Verifying the Eternal via the Temporal?
Typical features of the "The Bible vs. Science" literature
First posted on May 10, 1999
By Mark Perakh
The problem of relationship between the biblical stories and
scientific data has often occupied the minds of many people, believers and
skeptics alike. Many believers would like to reconcile the biblical account with
science, whereas many skeptics would like to find proofs in favor either of the
biblical account or of science. This interest can be easily understood, since
science provides a very strong rational evidence supporting its conclusions,
whereas religion satisfies a deep emotional desire to believe in miracles, which
lift humans above their animal nature and defy the tragedy of unavoidable death.
Every person faces the choice among the three alternative
One choice is to accept religious dogma as the ultimate truth
and hence to deny scientific data and theories on the ground of its being
contrary to the divine revelation of truth. Another choice is the opposite, to
adhere to the scientific view and to reject the biblical story, viewing it at
best as a mere literature, and at worst as a baseless concoction.
There is, though, one more choice, an attempt to reconcile
the scientific data and the biblical account.
The advantages of the third choice are obvious, because in
case such an attempt is successful, it enables one to accept the intellectually
rigorous claims of science while saving one's emotionally satisfying religious
As a response to the demand, a multitude of books, papers,
websites, etc, have appeared recently, all of them offering various arguments
purportedly proving the compatibility of the Bible and science.
Surveying the literature, which discusses the relationship
between the Bible and science, one cannot fail to notice several features common
to the overwhelming majority of these publications.
One such feature is the simple fact that the books and papers
in question do not belong to scientific literature.
In scientific publications, their authors usually ask a
certain question and then proceed to find the answer to it, without a
preconceived idea as to what the answer may be. In an alternative form of
scientific publications, their authors suggest a certain hypothesis (or, often,
several competing hypotheses) and then proceed to make a rational choice between
those hypotheses, based on factual evidence. The conclusions suggested in a
scientific publication usually are not offered as the ultimate truth, but rather
as the most likely one out of several choices, within the framework of the
available data. It usually implies that in case additional data are discovered,
the conclusion may be reconsidered. (The above description is not necessarily
true for mathematical publications, where often a proven theorem may be the
closest thing to the absolute truth).
One more typical feature of scientific publications is that
their authors usually try themselves to consider possible arguments against
their conclusions, weighing them as impartially as possible against their own
A type of literature, which is in a certain sense opposite to
the scientific one, is that which is polemic. Recall that the word itself stems
from Greek where it means "hostility" or "war." Publications
in that category are aimed at convincing the readers in the validity of their
authors' views or beliefs. In this type of literature, a common feature is
emphasizing arguments in favor of their authors' position and downplaying the
One more difference between scientific and polemic literature
is in that the scientific literature is usually addressed to everybody equally,
provided the readers have a sufficient educational background to understand the
subject. Polemic literature is usually addressed to a specific audience, so that
the argumentation is adjusted to the expected readership.
The publications dealing with the relationship between the
Bible and science are overwhelmingly of the polemic type.
Contrary to their authors' usual claims of objectivity,
i.e. of comparing the Biblical story with scientific data in a non-prejudiced
way, the actual goal of all those writings is always to prove the supremacy of
the religious revelation. For example, in publications discussing the Torah vs
science, the Torah is viewed as the indisputable depository of the ultimate
truth, whereas only the scientific data are subjected to a critical discussion.
A good illustration of the above observation can be provided
by a quotation from the book by Professor Nathan Aviezer, titled "In the
Beginning" (KTAV publishing house, 1990). On page 124 of that book, in a
section titled "Credo," Aviezer wrote: "If I were to find that
traditional Judaism appeared to be inconsistent with certain aspects of modern
science, this would in no way weaken my commitment." (The commitment
mentioned in that quotation was that to Aviezer's religious faith). In a book
by Gerald L. Schroeder titled "The Science of God" (The Free Press, 1997)
on page 51 we find the following frank statement by the author: "I have an
agenda, to demonstrate the harmony between science and the Bible." Pursuing
an agenda is not what is usually considered an unbiased approach to subject.
Similar statements can be found in publications by authors who are
Christians. For example, mathematician William A. Dembski who is one of the most
prominent promoters of the so-called intelligent design concept, in a paper
published in the collection Mere Creation (InterVarsity Publishers,
1998) writes: "As Christians we know naturalism is false." Dembski
makes this statement before having discussed any arguments either in favor or
against his anti-naturalism views. Similar statements, often made in
a rather uncompromisingly categorical manner, can be found in many other
publications of the defenders of the Bible. For example, one of the most
prolific adversaries of the evolution theory, professor of law Phillip E. Johnson,
more than once expressed in his books and articles a bluntly contemptuous
attitude toward those scientists who do not share his rejection of the
It is not hard to figure out to whom the literature in
question is addressed. True believers usually are not concerned with the
compatibility of the biblical story with science. Therefore these true believers
are not much interested in books and papers aimed at proving in rational terms
something they anyway deeply believe to be true. There are though many believers
who adhere to their faith simply because they grew up in a religious family, or
are accustomed to certain rituals and modes of behavior, or have a strong
emotional need in faith. It could be proper to say that such people actually
wish to believe, and are searching for rational arguments supporting the
religious dogma. The literature in question is addressed mainly to this category
of readers, and therefore uses arguments, which are expected to be sufficiently
convincing to these "doubting believers."
