Science vs. religion
Conflicts between conservative
Christianity and scientific findings
||"The chief major battle between [conservative] Christianity and
modern science is not about a large number of individual facts, but about
the principles that control science in its work. The battle today is
largely that of the philosophy of science." H.R. Van Til.
||"In a recent Gallup poll it was found that half the adults in
America believe that the earth is 6,000 years old. The reason they give
for believing this is 'the Bible says so.' Meanwhile, according to
Christian astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross, 99% of all scientists believe this
idea is more far fetched than believing the world is flat. Their reason?
The scientific record says so." 9 Kevin Sluder
Various groups disagree about humanity, other species of life, the earth
itself and the rest of the universe. This is because their beliefs are built
upon different initial assumptions. Thus, they reach different conclusions:
||Very conservative Christians generally believe in the
inerrancy of the Bible when its passages are
literally interpreted -- except in those cases where a symbolic meaning is
obviously intended. Thus, whenever the Bible discusses matters of geology,
cosmology, astronomy, medicine, linguistics, etc. they believe it to be
free of error. They perceive that the biblical authors were
God to avoid all falsehood. All events described in the Bible, whether
miracles or naturally occurring consequences, happened exactly as
described. There is no possibility that any of these events did not happen
in this way, because that would mean that the Bible itself is not free of
error. The Bible can not be falsified -- proven to be false -- because it
is by definition true.
||Liberal Christians see great spiritual truths in the Bible, but
note that the authors of the Bible lived in a pre-scientific age. When the
writers described the creation of the world, they borrowed heavily from
earlier religious writings of nearby Pagan societies. When they wrote
about about animals talking, the sun standing still, mental illnesses
being caused by indwelling evil spirits, a worldwide flood, a flat earth
under a metallic dome, etc. they were merely reflecting
the primitive level of scientific knowledge in their society. Such
material is not to be taken as a serious description of reality. The Bible
is a spiritual book, not a scientific text book.
||Scientists generally work from the assumption that things
happen as a result of purely natural processes. They use the "scientific
method" to discover new insights in to nature. Many scientists believe
in the existence of God. However, most do not see God regularly intruding
in the universe and setting aside natural laws. That is, they believe that
miracles either do not happen or are extremely rare. Unless they are
biblical archaeologists, they rarely refer to the Bible as a guide for
An example of a four-way conflict:
Although the conflicts between conservative Christianity and science get the
most press coverage in North America, they do not represent the full story. For
example, consider the history of humanity in the Western Hemisphere:
||Many followers of Native American
spirituality believe that their ancestors have always populated
the North American continent. They base these beliefs on oral traditions
passed down from generation to generation.
||Mormons teach that ancient Israelites
emigrated from Palestine to the Americas via the
Atlantic Ocean, in three waves of immigration circa
BCE and 600 BCE.
They base their belief on statements in the Book of Mormon and the Bible.
||Many, perhaps most, conservative Christians believe that
God created the first humans sometime between 10,000 BCE and 4000 BCE. People
originally once spoke a single language, but that God caused linguistic
confusion at the time of the Tower of Babel circa 2247 BCE (according to
the Schofield Reference Bible). Most conservative Christians believe that humans migrated from the Middle East to spread
across the world, probably reaching America via Siberia sometime in the
second millennium BCE. The source of their beliefs is the Bible.
||Scientists believe that the earth coalesced about 4.5 billion
years ago, and that ancestors of humans exited from Africa more than
100,000 years ago. Scientists currently have three main theories that
differ on the details and timing of human development and migration. All
believe that North America was devoid of
primates until the first modern humans, Paleo-Indians arrived. They came
via the Bearing land bridge circa 40,000 BCE.
Scientists base their conclusions on carbon dating of ancient artifacts;
on the blood types, facial shape, and genetic makeup of modern-day Native
Americans; and on other data. 1
How scientists and theologians derive their beliefs:
In science: The scientific
In conservative religion:
scientific method forms the core of scientific research. It
is extensively used by scientists in their quest to build their knowledge base and
gradually gain increasing insight into the workings of nature. It typically involves a number of steps:
||Observe something that is unexpected or unusual. Perhaps something that has
detected for the first time.
||Gather as much evidence as possible about the phenomenon.
||Create one or more hypotheses that might explain the observation(s), using intuition,
analytical methods, trial and error...whatever works.
||Design a test that will give predictable results if the hypothesis is true.
