But I will make some comments about the rules of the game. Am I qualified to make such comments? I criticize linguists who make mistaken comments about my field of physics, so am I presumptuous to make comments about language? Most linguists have had little contact with physics, but I have had much contact with language, beginning very soon after I was born. I have made a career of teaching and communicating in Taiwan, using Mandarin Chinese, which is as far removed from my mother tongue as you can get. So I do have a very practical, albeit it non-professional and non-technical, basis on which to comment on language and culture.
Language and culture are limited and imprecise. Language is not a code; there is an irreducible subjective element left after all the tools of linguistics have been applied. No living language is as simple and certain as theologians often assume Old Testament Hebrew was, and the same is true of New Testament Greek. I would like to ask these experts, who are so confident of their interpretation of these ancient texts, how often they experience misunderstandings with their wife/husband (and many others) using their own current native tongue, and how often what he/she meant had never even occurred to them, let alone been on a mental list and ruled out. Of course casual conversation and scholarly analysis are not the same thing, but I still think the question is relevant.
Analyzing a languageHow would an archaeologist studying ancient English documents 10,000 years from now interpret our language, given a sample comparable in size and content to the Old Testament? It is often a surprising experience trying to explain English to someone just learning it, who asks you “What does this sentence mean?” And the most humbling question of all, “Why? How do you know?” Often all you can say is “It just does.” I just know.” It is your native tongue. The meaning of a sentence is more than the sum of the meaning of the words.
Examples are endless. Here are some I have noticed and collected. Never mind (why do those two words together mean what they do?!) full-fledged idioms, which assume background in history and culture for their meaning. Let’s consider expressions that are considered proper grammatical English. We say “I could care less,” but mean “I could not care less.” We say “Everyone doesn't do it,” when we mean “Not everyone does it.” Of course purists can object that these examples are not proper grammar. Let’s continue. What does “quite a few” mean? Why is there such a difference between “It must be lost” and “It must be found”? There are at least three ways to analyze the sentence “Time flies like an arrow.” Is “time” a noun, an imperative verb, or an adjective describing a type of flies? How do we know that “Once upon a time, long, long ago” means it never happened at all? We say “I have something I need to get.” If we have it, why do we need to get it? Would a scholar in the distant future be able to deduce the correct meaning of the question “What's the matter?”? Would he understand the difference between “He got away,” and “He got away with it”? Would he comprehend the sentence “I can hardly come shortly”? Picture our future linguist trying to compare the phrases “just a minute,” “just right,” “just dessert,” “just a desert,” and “just deserts.” Given the meaning of “dis-” and “cover,” would he understand “discover”? Or “dis-“ and “ease”? How come “how come” means what it means? And so on endlessly; language is inherently a habituated arbitrary association of meaning with sounds, not always closely tied to strict logical structure. We can only wonder how much we do not know about the meaning of words and phrases in Bible times. Look at the commentaries for many examples of words, especially in Psalms and other poetic passages, which do not occur frequently enough in the Old Testament to be understood with any certainty by present-day scholars, or even past scholars whose writings are available to us.
I have come across at least two interesting examples of common misunderstandings of the Old Testament. A familiar verse is Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” We even sing it. We understand it to mean that the Lord gives us joy, and that gives us strength. But the word translated “strength” could also mean “fortifications,” and the joy could be going to the Lord not us, so that the verse may mean that the Lord receives joy from the city wall the people had just finished rebuilding. The Lord does give us joy and strength, but that may not be what this verse means. Another familiar verse is Proverbs 3:5, 6, which in the King James Version is “Trust in the Lord,… and He will direct thy path.” Generations of Christians have taken this as a promise of guidance from the Lord. I have heard that a Bible scholar, who was a member of the New International Version translation committee, had from childhood understood it that way, until in the course of doing the new translation he discovered that in the Hebrew it means the Lord will make your way smooth and straight. It says nothing at all about guiding you. Of course, many other verses do say so, so there is no doctrinal issue at stake here, only the meaning of this particular verse. This is probably a slip in translation into English, not an ambiguity in the original.
If we attempt to make language more precise than it is capable of being, it is like trying to make a high-precision machine part out of rubber, or measure the diameter of a cloud to the nearest millimeter. This does not mean rubber or clouds do not exist, only that we must deal with their characteristics sensibly. Thus we might imagine an over-conservative theologian and a liberal theologian looking at the same cloud. The first tries to measure the cloud within a millimeter, the second doubts the cloud really exists, and neither one notices that it is raining.
TranslationFurthermore, there is the complexity of translation, which is the only means of access most of us have to the Bible text. This brings two languages into the process of transferring the concepts from the authors’ minds to ours. Translation between modern languages still cannot be done reliably by computers. Add to this the complexity of cross-cultural understanding. In the case of the Bible, add to this the complexity of understanding across the ages between then and now.
The Old Testament itself spans a 1000-year period. During those centuries great changes in society and language occurred, so Old Testament Hebrew was not a single, unchanging language. Determining the precise definition of a given word is aiming at a moving target. Look at the “generation gap” we experience within a decade, with new phrases and uses of words. Consider the differences between American and British English that have arisen in a couple of centuries. We must use caution in making comparisons of word usage in passages written at widely different times, and cannot assume the usage was constant. That is precisely the assumption made in “word list” studies on which are based the interpretation of a particular word in a particular verse. Such studies are very informative, but not mathematically precise.
In this book we will be especially concerned (in ch. 7) about the interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, the beginning chapters of the Bible (but not necessarily the oldest), written by Moses during a time of uniquely rapid change in the cultural environment of the Jewish people. The transition from slavery in Egypt to occupation of Canaan was a tremendous cultural change, and is certain to have been reflected in major changes in habits of speech and thought. Moses wrote at least several centuries before very much more of the Old Testament was written. Therefore even early pre-Christian Jewish scholars are centuries and worlds removed from Moses, and not necessarily infallible guides to the meaning of every word as Moses understood it fresh from his Egyptian education.
Old Testament Hebrew is a dead language, and therefore unable to defend itself against misinterpretation by 20th-century theologians. There are very few samples available to us outside the Old Testament. Most theologians are only proficient in using reference books to decipher Old Testament Hebrew. This is a valuable skill, but it still is true that even most seminary Hebrew teachers cannot possibly be fluent enough in Old Testament Hebrew to ask Moses for a drink of water.
New Testament Greek is a far different case. Unlike the Old Testament, it represents a single generation, a virtual instant in history, and it is documented by a vast literature of extant material contemporary with the New Testament. But many key New Testament words are given new aspects of meaning when adopted from their pagan cultural origins into the Biblical world-view: God, sin, salvation, redemption, etc. For these meanings we are dependent on the rest of the New Testament, and usages were not even standardized between different authors, e.g. the apparent disagreement between Paul and James about “justification” and whether it has anything to do with our actions. This has led to endless theological debates over these uncertainties. There is much more possibility for error in our understanding of Old Testament writers' thoughts, especially in details and in poetry.
Scholars have made amazing strides in the study of dead ancient languages of the Middle East and elsewhere, including China. This produces an interesting situation. There are scholars of classical Chinese literature (written more than 2000 years ago) who cannot speak or understand a word of either ancient or modern spoken Chinese. I do not for a moment discredit their achievements. But I do harbor a deep suspicion that there still is far more guesswork and error in their work than they care to admit. If Confucius and Mencius (the best-known ancient Chinese philosophers) could read these modern scholarly tomes, I have a hunch that at many places they would laugh themselves into exhaustion. But they and the scholars are safe from this fate. And so are the scholars of ancient Hebrew.
I would like to know how often scholars who study a modern language which is not their mother tongue are found to misunderstand things that are plain to native speakers. This is the reality check on the accuracy of linguistic expertise.
Divine inspirationAll the discussion to this point is applicable to any document or text. In studying any other document besides the Bible, the basic question is what the author meant. We will not get into the current debate over “deconstruction,” in which the original author’s meaning is disregarded and words are considered to mean whatever the observer feels theydo. That battle is being waged in the halls of secular academia, and we wish them well. A widely-quoted book on the conservative side is by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967).
Some conservative theologians have applied these principles to the interpretation of the Bible, claiming that the final authority in Bible interpretation is the author’s intended meaning. They have placed great emphasis on Hirsch’s principles. Their goal is a worthy one, of preventing drift away from faith in the Bible as God’s authoritative revelation, or the principle of sola scriptura. But in adopting this approach, they seem to be defending too much, and losing something in the process, namely the divine aspect. Hirsch never says anything about divine inspiration or the Holy Spirit. To limit the meaning of the Bible to the author’s intended meaning is to introduce an anti-supernatural bias in practice, however much these same conservative theologians may reject such a bias in principle, and deny that they have such a bias in this case.
We must carefully guard against any approach that introduces an unrestrained subjective element that could lead to almost any interpretation the reader may prefer. This has led to the chaos of liberal theology and higher criticism, and the abuses of Roman Catholic theology. We must reject all imaginative inventions of “scholarship” or “inspiration” which have no basis in the content of the text nor the facts of history. But avoidance of that error is no excuse for committing an opposite error, and it is counter-productive, making the first error look more reasonable.
In most cases there is no reason to doubt that the author’s intended meaning is the inspired God-given meaning. But this may not always be the last word. What is most important is not what the human author was thinking, but what God was thinking.
The Bible is undeniably a document which must be analyzed by the same basic principles as other documents. However, we who believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God must take still another factor into account. Even if we could be certain what the Bible authors were thinking, our belief that they were divinely inspired introduces another whole dimension to the possibilities of interpretation, which does not arise in the interpretation of other ancient or modern writings.
Theologians use the term “verbal, plenary inspiration.” “Verbal” means the words, not just the ideas, were guided by God. This rejects the theory that God gave the writers some spiritual insights but left it up to their limited human abilities to write it down as clearly and correctly as they could, which inevitably would result in some slipups. “Plenary” means all of it, not just part. So the Bible does not just “contain” the words of God, it is all the Word of God. Once we assume that some parts might be wrong, and have no standard for determining which parts, we cannot really trust any part. “Inspiration” literally means “in-breathed,” in this case meaning God was speaking through the authors. This does not tell us specifically how God did it. In fact He must have used various methods in different cases. It does not mean they were only typewriters putting down words God spoke; the different authors’ background andpersonalities are plainly evident. But it does mean that God acted in a unique way in the process of the writing of the Bible, so that the outcome was a document expressing precisely what God wanted expressed.
