The bible: Reasons for Resistance
While scientific developments of the nineteenth century seemed to nearly smother faith in God, advances of the twentieth century breathed new vitality into that faith. Evidences of a cosmic beginning in the finite past (as in thirteen to seventeen billion years ago, a very recent beginning in comparison with the eternal universe of prior naturalistic science) accumulated, and the standard naturalistic origin-of-life model, which relied on a nearly infinitely old cosmos, lost its footing.
Meanwhile, as researchers for the first time measured the far reaches of the solar system, the Milky Way, and the cosmos, they uncovered a growing list of “designed-for-life” indicators. They found a number of physical characteristics that had to be very narrowly defined for any kind of life to possibly exist.
These discoveries spawned a new scientific proposition: the anthropic principle, the observation that all the physical features of the universe, including the characteristics of the solar system, are “just right” to suit the needs of life, specifically human life.1, 2, 3, 4
Science historian Frederick Burnham commented that for scientists belief in God is more “respectable” today than at any time in the last hundred years.5 At the same time, however, our society has been called “post-Christian.” Belief in the Bible as God’s Word and in the deity of Jesus Christ seems less “respectable,” certainly in academic circles.
Reasons for resistance to Christianity abound. Intellectual barriers receive the most frequent mention. They are the most socially acceptable ones, though often they serve as a smoke screen to hide the deeper ones: pride, bitterness, lust, fear, and so on.
As I speak to university audiences and to business and professional people across North America, and as I hear from survey teams taking the spiritual pulse of urban and suburban neighborhoods, I find that most of these intellectual barriers (or excuses for dismissing Christianity) come from misconceptions about Genesis 1–11. Time and again I hear this question, expressed or implied: “Why should I give serious attention to the message of a book that contradicts, right from the start, the established facts of science?”
The supposed contradictions have been widely popularized by such well-known personalities as Isaac Asimov and Steve Allen. Asimov, author of today’s best-selling commentary on the Bible,6 says Genesis 1 teaches that the sun, moon, and stars were created after light, after plants, and after the water cycle.7 He interprets Genesis 2 as more nonsense, placing the creation of plants and animals between the creation of man and the creation of woman. Thus, he justifies his labeling of Genesis 1 and 2 as “folktales.”8
Steve Allen, in his popular critique of the Bible, ridicules the Flood account, saying that if Earth became “one giant ball of water,” rain must have come down at the rate of thirteen feet per hour.9 He goes on to “show” that the Bible gives contradictory figures for the duration of the Flood.10 He concludes that “acceptance of it [the Genesis Flood] on its own terms is simply impossible.”11 Given the widespread appeal of these celebrities and given people’s ignorance of the Bible and of exegetical rules, an open-minded perspective may be hard to come by.
This case-closed attitude has become increasingly widespread since the Age of Enlightenment (mid-eighteenth to late nineteenth centuries). During that era and since, science surged forward, challenging virtually every cherished notion in its path, including long-unquestioned biblical interpretations. Many theologians and Bible scholars reacted defensively. When faced with supposed external and internal inconsistencies, they simply backed away from the biblical texts—or from science—rather than launch a painstaking investigation of the scientific “facts” and of the biblical statements.
In this century we see how wide and deep the split has grown: liberal Christians and nonChristians, who for the most part embrace scientific discovery, view Genesis 1–11 as a collection of legends, at best, or of unreliable, contradictory, even laughable tales, at worst. Within that part of the church which did not give up on the reliability and integrity of Genesis, two groups emerged.
The first upheld the findings of modern science but viewed Genesis as devoid of scientific content and intent. The second declared that the “scientific unreliability” of Genesis is simply a mirage produced by unreliable, ever-changing science.
