Read John 3 11-12 to start. 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? Then open in prayer.
There is an idea today that faith and science are incompatible, that if you would follow Christ, then you cannot study science, not with any serious effort, at least. And likewise, if you are well educated and scientifically minded, then you cannot possibly believe in something so unscientific as Christianity. This is a commonly held idea today, and frequently one that is supported by those on either side of the science/faith divide. They look at us as being ignorant and backward, and say that if you have science, you don’t need faith. We look at them as cold and deluded, and say that if you have faith, then science doesn’t matter.
On which side of this divide do you fall? Faith or science, which will it be? Have you picked a side? If you have indeed chosen a side, I have bad news for you. You’re wrong. The side you have chosen is wrong.
Now, you might be saying that no, I’m right, I’m quite sure that my side is right. Or you might be saying “Wait a minute, you don’t even know which side I picked, how can you know that I’m wrong?” It doesn’t matter which side you picked, both sides are wrong. There is no divide between science and faith. They are not mutually exclusive. Anyone who says otherwise is mistaken, or is intentionally trying to create a false divide.
People have long not wanted to listen to what God has said. They would like to ignore it, to gloss over it, to disregard it and dismiss it entirely. This is nothing new. If you recall Genesis chapter 3, Adam and Eve knew what God had told them, but they ignored it, they went ahead and ate the forbidden fruit. In the next chapter, Cain knew that his offering was not acceptable, and he no doubt knew that murder was wrong, but that didn’t stop him. We could go through the Bible chapter by chapter finding examples of how people ignored what God had said, but I don’t think that’s necessary. We all know this. People, for the most part, don’t want to obey God.
Science is just the current popular excuse to discard God’s truth, to discard Him entirely, in fact. If science says that God doesn’t exist, then why should we listen to Him? And if this book does not agree with science, then one of them must be wrong. And people are quick to tell you that science doesn’t lie…
Funny how that is. People like to personify things that have no real business being personified. An abstract concept like science doesn’t tell lies, any more than justice is blind or the truth is somehow out there. I’ve even heard it said that evolution “created” some feature or other in an animal or a plant, which is the height of ridiculousness, to ascribe creative capabilities to supposedly naturalistic process, but I digress.
Science doesn’t lie, but scientists might, or they might be mistaken. Certainly science does not always agree with itself, and it doesn’t remain constant. What was true, according to science, today, might not be true tomorrow. That’s why they keep publishing new textbooks, new encyclopaedias, new scientific journals detailing new theories and discoveries. Science keeps changing, keeps moving. It’s not constant.
There are people who would argue that the Bible has been proved untrue by science, with such discoveries supposedly proving things which disagree with scripture. The most obvious is the origin of life, the earth, and the universe in general. People point to science and say that this planet is 4.5 billion years old, so it can’t have been created by God about 6,000 years ago. Of course, in the 19th century scientists argued about if the world was maybe 20 million years old, or closer to 40 million years. Or maybe 75,000. Or maybe around 1 billion. Today the consensus is that the world is 4.5 billion years ago, give or take a hundred million years or so. Can’t be too precise on something that happened so long ago.
That’s a problem for science, though. Science covers a lot of different areas, and lumping it all together as science is a tremendous oversimplification. It’s much like categorizing art as everything from the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s David to graffiti on the side of dumpster. It seems wrong to lump those into the same category, doesn’t it? With science, there is just as wide a range. You have operational and experimental science, which is repeatable, provable, and can be demonstrated, such the fact that water freezes at 0 degrees Celcius. That can be proved, and you can adjust variables to get different outcomes. Water will freeze more rapidly at -10 than a -5, or you can change the freezing point by adding salt, for example. This can be demonstrated, tested, proved.
Historical science, not so much. That’s looking for answers after the fact. No one can go and observe or test the past, so we can only look at the present and work backwards. That’s how historical science works. It’s based on evidence, interpolation, and assumption.
Assumption is a key part of this, and finding evidence which fits or contracts the assumption. Historical science, in short, has a model of how things work, how the world came to be the way it is, and this is supposedly pieced together from factual evidence. The currently held model says that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old, the world is 4.5 billion years old, and life as we know it evolved from lower life forms. A lot of people treat this as fact, when it is all assumption and interpolation.
Unless of course, you have an eye witness account, then you have something to go by. We do happen to have an account of the past, in this book, which details what happened in the past, and how life, the universe, and everything came to be. To start, we looked at a couple of verses from John’s gospel, this is Christ speaking with Nicodemus. Nicodemus was an educated man, he was a Pharisee, and a member of the Sanhedrin. He was not a simpleton by any stretch of the imagination. But Christ asked him the straightforward and rather pointed question, if I have told you of earthly things, and you don’t believe those, then how will you believe heavenly things?