This is called the doctrine of inerrancy. This is impossible to define precisely, because the meaning of language is imprecise (ch. 5, I, F). The doctrine of inerrancy is a teaching of the Bible itself, which we believe because we believe the Bible is God’s Word, and we have other reasons for believing that. We need not, and must not, fall into a logical circle on this point. God could conceivably have chosen to communicate His truth to us through a book in which He allowed some errors; we cannot decide how He must do His work of revealing His message. We can only observe that He Himself in that message told us that it contains no errors. The Biblical passages involved in this doctrine are too extensive to even begin to list here. We cannot prove exactly what the Bible means in every detail, let alone prove that what the Bible means has no errors. We can only look at purported errors, and find that there are no proven errors at this moment. See the discussion of historical accuracy and internal unity in sec. III, D and E.
What all this means for our present topic is that there may be more meaning in some Biblical passages than even the writer himself or herself dreamed. David had no inkling of what we know about how “the heavens declare the glory of God,” Ps. 19:1; 8:3. Also, the prophets studied their own prophecies, I Pet. 1:10-12. On the other hand, it could be argued that here Peter is only saying the prophets wondered about further details, such as time and circumstance, which were not explicitly stated in their writings, so this does not prove they did not understand what was stated. But there are other examples. Some prophecies are not even obviously prophetic, and the writer was probably unaware of their implications as later generations saw them: Jer. 19:1-11; Hos. 11:1; Zech. 11:2 (see ch. 6, III, G). These verses are quoted and interpreted in the New Testament, so we must consider that interpretation to be an inspired, inerrant one.
And finally there are the prophecies which are still unfulfilled, relating to the end of the world, scattered through the Old Testament and concentrated in the book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament. Who can make any claims as to the degree to which the writers understood these? How much could they possibly have understood? Even if God gave them a direct vision of future people and events, what comprehension could they possibly have of visions of automobiles, airplanes, rockets, atomic bombs, laptop computers, and rock concerts? Whatever they comprehended, how could they express it in their vocabulary?
The early Church spent several centuries hammering out its concepts of the nature of Jesus Christ and salvation, sorting out the facts of Jesus’ simultaneous human and divine nature, and of God’s sovereignty and human free will as they both relate to our salvation. Many acrimonious arguments, books, and church councils struggled through these issues. Their primary authority in these debates was the Apostle Paul’s writings. But can we believe that Paul anticipated all that would be questioned in the next few centuries, and had a clear concept of all the answers that would need to be included in his epistles? Not to mention the other New Testament writers, whose writings are also important, but who were nowhere near the scholar Paul was. We can only believe that God oversaw the process of writing so that all that is needed for following generations was included, far beyond the writers’ own comprehension of those needs and their answers.
Another category of problem passages is statements that are not precisely true, yet their meaning is correct. e.g., in Gen. 22:17, it is God Himself speaking, so this is not even a question of the author’s ability to comprehend. God told Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars. Four thousand years later, his descendants are far more numerous than the number of stars visible to the naked eye (a few thousand), but nowhere near the actual number of stars known to modern astronomy (at least 1022). But neither of these facts obscures the meaning God was expressing to Abraham.
The Ten Commandments, with their reference to the days of creation, are yet another special case, being the direct words of God, not of Moses. While this gives them a unique status of authority, it also allows even greater distance between what God meant and what Moses understood.
Could the author himself actually misunderstand?The doctrine of inspiration means that we must even cautiously allow the possibility that what the scripture writer thought was wrong in a few instances. It is remarkable that the Bible is so free of mistaken concepts that were common at the time. The Bible claims that inspiration produced inerrant teaching. Inerrancy is a complex subject that has been dealt with in endless theological discussion, and was briefly introduced above. But while upholding this belief, we still must acknowledge that some wrong ideas may be caught peeking around the edges of that teaching. For instance, Paul early in his ministry seems to have expected the return of Jesus within his lifetime, though that is not directly taught (I Thess. 4:17, “we who are still alive.”). And Jonah glaringly misunderstood God’s intention for Nineveh, though in the end he confessed to having had a hunch.
This is a complex and sensitive subject, which skeptics and liberals have often abused, but the possible abuse of these facts is no excuse for the opposite error of denying them in a misguided attempt to defend the authority of the Bible and protect others from misunderstanding it. Just because some people have taken an inch and gone a mile, that does not justify trying to take back the legitimate inch. That only makes those people look good, and brings further disgrace on the very position we are trying to defend. Some truth may be dangerous, but it is more dangerous to try to conceal it than to deal with it. If we try to conceal part of the truth, and this is discovered and causes offense, we bear responsibility for that. It is sadly humorous to try to conceal truth in order to defend the truth. It may be dangerous to raise such questions as we are raising here, because it will cause confusion for some who are easily confused. The truth will always be abused by some, and they bear responsibility for doing so. As Peter commented, Paul’s epistles contain things easily misunderstood (II Peter 3:15, 16), but Peter did not say Paul should not have written them. Justification by grace through faith alone is a dangerous and often misconstrued teaching, but we must teach it. God does.
My purpose in pointing out the limitations of language is of course not to undermine our hope of understanding God’s Word to us. As has been mentioned in ch. 3, and in regard to some of the questions discussed in ch. 4, lack of complete understanding is not complete lack of understanding. Some things are stated so extensively and repeatedly throughout the Bible that there is no reasonable doubt about their meaning. The threshold for reconsideration of these points is so high that it is inconceivable that science could produce sufficient and relevant information to reach that threshold. In fact it seems that any reconsideration would amount to questioning the authority of Scripture itself, because there seems so little room for other possible interpretations. But we must be willing to discriminate these things from others that are detailed points mentioned only peripherally in a few places, and therefore their threshold is far lower, and the authority of Scripture itself is not necessarily at stake. This allows us to discriminate theologians’ fallible opinions from inerrant revelation, which may be the key to a particular apparent conflict between theologians and scientists.
The current flash-point is the age of the universe, or the date of creation. This section is written as background for that discussion in ch. 7.
The opinion of church leadersThere is one other authority which is often invoked in questions of Biblical interpretation, and currently in the date-of-creation debate. That authority is the consensus, or at least majority, of the great leaders of the church down through the centuries. This is a very significant authority. Most conservative Christians accept the early creeds, produced by the great church councils, as accurately representing the teaching of the Bible. We hardly dare disagree with these heroes of the faith who contended for the truth with such devotion. But they still are not infallible, especially on details which were not the crux of the historic theological debates. Examination shows a number of areas in which we do disagree with them. None of them objected to monarchical government, nor advocated democracy. They had nothing to say on socialism versus capitalism. As already mentioned elsewhere, some of them had a repressive outlook on the role of sex and marriage. The early church within a century of the end of Roman persecution began committing persecution itself, and a thousand years later the great reformers became enmeshed in forceful suppression of those with divergent theological views.
The beliefs of Christian leaders and most followers through the ages are a very important reference point, but not infallible.
A similar authority often cited, particularly with reference to the Old Testament, is the ancient Jewish community of scholars, both before and after the time of Christ. This too is a valuable reference, and this too is fallible. The most obvious example of their errors is Jesus’ scathing denunciations of the teachings and traditions of the religious leaders of His day.
To conclude this discussion, I present two more diagrams, which are mostly self-explanatory. The first is a more detailed version of the previous diagram, representing more of the factors involved in our understanding of reality. The important addition is our experience, observation, and self-consciousness, which are parts of created reality. At least from a Christian perspective this does not totally overlap with the realm of nature, as discussed in V, A, 2 below. Our observations and self-perception are influenced by our understanding of the world, science, and theology, so there are arrows going both up and down. Progress in research is a circular process. I have put considerable thought and struggle into these arrows and overlaps, and some is still debatable. How would you modify it?
In this diagram, conflicts can occur in many places, in all areas of overlap between theology, natural science, social science, and world-view.
The second diagram represents the sources of our understanding of various basic doctrines. They come initially from the Bible, of course, but other sources also give varying degrees of understanding.
II The Bible provides a basis for the two basic assumptions of science
(See ch. 8 of Del Ratzsch’s book, and many others.)
The Bible says God created all of the physical universe: Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So the universe is real, not just an illusion. The God of the Bible is orderly, so what He creates should be uniform, which is the first assumption of science. Therefore for one who believes the Bible, this is not an assumption, but a deduction from something still more basic.
The Bible says God created human beings “in His image,” Genesis 1:26, 27. This does not mean a physical likeness, because everything physical was created by God. He Himself is not physical. Therefore the “image” must refer to our personal nature, our mind, emotions, and will, our capacity for consciousness and relationship with other conscious beings including God Himself. God’s goal is for us to be His children, with Him as our Heavenly Father. This is only possible if we think very much like He does. Therefore we should be able to look at things He has created, and after time and study to begin to see what He was thinking while He was creating them. Some of it is what we call it the laws of nature. In a similar way, we can look at most objects that humans have produced, and discern basically what purpose and method of operation was in the mind of their designer: a chair, table, light bulb, watch, airplane, etc. This analogy cannot be pressed too precisely, and this oversimplification mixes together principle and purpose, but the point is sufficiently clear for our purpose now. It means we expect that things God created should be intelligible to us, which is the second assumption of science. And thus for a Bible-believing person, this assumption too is transformed into a deduction from something else.
Finally, the Bible gives a reason, in fact a duty, to study science. In Genesis 1:28, God told the two people He created to fill the earth, subdue it, and rule over living things. In many other places, the Bible tells us to help those who are sick and suffering. All of this requires us to understand nature. Thus it is not mere presumption on our part to pursue study and modification of our environment. This is of course not a license for exploitation and destruction. The world is still the Lord’s, and we are simply entrusted with its management for a while. We are not doing very well.
The Bible has no conflict with the assumptions or practice of science. On the contrary, it positively provides a basis for them, and as sec. I summarizes, it is the only religion or philosophy that does this. This is the opposite of the assumption, popular throughout the 20th century, that of all religions and “holy books” the Bible has the most serious conflict with science. This is not only an illogical assumption, it is contrary to the facts of history. Its widespread acceptance is partly attributable to blunders by early 20th century Christians, but that is a long story that we cannot go into here.
It is no coincidence that modern science developed first in Europe, particularly northern Europe, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Human history is always a complex interplay of many factors, but one factor is certainly a dominant one in the rise of modern science: This was the first society in the world that was deeply influenced by Biblical teachings, though this does not mean that all of the people were Christians. Their Biblical concepts gave them a basis for the assumptions of science, and the motive and freedom to study it. Those people were not more intelligent than people in other times and places, but given suitable assumptions and support, they founded modern science.
