Science and the Bible
DOES modern science make it impossible to believe the Bible? Some appear to think so, but we should remember that the Bible is not primarily a science textbook. It reveals a different kind of truth from that revealed by scientific methods. However, it does sometimes say things that have to do with geology, archaeology or other sciences. In such cases, does it harmonize with what scientists say? Consider just two examples.
In the book of Psalms we read: “He has founded the earth upon its established places; . . . with a watery deep just like a garment you covered it. The waters were standing above the very mountains. . . . Mountains proceeded to ascend, valley plains proceeded to descend.” (Psalm 104:5-8) Do mountains really “ascend”? And are they sometimes submerged in the sea? The Book of Popular Science says: “From [earliest] times down to the present, the perpetual process of building and destroying mountains has continued. . . . Not only have mountains originated from the bottom of vanished seas, but they have often been submerged long after their formation, and then re-elevated.”
In the first verse of the Bible we read: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) At one time scientists hotly debated whether there even was a beginning, or whether matter had always existed. In 1979, though, Time magazine stated: “Most astronomers now accept the theory that the universe had an instant of creation. . . . The Big Bang theory sounds very much like the story that the Old Testament has been telling all along.”
However, it has sometimes seemed as if the Bible says one thing and science another. Is the Bible wrong? No, although sometimes those who claimed to be teaching the Bible were mistaken.
Is the Bible Really Wrong?
Back in the seventeenth century, for example, the Italian scientist Galileo taught that the earth revolved around the sun, not the sun around the earth. The Catholic Church ordered him to recant. Why? Because they considered that what he was saying contradicted the Bible. Well, Galileo was right and the Church was wrong. But the Bible was not wrong. The Bible nowhere states that the sun orbits the earth. It was the ancient astronomer Ptolemy who said that.
Today, certain fundamentalists believe that the earth was created in six days of twenty-four hours each. This is in striking contradiction to the teaching of science, but which thought is correct?
The fundamentalists believe that their teaching is based on the Bible, but a careful reading of Genesis chapter one reveals that they are mistaken. The Bible states that the earth was created at some unspecified time in the past, and the famous “six days” involved the preparing of it for man to live there.—Genesis 1:1-31.
True, the account goes on to say that huge steps in the development of the earth took one day each. But, in the Bible, “day” can mean more than a twenty-four-hour period. It can mean a thousand years or even longer! (Genesis 2:4; Psalm 90:4) The Bible record, together with verifiable history, indicates that the seventh day of that creative week covers a period of 7,000 years. Hence, each of the six preceding “days” would be of the same length.
Thus, when we read the first chapter of Genesis, we find that over six long periods of time—thousands of years, not merely hours—land appeared in the ancient seas. Day and night came to be distinguishable (possibly because of the removal of cosmic dust from around the earth). Plant life appeared, followed by fishes, birds, land animals and finally man. In many respects, this account resembles what you would read in a school textbook.
Is Modern Science Really Right?
But what about those times when the Bible says something that clearly contradicts a modern scientific theory? Should we assume that the Bible is wrong? No. Remember, science at its best is a continuing process of learning. Theories that were widely held yesterday may be abandoned tomorrow. Hence, it is quite possible that a scientific belief that contradicts the Bible might itself be out of fashion in the future.
An example of this: At the beginning of the century many agreed with the critic Wellhausen who said that the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were only myths. Today, opinions are changing, as a recent book explained: “Since Wellhausen’s day views have shifted, on balance, in a conservative direction, but this trend is all too often exaggerated. A fair example is the historicity of the Patriarchs, whom Wellhausen considered ‘a glorified mirage’ from the first millennium. Now more recent scholarship has come upon evidence which has persuaded many that the Patriarchs were real people after all, and lived in the period indicated by the Bible, namely the second millennium BC.” (Ebla, a Revelation in Archaeology, by Chaim Bermant and Michael Weitzman) Hence, in this instance, progress in the science of archaeology has brought the ideas of many scholars closer to what the Bible says.
Perhaps the best-known difference between the Bible and modern science involves the theory of evolution. Evolution teaches that all living things developed gradually from a single biological source. This is different from the Bible’s version, that God created all living things separately, and each reproduces “according to its kind.” (Genesis 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25) Science has demonstrated the possibility of wide variation within animal kinds. But the idea that, for example, the rhinoceros, the eagle and the mackerel ultimately all have the same ancestor clearly contradicts what the Bible says. Does this mean that the Bible is wrong?
No. Many do not accept that the evidence available proves that evolution took place.a And who knows what the future holds for the theory? For one thing, the idea that all life descended from a single ancestral form is coming under fire in some quarters. In 1978 Professor Dr. A. E. Wilder Smith, author of over fifty scientific books, wrote: “A number of mostly young authorities have become convinced in recent years that biogenesis, the origin of life, was not monophyletic (all living things derived from a single cell), but rather polyphyletic (from many sources). Therefore there are authorities today who no longer believe that all species derived by means of transformism from one original cell. They do not believe that all species had a common biological ancestral tree with a single root for all forms of life.”
That is not exactly what the Bible says. But it is closer to what the Bible says than is pure Darwinian evolution. And future research and theorizing might bring many scientists even closer. But even if they do not, should we therefore assume that scientists are right and that the Bible is wrong?
Remember, scientific theories are based on the evidence available, as interpreted by imperfect people. In the case of paleontology (the study of fossils)—and archaeology—much of the evidence is mutilated, lost or difficult to interpret. And the scientists who make the interpretations often have strong opinions about what the evidence will prove. Hence, we should not quickly abandon the Bible because it does not agree with some scientific theory. And especially is this the case when we remember that the Bible reveals many truths that are far beyond the reach of science.
a For a more detailed discussion of the theory of evolution, see the Awake! issue of September 22, 1981.
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The Bible says many things that modern science confirms
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If the Bible and science clearly contradict each other on some point, it should not automatically be assumed that the Bible is wrong
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DID YOU KNOW THAT SCIENCE ONCE TAUGHT
● That heat is a fluid called caloric?
● That the atom is the smallest particle of matter, and that it was impossible to divide it?
● That an impassable barrier between matter and energy prevented any possibility of one being changed into the other?
● That sleep is caused when the nerve cells shrink, thereby no longer making contact with one another?
Of course, scientists have long rejected these theories and replaced them with others more consistent with the facts as they now know them. New facts discovered in the future, or different approaches to facts now in their possession, could lead to modifications, or even abandonment, of theories scientists now hold.