Here is where we come back to the question of the faith/science divide, because the moment I say that the Bible contains accurate evidence of the past, then I am placing my faith in it. But as the Bible is not a science textbook, or so the goes the argument, why should we listen to anything it might have to say about the origin of the world?
I’m glad that the Bible is not a science textbook. Old science textbooks quickly go out of date, and become rapidly irrelevant. You look at a science text book today, and compare it with you would have had when you went to school, and there is a world of difference. Compare further with what your parents would have studied, and it’s almost laughable. Even then, some stuff remains the same, water boils and freezes the same, once you convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit, of course. But a lot will be wildly, wildly different.
The Bible, in contrast, remains constant and remains relevant. The KJV study Bible I got when I was 15 years is just as useful and current today as it was 25 years ago. And while it is not a science textbook, the Bible has more to say about science then you might realize. There is more science, more about how the natural world exists and functions, than most people know. Much as Christ said to Nicodemus that He had told him of earthly things, as a prelude to spiritual things, so this morning we will look at a number of earthly things, what could certainly be described as scientific things, which are mentioned in scripture.
It is a common today for the world to look at Christians and say that we have a very limited understanding of the world, that for all intents and purposes we think that the world is flat. Now of course we don’t believe that. But did you know that scripture in fact teaches that the world is round? Look at Isaiah chapter 40, we’ll read from verse 21 Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in: 23 That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.
The theme of this passage is that God is great, God is powerful, and human power is insignificant by comparison, but don’t miss the little comment in verse 22 — the circle of the earth. Isaiah wrote, 2700 years ago, that the world was a circle. Not a flat plane, not a square or a cube, but a circle.
At that time, certainly no one had managed to circumnavigate the globe, that didn’t happen until the 1500s with Ferdinand Magellan and Francis Drake. Even without that, though, there is other evidence that the world is round, which corroborates what it says in scripture. If you watch a lunar eclipse, there was one a couple of months ago, you could see the shadow of the earth cross the face of the moon. And the earth’s shadow, of course, is round. A round object is likely going to cast a circular shadow.
Furthermore, if you watch a ship sailing away in the distance, it will disappear beyond the horizon. If the world were flat, the ship would just look smaller and smaller until it became a speck in the distance, but that’s not what you actually see if you watch. And going the other direction, a ship sailing towards you will rise from the horizon, you see the mast before you see the hull. The ancients would have had this information, they would have been able to use it as evidence to show the shape of the planet.
Scripture tells us that the world is a circle, and evidence from nature agrees with that. Our own experience agrees with that as well, we have no trouble accepting that the world is round, even if no one here has ever actually travelled all the way around the world.
There are many more examples of scientific observation in scripture. One related to the shape of the earth is the situation of the earth. In Job chapter 26, let’s read a few verses from there, reading from verse 7 He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing. 8 He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them. 9 He holdeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth his cloud upon it. 10 He hath compassed the waters with bounds, until the day and night come to an end.
He hangs the world upon nothing. That is something we know today, but not something we can expect ancient people to have had really a good grasp on. After all, according to ancient Greek mythology, the titan Atlas held up the heavens, and is sometimes depicted in classical artwork as carrying the globe on his shoulders. In Hindu, Chinese, and some native North American tribal mythology, notably Iroquois and Lenape, the world is carried on the back of a giant turtle. If you want more variety, there are also Hindu writings where the world is carried on the backs of several elephants, which makes a bit more sense than a turtle. All these mythologies require that something holds up the world. Everything in the world has to be supported by something, so why not the world itself? But the Bible tells us that the world hangs upon nothing.
We know that now, of course. We’ve seen pictures of the earth taken from space, and you can clearly see there are no turtles or elephants down there. You can also see that the world is round, to refer back to the previous point. But the idea that the world hangs upon nothing had to be challenging to people with no frame of reference.
The same verses also speak of precipitation and cloud cover. He bindeth up the waters in think clouds, and the cloud is not rent under them. We know that clouds contain water vapour, and surely ancient peoples had some idea of that as well, as they could see that when it was cloudy, it would be far more likely to rain than when the sky was clear. It’s a fascinating thing, though, that water can be held in the clouds for a period of time, and that it does not immediately fall. That is observational science, as detailed in scripture.
Something else observational also mentioned here are tides and coastlines. The waters are compassed with bounds, until the day and night come to an end. The waters come to a certain point, they don’t go wherever they wish. We live on an island, so we know all about tides and coastlines. If you go to a south shore beach at one time, say Tea Hill beach, there are mudflats for a quarter mile before you get to any deep water. Go back to the same beach six hours later, and the water is right up to the dry sand. It doesn’t come any closer, maybe slightly further in the case of a storm, but it doesn’t come up and fill the picnic area or the cricket pitch. The waters are compassed with bounds, and they abide.
