For the week of October 17, 2009 / 29 Tishri 5770
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 1:1 - 6:8
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 20:18-42

Science and the Bible

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Bereshit / Genesis 1:1; ESV)

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. While Darwin didn't develop the theory of evolution, his work on the concept of natural selection greatly contributed to making philosophical and scientific naturalism the predominant world view that it is. Philosophical and scientific naturalism claims that life emerged and developed from natural causes only. It denies the existence of the spiritual and the supernatural, including the very first statement in the Torah which I just read.

There are many people who hold to the basic tenets of naturalism (they may or may not call themselves naturalists), yet find room in their lives for religion and spiritual things. They may even give lip service to the supernatural, but their basic commitment to naturalism casts doubt on the Torah's assertion that the God of Israel is the sole, personal, and intentional creator of the universe. Sadly, we are not always aware that we are doing this.

We may claim to believe the Bible, yet reject the concept of a six-day creation by insisting that it must mean something other than what the Torah clearly teaches. Some say that the sequence of events over the six days of creation is poetical, that it is some sort of song extolling God as creator of the universe. The problem with this view is that God himself doesn't share it. In the second book of the Torah, God gives the Sabbath to the people of Israel as a sign of his creating the world in six days (see Shemot / Exodus 31:17).

Another way people try to retain a commitment to the Bible yet doubt the creation account is by saying that it is based on a primitive, non-scientific world view - that whenever the first chapter of the Bible was written, it expressed the truth of creation through the understanding of people who had no grasp of modern scientific categories. Because of this they expressed Truth via a limited understanding of the universe. Not having at their disposal the knowledge of future generations, we cannot expect them to express these things in precise scientific terms.

I concede that the Torah does not express itself in scientific terms. I also concede that the way of looking at the world has changed a great deal from Bible times until now. Those changes significantly affect how we understand and express ourselves. But when it comes to determining Truth, including the origin of the universe, what will be our basis? On whose terms shall we attempt to reconcile the Bible with science? Science is a man-made attempt to understand the physical world. The Bible claims to be the revelation of the one true God. Science has developed over time as new discoveries are made and as new ways of looking at old discoveries are put forth. The Bible is unchanging. Therefore why should we have to defend the Bible on science's terms? Instead should not science have to defend itself on biblical terms?

It doesn't help that this discussion has often not been between the Bible and science, but instead about people's agendas in the name of the Bible or science. But for those who genuinely yearn to understand the relationship between the Bible and science, it is very important to begin with an acceptance of what each is really all about. The Bible is God's revelation of all of life including the most fundamental of scientific issues, creation. Science is the analysis of God's creation. To think that human beings, creations themselves, can have greater insight into the origins and design of that creation than is contained in God's own revelation, is arrogant. At the same time, students of the Bible are not immune from this arrogance. We need to be careful not to confuse what the Bible says with our assumptions and traditions.

There is a common misconception that just because the Bible was written amidst an ancient culture far removed from our own, it is somehow inferior to ours. Why do we assume that the difference in cultures discounts what the Bible asserts? How we and the people of old look at the world has indeed changed, but does that necessarily mean that the revelation of God through the people of old is inaccurate? Could it be that instead of the culture of biblical times being inadequate to effectively speak truth to us today, it is our culture that obscures the truth that God revealed long ago?

In order to have a truly beneficial discussion about the relationship between the Bible and science, we must be unapologetic about what the Torah itself actually teaches and how it teaches it. Manipulating the Bible to make it acceptable to science, will render it powerless and will rob science and scientists of the essential corrections they need.

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