September 22, 2017

Cliff’s Edge - Why Science Gets Origins So Wrong

Why does science, which gets so much “right,” get so much wrong about origins? It’s because of two principles upon which science works and, probably, couldn’t function without.

The first is that science, which studies the natural world, must look only to the natural world for answers. This notion, hundreds maybe even thousands of years old, asserts that we should not resort to supernatural causes to explain natural effects. Biologists must not explain, for instance, the extremely complicated process of blood clot formation by attributing the enzyme cascade to divine intervention. Science would not, could not, progress if everything, or anything, not understood were explained away as supernatural meddling.

Science doesn’t just miss the mark, kind of; it goes disastrously astray.

The second principle is that the laws of nature must remain constant. All things being equal (which they rarely are), what a law does today it did yesterday, and will do tomorrow, and any variations result from another law-like pattern that itself resulted from another law-like pattern, and on and on. Of course, laws could exist that we don’t understand, or even know about, and those we do grasp might be schlepping too many variables for us to accurately juggle. But the principle of constancy still holds. Otherwise, science and the technology we derive from it would be impossible. We assume (though without universal, necessary, and certain justification) that the laws of aerodynamics for jet flight and those of torque and force behind bridge construction remain constant when we drive across the bridge or ascend to 30,000 feet in an Airbus A380.

However reasonable and fruitful, both principles are philosophical assumptions, not itself problematic (science was called “natural philosophy” longer than it has been called “science”), except that both assumptions happen to be false.

Take the first one, which requires supernatural causes for natural events. That’s fine for hurricane tracking or for analysis of whooping crane endocrinology. But it is worse than worthless for origins that start out with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), and from there unpack a display of supernaturalism that so spectacularly transcends the thought patterns of minds (like ours) suffused with naturalism that many deny the biblical account because they can’t conceive of it.

“Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it according to their various kinds.’ And it was so” (Gen. 1:11). This text depicts a process (God speaks—speaks!—and plants and trees appear?) that makes natural science about as useless as studying the chemical composition of the Zapruder JFK assassination film in hopes of discovering Lee Harvey Oswald’s motive in pulling the trigger. Any explanation of a supernaturally-caused creation that rules out supernatural causes will, of necessity, get it wrong.

And the constancy of nature? Makes sense, except that Romans 5:12—“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned”—presupposes a natural environment discontinuous, and qualitatively different, from anything that science now confronts. “As they witnessed in drooping flower and falling leaf the first signs of decay,” wrote Ellen White, “Adam and his companion mourned more deeply than men now mourn over their dead. The death of the frail, delicate flowers was indeed a cause of sorrow; but when the goodly trees cast off their leaves, the scene brought vividly to mind the stern fact that death is the portion of every living thing” (Patriarch and Prophets, p. 62). What can science, which studies only an environment where everything dies, teach us about one where nothing did?

To learn about the origins of life by studying what is here now—thousands of years after the physical changes brought by Adam’s fall (Gen. 3:17-19), Cain’s sin (Gen. 4:12), and Noah’s worldwide flood (Gen. 6-10)—would be like studying streetwalkers in Paris to learn the origins of human sexuality. Science as now constituted denies that the kind of environment depicted in Genesis 1-2 even existed; thus, how much could it teach us about that environment?

Hence, our conundrum: two principles upon which science works are false, at least when it comes to origins (though one could argue, justifiably from a biblical perspective, that the first principle is false even with the present world because, at the core, God alone sustains physical reality—Acts 17: 28; Col. 1:17; 1 Cor. 8:6; Heb. 1:3).

No wonder science gets creation wrong. It denies two crucial aspects of creation: the supernatural force behind it, and the radical physical discontinuity between original creation and what’s before us now. That’s why, for instance, science (some) argues that the universe arose fortuitously and from “nothing,” when Scripture says that God created it. Or science teaches billions of years of random mutation and natural selection, a haphazard process of fits and starts with no pre-determined purposes or goals, when Scripture teaches a purposeful, carefully orchestrated process over six days of absolute intentionality with nothing left to chance.

Science doesn’t just miss the mark, kind of; it goes disastrously astray. Yet, considering the two assumptions from which it works (and that’s all they are, assumptions), what else could it do regarding origins but go not just wrong, but so wrong?

Clifford Goldstein is the editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolutions and the Seduction of Christianity, is now available from Pacific Press.