Most of the outstanding scientists in the West before the 20th century were Christians, and it did not usually hinder them in their research. In fact, many of them felt it was their primary motivation: Kepler, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Henry, Joule, Mendel, Pasteur, Kelvin, Maxwell, etc.
The modern world seems happy enough to enjoy the benefits of the scientific revolution that grew from Biblical roots, but they are throwing away those roots in their rejection of all standards of conduct and truth. Our environment and society are suffering the consequences, and it is doubtful that scientific progress can continue indefinitely with the foundation removed from under it.
III Facing the experts
In the following section we will begin facing many arguments against religious faith, for evolution, etc. These arguments all sound very impressive and scholarly when you first hear them. The people who say these things are famous and intelligent scientists, experts who have spent their lives doing research on these subjects. Some have been awarded Nobel prizes for their achievements. How can we who are not experts dare doubt their conclusions? But even different experts disagree. The “science-religion conflict,” as explained above, is really a conflict between theologians and scientists ? both experts! How are we to decide which of them is right?
They are experts in the areas in which they have done research. Within that area, the only time we can question their correctness is when there seem to be contradictions. Then we can politely ask for clarification. Probably we will find that we misunderstood something. But experts can be wrong, and sometimes do contradict themselves, so we have a right to ask such questions. Also, experts are human and thus subject to vanity and tunnel vision that causes them unconsciously or even deliberately to distort or omit some of the facts. Thus while maintaining respect we must still be alert, and sometimes cautiously doubt the experts’ presentation of the facts. This is represented by a light arrow in the diagram.
On the other hand, their conclusions are based not only on their research, but on assumptions and logical reasoning. These are outside the experts’ field of expertise; here we (anyone who is educated enough to be reading this book) can stand on level ground with them. We can and must carefully notice these assumptions, and ask questions about them. Often they are unstated, assumed to be intuitively obvious and unquestionable, reflecting the expert’s personal worldview. But we can choose different assumptions, and give our reasons for doing so. This is represented by a heavy arrow.
We must also pay close attention to the logic, and ask questions when it seems the logic is mistaken. This is represented by the other heavy arrow. Anyone who has had the privilege of a higher education, whatever the field, should have a well-developed sense of discernment between sense and nonsense. If not, his or her education has failed; this is not the specialty of a few experts, though some do specialize in the technicalities of logic. In fact, many whose education was quite limited have developed a keener sense of discernment than most who possess formal degrees. Thus this also includes anyone who is reading this book. When the experts have finished saying everything they know about the subject at hand, we can ask, “Is that all?” If they say yes, then we believe them that they know no more, and probably no more is known at present, unless we have other reasons to think they are missing some things, whether by mistake or deliberately. We can say, “I am not convinced yet that your research proves your conclusions.”
If there are flaws in the facts, assumptions, or logic, then the conclusion becomes doubtful. Thus we have a right to think it over and say to the expert, “I do not accept all your assumptions and logic, and maybe even some of your facts, and therefore I disagree with your conclusion.” If we fail to notice such flaws, then we have no one to blame but ourselves when we are led into error.
IV General Scientific Challenges to Religious Belief (Ratzsch, ch. 7)
The people who present these arguments are professing, or at least practicing, atheists, and are actually a small minority of the population. But they are highly intelligent, visible, vocal, and influential. Most people do not completely accept this attack on religious faith, but they do not know how to respond to it, and remain disturbed and confused by it. Although their faith is not destroyed, it is weakened. This is sad and unnecessary.
These general challenges need only brief comment. We have already dealt with the principles involved in most of them.
A Not scientificWhat does “scientific” mean? It is difficult to define; see ch. 2.
Even if belief is unscientific, does that make it unbelievable? Is there “nothing but” scientific truth? There is no scientific proof that there is nothing but scientific truth, so if this is true it is an unscientific truth, and therefore violates its own requirement; it is self-contradictory. (Review the conclusion of ch. 2, and see V, A, B below.)
B Not provableWhat does “provable” mean?
Many things we believe are not provable: the 2 (or more) assumptions of science, trustworthiness of friends, etc. Is there “nothing but” what is provable? There is no way to prove that that is true. In fact it has been proven by mathematics that there must be more truth than can be proven by mathematics (Kurt Godel’s theorems, etc.) Any proof must have some unproven assumptions as a starting point.
C Unsupported by evidenceWhat is evidence? Our assumed theories influence our interpretation of evidence. For instance, sunshine is evidence for nuclear fusion in the Sun, but no one recognized or interpreted it that way until recently. Is the existence of the universe, life, and complexity evidence for creation and design? What evidence is there that the universe could exist without creation, or life without design? If the Bible tells us something, is that evidence? If not, why not? Those who challenge religious faith in this way must state what they would accept as evidence for religious belief. If there is nothing they would accept, then they are simply closed-minded.
How can we be sure evidence is correct? We need evidence to confirm evidence. And to confirm that evidence,... As with proof, evidence must begin somewhere, and we look for consistency in the results. This beginning point is our belief, or faith. We can therefore suggest that religious faith might be exactly such a beginning point, unless there is evidence that all religious belief is wrong. Is there such evidence?
D Superfluous, obsolete:This is “nothing but science” again.
“Science has given natural explanations that replaced religious explanations of many things, like lightning, motion of the sky, and sickness. As our knowledge continues to increase, it will someday explain everything, and replace all religious explanation.”
This itself is a theory, based on past observation. We cannot be sure tomorrow’s new facts will confirm it, any more than we can be sure research will confirm any other current theory. In the past, such confidence has often been proven wrong, for instance when physicists at the turn of the 20th century were confident classical physics could explain everything.
Actually, this theory does not fit all past observation. Already there are some things that seem to be beyond the realm of science: the origin of the universe and life, ethics, etc. (sec. V, and ch. 6)
V Some specific topics of purported major conflict between science and religious faith
These scientific fields are not inherently anti-religious. The problem is that many people have chosen to believe the philosophies of naturalism, materialism, scientism, relativism, humanism, and pluralism, and these people misuse these scientific fields to support their philosophical attack on religion. It is not merely Christians who object to this; many non-Christian scholars have rejected most of these arguments and pointed out their many errors, even though they still agree with these conclusions.
I must have found the following outline somewhere, but I have no idea where.
A Naturalism and materialism misuse natural science against:First we must review the definition of “miracle” (end of ch. 2): a physical event without a physical, natural cause, in fact an apparent violation of what we know about natural causes. And we must also include events that are considered providence.1 theism: “Natural science has replaced God.”
This is “nothing but science” again. See above.
2 miracles: “Scientific laws forbid miracles. We know miracles are impossible. Only unscientific, superstitious people believe in miracles. Science must assume there is a natural explanation for everything.”
Miracle stories in the Bible are mostly in a few short, crucial periods, separated by centuries with almost no recorded miracles. So the Bible does not lead us to expect miracles all the time. But neither does it give us any basis to say that they are impossible or forbidden at any time. Absence of recorded miracles is not equal to recorded absence of miracles.
Christians should be skeptical about any miracle story. Most miracle stories are false, whether deliberately so or not. And most true miracles seem not to be miracles from the God of the Bible, judging by their context and after-effects. When we discussed other religions in ch. 3, VI, A, we pointed out that the Bible says God is not the only supernatural power.
A miracle from God is planned, purposeful, helping people to know and love Him. I John 5:12,13. It is not intended to be frightening or entertaining. It is not an emergency solution for an unexpected problem; the God of the Bible does not have unexpected problems.
Believing in miracles does not require ignorance or superstition; it requires knowledge and belief in science. Miracles are exceptions to the rule; we cannot recognize an exception if we do not know the rule. So miracles and science are not incompatible; in fact they go together. Only by implicitly accepting theism can the concept of miracles be used as an objection to theism. Atheism and agnosticism have no basis for assuming that nature is uniform. Can pantheism and animism even have a clear concept of “miracles”?
This means that accepting the possibility of miracles does not undermine all scientific research or give a lazy excuse for avoiding it. As stated in sec. II earlier, God is orderly and His universe is orderly. Believing in miracles does not mean that anything is “off limits” for investigation. It also does not mean that we frequently invoke the label “miracle” for everything we do not understand. That would be the “God of the gaps” error, which is discussed in the introduction to ch. 6.
Scientific research tells us nature is usually orderly, and always gives an orderly response to causes we use in experiments. We cannot perform miracles on demand. But that does not prove that miracles never occur, or that there is no-one besides us who can cause them. The Bible does not say people can cause miracles, only that there is a true God who can, as well as some spirits He created. The basic question is not whether miracles are possible, but whether God exists. If God exists, then miracles are possible. But His power is not some impersonal force which we can learn to manipulate at will. God is not a cosmic electric outlet or vending machine to be manipulated as we wish.
Review the diagrams in I, F, 3 above representing the theistic outlook on the relationship between science and faith. The natural world is contained within the realm of created reality. In ch. 2, the definition of natural science, and of physical nature, included the assumption of consistency, or the existence of “laws of nature.” And in II above the consistency was explained as derived from God’s own consistency. Therefore every event in the natural world can be regarded as an act of God, and the only difference between what we regard as laws and what we regard as miracles is that the “laws” describe those acts of God that are repeated in a consistent manner. “Natural laws” are simply repeated miracles to which we have become accustomed and familiar.
But this then raises another question. Some people complain that it is unreasonable to say God would make the laws of nature and then sometimes break those laws Himself. It seems to represent a lack of planning and foresight. This is a good question, but it is based on a mistaken conception of God’s purpose. If God’s plan is only to produce an orderly universe, then miracles are unreasonable. Under such a plan, God would act once in the beginning, and endow the created order with sufficient capabilities to carry out His purposes thereafter. But who are we to assert that that is the only type of plan which God might adopt? We accomplish most of our goals in a series of (hopefully) planned steps, and do not necessarily consider that as lack of planning or foresight; why not God? Furthermore, there is the interpersonal element of our relationship with God. If His plan is to have people who choose to love Him, trust Him, and share His glory (Ephesians 1:12; 3:10, etc.), then that plan requires both order and miracles. We need an orderly environment in order to live. But sometimes a miracle helps us to know, love, and trust God, just as good human parents use unexpected gifts and events going far beyond their children’s merely physical needs. Excluding this possibility amounts to criticizing the way God has chosen to work, and giving Him advice, which is a highly presumptuous position to take.
