Does Christian Faith Depend Upon Scientific Fact?
(By Robert L. Whitelaw, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute at Blacksburg.)
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life; that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you." (I John 1:1-3)
A fashionable notion of our time is that it is possible, at one and the same time, for a Christian to keep his "faith" and accept without question whatever "science" says. A man remembers a Bible that speaks of a personal, holy God, of His supernatural works of creation, providence and judgment, and of a supernatural, risen Christ who testifies to the truth of that record. He also sees a world of unprecedented scientific knowledge and achievement whose high priests assure him there is no such God, and that all things came about over billions or trillions of years by the chance combination of matter and energy.
The unbeliever sees no dilemma. The Bible is simply an amusing relic of one tribe long vanished in the struggle upward from amoeba to superman! The believer, implanted with a new nature, clings with his heart to his Bible, but to his head keeps coming the question, how could such smart men be so wrong? He forgets, for the moment, to let down the great anchor, "Let God be true and every man a liar!" and instead, soon he hears a soothing voice "Fret not yourself; both sides are right; you can have your Bible and your evolution too!"
The argument comes, not from the Bible's enemies, but from men of eminence in both religion and science; and the rationale is very sophisticated. The Bible speaks in the "spiritual" realm, whereas science speaks in the natural, and man lives in both. Since the two realms never intersect, the two can never contradict each other no matter how they may seem to.
Thus by a simple bit of mental gymnastics - an "escape from reason" if you like - one can keep God in heaven, carry his Bible, "share" Christ, and keep peace with the reigning king upon earth, human reason! Or so we are being told.
If this be so, the Christian is surely under sentence of schizophrenia and either perpetual misery or perpetual idiocy! If it is not so, it is important that he knows why and how.
Let us examine a typical form of this fashionable argument in a recent publication:* The Christian faith, we are told, is defined in Hebrews 11:1 as "the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen." By this faith, we are told, we accept the Bible as God's Word, His message to us. This faith does not depend on scientific knowledge or theory, we are assured, since one can be a Christian whether he thinks the earth is round or flat. This faith doesn't need crutches, since it stands without the need for proof from scientific data, and to cap the argument the author concludes:
"The faith which the Christian has cannot be destroyed by the results of scientific study either, since that faith doesn't depend on science. To base our faith on the proposition that a particular scientific theory is true or false is to build it on the wrong foundation. God exists whether the earth is round or flat. Christ alone is an adequate foundation for our faith. This faith also gives the Christian the opportunity to pursue scientific study unafraid. We don't have to choose between the Bible and science because we can use both."
The argument is ever-so-plausible because ever-so-subtle. It is absolutely correct if one puts the right definition of "science" at the right places, but it is dead wrong if "science" means what the man in the street accepts. God certainly exists whether the earth is round or flat; but is it so certain if the universe is but the chance combination of matter, energy, space and time; or if the Christ-story is but a historical fraud and Jesus is dead in His grave. So let us examine things further by starting where the above writer started, at Hebrews 11:1.
First of all, does the text mean that Christian faith is the assurance of anything hoped for, or the conviction of anything not seen? If so, then there is no difference between this kind of faith and that of the jungle savage in his witch-doctor, or of a child in Santa Claus! This latter kind of "faith in fiction" the world is fun of, the classical example in the western world being the unquestioning faith of a gullible public in the mountainous pretensions of evolutionary theory without a shred of scientific proof, simply because the experts say it is so.
Christian faith, on the other hand, is vastly and fundamentally different. It is confidence in specific promises of future action by God, such as resurrection, forgiveness, retribution, based upon and rooted in specific actions by the same God in time past. Furthermore, these actions in time past invariably satisfied five scientific criteria:
(1) They were actions which only a sovereign, omnipotent God could perform
(2) They were consistent with His holiness and righteousness, unlike blind chance
(3) They occurred at specific times and places in the natural world
(4) They were manifest to human senses and so reported by credible witnesses
(5) The report has been transmitted to us in a document undeniably authentic.
In short, Christian faith is rooted in actions by an Almighty God in the realm of natural science that are reported in a Biblical record that satisfies all the canons of scientific evidence. Nor is it faith in just any god, nor even an exalted idea of God, but none less and none else than the LORD God of the Old Testament, Maker of heaven and earth, Father of our living Lord Jesus Christ, actively controlling the universe and ordering all things to bring about the redemption of His people and the sure and certain final judgment of men and nations.
