On Science and Faith

How old is the earth?  I don’t know, but I am inclined to believe, based on biblical revelation, that it is less than 10,000 years old.  People like me, known as “young earth creationists,” are widely considered mindless, naive rednecks whose scientific viewpoints derive from the poisoned Kool-Aid that Jerry Falwell gave us (may he rest in peace).  Don’t bother us with the facts; we already have our minds made up.  But is it really that simple?

Scientific evidence does not interpret itself.  It must be interpreted.  The interpretation one gives to scientific data will inevitably be colored by the framework of preunderstanding that one brings to it.  This doesn’t mean that we can never know anything as true; it does mean, however, that if we begin with the wrong framework, we are likely to skew the evidence and come to the wrong conclusions.  This means, then, that all science rests on philosophical and theological conclusions.  Science is not a neutral discipline where you can check your presuppositions at the door.  Without presuppositions about the nature of humanity (especially humanity’s observational powers and their correspondence, or lack thereof, to the world as it actually is), science would be impossible.  A scientist can look at a rock and judge that it is 200 million years old, but before he can make that judgment, he must assume that his eyes have not deceived him about the nature of reality.  A truly postmodern scientist would never say, “This rock is 200 million years old.”  He would say, rather, “From my perspective, this rock is 200 million years old.”  And then I could turn around and say, “From my perspective, this rock is negative 100 years old (meaning it does not exist yet),” and as far as he is concerned, he cannot go outside of himself to rise above these two claims and arbitrate between them.  The real truth (if it exists at all) is not accessible to us, from a postmodern perspective (and that’s why you don’t see card-carrying postmoderns becoming scientists; they more often become literary critics, philosophers, or [!] pastors and theologians [!]).  Science rests on philosophical and theological presuppositions.

If that is the case, then why should it be so surprising that I come to the scientific task with the presupposition that Scripture is the Word of God written and that it is fully and completely trustworthy in all that it affirms?  Why should anyone ask me to lay aside that presupposition when asking scientific questions?  This is where so many people these days reveal their entrenched commitment to the Enlightenment principle of neutral human reason when they enter the debate over Intelligent Design.  “That’s not science,” they say.  “That’s religion.”  The underlying assumption is that true science can only be done if it is abstracted from any theological and philosophical commitments (such as the existence of God).  The problem, however, is that even those who argue this way have their own (unacknowledged) philosophical and theological commitments in place, and their argument basically amounts to this: “True science begins with my presuppositions, not yours.”  But naturalism is every bit as much a religious and philosophical commitment as is Christian theism. 

I am inclined to believe that one of the primary reasons that naturalists believe the universe is billions of years old is that their precommitment to naturalistic evolution requires a framework of billions of years to work at all.  Therefore, the evidence will always be interpreted within this framework.  No evolutionist will ever say, “The earth is less than 10,000 years old,” no matter what the geological data might suggest.  That claim cannot fit with the naturalistic, evolutionary preunderstanding of life to which they are committed from the outset.

I believe evolution is the wrong framework with which to begin.  Maybe I’ll do a whole post on that subject sometime, but for now let me say that I believe it is utterly reasonable, based on revelation, to ascribe the diversity of species to the creative work of God, not to a blind evolutionary process.  Therefore, there is no need to posit billions of years for human life to evolve, and the age of the earth can be decided on other grounds.  But what about geological indications that the earth is, in fact, much older than 10,000 years?  Here we face the issue of what interpretive framework one is using.  If indeed God is the creator, and if creation took place more or less the way Genesis describes it, then we would expect the earth to look much older than it is.  Something we learn from the Scripture is that God’s creative work normally bypasses the lengthy historical processes that would be required to create such outcomes under naturalistic circumstances.  For example, I take it that God created Adam as a full-grown man.  He did not first create a sperm cell, unite it with an egg, and then create some artificial womb in which Adam could gestate for nine months, followed by birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and then adulthood.  God skipped over the natural process because his creative work is not subject to naturalistic limitations.  Therefore, while Adam gave every indication of being, say, 25 years old, he was in fact only a few seconds old. 