We cannot know that miracles are impossible. The most that could conceivably be said is that we know that no miracles have ever occurred, and even that would only prove that it has not happened yet, not that it is impossible. But we do not know about everything that has ever happened everywhere in the universe. So we can know that miracles have never occurred only if we know they are impossible. But some philosophers have argued that we know miracles are impossible because they have never occurred. This is a logical circle. This was precisely the argument used by the anti-Christian British philosopher David Hume 200 years ago. Yet amazingly, despite its glaring fallacy, it has been very influential.
When someone says nothing exists outside the physical universe, he is claiming either that the universe is infinite so that it has no outside, or that he has looked outside the universe to see what is there, and found nothing. To make either claim, he is claiming that he is infinite; otherwise, how could he know? The God of the Bible claims to be infinite, so there is nothing outside Him, and He is qualified to make statements about what does not exist. There are reasons to believe God’s claims (ch. 6, III), but no reasons to believe that the universe or any person is infinite.
This question also relates to the issue of whether our thought process itself is meaningful. We will pursue it further in the following section.
As at the end of ch. 2, and ch. 3, IV, D, and ch. 5, I, A, we remain unconvinced that science must assume there is a natural explanation for everything, denying the existence or relevance of a larger realm.
But this person claims he chose to believe this! And in his attempts to convince others to choose to agree with him, he is trying to use logic to prove that logic does not exist. Once again, this is thinking that thinking is meaningless, which is logically a self-defeating argument. But let’s consider it also from a more practical standpoint.3 free will: “Free will is only an illusion. All choices are really only natural cause and effect.”
This is atheistic reductionism in action (sec. I, A). Is this an acceptable viewpoint? Are we really willing to believe that we ourselves and everyone around us is fundamentally no more than a complex system of physics and chemistry, in principle no different from a computer-controlled chemical processing plant? This question has been debated for the last several centuries (though only in recent decades can it be stated in terms of computers), and a few paragraphs here won’t be the last word. But every individual has an opinion on the subject; it is impossible to be a person and not have a self-concept. So let me raise some matters that I think should be taken into consideration in choosing your self-concept.
I will not fall into the trap of attempting the self-contradictory task of giving scientific proof of the unscientific assertion that there is something beyond science involved in personhood. As already discussed, I do not accept the premise that only science constitutes an adequate explanation of phenomena. I can only point out, not prove, our innate comprehension of our personhood. If a person has no such comprehension, I have nothing to say. Trying to convince a person that he/she is a person is like trying to convince a fish that it is wet.
Having disavowed any attempt to give proof of this point, I still wish to raise a number of fairly objective matters that are relevant. Let me suggest some things that computers will never achieve no matter how highly developed they become, despite the claims of artificial-intelligence enthusiasts. “Never” predictions have a notorious and hilarious history of failure, but I will venture to make some in this case. Computers will never enjoy a milk shake, nor prefer strawberry to chocolate. They will never laugh, cry, tell a joke, or even smile. They will never be excited, depressed, interested, awed, bored, lonely, or contented. No computer will ever think about who designed and built it and why, or whether it was designed and built and purposeful at all, let alone whether the universe is designed and purposeful. No computer will ever ask or try to answer philosophical questions. Computers do not have a panic button, but they do have a delete button that perfectly erases a particular item from their memory. They will never wonder whether they are more than just a machine, or write books debating that question. They will never write or read a book of any kind, never produce or watch a movie. They will never pray or worship. They will never love, hate, be surprised, scared, impressed, ambitious, greedy, frustrated, or disappointed, make plans or wishes, all the scary science-fiction stories notwithstanding.
Computers will never establish a school to teach young computers how to design and program human beings. They will never hold a funeral for a departed computer, or human. They will never fall in love, marry, divorce, have children, raise them or abuse them, or soothe a frightened baby. Computers will never develop a language, or system of writing, or change it, or invent slang or profanity, or make accurate translations or dictionaries. No computer will ever be able to read a doctor’s signature. They will never write nor enjoy a science-fiction story about computers, or any other kind of story. No computer will ever write a (good, whatever that means) melody, opera, letter, diary, textbook, book review, or psychological test, nor answer one. They will never be curious, study something, or design and do an experiment, or propose and solve a problem. They will never design or build a building, bridge, or even a barbecue, though they are highly useful tools for people who design things. Computers will never set up a government, organize a political party or a union or a street gang, run for office, manage an election, vote, negotiate, sign a contract, or break one. They will never start a war, let alone win or lose one. They will never make laws or break them, though computer operators do. They will never create a unit of currency, devalue it, or counterfeit it, buy, sell, set up a bank, make a profit, or earn a living (they have no living to earn). They will never invent devices or write computer programs for their convenience, nor use them. Computers will never organize a state fair nor attend one, nor enjoy or fear any of the rides. They will never organize professional or amateur athletic activities, nor practice, compete, or watch.
Computers will never enter the entertainment industry; no self-respecting computer would be caught dead doing the foolish things many entertainers do. Computers will never create a work of art, nor appreciate one, nor appreciate the beauty in the natural world. They will not design new fashions, nor discard perfectly good clothes because fashions have changed. No computer will ever look at an overstuffed closet and say “I haven’t got a thing to wear.” They will never judge (let alone enter) a beauty pageant, a writing contest, a baking contest, or a county fair hog show. They will never award nor receive prizes of any kind. They will never invent musical instruments or games, nor play them, though people may write computer programs to perform a game for them. The famous IBM chess-playing computer does not know it is playing chess, and does not know or care whether it won or lost. Like all other computers, it knows nothing. Computers will never compose music, or practice and perform it, or gather in audiences to watch the performance or clap. There will never be Pentium’s Fifth Symphony, and even if there is the (human) audience will be very small and unimpressed. There is “computer art” and “computer music,” but it is produced by programs written by human beings, and its quality is debatable at best. Computers will never need a holiday, or take one. Old computers never die, or have a mid-life crisis, they just crash or become obsolete.
The famous chess-playing computer deserves further comment. IBM makes a huge investment in this project, for publicity purposes. It performs several hundred million operations per second. It is executing a program carefully devised by, you guessed it, expert humans, who construct criteria for choosing which of all the possible future combinations of play are worth considering. If it were totally blindly considering all possible plays, it could not finish in a reasonable amount of time. The human opponent is at most considering two plays per second in choosing his (thus far no women have entered this competition) next move, and furthermore is planning farther ahead than the computer is yet capable of. And still it is a close competition, and it is considered amazing when the computer finally wins a game against the master. Obviously the human and the computer are performing totally different forms of “thinking.” Any comparisons between them are ignoring the vast chasm that still separates them.
There will always be (until we stand before our Maker at the Last Judgment!) a hard core of people who insist that all the above human behaviors and more (that long paragraph could go on forever; what would you add to it?) can still be regarded as the product of complex physics and chemistry in the human body and brain. Although it is so obvious that computers are not human, there are experts who try to convince us that humans are computers. But do the rest of us believe that? Does the expert himself really believe his girlfriend or wife is no more than a complex machine? (I omit “herself,” because I give women credit for being sufficiently in touch with themselves not be this sort of expert.) We cannot argue with people who say so, but can only pity them, because they must suppress so much within them that contradicts what they profess to believe. What frustrations and disappointments must have driven them to such a sad condition? Is it we or they who are benighted, out of touch with reality, and self-deluded? It is inconsistent to claim to believe naturalism, yet express the very human feelings of awe, enjoyment, and curiosity about nature, and emphasize the importance of values and dignity in human life and society. Yet this is exactly what is calmly and confidently stated in countless articles and TV science documentaries.
There is a large and impressive research community developing “artificial intelligence.” They are accomplishing amazing things, with ever-larger databases, and complex computer networks. But artificial intelligence will always be exactly that, artificial. There are even claims that such work will soon produce consciousness in computers, but this must be based on an extremely rudimentary, reductionist definition of consciousness. This point is argued by other scientists who profess no religious belief, not just by we who have a religious viewpoint at stake. Even the most ardent proponents of artificial intelligence have no intention of ever writing an obituary or holding a funeral for a computer, nor expectation that any computer will ever do so.
An interesting and controversial detour would be to discuss how many of the above activities animals can perform, but we are not discussing the distinction between humans and animals. This discussion has engaged in enough controversies without that one!
All the above is the subjective side of this question. Perhaps the most objective problem with this viewpoint is that it undermines itself. If we say that there are absolutely no events outside the cause-effect chain of natural laws, then where did our thinking come from, including this thought? The only materialistic explanation is vibration of molecules in our brain cells, but that makes all thought meaningless. There have been various attempts to defend the meaningfulness of thought on the basis of the order of nature, or the evolutionary adaptive value of a thought pattern that is consistent with physical reality. But such attempts are unconvincing, and it is impossible to even make the attempt without implicitly assuming the opposite. The only way thinking, including thinking about reality, can be meaningful is if personality exists in a broader reality beyond the realm of natural cause and effect, but this is exactly what a materialist does not believe. He can only regard his own thoughts as either miracles or meaningless, and he does not believe in miracles…. When we remove God from the universe, it becomes only a meaningless machine, and we become part of the machine. Then the only way to feel that we and our lives are meaningful is to become our own “God.” This is the basic assumption of existentialism. Most materialists do not understand this loss of value, and cannot accept it. A few, like Bertrand Russell, understood it and admitted that it is frightening but must be faced bravely. But even Russell, in his monumental book The Wisdom of the West, pointed out many fallacies of past philosophers including fallacies in their criticisms of theistic religion, but he never got around to facing the problem that even these very thoughts themselves become meaningless if they are right.
We simply do not understand the nature of consciousness and thought, or the relationship between the person and the brain. Probably this is one of the deep parts of our nature that are beyond our complete understanding. We cannot expect to get outside of ourselves sufficiently to enable us to look back and attain a complete understanding of ourselves.
Atheists’ viewpoint on personhood and values is self-contradictory and fails to meet the needs we feel. This is good reason to doubt that it is true, though not a proof. If we claim that this actually proves it is false, some will object that this approach is unfair and closed-minded, because it excludes the possibility that atheists may after all be right. It is a fair question to ask what would be accepted as sufficient evidence that we are in fact mere complex machines in a meaningless mechanical universe. My answer is that it would be possible to believe that nothing exists beyond the material universe if there were no conscious beings in the universe wondering about this question. To ask this question is to answer it. Even if we do not admit we are persons, we still are. The very act of denying personhood is a demonstration of personhood.
