“History cannot be deduced by science, only explained by it.” So reads a promotional ad for the anniversary showing of the film Is Genesis History?, featuring Del Tackett, creator of “The Truth Project.”
A common apologetic argument today, for some Christians, insists that science can not tell us anything reliable about the past. Instead, we must look to the Bible for God’s revelation of history, and not to science, for answers concerning the age of the earth, and human origins.
For those unaware of other alternatives, this might at first seem reasonable. This approach seeks to honor and defend the Bible as God’s Word. After all, the Bible is under attack in our culture, and if modern science is to blame, we need good reasons to refute such godlessness. Christian parents are rightly concerned about worldly influences on their kids, and so the message of Is Genesis History?, hopes to stem the tide against encroaching unbelief.
But is this apologetic argument consistent with what Scripture itself teaches? Is science not to be trusted, when it comes to our knowledge of the past, and our ability to reconstruct natural history? Does science, with respect to the past, only function to explain history, as revealed by the Bible? Let me give you two biblical reasons why the usefulness of this apologetic has difficulties.
First, the concept of fixed laws of nature, transcending present, future, and the past, is actually grounded in the Bible. For example, God ties his everlasting, constant commitment to His people, with the very laws of nature that He created, as He said thousands of years ago:
- ” Thus says the Lord: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.“(Jeremiah 33:25-26 ESV)
The fixed laws of nature, that transcend time and undergird the practice of modern science, are reliable. Why? Because God is reliable to keep His covenant with His people. He gave us Jesus, a descendant of Jacob and David, as our King and Savior, through the nation of Israel. He has proven Himself reliable by continuing to build His covenant people over many, many, many generations, even today.
True, we can not travel back in a time-machine to observe previous events. But if the Bible teaches that God’s fixed laws of nature are trustworthy, would it not be reasonable to assume that events from the past should be consistent with what we observe today? Here are a few examples, demonstrating that we are constantly looking to science as a means of understanding the past.
When astronomers see distant starlight coming in from outer space, they are seeing light that was generated millions of light years ago. Unless one is willing to accept some untested hypothesis of millions-of-years old light being generated in midstream, or of light that travels at different speeds in different directions, or to suggest some other, hitherto unknown law of physics, it is extremely difficult to conclude that the universe is somehow less than 10,000 years old.
When archaeologists are digging for evidence, they are looking at layers of soil that correspond to ages in the past, as clues to understanding that past. Dendrochronologists measure tree rings as a means of understanding past events. Forensic scientists analyze DNA and other criminal evidence, from long ago, in order to solve cold cases. Most scientists, whether they be non-Christians or Christians, practice their craft today, with the hope that they can reasonably create a convincing historical narrative. But if you inherently distrust science, as a tool for reconstructing history, then science will have limited value for you.
Second, the Apostle Paul taught that pagans, who have no Law of Moses, effectively, no Bible, are without excuse when it comes to having a knowledge of God, as revealed in creation.
- ” For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”(Roman 1:19-20 ESV)
Paul is quite confident that by examining creation, even in looking at the evidence for the original creation event in the past, we are given a reliable testimony as to who this Creator really is. If the pagan, or anyone else, fails to recognize this, it is no fault of God’s. It is due to our failure to acknowledge what God has revealed in nature.
Paul is giving the first century, biblically-illiterate pagan, as well as anyone living today, no escape route, whereby someone could plead, “Well, if only I had something like the Bible, a written Word from God, to tell me the real history of the universe, then I would know for sure that there is a Creator.”
Read the whole passage, Romans 1:18-2:29, to get the whole context, and tell me if you think Paul is saying anything differently. Then read Romans 10:14-18, where Paul recites the same theme, yet again, where even if someone has not heard the Word of special revelation, they still have the witness of natural revelation, as when Paul quotes from Psalm 19:4. In other words, Paul appears to be teaching that natural revelation, which is the domain where science operates, bears a witness to the truth of God, independent of, but nevertheless, consistent with, special revelation, the domain of where we study the Holy Scriptures.
