APOLOGIA is a column in which I address issues having to do with faith, science, and ethics, and in which I try to use careful reasoning and evidence to seek what's true. Undoubtedly I will end up disagreeing with at least a few people. And probably I will make a mistake here and there. My hope is that I will show respect to those with whom I disagree, that I (and others) will learn from my mistakes, and that we'll get closer to what's true, good, and beautiful. - Hendrik van der Breggen
March 23, 2014
Origins, Science, and the Bible (part 2)
ALMA radio telescope, Chile
Hendrik van der Breggen
Origins, Science, Bible (part 2)
I want to think about some philosophical matters that are relevant to the
overall conversation about origins, science, and the Bible. More specifically,
I will argue that God’s revelation via nature and God’s revelation via
Scripture have domains which overlap.
make my case, I will do two things. First, I will question the limitation
placed on questions typically handed to science (how?) and to theology (why?
who?). Second, I will point to some areas of overlap.
science is understood as answering questions having to do with how. How does the world work? How do
material forces operate? Science has been extremely successful in answering
these questions, allowing us to understand the laws of nature and thereby improve
life via technology.
my studies in philosophy of science, however, I have noticed that how questions don’t exhaust the sorts of
questions/ issues addressed by the sciences. Some sciences also address that issues.
example, astrophysics deals with, among other things, whether or not it is the
case that the universe (i.e., all
physical matter/energy, space, time) began.
astrophysics deals with, among other things, the question of whether or not it
is the case that the universe’s
initial conditions are “fine-tuned” to be conducive to subsequent life (whether
subsequent life wholly evolved via chemical and biological evolution, was wholly
specially created, or was specially created with some degree of subsequent
the science of SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) deals with
whether or not it is the case that a
signal from space is due to an intelligent cause, without knowing how an
intelligent cause works, without knowing what its nature is, and even without
knowing whether it has a designer or not.
my studies of the Bible I have noticed that the questions of who—e.g., Who is God? Who are we?—and the
questions of why—e.g., Why did God
create? Why are we here? Why do we do evil?—don't exhaust the sorts of
questions/ issues addressed by the Bible. The Bible also addresses that issues.
example, Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the
earth.” Whatever else Genesis tells us about who God is and why God created,
Genesis 1:1 lets us know that God
caused the beginning of the universe and that
the universe began.
11:3 clarifies Genesis by letting us know that
“the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made
out of things that are visible.”
Hebrews says “by faith we understand that…,” but the revealed truth that X is the case is of interest here.
Also, a prior verse in Hebrews says “faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.” It seems, then, that this view of faith
needn’t rule out observation and good reasoning to help us have assurance and
conviction, especially when Psalm 19:1-2 tells us that “The heavens declare the
glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour
forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.”)
John 1:1-3 tells us that “In the
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All
things were made through him….”
a couple of other passages of Scripture tell us that time had a beginning. For example, 2 Timothy 1:9: “This grace
was given us in Christ Jesus before the
beginning of time” (italics added). Also, Titus 1:2: “[We have] eternal
life, which God, who does not lie, promised before
the beginning of time” (italics added).
then, science deals with more than how
questions, and the Bible deals with more than who or why questions: both
science and the Bible also deal with issues of that—i.e., that something
is the case.
this means that sometimes there’s an overlap between that which nature reveals
to be the case and that which Scripture reveals to be the case. So, if the
Bible is true, then sometimes our reason and observation of the world should allow
us to discern at least some of God’s activities in nature which have also been
revealed in Scripture.
the evidence of the big bang beginning of space, time, and matter/ energy seems
to allow us to discern via reason and observation what has also been revealed
in Scripture: i.e., that the
universe—all matter/energy, space, and time—began.
here thinking of William Lane Craig’s many works, including his book,
co-authored with atheist Quentin Smith, Theism,
Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology [Oxford University Press, 1993], and more
recently Craig's books Reasonable Faith
[Crossway, 2008) and On Guard [Cook,
the evidence of the universe’s fine-tuning for life seems to allow us to
discern via reason and observation what has also been revealed in Scripture:
i.e., that the universe displays
effects of an intelligence.
here thinking of Robin Collins’ work that will be presented in his upcoming
book The Well-designed Universe: God,
Fine-tuning, and the Laws of Nature. See too the readable summary of the
evidence for fine-tuning over at the BioLogos website.)
the evidence of the living cell (e.g., DNA) seems to allow us to discern via
reason and observation what has been revealed in Scripture: i.e., that the making of life requires some
sort of information input ("word") that smacks of intelligence and
here thinking of Stephen C. Meyer’s book Signature
in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design [Harper, 2009].)
seems, then, that if we widen our awareness of the sorts of questions/ issues
addressed by the sciences (not just how,
but also that), and if we widen our
awareness of the sorts of questions/ issues addressed by the Bible (not just who and why, but also that), we
can thereby notice that the Bible’s special revelation concerning the nature is
confirmed when we examine nature.
closing, a comment from mathematician and philosopher of science John Lennox is
appropriate. (Lennox, who has debated the popular atheist Richard Dawkins, is
someone whose philosophical work I greatly respect and whose work pretty much
makes the same points I’ve set out above.)
writes: “I am not, of course, claiming that the Bible can inform every branch
of science, but I am claiming that there are certain fundamental points of
convergence of such immense significance for our understanding of the universe
and ourselves that it is worth pointing them out. Such convergences between the
Bible and contemporary science add to the Bible’s credibility in a skeptical
world—as Scripture itself would warrant us in thinking (Rom. 1:19-20).” (John
Lennox, Seven Days That Divide the World:
The Beginning according to Genesis and Science [Zondervan, 2011], 142.)
is not to say that we should use the Bible as a science textbook, but it is to say
that we should let the convergence points inform theology (by suggesting some
interpretations of Scripture to be better than others) and that we should let
the convergence points inform science (by suggesting possible lines of further
is also to say that the project of connecting the dots
between science (when done properly) and Scripture (when interpreted properly)
belongs to philosophy and theology, and that these connections (when clear) can
serve the church's tasks of apologetics and evangelism—to help point people to
the God who became flesh in Jesus.
and observation have an important role in discerning God’s revelations in the
world. As a Christian who is a philosopher with an interest in apologetics, I
find this exciting.