There has been much discussion in recent times regarding the concept of intelligent design: i.e. the claim that there are aspects of the universe which are far too complex for them to occur without being deliberately designed. This has generated a hot debate about what should be taught in schools, should children learn just the theory of evolution, or also the possibility of a designed universe, which inevitably brings in the possibility of the existence of God, always a red rag to the bull of atheistic humanists.
This topic may well come up in conversations we have from time to time, and many Christians struggle with what to say to those who make statements regarding the lack of any need for the “God hypothesis” (the Marquis de Sade to Napoleon). However Christians are required to have something to say (1 Peter 3:15); so what can we?
1. Biblical Christianity is the Basis for Science.
It was the biblically based culture of medieval Europe that provided the conditions favouring the pursuit of the natural sciences. This pursuit was undergirded by the (Biblical) conviction that the material world exists and is important, in contrast to eastern cultures where material things are considered to be mere illusion, and therefore not important. Further, the Bible teaches the rationality and design of nature. i.e. that it is purposefully designed with laws governing its operation. This explains, at least in part, why the Natural Sciences largely developed in Christian Europe and not elsewhere.
It is also the case that the early scientists such as Galileo, Copernicus were all Christians, and believed their work glorified God. The great scientist Isaac Newton said that the “world could originate from nothing but the perfectly free will of God”, and Johannes Kepler (who discovered the laws of planetary motion) that “the book of nature was written by God”.
2. There is much harmony between Science and the Bible
Both teach a set of laws controlling the operation of the universe, but only the Bible says why the laws are as they are. (Job 38:8-11; Isaiah 40:12); both imply a beginning and an end to the universe, although only the Bible gives an explanation; both teach the objectivity of truth i.e. certain things are given whether we like it or not. (John 14:6); both highlight the problem with human nature- science by implication, with concern about how humans might use the power of the atom; Christianity by assertion that human nature has been corrupted. (Romans 3:10-12).
3. There is some conflict between Science and Christianity
There are a number of reasons for this some of which are –
Firstly, the church has at times made wrong and dogmatic assertions; e.g. by opposing the idea of the Copernican Sun-centred solar system; and also today, by an often misguided use of the Bible as a scientific text-book, which it most certainly isn’t!
However so also has science! Some scientists assert that theirs is the only approach to reality, such that if you cannot measure it – then it doesn’t exist. This was exampled by the Russian cosmonaut who, because he didn’t find God in space, said that God doesn’t exist. However, because we cannot find an artist in the canvas of his painting, we cannot conclude that there is no artist! It is also an issue that scientific theories, which from time to time change, sometimes even quite radically, are taught as fact.
One of the major areas of apparent conflict is in the Creation versus Evolution debate, and about this much can be said. Firstly, it is often creationist Christians who, while having the praiseworthy intention of honouring God, misuse the bible by failing to give enough recognition to its varying types of literature. This is especially true in Genesis which is a highly structured book written by very intelligent people, but people who had no intention of answering 21st century scientific questions which they would not have even understood if they had heard them! An example of the structure can be seen in the two matching parallel halves (days 1-3 and 4-6) in chapter 1; the “chapters” of the book broken up by a common phrase-like “the account of (NIV)” (2:4; 5:1; 6:910:1 etc); and the parallel “fall” stories (Chapters 3; 4; 6; 11).
Further, the writers of Genesis were not trying to teach science or history (although Genesis 1-11 contains historical elements) but to teach theology; i.e. the answers to the big questions- Who am I? Why am I here? Why does the world exist? What is wrong? etc. questions which science cannot answer. Genesis 1-11 is in fact more like “Poetry with a message”, so debates about a literal, six day (24 hour) creation are fairly meaningless; in any case the Hebrew word for “day” can also mean a long period of time.
Science also often makes “faith type” assumptions, for example, that the laws of Physics (e.g. for the rate of radioactive decay of isotopes) have always been the same. This is an unprovable assumption that may, or may not, be correct. The dating system for the age of rocks and fossils etc. is based on this “faith” type assumption.
If the God of the bible exists, then there is no reason He could not have created everything instantaneously, all at once if He so wished, so things did not have to evolve . On the other hand He may have chosen to use evolutionary processes. The Christian faith, and the truth of the Bible (which talks about Who not How) do not stand or fall on whether or not evolutionary processes have taken place.
Evolution is a doctrine which implies progress to higher forms; but this would appear to be contrary to all the evidence we see daily, for there would appear to be no evidence of moral progress. Is not the Biblical idea of “the Fall” more representative of the reality we see?
Evolutionary theory also claims that progress is by the success of the strong and better adapted, with the “weak” being selected out. If this is the case why then do we fight evolution by supporting the weak? e.g. with medicine, nursing homes for the ill, old or infirm etc?
The Bible tells us that the Universe was created by God but not how; that it is sustained by God. (Col. 1:17); that there was a beginning and will be an end as Science does; that Humanity has gone wrong and is not as God intended; and that Christ came to solve the problem for you and me.
Bible does not tell us how old the universe is, whether there was literal six day creation or whether the world was formed over a long period (Scientific evidence does suggest an old world); whether or not evolution has been involved. God could have chosen to develop a range of species from one original life form, but there is little evidence for this, or God could have used a process of adaptation within species (Which there is a lot of evidence for).
We can deny a doctrine of moral progress even if we allow physical evolution. Belief in Moral progress requires blind faith, which flies in the face of what we daily see!
We should avoid a literal reading of Genesis which ignores literature type. Further, we can deny that that Science excludes an intelligent designer (God), because science and the Bible are actually dealing with totally different areas of study and knowledge. The Bible is about Why and Who? Science is about How?
A good question to ask of someone who uses science as an objection to the validity of the Bible and Christian faith is “what part of the Bible do you think that science disproves?” (the fact is that 9 times out of 10 they will not have read it!); this will then get us into a spiritual conversation in which we can say what the Bible is really about, the human problem and God’s answer i.e. that baby in the Bethlehem manger, grown to be the crucified and resurrected Christ!
That will then lead us to another bigger story!