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Scripture and Science In Conflict by Prof. Philip Stott ó Introduction

Scripture and Science In Conflict by Prof. Philip Stott ó Site Map

How firm is the ground you are standing on?

by Philip Stott

"Scientists change their minds. They interpret observations (which are always incomplete) in the light of their word-view, and re-interpret those same observations in a completely different way when their world-view changes or when new information comes to light. The Word of God, on the other hand, remains the same for ever."

The Christian is fortunate. He has genuine solid ground on which to found his faith. The only solid ground. The Word of God.

On the other hand, society at large has been led to believe that the wisdom of man, particularly when it goes under the name "science" is the real foundation. Sad to say, there are even Christians, especially learned and clever ones like Hugh Ross and his well-meaning disciples, who are suffering under the same delusion.

A strange situation, especially in the light of the observation made by Douglas Jones :-

"The odd thing is that science has such a ridiculous track record to serve as such a powerful veto-house of truth. If we think in terms of centuries and millennia, few other disciplines turn inside-out so flippantly and quickly as the natural sciences. Nothing can take the puff out of the scientific chest more than a study of its history. Perhaps that's why it's so rare to find science departments requiring courses in the history of science. The history of science provides great strength to the inductive inference that, at any point in its history, that day's science will almost certainly be deemed false, if not laughable, within a century (often in much less time)."

Scientists change their minds. They interpret observations (which are always incomplete) in the light of their word-view, and re-interpret those same observations in a completely different way when their world-view changes or when new information comes to light. The Word of God, on the other hand, remains the same for ever.

In "Stand to Reason", Gregory Koukl (one of Rossís disciples) asks the question "When you look up into the midnight sky do you see stars? Or are the lights in the heavens mere appearances, images crated in transit?"

Koukl then makes the bold statement " The answer settles the question of whether the creation of the universe was recent or ancient."

It may settle the question in the mind of a secular humanist, a Hindu, a Muslim, or anyone else standing on shifting sand, but for a Christian what settles that question, and all others like it, is what the Bible tells us. There is no alternative. There are no observations of the creation of the universe available to science, there never will be, so without the Lordís telling us how and when He created the universe we can never know.

Of course the secular humanist, (or anyone else who does not accept the Word of God) can try to reconstruct a likely scenario, but he has to make assumptions - assumptions which necessarily fit in with his world-view. The popular Big Bang story is such a scenario. It is as "unscientific" as the theory of evolution, with which it goes hand in hand. Scientists have observed hundreds of explosions; every one has destroyed, not created, order, structure and information. The Big Bang tells of an explosion (which nobody observed) creating all the order, structure and information in the entire universe! The theory is, as the noted secular humanist scientist John Maddox (editor of the prestigious scientific journal "Nature") admitted, "thoroughly unsatisfactory."

But Gregory Koukle seems to believe that the astronomers of our day actually know what they are talking about when they make their confident pronouncements, and he continues with the bold declaration " the existence of stars the way we see them is evidence for an old earth, not a young one."

Perhaps if all the assumptions, hypotheses and conventional dogma of modern astronomy were true, then Koukle might have a case for what he claims. But how do those assumptions, theories and conventions stand up to examination? Examination not only in the light of what the Bible says, but even in the light of secular science.

And how good are astronomers at using their assumptions to interpret their observations and reach valid conclusions? What is their track record like?

The planets are quite close to the earth in astronomical terms. They were studied carefully for many years by numerous astronomers using the very best telescopes available. Many confident statements were made about them before space probes eventually made observation from close quarters possible. The overthrow of much of scienceís "knowledge" about the planets was rapid and spectacular. After Voyager had shown accepted ideas about Jupiter, and its satellites to be very far from the truth, and it was approaching Saturn, Brad Schaeffer, the scientist in charge of the imaging team at NASA, stated "at least we will have no surprises with the rings of Saturn" He said this because all the calculations had shown the rings just had to be that way. Unless the rings were as the calculations indicated they could not be stable - they could not be millions of years old. And, of course, the astronomers just "new" they were millions of years old! When Voyager started sending back pictures of the rings Schaefer and his colleagues were astounded - their structure was nothing like the theory decreed. By all the science known they could not be stable, could not last very long, could not have been in existence very long. New stories had to be hastily devised.

By the time Voyager left the planets behind it had shattered planetary theories by the dozen and led to the introduction of what Schaeffer called "instant science" - hastily concocted hypotheses to replace long-standing wisdom which had collapsed in disarray.

And what about the stars? They are much further away than the planets, harder to observe in detail, and therefore even more open to errors of interpretation. What are they? The accepted wisdom has them to be huge balls of gas which collapsed from dispersed clouds under their own gravity and became so hot in the process that nuclear fires started burning within them. It is possible that this might be true; but there is a large and growing body of evidence which does not fit in with that theory. So much that Lief Robinson described this evidence as "ever growing tidal waves of disparate information."

And how does starlight travel? And what is light anyway? The currently accepted theories of physics are clearly unsatisfactory. To explain some observations it has to be assumed that light consists of particles, to explain others light must be assumed to consist of waves. An attempt at a marriage of those two ideas - that light is a particle with wave properties - a "wavicle" - is unsatisfactory, no observations fit in with that idea. Some optical phenomena can be explained only in terms of pure waves others in terms of pure particles, but not by a combination. Without a satisfactory theory of what light is how can there be a satisfactory theory of how it travels? Its wave-like nature demands a medium of propagation - formerly accepted as the "luminiferous aether", or just "aether" for short. The idea of the aether went out of fashion when experiments like those of Michelson and Morley, Trouton and Noble and Theodore de Coudres showed that if the aether exists then the earth is a special place; it must be stationary, and presumably at the centre of the universe. But despite the reluctance of our learned scientists, the existence of an all-pervading medium has to be acknowledged when it is found that "free space" has measurable properties - permittivity, permeability, impedance, zero-point energy, and it behaves like "a turbulent sea of randomly fluctuating electromagnetic fields, and short-lived virtual pairs of particles that form and annihilate" as K. W. Ford put it.