This does not mean that God has deceived us.  It means that we should approach the scientific task by faith, recognizing the power of God to call into being that which does not exist.  All true science rests on this presupposition.

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13 Responses to “On Science and Faith”

  1. Luke Smith Says:

    Dear Aaron,
    I find it surprising that you are appealing to post-modern skepticism as a reason to dismiss scientific consensus. I do not think your arugument helps further the discussion of the relationship between following Christ and the scientific enterprise. To suggest that the Biblical witness is providing a schema to determine the age of the universe is to seek to find in scripture something that is not revealed. The creation account is poetry. It is theological reflection upon God. It clearly is situated in ANE cosmology. Out of chaos a space is ordered in which life is possible. Created within the framework and culminating in the sabbath. This is not meant to be a timeline. The greater and lesser lights are not created until the fourth day. As we measure days based on these….

    Inerrancy does not a hermenutic make. I recently read with great dismay the most recent journal from Southern. I cannot remember a time that I have read more disappointing theological reflection. Such foolishness hurts the witness of the church.

    Luke Smith

  2. fenderpooh Says:

    Luke,

    A few points:

    (1) Why the second paragraph? Does every comment have to contain some swipe at my seminary, my denomination, my heritage and faith? The whole second paragraph (with the exception of the first sentence) has nothing to do with the discussion of this post. I merely point that out in passing and will not mention it again.

    (2) I am aware of the various approaches to Genesis 1:1-2:3. I agree that there are poetic elements and that it represents a polemic against alternative creation accounts in the ancient near east. But to me, that does not necessarily imply a non-historical account. It is clear that the passage is not poetry in the same way that the Psalms are poetry. And to my mind, the best polemic against alternative creation accounts is one that represents what really happened. With regard to the Sabbath, you are only begging the question: why else would Israel be commanded to keep the Sabbath unless it were based on an actual pattern of creation? In fact, this is exactly what we find in Exodus 20 as the basis for the Sabbath command. You are presupposing that the Sabbath command came first, and that the creation account derives from it. I see it the other way around, and in doing so I am affirming the explicit statement of Scripture in Exodus 20. Also, when I read the rest of the book of Genesis, I see history. If Genesis 12-50 is clearly meant to be considered historical, then the presumption must be in favor of seeing chapters 1-11 in the same genre. See John Feinberg’s lengthy discussion of the various views on Genesis 1:1-2:3 in his “No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God.” It’s in the chapter on creation.

    (3) I realize that there are good arguments for other views (see, for example, Henri Blocher’s “In the Beginning”), and that’s why I don’t hold this issue as a test of orthodoxy. In any case, this post is an argument that we should not abandon our Christian faith when we interpret the world scientifically. For some reason, many Christians are eager to employ a bifurcated worldview at this point, arguing that the Bible is not a science book and then using that claim to exclude its witness from questions about the origins of the world and of humanity. No young earth creationist I know has ever said that the Bible is a science book, and I don’t know who made up the rule that it would have to be a science book in order to speak the truth to any of these issues.

    (4) There are good theological reasons for believing in a “young earth.” A young earth accords well with a historical Adam and Eve, which is indispensable to the Christian faith. The historicity of Adam and Eve alone can explain the entrance of sin into the world (as opposed to being an inherent part of creation, thereby making the problem of evil much more of a problem). The parallel between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12-21 demands a historical Adam as much as it demands a historical Christ. I realize that many “old earth” proponents believe in the historicity of Adam, but more often it is linked to the young earth view, and for good reason. Another issue is that on the “old earth” view, death (at least in the animal kingdom) has to be part of creation from the beginning and not a result of the fall. To me, Romans 8:18-25 makes the best sense if death (both in the human and animal kingdoms) is seen as a result of the curse from which creation is waiting to be set free. Russell Moore argues (rightly, in my view) that it is hard to believe that God would create a world that is “red in tooth and claw” from the beginning. I wouldn’t say that this is an airtight argument, but it is a pretty good one.