German theologian Franz Delitzsch described the schism ninety-five years ago, and few would dispute the relevance of his words to this day:
All attempts to harmonize our biblical story of the creation of the world with the results of natural science have been useless and must always be so.12
Fundamentalist Christians, adhering to what is termed creation science, loudly promote the scientific accuracy of the Bible, but they sift or reinterpret science through the tiny mesh of their ideological filter. Not much real science gets through. Whether they admit it openly (as I have heard many do) or not, most, if not all, of their leaders agree with Delitzsch: “secular” science and the book of Genesis clash irreconcilably.
Entrenchment of this schism has been ensured by various complex sociocultural developments. My abbreviated list includes four: biblical illiteracy, the pressure to make “progress,” too much Bible science, and the isolation of specialization.
Most Americans and other Westerners claim to have read all or part of the Bible. However, when asked to identify even four books of the Bible or four of Jesus’ disciples or four of the Ten Commandments, fewer than half even attempt to respond and fewer than one in ten respond correctly. People seem reluctant to admit to anyone, even themselves, their ignorance of the Bible.
Ironically, biblical illiteracy is most pronounced among the best educated, even among those who publicly comment on the Bible. More than once on university campuses in America and abroad, I have heard professors assert before scholarly audiences that the Bible teaches a flat Earth geocentrism (placing the Earth at the center of our solar system or the universe), male superiority, or the acceptability of genocide. These are but a few of the bizarre claims revealing what can only be a “hearsay” or eisegetical response to the text.
Pressure to Make “Progress”
Theology once held sway as the “mother of all the sciences,” a title that would seem incongruous to most people alive today. While the natural sciences continue to explore new worlds both on and beyond our planet, no additions have been made to the Canon, the sixty-six books of the Bible, since the first century a.d.
Yet in academic environments, theology faculty and graduate students typically face the same “publish or perish” pressure as do the faculty and researchers in fields where the database is doubling every few years.
While it makes sense for scientists to be iconoclasts, to break new ground, making significant revisions or additions to old interpretations of the natural realm based on an abundance of new information, the same does not necessarily hold for other scholars, such as logicians, historians, theologians, and Bible scholars.
Bible scholars must make a difficult choice: invest years working to increase the database by whatever amount may be possible through painstaking historical or linguistic research, or break new ground by proposing new perspectives, new interpretations.
Theologians and Bible scholars may rightfully argue in a few cases that previous generations of scholars were misinformed or naive in their interpretations of Scripture. The more popular approach these days, however, is to argue that the Bible writers themselves were misinformed and naive.
Too Much Bible Science
That so many Christians today believe the Bible is largely devoid of scientific content is, at least in part, a reaction to the last two hundred years of dialogue between science and theology in which Christian theology appears to have been bested repeatedly by secular science. The Bible, unlike any other book, is intended to be read and understood by people living in eras spanning at least 3,500 years. This places some serious constraints on the quantity and kind of science it can contain.
For the Bible to adopt the scientific paradigms or language of any age would compromise the ability of the text to speak to earlier or later generations. But, because the Bible does have the capacity to communicate to all generations of humanity, many Bible interpreters are tempted to read into the text far too much of the science of their time.
For example, I have received more than ten unsolicited manuscripts from individuals who are convinced that Genesis 1, properly understood, gives a detailed exposition of the origin and structure of various families of fundamental particles even though no word in the text even hints of particles.
The Isolation of Specialization
The word university denotes an institution dedicated to uniting (as in integrating) knowledge from all disciplines of scholarship. How far we have strayed from that original purpose! Integration still receives more lip service than funding. The pressure to specialize that has propelled us far into new frontiers of knowledge also has left us at loose ends. The separation is great within the sciences, the arts, and the humanities, and even greater between one area and another.
Perhaps no gap is wider than the one dividing scientists from theologians. The two groups seem to have little if any awareness that their studies actually overlap. Both groups seem to despise any suggestion that their work intersects. The United States National Academy of Sciences recently issued the following statement:
Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought whose presentation in the same context leads to misunderstanding of both scientific theory and religious belief.13
For their part, most theologians (since the trial of Galileo) have preferred isolation, hiding behind such oft-repeated comments as this: The intention of the Bible is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.14, 15
Many, perhaps most, scientists regard religion as “emotional nonsense.” They react to attempts at integration as a “throwback to a prescientific model of reality.”16 Michael Ruse, well-known zoologist and philosopher of science, emphatically asserts this view.17
Do you hear what I hear? This condescending, mocking attitude among some well-respected scientists, and anticipated by nonscientists even when it does not exist, widens the chasm and ensures the isolation.