B Some people misuse social sciences and humanities against:The attacks on religion discussed in the first section say “Natural science is supreme,” “nothing but.” In this section we discuss people who say that there is “nothing but social sciences and humanities,” that religion is nothing but feelings and concepts, and therefore we can completely explain it in terms of psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Many such “nothing but” comments were discussed in the previous section. It is mostly self-contradictory. It is reductionism on a different level.
(parts of this section are based on Dyrness’ book, ch. 8)1 revelation:“Many religions have sacred books, which are considered revelations from or about the supernatural, spiritual world. Their contents can be completely explained by the historical development and physical environment of that society and culture, and the personality and experiences of the writers. For example, Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, 1915. There is no real revelation from a supernatural God, or perhaps all religions are different truths from the same supernatural world. We should not say one group’s religion is right and others are wrong. We must accept and respect others and their beliefs. There is no absolute truth.”2 conversion, religious experience:“Individual feelings and behavior, including those connected with religious belief, can be completely explained by psychology. For example, Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, the Future of an Illusion, 1939. Religious concepts are a projection of our childhood father image, mere wish fulfillment to try to overcome our fears, failures, frustrations, trials, and emptiness. We have created God in our own image.”3 free will:“Personal choice and decision is only an illusion. All thought and behavior is predetermined by heredity and environment. For example, B. F. Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity, 1971. We should control society in order to control and improve people.”
In ch. 3, II, C we discussed the statement that there is no absolute truth. Here we face the statement that there are no moral absolutes. As before we must immediately reply, are there absolutely no moral absolutes?
If there are no standards, then we have no basis for saying that Hitler, Stalin, or people who commit physical or sexual abuse, are wrong. How many people believe this? How many really want to believe this? The few who do are described in manuals on psychopathology, and are considered a menace to society from whom the rest of us must protect ourselves by forcibly restraining them.
At a dinner I was once talking to a woman who advocated reason and education as the solution to all the world’s ills. I commented that Hitler was reasonable (given his assumptions) and educated. She suddenly had to go to the bathroom, and while she was away her friend told me she was a Jew.
These attacks on religion are partly true, which is why they are so influential. We are influenced and controlled by psychological and sociological factors much more than we usually realize. But are we totally controlled? Are we only machines? If so, then what controlled Durkheim, Freud, and Skinner? Were they not a product of their background, society, and intellectual community? Or do they claim to be some exalted form of being looking down on the human race from a different realm? If society should be controlled to improve it, who should control it? Who says who should control it? What does “improve” mean? Who decides what it means? Who decides who decides?....
It is true that our society greatly influences how we think and believe. But what we think and believe also influences society. The Bible says God especially chose and prepared the Jewish people, despite all their faults and failures, to be the ones through whom He gave His revelation to the whole world. If we say that society determines what we think, including what the authors of the Bible thought, then how can we explain why the Bible teaches so many things that no society easily accepts, and describes God as so different from us?
It is true that the faith of many people, including many Christians, is largely wish-fulfillment and cultural background, dreaming. But that does not prove that all faith is nothing more than this.
It is true that our concept of God and our relationship with our earthly father have deep psychological interconnections, which could be called projection. But which way does the projection go, and what does this have to do with whether one or the other is real? Which came first, our earthly father or heavenly One? Eph. 3:15 refers to “the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” Some commentaries suggest this means that the very concept of fatherhood is drawn from God and defined by Him. If the Bible’s creation account is true, then the system of parenthood and child-raising was established by God, and one purpose is for its instructional value to us. The Bible constantly uses family relationships as illustrations of our relationship with God. Our experience as children with our parents teaches us much about dependence and trust that transfers to our relationship with God. When we grow up and have our own children, many Christian parents, myself included, find that our experience of having and raising children also gives us new insight into God’s relationship with us.
Unfortunately, no parent is perfect, and some are terribly flawed. This has a negative impact on our concept of God. It becomes a hindrance, though not an insurmountable one. The faults of our parents can help us understand God’s perfection in contrast. If atheists claim that believers’ concept of God’s existence and nature is totally produced by their parents’ power and character, then we could alsoclaim that atheists’ concept of God’s non-existence and impossibility is totally produced by their parents’ failures and faults. This would be a fascinating psychology research topic.
Objectivity does not necessarily lead to disbelief, and belief is not a sure symptom of blind submission to tradition. To give the truth a chance to become apparent, we must doubt our doubts (repeating a comment at the beginning of ch. 4). Unbelief is only one item on a par with all others in the marketplace of beliefs. There is a strange double standard applied to the “scholarly” study of religion. In every other field I can think of, a teacher and researcher is required to believe the prevailing paradigms of that field. That certainly is true in my field, physics. Yet in “religious studies” or even so-called “Christian studies” it often seems mandatory to take a stance of disbelief in order to be considered competent and objective in teaching or research. Anyone who is a believer is automatically disqualified. The only way to justify this practice is to admit that the prevailing paradigm of the religious studies community is disbelief. But can such people really claim to understand the faith of believers?
Answering that question, I would say yes and no. In some ways they cannot understand what they have not experienced. On the other hand, my reference to a prevailing paradigm highlights the fact that everyone is a believer in something, complete with a healthy proportion of bias, prejudice, and subjectivity. Unbelief may also be wish-fulfillment, hoping for freedom from any superior power which/who might interfere with our own wishes and plans, and who might someday reward or punish us. Wish-fulfillment may in fact be the basis of faith for many Christians, but not necessarily for all, and it is not only Christians who can dream! Many people have chosen a lifestyle in which they must hope that there is no God who will one day judge them by a standard of justice and morality, and they profess to believe in the non-existence of such a God. Who is dreaming?
Whether a particular belief fulfills our wishes, and whether it is true, are two separate questions. If a belief meets all our needs, that is at least a strong clue that it is from the Creator Who knows our needs. If a belief does not meet our needs, that proves either that it is not from our Creator, or if it is then He does not care about our needs. The God of the Bible meets all our needs (but not all our wishes): love, forgiveness, security, purpose, comfort, instruction. See ch. 6, II, N, and IV.
Of course believers’ experiences can be described in terms of psychological principles and effects; how could it be otherwise? People are psychological. Only machines have no psychological effects. But a psychological description is not necessarily an explanation. Psychologists observe a pattern of behavior and give the pattern a name, but this does not mean they understand the cause of behavior; they have only hung a label on it. Human personality is complex beyond our comprehension.
If people reject religion because believers experience psychological effects, do they mean that religion should have no psychological effects? That is impossible, and if there were such a religion it would not meet our personal needs, which would refute any claims that it is a supernatural revelation from our personal Creator who should understand our needs. My freshman physics course has very little psychological effect (though the effort required to understand it, and the grades earned, seem to have considerable influence on some students’ psychological state), but that hardly means we wish to make physics a model for the structure of a religion.
Many people believe we are the product of an impersonal, meaningless natural universe. How could that produce people who feel a need for personal meaning? Where did these needs come from, if not from a personal God Who created us to need Him?
Even if psychology and sociology could explain all of subjective religious feelings, this still would not explain many objective phenomena including the origin of the universe and living things, and the Bible’s historical accuracy, miracle stories, Jesus Christ, etc. See ch. 6, I, II, III.
Thus far this is a critique of the logic of this attack on religious faith, in defense of that faith. But let also us go on the offensive, and critique the critiquers. What alternative do they offer? Where will we go if we follow them? We in the modern world have already followed them far down their road; where have we gone? There are already hints of this in the above discussion of the implications of the rejection of all standards. This is discussed further at the end of ch. 6, III, N, on the Bible’s good influence on society.
C Astronomy and biology vs. creationAstronomy relates to the age of the universe, which is the subject of ch. 7.
D History vs. the BibleMany people claim that the Bible is full of historical errors. This is discussed in ch. 6, III, E.
VI Blind alleys
In my opinion these topics are not worth discussing, or even bold print, but people often ask about them, and many people are uncertain what to think of them, so I discuss them briefly.
A Ancient astronauts, UFOs, and ETsIn the book Chariots of the Gods, Eric von Daniken (1984. New York: Berkley Pub. Co.) says the concept of God came from the impression made by astronauts who visited the earth in ancient times.
Von Daniken’s evidence is very unconvincing. For example, he explains ovals in ancient carvings as flying saucers. This is not the only possible meaning of ovals.
This is all based on the assumption that religion is nothing more than the concept of God. This does not explain many things that are described in ch. 6.
No one has yet proven that extraterrestrials, or ETs, exist. Many people say, “But don’t many people say they have seen them?” Hugh Ross says in a tape that all people he has heard who have seen ETs have also had experience of contact with spirits, so it seems that what they have seen is not real ETs but is evil spirits. ETs and their “flying saucers” display many unphysical capabilities, and have never left a single verified material object behind.
Do ETs exist? I do not know, but I do know that if they exist they were created by God, and did not evolve; see the discussion of evolution in ch. 6, II. The Bible does not say God created people elsewhere, nor does it say that He did not. But if He did, could they also have sinned? If they did, did Jesus need to go die for them too? The Bible says Jesus died only once (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:26, 28; 10:10; I Peter 3:18). Could Jesus go to people in another world and tell them He died for them here? It is of course possible, but that seems unfair to them, testing their faith much more than ours, since He died in a real time and place here in our world. So it is not impossible that there are ETs elsewhere, but there seems to be no reason to think so, and many reasons to doubt it.
B Quantum mechanics and free willSome people say that the uncertainty principle can be used to explain how we can have free will which is not predetermined by natural laws.
The physical meaning of the uncertainty principle is still uncertain and the subject of ongoing discussion, so it is not possible to be certain that it can be applied to human thought processes. But merely asking this question implies the assumption that all aspects of human thought and behavior are purely a product of material brain cells and their interactions, therefore we must find a scientific explanation for it. If we do not make this assumption, then there is no problem to solve. Even if we could apply the uncertainty principle in this way, it would still mean that our thought is meaningless, random, and impersonal; it is not certain that it would allow for meaningful free will. Personality, thought, and free will are not simply a scientific phenomenon. See V, A, 2.
C Quantum mechanics and Eastern religionsThe two best-known books presenting of this viewpoint are The Tao of Physics, by Fritjof Capra, 1984. New York: Bantam, and The Dancing Wuli Masters, Gary Zukav, 1984. New York: Bantam. “Wuli” is Mandarin Chinese for physics. These two authors feel there are many similarities between modern physics and Taoism and other Eastern religions.
