Science and Religion

A. Introduction

Models of religion/science interaction:

Warfare-complete disagreement, antagonism.

Complementary- coexistent, but not supportive of one another, two separate arenas.

Interaction-each respects and learns from the other

"Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish."
-- Pope John Paul II, John Paul II on Science and Religion

How did we get to the point of “warfare”?

Famous case: Galileo and the Church. Galileo spoke against the Catholic Church and its Aristotelian view that the universe was earth-centered and supported the Copernican view that it is sun-centered. For this he was tried, censured and placed in house arrest.

Today, creation and evolution are the primary example. In 1650 James Ussher, an Anglican archbishop of Ireland, published his chronology, giving October 3, 4004 BC as the exact date of the creation of the universe. From the turn of the 18th century, editions of the King James Bible incorporated Ussher's chronology as margin notes. Geologists and astronomers declared the earth to be much older and Darwin's Origin of the Species, published in 1859, proposed that all life-forms evolved through natural selection.

This is not a matter essential to the faith, in any case. It doesn't have to be warfare-disagreement, perhaps, not warfare.

B. What does religion say about creation?

1. Genesis 1 and 2 :”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Consider the two stories and their differences of order: (Perspectives, Miller, p. 22)

Genesis 1-2:4a Genesis 2:4b ff.
(water and formless earth) (heavens and earth presupposed)
Light (day 1) Water (streams or mist)
Firmament (day 2) Adam
Earth & vegetation (day 3) Vegetation
Sun, moon and stars (day 4) Rivers (4 including Tigris and Euphrates)
Fish & birds (day 5) Land animals, birds (no fish)
Land animals, humans (day 6) Eve ( from Adam's rib)

If considered as literal history, there are contradictions. If Gen 2 is an amplification of Gen 1, then there is a lot of time between the creation of Adam and Eve, who are both created on the 6th day in Genesis 1.

Scholars tell us there are different traditions or sources for Biblical works. Gen 1 uses imagery that farmers and city dweller who live in river basins prone to flooding might use, while Gen 2 draws on the experience of shepherds and goat-herders who lived on the fringes of fertile plains. For the latter group, the basic threat to life would be lack of rain, while for the former the threat was too much water and flooding.

Also, in Gen 1 the author recounts the creation of heaven and earth as if he had stood in the presence of the Creator as He issued his decrees, pronounced his benedictions and consecrated and blessed the seventh day. By contrast in Gen 2:4ff the narrator stands with his feet on earth, in the area of human history.

Perhaps, around 500 BC (560?), the time of the exile, a priest wrote a history of his people. Using two sets of writings from different times and places, he blended them together. Since by this time the Jews believe in one God he removed passages supporting polytheism, and except for a few hints here and there, he succeeded. (Gen 1:26 “let us..”)

2. What does “day” mean in the Bible?

The Hebrew word is “yôm” may be (and is) used in Biblical Hebrew to indicate any of three time periods: (a) sunrise to sunset, (b) sunset to sunset, or (c) a segment of time without any reference to solar days. Genesis 2:4 itself refers to “generations ...which were created in the day of their making “ Day (yowm) here obviously refers to a longer period of time. Other Biblical examples would include Genesis 30:14 (wheat harvest time), Joshua 24:7 (a long season), Proverbs 25:13 (harvest time), Isaiah 4:2 ( a future time) Zechariah 14:8 (summer and winter) and many references to the day of the Lord (42 months or more.)

We know there are many literary forms used in the Bible -historical, epic, tragedy. Wisdom literature, proverb, parable, prophecy, gospel, epistle, apocalypse. Many Biblical scholars do not hold to a literal reading of the text of Genesis. They believe that Genesis is allegory, poetry or saga.

3. What was the cultural environment of the surrounding people at the time Genesis was written? Israel's exodus was about 1400BC and the exile was about 600 BC.

In this highly symbolic Egyptian representation of the world, the starry sky (the goddess Nut) arches over the reclining earth (the god Geb.) Above her is the upper ocean in which the solar boat sails to carry the sun (the god Re) from the eastern horizon up to the zenith and then down to the western horizon. Kneeling above the earth (reclining Geb) is the atmosphere god Shu, who holds in both hands the symbol of the breath of life. At the lower right is Osiris, the great god of the world of the dead. Not shown here is the subterranean ocean which the solar boat uses at night to return the sun at dawn to the eastern horizon. That ocean is clearly shown in other symbolic representation. Mesopotamia had a similar cosmology, with different names for the gods.

Many Biblical scholars see Genesis not as an exact historical writing but a theological one, a reaction against pantheism and polytheism. Although there are some similarities in cosmology in Genesis ( e.g.-waters above and below) , the theology is quite different. The earth and sky and oceans and sun and moon are not gods, but they are created by the one God, the Creator. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Even the primeval waters were created by God. The sun and moon and stars are not gods, but bodies which give light for the day and for the night and also control the seasons.