As I mentioned earlier, intellectual questions about Genesis are understandable, even expected. If they are genuine, the person who raises them will show a willingness to listen and explore possible answers. However, not everyone who raises questions really wants a response. Some seem more interested in arguing. Some just walk away. Why?
How a person interprets the first eleven chapters of Genesis may be determined by how that person responds to some other part of the Bible. For example, if a person has been badly hurt or mistreated by someone bearing the “Christian” or “biblical” label, objectivity probably has been lost. If a person objects to biblical teachings (rightly or wrongly interpreted) on moral issues, objectivity probably has been lost.
Other fears come from misunderstanding the biblical definition of faith. The prevailing view exalts “blind” faith and rejects the principle that facts are the crucial foundation for meaningful faith. The misapplied mandate to “walk by faith, not by sight”18 frequently causes problems. Perhaps a deeper fear, more difficult to express, is that connecting faith to scientific facts subordinates the Bible to human endeavors or places Scripture at risk of contradiction by new discoveries that could overturn previously developed interpretations.
Herein lies a paradox. People who seem most concerned with defending biblical inerrancy may be the most resistant to any information, not derived from the Bible, that might help illuminate its meaning. Logically, taking Scripture seriously means being passionately concerned about interpreting it correctly and thus welcoming any evidence that exposes erroneous understandings of the biblical text.19 Unfortunately, many zealous Bible students and teachers confuse their favorite interpretations of the Bible with the Bible itself.
Removing the Mistrust
Clearly, many hindrances stand in the way of any study or discussion of the scientific and spiritual content of Genesis 1–11. By identifying some of the obstacles at the outset, I hope to help readers acknowledge them and make the choice to suspend them, at least for as much time as it takes to read the chapters that follow. For in these chapters I present what I have found in the latest scientific research to eliminate obstacles altogether.
Let’s open the Book!
1 Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, 2d ed. (Orange, CA: Promise Publishing, 1991), pages 119–138.
2 Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 2d ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1995), pages 105–156.
3 Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1996), pages 21–33.
4 Hugh Ross, Big Bang Model Refined by Fire (Pasadena, CA: Reasons to Believe, 1998), pages 1–18.
5 David Briggs, “Science, Religion Are Discovering Commonality in Big Bang Theory,” Los Angeles Times, 2 May 1992, pages B6-B7.
6 Isaac Asimov, Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: The Old and New Testaments (New York: Random House Value Publishing, 1988).
7 Isaac Asimov, “Notes on Genesis 1:1–19,” in Creations: The Quest for Origins in Story and Science, eds. Isaac Asimov, George Zebrowski, and Martin Greenberg (London, U.K.: Harrap, 1984), page 6.
8 Asimov, Asimov’s Guide, page 195.
9 Steve Allen, Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, and Morality (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1990), page 152.
10 Allen, Bible, Religion, and Morality, page 154.
11 Allen, Bible, Religion, and Morality, page 155.
12 Franz Delitzsch, Babel und Bible, trans. by Thomas J. McCormack and W. H. Carruth (Chicago: The Open Court Publishing, 1903), page 45.
13 Frank Press, Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1984), page 6.
14 This often-repeated assertion was first uttered by Cardinal Cesare Baronio and Galileo Galilei.
15 Frank J. Tipler, The Physics of Immortality (New York: Doubleday, 1994), page 7.
16 Tipler, Physics of Immortality, page 5.
17 Michael Ruse, “Naturalistic Fallacy,” Reason (October 1996), page 56.
18 2 Corinthians 5:7.
19 Proverbs 12:1.