There is one more category of potential readers of the
literature in question, skeptics. It is that category of readers the writers of
the books and papers in question consider to be their opponents. In view of
possible rebuttals from skeptics, the writers of the literature in question
realize that arguments, which are sufficiently convincing for "doubting
believers" may be not convincing at all to skeptics. Therefore most of the
literature in question is implicitly addressed also to skeptics, utilizing more
or less clever and ingenious arguments, designed to convince the latter in the
writer's views and beliefs.
Whereas arguments, which are sufficiently convincing for
"doubting believers," may not necessarily be distinguished by strict
logic and scientific rigor, the arguments, which are supposed to work for
skeptics, must meet much more stringent requirements. One requirement, which is
necessary for the argument to work, is their being impeccably logical and
consistent. Besides that requirement, one can imagine several types of
argumentation, to wit:
a) Arguments, which are both relevant and correct,
b) Arguments, which are scientifically correct, but
c) Arguments, which are relevant, but scientifically wrong,
d) Arguments, which are both irrelevant and wrong.
One can imagine also all kinds of arguments, which do not
belong to any of the above four "pure" types, but rather being of an
in-between type, displaying partial features of more than one of the above types
(for example, being partially correct, etc).
Obviously, only arguments of type a) can be convincing to
skeptics. Nevertheless, the books and papers aimed at proving the compatibility
of the Bible with science often make use of arguments belonging to types b)
through d). While such arguments may be sufficiently convincing to
"doubting believers," not to mention the true believers, they hardly
can have any effect on skeptics.
From another angle, the literature in question has the
1). The levels of requirements are different for the Bible
and science. The Biblical story is usually not subjected to a critical
evaluation in accordance with any criteria. It is assumed to be true, and if it
seems illogical on the face of it, this is assumed to simply signify an
insufficient understanding of its real meaning. The scientific data though are
required to be proven in the most unambiguous and uncontroversial way.
If the biblical account is or seems to be compatible with
scientific data, these data are viewed as a rational proof of the biblical
If though the scientific data contradict the biblical
account, this is viewed simply as a misunderstanding (if the scientific data are
firmly proven) or as the falsity of scientific data (if the latter have not been
proven beyond doubt).
2) Consequently, there are four situations, each treated in
its own way, to wit:
a). If a certain biblical assertion is (or seems to
be) in agreement with proven scientific data, then such scientific data are
referred to as a scientific confirmation of the biblical story.
b. If a certain biblical assertion seems to be in agreement
with some scientific theory which has not been firmly proven, this scientific
theory is usually referred to as if it is proven. (Example: the big bang
c. If a certain biblical assertion seems to contradict a
proven scientific theory, attempts are made to interpret the biblical story in
a way compatible with scientific data. (Example: the six days of creation). As
it will become evident when we discuss particular books and papers, such
attempts often put the writers in a rather awkward position, forcing them to
perform some mental acrobatics.
d. If a certain biblical story seems to contradict a
scientific theory which may seem to be not proven, various arguments are forwarded
aimed at disproving the scientific theory. (Example: the theory of evolution).
There are, among the multitude of books dealing with the
relationship between the Bible and science, some, which cover all four
situations listed above. The books in this category can be referred to as being
of "Bible and science" type. Examples of this type of publications are
the already mentioned books by Schroeder and Aviezer. In such books one
can find examples of all four types of argumentation listed above.
Some other books cover only three, or two or even only one of
the above four situations. In particular, there are books in that category,
dedicated solely to rebuttals of Darwin's or post-Darwin's theories of
evolution (for example, "Darwin's Black Box" by Michae J. Behe, Simon and
Shuster, 1996 or "Not by Chance" by Lee Spetner, The Judaica Press,
1997) and a series of books by Phillip E. Johnson. Such books usually explicitly deny the scientific theory in favor of the
biblical story. Sometimes it is done in a rather brazen way, rejecting the
scientific view in a categorical and even disdainful manner. Some others do the
same in a subtler manner, trying to profess respect for science and somehow
creating the impression that the author is ashamed of being considered
In another respect, one can imagine two types of arguments in
favor of the biblical story. One type is rational argumentation and the other,
the extra-rational one. The extra-rational arguments are obviously excessive for
any true believer, as in a believer's view the Bible itself supplies more than
enough of the strong, and even undeniable evidence, which itself is of
extra-rational type and makes unnecessary any additional extra-rational
arguments. As to the skeptics, they cannot be swayed by only extra-rational
arguments. Therefore the books and papers aimed at proving the biblical story
use some allegedly rational argumentation, thus appealing to the skeptics'
minds rather than to their emotions. In view of that, the argumentation
forwarded in the books in question is a legitimate object of discussion in
rational terms, and revealing flaws in those arguments is what those
publications call for.
This short article is meant as an introduction into a series
of articles on this site discussing in detail various books and papers devoted either to
proving the harmony between the Bible and science or to rebuttals of some
scientific theories, which contradict the biblical story.
Mark Perakh's main page.