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Does Science Contradict the Bible’s Creation Account? Part 3

Does Science Contradict the Bible’s Creation Account? Part 3

Unbelief is personal

When I was younger (high school / early college), I considered the Bible’s creation account to be the single largest barrier to believing in the biblical God. In retrospect, I realize I mostly used this as a cover to hide my deeper, more personal troubles with Christianity and the church.

I witnessed pastors in disgrace, caught sexually abusing minors (yes, he’s in jail), constantly mocking gay people with full parental approval, and forcing boys to dress up like women (no, I’m not making that up). I saw hypocrisy, a Sunday facade of beautiful families, many if not most of those facades hiding physical and verbal abuse, substance abuse, food abuse, power grabbing, contentiousness, and marital infidelity. I saw singles treated as if they had a disability.

These were the same people frequently judging the community around them as something separate and lesser. I endured sermons that harped on what we should do and should not do with little emphasis on a God who appeases, cleans, and embraces his people.

Science was a less personal topic for me, and so I preferred it to my difficult emotions. I preferred my own detached façade of scientific disagreement to the uncomfortable belief that I needed saving in the first place. Unbelief is never detached and logical. It is visceral, dealing more with our desires than our thoughts. Beliefs are always personal.

Science is never the cause of unbelief

In a highly viewed debate, Ken Ham was asked (paraphrasing) if any evidence would sway his belief. He said (paraphrasing), “No, nothing would.” It was, in my opinion, the most impactful thing he said during the debate. It was beautiful.

It was beautiful because it evoked the same divide that the gospel evokes. The prideful pointed their fingers at Ken, and said, “What a fool!” The humble heard him say that, and said, “I’m glad I’m not the only one.” The gospel is foolish, and nothing will change that, no matter how consistent with scientific observation you might be. It’s best to get used to being called a fool.

Science is never, ever, the real reason for unbelief. Scripture is clear that our beliefs follow our desires, not dispassionate scientific inquiries.

I didn’t believe in Jesus (though I longed with tears for a benevolent God to exist) mostly because I was presented with a cold, distant God who loved rules and particularly hated gay people more than anyone for some strange reason. I know that isn’t the true God, but that’s what the church presented to me at the time.

I also didn’t believe because I found sin enjoyable, and I wasn’t willing to give it up at the time. It was encountering the real God through other peoples’ patience and endurance that changed my heart. I’ll tell you want it was not, though: it wasn’t science.

Don’t get me wrong, apologetics are great and helpful. But they are primarily beneficial for believers, not unbelievers. If you hear the gospel and respond with longing and desire, then science will not dissuade you from believing. If you hear the gospel and find it foolish or offensive, then science will not persuade you to believe. I’m not saying that consistency in beliefs isn’t important. I’m just saying that salvation doesn’t depend on your scientific viewpoint, and it never will.

Where apologetics are helpful for unbelievers, in my view, is in opening up candid conversations about the gospel. If someone doesn’t consider Christianity to be consistent with reality, they’re not likely to listen to the gospel in the first place. Talking about seeming contradictions between the Bible and science can lead to talking about God’s nature. It opens up a way for the lost to hear the gospel with fresh ears.

Also, I want to say that your view on biblical creation and science is not necessarily a show stopper for your life in general. Regardless of your view on this, we can all agree that sin separates us from God and that only His free-gift atonement through Jesus removes that separation. I do not believe that your status as a Christian is dependent on your views of the creation account.

However, for some believers, when it seems like science contradicts the Bible, it can introduce doubts. Doubts will weaken the depth of our trust in God, which can be damaging to our daily life.

Be careful with “contradictions”

Scientific observations very strongly suggest an older Earth, life, and universe. But the Bible, at least at first, seems to strongly suggest an Earth created in a matter of days. People will look at this and fear that the Bible contradicts reality.

The thing is, this evolves so strongly over time. 400 years ago, Galileo found strong evidence that the Earth was not the center of the Solar system, something we would never argue against today (but don’t get me started on flat Earth conspiracy theorists…ugh). This created a theological storm at the time because the mainstream church was teaching that the Earth was the center of the solar system (something we find nowhere in scripture, of course).

