“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” Genesis 1:1-2 KJV
When thinking about the relationship between science and truth, there are so many questions and so few definitive answers. Does science, the practice of it, lead us to truth? I doubt it, but better yet, in the world of science, is there any such thing as truth? Again, I doubt it.
Truth, if it exists, is by definition eternal. Science is the study of the material world, which in our own experience is temporal. Also, truth is terminal, meaning the search for it has an end. Once we find it, we stop looking for it. The scientific method, which defines the practice of science, is open ended. What do I mean by that?
The scientific method is the repeated application of five steps:
- Observation: some natural phenomenon is observed
- Analysis: the phenomenon is dissected and broken down into it atomic parts
- Prediction: based upon analysis of the phenomenon, conclusions are drawn and predictions of future phenomena are made
- Experimentation: experiments are conducted that are designed to bring about the predicted phenomena
- go to step 1.
Finally, science has an aura of certainty, while truth seems far more elusive. The conclusions we draw from the scientific method are backed up by the observation and analysis we have done. We see, therefore we believe. That is until the next experiment comes along with different results. Truth, on the other hand, can only be known by faith. We don’t see, but we believe anyway.
This “not seeing but believing” is what leads many to think that there is no such thing as truth, but what I would say to that is – without truth, there can be no such thing as science. Why?
Let’s take a closer look at the scientific method. Why does the scientific method work? At its heart, aren’t there certain assumptions, accepted on faith, that make up the foundation upon which it rests? Isn’t the primary assumption being that there is an order to the universe that allows conclusions to be drawn and predictions based upon analysis to be made, and experiments derived that prove or disprove those predictions?
Now, one might argue that we assume this order exists because our experience tells us that it exists, but here we are engaging in circular reasoning. This can be illustrated by postulating a “first scientist”. This first scientist has not been given the scientific method, and therefore must discover it. The problem is, the scientific method requires the assumption of an underlying order for it to work; but how do we know, without faith, that this order exists? We don’t.
One can see this in the history of science itself. It is no coincidence that science and mathematics only began to flourish with the advent and eventual dominance of Judaeo-Christian faith and philosophy. Why? Because it was only there that it made sense to answer a difficult question with G-d!
This ability, often perceived as western science’s greatest weakness, is actually it’s greatest strength. How do we know that a + b = c for all possible values of a and b? Another way of asking the question is, how do we know that we can predict the value of c for any possible numeric values of a and b? Theoretically, there are an infinite number of possible values for a and b. We can not possibly try them all, so how do we know? The answer is G-d.
We know that G-d has created a certain predictable order and that He has given us the power of reasoning and logic to discern and utilize that order and so we can say, based upon our faith in G-d and His created order, that a + b = c.
This brings us to the scripture that opens this article. The bible is not a science book, but it is a book of truth, or so claims its adherents. But, if it is truth, then one would expect that it would at least be consistent with the observable universe. Notice I didn’t say consistent with science, because scientific knowledge, at least when science is practiced correctly, is always in some degree of flux (see scientific method above).
“In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth.” Well, we see a heavens and an earth, so that part seems consistent, but what about a beginning. We can’t observe the beginning, it is in the past. This in fact has been one of the greatest and most fundamental controversies of science. While there are variations, there are two basic competing scientific theories for the origins of the universe: the Steady-State theory and the Big Bang theory.
The Steady-State theory suggests that the universe has always existed, that there was no beginning. The Big Bang theory, alternatively, says there was a beginning billions of years ago, when the universe exploded into existence. Which one is true? As scientific theories go, neither; but, the Big Bang seems more consistent with the biblical account. The important thing here is that we cannot know from simple observation whether there was a beginning, and science does not provide a verifiable answer. A beginning, then, is something that we must accept on faith.
Now comes the really hard part. “In the beginning, G-d created…”. In order to keep it short, let’s just say that the existence of G-d cannot be directly observed, nor proven by science, so it must be accepted on faith. Although, there is considerable evidence for the existence of G-d to the discerning eye, not the least of which is our own very existence.
“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” These attributes of the early earth have always been somewhat puzzling to me, particularly the “without form” one. What does it mean to be without form? “Void” is generally understood to mean “without life” and “desolate”. Also, there was apparently no light, and there was something called “the deep”. Not much can be concluded here as to its consistency with what we can observe and it generally must be accepted in faith.
“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Here it gets really interesting for me because we have a real clue as to what “without form” means. The early earth was made up mostly of water – the deep! Water takes on the shape, or form, of that which contains it. What shape does water have in space? It doesn’t; it is literally without form! Is this consistent with our observable universe? Of course it is! My question is, how did the writer of Genesis know this?
Another interesting observation is this. Water is composed of 2 hydrogen atoms combined with one oxygen atom (H2O). What are the most abundant elements in the universe? Hydrogen (~75%), Helium (~25%) and oxygen (<1%). “OK, what’s your point”, you might ask? “Yes, hydrogen is abundant at 75%, but oxygen composes less than a percent of the mass of the universe.” It is true that in the universe as a whole, oxygen is less than 1%, but oxygen composes about 47% of the mass of the earth!
Throughout the centuries there has been a perceived conflict between science and The Bible. One of these controversies has been the meaning of the word “day.” As we read the Genesis account, we see G-d completing, in stages, the heavens and earth in six days. “And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day,” for example. Is it a literal day, or a symbolic day?
As previously stated, the Bible is not a science book and should not be read as such. It purports to provide eternal truth, not temporal facts. But as also indicated above, it should at least be consistent with observable known facts. So, how long is a day? If you answer 24 hours, you would of course be correct and if we accept this answer and interpret the passages in Genesis literally, then it would seem to indicate that the universe was completed in six 24 hour periods of time.
The only possible escape from this conclusion would seem to be to interpret these passages symbolically and say they indicate some very long eras of undetermined length.
But there is another equally valid definition of the word day, and that is the amount of time it takes the earth to rotate on its axis. Using this definition changes things considerably. While it is true that currently the earth takes 24 hours to rotate on its axis one complete turn, that doesn’t mean that it has always been that way, and it probably wasn’t. Why do I say that?
If we go back to the starting verses, the earth was an amorphous mass in space composed primarily of water. Since the following verses indicate a “day,” we can conclude that this mass was spinning, probably very slowly as compared to today (there is a reason for this conclusion which should become clearer as we proceed).
Under this definition, a day could have initially been many thousands of years long and over time become much shorter. It would become shorter due to the law of conservation of angular momentum. This is the simple observation that as a spinning object gets smaller, it spins at a faster rate. Think of a spinning ice skater. So it would have been with the earth. As G-d coalesced the earth into a smaller, denser, rounder object, its rotation would speed up considerably. It is very possible that the first day of creation was much longer than the last day, and the seventh day, the day of rest, may in fact have been the current 24 hour day.
The Bible tells a story. Many believe that the the story is true, that it represents actual history, past, present, and future (called prophecy). If this is the case then the Bible would need to be reconcilable with human experience. The problem is, it often seems not to be. But is the problem with the Bible? Or is it with the reader?