I have not read these books. But I know that they are not accepted by the physics community in general as a correct interpretation of modern physics. As already mentioned in connection with the uncertainty principle, there is no consensus on a correct interpretation. I do not know how correct these two authors’ interpretation of Eastern religions is; Eastern religions vary widely, and so do interpretations of them. These authors have picked one particular interpretation each for modern physics and Eastern religions. So their assumptions, facts, and logic all are arguable at best, therefore their conclusions are far from certain. Even if it were possible to prove some parallels that indicate Eastern religions have some supernatural aspects, this does not prove they are true or are from the one true God. Refer to the discussion of other religions in ch. 3, VI.
D Einstein’s relativity and ethical relativismSome people extend science’s theory of relativity to say that everything is relative, so there is no absolute moral truth or religious truth. Moral relativism was discussed earlier in this chapter.
Einstein himself opposed this application of his theory. He originally called his theory “invariant theory,” emphasizing that it shows how the laws of physics are invariant, not dependent on the observer. His objective was to rewrite the laws of physics in such a way that they are the same in all reference frames. This sounds like it is more absolute than relative.
It is interesting that very few people think that the overwhelming pattern of orderliness of the physical world might suggest there are laws in the spiritual world. But when something in physics seems to suggest support for ethical relativism, many people are quick to apply it. Any correlation between such different realms must be considered carefully. Whatever basis there is for correlation, it seems to me that physical orderliness might tell us something about the spiritual world, as I suggest in ch. 3, II, B.
E Christianity and ecological damageLynn White’s article and Theodor Roszak’s book (see above, beginning of this chapter) say that because Christianity teaches that God gave the world to us to use, therefore we have abused it, and produced the ecological crisis. Therefore the ecological crisis is Christianity’s fault, and Christian teaching is bad.
Any good thing can be, and often is, misused, but this does not mean that the thing itself should be rejected: food, telephone, automobile, marriage, etc. Christianity has been misused. Its teaching, if seen fully and clearly, gives no license for abuse of our world. In fact, it forbids abuse. It says that the world is God’s, not ours, only entrusted to us for a while (see above, sec. II). Also, Christianity does not encourage a lifestyle of waste, greed, and unrestrained consumption.
The problem is in human nature, which is selfish and shortsighted. People easily accept Christian teaching that encourages them to modify their environment to their immediate benefit, but refuse to let Christian teaching reform their nature.
Why is Christianity the focus of such criticisms? How well do other religions and philosophies treat the environment? In India, Hinduism has produced the pitiful sacred cows, and a caste system society. Hinduism says sacred cows may be your own reincarnated ancestor, so you do not dare kill them, but neither does anyone feed them, so they are just half-starved wild animals, running everywhere, eating up much food that people need, and increasing the amount of suffering. Rats are in a similar position. It is estimated that half of India’s badly-needed food production is lost to these uncontrolled pests. You also are not supposed to kill mosquitoes that carry contagious diseases. Why is there so little criticism of the damage this teaching has caused to the environment, and to the lives of India’s vast population?
Fatalistic religions hinder people from reducing suffering caused by disease, famine, flood, etc. They even make people feel it’s no use being careful when working, driving, studying, etc., because they believe that everything that happens is already predetermined and unchangeable no matter what we do. It short-circuits their comprehension of simple cause and effect. Accidents are considered to be due to a bad fate, not carelessness. This ignorant and irresponsible outlook has killed hundreds of millions of people. Why is there so little criticism of this fact?
F Joshua’s long dayThe Book of Joshua (10:12-14) says that one day the Israelite army was fighting someone else, and they were afraid that after dark the enemy soldiers would escape. So Joshua prayed that God would give them more daytime so they could completely defeat the enemy. As a result the sun stopped in the sky for a day. Conservative Christians believe this means that the earth stopped turning.
At the end of the 1970’s, many Christian publications were circulating the story that America’s NASA computer discovered that the earth had missed one turn long ago, and that this confirmed the story in the Bible, Joshua 10:12-14. Also, in 1890, C. A. L. Totten of Yale University published a book, Joshua’s Long Day and the Dial of Ahaz, in which he calculated that a day was missing in ancient times. It was republished in 1968 by Destiny Publishers, Merrimac, Massachusetts 01860, with an enthusiastic foreword by Howard B. Rand, adding his own article further developing the theory. Unfortunately this story was again being circulated in 1998 on the internet.
In the late 70’s Moody Bible Institute’s “Moody Monthly” magazine editors felt a responsibility to confirm such material before circulating it. They attempted to confirm the NASA story, but could find no evidence. NASA denied the story. Actually, the story is impossible; if the earth did miss a turn, how could we tell? Is there a little counter at the Earth’s poles clicking off the rotations?
Totten in 1890 made many very doubtful assumptions about the time and positions of the creation of the sun, moon, and earth, and also about the meaning of the account in Joshua. He claims it means Joshua saw the moon near the sun in the daytime sky, which is unlikely.
We conservative, Bible-believing Christians love to hear that the Bible has been confirmed. But miracle stories like Joshua’s long day cannot possibly have scientific confirmation, and Christians who spread foolish stories like this as confirmation of the Bible are actually bringing disgrace on the Bible.
One common objection to this story is that if the earth stopped turning it would disrupt the whole solar system and the earth’s oceans and atmosphere. This is a ridiculous objection. First, the story only requires the earth to stop turning, not stop traveling in its orbit, so there need be no disruption of the other planets. Second, if God chose to stop the earth and is able to do so, He would not foolishly forget, nor be unable, to take care of the oceans and atmosphere, and even the solar system if necessary.
There is some question whether the story in Joshua really means the sun stopped in the sky to give longer daylight. One alternative translation is that the sun was made cooler, probably by a cloud, so the army did not suffer from so much heat. So this whole long-day controversy may be the result of a mistaken translation.
G Where did Cain get his wife?These may seem like unrelated questions, but they have related answers. They are based on a partial acceptance of the Bible account, but a refusal to really accept the entire Biblical story. Accepting only half the story of course leads to contradiction, but that only tells something about the person who asks such questions, not about the story in the Bible.
And whom was he afraid of when God banished him (Gen. 4:14)? Who populated the city he built (4:17)? And could people have really lived so long, 900 years or more, in the early chapters of the Bible?
The Bible story says that God created Adam and Eve, and that He considered all He created to be good. This would include being free of genetic flaws. These flaws only began to appear later, as mutations occurred and accumulated. Genesis 5:4 says Adam had other sons and daughters, probably quite a few. So Cain could marry one of his sisters, with negligible danger of genetic diseases as a result. The prohibition against marrying close relatives (Lev. 18:6-18) came long afterwards in the time of Moses, as people recognized the growing occurrence of birth defects which resulted from such marriages.
This also explains whom Cain was afraid of, and who lived in his city. We can only guess how many other children his parents had produced by the time of this incident, and before long grand-children began appearing. Death was a still-unknown phenomenon. Cain didn’t have to be a mathematical genius or use a supercomputer to figure out that at the rate things were going there would soon be lots of people around.
This lack of genetic flaws also explains the longer life-spans of early generations recorded in Genesis. Some Christians have speculated that the length of the year or the day, or the method of counting, was different, but I do not think such explanations are necessary. The account can be taken to mean exactly what it says.
Some people have heard that the Earth’s rotation is gradually slowing, so that days are now longer than they used to be, so they ask whether this explains why life-spans were once counted as longer than now. There are at least two fatal problems with this proposal. First, the rate of slowing is so tiny that it only becomes significant over hundreds of millions of years, not a few thousand. This is discussed in connection with recent creation in ch. 7, because it is related to the rate at which the Moon is receding from the Earth. Second, this would not at all change the length of the year, which is the unit in which life-spans were and are measured.
We do not know why our lifetime is as limited as it is. It is a subject of very active medical research. Our bodies do not wear out, they simply stop repairing themselves. There is a timer somewhere that is preset to turn off. The question is not why pre-Flood lifetimes were so long, but why ours are so short.
The recorded life-spans in the Bible declined rapidly after the Flood. There is much overconfident speculation in some Christian circles about what connection this may have to do with changes in the environment and diet at that time, but what those changes were, if any, and what physical effects they had is impossible to know at present. It does definitely seem implied that there was a deliberate God-ordained connection between the Flood and the decline in life-span. The reason for the Flood was that people had become evil and violent. When we look at the degree of evil that develops in some people’s lives in a few short decades, we scarcely dare imagine the depths to which depravity could descend if allowed to develop for up to 900 years! It is a mercy that our lives are so much shortened from such numbers. By the time of Moses around 1400 BC, he said in Psalm 90:10 that “The length of our days is seventy years,” his own life-span of 120 being noted as exceptional and miraculous.
H Why is Christmas celebrated on Dec. 25, and our calendar apparently numbered a few years incorrectly if it is supposed to count from the birth of Christ?This is entirely attributable to traditions developed after the Bible was written, and does not indicate any error in the Biblical account. The observation of Christmas is not taught in the Bible, but neither is it forbidden. The month and day of Christ’s birth is not known, therefore any day can be chosen if we wish to commemorate it. Late December is the time of the winter solstice, which was a prominent festival in Roman times. Christians began taking advantage of this time when everyone else was busy and distracted, so that they also could hold an activity without attracting attention and persecution.
The numbering of our years was established by the Roman Catholic Church in the middle ages. On the basis of modern information about the dates of Herod and other rulers mentioned in the story, it seems that they made a slight miscalculation. Jesus probably was born between 6 and 4 BC. This also has no connection with the accuracy of the Bible itself.
Conclusion: What have we accomplished so far?
We have spent two chapters discussing common logical and scientific criticisms of Biblical Christian faith, and have proposed various responses to these questions. Christians should not use these replies in anger to prove that other people are wrong, but in kindness and patience to help people think clearly, and realize that life without God is very lonely and empty. After seemingly fruitless discussions of issues such as these, some Christians blame themselves when others fail to understand and accept Biblical teaching. There very well may be flaws in our presentation which hinder others’ understanding and acceptance; we must be willing to be corrected and instructed. But we cannot hope that these answers will generally result in instant acceptance of the Bible and of Jesus’ offer of salvation.
Jesus Himself faced many questions and criticisms, and answered them. We believe that Jesus’ answers, and His behavior and attitude, were flawless. Some who heard were sincerely seeking the truth, and when they heard and were satisfied they became believers in Jesus. But others were committed to a position irreconcilable with Jesus’ claims, and therefore were His enemies. They acknowledged that He had effectively silenced all who criticized Him, but their response was not faith but a plan to murder Him in the cruelest way ever devised. (See ch. 3, V.) We can hope for no better response from those with whom we discuss such questions: some will believe, some will not, in fact may become more hostile, and of course they can give lots of valid-sounding reasons why they are not convinced. At this point, the discussion has gone as far as it can for now.