Granted, if natural revelation, as we study it through the disciplines of the sciences, can not tell us anything reliable about the past, then yes, this apologetic argument, popular among Young Earth Creationists, makes good sense: You then only need to read the Bible in order to find out the real history of the universe (assuming the Bible is being correctly interpreted). Science only comes in, after the fact, to explain the details of that history. What more could be commendable to the Christian?
However, just be aware of the implications. This line of reasoning is built on a philosophical presupposition as to how we are to understand God’s revelation in nature, and it has some problems. First, it goes against the grain of how most scientists, including non-believers and believers in Christ, across all sorts of disciplines, daily practice their craft. Secondly, it also chafes against several passages in the Bible, noted above. You tell me: Should a Christian follow a philosophical presupposition, where scientific evidence about the past, on its own, is irrelevant, and ironically, its biblical basis is shaky?
On the positive side, a Young Earth Creationist will have confidence in the Bible, as God’s special revelation. Even an Old Earth Creationist, can say “Amen” to that.
But when it comes to God’s natural revelation, all bets are off: Is God’s revelation in nature to be trusted? A Young Earth Creationist can never be completely sure.
Just something to think about.
Have you ever heard of this philosophical presupposition before, that “history cannot be deduced by science, only explained by it?” Well, a Christian DVD making the rounds today, that many of my homeschooling friends like, Is Genesis History?, popularizes this very idea. The film will also be in theaters, February 22, 2018. You also hear it in statements like this: “You can not trust carbon dating! The Big Bang is really just a ‘big bust!‘” If you do decide to see the film, you might want to also think about some of the alternative Christian views profiled here on Veracity, that the movie does not discuss. Explore this and other topics above, by clicking on the links, or read other articles on Veracity, by going to the search box on the blog, type in something like “creation,” or “creationism,” and click go!
April 24th, 2018 at 10:35 am
A forensic science educator, associated with Answers in Genesis, Jennifer Hall Rivera, offers a type of rebuttal to my argument. For Rivera, forensic science must be coupled with eyewitness testimony, for it to be considered valid. Therefore, historical science is considered to be reliable, if eyewitness testimony is associated with it. If eyewitness testimony is not available, then historical or forensic science is suspect. So the flat out rejection of historical science, in contrast with operational or experimental science, that can make predictions about the future, an idea that Ken Ham repeatedly makes, is an overstatement.
Rivera ultimately lands on Psalm 118:8, saying that ““It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.”
Presumably, she is suggesting that since God is the eyewitness at the creation event, that Young Earth Creationism should be accepted, even though the historical/forensic scientific evidence; presumably what she implies is “confidence in man,” indicates otherwise (at least, I think that is what she is saying). In this case, historical science is subject to the flaws of human interpretation.
OK. So, let us assume, for the sake of the argument, that human interpretation of the forensic data regarding creation, that gives us an Old Earth, is flawed. This line of argument still begs the question: How do we know that the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1 &2 is not also subject to the flaws of human interpretation? If humans can misinterpret general revelation, known to us through science, then is it not also possible that humans can also misinterpret special revelation?
If you are going to reject historical/forensic scientific evidence, because of problems in human interpretation; i.e. “confidence in man,” then what prevents the skeptic from dismissing the Bible, for the same reasons?
Rivera seems to be making a whole host of assumptions, about the interpretation of Scripture, that many Young Earth Creationists appear to be making about the modern scientific consensus, that Old Earth Creationists accept. I would argue, that it seems far better to trust what the Lord has revealed through BOTH special revelation (Scripture) AND through general revelation (science), instead of dividing the two, and opposing them against one another. The same standard of questioning the interpretation of data should apply BOTH to how humans understand Scripture and Creation. Why Rivera does not address this is mind-boggling:
At one philosophical level, the YEC distinction between historical/forensic and operational/predictive science has a certain appeal. But more I think about it, the more slippery the distinction gets. You still end up with putting your trust in a traditional interpretation of the Bible, while distrusting God’s revelation in nature. However much I admire the sincerity and motives, I do not see how YEC proponents can get around this. On the contrary to the YEC view, Joel Duff exposes the weakness of this logic in detaiL: