Is the Bible Compatible with Science?

Back in May, I promised that I would eventually answer some questions that came from our congregation, but I haven’t gotten around to it. It’s about time for me to start tackling them. Let’s get started.

SCIENCE

For more of my thoughts on the relationship between science and faith, take a look at my personal blog or other posts on this blog related to the topic.
Here are the science-minded questions that came in last May:

  • How do dinosaurs fit in to God’s story?
  • How do we reconcile scientific evidence such as dinosaur fossils, with the biblical story of creation?
  • Do you think old earth creationism or theistic evolution are acceptable positions for a Christian to hold? Can these positions be reconciled with Scripture?
  • Are there UFOs? If so, how does that fit with the Bible?

How do dinosaurs fit into God’s story?

There are no direct references to dinosaurs in the Bible, but there are a couple indirect references.

  • A few verses in Job, Psalms, and Isaiah refer to a legendary monster called Leviathan.
  • A verse in Isaiah refers to a giant sea monster called Rahab.
  • A verse in Job refers to a large beast called Behemoth.
  • I’ve read some scholarship indicating that the biblical dimensions of Noah’s Ark were large enough for some dinosaurs.

There are three possibilities for how to understand these biblical references to giant animals:

  • These are references to actual dinosaurs known and experienced by the writers.
  • These are references to mythological monsters who may or may not have been inspired by actual dinosaurs.
  • These are references to large non-dinosaur animals such as elephants and crocodiles with descriptions that were exaggerated for poetic effect.

Therefore, there are two possibilities for how dinosaurs fit into the story of the Bible.
OPTION 1: Dinosaurs lived concurrently with humans before Noah’s flood but went extinct because of the massive climate shift after Noah’s flood. This theory also claims that the flood dramatically altered the fossil record making it appear that dinosaurs and humans lived in totally different times so that the entire fossil record can’t be trusted to give us indications of ancient chronology.
OPTION 2: Following scientific consensus, dinosaurs lived long before humans, and therefore, the age of the earth must be measured in millions rather than thousands of years. This theory requires us to address the apparent teaching of the Bible that the earth is only a few thousand years old.
To decide between the two options, we only need to answer one question: Is the scientific consensus on the fossil record compatible with the teaching of the Bible? Let’s tackle that.

How do we reconcile scientific evidence with the Genesis account of Creation?

There are two apparent points of conflict between the scientific evidence and the Genesis account of Creation:

  • Age of the Universe: Genesis seems to describe a universe that went from nothing to the existence of humans in only 6 days and has only been around for only a few thousand years in total. Science teaches plainly that the universe is nearly 14 billion years old, that the earth alone is nearly 5 billion years old, and that modern humans came on the scene maybe 200,000 years ago.
  • Sequence of Creation: Genesis describes a creation order that doesn’t fit the timeline of science. As one example, Genesis describes the creation of the Sun AFTER the creation of the earth and plants.

Any theory that attempts to harmonize the teaching of the Bible with the discoveries of science needs to address these two issues. Here are the most common ways for people to embrace the teaching of the Bible in light of these conflicts:

  • Some people reject the scientific consensus about the origins of the universe and our solar system. There are Christian ministries designed to do scientific research that directly supports a young earth perspective. They don’t reject all the methods of modern science, but they do reject the conclusions.
  • Some people recognize the poetic nature of the Genesis account and claim that the entire Genesis account of creation is designed to be metaphorical and not literal. These people fully embrace the timeline of modern scientific research.
  • Some people think the Genesis account is mostly literal, but that it leaves “gaps” in the account where long periods of time could be.

To understand my own perspective, I want to mention four points of biblical evidence:

  • Between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, there is an indeterminate period of time.
  • The use of the word “day” in Genesis chapter 1 is most naturally referring to a 24 hour period, but in Genesis 2:4, the same Hebrew word for “day” is used to refer to the entire process of Genesis 1. Clearly, the word “day” in Genesis 1-2 does not only mean a single 24 hour period.
  • The sequence of events described in Genesis 1 don’t fall in line with the scientific timeline for the formation of the earth and life on it unless you consider them from the perspective of a person actually on the planet. According to scientific theories, the atmosphere of the young earth would have been so thick early on that plants could have appeared on the ground BEFORE the sun and stars were visible in the sky.
  • Finally, the account in Genesis was written down by someone, probably Moses, who wasn’t there for the actual creation process. Somehow, the account was revealed to Moses who wrote down what had been revealed to him.