(Sometimes a test is designed to attempt to prove a hypothesis to be false, in order to
eliminate it from consideration.)
||Conduct the test; check the results. Determine if the hypothesis has merit.
||Go back to the second step, if the hypothesis has no merit.
||If successful, publish the results in a peer-reviewed journal.
||Other scientists Independently duplicate the test to confirm that the conclusions are
||Go back to step 1.
At this point, a theory has been discovered and confirmed. If the theory gains general acceptance in
competition with other theories, and if it leads to a general advance in scientific
knowledge, then it may become an established theory. Eventually, it may become
so universally accepted that it becomes regarded as fact by the vast majority of
scientists. The theory of evolution is one example.
At any step in the process, falsification is possible:
||The hypothesis may not be
||Other scientists may not be able to duplicate the results.
||Some new theory
might come along at any time that replaces the current one.
Some important facts about science:
||A full, complete picture of nature will never be known.
||Current beliefs of scientists are at least partly wrong and
||The scientific method guarantees a self-correcting system of
||Current errors in belief will be corrected over time as new data
||Knowledge will increase with time.
||The theological quest for truth is considerably more complex. Most conservative
Christians believe that their own belief system is true, and was given
by God to humanity through biblical revelation. They often regard the
teachings of other wings of Christianity to be in error. They regard the
teachings of other religions as at least partly false. Meanwhile, followers of other
religions and other wings of Christianity feel that their beliefs are true, and that the teachings
of others are false.
Considering the the origins of the Universe as one example, we find that
||Followers of Jainism deny that the universe was created.
||The ancient Celtic religions that
is pattered after, have no creation story.
||Conservative Christians follow various interpretations of the
two creation stories of Genesis.
||Many Native American tribes believe that humans fell out of the sky into water, and
that sea animals brought up earth from the bottom of the sea to support the humans and
build "turtle island" (North America).
||Religious skeptics generally believe that all of the
religious creation stories are myths, legends,
and fables - devoid of any accurate content. Ancient creation stories are simply legends made up
by humans without any knowledge of the real events. 2,3
Conservative Christians base:
||Their theories of cosmology, geology, and origin of the species of
life, largely on the creation stories in the first few chapters of
Genesis, and on story of the flood of Noah in Genesis 6.
||Their theories on early human migration and linguistics is largely
based on the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.
||Their beliefs about human behavior are largely based on
the story of the fall and original sin in Genesis 3 and the writings
of Paul in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament).
||Their concepts of human sexuality (including homosexuality),
marriage, and the allowable roles of women, are largely based on
Genesis 2:24, various "clobber" passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old
Testament) and Christian Scriptures) relating to homosexual behavior,
and in particular, the writings of Paul.
||Their concepts of divorce and remarriage are based on the sayings
of Jesus, writings of Paul and on a scattering of writings by other
biblical authors. Unfortunately, the Bible is
ambiguous on these matters.
The concept of falsification of beliefs:
Very conservative Christians generally believe that the authors of the Bible
were inspired by God to write text that is
and thus none of its contents can be proven to be false. Further, most believe
that when a person trusts Jesus as Lord and Savior,
the Holy Spirit enters her or his body and they become a new creation. One
effect of the indwelling Spirit is that they can interpret the Bible accurately
for the first time. These are foundational
beliefs, and are correct, by definition. Thus falsification of their beliefs is
Scientists hold that all scientific theories are capable of being
falsified. Implicit in the scientific method is the belief that nothing is absolutely proven
for all time. That is, researchers must always be prepared for some future experiment or
investigation that will prove that an existing theory is invalid. The scientific method is
thus a self-correcting process; any errors will eventually be detected and corrected.
Two of many instances from the 20th century in which new evidence overthrew
long-established scientific beliefs are:
||Laws of motion: Sir Isaac Newton discovered mathematical formulas that accurately predicted the
relationships between force, mass and acceleration. These formulas precisely predicted the
movement of everything from pendulums to planets. Over time, Newton's theories advanced in
status. The mathematical expressions of his theories became known as Newton's Laws. However, in the early 20th century,
Albert Einstein predicted that an object's mass is not constant. Its
mass increases as its speed increases. As its speed approaches that of
light, its mass approaches infinity. Subsequent experiments, and observation
of naturally occurring phenomena, validated this theory. However, Newton's Laws are still used in
almost all engineering and scientific designs because their error is minuscule.
||Stomach ulcers: A recent medical discovery found one of the major causes of stomach ulcers.
