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Faith & Reason Ministries

Science and Christianity: Introduction & Chapter 1. Is the Bible Perfect?

The Crab Nebula

Science and Christianity

by John D. Callahan

Third Edition

Copyright © 1985, 1986, 1998 by John D. Callahan

All Biblical quotations are from the Good News translations (3rd or 4th editions) by the American Bible Society.

ISBN 0-9615767-0-7 (2nd edition)
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 85-91519 (2nd edition)

INTRODUCTION

This book is, as its title implies, about science and Christianity, and it reconciles the two. More than that it is a book about man's place in the universe, with fascinating implications. The book is written for everyone, Christian and non-Christian, and it will challenge both greatly. However, I am a Christian and make no attempt to hide my beliefs, but I am also an objective thinker and have studied science all my life.

Many Christians will disagree with me about the conclusions made in this book. Some will harshly denounce me. However, God has often raised up men with a message for the day, whether these men were accepted or not. Mankind is always advancing and learning new things, but the Church has often been stubborn to accept advances and new knowledge in science and technology. This attitude is wrong and hinders others from becoming Christians!

No one has it "all figured out," but on the other hand it is truly remarkable what man has learned about the universe. There is great cause to be hopeful, not hopeless, and encouraged, not discouraged. The possibilities for man are literally infinite, and he is indeed much more than just an ignorant animal. There is a God who transcends all, and He cares about man.

CHAPTER 1
IS THE BIBLE PERFECT?

It is widely held today that the Bible is flawless and without error. It is believed that the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible directly through the pens of inspired men. The Bible is often called "The Word of God." It is also a widely held belief that to doubt any part of the Bible is to reject the whole thing. These beliefs may sound good, right, and noble; yet they are in error. The Bible was written by men and men err. It's that simple. It is true that the Bible for the most part was written by great men of God who were inspired to write. But it is incorrect to believe that these great men suddenly became perfect while writing the Bible. God does everything He can for man, but He is still limited by man's imperfections and disobedience. This limitation does not suddenly vanish when men write scripture.

Take for instance these quotes from the book of the Bible Ecclesiastes: "It is useless, useless, said the Philosopher. Life is useless, all useless" (Eccles. 1:2), and "A human being is no better off than an animal, because life has no meaning for either. They are both going to the same place -- the dust. They both came from it; they will both go back to it. How can anyone be sure that a man's spirit goes upward while an animal's spirit goes down into the ground? So I realized then that the best thing we can do is enjoy what we have worked for. There is nothing else we can do. There is no way for us to know what will happen after we die" (Eccles. 3:19-22). It is simply ludicrous to suppose that the above scripture was written by God through an inspired man of God. It was not. It was written by a man who was at one time greatly anointed by God, but who fell away (Solomon).

The trouble with making any absolute statement such as "it is always so" or "it is perfect" is that one only has to show one case to the contrary to disprove the statement. It is often easy to disprove such a statement. Quoting the above scripture simply and completely destroys the view that so many unfortunately hold: that the Bible is the literal "Word of God" and without flaw. No honest human being can say that God wrote the lines quoted above, such as "A human being is no better off than an animal, because life has no meaning for either" (Eccles. 3:19). If the reader thinks that these verses are being quoted out of context, then let him read the book of Ecclesiastes. Such an exercise will only convince the reader more that the Bible is not the perfect "Word of God."

The Bible is the greatest book ever written and was inspired largely by God. Its circulation far surpasses any other book. However, just like every other book on religion, history, science, politics, etc. it is not perfect. It is flawed and manifests the imperfections of its human writers. Paul the apostle wrote a large part of the New Testament and was a great man of God. He, however, referred to himself as an imperfect sinner (see 1 Tim. 1:15). Consider these lines he wrote which show his imperfections: "I repeat: no one should think that I am a fool. But if you do, at least accept me as a fool, just so I will have a little to boast of. Of course what I am saying now is not what the Lord would have me say; in this matter of boasting I am really talking like a fool. But since there are so many who boast for merely human reasons, I will do the same. You yourselves are so wise, and so you gladly tolerate fools!" (2 Cor. 11:16-19). Again it is wrong to suppose that the above scripture was written by God through an inspired man of God. It was not. It was written by a great and inspired man of God who was not inspired at the time. Paul was displaying anger in a very human way.

Paul himself says in the above passage, "Of course what I am saying now is not what the Lord would have me say" (2 Cor. 11:17). Consider these words of Jesus which show that Paul's attitude was wrong: "But now I tell you: whoever is angry with his brother will be brought to trial, whoever calls his brother 'You good-for-nothing!' will be brought before the Council, and whoever calls his brother a worthless fool will be in danger of going to the fire of hell" (Matt. 5:22).

