006 Science and Religion

In the on-going dialogue between religion and science, some valuable perspectives distinguish recent studies. Christopher Kaiser, professor of historical and systematic theology at Western The- ological Seminary, provides a historical framework in Creation and the History of Science (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., c.1991). Throughout the Church’s first twelve centuries, Christian thinkers successfully correlated creationist theology (not to be confused with the “creation science” espoused by some American Fundamentalists) with Greco-Roman science. In Kaiser’s judgment, the creationist tradition upheld four views: 1) “the comprehensibility of the world,” i.e., human reason shares a certain co-naturality with the Reason which structures the cosmos; 2) “the unity of heaven and earth,” i.e., all things everywhere come from and are sustained by the Creator; 3) “the relative autonomy of nature,” i.e., having created the universe to run according to definite laws and principles, God allows it to follow its pre-formed pattern; 4) “the ministry of healing and restoration,” i.e., certain changes, certain technological developments, much like the hospitals started by St Basil the Great, so long as they appear health-giving, are allowable.

Creationist thinking emerged mid-way though the second century when St Justin Martyr “borrowed the Stoic idea of a seminal Word (logos spermatikos) implanted by God in all humans and maintained that this seed inspired the best philosophy of the Greeks as well as the prophecies of the Old Testament. Hence, ‘Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians'” (p.3).

Kaiser explores the Eastern and Western Church Fathers, showing how the most influential theologians, such as St Basil and St Augustine, read both nature and Scripture as revealing the mind and will of God.

During the High Middle Ages, when Aristotle reigned as “the Philosopher,” Christian thinkers sought reconcile his scientific notions with the creationist tradition which had been established during earlier eras. In this creative intellectual era, “the most remarkable feature … was the Church’s concern for synthesizing scientific and theological truths which was “best exhibited in the masterful ‘summae’ … of Thomas Aquinas” (p.56).

Yet despite Aquinas’ “summae,” the Medieval period also generated discordant currents which rocked the synthesis. In some quarters the traditional “biblical image of God as Cosmic Legislator” was displaced by “the idea of God as First Mover,” revealing Aristotle’s influence (p. 93). Reacting to such tendencies, others strongly insisted on “God’s absolute power both in establishing the normal course of nature and in superseding it at any time” (p. 93). Seeds for the split between science and theology were sown in scholastic debates, yet on the whole the Medieval Era retained a high regard for both science and theology, seeing both as capable of leading to an understanding of the Creator. Thus “Theology neither impeded nor caused the rise of modern science. Rather, the two interacted with changes in each making changes in the other more feasible” (p. 94).

The Renaissance incubated brilliant scientific theories (e.g. Copernicus’ heliocentric system) and vigorous experimentalism. Yet despite certain misleading stereotypes (e.g. Galileo the martyr for science), the creationist theological tradition, firmly biblical but open to new scientific data, endured, though a growing division between “spiritualists” and “mechanists” surfaced during the late Renaissance. Increasingly, it seemed to some, one must choose religion or science, but not both (at least at the same time). While the greatest of them all, Sir Isaac Newton, sought a synthesis fully open to spiritual and material realities, sustaining the ancient Christian creationism, his “symbiosis” satisfied only a small coterie of disciples.

With meticulous detail Kaiser sketches the views of a vast variety of scientists who have shaped their discipline during the past three centuries. Many of them have sought to explain the cosmos on a purely materialistic basis. Yet the creationist tradition has endured, even influencing major twentieth century thinkers such as Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein. It is, however, clear that the division between “science” and “theology” which began in the late Medieval era has widened as the academic world has become increasingly secularized.

Kaiser’s historical study helps us see, however, that a creationist theology does not necessarily bar Christians from scientific endeavors. What characterized earlier eras, he seems to suggest, may be reestablished in our day through careful scientific and theological work.

For a century “Darwinism” has challenged the “creationism” espoused by traditional Christianity. The scientific community has, generally speaking, embraced Darwin’s general notion of species evolving through natural selection, though isolated thinkers from Louis Agassiz onwards have questioned and rejected its assumptions and assertions.

In Darwin on Trial, (InterVarsity Press, c. 1991), Philip Johnson evaluates a century of Darwinian thought and finds it largely unpersuasive. A graduate of Harvard and the University of Chicago, Johnson clerked for Chief Justice Earl Warren and has taught for 20 years at the University of California at Berkeley–hardly a hotbed for Fundamentalism or a haven for anti-intellectualism! He’s neither a scientist nor a theologian (though he’s obviously bright and well-read). He’s a legal scholar trained to demand careful reasoning and clear-cut evidence. Accustomed to “analyzing the logic of arguments and identifying the assumptions that lie behind” them, Johnson thinks himself uniquely qualified to evaluate Darwinism, “because what people believe about evolution and Darwinism depends very heavily on the kind of logic they employ and the kind of assumptions they make” (p.13). He questions, then, “whether Darwinism is based upon a fair assessment of the scientific evidence, or whether it is another kind of fundamentalism” (p.14).