  3. Luke Smith Says:

    Dear Aaron,
    I agree that a historical Christ is central to the Christian confession…a historical Adam.. why is it not possible to see Adam is a typology of the fallen human condition? In Adam we all sin. His name itself seems to underline this point. Granted Paul in Romans explains the atonining work of Christ by using the tradition of Adam, but I do not think this requires viewing Adam as an historical person. What is essential to the Christian faith is that we recognize that sin is not a part of the created order that it is the result of Adam….Man’s disobedience to the word of God.

    Why does it matter? Why push against your view…and why be rude about it? I should not be rude about it! I have met several Southern students all of whom have been very kind competent and committed pastors…(or students). The vehemence…and that may be too strong, comes from the way in which Southern Baptists of which I AM ONE have tended to exclude views and thought that they deem unacceptable. The ideas are not debated simply dismissed.

    It is absurd to me that you and more gauling your professors simply dismiss the scientific consensus by questioning their “location”..to use a post-modern word. Science is an approach to asking questions…that is it. What do we observe…..what can we reproduce….what might that mean? This is what has led to the nearly 100% consensus among scientists with regard to the age of the earth. Can one reply,”….well you believe what you want….I am going to believe the Inerrant, infallible, etc…. and you can and your pagan schools can go to……” You are much more polite than the caracture I lampoon. Nonetheless this approach to the gains of science is not sufficient for a few reasons I will list two. First it does not offer substantive reflection on the observations nearly 100% of scientists have found to be compelling for their conclusions…it simply ignores it or offers highly polemical and insufficient rebuttals..evidenced by the inability to persuade the leaders of the scientific community who do not contrary to fundamentalist propaganda operate from a non-Christian Bible dismissing “location”. Second your account does not fully explain the Biblical text itself. Now I do not mean by this that you do not read the text closely, but you leave out things. Like the fact that you have a different creation order in chapter one and chapter two.

    blessings,
    Luke

  4. Luke Smith Says:

    P.S.
    My swipe at the seminary journal was because the most recent journal was entirely dedicated to a discussion of creation. What I felt was an inadequate discussion. Two years ago I attended a seminar in which science professors were invited to the seminary to hear a presentation about the ongoing conflict between evangelicals over the issue of creationism. There were probably over 100 professors from across the university. Many of these professors came because they were interested to learn why they had all these students who came to them with such a strong preconcieved notion that what they were going to teach them was going to be directed at undermining their faith. Those professors were being exposed to a very poor witness. These were the reasons for the second paragraph.

    blessings,
    Luke

  5. fenderpooh Says:

    I tend to see it the other way around. More often than not, young earth creationists are the ones on the receiving end of the kind of treatment you have described. We refuse to bow to the consensus of autonomous reason, so we are branded Kool-Aid drinkers.

  6. Luke Smith Says:

    Aaron,
    I am curious to know if you would say that a scientist who does not affirm the conviction that God calls into being all that exists would be unable to make true observations about the world. Must a scientist be…a Christian to do science?

    Luke

  7. fenderpooh Says:

    Good question. The answer is no. I am not saying that only Christians can make true observations about the world. If I go to a non-Christian doctor who is competent in his field, I believe I can trust him to make accurate observations and prescribe good and helpful courses of action.

    But the example of a doctor making a diagnosis is set in a context where regularity has been observed, experiments have been performed, and hypotheses have been verified empirically. There is no such context when you start asking big questions concerning the origin of the universe itself and of human life. The universe only began once, as did the human race, so there are no experiments we can perform to test the hypotheses with the same kind of certainty that we have when we test, say, how a particular drug works on the human body.

