Bryan Collier ~ Benefit of the Doubt: Science vs. The Bible


Recently we began a series called “The Benefit of the Doubt” that focuses on the questions that skeptics of faith raise about faith and that honestly even people of faith raise about faith. Many of these are common doubts in our world, in our church, and in our hearts.  And many of these questions or doubts are often just easier to leave fuzzy and out of focus – but if they remain unaddressed, they begin to affect how we approach God and share our faith.

Last week Will Rambo, our teaching pastor, led us in an examination of questions about the reliability and truth of the Bible and established that we can trust that the Bible is true and strong enough to build our lives upon.

Today, we are going to look at what appears to be the serious conflict between science and faith.  This has been a personal issue for me for most of my life. I grew up through junior high and high school with a deep love of science; I was a Biochemistry major for my first year of college before switching to Biology and then to Education; I intended to be a coach and a science teacher. So science and its pursuit to explain the unexplainable have been a great interest of mine for many years.

But I must confess I approached and continue to approach science through the lens of faith. Whenever there was something unexplainable I assumed a God-related answer and kept digging for what that answer might be. But times have changed and most people do not assume a God-related answer to the unknown. In fact, they assume a not-God related answer and often chalk it up to chance or randomness. When it comes to faith and science we usually end up on one extreme end of the spectrum or the other.

But does this all-or-nothing tension between science and faith or science and the Bible have to exist? I don’t think so, but I think it is imperative that the people of faith address their own scientific doubts and questions as a way of entering into conversation with those whose scientific doubts and questions are not related to faith at all.

Can you be a person of scientific intelligence and a person of faith at the same time? Do the Bible and science contradict one another?

Let’s establish that science does not disagree or even have a very heated argument with most parts of the Bible. It does not disagree that there was a historical figure named Jesus who actually lived. It does not disagree that there was Paul or the kings or kingdoms of the Old Testament or that there was an Egyptian enslavement of the Jews.

But it doesn’t disagree with those things primarily because those are not scientific matters  – those are historical matters.

In general, students of science might attack the Bible in two very defined areas about two very defined topics: in the New Testament, the miracles of Jesus, and in the Old Testament, the creation account in Genesis. Students of science may attack the supernatural works of Jesus as impossible and therefore untrue and the creation account as inaccurate and therefore untrue. And this is where the conflict between science and the Bible is perceived to rest.

So let’s look at those two areas. We are going to start with the miracles (further over in the Bible) and work our way back to the creation account (the opening story of the Bible) and I will explain why as we go. Let’s begin with the miracles of Jesus. There are 37 miracle accounts in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They include:

*Jesus turning water into wine
*Jesus giving the disciples a miraculous catch of fish
*Jesus calming the storm on the sea
*Jesus healing blind, lame, and mute people and lepers
*Jesus casting demons out of people
*Jesus walking on water
*Jesus feeding 5,000 people from one person’s lunch
*Jesus raising the dead

By definition a “miracle” is an event which is not producible by the natural causes that are operating at the time and place the event occurs (see The Case for Faith, page 63). There is no natural explanation for how a miracle occurs. This can be a problem for students of science because the goal of science is to seek a natural explanation for the cause of an event. So by the definition itself science does not have room in its discipline for the miraculous.

Miracles have no natural explanation; scientists can devote themselves to looking for natural explanations. No one of faith would suggest that the miracles of Jesus are common, everyday, normal, routine actions. We would say, they are not natural—they are miraculous. “Miracles are hard to believe in and they should be!” Intervention into the natural order is not a common thing; that is why we call them miracles.

In science everything has an explanation; if a scientific discipline can’t explain something it is because the explanation hasn’t been discovered yet OR the unexplainable event didn’t happen (which is what is said about the miracles of Jesus).

There is one other thing I want to point out that is helpful in understanding the purpose of Jesus’ miracles. Tim Keller wrote in “The Reason for God” that Jesus’ miracles were never magic tricks, designed only to impress and coerce; you never read about Jesus saying something like, “see that tree over there? Watch me make it burst into flames!” Instead, he used miraculous powers to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and raise the dead. Why? We modern people think of miracles as the intervention or suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant miracles to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus came to redeem where the world is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs of his power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. In the end, miracles are the restoration of order by Jesus’ interruption of the broken order or the way things work.

Now what about Creation?

The main conflict between science and faith comes at the very beginning of the Bible in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. Essentially, the first challenge of this Creation account says, “that is not the way creation happened.” This claim or confusion from some students of science stems from using the Genesis creation account in a way that it was not meant to be used.

When we read the Psalms, we know that they are poetry and we read them like poetry. When we read the Gospel according to Luke, who in the very first verse of his book declares that this is a well-researched, detailed, eye-witness, historical account, we read it as such. But Genesis’ creation account is not intended to be either of those literary genres.

Certainly the Genesis account tells us something of how what happened, happened: God initiated creation. And it tells us something of why: out of God’s goodness God creates good. But Genesis does not tells us in any great detail what happened. We have some details, but all of creation summed up in 31 verses? It wasn’t meant to be exhaustive: did anything happen in between what we read? Were the days literal 24-hour periods; how long ago was this? Where were the dinosaurs in creation? The reason we don’t have answers to these questions is because the Genesis creation account wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive account of creation; and why? Because what we needed to know was why—and I want to suggest that God knew that with science, we would begin to fill in the details.

The Bible is not meant to be a science book or a history book—though it contains truth that informs both science and history. It is meant to reveal to us the story of God who created, loved and redeemed all of creation.

