Science and Religion

Conflict and Agreement. Biblical interpretations of origins, chronology, and geology are becoming less an effort of faith.

Robert H. Brown, Ph.D., is director of the Geoscience Research Institute at Berrien Springs, Michigan.

 

Traditional Hebrew-Christian views of cosmology and history, dominant in European culture until the 19th century, had been largely replaced by the time the 20th century was well underway. Evolutionistic, uniformitarian, and long-ages concepts seemed likely to supplant the earlier viewpoint of fiat creation, fluviatile catastrophism, and short chronology. This change was fostered by a rising esteem for the opinions of individuals who were classified as scientists and a declining confidence in the straightforward, grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible, particularly the book of Genesis. What is the current status of scientific knowledge as it relates to traditional Hebrew-Christian views of origins, a universal flood, and a "6,000- year" chronology?

Fiat creation versus evolution

The reality of a purported event in the past does not rest on possibility, or even probability, but on firm historical evidence. A popular geology textbook states: "Although the comparative study of living animals and plants may give very convincing circumstantial evidence, fossils provide the only historical, documentary evidence that life has evolved from simpler to more complex forms." 1

Charles Darwin recognized this consideration and devoted a chapter to it in the Origin of Species, published in 1859. He wrote: "Those who believe that the geological record is in any degree perfect, will undoubtedly at once reject the theory [Darwinian evolution]." 2 Darwin and his contemporary supporters confidently expected the missing evidence to be found, but more than a hundred years later an authority on paleontology (fossils) could only say: "Despite the bright promise that paleontology provides a means of 'seeing' evolution, it has presented some nasty difficulties for evolutionists, the most notorious of which is the presence of 'gaps' in the fossil record. Evolution requires intermediate forms between species, and paleontology does not provide them." 3

In the last few decades much attention has been directed to the theoretical possibility of the presumed evolutionary development of complex organisms from simpler ancestors. At one of several re cent international conferences on the origin of life, Professor H. Noda, of the University of Tokyo, denied that random molecular combinations of the simpler biochemicals could have led to the emergence of life with any reasonable probability.4 Harold Quastler, a specialist in applied statistics and information theory at the Brookhaven National Lab oratory, concluded that the probability of life originating on Earth within two billion years by natural processes, even at its lowest level of complexity, is less than the number 1 preceded by 254 zeros and a decimal point!5 This number is inconceivably smaller than a 1 preceded by only 200 zeros and a decimal point—the figure considered to specify impossibility at any point and time throughout the entire known universe. 6

On the basis of such considerations Professor D. E. Green of the Institute for Enzyme Research at the University of Wisconsin and Dr. R. F. Goldberger, Chief of the Biosynthesis and Control Section, Laboratory of Chemical Biology, U.S. National Institutes of Health, have said, "The available facts do not provide a basis for postulating that cells arose on this planet." 7

According to a mathematics professor from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who spoke at the first of some recent international conferences on the origin of life, "an adequate scientific theory of evolution must await the discovery and elucidation of new natural laws—physical, physio-chemical and biological." 8 In other words, there is absolutely no adequate basis, in his opinion, for the popular theory of evolution in physics, chemistry, and biology as known at present.

Likewise, a featured speaker at one of these recent conferences, John Keosian, from the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, declared: "Spontaneous assembly [of one of the simplest biological cells] out of the environment, granting the unlikely simultaneous presence together of all the parts, is not a believable possibility." 9

Even if a simple cell containing a minimum number of genes did once form by natural processes, the evolutionary theory requires this cell to advance through increasingly complex stages until man is achieved, containing billions of coordinated cells, each of which contains a complement of genes estimated to be in the order of 100 million. Yet, one specialist in genetics has said: "The mutational mechanism as presently imagined could fall short by hundreds of orders of magnitude of producing, in a mere four billion years, even a single required gene." 10

While the accumulation of scientific evidence does not "prove" fiat creation, it contradicts the premises of the naturalistic evolution concept of origins, and therefore strongly supports a Creation viewpoint.

