The Biblical Interpretation of Science

We human beings are always curious to understand the objects we experience. We see a sky full of beautiful stars at night and we want to know why they are there. We witness the birth of a new human being and we wonder how our bodies know how to make other human bodies.

There are different proposed ways to explain such things. In our time, explanations of the universe use one of two different models. Either everything we experience has somehow evolved to its present state over vast historical epochs, or what see and feel in the world around us was created, in substantially the way we find it, by a supernatural creator not so long ago. In American culture, the dominant forms of these models are Darwinian evolutionary theory and "special creation" according to a traditional Christian understanding of the Bible.

At this point it is important to notice something from that very simplified account of the face-off between modern science and the Bible. There is a crucial distinction between the facts we seek to understand and the possible theories proposed to explain those facts. For example, it is a fact that many kinds of fossils are scattered across some number of layers of different kinds of rock. This can be observed all over the earth.

But what do the facts of fossils in rock layers mean? What is the truth of how those fossils happened to form in those layers of rock? These are questions of what theory might best account for the facts. In other words, what is the best interpretation of the facts?

This is a necessary question, but one that cannot be settled with certainty. Facts do not provide their own interpretation. Yet, in our experience, we tend to have some sense of how to explain right away what we see. It might feel as though our explanation is obvious--as though our understanding is somehow given by the facts themselves. This is a psychological illusion, however.

What kind of horse is shown in the picture below?
Horse?! Don't I mean what kind of toad is in the picture? It is obviously a toad, right?

Look again. Rotate the picture (or your head!) ninety degrees, and you will see what is clearly a horse! The toad's eyes are the nostrils of the horse. The toad's front leg is the horse's lower jaw. Etc.

In fairness, this picture was created in an ambiguous way. Whether you see it as a horse or a toad, some of the features--while suggestive--do seem a little "off." But you get the point. The facts of the natural world are still more ambiguous. They are simply there without any labels or commentary to explain why or how.

When it comes to explanatory models of the facts of nature, we must admit that evolutionism and creationism are two possible theories that individual observers bring to the data. Either we are conditioned by our education and experience to see the toad or the horse, so that is what is obviously "there." We are conditioned to see either evolution or special creation, so that is what is "there" in facts such as fossils scattered through layers of rock.

Therefore, we must also admit that whatever interpretation we prefer is a matter of personal faith. We believe that an evolutionist or a creationist view is the best way to think about it. But neither option is itself a fact of the natural world.

In other words, creationism is obviously a religious view, based on faith in a supernatural Creator. It is a matter of faith, because normally we do not have clear, direct experience of God in the natural world. Or, God is not a natural fact.

But evolutionism also requires faith. No one today can have clear, direct experience of the Big Bang. No one today can have clear, direct experience of a vertebrate fish species changing into a reptile species. Evolutionism, then, is also a religious view. It relies upon powers and processes that cannot be observed today.1

So, it is a question of which religious view one will prefer.

Most today prefer the religious view of modern science. Scientific accounts of the origins of things are complex and, at times, brilliant. In the end, though, they remain complicated guesses.

On the other hand, the ancient documents represented in the Bible offer a different view. For thousands of years, Bible believers have understood the Bible as the Creator's testimony regarding the miraculous origins of the universe and everything in it.

To conclude, then, it is not true that "the facts speak for themselves." There is always a voice directing the interpreter how to understand the facts before them. The dominant voice in the cultural institutions of the modern Western world is the human voice, guessing how everything might have evolved accidentally from nothing. But in the Bible, the Creator has lent his own voice to teach us how to understand the immense body of natural facts we observe. Christians must heed that voice and interpret scientific facts according to the Creator of those facts.
Notes
1 Someone will now object that scientists do observe evolutionary change in the stars and planets and in species of living things. They observe gradual changes implying vast periods of history. But I would respond that this is simply a form of transcendence. It is a claim that given enough time the processes we observe will and do amount to great evolutionary advances. This is the same kind of response the creationist makes. Given a powerful enough being everything we see could easily and instantaneously been created out of nothing. One is an argument based on a presumed transcendence in time. The other is an argument based on a presumed transcendence in power. In neither case can the actual making of things be directly observed. Both views require religious faith.

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