Conference: God and Science- Session One

On Saturday, March 8 I attended a conference at Messiah College on “God and Science”. The conference was meant to provide evidence for an old-earth creation, and that gave me an opportunity to familiarize myself with a new set of scientists. The three scientists in attendance were Dr. Gregg Davidson, Dr. Ken Wolgemuth, and Dr. Joel Duff, and together they comprise an organization called Solid Rock Lectures.

There were four sessions, and I’ll critique each one as I consider the scientific and theological implications. The first session was presented by Dr. Gregg Davidson, professor of Geology & Geological Engineering at the University of Mississippi. Dr. Davidson has a BS in geology from Wheaton College and PhD in hydrogeology from the University of Arizona.

He and his colleagues affirm that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, and authoritative word of God. They believe in the deity and bodily resurrection of Christ; the universe was created from nothing; there was a genuine first sin; Noah’s flood was a real event; science doesn’t trump Scripture, and science isn’t required to understand Scripture.

He then presented what he considers misunderstandings about creation: that the only understanding of creation is a young earth, that any belief in an old earth results in a humanistic worldview, and evidence for a young earth is solid, while evidence for an old earth is weak.

But then he declares that the opposite is true, and that believing in a young earth leads to tragic, shipwrecked lives. Now this is where I vehemently disagree; in fact I could argue that the belief in evolution leads to tragic, shipwrecked lives, but I’ll get back to that later.

Dr. Davidson went on to hammer young earth creationism and Ken Ham, while praising old earth creationism and Bill Nye. He contends that we need to understand that some of our interpretations of Scripture are the result of fallible humans, and that interpretations favoring a young earth may be incorrect, while Scripture may actually support an old earth. I do agree that we need to be aware that certain interpretations of Scripture may be wrong, but it’s also possible that young earth interpretations of Scripture are correct and based on sound reasoning. Ideally we want our interpretations of Scripture to reflect what God meant, while not reading into it something that isn’t there. I think we’re all guilty of that to some degree. I’m a young earth creationist because I believe that’s what Scripture reveals, not because that’s what I want Scripture to mean.

Reflecting on the Genesis account of creation, Davidson correctly maintains that nature is not self-existent, and that God is responsible for all of creation. He referenced Scripture to support his belief that the universe is not eternal; he appealed to the Big Bang as the event triggering the beginning of the universe 13.8 billion years ago; and he discussed the “multiverse” theory, suggesting that there’s evidence for an infinite number of universes, each with its own unique set of laws and properties.

I found it interesting that he appealed to science fiction to defend the multiverse theory. He finds it odd that many Christians resist this theory, yet they’re okay with the existence of fictional universes, such as Narnia or Lord of the Rings. I would suggest a number of reasons for this: 1) There’s no compelling scientific reason to believe in multiple universes. 2) The belief in multiverses is meant to avoid the obvious implication that our universe was designed. 3) And we don’t have a problem with suspending our imagination in an effort to escape reality and enjoy a well-written story.

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(Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono)

Davidson discussed the creation of life in Genesis 1 and why he thinks it supports evolution. The Bible says, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed and trees bearing fruit,” and “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind.” Science, he claims, also says that the earth brought forth life; therefore he sees this is evidence that the Bible confirms evolution. However I’d argue that science doesn’t say any such thing. Science is a tool that scientists use to study the universe. Both secular and old-earth scientists may be in agreement that the earth brought forth life (just as the Bible says), but science has not demonstrated that life arose from non-life by pure, natural processes- which is what secular scientists believe.  I’m mentioning this because many people make the mistake of claiming that “science” says something, when it’s “people” who are making those claims and attributing them to science. It’s also necessary to note that there are real distinctions between a naturalistic origin of life and the creation account presented in Genesis, but that distinction is nearly indistinguishable for those who adhere to an old-earth worldview.

According to young earth creationists, however, even though the Bible tells us that God commanded the land to produce vegetation and living creatures, it’s unreasonable to conclude that the Bible supports evolution. At first glance that seems plausible, but upon closer study, Scripture gives the impression that all this happened instantly at God’s command, not over incredibly long ages. After commanding the land to produce vegetation and living creatures, Scripture says, “And it was so.” Further, God ordered the plants, trees, sea creatures, birds, and land animals to reproduce according to their kinds. But according to evolutionists like Davidson, all life is related to a single common ancestor; this means that, given enough time, none of God’s creation reproduces after their kind; instead they evolve into other kinds of organisms, which would be a violation of God’s command. After being faced with the implication that Scripture is wrong, old-earth creationists resort to rescuing devices; they tell us that Genesis shouldn’t be taken literally, that it’s really an allegory, poetic speech, myth, fable, parable, or some kind of symbolism. Of course that doesn’t stop them from using Scripture to support evolution.