But imagine for a second that you’re a common person of the time. You have observations versus religious belief, and they seem to contradict. That’s a valid crisis for you in that day and age. It turns out that the seeming contradiction was solely because the mainstream church at the time placed tradition as a higher authority than scripture, something we all do even today to some extent (so don’t get judgy).

Fast forward to 200-ish years ago with Charles Darwin. He observed what appeared to be continuous evolution of species according to natural selection, something we now know is overly simplistic yet still accurate in many ways. Then, 100-ish years ago, we discover the universe is expanding and appears to be tens of billions of years old. Then, radiometric dating strongly indicates life is many millions of years old.

Again, we find ourselves in what feels like a crisis of contradictions. Can the Bible be trusted?

Forty years ago, Christians barely had anything to say at all in any mainstream sense. 20 years ago, we find young Earth theorists attempting to reconcile scripture and scientific observations. More recently, we find more reasonable old-Earth theories that still take scripture as true in a literal and authoritative sense.

What if you lived forty years ago, though, as an astrophysicist or a biologist? Do you throw away your faith because it seems to contradict what you observe? Or do you recognize you might not understand things well enough and trust that there is a reconciliation even if you don’t know it yet?

Remember the idea of “projection” from the last post? What we observe is an overly simplistic projection of a far more complex reality. Apparent contradictions often disappear when looking at the full picture.

I could tell you that two separate circles are, in fact, the same object. You look at them, and you think, of course they’re not. But later, you learn that the two circles are actually a 2-D slice through a 3-D donut. It turned out they were actually the same, but you couldn’t see it because you didn’t know about the third dimension.

It’s unreasonable to think you have to throw everything away because some things seem to contradict. I think an intimate and deep belief deserves more respect than that. The fact is we don’t know everything. Not all apparent contradictions are truly contradictory. Often times, the most biblical statement you can ever say is “I don’t know, and that’s OK.”

Listen to the gospel, respond with desperation and joy, and trust God that seeming contradictions have a reconciliation, even if you cannot see it yet.

Posted by Matt Norman with
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Does Science Contradict the Bible’s Creation Account? Part 1

If you’ve studied subjects such as astronomy, geology, or biology, I’m sure you’ve discovered abundant evidence that life is old, the Earth is old, and the universe is old. We’re talking really old: millions to billions of years old.

This has been a source of difficulty for me in the past, and I know I’m not alone.

As you learn these things, you likely think back to Genesis 1, and you wonder, “this text doesn’t make anything sound that old. And what’s with the strange order of the Bible’s creation account.” If you’re like I was, it creates a crisis in your heart. You feel like you have to choose between the Bible that gave you the gospel you need so much and, well, reality. That’s not a pleasant ultimatum.

This topic will take up the next three blog posts. For this post, I just want to cover scientific evidence that things are really, really old. In the next post, we’ll look at today’s prominent paths to reconcile scripture and scientific evidence. In the last post, we’ll discuss things more at the heart level.

As you read through this, please know that I believe the Bible is inerrant and authoritative. If we end up disagreeing about the creation account and scientific observations, we still have unity in the gospel.

So, does science contradict the Bible’s creation account? Let’s dig in!

The Earth’s age

The scientific evidence that the Earth is roughly four billion years old is strong. The most accurate means of dating is called “radiometric dating,” which gives age based on the constant rate at which certain isotopes decay into other isotopes (an isotope being an element with a certain number of neutrons in the nucleus, sometimes radioactive). It requires that we know how much of each isotope a thing starts with, and we have ways to accurately estimate that in many circumstances.

Carbon-14 isotopes are generated in the atmosphere but very rarely underground, giving us ways to estimate the age of underground organic matter back to tens of millions of years. Different uranium isotopes decaying into different lead isotopes give us multiple dating techniques that will match if the date is to be trusted. There are also lead-repelling rock formations that give high confidence that a rock sample is not contaminated by pre-existing lead isotopes. These give dating accuracy to billions of years.

Also, ice core samples show visible annual cycles in embedded gasses as you go further down in the ice, and they give us samples back to hundreds of thousands of years.