In addition to philosophical and religious ideas being corrupted by our humanness, so too the simple recording of objective facts is also corrupted. Whenever an event occurs in history it is an exact space-time event. That is to say, it happened in one and only one way, at one and only one time. When men attempt to record history they can do so only to a limited degree. The more detail which is given the more difficult it is to get the facts exactly right. For instance, to say that John F. Kennedy was inaugurated President of the United States in 1961 is exactly correct, but it is not very detailed. To write a book about the day John F. Kennedy was inaugurated would give much more detail, but the chances of erring in some small way would be greatly increased. This is because the writing of a book would require much research and effort. In all the search for correct facts the chances are that errors would arise: witnesses would confuse details, news articles would give conflicting reports, typographical errors would be made, and so forth. The finished book would be of value and give the reader a much better idea of what inauguration day was like, but it would not be a perfect description.

So also it is with the Bible. It is a great work and gives the reader an extremely valuable history of God's dealing with man, but it is not perfect. Facts are confused. Take for example the conversion of Paul. There are three accounts given in the Bible: Acts 9:3-19, Acts 22:6-16, and Acts 26:12-18. In the first we read "As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?' 'Who are you, Lord?' he asked. 'I am Jesus, whom you persecute,' the voice said. 'But get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you must do.' " Now in the city of Damascus there is a Christian named Ananias. He has a vision and the Lord speaks to him. We read "Get ready and go to Straight Street, and at the house of Judas ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying, and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come in and place his hands on him so that he might see again." Also the Lord says to Ananias, "Go, because I have chosen him to serve me, to make my name known to Gentiles and kings and to the people of Israel. And I myself will show him all that he must suffer for my sake." Ananias goes and it is just as the Lord had said, and Paul becomes a believer.

Now in the second account, which is much like the first, more detail is given when Ananias goes to see Paul. Ananias says to Paul, "The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see his righteous Servant, and to hear him speaking with his own voice. For you will be a witness for him to tell everyone what you have seen and heard. And now, why wait any longer? Get up and be baptized and have your sins washed away by praying to him." Note that in the first two accounts Jesus tells Paul in a vision on the road to Damascus that in Damascus he will be told God's plan for his life. The plan itself is not revealed to Paul until he enters Damascus and is met by Ananias.

However, in the third and final account of Paul's conversion, God's plan for Paul's life is given by Jesus in the vision, and there is no mention of Ananias. We read (Paul speaking) "It was on the road at midday, Your Majesty, that I saw a light much brighter than the sun, coming from the sky and shining around me and the men traveling with me. All of us fell to the ground, and I heard a voice say to me in Hebrew, 'Saul, Saul!, Why are you persecuting me? You are hurting yourself by hitting back, like an ox kicking against its owner's stick.' 'Who are you, Lord?' I asked. And the Lord answered, 'I am Jesus, whom you persecute. But get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant. You are to tell others what you have seen of me today and what I will show you in the future. I will rescue you from the people of Israel and from the Gentiles to whom I will send you. You are to open their eyes and turn them from the darkness to the light and from the power of Satan to God, so that through their faith in me they will have their sins forgiven and receive their place among God's chosen people.' "

The point in the above example is that historic accounts of an historic event do not agree in every detail. Now the historic event itself could only have happened one way. Jesus, in the vision, either told Paul to go to Damascus where he would be told God's plan for his life, or Jesus told Paul directly. It could not have happened both ways. Therefore the Bible in the recording of historic fact is not absolutely perfect but rather suffers the fate of all historic works: it can only give an approximation of what actually happened. The three accounts, though, along with other evidence, especially the Godly life of Paul, do give us strong evidence that Paul did encounter Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Another example is the parable of the sower of seed. It is again recorded three times in the Bible: Matthew 13:1-9, Mark 4:1-9, and Luke 8:4-8. Let's compare the end of the parable. In Matthew 13:8 we read "But some seeds fell in good soil, and the plants bore grain: some had one hundred grains, others sixty, and others thirty." In Mark 4:8 we read "But some seeds fell in good soil, and the plants sprouted, grew, and bore grain: some had thirty grains, others sixty, and others one hundred." These two accounts are in good agreement except the order of the grains is reversed. That is, we read thirty, sixty, and one hundred instead of one hundred, sixty, and thirty. But now consider Luke 8:8. We read "And some seeds fell in good soil; the plants grew and bore grain, one hundred grains each." This is clearly a different concept. So then we see that none of the accounts agree 100.0%, and the third has a significant difference. The parable itself has great value and is undoubtedly very close to what Jesus actually said. The point is, it was not recorded perfectly.