I hope that this discussion has removed some unnecessary roadblocks in the way of an honest seeker of the truth.
This completes the summary of atheists’ attempted general attacks on religious faith. Ch. 6 and 7 discuss more specific factual and scientific problems. If these criticisms were conclusive, it would prove religious faith in general, or at least Christian faith in particular, is false. The failure of these attacks does not prove religious faith is all true, or even partly true, though its ability to survive their attacks raises its credibility tremendously. But we need positive support before we have a basis for real confidence in the existence of the spiritual realm in general and the God of the Bible in particular. That is the subject of ch. 6.
I have learned much from many helpful books by Christians on the subjects discussed in this chapter and earlier ones. The ones written before the mid-70s were helpful to me in my own consideration of Christian faith, described briefly in the Introduction. Most of the older books in this list are now out of print, or reprinted by a different publisher; I make no claim that all the following is the latest information, just the copy I happen to have on hand. There seems to be a huge surge in excellent new writing in the late 90s. Even the following long list is nowhere near complete.
I have read most, but not all, of the following. I have at least skimmed them briefly, or seen frequent references to them in other books. I do not endorse everything in all of them, but I at least agree with their basic viewpoint, and consider their comments helpful in clarifying issues. They contain references to much more material. They are listed alphabetically by author. See also books listed in ch. 6, II, on creation/evolution, ch. 6, III, D on the internal unity of the Bible, ch. 6, III, H on Jesus’ life and resurrection, and at the end of ch. 7 on the origin and age of the universe.
Christian Belief in a Postmodern World, The Full Wealth of Conviction, Diogenes Allen. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox, 1989. ISBN 0-8042-0625-2. Describes how recent developments in philosophy and theology have reopened people’s minds to the acceptance of religious faith.
Christianity and Comparative Religion, J. N. D. Anderson. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1970. ISBN 0-87784-477-1
If I Really Believe, Why Do I Have These Doubts? Lynn Anderson. West Monroe, Louisiana: Howard Publishing, 2000. ISBN 1-58229-117-9
Principles of Biblical Interpretation, L. Berkhof. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1950. ISBN 0-8010-0549-3. Old but still a classic.
I’m Glad You Asked, In-depth answers to difficult questions about Christianity, Kenneth Boa & Larry Moody. Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press, Victor Books, 1982. ISBN 0-88207-354-0. I have known about this book for years but just now actually looked at it, and wish I had read it years earlier. It is thorough, logical, and full of diagrams.
The Foundation of Biblical Authority, ed. James Montgomery Boice. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1978. ISBN 0-310-21521-8
Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity, Dr. Gregory A Boyd & Edward K. Boyd. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1994. ISBN 1-56476-244-0
C. S. Lewis & Francis Schaeffer, Lessons for a New Century from the Most Influential Apologists of Our Time, Scott R. Burson & Jerry L. Walls. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1998. ISBN 0-8308-1935-5
Philosophy and the Christian Faith, an introduction to the main thinkers and schools of thought from the middle ages to the present day, Colin Brown. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1968. ISBN 0-87784-712-6. A venerable classic.
Christianity and Western Thought, Colin Brown. England: InterVarsity, 1990. ISBN 0-85111-763-5. Brown is still alive and well!
Clash of Worlds, David Burnett. England: MARC. ISBN 1-85424-107-9
Dawning of the Pagan Moon, David Burnett. England: MARC, 1991. An analysis of current Western paganism, which is filling the vacuum left by the rejection of Christianity.
Science & Christianity: Four Views, ed. Richard F. Carlson. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity 2000. ISBN 0-8308-2262-3. All five contributors are Christians; the issue is not whether to believe the Bible, but how to interpret it. The views are creationism, independence, qualified agreement, and partnership. All contributors also comment on the others.
Exegetical Fallacies, D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1984. A leading Bible scholar points out errors commonly committed by Christians in Bible interpretation.
How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, and Leicester, England: IVP, 1990. ISBN 0-85110-950-0
The Gagging of God, Christianity Confronts Pluralism, D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996. ISBN 0-310-47910-X
Christianity on Trial, Colin Chapman. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1975. ISBN 8423-0246-8. Compares many kinds of faith.
A Reasonable Faith, The Case for Christianity in a Secular World, Tony Campolo. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1983. ISBN0-8499-3040-5
“True for You, But Not For Me” Deflating the slogans that leave Christians speechless, Paul Copan. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 1998. ISBN 0-7642-2091-8
East to Eden? Religion and the dynamics of social change, Charles Corwin. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1972. ISBN 0-8028-1444-1. Discusses India, China, and Japan as examples.
The Challenge of Postmodernism, An Evangelical Assessment, ed. David S. Dockery. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, Bridgepoint, 1995. ISBN 1-56476-410-9
When Heaven Is Silent, Live by Faith, Not by Sight. How God Ministers to Us Through the Challenges of Life, Ronald Dunn. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994. ISBN 0-8407-4895-7
Christian Apologetics in a World Community, William Dyrness. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity 1983. ISBN 0-87784-399-6. Meeting the challenge of other faiths.
A Step Further, Joni Eareckson. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1978. ISBN 0-31023971-0. Paralyzed in a swimming accident, she discusses the reasons for suffering.
Evangelical Interpretation, Perspectives on Hermeneutical Issues, Millard J. Erickson. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1993. ISBN 0-8010-3220-2
Despair, a Moment or a Way of Life? An existential quest for hope,
C. Stephen Evans. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1971. ISBN 0-877840-699-5
he Quest for Faith, C. Stephen Evans. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1986. ISBN 0-877840-511-5. Choosing a faith and answering objections to Christianity.
Why Believe? C. Stephen Evans.
When Skeptics Ask, Norman Geisler. Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press, 1990. ISBN 0-89693-766-6
When Critics Ask, Norman Geisler, Thomas Howe. Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press, 1992. ISBN 0-89693-698-8
Miracles and the Modern Mind, Norman L. Geisler. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1992. ISBN 0-8010-3847-2
Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1980. ISBN 0-310-39281-0
Runaway World, Michael Green. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1968
Truth Decay, Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism, Douglas Groothuis. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2000. ISBN 0-8308-2228-3
The Dust of Death, Os Guinness. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1973. ISBN 0-87784-911-0. A huge, scholarly study of the collapse of post-Christian Western culture.
In Two Minds, the dilemma of doubt and how to resolve it, Os Guinness. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1976. ISBN 0-87784-771-1
The Book that Speaks for Itself, Robert M. Horn. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1969. ISBN 0-85110-345-6
The Challenge of Religious Studies, Kenneth G. Howkins. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1972. ISBN 0-87784-714-2
The Galileo Connection: Resolving Conflicts Between Science & the Bible, Charles E. Hummel. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1986. Very helpful, drawing valuable principles from the most infamous church-science confrontation in history.
Science, Life, and Christian Belief, A survey of contemporary issues, Malcolm A. Jeeves & R. J. Berry. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1998. ISBN 0-8010-2226-6. Both authors are professional scientists, and Christians.
The Psychology of Biblical Interpretation, Cedric B. Johnson. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1983. He discusses no scientific issues in particular, but points out principles that are relevant to all such issues. The book has gone virtually unnoticed by evangelicals, probably because what it says seems dangerous, but Johnson argues against liberal abuses, calling on Bible-believers to incorporate the facts into a healthy, balanced approach to the Bible. I think it deserves attention.
Reason in the Balance, The case against naturalism in science, law, & education, Phillip E Johnson. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1995. ISBN 0-8308-1610-10. The law professor remains on the warpath after his first book criticizing Darwinism (ch. 6, II), applying his experience in constitutional law to the claim that naturalism has become the established religion of the US government.
Objections Sustained, Subversive Essays on Evolution, Law, and Culture, Phillip E. Johnson. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1998. ISBN 0-8308-1941-X. A collection of Johnson’s published articles. Some is specifically critical of Darwinian evolution, so is relevant to ch. 6, II.
The Wedge of Truth, Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism, Phillip E. Johnson. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2000. ISBN 0-8308-2267-4
Creation and the History of Science, Christopher Kaiser. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans. 1991. ISBN 0-551-02035-0
The Case for Christianity, C. S. Lewis. New York: Collier Books, Macmillan, 1989, first pub. 1943. ISBN 0-02-086750-6
Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis. New York: Macmillan, 1943, 45, 52. A classic for several generations, discussing what is really the basic essential message of the Bible.
God in the Dock, Essays on Theology and Ethics, C. S. Lewis, ed Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1970. ISBN 0-8028-1456-5
Miracles, A Preliminary Study, C. S. Lewis. New York: Macmillan, 1947
The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis. New York: Macmillan, 1962. Reprinted in New York: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 1996. ISBN 0-684-82383-7
Christian Reflections, C. S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1967. A collection of fascinating essays. Also published in England as Fern-seed and Elephants.
Testing Christianity’s Truth Claims, Gordon R. Lewis. Chicago: Moody, 1976. ISBN 0-80242-8592-2. Studies different ways Christians try to prove Christianity is true, concluding most ways are inadequate but advocating a way which combines several approaches.
God and Nature, David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers. Berkeley: Univ. of California, 1986. ISBN 0-520-05692-2. The history of the relationship of science and Christianity.
The Clockwork Image, Donald MacKay. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1974. ISBN 0-87784-557-3. Discusses materialism, determinism, and meaning in science.
Know Why You Believe, Paul E. Little. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, revised ed. 1968, third edition 1988. ISBN 0-8308-1218-0
The Death of Truth, What’s Wrong with Multiculturalism, the rejection of reason, and the new postmodern diversity, ed Dennis McCallum. Minneapolis: Bethany, 1996. ISBN 1-55661-724-0
Evidence That Demands a Verdict, historical evidences for the Christian faith, Josh McDowell. Campus Crusade, 1972
More Evidence That Demands a Verdict, historical evidences for the Christian scriptures, Josh McDowell. Campus Crusade, 1975
Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask about the Christian Faith, Josh McDowell and Don Stewart. San Bernardino, CA.: Here’s Life Publishers, 1980. ISBN 0-918956-65-X
Prophecy, Fact or Fiction? Daniel in the Critics’ Den, Josh McDowell. Campus Crusade, 1981. ISBN 0-918956-99-4
A Ready Defense, the best of Josh McDowell, Over 60 vital “lines of defense” for Christianity topically arranged for easy reference, compiled by Bill Wilson. San Bernardino: Here’s Life, 1990. ISBN 0-89840-281-6
The New Tolerance, How a cultural movement threatens to destroy you, your faith, and your children, Josh McDowell & Bob Hostetler. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale, 1998. ISBN 0-8423-7088-9
A Passion for Truth, The Intellectual Coherence of Evangelicalism, Alister McGrath. Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1996. ISBN 0-8308-1866-9
Know the Truth, Rev. ed. A handbook of Christian belief, Bruce Milne. Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1982, 98. ISBN 0-8308-1793-X. Includes comments and responses to current trends in society and philosophy.
