The Torah: Beyond the Reach of Science
We should be careful not to overstep the purpose of the Genesis account by reading it as a scientific treatise on creation.
Genesis 1 is not a 20th-century science book. I’m not arguing that God couldn’t have given us one if He’d wanted to. In fact, if He had chosen to inspire a scientific treatise I have no doubt that He would have given us one that battalions of Einsteins would need millennia to unravel.
Moses, however, wrote his account of creation in an age that didn’t even know there were other planets in the sky or other continents on the far side of the globe. The concept of zero was unknown, the germ theory of disease was still 3,000 years in the future, and the best doctors of the day mixed magic spells with their nostrums, unsure which was more effective.
In that world, what scientific language would God use to explain creation? It would certainly be different from what He would give us today. And if God used scientific language accurate in the 1990s, how long would it be before that knowledge had gone the way of other older theories and language?
No description of creation in scientific language can be timeless. No description of creation can be scientific. To tell us the timeless truth of creation, the revelation had to be something more than a scientific treatise.
In timeless, nonscientific language, He told us where we came from, what our place in order of creation was to be, and why our human experience is so ringed by pain and effort. He laid to rest all the false gods of ancient man and undercut the prideful curiosity and the curiously misplaced pride of modern man. He carefully chose not to burden His revelation with scientific language that would rapidly find itself outdated.
Genesis tells us that God spoke creation into existence, but apart from the creative power of the Word of God, the mechanism of creation is both unexplained and unmentioned. There is no mention of atoms, galaxies, the nature of light, or the laws of genetics. It is important that we know God created, but apparently it is not important that we know how.
In the past hundred years, many have tried to establish linkages between the spare, beautiful account of Genesis 1 and the emerging details of what are still infant sciences. The best of these disturb me, for one simple reason. It has been tried before, and the results have always been disastrous.
For centuries the church insisted the Bible taught a geocentric (earth-centered) universe. Theologians quoted every verse in the Bible that talked about the sun rising and setting as proof of the “scientific” theory. Today, no informed Christian would argue that the sun revolves around the earth. There have been too many satellites, space probes, and shuttle launches for us to hold on to that outmoded idea.
The theory had to be abandoned in the face of clear-cut evidence against it. Unfortunately, when that particular theory had to be abandoned, the biblical passages that “taught” it were abandoned with it. It is a monumental blunder when we support a questionable biblical interpretation with questionable science, but an even more incredible blunder when we adopt a scientific world view as “biblical” and then use Scripture to support it.
Tragically, that is exactly what the church had done. Because Christians had twisted Scripture to support an untrue scientific world view, the credibility of Scripture was destroyed for many when the world view was proven false.
The conflict between the Bible and science was born out of the misguided Christian desire to wed the truth of Scripture to the theories of science. And it continues to be a danger for Christians who rush to find biblical evidence for every new theory or to create new pseudo-scientific theories on the basis of particular schools of interpretation.
The minute we tie Scripture to a particular scientific world view, it shackles the timeless absolutes of God’s Word to the changing, uncertain voice of man. Even when the voice comes from Christianity’s most brilliant scientific spokespersons, by the very nature of science it can only speak tentatively, knowing that today’s certainty can become tomorrow’s old wives tale.
The task of science is to discover what is, as God’s ordered creation defines it. The task of Scripture is to tell us about the truths that lie beyond the reach of scientific experimentation.
David E. O’Brien
Quoted from Today’s Handbook for Solving Bible Difficulties, Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1990, pp. 168-170; reprinted in Exploring the Word of God: The Law, published by the Worldwide Church of God, now Grace Communion International.
Author: David E. O'Brien