So we have seen that the Bible is flawed like any other book. It is not absolutely perfect and "The Word of God" (in the literal sense) as so many believe. It is flawed both in its communication of religious and philosophical principles and in its recording of objective facts. The Bible portrays the humanness of its writers, but also like any other book, the fact that it is flawed does not rule out the possibility that it has value. Indeed the Bible has great value. It is by common consensus one of the greatest, if not the greatest, books ever written. The Bible was written for the most part by great men of God, giving an account of the dealings of God with mankind.

How shall we approach the Bible then, knowing that it is flawed? We must approach it objectively. We must consider the claims it makes in the light of other facts, and then either accept or reject the evidence it presents on rational grounds. For too long Christians have sought truth under the presumption that the Bible is perfect. This has led to error because the presumption is incorrect. Here the Bible will be treated as valid but not perfect evidence in our search for truth. Much evidence from other sources will be used in conjunction with the Bible to arrive at the conclusions presented in this book. Before going on to the other chapters, let us consider the process by which men arrive at theories concerning the universe they live in.

Consider a human being that is born without the use of any of his senses. He cannot see, hear, smell, taste or touch. Also suppose this poor creature cannot move at all and even to stay alive needs to be fed intravenously. Now suppose this person has a perfectly normal mind capable of reasoning and thinking just as we do. The person would grow up and start thinking about things just as we do. He would start postulating and forming theories about the universe he lived in just like us. However, what would he base his ideas of reality upon? He has no evidence of what the universe is like other than his own thought patterns. He could certainly come to the conclusion: "I think, therefore I am." He could also reason that since he did not create himself and he has not always existed that there must be some other entity which created him. A concept of God could arise in his mind and he might attempt communication with God. Through a friendship with God, God could tell him things about the universe, but other than this our poor hypothetical man has little way of knowing anything about the universe, save the fact of his own existence and aspects of his thought patterns.

For instance the man might think about something one day and then forget it the next. Realizing that he has forgotten something would lead him to the conclusion that he forgets. This reasoning might sound silly, but a little further thought will reveal that within it lies a basis of human knowledge. To illustrate let's go back to the man's first conclusion: "I think, therefore I am." How did he arrive at this? The man made observations that he was thinking. He must exist in order to think. Therefore he concludes "I think, therefore I am." This conclusion is a theory about his universe based on the fact that he thinks. The conclusion or theory might also be thought of as part of a "model" (or collection of ideas) of the universe he lives in. So far this is all he has: a model of the universe with one theory stating his existence based on the fact that he thinks. Keep those two words in mind: theory and fact. Now the man wishes to expand his model of the universe. So while thinking, he makes an observation of the fact that he forgets things. If it had happened just once the man might not have paid attention to it. However, it happened several times. This leads the man to another theory, based on fact, about his universe: he forgets things.

Suppose one day that the man got tired of studying his thought patterns and posed the question: Are there other creatures like me? The man now has a problem to solve concerning whether or not there are other creatures like himself in the universe. But whereas in studying his thought patterns the man had easily obtainable facts, this is not the case with this new problem. He has never had any evidence to prove or disprove the existence of other men. And unless he can obtain some evidence he will never know one way or the other, apart from divine revelation. The man decides to try and obtain evidence for the existence of other men. Using his current model of the universe, which consists of the knowledge of his own thought patterns, he constructs an experiment. Now an experiment, in general, may be defined as a systematic search for new facts based on old ones. An experiment also may be thought of as a test of a theory about the universe based on known facts and or other theories. Suppose the man theorized, "There must be other men because I exist and am a man." This theory is based on the known fact of the man's own existence. However, it is impossible for the man to know if this theory is correct without evidence.

So the man constructs an experiment. The man reasons that since he can hear his own thoughts, the other man, if he exists, must be able to hear his own thoughts too. However, they have never heard each other's thoughts, but maybe this is only because they have never tried communication with each other. The man reasons that if he speaks out in his thoughts towards another possibly existing man, that man might hear him and reply. This would give the man concrete evidence that he is not the only man in the universe. So the man thinks out, "Hello out there other man, do you hear me?" The man receives no response; he tries again, still no response. The man repeats his experiment many times and then stops trying.

What can the man conclude? He can certainly conclude that his experiment failed to produce evidence leading to the conclusion that there are other men. However, his experiment does not prove there are no other men. This is because he has not proved one of the bases of his experiment: that is, if he thinks out toward another man that man will hear him. Another man could exist but be unable to hear our man. Also, it could be that another man did hear our man's thoughts but decided not to reply. Another possibility is that another man did hear our man and replied, but our man was unable to hear his response. If experiments could be devised which either prove or disprove any of the above conjectures, then this evidence taken along with the results of the first experiment might lead eventually to the answer to the man's problem.