History and Christianity, John Warwick Montgomery. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1964, 65. ISBN 0-87784-437-2
Christianity for the Tough-Minded, Essays written by a group of young scholars who are totally convinced that a spiritual commitment is intellectually defensible, ed. John Warwick Montgomery. Minneapolis: Bethany, 1973. ISBN 0-87123-076-3
How do we know there is a God? and other questions inappropriate in polite society, John Warwick Montgomery. Minneapolis: Dimension Books, Bethany, 1973. ISBN 0-87123-221-9
Evidence for Faith, Deciding the God Question, ed. John Warwick Montgomery. Dallas: Word, Probe Books, 1991. ISBN 0-945241-15-1. Papers from the Cornell Symposium on Evidential Apologetics, 1986. Discusses what kinds of evidence there are, and what it does and does not prove.
Scaling the Secular City, J. P. Moreland. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1987. ISBN 0-8010-6222-5
Christianity and the Nature of Science, J. P. Moreland. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1989. ISBN 0-8010-6249-7
Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life, Thomas V. Morris. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1992. ISBN 0-8028-0652-X. Blaise Pascal was one of the giants of 17th-century science and philosophy, and a devout Christian. Much of his thought is never out of date.
Faith and Reason, Searching for a Rational Faith, Ronald H. Nash. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1988. ISBN 0-310-29401-0
The Evidence of Prophecy, Fulfilled Prediction as a Testimony to the Truth of Christianity, ed. Robert C. Newman. Hatfield, Pennsylvania: Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 1988. ISBN 944788-98-X
Between Faith and Criticism, Evangelicals, Scholarship, and the Bible in America, Mark A. Noll. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1986. ISBN 0-8010-6785-5
The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark A. Noll. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1994. ISBN 0-8028-3715-8. Also Leicester, England: InterVarsity. 0-85111-148-3
“Fundamentalism” and the Word of God, J. I. Packer. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1958
The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy, Nancy R. Pearcey, Charles B. Thaxton. Wheaton, Illinois: Good News, Crossway Books, 1994. ISBN 0-89107-766-9. Shows from history that science grew out of, and is based on, Christianity, not atheism. A classic by two outstanding authors.
Ring of Truth, J. B. Phillips. New York: Macmillan, 1967
Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World, ed Timothy R. Phillips & Dennis L Okholm. Donwers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1995. ISBN 0-8308-1860-X
A Defense of Biblical Infallibility, Clark H. Pinnock. Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1967
Set Forth Your Case, Clark Pinnock. Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1967
Reason to Believe, Richard L. Purtill. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1974. ISBN 0-8028-1567-7. Emphasizes philosophical issues, beginning with responses to many common objections to faith, then presenting positive reasons for believing.
St. Paul, the traveller and the Roman Citizen, William M. Ramsay. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, reprinted 1962. ISBN 0-8010-7613-7. Originally published by Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1897. A classic by one of the founders of archaeology, who became a believer himself as a result of his research.
Philosophy of Science, The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective, Del Ratzsch. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press USA, 1986. ISBN 0-87784-344-9. An insightful and entertaining introduction, on which my ch. 2 is based.
The Population of Heaven, A Biblical Response to the Inclusivist Position on Who Will Be Saved, Ramesh P. Richard. Chicago: Moody, 1994. ISBN 0-8024-3946-2. Many good points on inclusivism, but ends up a little closer to exclusivism than I do; sees no options in between.
Escape from Reason, Francis Schaeffer. And many more books, in several editions, finally published as a set.
Is the Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, Jeffery L. Sheler. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. ISBN 0-06-067542-X. An excellent non-technical summary of many lines of evidence, including the final developments of the Bible Code theory.
Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, ed Moises Silva. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996. ISBN 0-310-20828-9. Contains six books combined: Has the Church Misread the Bible?, Moises Silva, 1987; Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation, Tremper Longman III, 1987; God, Language, and Scripture, Moises Silva, 1990; The Art of Biblical History, V. Philips Long, 1994; Science and Hermeneutics, Vern S Poythress, 1988; The Study of Theology, Richard A Muller, 1991.
Arguing with God, a Christian examination of the problem of evil, Hugh Silvester. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1971. ISBN 0-87784-350-3
Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible, James W. Sire. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1980. ISBN 0-87784-611-1
The Universe Next Door, James W. Sire. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, second edition 1988. ISBN 0-8308-1220-2. A catalog of world views and how to choose.
Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All? James W. Sire. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1994. ISBN 0-8308-1397-7
Hypocrisy, Moral Fraud and Other Vices, James S. Spiegel. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1999. ISBN 0-8010-6046-X
Classical Apologetics, R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1984. ISBN 0-310-44951-0. Different ways Christians try to prove Christianity is true. The authors intend to revive the primary philosophical arguments used in the past to prove the existence of God by logic alone, probably unsuccessfully, but the book is stimulating and entertaining.
Surprised by Suffering: discover your loving Father’s call to endure suffering, R. C. Sproul. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale, 1988. ISBN 0-8423-6624-5
Not a Chance, The myth of chance in modern science and cosmology, R. C. Sproul. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1994. ISBN 0-8010-5852-X. Emphasizes the philosophical, not scientific, principles involved in the claim that laws and chance have left God unemployed.
Now, That’s a Good Question! One of today’s most sought-after theologians answers more than 300 frequently asked questions about life and faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale, 1996. ISBN 0-8423-4711-9
If there’s a God, why are there atheists? Why atheists believe in unbelief, R. C. Sproul. Orlando, Florida: Ligonier Ministries, 1997. Revision of the book published as The Psychology of Atheism by Bethany House, then by Tyndale under the current title. ISBN 0-8423-1565-9
Basic Christianity, John R. W. Stott. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2nd ed. 1971. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997. ISBN 0-8028-1189-2. A classic for several generations.
The Case for Faith, A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity, Lee Strobel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. ISBN 0-310-23469-7
The Bible, The Living Word of Revelation, ed. Merrill C. Tenney. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Contemporary Evangelical Perspectives, 1968
Biblical Hermeneutics, A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. Milton S. Terry. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. Re-printed 1974, written in the late 19th century.
Can I Trust the Bible?, ed. Howard F. Vos. Chicago: Moody, 1963
Genesis and Archaeology, Howard F. Vos. Chicago: Moody, 1963
The Paradox of Pain, A. E. Wilder-Smith. Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw, 1971. ISBN 0-87788-667-9
Christianity Challenges the University, ed. Peter Wilkes. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1981. ISBN 0-87784-474-7
Disappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud, Philip Yancey. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. ISBN 0-310-51781-8. Yancey does ask them aloud: Is God unfair? silent? hidden? He tells the stories of real people whose experiences spurred him to write the book. Anything by Yancey is both thoughtful and moving.
Reaching for the Invisible God, What Can You Expect to Find? Philip Yancey. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. ISBN 0-310-23531-6.
A Shattered Visage, The Real Face of Atheism, Ravi Zacharias. Brentwood, Tennessee: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1990. ISBN 0-943497-20-5
Can Man Live Without God, Ravi Zacharias. Dallas: Word, 1994. ISBN 0-8499-3943-7. This is a brilliant summary of the consequences of antitheistic philosophy, and the basis of Christian belief. It contains insightful summaries of crucial points in philosophy, and application to real life.
Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message, Ravi Zacharias. Nashville: Word, 2000. ISBN 0-8499-1437-X. Also published in a simplified Youth Edition, with Kevin Johnson, 0-8499-4217-9. Dr. Zacharias grew up in India, and has extensive direct experience of the other religions with which he compares the message of Jesus Christ.
This is of course only a small sample from a vast
literature on the subject. It omits major works by many others. Many of
these books contain far larger bibliographies.
An extensive source of scholarly material on the Bible, and religions in general, is the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, P. O. Box 423, Hatfield, Pennsylvania 19440-0423. www.ibri.org
And then there are periodicals, which I will not try to list. One which I have read for years, and probably is the source of some of my comments on theology and evangelism, is Evangelical Missions Quarterly. The other main source of ideas is the American Scientific Affiliation’s quarterly Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. P. O. Box 668, Ipwsich, MA 01938-0668. Email firstname.lastname@example.org; website http://www.asa3.org
Books against Christianity:
A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 2 vol., Andrew Dickson White, Appleton, 1896, reprinted by Dover, New York. A catalog of Christians’ scientific blunders, which popularized the “warfare” concept.
Why I Am not a Christian, Bertrand Russell
Wisdom of the West, Bertrand Russell. London: Rathbone, 1959. Later Doubleday, then Fawcett. This book is not specifically anti-Christian, but the author was an atheist, so he was no supporter of religious faith, Christian or otherwise. The book is mostly extremely insightful and objective.
the Passover Plot, a new interpretation of the life and death of Jesus, Hugh J. Schonfield. New York: Bantam, 1965
Those Incredible Christians, Hugh J. Schonfield. New York: Bantam, 1968
Where the Wasteland Ends, Theodor Roszak. New York: Doubleday, 1973. He says that because Christianity teaches that God gave us the world to use, we in Western societies have assumed the right to misuse it, producing the ecological crisis.
The Case Against Christianity, Michael Martin. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991
Farewell to God, Charles Templeton. Toronto: McLelland and Stewart, 1996
And one article:
“The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”, Lynn White, Jr. 1967. Science 155, 1203-7. Blames the influence of Christian teaching for damage to the environment.
There are of course countless other anti-Christian books. It is not really necessary to list more of them; it is impossible to avoid extensive contact with them.
There are anti-Christian periodicals: American Atheist, Skeptical Inquirer, Free Inquiry, and others. These also devote their attention to debunking many other beliefs, many of which Christians would agree in debunking.
General sources on astronomy and physics:
Sky & Telescope magazine, Sky Publishing Corp.
Physics Today magazine, American Institute of Physics
Astronomy texts, such as those by George Abell, Eric Chaisson, William Kauffman, Jay Pasachoff, Michael Seeds, and Micheal Zeilik (from Abell to Zeilik!)