He was drawn to the subject because he saw how, when evolutionists set forth their claims, “the way the rules of argument seemed to be structured to make it impossible to question whether what we are being told about evolution is really true” (p.8). Secondly, he found it fascinating “that the very persons who insist upon keeping religion and science separate are eager to use their science as a basis for pronouncements about religion” (p.8). In The Blind Watchmaker, for example, one of the world’s leading Darwinians, Richard Dawkins, testifies: “‘Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist'” (9). Darwinists routinely make anti-theistic judgments, assert the universe lacks design or purpose, and zealously evangelize, seeking (through legal coercion if necessary) converts to their views.

Having announced his objectives, Johnson turns to specific issues: he deals, in successive chapters, with natural selection, mutations, fossils, the “fact” of evolution, vertebrate sequence, molecular evidence, and prebiological evidence. I’ll just focus on a few of his significant points. Darwinism routinely asserts that species evolve through “natural selection.” Yet, Johnson shows, where it’s actually observed, natural selection operates as a conservative rather than an innovative factor. For example: “When domesticated animals return to the wild state, the most highly specialized breeds quickly perish and the survivors revert to the original wild type” (p.18). Still more: the very notion of natural selection is tautological, akin to saying circles are round. It actually explains nothing. After citing a number of Darwinists who admit this, Johnson concludes, “All we can say is that the individuals which produced the most offspring must have the qualities required for producing the most offspring” (21).

Then there are the fossils. Ever since Agassiz (one of the most eminent fossil experts in Darwin’s era) rejected Darwinism, fossil scientists have scoured the rocks, searching for transitional species to fill in the “gaps” between known life forms. Despite all the claims to the contrary, Johnson finds the fossil record utterly at odds with Darwinism.

Darwin himself admitted that fossils gave little support for his theory, lamenting that “‘Nature may almost be said to have guarded against the frequent discovery of her transitional or linking forms'” (p.47). Stephen Jay Gould, an eminent evolutionist, confesses that “the extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record” is “the trade secret of paleontology” (p.59). Species simply seem to appear, unique and fully formed.

Some 600 million years ago, for example, the “Cambrian explosion” occurred; virtually all “animal phyla appear in the rocks of this period without a trace of the evolutionary ancestors that Darwinism require” (p.54). Darwinism simply cannot account for this sudden appearance of such distinctively-formed species.

Since the fossil evidence fails to afford strict Darwinians useful data detailing the gradual evolution from one species to another, certain “Neo-Darwinians” such as Gould have adumbrated a new theory, “punctuated equilibrium” to better explain the fossils. These scientists envision vast time periods when species remain unchanged, punctuated by brief periods of rapid evolution during which the transitional species survived too briefly to be solidified in the fossil record. Yet such theorizing illustrates a leap of faith rather than any adequate accounting for the empirical data, the fossils themselves.

That many scientists cling to Darwinism, despite evidence to the contrary, shows its essem- tially religious nature. “Mixing religion with science is obnoxious to Darwinists only when it is the wrong religion that is being mixed” (p.128). Creationists insist the cosmos reveals design and purpose, without dictating exactly how the Creator accomplishes his goals. Doctrinaire Darwinists, on the other hand, insist “God had nothing to do with evolution” (p.114) for everything evolves through purely natural, indeed random selection. Maintain-ing a naturalistic worldview, not developing a purely empirical understanding of nature, under- girds devout Darwinists’ agenda, for “Evolution is, in short, the God we must worship” (130).

Darwin on Trial is a fine, readable critique of Darwinism. Johnson cuts through the verbiage which often clouds the discussion and focuses on the central philosophical issues. As Richard John Neuhaus declares: “In all the vast literature on Darwinism, evolution, creation, and theism, one will likely not find a treatment so calm, comprehensive, and compellingly persuasive as Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial.” And he does this in 154 pages (followed by 35 equally fascinating pages of notes which discuss relevant sources)!

Another worthy recent science/religion book is The Fingerprint of God, 2d., rev. ed. (Orange, CA: Promise Publishing Co., c. 1991), by Hugh Ross. After receiving his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Toronto and doing post-doctoral work as a fellow at the California Institute of Technology, Ross shifted directions and joined the staff of the Sierra Madre Congregational Church, developing a ministry in apologetics, recently establish- ing “Reasons To Believe,” a research institute dedicated to demonstrating the harmony between God’s revelation in Scripture and Creation.

The Fingerprint of God has three parts: “roots of cosmology,” “scientific cosmology,” and “biblical cosmology.” The main issue in cosmology (as in Darwinian evolution) is the question of “origins–is a supreme being (God) responsible for the universe we observe or are random processes responsible for it” (3)? First, Ross provides a simple summary of past cosmological theories, stressing their interpretations of cosmic origins.