At any rate as things stand the man does not know if there are any other men. If he were to conclude that there are no other men on the basis of his experiment, he would be wrong. If the man wishes to pursue the problem he has two possibilities. He can either continue to devise experiments, or he can depend on a direct revelation from God. Now the existence of God is something the man has been theorizing about. He reasons that since he did not create himself, he must have been created by some other independent entity. Since the man has power to think, he wonders if he can think another man, or any other kind of entity, into existence. He tries this repeatedly but is unable to think another man into existence. This does not prove it is impossible for him to do so, because other factors may be involved. For instance his thought patterns might not be exactly right. However, the man theorizes that he is unable to create another man simply because it is too difficult. He concludes that the "man" who created him must be greater than himself, and he further theorizes that this being's powers are infinite. He calls this theoretical man God.

Since God is infinite He knows all things. He is capable of telling the man whether there are other men or not, without the man having to perform any more experiments. This is, in general, the second basis for human knowledge: direct revelation from God. Of course it must first be shown by observation of facts and by experiment that God exists, and part of the evidence for the existence of God is revelation which can later be proven. For instance, suppose our hypothetical man assumes there is a God and goes to Him asking, "Are there other men, are they like me, and how do I communicate with them?" And suppose after this he is strongly impressed with thoughts which might not be his own but rather from God. These outside thoughts give the man answers to his questions. The thoughts say, "Yes there are other men, yes they are like you, and to communicate with them you must think of a round shape called a circle." So the man thinks of a circle, and then he hears the thoughts: "Hello other man. I've been waiting to talk to you, because I'm a man just like you." Now our hypothetical man would have strong evidence that other men exist, and that God exists also.

We have seen, then, that human knowledge has two basic foundations. One is the observation of objective facts which may be obtained directly or by experiment. Experimentation involves testing theories based on known facts and other theories. A theory may be thought of as a reasonable assumption concerning facts one should observe under the right conditions. A theory can become a fact, or thought of as a fact, if it proves to be correct. For instance, Albert Einstein theorized that time would run slower and objects would shrink in the direction of motion as objects moved near the speed of light. His theory was based upon known facts about mathematics and physics. However, it was only a theory and not necessarily a correct one until evidence could be obtained to prove or disprove it. Today Einstein's theories have been demonstrated many times in different ways, and while we may still speak of "the theory of relativity" we might just as well say "the fact of relativity." Relativity is part of an overall model we have for the universe we live in.

The second great foundation for human knowledge is direct revelation from God. For this evidence to be accepted, we need only have proof God exists and verification that He has communicated some objective facts. If God is infinite, knows all things, and is good, then we know that what He says is true. Assuming God exists, divine revelation is still subject to flaw; since it must come through human beings. Men corrupt it, as we have seen in the case of the Bible. For this reason divine revelation is only approximate and partial in the facts it gives us. But also the facts we obtain by the method of observation and experimentation are approximate and partial. For instance we know the strength of gravity well. However, we do not know it exactly, and there is even some theoretical and experimental evidence that gravity changes slowly with time. At present we do not know the exact answer to this problem, because our experiments have not been good enough to give us a definite answer. Although gravity does appear to be constant.

Whether by observation and experimentation or by divine revelation man has, through the centuries, constructed and refined his model of the universe. However, this model is always incomplete and partial and often contains incorrect assumptions. "What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete -- as complete as God's knowledge of me" (1 Cor. 13:12). For instance we all know of the classic example of the belief that the Earth is flat. Today, of course, we still have difficulty understanding our universe.

However, we know much more than in the past, and we might ask, what is the value of correct understanding? Intuitively we know that the value is great. In general, the better we understand the universe, the better we are able to function in it. If we have a good model for the universe, we are able to utilize our knowledge to obtain worthwhile goals. For instance, it is a known fact that to reach the moon a spacecraft must reach a velocity of near 25,000 miles per hour with respect to the Earth. Knowing this fact makes it much easier to get to the moon. Can you imagine trying to send a spacecraft to the moon by guessing the correct speed? Correctly understanding the physical and spiritual universe holds great potential, as we shall see.

END OF INTRODUCTION & CHAPTER 1

Make a selection

  • Introduction & Chapter 1. Is the Bible Perfect?

  • Chapter 2. A Lesson in Astronomy

  • Chapter 3. Who Are God and Satan, Really?

  • Chapter 4. A Lesson in Life Upon the Earth

  • Chapter 5. Who is Man, Really?

  • Summary & About the Author

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