This chapter explains the method of testing Truth used in this book. It is obviously the correct procedure; yet it is seldom applied.
Chapter 2 Contents
Chapter 2: Science, Theology and Truth
“Test everything. Hold on to the good” – 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
A Surprise or Two
One goal of this book is to prepare Christians to lead scientists to Christ. In order to accomplish this, we must first remove the “plank” from our own eye; this means the young-earth position must be refuted (Chapters 3, 4 and 5). Another goal is to present Biblical creationism in the context of an old universe (Chapter 6). Yet another goal is to better acquaint Christians with their Creator by bringing them to a better understanding of His creation. These are ambitious undertakings to say the least.
Because readers are not expected to be scientifically educated, scientific information will be presented and explained as it becomes necessary for understanding. This book will gradually become more technical as it proceeds; those who endure to the end should be properly prepared to present their faith to non-Christian scientists.
Before a knight can battle dragons, he must first learn to hold his sword. Likewise, we must start at the beginning. First, the meanings of a few basic terms will be reviewed. Even with so modest a first step, readers are liable to be in for a surprise or two.
Consider the two terms “scientist” and “Christian.” These two are sometimes thought of as opposites – which they most certainly are not. A person who is a scientist is not necessarily a non-Christian and vice versa. The world is comprised of:
1) Christians who are also scientists, 2) Christians who are not scientists, 3) Scientists who are not Christians, and amazingly, 4) People who are neither scientists nor Christians.
This carries an important consequence: just because a teaching is scientific does not make it non-Christian! Scientists are not always wrong. Just because a scientist (even one who happens to be an atheist) believes that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit does not mean that Christians must believe otherwise. Likewise, just because a scientist (even one who happens to be an atheist) believes the earth is old does not mean that Christians must believe it is young. It is not necessary to disagree about everything.
Next, consider four more basic terms: 1) the Bible, 2) the universe, 3) theology and 4) science. These terms relate as follows:
Both are creations Theology <-- of man, are made --> Science from opinions, and Study of God's are prone to error. Study of God's word the Bible created universe Both are creations The Bible <-- of God, are made --> The Universe of solid facts, and are without errors.
Of course this diagram is not totally complete; among other things, it ignores the spiritual realm and the fact that the Bible itself makes statements about the physical universe; but it will serve to demonstrate a few things.
For example, a scientist must have faith in the actual facts concerning the universe in exactly the same sense that a theologian is expected to have faith in God’s word, the Bible. The universe supplies evidence to support scientific theories; but what assurance does a scientist have that its evidence is valid – or that the universe will tell him the same story tomorrow? It is not difficult to imagine a universe with invalid evidence; most of us dream in one every night. A scientist’s belief that the universe will tell him the truth must, in the final analysis, be taken on faith.
Likewise, a theologian should always regard his Biblical theories with the same sense of skepticism with which a scientist is expected to regard scientific theories; he can be wrong about the Bible just like a scientist can be wrong about the universe. Even his cherished rules of Biblical interpretation are fallible creations of men; they must never be confused with God’s word itself. If it were not possible to interpret scripture incorrectly, there would be no false doctrines among us; there would not even be different denominations!
When a theologian tries to compare the Bible with science, what is he really doing? The two terms which he selects, “science” and “the Bible,” provide a clue; the comparison is not a symmetrical one. The theologian studies the Bible directly but he views the universe indirectly through science. He, correctly, regards the Bible as being inerrant and science as comprising opinions; at any conflict, he will side with the Bible. A theologian who is not scientifically educated may even favor his fallible rules of interpretation over the universe’s solid physical evidence.
Now when a scientist makes a similar comparison, he does so from a different vantage point. He studies the universe directly but tends to get his information about the Bible indirectly through theology. He, correctly, regards the universe as being inerrant and theology as comprising mere opinions. Naturally he will resolve all conflicts in favor of the universe. Adding further complication to this picture, a “pure” scientist should not begin with any presuppositions as to whether or not the Bible contains valid data; of course scientists who are either Christian or atheistic will unavoidably have such presuppositions. A scientist who is an atheist will always place his fallible theories above the Bible’s inerrant text.