In part two, “scientific cosmology,” Ross turns to contemporary viewpoints, explaining and evaluating the most recent astronomical data and hypotheses. (Though he writes for the general reader, Ross insists the reader know a bit of math and science, understand equations and graphs.) As a result of accumulating evidence, forcing even Einstein to revise some of his most cherished views, most contemporary cosmologists believe the universe is constantly expanding. Consequently, Newton’s second law of thermodynamics (energy dissipates, sucking everything, the universe included, toward entropy), astronomical data, and Einstein’s theory of general relativity join hands to portray “the maturing of the universe–a maturation with obvious reference to a beginning point and to finite spatial limits” (p.57). Almost unwillingly, Albert Einstein felt compelled to admit to “‘the necessity for a beginning’ and, eventually, to ‘the presence of a superior reasoning power,'” though, Ross laments, the great physicist never accepted “the doctrine of a personal God” (p.59).

The expanding universe theory has, it seemed, conclusively triumphed over rival cosmologies, such as “cosmic hesitation,” “steady state,” and “oscillating universe” theories. Ross explains the deficiencies of such theories (both of which fit more neatly with an eternal rather than a created cosmos). Quite simply, accumulating data from incredibly sophisticated telescopes and computers demand they be discarded. “There is now no question that the universe expands” (p.83), Ross says. Virtually everything points toward “a primordial cosmic explosion” (p.85), from which the entire universe has unfurled.

To illustrate this, consider the fact that “galaxies are all middle-aged.” None are “newly-formed” and none are “extinct.” Galaxy formation must have taken place at only one time in the history of our universe. Therefore, the universe cannot be steady state …. ” (p.93).

Such astronomical certainties have led many cosmologists to conclude that the universe is 15-20 billion years old, “much too young for evolutionary processes to generate anything akin to life.” Theologically, Ross says, “It seems only rational to conclude that God, not random chance, must be responsible for creating both” (p.96).

Indeed, some astronomers and cosmologists have proposed a “design and anthropic principle,” arguing the cosmos bears every mark of intelligent design–and the design seems almost singularly established to facilitate human life on planet earth. John Wheeler, an American physicist, declared: “‘A life-giving factor lies at the center of the whole machinery and design of the world'” (120).

Deftly fleshing out the argument, Ross lists 17 remarkable “coincidences” which, blended together, support the “design and anthropic principle.” One astronomer, George Greenstein, though personally embracing a pantheistic perspective, writes:

As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency–or, rather, Agency–must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit? (128)

On a more limited scale, Ross examines 20 necessary “parameters” which, taken together, suggests “the design of the sun-earth-moon system.” He lists such things as the birth date, distance from galaxy center, and color of the parent star; the oxygen to nitrogen ratio and ozone presence in the atmosphere. Weighing all 20 factors, mathematical calculations force one to acknowledge “that much fewer than a trillionth of a trillionth of a percent of all stars will have a planet capable of sustaining advanced life.” Since there are “only about a trillion galaxies, each averaging a hundred billion stars, we can see that not even one planet would be expected, by natural processes alone, to possess the necessary conditions to sustain life” (132).

Having developed his argument for an expanding universe which points to a Designer, Ross turns, in part three, to “biblical cosmology.” After referring to the fact that many early church theologians (Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine) understood the “days” in Genesis to extended time periods, he explains how Archbishop Usher’s chronology (providing the 4004 B.C. date for creation) slipped into the marginal notes of many King James Version Bibles. Consequently, the fundamentalist movement early locked into the notion that biblical inerrancy dictated literal 24 hour days of creation and an extremely young earth and cosmos. Though strongly committed to a fully inspired, authoritative, inerrant Scripture, Ross does not think that pushes one into the fundamentalist “creationism” which often rejects the astronomical data and cosmological theories he himself accepts. Indeed he labels, as “bogus evidences for a young universe,” the views of Gary North and Henry Morris, polemical “scientific creationists” who cling to the 24-hour creation position.

On the other hand, he finds biblical scholars, especially “the ‘higher critics’ of the last two centuries have badly misinterpreted the first two chapters of Genesis, and by their error have led many astray” (161). Deciding that biblical data (especially where it dealt with the natural world) could not be taken as “objective,” they dismissed scripture’s historicity and reduced Christian “faith” to a subjective personal response to wins ome ideas about God.

Reacting against the “higher critics,” fundamentalists tended to deny “God’s revelation of truth via nature” and clung tenaciously to “the Bible, as the only reliable revelation of truth. Ironically, their definition of faith resembled that of their opponents, the higher critics. In both cases faith in God lost its factual footing, it was removed from the reach of testing by scientific and historical data” (164).

Ross, however, sets forth 11 creation events, as they appear in Genesis 1, and asserts they mesh, marvelously, with current cosmological views. From the creation of the physical universe to the creation of man, biblical descriptions square with scientific data. That such ancient theological beliefs may be harmonized with sophisticated scientific data leads Ross to confidently declare his conviction that the Bible is fully inspired by the Creator God.

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