Fluviatile catastrophism versus uniformitarianism

Increasing scientific evidence has forced a departure from the uniformitarian concept first proposed in 1785 by James Hutton. After the publication of Principles of Geology by Charles Lyell in 1830, uniformitarianism became a dominant principle of science. However, "of late there has been a serious rejuvenation of catastrophism in geologic thought." 11 "Conventional uniformitarianism ... is verily contradicted" by most of the data on sediments that contain fossils of complex organisms. 12

Dr. Derek Ager, head of the Department of Geology and Oceanography at the University College of Swansea (Wales) and president of the Geological Society of London, has effectively articulated the recent trend toward catastrophic modeling. Speaking of the conventional uniformitarian viewpoint, he says, "A far more accurate picture of the stratigraphical record is of one long gap with only very occasional sedimentation"; "The history of any one part of the earth, like the life of a soldier, consists of long periods of boredom and short periods of terror." 13

Yet, the current trend toward catastrophism in geologic thought gives only limited support to the traditional Biblical viewpoint. The scientific community exhibits no tendency to postulate a single universal catastrophe or a series of catastrophes within a short period of time, as required by Genesis 6-8. But an accommodation from the current geologic viewpoints and data to a straightforward, grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible is now less a step of faith than was the case 100 or even 30 years ago.

Short chronology versus vast ages

Scientific investigations that relate to prehistoric time generally have produced interpretations that are incompatible with the chronological data given in the Bible, thus presenting a major challenge to faith in a grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible. 14 Many in the contemporary Christian and Jewish communities accept generally held scientific views regarding prehistoric time and reject the traditional Hebrew-Christian belief that our world has existed less than 10,000 years.

Increasing evidence suggests that the popular geologic time scale is incorrect. 15 But it is not possible, at least for the present, to begin with radiometricage data and proceed by inductive reasoning to the time limitations given in Genesis (either 6 days or "6,000" years). Questions concerning time have apparently been left as a challenge to faith. The best an apologist can do is to explain radiometric-age data in terms of a priori time concepts obtained from the Bible. Each inquiring individual must decide whether to place the Bible subservient to the views currently popular among scientists, or to place interpretation of scientific data subservient to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures.

Individuals who retained faith in traditional Hebrew-Christian views during the latter 19th and the early 20th centuries did so despite pressures from the new scientism and on the basis of evidences that had established faith for more than 1,800 years (more than 3,200 years if one goes back to the writing of the Pentateuch). In the latter part of the 20th century we have evidence relating to the origin of life, the appearance of complex organisms, and the catastrophic formation of geologic features that make retention of the traditional Hebrew-Christian views much less an effort of faith than was the case 100 or 150 years ago. Although one may be confident that complete harmony exists between the testimony of Scripture and the raw data that can be collected by scientific re search, we do not yet possess a sufficient amount of this data, nor an adequate capacity to analyze the data that is available, to free us from the necessity of faith. Concerning matters that we cannot understand on the basis of human capabilities alone, we must believe that God's Word is dependable.

Notes:

1 Carl O. Dunbar, Historical Geology, 2nd edition (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1960), p. 47 (3rd edition, p. 113).

2 Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (New York: The New American Library, Mentor Books, 1958), p. 312.

3 David B. Kitts, Evolution, vol. 28 (1974), p. 467.

4 Report in Nature, vol. 275 (1978), p. 694.

5 Harold Quastler, The Emergence of Biological Organization (Yale University Press, 1964), pp. 6, 7.

6 Emil Borel, Elements of the Theory of Probability (Prentice Hall, 1965), p. 59.

7 D. E. Green and R. F. Goldberger, Molecular Insights Into the Living Process (New York: Academic Press, 1967), p. 407.

8 Murray Eden, in Wistar Institute Symposium Monograph No. 5, Paul S. Moorehead and Martin M. Kaplan, eds. (Philadelphia: Wistar Institute Press, 1967), p. 109.

9 John Keosian, in Cosmochemical Evolution and the Origin of Life, J. Oro, et al., eds., vol. 1 (Holland: R. Reidel, Dordrecht, 1974), p. 291.

10 Frank B. Salisbury, Nature, vol. 224 (1969), pp. 342, 343.

11 Banngrell W. Brown, Geology, vol. 2 (1974), p. 456.

12 Paul D. Krynine, Journal of Paleontology, vol. 30 (1956), p. 1004.

13 Derek V. Ager, The Nature of the Stratigraphic Record(New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1973), pp. 34, 100.

14 See Young's Analytical Concordance, "Creation,"p. 210; 1 Kings 6:1; Ex. 12:40; Acts 7:6; Gal. 3:17; Gen. 5, 7:11, 11; 12:4.

15 Harold G. Coffin, "Is the Earth Millions of Years Old?" These Times, August, 1973; Robert H. Brown, "How Old Is the Earth?" Ministry, Feb., 1979; "Interpretation of C-14 Age Data," in Proceedings of the Fifteenth Anniversary Convention of the Creationist Movement, Walter Lang, ed. P.O. Box 6131, Minneapolis. Minnesota 55406, August,
1979.

 


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Robert H. Brown, Ph.D., is director of the Geoscience Research Institute at Berrien Springs, Michigan.

August 1979

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