Carbon-14 and uranium-lead dating give strong evidence that life is at least millions of years old and that the Earth is about 4 billion years old.

The universe’s age

There is strong evidence the universe is expanding. When an object is moving away, its light changes toward longer wavelengths. This is similar to how the sound of an emergency vehicle’s siren gets higher as it approaches you and lower as it moves away, except with light instead of sound. It’s called the Doppler effect.

When we look up, we see that almost everything in the night sky is moving away from us. The farther away it is, the faster it’s moving away. This fits a model called “metric expansion.” It’s as though space itself is an elastic ruler, and that ruler is being stretched out constantly. We know this because when we look at known absorption and emission patterns from light in distant stars and galaxies, it is always “redshifted” (its light has longer wavelengths than expected, meaning it’s moving away from us).

You might wonder why we aren’t stretching out with the universe, but this stretching only happens to the space between “gravitationally unbound” objects. We (thankfully) are gravitationally bound and therefore don’t spread apart into nothing.

There is also an ever-present radiation called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). It was predicted by the big bang theory before it was actually discovered. We believe it was created roughly 400,000 years after a big bang, and it cooled as it spread out with the universe’s metric expansion. The spatial scale of differences in the CMB gives us a way to estimate the expansion rate of the universe.

If we rewind this expansion rate in time, we get to a point in the past when the distance between objects basically becomes zero, and we arrive at the moment of the “big bang”. No matter how we estimate the universe’s expansion rate or what we assume about the universe’s geometry and make-up, we always arrive at an estimated age of 10+ billion years for the universe.

The age of life and evolution

Evidence for some form of evolution, in my view, is strongest when considering the fact that the fossil record is stratified at all. The fossil record does contain challenges to traditional Darwinian evolutionary theories of random genetic mutations, continuous transitional forms, and pure natural selection. The Cambrian “explosion” and scarcity of transitional forms do not demonstrate a strictly Darwinian evolution. However, the fossil record is still highly stratified.

While young-Earth creationists often cite some inconsistencies and gaps in the fossil record, the fact still exists that rock strata are highly correlated worldwide with both fossil types and rock properties. For instance, there is a thin worldwide layer of abnormally high iridium at the boundary between Cretaceous and Paleogene rock layers, believed by most to be a result of an asteroid impact and by some to be the result of volcanic activity.

Young Earth proponents believe short-lived catastrophic tectonic activity and floods resulted in the observed fossil record. I respect those who believe this, but I just don’t understand how such regular and correlated rock strata and fossils can form from a single turbulent chaotic event. Stratification by long ages and sedimentary layers seems far more sensible to explain what we observe in the strata.

Regarding evolution, I personally don’t believe pure randomness and natural selection makes complete sense, but I do see evidence that life did evolve in some fashion over millions of years. I believe it was a guided evolution rather than randomness.

Life, cells, DNA, and sexual reproduction are too interconnected and irreducibly complex for me to believe that random mutations alone bridged those large gaps in any amount of time, much less in a mere few billion years. To me, it seems more reasonable there is something more at work than pure randomness.

Don’t take uncertainty too far

Young-Earth creationists often point to uncertainties and inconsistencies in scientific theories as evidence that those theories are completely wrong. The problem with this is that it ignores the significant portions of those theories that fit the world we observe very well.

Claiming a few unexplained exceptions makes all theory and knowledge useless is like claiming a few uncertainties in scripture makes all of it invalid. Nobody follows that line of thought consistently. It’s not as though all scientists are aggressive atheists. Most of us are much more benign toward religions of any kind, and many of us are believers in Jesus.

Carbon-14 and uranium-lead dating have some inconsistencies, known and published. The fossil record has some inconsistencies. Evolutionary theory has holes in it. What this means is that the theories need to be further refined. What it does not mean is that we should throw out all of the theories entirely as if we’d never observed anything in the first place.

Uncertainty is an inherent part of life (science and scripture included). A relatively small amount of uncertainty in a theory does not give us reason to ignore all of the other observations that give that theory confidence.

How do we reconcile this with the Bible?

In the next post, we take a look at the prominent ways of reconciling science and the Bible’s creation account.

Posted by Matt Norman with

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