In the past, doctors had been treating ulcers
with stress relief programs, medication to lower stomach acid, and diet. But ulcers often
persisted in spite of the best care. Patients often had to accept their condition as
permanent. Two Australian physicians were able to demonstrate that many ulcers are not
caused by spicy food, excess stomach acid or stress; they were created by a particular
bacterium called H.pylori. Doses of two medications (one antibiotic and one that blocks
acid) cured ulcers in over 80% of patients. Although the research was first published in
1983, it was not until 1994 that the U.S. National Institutes of Health endorsed
the new treatment. Here, we have an instance where medical science went down the wrong
path for many decades. The scientific method played a major role in convincing the medical
fraternity to accept a bacterial cause to ulcers. One of the researchers had
the courage of his convictions to actually infect
himself with H.pylori, wait until he developed ulcers, and then cure himself with antibiotics.
Within science, there are many levels of theories. Some, particularly new and emerging
theories, are little more than speculation; they may be based on little evidence. Others,
like the existence of evolution, the scientific laws governing electricity, mechanical
motion, genetics etc., are supported by so much evidence from such a wide range of
sciences that they are almost universally held beliefs among scientists. The full "'truth' can probably never be determined. Results must always
be held open to extension, modification, even possible replacement."
How Scientists, conservative Christians, and intelligent design supporters view science:
Almost all scientists assume that God is not intimately involved in
the processes that they are studying. That is, things happen because of
repeatable physical, chemical, electromagnetic, nuclear and other processes. But even that belief is capable of being
falsified. Philosophers and theologians have tried to prove the existence of God
for many millennia, without any success. But if God exists and decided to make his presence known in some unmistakable way, then
scientists would have to start treating God as part of their
understanding of the universe. God could, for example, rearrange a few thousand
stars to spell the phrase "I AM" against a background devoid of any
stars visible with the unaided eye. That would prove God's existence to almost
everyone, although it would not reveal any of God's attributes.
Researchers in the Intelligent Design (ID) movement accept
the existence of God, or at least of some form of intelligent life with
knowledge, abilities and powers which are vastly superior to humans. They assert that
there are certain patterns, designs, and functions in the universe that could
not have come into existence as a result of purely natural forces and processes.
They must have been specifically designed and implemented by an intelligent
entity with super-human ability and knowledge. ID'ers feel that some super-human
intelligence must be taken into consideration when one studies nature. However, intelligent design has
not made much of an impact in the scientific community. Most of the material
being written on ID can be traced back to folks at the Discovery Institute
in Seattle, WA.
Conservative Christians view the non-involvement of God as an invalid
starting point. Thus, they expect that scientists' conclusions will be highly
distorted, and probably devoid of truth.
||H.R. Van Til writes "...Free scientific inquiry...requires that
there be no pre-interpretation of facts in terms of the Christian story.
On the other hand, the Christian holds that the idea of free scientific
inquiry is unintelligible except upon the presupposition of the truth of
the Christian story." 6
||C. P. Ferroni, a Christian Reconstructionist
comments: "As Christians, we have a different starting point in
understanding our origins. Perhaps it could be called an unfair advantage.
The creator of the universe has told us about that creation. Because of
this, it isn't necessary for us to spend vast amounts of energy trying to
understand origins..." 7
||E.J. Young writes that: "Fallen man must read general revelation in
the light of Scripture, else he will go basically astray. Of course the
Bible is not a textbook of Science, but the Bible is necessary properly to
understand the purpose of science. Perhaps one may say that it is a
textbook of the philosophy of science. And on whatever subject the Bible
speaks, whether it be creation, the making of the sun,
the fall, the
flood, man's redemption, it is authoritative and true." 8
There is little hope that these diverse and conflicting views will be harmonized in the near future.
The following information sources were used to prepare the above essay in
2000 and update it subsequently. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Valerie Polino, "Early man in North America: The known to the unknown,"
D. Leeming & M. Leeming, "A Dictionary of Creation Myths", Oxford
University Press, New York, NY, (1994)
B.C. Sproul, "Primal Myths: Creation Myths Around the World," Harper
Collins, San Francisco, CA, (1979), Page 192 to 194. Quoting W. Theodore de
"Sources of Indian Tradition"
"FDA Approves Drugs That Cure Ulcers," Gannett News Service,
The Scientific Method: Ingredient #13 at: http://www.scientificmethod.com/
H.R. Van Til, "The Case for Calvinism," Page 137. (Believed to be
out of print).
C. Paul Ferroni, "The Reconstructionist view of science" at:
E.J. Young, "Studies in Genesis One," Page 54.
Order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Kevin Sluder "God, Genesis and the big bang: The Bible and science in
conflict: A brief history," at:
Copyright © 2000 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2001-AUG-20
Latest update: 2008-JAN-11
Author: B.A. Robinson