Considering this difference in approach, it is not too surprising that both theologians and scientists sometimes consider each other to be a little foolish; they both think their own position is founded upon solid evidence while the other’s is based upon mere human opinions. Problems even arise between those scientists who acknowledge that the Bible is God’s word and those theologians who believe that God’s universe speaks the truth.
What both the theologian and the scientist often fail to realize is that they are usually comparing theological theories about the Bible with scientific theories about the universe. When it comes to our general understanding of things, facts simply do not speak for themselves; they must be interpreted in the light of theory. The resulting disagreements are not too surprising as both sides will often be making errors.
If the Bible could be compared directly with the physical universe (the bare scientific facts), there should never be any disagreements. Unfortunately, this is difficult to do; it is impossible to be sure that either is being understood correctly. In order to have a useful understanding of either the Bible or the universe, theories must be formed by which the various facts are understood and interpreted – for example: the doctrine of the Trinity (to explain apparent contradictions in the nature of God) or the theory of relativity (to explain apparent contradictions in the nature of time and space); and whenever theories are devised, mistakes are possible.
Theories, Facts and Errors
The way in which theories are constructed will be reviewed here. There are no scientific “scriptures” (other than the universe itself) to guide scientists; so they have worked out their own system which they call the scientific method. It is similar to the methods of interpretation which theologians have worked out to help them understand the Holy Scriptures. There is nothing sacred about the scientific method nor about the methods theologians use. Both are fallible creations of men. Neither is recorded in God’s Bible nor in His physical universe. They are merely well-thought-out tools which are useful in seeking after truth.
In principle, the task of a scientist is to study the world around him in order to figure out the rules which govern its events. There is an old joke about a scientist who is studying a frog. He has trained this frog to jump on command. When he says, “Frog jump!” the frog jumps. He then cuts off the frog’s legs and repeats the command. The frog does not jump. The scientist then concludes that the legless frog did not hear the command – that it must, therefore, hear with its legs.
This joke illustrates a difficulty with scientific inquiry. There is usually more than one possible explanation for the same observable facts. Sorting the right explanation from the wrong ones can require many well-designed experiments. Typically, the scientific method involves many cycles of looking at the evidence, formulating rules to describe the evidence, making predictions based on those rules, and then looking at the evidence again to see if the predictions were correct. 1 The more often this cycle is repeated, the more confident a scientist can be that he understands what he is studying.
No matter how many experiments are performed, scientists can never be absolutely sure about anything. In fact, our scientist might remove the legs from a dozen frogs and still not know the truth. Even if he had been removing ears instead of legs, he could not be certain that he was not disabling the frog’s ability to jump in some unexpected manner. Although scientists are confident that a frog does hear with its ears, this is more of a well-tested belief than a strictly proven fact.
Generalizations can never be proven true but they can easily be proven false. Even one conflicting fact will refute them. If our scientist were to train a frog to croak on command instead of having it jump, he could easily prove that a frog did not hear with its legs. 2
In the real world, scientists are able to invent general rules which will explain all they see and which will predict the results of every experiment they perform for hundreds of years. Then, along comes an exception. The Michelson and Morley experiment, which will be examined in Chapter 4, is such an exception. This is how science works; a generalization is never known to be true with absolute certainty; but even one conflicting fact will refute it.
If scientists are limited like this, it seems strange that they can perform useful work. Yet they certainly can accomplish great things. They discover cures for diseases, put men on the moon, invent terrible weapons and do a great deal more. Although they are not always right, their system does seem to work for them most of the time.
Scientists are successful because they are able to sort their generalizations into different categories of certainty. Three categories which they use are “hypothesis,” “theory,” and “law.” 3 These terms will be explained here – and also the term “fact” – but it must be kept in mind that there are no firm rules about how they are to be used. Different scientists tend to use them differently.
When a scientist climbs into a spacecraft and is launched into space, he puts his life on the line. Space launches are dangerous, but amazingly, most of them work as planned. Where his life is concerned, a scientist will trust only those generalizations in which he has the most confidence. When a scientist’s reputation is all that is riding, he might be willing to “lighten up” a little. When he is privately discussing new ideas with other scientists, his wildest speculations are acceptable.
