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DIALOGUE ON SCIENCE v THE BIBLE
I was brought up in a Christian home and lately I’ve been thinking about whether it is all true. My question is: If the God of the bible exists then everything was created by Him and it was created in six days with man created on the sixth. How then, can the universe be billions of years old, (according to scientists believing the big bang theory) if man has only existed for millions? And how does the bible explain the different species of human that have been found? Doesn't the human tree support evolution, therefore disproving the bible?
Thank you very much for your thoughtful questions. Let me start by saying that you are not alone in raising these issues; many young people brought up in Christian homes at one point or another start to question their parents’ faith, and do so in this sort of way. This is quite reasonable and healthy, as long as you see the process through. It is my experience, after speaking and being involved in public debates in universities up and down the UK, that there are good answers for all the problems people raise. And more than that, there are excellent sensible reasons for belief.
You raise two questions here, which I will deal with in turn. The first raises the issue of the age of the universe and the thought that science contradicts the Bible. Generally, Bible-believing Christians have responded to this in two different ways. The first approach is to say the universe is not as old as many of the current theories suggest. And the second is that the Bible is not incompatible with a very old universe. Before I briefly sketch these out, let me say that I am not here arguing for one over the other. My point here is not to prove one or the other, but simply to show that thinking Christians have got well thought out answers to the time-span question. In doing so I am trying to demonstrate to you that this is not an issue on which to reject the Christian Faith. In time you may wish to explore which standpoint you believe is the superior perspective, but that is something you can look at later.
1. The Universe is not as old as current theories suggest
When God created the universe it was by definition a miracle: the supernatural created the natural. We do not know how God did this, but it was certainly not a natural event and therefore the normal natural laws and analyses do not apply. At some point in the past the natural interfaces with the supernatural and the temporal interfaces with the eternal; time and space run out. As we look back in time by extrapolating current physical processes there is a point when this distant peering, based on natural laws, comes unstuck. The laws will begin to bend and then break. This makes such star gazing border on wishful thinking; we can’t be certain about what we guess at from current observations. Extrapolating back from what we see today does not necessarily give us a clear idea of time spans. Even current physics does not see time as a necessarily fixed entity, but that it, itself can vary under certain conditions, and so also can what we call space. Nothing is as certain or fixed as we once thought.
On top of this a large dose of humility needs to be added. We are like fleas buried in the coat of a dog trying to guess our hound’s genealogy and pedigree from a few mongrels we get a distant glimpse of in the local park. We really are gazing at things beyond our comprehension; we have insufficient evidence, crassly limited intellectual models and a bundle of more than likely false assumptions. Putting all this uncertainty together, it seems a rather wobbly basis on which to reject the Christian Faith.
Having said all this, there is the other Christians approach to the problem, which looks at it in an entirely different way.
2. The Bible is not incompatible with a very old universe
There are two different, but not necessarily incompatible, variants suggested here. The first is known as the Gap Theory, and the second as the Non-literal Day Theory.
a. The Gap Theory
This perspective holds that even with a literal view of the six days of creation, there is space for a very old universe. In essence, this view sees an unknown time gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. Here, although the universe as a whole might be immensely old, our planet in its present form and possibly our solar system may well be far younger.
b. The non-literal Day Theory
This view sees Genesis chapter 1 as true, but a poetic expression of that truth. It understands that the Bible contains various literary types, or genres, including prophecy, history, poetry, parable, dreams, visions and what is often called apocalyptic. The people who hold this view say that they are uncertain as to the first chapter of Genesis’ literary style, and therefore do not wish to be pushed into a corner in feeling that it demands six literal days. They feel that Genesis is not claiming to be a scientific text book, but is answering far bigger questions.
In summarising these views, let me emphasis again that I am here deliberately not arguing their respective merits and weaknesses. My point is simply that thoughtful Christians, many who are themselves scientists, feel they have more than adequate answers for the question you raise. They feel that there is no problem relating the biblical account to the universe as we experience it. There is therefore no reason to reject the Christian Faith because of Genesis chapter 1.
The answer to your second question will be far briefer. Basically, to not put a too fine point on it, there is no sufficient evidence for the various species of human being that are proposed to have existed in the past. The history of research into so-called human evolution is a tragic tale of intrigue, plot, false evidence and lies. Some of the evidence for various ‘missing links’ has now been shown to have plainly been fabricated. And those researchers (and of course there are many) who are working with integrity, are piecing together paltry fragments, and from this making bold claims that have more to do with fairy tales and fantasy than good science. The ‘human tree’ you mention is artistic guesswork based on imaginative thinking, but no solid evidence. It is as if, having found one broken piece of a children’s jigsaw in France and another in China, they then make a guess at drawing an illustration of the history of art throughout human civilisation. This is not science. The really big problem with the missing link is quite simple: it is missing. Again, there is no reason here to reject the Christian Faith.
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