There is evidence which suggests that light, whatever it actually is, may propagate infinitely quickly, spending most of its time "resting" in the structure of the aether. Our knowledge of the aether, its composition, its properties, its movement, its interaction with light and matter is almost non-existent, though a growing number of scientists are convinced that it does indeed exist, and its study should be the major concern of physics. The aether is so problematical that Einstein decreed that for his Special Theory of Relativity it must not exist at all, yet he stated that his General Theory of Relativity is "unthinkable" without it! With such an unsatisfactory state of our knowledge of light and the medium through which it travels, how much confidence can be placed in statements of what light tells us about the stars?

To come to any estimate of age or distance by observing light we would have to know how the properties of light and the medium it travels through have varied over time. It is normal to assume they have always been constant, but a Christian should have serious doubts about this, especially in view of the many scriptures which tell us that after creating the heavens God "stretched them out." The properties of a medium change as it is stretched out. The permeability and permittivity of space are believed to determine the speed of light. How did those properties vary during the stretching out process? How did it affect light already traveling through space (such as light coming from stars or supernovas)? We have no idea, and I believe the Scriptures give us a guarantee that we never will. Without at least that knowledge we will certainly never be able to estimate the size or age of the universe by observing starlight.

And why do I say the Scriptures guarantee that? Look at Jeremiah chapter 31. We see promises that God will never abandon his chosen people Israel. But in verse 37 we read "If the heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done."

There have been attempts to search out the foundations of the earth beneath. Seismic analysis gives a picture of what the earthís interior may possibly be like, but to check on such deductions one needs to drill deeply into the earth. Several deep drill holes have been attempted. They have not achieved their objectives - it has proved impossible to probe even to a depth of 11 km. And conditions found by the drilling experiments have not matched theoretical predictions even to that paltry depth. Jeremiah 31:37 guarantees that man will never be able to probe the foundations of the earth - we will have to live with the theoretical conclusions of indirect methods like seismic analysis, and we will never be able to check that the assumptions of these methods lead to a true picture despite the confident claims of seismologists.

In the same way, Jeremiah 31:37 guarantees that we will never be able to make the right assumptions to use starlight (or any other means for that matter) to measure the size or the age of the universe.

And indeed astronomy is running into serious problems in its attempts to do so. John Maddox, editor of Nature, commenting on results of studies trying to solve the problem using observations made with the Hubble telescope said "this result, the third in less than a year, makes nonsense of the standard model."

Why are the theories of astronomy giving results which are "nonsense"? Why are there "ever growing tidal waves of disparate information" which do not gel with theoretical predictions? Simple. The assumptions used in the theories of modern astronomy are unsatisfactory Ö to put it bluntly, some, at least, are just plain wrong!

Koukl also asks Ď why the "appearance" of millions of years of erosion on the moon? Why the deep canyons half way round the world from Eden that "appear" to have been slowly carved out of solid rock by running water? Why do the walls of these canyons reveal earth that "appears" to have been laid down one millimeter at a time by ancient accretions of atmospheric dust?í

Where does this "appearance" of age come from? It comes from the assumptions used to interpret the observations. If one accepts that "all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation", as do the scoffers of 2 Peter 3, then one could, admittedly come to these conclusions. The craters of the moon, if created by meteorite impacts occurring at the slow rate apparent today, would represent millions of years of erosion. However, there is evidence that many, if not most, such craters may not have been formed by meteorite impact at all. They could be the result of steam-bubble eruptions at the time of the moonís creation while the surface was still plastic. Even if the majority are indeed impact craters, there is evidence that a cloud of meteorites swept through the solar system and caused many craters - not only on the moon, but also on other planets - in the space of a very short time. The truth is that we do not know how or when the moonís craters formed. Their origin was not witnessed, it has to be inferred, and man is notoriously prone to error in his inferences. One can understand a secular humanist placing his confidence in such wisdom, but surely a Christian, with the solid ground of Godís revelation, need not be won over by such speculation.

And the idea that the canyons of the world were slowly carved out over millions of years certainly does not come from observation-based science. Observation tells us that catastrophic events - floods, mud flows, turbidites - carve out rugged features like canyons. In the Mount St. Helenís eruption of 1980 the spectacular Engineerís Canyon system was carved out by a mud flow in just a few hours. Nobody has ever observed a canyon cut through solid rock slowly by a trickle of water, but even I personally have seen one cut through an ironstone ridge in less than one week by raging flood waters.

Similarly the idea of the appearance of the sides of a canyon suggesting slow deposition, "one millimetre at a time by ancient accretions of dust" ought to act as a warning of just how fallible the wisdom of man really is. After the observation of extremely rapid deposition of finely layered material in vast quantities during the Mt. St. Helenís eruption such an interpretation is no-longer worthy of any confidence.

Should one abandon the clear statements of Scripture because the wisdom of this world says the earth and the universe must be older than the Bible says?

Only if he is standing on the quicksand of the wisdom of man instead of the solid ground of Godís Word.

Reformation Christian Ministries - Reformed International College - Reformed Theological Seminary.