4. What do the church fathers say about creation?

Justin Martyr (100-166AD) and Iranaeus (130-200 AD) used Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 as support for their view that the creation days were each a thousand years long. Origen and Augustine did not make such an equivalence, but recognized the days of Genesis as different from 24 hour days. It is certainly the case that these church fathers did not have the benefit of the science of our day and yet they came to their conclusion about the days of Genesis.

5. Christian creeds speak of two books by which God reveals himself. As far back as the Belgic confession of 1561. (Strictly speaking, not a Presbyterian creed, but consistent with Reformed thinking.)

We know him by two means; first, by the creation, preservation and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely His power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says, Rom. 1:20. All which things are sufficient to convince men, and leave them without excuse. Secondly, he makes himself more clearly fully known to us by his holy and divine Word, that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to his glory and our salvation.

Our own Westminster Confessions and Standards use the terms "days" as it appears in Genesis as literal days but add the statement "The door is open in the Standards for either interpretation (24 hour days or longer periods of time), and the utmost care should be taken not to shut that door at the bidding of a scientific theory against either view."

Although we may not agree on the method God used or the amount of time He used, we do all agree that "god created the heavens and the earth."

Take the Bible seriously, but consider the form of the writing.

C. What does science say about the origin of the universe and life in it?

1. Geology tells us that rocks on earth are as old as 4.5 billion years. One of the methods geologists use to establish this date is radiometric testing.

If a rock is young, the ratio 204Pb/207Pb will be nearly identical to the current ratio of those two isotopes. If billions of years have passed, there will be very little 235U and 204Pb/207Pb will be small, because of the accumulation of 207Pb over time.

There are other uranium, potassium-argon and thorium methods for dating rock, each based on a different isotope series, and each providing an independent check on the others.

Although they do not give exact times, erosion and geologic strata all confirm the radiometric dating in terms of order. That is, normally newer strata will lie above older strata. See the cross section of Grand Canyon below.

Finally, the study of tectonic plates is interesting in the formation of the present continents, but only measure time back about 750 million years. There is a nice animation of continental drift at

2. Paleontology tells us that fossils are very old, some microfossils as much as 3.5 billion years old. Fossils also come into play in the “proof” for evolution. Notice the fossils of simpler organisms in older strata and more complex ones in newer strata.

3. Astronomy tells us that some stars are as old as 10-14 billion years (red shift.) Light travels at 186,000 miles/second and light from the sun takes 8 minutes to get to the earth. This is also called look-back time, since we are seeing the sun as it was 8 minutes ago. The nearest star (beside the sun) is over 4 light-years away. Our Galaxy (the Milky Way) is about 100,000 light years in diameter. A drawing shows the relative postion of our sun in the galaxy.

The following drawing shows our position in the galaxy with a 100 light-year scale. Note Polaris, the North Star which is 300 light years away while Orion is 1600 light years from the earth and the Crab Nebula is 6000 light years from us.

The Milky Way galaxy is one of three large galaxies belonging to the group of galaxies called the Local Group which also contains several dwarf galaxies. This is shown in the following on a 1million light year scale:

Our galaxy is just one of thousands that lie within 100 million light years. The map below shows how galaxies tend to cluster into groups, the largest nearby cluster is the Virgo cluster a concentration of several hundred galaxies which dominates the galaxy groups around it. Collectively all of these groups of galaxies are known as the Virgo Supercluster. The second richest cluster in this volume of space is the Fornax Cluster, but it is not nearly as rich as the Virgo cluster. Only bright galaxies are depicted on the map. We are at the center of the map.

There are many superclusters, as we see in the following map with a 100 million light year scale.

Astronomers tell us that there are some objects 14 billion light years away. Therefore, if we can “see” (detect) something 14 billion years away, the cosmos must be at least that old. If less, God created it and then placed the light photons the proper distance away from us.

4. Cosmologists propose the theory that this all began with the Big Bang, some 14-15 billion years ago.

TimeEventDating Techniques
13-15 billion years agoBig Bangcosmic microwave background
galaxy recession
3 minutes laterfirst nucleiratio of elements
300,000 years laterfirst atomsratio of elements
100 million years laterfirst starshigh red-shift observations
12-14 billion years agoour galaxy formsglobular clusters
4.5 billion years agoour earth formedradioactive dating (RD)
geological strata (GS)
3.8 billion years agofirst lifefossils(F), RD. GS
1-1.8 billion years agomulticellular algaeF, RD, GS
600 million years agoCambrian explosionF, RD, GS
450 million years agolife on dry landDNA, F, RD, GS
300 million years agodinosaursDNA, F, RD, GS
140 million years agoearly mammalsDNA, F, RD, GS
70 million years agodinosaurs wiped outevidence of meteor
40 million years agoearly primatesDNA, F, RD, GS
120,000 years agohomo sapiensF, RD, GS
10,000 years agoagriculture, etc.carbon dating, F, RD, archaelogy

Scientific reasons:

Galaxies are moving away from each other

Cosmic microwave background radiation is lessening and shifting to a longer wavelength.

The amount of helium is more than could be produced by stars or natural processes.


