Thursday, July 11, 2002

More on Science and Christianity

Jeffrey Collins asked about my opinion of this Samizdata post.

In that post David Carr (whom I infer is not a believer, but this is the first post I ever read on Samizdata) says that he agrees with American creationists that “Christian doctrine most definitely is in head-on collision with modern science.” He contrasts this with the situation among Christians he knows in Europe where “[European Chrisitians] seem to believe that Christianity is about different things to science, and that you can be a completely Christian Christian, and a completely scientific scientist, without any intellectual conflict.”

He goes on about the how the theory of evolution is at odds with creation in Genesis. He concludes with:
You can't have it both ways. Only by completely overturning what Christianity has meant for the best part of two thousand years, as the Church of England seems now to be doing by turning Christianity from a religion into a political sect, can you possibly believe that there's no argument here.
So, if I understand what he is writing, he is saying that at least Creationists (for which I think it is safe to say he means American style Evangelicals) acknowledge the “obvious” problem of a difficult if not impossible reconciliation between Christianity and Science, while many European Christians treat science and Christianity as two different domains that don’t have to be consistent-- because they don’t overlap.

I will take a bold stand on this: I completely agree and I sort of, kind of, disagree.

Two Points in One

Carr is really making two points:
  1. Science and Christian doctrine cannot be “separated”.

  2. Science and Christian doctrine are colliding.

On the first item I completely agree and have even blogged about this before when I wrote about Francis Schaeffer and the Unity of the Bible. Allow me to reiterate some of the points I tried to make in that post.

Schaeffer attacked the duality David Carr attributes to European Christians as existential theology, which holds that the Bible is infallible only in spiritual matters, not when it comes to history or science.

In other words, Schaeffer would say, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Schaeffer also lamented creeping existential theology in the Evangelical community when he wrote: "Evangelism is not consistently evangelical unless there is a line drawn between those who take a full view of scripture and those who do not." And goes on to write that “[Evangelicals] must accept as infallible the creation and pre-Abrahamic history of the first 11 chapters of Genesis.”

I believe this is the same point Carr is trying to make in the Samizdata post, albeit from a different perspective. And I agree – it is an untenable philosophical position.

As to whether science and Christianity are colliding, I think the jury is still out. I see that there are three broad areas where there is at least the appearance of, if not actual, collision:
  1. The age of the universe

  2. Evolution

  3. Quantum Mechanics

In looking at these three areas one must ask (a) how strong is the scientific evidence and (b) is the Bible definitely at odds with this or am I just making the Galilean mistake all over again?

It is only if the answer to (a) is very strong and the answer to (b) is a resounding yes is there necessarily a conflict.

Old Earth/Universe

The first of these I have written about here. To me the scientific evidence is irrefutable for an old universe. On the other hand, I don’t think the Genesis account must be interpreted to be at odds with the science, so I personally do not see a conflict here. Many do. They would say I am not interpreting the Bible faithfully, and I would say they are making the Galilean mistake.


As for evolution, that is much more complicated and much obfuscation abounds. There is an enormous amount of fossil evidence for extinct species. There is a paucity (less than a handful) of strong candidates for “transitional” fossils. So few in fact that classic Darwinism had to be scrapped (although it is still taught, especially in high school). This also means the strawman of classic Darwinism that we (Christians) use to discredit evolution should also be scrapped: it does us no good to criticize a scientific view that is no longer held by scientists.

Mathematical models suggest there is not nearly (by a long shot) enough time for evolution to have occurred-- especially given that evidence also suggests that complex life burst forth suddenly (on geological time scales). This rapid emergence of complex species shortens the time available for a transition from simple organisms and further stresses the evolutionary explanation.

In some sense, I feel comfortable at the moment (which will probably carry me through the rest of my lifetime) with attributing the huge fossil record to the old earth alone, without invoking evolution. I am far from convinced that the fossil record supports it. I am not sure what I would do if I were convinced of evolution—would I become a theistic evolutionist? I don’t know. Fortunately I don’t have a conflict with evolution because I see the evidence for it, in contrast to the evidence for an old earth, to be weak.

Quantum Mechanics

Believe it or not, it is here where I see the greatest conflict. Quantum Mechanics is the explanation of how nature behaves in the microscopic realm. As a pure and applied science (e.g., lasers, micro-electronics), it has been an unqualified success. In a real sense the entire high tech sector of the world’s economy is based on the success of Quantum Mechanics.

Yet at its heart Quantum Mechanics says the world is probabilistic. Quantum mechanics can tell you the average time for a species of radioactive atom to decay—but cannot tell you when or even whether a specific atom will. One atom may “live” much longer than expected, while a different atom of the same type might decay faster than the average. The difference between the two? Quantum Mechanics says that there is none—just a random dice roll caused one to decay and the other to stay put.

That, my friends, is not so easy to reconcile with a sovereign God. Yet Quantum Mechanics is on much firmer ground than evolution (and that is an understatement).

Billions and Billions of Dollars to Earn

Gary Petersen is reading John MacArthur’s book The Battle for the Beginning: Creation, Evolution, and the Bible, which I haven’t read but sounds intriguing. In hist post, Gary discusses the hideous Carl Sagan and his atheistic view of the universe.

I would only suggest that we should not paint all scientists with the Sagan brush. First of all, Sagan was in business to sell books and promote his TV show and his lucrative lecture circuit. To feed his lusts for fame and money he had to make outrageous statements—careful statements don’t sell nearly as well. Second, scientists, especially hard scientists, are less atheistic than is generally assumed.

When scientists make claims of what happened billions of years ago are they actually violating the scientific method by studying something they cannot actually observe? I don’t think so for a number of reasons:

  • They can ask what would be the effects, still directly observable today, of something that happened long ago. This is how the cosmic background radiation was discovered (after it was predicted).

  • They can look far into space— which is really the same as looking back in time—to see objects as they were in the early universe.

  • They can reproduce conditions (temperatures and densities) of the early universe in particle accelerators (something I am very familiar with).

I don’t think all scientists are the fools discussed in Rom. 1:20-22. I think that some, in revealing the obvious intelligent design of the universe, are helping to uncover more general revelation.

Correction: the author of the Samizdata post is Brian Micklethwait, not David Carr. Sorry about that.

No comments:

Post a Comment