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06/24/16

Genesis, Science and Creation

© Oleg Dudko | 123rf.com

© Oleg Dudko | 123rf.com

For conservative Christians holding to the authority of the Bible “as the only rule of faith and obedience” in the modern world, there is perhaps no more important question than whether science is a competing or complementary form of knowledge and authority to Scripture. In a way, this dilemma is traceable to the third chapter of Genesis. Genesis 3 contains the story of the Fall of humanity, where Adam and Eve fell into the trap of striving to be “like God” by knowing good and evil independent of God and his revelation. Ironically, they did gain knowledge independent of God; and the first thing they discovered was their own “nakedness” apart from God. Autonomous knowledge comes with a price.

We can see this compulsion for autonomous knowledge clearly within a short discussion of the encounter of God and His Word with science and nature. In Escape from Reason, Francis Schaeffer noted how early scientists shared the outlook of Christianity in believing that a reasonable God created a reasonable universe; and humans, by using their reason, could become knowledgeable about the universe. Early science was natural science, but it wasn’t naturalistic. There wasn’t an assumption that reason could be exercised independent of God; that nature could be known autonomous of God’s revelation.

Alister McGrath’s discussion of the relationship between science and religion in his book Science & Religion is helpful here. McGrath said there were three broad positions on the relationship between the natural world and the divine. The first is that the natural world is divine. This is certainly not a position that either Christianity or modern science would take. A second position is that the natural world is created and bears some resemblance to its Creator. The third is that the natural world has no relation to God. This third position underlies the view of what Schaeffer calls modern, modern science. And the second is necessary for a two books view of Scripture and Nature.

This idea (which is sometimes expressed in terms of the “two books” of Scripture and Nature) gave additional impetus to the study of nature. If God could not be seen, yet had somehow imprinted his nature on the creation, it would be possible to gain an enhanced appreciation of the nature and purpose of God by studying the natural order.

Science and the Bible were able to peacefully coexist for centuries. Nature was the “textbook” of God’s general revelation; and the Bible was the handbook of his special revelation. This “two books theology,” as noted above, was an essential foundation for the rise of modern science. Denis Lamoureux quoted Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), a scientist and Christian, on the “two books” of God’s revelation:

Let no woman or man out of conceit or laziness, think or believe that anyone can search too far or be too well informed in the Book of God’s Works or the Book of God’s Words. Instead, let everyone endlessly improve their understanding of both.

A related issue concerns the order of nature within a doctrine of creation. “The doctrine of creation leads directly to the notion that the universe is possessed of regularity which is capable of being uncovered by humanity.” Encapsulated within “the laws of nature,” this was of fundamental importance to the emergence and development of the natural sciences. But how then do science and religion interact? Are they part of the same reality? Are the insights of science and religion contradictory or complementary to each other?

McGrath said one view of the interaction of science and religion sees them as in conflict or at war with each other. A second view sees science and religion as convergent; “all truth is God’s truth.” Developments in science should be welcomed and accommodated within the Christian faith. The third view sees science and religion as distinct. In other words, the natural sciences ask the “how” questions, while theology asks the “why” questions.

In his book, Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man, Bryan Applyard dated the birth of modern science to the time of Galileo. The moment that Galileo looked through his telescope in 1609 contained “all that was new and revolutionary in science.” He looked through his crude telescope and believed what he saw with his own eyes. The method of science (or wisdom, as Appleyard called it) that existed before Galileo was different in many ways from what ruled after 1609. “Its foundation was neither observation nor experiment, but authority understood through reason.” But from that time onward, “a new and unprecedentedly effective form of knowledge and way of doing things appeared.”

This science inspired a version of the universe, of the world and of man that was utterly opposed to all preceding versions. Most importantly, it denied man the possibility of finding an ultimate meaning and purpose for his life within the facts of the world. If there were such things as meanings and purposes, they must exist outside the universe describable by science.”

Francis Schaeffer called this the birth of “modern, modern science.” And he believed this was a radically different way of doing science than what Bacon and Galileo did. A necessary presumption for any scientific endeavor is the uniformity of natural causes. Early scientists like Bacon and Galileo saw this existing within the open system of nature, where God could and did have a sustaining influence on His creation. Christians were free to pursue science and maintain their belief in a Creator God who was still active within His creation.

But within modern, modern science, this unity of natural causes exists within a closed system of nature. There cannot be any intervention from forces or influences outside of nature. Science necessarily is done within the assumed closed system of nature. If it isn’t, then it is not science. In Escape From Reason, Schaeffer said:

That little phrase [the uniformity of natural causes within a closed system] makes all the difference in the world. It makes the difference between natural science and a science that is rooted in naturalistic philosophy.

So science as it is widely practiced today, what Schaeffer called modern, modern science, begins with a philosophical assumption that excludes the potential influence of a creative God, or a creative force. I think this is one reason why scientists today are so antagonistic towards Intelligent Design Theory. To them it feels and looks like cheating; an undermining of this basic philosophical foundation of the modern scientific method. Any attempt to accommodate the discoveries within the Book of God’s Works with the Book of God’s Word, as in the “two book” theory, is not legitimate science. Modern, modern science is autonomous from God.

So when interpreting Genesis 1, it matters which view of science you bring to the process. Is it the open system of nature within the two books theory, or the closed system of modern, modern science? If nature is open to God’s interventions, was it designed to exist independent or autonomous from God after creation, like a giant watch with God as the Watchmaker; or is creation sustained by a Creator? If creation is not independent of its Creator, can a study of creation tell us something about its Creator? Can knowledge of the works of God inform us about the Word of God? Will knowledge of the watch tell us anything about the Watchmaker? Is that knowledge independent, complementary and accommodating, or in conflict to what the Bible reveals to us about God and His creation? And if in conflict, does that mean that biblical religion and science are at war with each other?

In “Origins and Creation” I looked at several different ways to understand the Genesis account of creation. The categories were drawn from the web lectures and writings of Denis Lamoureux, an Evolutionary Creationist. The categories were: Young Earth Creation (YEC), Progressive Creation (PC), Evolutionary Creation (EC), Deistic Evolution (DE) and Atheistic Evolution (AE). Look at “Origins and Creation” for more information on how these views of creation differ from each other. Drawing on the above discussion, we can then suggest views of origins have the following relationships between nature and science, creation and God, and the interaction of knowledge found within science and the Bible:

Creation Origins

Nature as an Open or Closed System

Relationship of Creation to God

Interaction of Knowledge in Science & the Bible

YEC

Open

Creation is sustained by God

Accommodation conflict/war

PC

 

Open

Creation is sustained by God

Some accommodation; Some conflict

EC

Open

Creation is sustained by God

Complementary &

no conflict

DE

Open at first

Creation is autonomous of God

Some relationship

No interaction

AE

Closed

Creation is autonomous of God

No relationship

conflict/war

It’s not enough to select which of the three creation positions available to a conservative Christian (YEC, PC and EC) appeals to you. Each of the three positions carries interpretive decisions with regard to Scripture and with regard to science that have to be made. The views you hold with regard to the interaction of science and Scripture, nature and the Bible, influence your views on creation. They influence how you interpret both Genesis 1 and the other passages of Scripture. Modern knowledge of the works of God is not autonomous from the Word of God. So when God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning, how do you think He did it?

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”