The lowest speculative level of certainty is labeled “hypothesis.” An hypothesis is merely a first guess. A scientist who has never been outdoors in his entire life might hypothesize that all leaves are red. This, although false, could nevertheless be a perfectly good hypothesis – at least until an actual leaf was examined. If the examined leaf happened to be green, then the hypothesis would be refuted; it would no longer be valid.
The scientist might then hypothesize that all leaves are green. Now, when another green leaf is examined, the hypothesis will be supported rather than refuted. Of course a second green leaf does not prove the hypothesis to be a fact; it only tends to confirm it.
The next step up the chain of certainty is called “theory.” The term “theory” is actually used to mean two slightly different things. One meaning of “theory” describes an hypothesis which has stood up under some experimental verification. Assume that our scientist has made his generalization (all leaves are green), has made predictions based on the rule (all of the leaves in a particular garden will therefore be green) and has verified that his predictions were correct (those leaves, when examined, did turn out to be green). At this point, he might say that it is his “theory” that all leaves are green. Although he still doesn’t know for sure, he is more certain after checking all the leaves in a garden than he was after he had examined just one leaf.
Even after making this additional progress, if one single red leaf were ever found, it would still refute the generalization that “all leaves are green.” Our scientist would no longer have a valid theory or even a valid hypothesis. The generalization would merely be an error. Of course, the scientist could start over again with a different hypothesis. If he had found the red leaf during the month of August, for example, he might hypothesize that all leaves are green during the springtime.
At this point it is natural to ask how much experimental verification is required to promote an hypothesis to theory. There is really no single answer to this question. Experiments are all different and so the decision is somewhat arbitrary. Different fields of science require different levels of experimental verification before the promotion is recognized; and this promotion is never formal. Physics typically requires the most verification – psychology perhaps the least. 4 The level is set purely as a practical matter depending on the difficulty of performing experiments and how precisely the results of the experiment can be interpreted. A physicist can be more certain in one afternoon about how a rock falls than a psychologist can be in a lifetime about how a human brain works. Psychologists are, as a practical rule, permitted to promote their generalizations with much less confirmation; and consequently, their theories are either more cautiously worded or are more frequently incorrect.
A second meaning of the term “theory” describes any idea structure which can be used to explain some of the world’s facts. This idea structure usually provides a reason why; for example, the reason all leaves ought to be green is that chlorophyll must be present for photosynthesis, and chlorophyll is green. Even a first hypothesis can also be a “theory” in this second sense. Further, even when the generalization attains the confidence level of scientific “law” (described below), it will still be a “theory” in this sense. The term “theoretical basis” is sometimes used to describe the reason why. For example, the theoretical basis for organic evolution is that mutations are random and that the fittest resulting individuals tend to be the ones which survive and reproduce. 5
The final step in confidence is from “theory” to scientific “law.” A law is a theory which has proved to be correct every single time it was tested by anyone, anywhere, for a very long period of time. 6 Physicists, for example, seldom promote a theory to the status of “law” without first testing it for many decades. Before this step is taken, all rival theories should be eliminated; a generalization is only regarded as a law when it is the only known way to explain the world’s data (or at least the simplest of the known ways).
If our scientist had never been able to find a single leaf which was not green, and if he and many other scientists had been searching for one for many years, it might be proper to say that it was a scientific law that all leaves are green. Still, this would not make it a “fact” in the normal sense of the word. There would always be the chance that someone might discover a red leaf one day.
The finding of a single red leaf would refute a law that all leaves are green just as it would a theory or hypothesis. Our scientist’s statement that, “All leaves are green,” would, as before, simply be an error. He would be forced to start completely over again with a new hypothesis.
There is no recognized category of certainty for generalizations which is higher than scientific “law.” The status of “fact” is not scientifically attainable for any inferred generalization. The term “fact” is restricted to the observable data. 7 For example, it could be a “fact” that one particular leaf was green at one time.
Because there are a lot of scientists working busily away at sorting out each other’s ideas, a great deal of progress has been made. Before a scientist’s theories are even published, other experts in related fields are permitted to poke holes in them. Scientists take great delight in proving each other wrong; consequently, they keep each other in line. For this reason, it is very unlikely that you will ever read in a scientific journal that a frog hears with its legs; but this is still no guarantee that everything you read will be the truth. Scientists are human and humans sometimes make mistakes.