Therefore, I take the following approach to reconcile the scientific evidence with the Genesis account:

  • If God wanted to create the world in 6 literal 24-hour periods of time only a few thousand years ago he is certainly powerful enough to do it in such a way that our modern science wouldn’t be able to fully grasp it. I do not argue with people who want to take that position, but I also can find no evidence of God intentionally trying to trick us. I think science and reason are gifts given to us by God to use for us to give him glory.
  • If God wanted to communicate that the Genesis account was entirely metaphorical, he could have done that too. However, even Jesus believed the Genesis account was addressing historical realities.
  • My conclusion is that the Genesis account is a record of 6 literal days of revelation. That is, I think God took six consecutive days to show Moses what the process of creation looked like from the perspective of a person standing on the earth. First, he would have seen light, then a separation from sky above and water/land below, then the appearance of land plants, then the visibility of the sun, then the appearance of birds, fish, and reptiles, then mammals and finally humans.

Finally, I need to say one more thing about the concept of “evolution” and the development of human beings. There is an interesting grammatical switch in the Genesis 1 account of the creation of the world. In every case of creation before humans, two constructs are used: “Let there be (something)” or “Let (something) produce (something).” Consider Genesis 1:24:

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. — Genesis 1:24 NIV

Notice the specific command… “Let the land produce living creatures.” Strangely enough, the most natural way to understand this verse is that God is giving the earth the power to produce animals! For some reason, Christians have for decades missed this point. According to this verse, I have to conclude that the power of life has been given to this earth and therefore it makes perfect sense that God created everything through the process of evolution. I could go further into this, but I won’t because there is one more thing to notice.
As I said, there is a grammatical switch that happens in Genesis 1 when God begins talking about human beings. The new grammatical construct is this, “Let us make man…” No longer is the command a passive one. Now it is an active one. The claim of Genesis is that God took special interest in making the first human beings.
However, the first human beings described in Genesis are not necessarily the first human like creatures to roam on this planet. Genesis merely teaches that at some point, God decided to specially create a brand new image-bearing creature on the earth he called “man.” What’s even more interesting is that the early chapters of Genesis refer to other human-like species roaming the earth who share enough biological compatibility with “man” that they are able to intermarry and even reproduce!
Therefore, to summarize my point of view. I take everything that science teaches at face value and say, “That’s interesting.” Simultaneously, I take everything Genesis says and reply, “It’s amazing how God revealed all this to Moses.” Finally, I take the modern science of anthropology and counter, “But there once was a being specially created by God to represent him on this earth, and that man and his wife are the ancestors of every living human today.” No scientific evidence as of yet seems to contradict this last point.

Are there UFOs?

If I throw a pie plate into the air, and my neighbor sees it and takes a blurry picture of it without knowing what it is, that is literally an unidentified flying object.
Yes, there are UFOs.
Better question: Are there forms of intelligent life that are not based on earth and are not human?
Simple answer: Angels.
Yes, I said it. Angels.
The Bible gives us many examples of intelligent “life” that appears on earth for a specific purpose only to leave again. These messengers from heaven are sometimes called angels and they are most definitely not human and not bound to this earth. Furthermore, there are angelic-type beings known as demons that have the ability to deceive people in all sorts of ways. So the proper conclusion of anyone who reads the Bible is that humans are definitely not alone in this universe.
Still, to be absolutely clear, I am not saying that angels are aliens or that aliens are angels. I am saying simply this:

  • Spiritual (and therefore non-terrestrial) beings are real.
  • Angels and demons sometimes manifest themselves to help / inform humans or to hurt / deceive humans.
  • Whether any physical body-bound intelligent entity like human beings exists elsewhere in the universe is neither supported nor denied by the teaching of the Bible, but I won’t be surprised if we someday get to meet them.