Such was the God the apostle Paul introduced to the philosophies of Athens in Acts 17, in scientific terms; and they were not slow to perceive, as men today are, that the whole force of his argument hinged upon not some ethereal idea in the spirit realm, but a scientifically determinable event in the natural realm, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Here we must deal with the statement cited earlier: "This faith does not depend on scientific knowledge or theory - one can be a Christian regardless of whether he thinks the earth is round or flat." It is a clever combination of truth and error. Of course, Christian faith does not depend upon "scientific theory" if the two words simply mean the unproven and uninformed idea of one classed as a "scientist." But let an idea, a theory, be substantiated by experiment, observable data and sound correlation, so that it becomes "scientific knowledge." Then the man who says it has no bearing upon Christian faith is dead wrong.
When the man born blind silenced the Pharisees with those electric words, "One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see," what else was it than scientific knowledge? And the Christian faith is grounded in an event just as certain and electrifying, the resurrection of Jesus Christ!
Here was a great event in time and place, manifest to the senses and reported by witnesses, and therefore an event in the realm of scientific knowledge. On this event hangs all our Christian faith, and the Bible as well. For if the resurrection of Jesus Christ is false, if the same Jesus who was nailed to the cross did not walk out of the tomb three days later, if all this was some monstrous illusion or hoax and therefore unscientific, then either Christ was a fraud, or the Bible is untrustworthy, or both.
Conversely, if the resurrection was a historical fact, amply witnessed and faithfully recorded, it follows that Christ is all that the Bible claims Him to be, and more. By that one great act He is proven to be eternal Lord and able Redeemer in the spiritual realm. Equally important, it proves Him to be both Master Witness and Final Authority in every branch and discipline of the natural realm.
This means that if Christ were to walk into any classroom, no matter how eminent the professor or how profound the subject, He would be the superior authority. It means that wherever He put His stamp of approval upon events recorded in the Old Testament, His testimony is the scientific testimony of an unimpeachable witness to such events. And it means that where He testifies to the truth of events beyond our ken, such as creation, His testimony is the only scientific evidence; and all human speculations on origins of matter or of life thus become worthless unless they agree with Christ. All this because of the resurrection!
Christian faith, then, is faith based upon facts rather than faith based upon fiction. It is an engineer crossing a bridge whose steel he has seen tested, as against a man who jumps from a skyscraper on the strength of a dream that he is a bird - or of a learned calculation that once-in-a-billion his arms will act like wings! The Scripture writers themselves constantly emphasized their testimony as scientific evidence confirmed by the natural senses. Never once do they theorize, speculate or pile assumption upon airy assumption, as do our modern evolutionists. Instead we find, "By many infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3), "whereof we all are witness" (Acts 2:32), "eyewitnesses of His majesty" (11 Peter 1: 16), and the magnificent passage of I John 1-3 quoted at the beginning.
Scripture thus comes to us, where it touches the natural realm, in the language of true science, whereas evolution and skepticism must forever fall back upon the language of make-believe and mythology.
Christ's Resurrection - A Scientific Fact
We look next at the amazing statement: "The faith which the Christian has cannot be destroyed by the results of scientific study, either, since that faith doesn't depend on science." Again we have a clever combination of truth and error, the first half being true but the second half error.
The faith of a son that he will inherit the wealth of his father depends upon the scientific fact of his sonship. If scientific study should prove that he is but a waif, switched in the hospital nursery, his faith would clearly be destroyed. The faith of the winning presidential candidate next November 7 that he will succeed to the White House depends entirely upon the scientific determination, say on November 8, that he has a sure majority of electoral votes. But clearly, if further scientific study should make him the loser, his faith would go up in smoke.
Likewise the faith of the Christian that God will indeed resurrect him and accept him at the last day - in fact, the faith that God even exists and has spoken such precious promises - hinges entirely, as we have seen, upon the scientific fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, if an indisputably correct determination should ever be able to prove that the bones in a certain grave anywhere on earth are those of the man Jesus Christ, then the Bible lies, God is unknown, we are yet in our sins, and the Christian faith becomes faith in a myth.
The Christian answer to such a question is that, though the event may be a miracle inexplicable by any natural law, the total body of evidence before us is incontrovertible scientific proof that the resurrection literally occurred. And to dispel the least vestige of doubt, the Christian rightly observes that a resurrection that was anything less than a miracle would be out of character with the God of creation and providence.
Rejected by Modern Man
But the modern mind, untouched by the saving grace of God, rejects such an answer for it implies a sovereign creator, free and able to enter supernaturally into history as He pleases. Above all, it implies a God who is righteous and holy, to whom we must finally give account. Surely a better answer is to believe that the amazing achievements of the human intellect, by which most of the former mysteries of nature have now been fathomed, will soon fathom the mystery of Jesus' resurrection also. It will be found to have a perfectly natural explanation; Jesus is dead, as we might have known; and the race will press on to new heights of achievement, guided by the only "God" there ever was, the blind impersonal trinity: nature, time and evolution!