One example of this is the attempt to date the earth from the Bible. People who try to date the earth from the Bible come up with an age of around 6,000 years old; some scientists say the earth is a couple of hundred million years old. In my opinion, you can’t date the earth from the Bible—the Bible isn’t too concerned with that. I think God left that to the discipline of scientists. Scientists who are pointing at fossils that are carbon-dated a couple of million years old aren’t trying to disprove the Bible; they are trying to accurately date fossils. I think God left some mysteries up to scientists and we should listen to them.

There are other matters the Bible is concerned with—like how it all got started.

Scientists argue that it was evolution. Intelligent people of faith have no problem with evolution. But let’s be clear what we mean by the term “evolution.” Scientists who argue against the Genesis creation account use the word evolution to refer to philosophical naturalism—which means that everything has a natural cause and that life is solely the product of random forces guided by no one.

Intrepid people of faith use the word “evolution” to communicate the absolutely factual process whereby more complex life forms evolved from less complex life forms through a process of natural selection. It is undeniable that there are variations within species of animals and plants, which explains why there are more than 200 varieties of dogs, that cows can be bred for improved milk production and that bacteria can adapt and develop resistance to antibiotics that once worked on them.

Within these definitions, it is not likely that people of science and people of faith will agree on evolution, but to form some conclusion about the way creation happened, science and faith must begin in the place they agree—that creation is highly ordered (the discovery of this order is what science is about!). Both in science and in faith it can be agreed that life doesn’t happen by chance. In the example of human life, there is a very set order to the circumstances for conception, gestation and delivery to take place. And that is true across our species. There is no variation.

But the question we must sort out between us is how the order came to be.

For people of faith the answer is God. God created in an orderly fashion and brought life of all types into being out of that order.

For some scientists the answer is randomness. Scientists and people of faith can agree their world is highly ordered. For the person of faith this is because there was an Orderer and for naturalists the cause of order is the random ascent from disorder (anyone else think this answer seems incongruent?). Interestingly enough, the only place scientists point to disorder as the cause of order in the universe is at the beginning. By the way, so do people of faith (Genesis 1:2): the earth was formless and empty and darkness covered the deep waters.

But those in the discipline of science have ignored its brother mathematics in their commentary on the probability of this randomness reorganizing itself into order that could produce life.

Scientists and Mathematicians Cyril Ponnamperuma of the University of Maryland and Carl Woese of the University of Illinois have stated that, “even if you optimized the conditions for the creation of life [the random order of materials that erupts in life] wouldn’t work. If you took all the carbon in the universe and put it on the face of the earth, allowed it to chemically react at the most rapid rate possible, and left it for a billion years, the odds of creating just one functional protein molecule would be 1 in 10 with 60 zeros after it.” (This is a problem for a 400 million-year-old earth.)

Biochemist Michael Behe has said the probability of linking together just one hundred amino acids to create one protein molecule by chance would be the same as a blindfolded man finding one marked grain of sand somewhere in the Sahara Desert.

Sir Fredrick Hoyle British, astronomer and mathematician who coined the phrase “Big Bang Theory” to describe the originating creation event said it this way: that creation happening by chance is about as likely as a tornado whirling through a junkyard and accidentally assembling a fully functional Boeing 747.

Can I prove to you without a shadow of a doubt that there is a God or that God created the universe? Nope. I can’t. Neither can anyone else. That is why it is called faith. But science, as much as some scientists would like to, can’t disprove it either. And the weight of the evidence is on faith’s side.

I can’t prove to you that Will Rambo, our teaching pastor, ate a donut this morning. In fact I didn’t see him eat a donut this morning. But I know he likes breakfast and he likes donuts and that donuts are readily available and he was in the proximity. I can say that he likes to eat and that he has to eat to stay alive. So while I can’t say with certainty that he ate a donut this morning I can say it more likely he ate a donut than not this morning and that makes it a high probability that Will ate a donut this morning. More probable than he didn’t.

Can I prove to you beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is a God or that God created the universe? No. But it is far more likely than the possibility that all of this happened by randomness—even when we judge the evidence by scientific standards.

It is so probable, I am certain of it.

Now back to the beginning of our conversation…if it is likely that God created the natural order of creation isn’t it fairly easy to conclude that that same God could suspend the natural order in miraculous events and ways for humanity’s good? Are science and faith, science and the Bible in contradiction with one another? People of faith need not think so. Even by the standards of probability, the miracles of Jesus and the Genesis creation account are more probable than not. I am certain of both of these things because of faith. but my faith and your faith need not exclude science. And we should be generous toward those who approach these questions from a scientific perspective instead of a faith perspective —in order that they may come to faith. The truths of science and faith do not need to be constantly in conflict with one another—and neither should the people of science and faith.
Writer Ian Barbour points out that there are four ways that science and faith may be related to each other:

*Conflict: they are enemies.

For the Christian, if all truth is found in God then scientific truth is a revealing of God, and science is not the enemy of faith.

*Independence: they are separate and have nothing to say to one another.

Science has so much to teach us about the what…but our understanding is incomplete if we separate it from the why. Science can say, “this is how we are” but faith tell us “why we are how we are.”

*Integration, and

*Dialogue: both are more complex and messy but both recognize their contributions and respective spheres of authority.

In the end, there is a benefit to our doubt. It makes us dig and think and enter into dialogue with others and with scientific disciplines—where our own faith is strengthened and we develop the answers to those who would question that faith.


Bryan is the Founding and Lead Pastor of The Orchard United Methodist Church in Tupelo, Mississippi. He is a graduate of Mississippi State University and Asbury Theological Seminary. He hails from Etta, Mississippi, is married to Wendy and has two kids, Olivia and Houston. In his spare time Bryan likes to read, ride bikes and attend Mississippi State sporting events.