Although theologians sometimes fail to admit it, they are really in the same boat as the scientists. They have God’s written word; but they have no written directions telling them how to interpret it. In the final analysis, this means they encounter the same problems the scientists do. Theologians are human too.
A theologian might propose the rule, “If the plain sense makes sense, look for no other sense.” This rule is often presented to us as a rule of Scriptural interpretation. It is certainly an appealing one; if we think we understand a text the first time we read it, the rule leaves us with no more responsibility. We can assume we are right without exerting any more effort. But the actual words of the Bible refute this rule. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells us to “Test everything.” According to God’s word, “If the plain sense makes sense, test it anyway.” One discordant verse does the same thing to a theological theory as a discordant fact does to a scientific theory. To be valid, a theory must agree with all of the available facts.
The young-earth teaching is the result of theologians forming dogmatic theories after examining the Biblical part of the evidence and paying insufficient attention to God’s creation. This is almost as bad as trying to understand God’s plan of salvation using only the Old Testament. The information in the Old Testament is much less specific; mistakes will invariably be made. Furthermore, once the wrong understanding has been reached, no amount of explaining away the additional facts of salvation found in the New Testament will ever make that first misunderstanding true. Only a discarding of the first error and the forming of a new theory using the combined data from both testaments will bring a person to the truth.
The same principle applies to a mistake about the age of God’s creation. Once the mistake has been made, no amount of explaining away the rest of the evidence will ever turn that error into the truth. It is necessary to start completely over again and study both God’s Bible and His universe together as a single unit. It would be foolish not to pay close attention to any evidence which God’s universe might directly supply concerning its own creation – nearly as foolish as ignoring God’s written account.
Both the Bible and the universe must be interpreted in a manner which does not contradict any of the actual facts contained in the combined whole. When a conflict is found between our understanding of the Bible and our understanding of the universe, we must not look for errors in either the Bible or the universe; we must look for errors in our understanding. It is the intent of this book never to contradict a word in scripture nor an observable fact of God’s creation.
This method of seeking truth is not strictly scientific or theological. When it proves necessary, we will freely discard the sacred methods and theories of either side in favor of the other side’s facts. Be warned! We humans are unaccustomed to this technique. It will undoubtedly irritate individuals from both professions. If you, dear reader, happen to be either a scientist or a theologian, then prepare yourself to be subjected to indignity after indignity in this book. It will remind scientists of the Inquisition where their carefully designed theories were judged and condemned under the Holy Writ. Theologians may feel they stand before a calloused heathen who condemns honored church teachings for no better reason than a few dusty fossils.
This book will fly in the face of the cherished beliefs of nearly everyone. Readers will often feel attacked. This is natural whenever comfortable old ideas are challenged. Although this book confronts old theories, it will never contradict the facts found in either God’s scriptures or His creation.
Even with both science and scripture as our guides, there is still room for us to make mistakes. History teaches that it is possible to be wrong even when science and scripture both seem to agree with a person’s beliefs. Before Galileo, most scientists 8 believed that the earth was the stationary center of the solar system and that the sun orbited around it. Those who studied the scriptures found them to be in agreement. In this case, both the scientists and the theologians were wrong! When Galileo began teaching the Copernican system – that the earth orbited the sun – he was attacked from both sides. Galileo was a Catholic and believed that his teaching was in agreement with the word of God. Still, he was regarded as being both a heretic and a bad scientist. Here is what the Inquisition had to say about his teaching:
“The proposition that the Sun is in the centre of the world and does not move from its place is absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to the Holy Scriptures.” – From Galileo’s sentence by the Inquisition. 9
In case any readers still haven’t got the word, the earth does orbit the sun – not the other way around. The idea that the sun travels around a stationary earth is not only very old fashioned, it also happens to be wrong. 10 So how is it that the Inquisition could have come up with the idea that Galileo was contradicting the scriptures? It seems that Galileo’s critics were guilty of the same mistake which many of the present-day young-earth creationists have made. That is, they took the plainest reading of the scriptures as the “true” one and disallowed any alternate interpretations. For example, look at the Psalms:
“… In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, … It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; …” – Psalm 19:4, 6.
