The Nature of God
Who God Is
How To Read Genesis 1-3
What to Do with Modern Science?
Next, let us ask how we deal with claims coming from modern science. The upset over some of these claims is undoubtedly one of the motivations for people who search for new interpretations of Genesis 1–3. Some people are looking for ways to make peace with modern scientific claims by reinterpreting Genesis 1–3 in such a way that it then fits within the framework of modern science.
We cannot in a short article deal with every aspect of this complex, challenging issue. For thoroughness, it needs book-length treatment.1 But we can make some brief observations.
First, modern scientific research and reflection has many benefits. But it is not immune from influence from the surrounding cultural atmosphere. In particular, philosophical materialism has an influence. It puts pressure on scientists to treat the world as reducible to matter and motion, and to deny the existence of God in practice. Clearly, the implications of this framework are inevitably going to clash with the Bible, because the two worldviews, the modern one and the biblical one, are in conflict.
Second, as a result of the influence of worldview, Christians need to inspect critically claims coming from scientists, rather than blindly accepting everything that waves the banner of the prestige of science. It does not mean that scientists are deliberately concealing the truth. But they are typically not consciously inspecting the influence of their own worldview assumptions. They may take for granted assumptions (such as philosophical materialism) that are not in fact true.
Moreover, in many areas of the sciences, as investigation continues to develop, scientists dispute among themselves. It is easy to ignore minority voices, but not wise to do so.
Third, it is wise to distinguish experimental sciences from historical sciences. In experimental sciences, as the label suggests, scientists conduct experiments. They postulate regularities on the basis of repeated observation under controlled laboratory conditions. The impressive practical benefits of the sciences derive almost wholly from experimental sciences.
Historical sciences, by contrast, are investigations that try to reconstruct the past. Direct experiments cannot be conducted on the past, because the past is permanently gone. And here it gets challenging, because there are key events in the past that occurred only once in the whole history of the universe. Man came on the scene once. Each new kind of animal appeared once. The universe itself came into being once. These events are exceptional. And, since God exists, they may be miraculous events. They may be outside the scope of the regularities that experimental scientists can currently observe.
The main takeaway principle here is not too quickly to decide that current scientific opinion about the past is completely aligned with what actually happened, nor that investigations into current regularities (“scientific laws”) will ever be able to explain unique past events brought about by God. We should be patient, rather than panicked, if we hear of some apparent discrepancy between the claims in the Bible and the claims being made by some modern scientists. (Part 5 tomorrow)
Taken from an article from the works of Vern Poythress, author and professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary. His most recent books include Knowing and the Trinity: How Perspectives in Human Knowledge Imitate the Trinity (P&R Publishing, 2018) and The Mystery of the Trinity: A Trinitarian Approach to the Attributes of God (P&R Publishing, 2020). He has degrees from Westminster, Cambridge, Harvard, and Caltech.