    So what I am saying is that the bigger the question you ask, the more you have to import from your underlying philosophical commitments to answer it. Asking about the origin of the universe and of human life is about as big as the questions come in the field of science, and I believe that far too many scientists have a prior philosophical commitment to naturalism; in the absence of experimental verification, they draw on those presuppositions to answer the big questions (even many scientists who believe in God!). Therefore, their judgment on many issues surrounding those big questions will be skewed by their prior commitment to naturalism. I think I have given a good reason, based on the way we observe God’s creativity at work in Scripture (take Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine, for example), to disregard naturalistic presuppositions (such as the presupposition that everything must be as old as it looks) when we come to these questions.

  8. fenderpooh Says:

    Let me add one more thing. I sense that your question was drawn from the last couple of sentences of my post. Let me explain what I mean when I say that all true science rests on the presupposition that God calls into being that which does not exist. I don’t mean that one has to be a Christian to do science at all. What I do mean is that even non-Christian scientists have to draw on Christian capital when they do true science, for only the Christian doctrines of God, creation, and humanity provide underlying verification for the scientific enterprise.

    Let me give one example of what I’m talking about. On naturalistic grounds, there is no reason for any scientist to suppose that he can trust his powers of observation. After all, he himself is but one more link in a blind, deterministic chain of random processes. What ground does he have to believe that his senses (also products of blind chance) can put him in touch with reality? But if God created this world and created humanity in his image, giving humanity the capacity to know this world and rule it under his authority (as Scripture teaches), then our senses are trustworthy and we can proceed with the scientific enterprise. Non-Christian scientists don’t realize it, but they must draw on ideas from our worldview in order to be scientists at all.

  9. ali Says:

    There’s also the interesting point made by…somebody, that Western rationalistic (scientific) thinking only asks the question “How?” but not the question “Why?” It is possible to answer “How?” in closed systems, but “Why?” will intrude somewhere – for example, when formulating theories to explain data.

  10. fenderpooh Says:

    Good point, Ali. Furthermore, I would add that Western rationalistic thinking that is rooted in naturalism not only does not ask, “Why?” but explicitly rejects the question as meaningless in the first place. Naturalism itself entails the claim that there is no “Why?”.

  11. Luke Smith Says:

    Aaron,
    Why do you make such ridiculous jumps in logic? The scientific method does not attempt to say why. This does not mean people who are serious about using this disicpline of observation do not care about those questions, rather they recognize the limits of the approach. It seems to me like you paint anyone who values the scientifc method with an incredibly broad brush based perhaps…and I am only guessing on the provocative statements of a few.

    Luke smith

  12. fenderpooh Says:

    Luke,

    Your bias is evident in the previous quote, to the point that you equate the scientific method with naturalism. To this point I have not critiqued the scientific method at all. I have merely critiqued the underlying philosophical assumption that is currently dominant in the field of science.

    You appear to be captive to a modernistic paradigm that views true science only as naturalistic science. Anything else is not science at all. I reject this paradigm. For all of its faults, I hope that the postmodern movement that is coming to dominate philosophy and culture will begin to expose the modern paradigm as false.

    The scientific method can be pursued without the baggage of naturalism. True, there are limits to the scientific method, and I don’t want to suggest that it can always answer every “Why” question. But I am not so much suggesting that as I am reacting to the dominant claim in the field of naturalistic science, which is this: “There absolutely, positively, conclusively is no ‘why’ at all!” Thus all the evidence must be interpreted as though there is no creator, no design, no purpose to anything.

    If scientists truly recognized the limits of their investigations, then they would not be so quick to deny that the supernatural is possible.

  13. Andrew O'Kelley Says:

    I believe in the old earth myself, but as of now, I am having difficulty dealing with the first recorded miracle of Christ, and it goes along with Aaron’s point of creating Adam as a brand new man that was aged. The water that Christ turned into wine was said to have been the best wine at the wedding feast. Wine must go through an aging process to develop better taste. Jesus created brand new “aged” wine. This debate has been put on the backburner of my mind, but as of late, I am not sure where I stand.

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