This verse and many others such as, “The sun rose,” in Genesis 32:31 were probably taken by the Inquisition to mean that it was the sun which moved across the sky not the earth’s turning which caused day and night. The same argument can also be made from Joshua 10:13 which says, “So the sun stood still.” In order for this to be an exception, the rule must be that the sun usually moves. Each of these verses speaks of the sun’s daily motion across the sky in terms which imply motion of the sun rather than rotation of the earth. This would be the plainest reading of these verses. Still, it happens to be a wrong conclusion.
These scriptural references are of a type often called “observer true.” They are what appears to be true to an earth-bound observer. Even modern scientists will say things like, “The sun is going down.” This is not really a “false” statement; it is simply the way this thought is expressed in our language. The writers of the Bible must be allowed at least as much freedom in their use of language as we give ourselves.
In this example, even though scientific theories and theological interpretations seemed to agree, both were wrong. As is now known, Galileo was correct – even though he was unable to scientifically prove his case to his inquisitors. 11 If he had not repented of his “heresy,” he might have been burned at the stake as was Bruno before him. Whatever Galileo was, he was not a martyr. He compromised the truth in order to save the short remainder of his life.
Obviously, we must be very cautious. Even if our interpretation of scripture is in complete agreement with what scientists happen to believe at the present time, both understandings might be in error at the same time. When the evidence proves that we have been in error, we must be ready and willing to admit it; we must be honest. If we are unable to face up to our mistakes in this life, it will be difficult for us to stand before God and give an account of ourselves (Romans 14:10-12). This is especially important if our mistakes happen to present stumbling blocks to our brothers (Romans 14:13).
Science and theology are both fallible systems for seeking truth. God’s Bible and His universe both supply unerring facts. Our own theories should be built upon the facts from both God’s Bible and His creation. Even then, we must allow for the possibility that we might still be wrong. Perhaps the most important lesson we should learn from this is humility.
Chapter 2 Footnotes:
- This author will present some predictions of his own in Appendix 1 for those who are interested in following his theories as more information becomes available. [Return]
- Or at least he could prove that a frog did not hear exclusively with its legs. [Return]
- The level of confidence can also be expressed in mathematical terms. For example, 99.7% sure. [Return]
- In fact, not everything which is lumped under the general heading of psychology is even science at all! Psychoanalysis, for example, does not follow the rules which would qualify it as one. See The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Richard P. Feynman, C. 1963, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Reading, Massachusetts, Vol. 1, p. 3-8. [Return]
- This author believes that God was responsible for the design of every one of His creatures – that random processes played no significant part in this. He also believes that minor “evolutionary” change occurs within each of the kinds which God created. This is responsible for minor adjustments. Here random mutations and survival fitness are the primary guiding factors. [Return]
- As we have mentioned, there is no rigid rule governing how these terms are to be used. For example, the geological principle of superposition is sometimes referred to as a “law” even though there are known exceptions. (Although not strictly true, it is still useful as a general rule.) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences, Ed. David G. Smith Ph.D., C. 1981, Crown Publishers Inc. / Cambridge University Press, N.Y., p. 387. [Return]
- But again these terms are sometimes used in different ways. One author uses the term “fact” to describe the once believed inferred generalization of Telegony. Because Telegony was an error, he also uses the term “false fact.” Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes, Stephen Jay Gould, C. 1983, W.W. Norton & Co., N.Y., pp. 379-380. [Return]
- It would be more accurate to call these men “scholars” than “scientists” because in their day science was not separated from other studies (such as philosophy) as it is in ours. This author has used the word “scientists” here because it conveys the correct flavor of his intended meaning better, to his intended readers, than the more correct “scholars” would have. [Return]
- The Sleepwalkers, Arthur Koestler, C. 1959, The Universal Library, Grosset and Dunlap, N.Y., P. 603. [Return]
- Actually modern cosmology provides a sort of defense for the Inquisition’s position. According to the laws of relativity, any frame of reference can be taken as a stationary center of the universe. Of course this argument supports Galileo’s position equally well. [Return]
- Proof came in the mid-1800s in the form of the Foucalt pendulum and the detection of stellar parallax. See The Galileo Connection, by Charles E. Hummel, C. 1986, Inter Varsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 60515, p. 111. [Return]