The universe is only billions of year old, not quadrillions or nearly infinite time

The universe can be traced back to a single, ultimate origin of matter, energy, time and space.

4. Science tells us that species develop by evolution.

There is an excellent evolution timetable at

Definition of evolution:

Simply, the theory of biological evolution states that that modern life is the result of an extensive process of evolution that began several billion years ago with simple single- celled organisms and developed to higher forms by natural selection (Darwin) and changes in genes (Mendel.) In more modern terms, evolution may be defined as the change in the frequency of an allele within a gene pool, caused by natural selection and/or genetic drift.

Evidences for evolution:

Evidence of common ancestry: the same bones in the same relative positions are used in primate hands, bat wings, bird wings, pterosaur wings, whale and penguin flippers, horse legs, the digging forelimbs of moles, and webbed amphibian legs. All of these characters have similar structures that perform various different functions. The standard phylogenetic tree shows why these species have these same structures, i.e. they have common ancestors that had these structures.

Fossil evidence: independent evidence from the fossil record has confirmed that many of those structures were derived from others. For example, the fossil record shows a general chronological progression of intermediate forms between theropod dinosaurs and modern birds, in which theropod structures were modified into modern bird structures-an example of evolution.
Forelimbs of (A) Ornitholestes, a theropod dinosaur, (B) Archaeopteryx (feathers and reversed big toe), (C) Sinornis, an archaic bird from the lower Cretaceous, and (D) the wing of a modern chicken.

Vestigal structures:Most pythons, although they do not have legs) have vestigial pelvises which are not attached to their vertebrae. Blind cave dwelling fish have a degenerate retina and optic nerve, although they cannot see. Similarly blind salamanders have vestigial eyes with retinas and lenses, yet the eyelids grow over the eye, sealing them from outside light. Dandelions reproduce without fertilization , yet they retain flowers and produce pollen. There are many examples of flightless beetles which retain perfectly formed wings housed underneath fused wing covers. Humans have wisdom teeth , an appendix, and a tailbone (coccyx)which may be the case because ancestors of humans had need for them.

At the molecular level, the biochemistry of life is the same. Example. Human insulin (produced by Eli Lilly with the trade name Humulin) used to treat human diabetes is produced by bacteria into which has been inserted the genetic material coding for human insulin. The DNA molecules containing the genetic information are chemically the same in both bacteria and humans.

Also tree of life based on the protein cytochrome c shows common ancestry and agrees with trees produced by classification, the fossil record, etc.

There are other fields of science which also tend to confirm evolution: the development of organisms in embryology, the spread of species in population biology and geographic biology are examples which we will not pursue here.

D. How can we reconcile the two positions?

Other alternatives next week, but today, theistic evolution or evolving creation.

Definition of theistic evolution:
The theistic evolutionist holds a position somewhat between that of the absolute evolutionist and the creationist. He believes that God created the materials of our universe and then guided and superintended the process by which all life has evolved from the very simplest one-celled form on up to the sophisticated forms which we know today. In other words, God designed a world which has within itself all the capabilities to develop life and its diversity.

In simpler words, it may be the “pen” God used when he wrote the”Book of Life”.

Consistent with Providence-just as God oversees our lives today without intervening at every step, making us puppets, so God could have created the world and let it evolve to its present state. Again with a minimum of “irruption”, except for some events such as the Incarnation, miracles or other interventions.

     Young-Earth Creationism                 Theistic Evolution                             Evolution

God created the universe.

God created the universe.

The universe came about through natural processes.

Creation took place 6

-10K years ago.

Creation took place 13-15B years ago in the form of the Big Bang.

The universe began 13-15B years ago with the Big Bang.

Species were created and there was some microevolution.

Macroevolution as God’s method of continuing creation.

Macroevolution of all species.

Creation took place over 7 days.

Big Bang 13-15B years ago with continued creation following over the years.

Big Bang 13-15B years ago with events following over the years.

Bible is textbook of creation.

Bible is textbook of “who” created, science a textbook of “how” it was created.

Nature is its own textbook.

Suggestions for reading and surfing:

1. Perspectives on Evolving Creation, Keith B. Miller, Editor, Eerdmans, 2003.

2. The Fourth Day, Howard Van Till, Eerdmans, 1986

3. Finding Darwin's God, Keith R. Miller, Cliff Street Books, 1999 (hardcover), Perennial, 1999 (paperback)

4. Portraits of Creation, Howard Van Til, Eerdmans, 1990

5. The Creator and the Cosmos, Hugh Ross, NavPress, 1999.

6. The Fingerprint of God, Hugh Ross, Promise Publishing Co, 1989

7. Creation and Time, Hugh Ross, NavPress, 1994

8. , A newsgroup devoted to the discussion and debate of biological and physical origins.

9. Outline of seminar on by Dr. James R . Hofmann, professor at Cal State Fullerton, about Evolution and Creation at

10. Another good Internet source by Dr. Kenneth R. Miller from U of Colorado and Brown University at