Science in the Bible

SCIENCE IN THE BIBLE. Webster defines science as “knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method; specifically: NATURAL SCIENCE.” Scientific method is defined as “principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.”

The Bible and scientific method.

Scientific method in the modern sense arose in the 17th and 18th centuries a.d. Prior to that the nearest thing to scientific method was speculation and postulation with little if any reference to experiment and test. The Bible is singularly free from speculation and postulation about general truths and the operation of general laws, esp. in the realm of nature. If science is found in the Bible, it therefore must have a special significance, since it was not obtained and tested through scientific method. The specific case of natural science will be considered first, after which the more general case of all experiential reality will be considered.

Natural science

may be described as knowledge of structural and behavioral pattern in nature.

Purpose, plan and pattern.



It is Bible teaching that the universe is intelligently constructed on a complex and divinely ingenious self-consistent pattern, that it operates according to divinely ordained ways or laws that are inviolable, that the basic pattern and laws do not change with time, that the pattern and laws are intelligible to man, and that man’s welfare depends on understanding them. These basic concepts of nature are in sharp contrast to the teachings of other ancient cultures, which depict physical origins as byproducts of the clashes between warring deities, and natural phenomena as unpredictable activities of willful and capricious gods.

The foundations of modern science.

The origin of modern science rests on a few basic assumptions to which experience has ascribed self-evidence. Among them are the uniformity of nature in space and time, the inviolability of natural law, and the mechanistic universe concept. These assumptions appear to be self-evident only because the discoveries of science have given them credence. There is neither necessity nor proof that these assumptions are universally valid in nature. Except they be accepted on faith there is no basis for scientific endeavor. It cannot be said that man would never have made such assumptions apart from the monotheistic culture of the ancient Hebrews. It is a matter of record that these assumptions were matters of religious faith in the Hebrew-Christian culture, and modern science was spawned in the Christian culture of western Europe. Most of the men who laid the foundations of modern science were also men of strong Christian faith. Among them were Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Francis Bacon and René Descartes. The uniformity of nature and the inviolability of natural law were for them matters of religious faith. The mechanistic universe idea was put forward as showing the perfection of God’s creation, and the absence of the need for a “gap filling” God to account for natural phenomena which science could not explain.

It is a reasonable conclusion that modern science is heavily indebted to the Bible. It has major conceptual origins in the Bible, its basic assumptions were matters of religious faith, and the pursuit of scientific research is Scripturally admonished.

The Creation.

The Bible devotes little space to the manner in which the creation of the universe took place. The simple affirmation “He spoke and it came to be” (Ps 33:9) runs like a silver cord from beginning to end. A few broad concepts are given in the first ch. of Genesis. This ch. teaches that the Creation took place in a succession of steps, each step building on what went before and preparing for what was to follow. The earth was prepared for life before life appeared. Vegetable life appears to have preceded animal life. Different forms of animal life appear to have been created at different times, with implication that animal life first appeared in the water. Man was a special creation subsequent to the creation of all other living things. These teachings are all consistent with modern scientific observations, though not necessarily with the interpretations placed on these observations by some modern scientists.

Pattern.



Another generality of scientific significance is the concept of the universe as growing old and wearing out like a garment (Ps 102:25, 26; Isa 34:4). This seems to correspond to the scientific principle of increasing entropy in a closed system, known as the second law of thermo-dynamics. However, the applicability of this principle to the universe as a system is a matter of debate among scientists.

Anticipations of modern science.


Plan versus chance.

Pattern in nature may arise from plan or it may arise from the random processes of chance. The validity of interpretation of scientific observations sometimes rests on which of these alternatives is assumed. The area of theories on organic evolution provides many examples where the direction of investigation and the interpretation of data may be significantly dependent on whether random chance or purposeful creation is assumed to play the dominant role in the formation of basic patterns. The Bible does not rule the random processes of chance out of the chain of causality. The Bible does insist emphatically on the purposeful and knowing creation by God as the true origin of the universe and of the basic structural and behavioral patterns of nature, and on the continuing providence of God as the ultimate basis of the stability of natural law.

All experiential reality.

In its broadest sense science may be described as systematized knowledge of truth where every truth may be identified. The Bible is a prolific sourcebook of truth (Ps 119:160; John 17:17) and its identification (Matt 7:15-20; John 14:6; 1 John 4:1-6).

The spiritual realm.


Spiritual-physical interactions.

Pagans, both ancient and modern, frequently ascribe natural phenomena to unpredictable spiritual activity. Bible writers ascribed natural phenomena to the activity of God. In both cases natural chains of causality included supernatural agents. As science brought about an ever-increasing understanding of the patterns of natural behavior, spiritual forces disappeared from science as recognized elements in natural chains of causality. If natural processes were to be modified temporarily by supernatural intervention, natural law would appear to be violated, and the event would be called a miracle. The Bible contains many accounts of miracles.

In some cases, such as the long day of Joshua (Josh 10:12) and the dial of Ahaz (2 Kings 20:11; Isa 38:8), a non-critical interpretation would imply the historical occurrence of a world-wide catastrophe for which historical evidence is lacking. However, according to Ramm, critical examination of the texts and interpretation in the light of the contexts raise uncertainty as to what natural perturbations actually occurred, and greatly diminish the consequence of search for scientific explanations. In other OT cases the miracles ascribed to God’s witnesses are wrought by God as authentication of His witness, and appear to be clear cases of spiritual-physical interactions.


Science and theology.

The pursuit of knowledge in the field of science and in the field of theology have long been considered as two separate and unrelated professions. However, if science deals with what God did and theology deals with why He did it, then it would seem that a combination of these two professions in an inter-disciplinary search for truth might profoundly benefit humanity. As the joining of philosophy and technology in Newton’s day produced the scientific revolution and gave man the understanding of natural forces that led to the industrial revolution, would not the joining of theology and science in our day produce a “knowledge of truth” revolution and give man the understanding of spiritual forces that would lead to a spiritual revolution? If so, then as the industrial revolution freed man from the bondage of drudgery and dependence on his own physical power, the spiritual revolution should free man from the bondage of fear and dependence on his own spiritual power.

Bibliography

H. Rimmer, The Harmony of Science and Scripture, 3rd ed. (1936); W. F. Beirnes, “Forecasts of the Advent,” Dawn 29:31, 32, Jan. 1951; O. E. Sander, Does Science Support Scripture? (1951); B. Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1966); D. M. Macay, Christianity in a Mechanistic Universe (1966).