Before such naked, consistent nihilism many still shudder. They would gloss it over with the forms and semblance of Christianity while still believing in the ultimate infallibility of human wisdom and progress through evolution. Thus have been constructed the now-fashionable ideas examined above: - fashionable because they retain much of the language of Christianity yet are careful never to challenge the great God "science" at any modern point. And being both plausible, respectable and "giving offense to none" many genuine believers are easily ensnared.
It is important then to recapitulate the elements of this strange system of doctrine so as to recognize it wherever it appears. Our Christian faith, it says, pertains only to things in the realm of the spirit, whereas science operates only in the realm of the senses. Hence we can be totally indifferent to the truth or falsehood of natural events described in the Bible and we can go along with the "science" of any particular day, no matter how it appears to contradict Scripture, so long as it is supported by human reason and lies in the natural realm.
Such a system is by no means new. It has philosophical roots throughout paganism, and it takes little insight to perceive that it leads straight to total relativism, existentialism, and Nietche's "whatever is, is right!"
The Christian's Answer
The Christian answer is at least three-fold:
(1) The denial of an event plainly described in the Bible is not merely contradicting an obscure Bible writer; it is a challenge to the resurrection authority of Christ Himself, as God manifest in human form. He unequivocally endorsed Moses, Abraham, Noah, as historical people; and the creation of Adam and Eve as the first human pair, the destruction of the entire earth at the Flood, and the cataclysm upon Sodom and Gomorrah, as historical events.
If he knew that these were but picture-people and picture-stories (as the new system would have us believe), and yet encouraged His hearers in believing they were historical, then He became party to deceit and ceased being a sinless Savior.
(2) No matter how skillful man may be in measuring and observing his world, wherever his conclusions have ethical implications, i.e. wherever they touch upon God's sovereignty, man's corruption and bondage to Satan, and God's plan of salvation, fallen man always comes to false conclusions, his understanding is darkened, and professing himself wise he makes himself a fool. (Rom. 1, I Cor. 1-3, Eph. 4, etc.)
(3) Any man who is both a scientist and a Christian must apply to any new finding or theory in the realm of science the following tests:
(a) Does it bear upon any clearly identified events or persons or times in the Biblical record?
If so, it must conform to what Scripture teaches or be rejected.
(b) Does it have ethical implications as to God's sovereignty, man's sinfulness, Christ's Deity. or God's plan of salvation and final judgement?
If it does, and it denies Scripture on such points, then it may be expected to reach false conclusions in the natural realm as well!
The Answer is Yes
Does the Christian faith depend upon scientific fact? The answer is a resounding "YES!" That is precisely what makes it indestructible the scientific fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
An equally cogent question for our time is, "Does scientific fact depend upon the Christian Faith?" To the reigning high priests of atheistic humanism the question is beneath contempt. But to the thoughtful scientist who ponders his scientific method the question is important, and the answer is not far to seek.
Every scientist operates on an epistemology of faith. His faith has five articles:
(1) I am alive, (2) I am real, (3) I am awake, (4) What I see and measure is really there, and (5) When I turn my back it will not vanish away or change into something else, except according to certain trustworthy laws of nature!
These articles are sacrosanct, because to question any one of them in a scientific investigation would destroy the whole. Yet if the whole realm of reality is but the chance combination of blind, purposeless, flying particles, call them what you will, not a single one of these articles can be trusted. The probability that all I see and feel is just a trick being played on me is far greater than the probability of the simplest form of life "evolving" from non-life by sheer chance!
There is only one way by which these five articles of the scientific creed can be trusted. If it can be shown that there is a sovereign, mighty ruler, transcendent over space, matter and time, who has brought this all to pass and continues to control it for His own good purpose. Then, and then only, is science possible!
But the only way we can know this is if He has communicated it to us. We cannot reach Him; He must speak to us. Such a communication comes to us through the Bible. The authority of Christ hangs upon a fact of natural science, the resurrection; and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation of all Christian faith.
Thus it is that without the Christian faith the scientific method is meaningless and no true science is possible. Man may "learn" much that is useful, but he can never learn anything that is truly true or truly false, truly right or truly wrong.
It is time that Christians challenged a groping world with this great fact.
*From the "Voices" page of The Banner (July 23, 1971) Grand Rapids, Mich.
Copyright Â© 1972 Bible Science Newsletter. Creation Moments, Inc. PO Box 839 Foley, MN 56329