Sometimes science and the Bible seem to confict. A familiar example is the clash between the Copernician theory that Earth and the other planets revolve about the Sun and the traditional belief, supposedly supported by the Bible, that Earth is the centre of the universe. For holding and teaching Copernicianism, Galileo was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church and spent the last eight years of his life under house arrest. Now everybody realizes both that the earth and the other planets revolve about the Sun and that the Bible doesn’t really teach that the Earth is the centre of the universe.
When science and the Bible seem to conflict what happened to Galileo should encourage us to examine whether the Bible actually teaches what we think it does. Sometimes our doing so may show us that, as in the case of Galileo, our previous interpretation of what the Bible says was incorrect. On the other hand, as in the case of evolution, it may lead us to reject the current dominant scientific opinion.
Earlier this week my family and I began reading the section on the relationship between the Bible and the findings of modern science in Chapter 15, “Creation,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). We’ll be reading just some of the section’s 35 pages (pages 273-308), and I’ll share here from what we read.
No Final Conflict
Grudem claims that when all the facts are rightly understood there will be “no final conflict” between the Bible and natural science. “No final conflict” is taken from a book with that name by Francis Schaeffer. Regarding creation, it lists these areas where Schaeffer believes that there is room for disagreement among Bible-believing Christians:
1. There is the possibility that God created a “grown-up” universe.
2. There is the possibility of a break between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 or between 1:2 and 1:3.
3. There is a possibility of long day in Genesis 1.
4. There is a possibility that the flood affected the geological data.
5. The use of the word “kinds” in Genesis 1 may be quite broad.
6. there is the possibility of the death of animals before the flood.
7. Where the Hebrew word bara is not used there is the possibility of sequence from previously existing things.
(Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 274; taken from Francis Schaeffer, No Final Conflict [Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1975], pages 25-33.)
Theories about Creation Which Seem Inconsistent with the Bible
Naturally theories about the origin of the universe that don’t include the involvement of an infinite, personal God aren’t acceptable to those who believe in the Bible.
Ever since the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), some Christians have proposed that although God may have created matter, the simplest form of life, and man, He used evolution to allow other forms of life to develop. This is called theistic evolution. Grudem makes these objections to it:
1. According to the Bible the driving force in the development of new organisms is God’s producing them by purposeful design, but according to evolution the driving force in their development is random mutation of organisms. These seem to be inconsistent.
2. According to the Bible God spoke and got immediate results, but according to evolution millions of years were needed.
3. According to the Bible God made plants and animals reproduce “according to their kinds” (Genesis 1:11,24), suggesting that He made many different kinds of plants and animals and thus imposed limits on what could be produced by mutations.
4. God’s present active involvement with what He made is hard to reconcile with the limited kind of involvement proposed for Him by theistic evolution.
5. According to the Bible Adam and Eve were very different from the first humans who descended from apelike creatures by evolution. However if God could intervene in the evolutionary process to create Adam and Eve, then there is no reason why He couldn’t have intervened in a similar way to create other organisms.
6. There are many scientific problems with the theory of evolution. Grudem describes some of these under the title “Current Challenges to Evolution” on pages 279-86 of Systematic Theology. Since we didn’t read the pages in our family Bible reading, I won’t be sharing from them here.
(Grudem, Systematic Theology, pages 276-279.)
The Gap Theory
Some evangelical Christians propose that there is a gap of millions of years between Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and Genesis 1:2, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep” (ESV; all Bible passages are quoted from the ESV). According to the theory, Genesis 1:1 describes an earlier creation; between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 some sort of catastrophe occurred, perhaps in connection with Satan’s rebellion and fall (Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:11-15); and Genesis 1:2 describes how the earth appeared after the catastrophe. The theory holds that “was” in Genesis 1:2 would be better translated “became” and that the picture of formlessness, emptiness, and darkness given in Genesis 1:2 better describes the earth after a catastrophe (compare Jeremiah 4:23) than how it appeared when God created it. Thus the rest of Genesis 1 describes a second creation. The apparent age of the earth and the fossil records showing development over long periods of time can be attributed to the first creation.
Grudem views the theory as inconsistent with the Bible for these reasons:
1. The description in Genesis 1:2 is suitable for a work in progress.
2. No place in the Bible refers explicitly to an earlier creation.
3. It is hard to believe that God could look at an earth showing signs of rebellion and judgment and say that His work of creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). [However what God viewed as “very good” could be the work of creation described in Genesis 1:3-31.]
4. Exodus 20:11 says, “In six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them,” attributing all of creation (including”the heavens and the earth” of Genesis 1:1) to six days.
5. God’s destroying His first creation of plants and animals suggests that it was a failure. [On the other hand God’s making in His second creation plants and animals similar to those of His first creation suggests that He didn’t view them as a failure.]
(Grudem. Systematic Theology, pages 289-90.)
Another criticism that has been made of the theory is that inserting a speculative interpretation of Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:11-15 into the creation account is unjustified.