But there are other problems with claiming that evolution is a proven fact supported by the data and the Bible. Firstly, naturalistic explanations, according to atheists, make the existence of God obsolete. The philosophy of naturalism relies on time and chance to produce life through chemical processes. Old-earth scientists naturally accept this model, but evoke a supernatural intervention by God. These old-earth scientists have no problem with secular scientists resorting to godless principles which steer science in the direction of naturalism, while maintaining a belief that God is in control.

Why do we need to accept a model that denies the existence of God and relies on purely naturalistic explanations, and then claim that this is consistent with the Bible? Is evolution a natural conclusion based on the plain reading of Scripture, or is it imposed upon Scripture because that’s what evolutionists see? I think Davidson would tell us that the evidence is so compelling that the only conclusion is to interpret Scripture in light of evolution. He believes that the evidence points to naturalistic explanations, yet we may still hold onto the belief that God is responsible; the Big Bang and evolution are merely God’s chosen method of creation, and any scientist can see this if we just follow the evidence.

But I find such thinking to be at odds with what is revealed in Scripture. I don’t think there’s any compelling reason to suggest that God used purely naturalistic processes (as opposed to supernatural processes) to create the universe and life over the course of billions of years. I think the only reason to accept such a notion is based on a strict adherence to naturalism over Scripture. In other words we’re deferring to atheism as the authority for determining our origins. I’m sure Davidson would argue that he’s just following the evidence wherever it leads.  But he can’t escape the fact that this naturalistic explanation is at odds with Scripture, and no spiritual gymnastics will resolve the problems.

Davidson asks a number of questions that he never really intended to answer. He asks: What is the intended meaning of six days? Was there death before sin? Was nature corrupted at the fall? Did Adam and Eve have ancestors? Should science ever be allowed to influence Biblical understanding? Are we elevating science above Scripture? Are we on a slippery slope where all of Scripture will be deemed allegory? Would God let his people believe wrongly for thousands of years only to be corrected by fallible scientists? If Scripture can’t be trusted about nature, how can we trust Scripture at all?

As for science influencing our Biblical understanding, he appealed to history and considered the church’s claim that the sun and planets revolve around the earth based on Scripture. Copernicus and Galileo, however, concluded that the earth and planets orbit the sun based on scientific observations.

Davidson’s solution is “divine accommodation.” He suggests that Scripture makes use of nature as it was understood at the time to communicate truths about the nature of God rather than communicate literal scientific truths. Davidson contends that Galileo’s findings corrected an interpretation of Scripture that was never intended. He asks, “What does this teach us about science and the age of the earth?” He says we should pause and not be too quick to react, and we should be driven back to scripture to see what it actually says. Some of the things in Scripture that give him pause are: light separated from darkness; the description of the sky; an evening and morning without the sun; and God needing rest. In this way he implies that we should allow science to correct our misinterpretations of Scripture.

Therefore Davidson proposes the “Framework” hypothesis, which groups the days of creation into realms of creation, preparation, and filling. By resorting to this rescuing device, Davidson believes he has warded off any contradictions and allows room for evolution in the Bible.

All this sounds nice, however Davidson is violating his own advice. His interpretation of the Galileo trial misrepresents what actually happened.  According to Thomas Schirrmacher, “both Galileo and the Copernican system were well regarded by church officials. Galileo was the victim of his own arrogance, the envy of his colleagues and the politics of Pope Urban VIII. He was not accused of criticising the Bible, but disobeying a papal decree.” So it was his colleagues and fellow scientists who initiated the attack.

If anything should give us pause, it is evolution. I don’t adhere to the “divine accommodation” model because it suggests that those to whom it was written couldn’t have understood the truths God intended to communicate about his nature. Just because the Israelites didn’t have a modern education doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t have been able to comprehend evolution or an ancient universe- which were already understood among the Greeks. I think the concept of divine accommodation is a flimsy excuse to elevate naturalism over Scripture, rather than allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture.

Davidson’s presentation didn’t instill any confidence in me to adopt his old-earth philosophy. He raised many questions, but didn’t answer any of them adequately and leaves us buried in conflict. And it’s these types of conflicts that lead some people to abandon their faith, and that’s where we find tragic, shipwrecked lives. Once they realize the spiritual gymnastics necessary to overcome the inherent contradictions between evolution and Scripture, they naturally give up their faith.

However I maintain that a correct understanding of the authority of Scripture, and using Scripture to interpret Scripture, helps us avoid this mess and provides unity between Scripture and science. We can have confidence and trust in Scripture, while maintaining a healthy and accurate view of science.

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