Now, living on this island made of sandstone, we know that the waters maybe do come a bit farther with time, due to erosion. Scripture addresses this as well, if we turn back a few chapters to Job 14, reading from verse 18 And surely the mountain falling cometh to nought, and the rock is removed out of his place. 19 The waters wear the stones: thou washest away the things which grow out of the dust of the earth; and thou destroyest the hope of man.
These verses illustrate the impermanence of man, and of the world, when compared with the Almighty. The phrase in particular I noted is at the start of verse 19, the waters wear the stones. It takes a long time for water to wear away a stone. We can see it more immediately around here, with the relatively soft sandstone we have in PEI, but it takes a lot longer for water to wear away harder rocks like limestone, and longer still for something very hard like granite. But in any case, water does wear away stones. We can see clear evidence of that happening all around us, but we can’t really see it actively taking place. I can go down to the shore and see the same rock day after day after day, but I know that one day it will be no more, maybe long after I am gone, but one day.
The scripture recognizes this, and explains that it happens. Even though it cannot be watched, the writer of Job describes a natural process. That is because the Bible is inspired by God, who of course understands erosion, and provides insight into how the world He created actually operates.
Some of that insight is indicative of an understanding of the world as a whole, and some is a lot more specific and direct and personal. Lets turn to Leviticus chapter 17 for a moment. We’ll read from verse 10 And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. 12 Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. 13 And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten ; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust. 14 For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.
There is a very strong admonition against eating blood, it is strictly forbidden. Part of this is for ceremonial reasons, the blood was a key part of the sacrifice. There is a recognition that the blood is vitally important to any living being -– the life of the flesh is in the blood. That is stated twice in these verses. We know today that blood is actually a tremendously complex fluid, carrying oxygen and nutrients throughout the body to areas that need it, and carrying waste products off to the kidneys and the liver for filtering, and carbon dioxide to the lungs for removal, not to mention the immune system functions carried in the blood that deal with disease and infection. Blood is amazingly complex, and it is indeed the life of the body. You have an injury, and you suffer serious blood loss, you are very likely to die in short order unless you have a transfusion to replace that lost blood. You have a blood clot, so that blood cannot get to a certain part of the body, that can manifest as a stroke, and the consequences are no less serious. Our blood keeps us alive. Ancient people would not have understood the complexity, but they would know that you need to have blood in your body to live. That is self-evident.
The prohibition against eating blood is also practical. Meat with blood in it is not thoroughly cooked. I like my steak medium rare, but I recognize that it’s not fully cooked all the way through. I trust that our food safety systems today should keep me safe, but the Hebrews did not have health inspectors to check on the quality of raw meat. Meat that is not fully cooked can carry a lot of different pathogens. By forbidding the consumption of blood, that would ensure meat was cooked properly and thoroughly, greatly reducing the likelihood of preventing bacterial infections such as listeria, e. coli, and salmonella.
If we read down the next couple of verses, we see a milder restriction on the eating of the ancient equivalent of roadkill. 15 And every soul that eateth that which died of itself, or that which was torn with beasts, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger, he shall both wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even: then shall he be clean. 16 But if he wash them not, nor bathe his flesh; then he shall bear his iniquity.
Okay, roadkill might be a bit of a stretch here, but it was not permitted to eat what was essentially found meat, or that which died unintentionally. Apart from the squeamishness we might feel at the thought of eating something that was killed by wild animals, or just died in the field, there is good reason to not eat that. If something has been dead for a while, who knows what sort of bacteria has had a chance to grow on it? And if an animal died on its own, is there some illness that caused it to die? Eating meat from sick animals can potentially cause illness in people.
We won’t go into the whole list of dietary restrictions that the Hebrew people followed, but a lot of them are practical in nature. You can read a complete list in Leviticus chapter 11, we won’t do that now, but there are scientific reasons for not eating certain things. Pigs, for example, carry a lot of parasites and pathogens, and needs to be cooked properly. Avoiding it entirely prevents any number of possible infections. There is a restriction on shellfish, which do have a much higher risk of contamination than swimming fish, and most of them are either filter feeders or they eat garbage and such. Likewise, the Hebrews were forbidden to eat a number of birds, such as eagles, hawks, vultures, ravens and cormorants. Considering what those birds eat, I don’t think we need to work hard to come up with scientific reasons not to have roast vulture for dinner. The restrictions may seem arbitrary to us, but there are a lot of good, scientific reasons not to eat many of these things.
We’ve looked at some large scale science, and some practical science, how about something on a smaller scale? On Tuesday evening at Bible we have been working our way through the book of Hebrews, we just finished chapter 11 last week. At the start of chapter 11, verse 3, there is an interesting verse that is related to our topic this morning. 3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
We can see all sorts of things, but they are all made of things which we cannot see. This pulpit is made of wood. What is wood made of? Well, it is primarily made of organic polymers such as cellulose and lignin. What are those made of? When you get right down to it, what is wood made of? Chemically speaking, it varies from species to species, but measured by weight, wood is approximately 50% carbon, 42% oxygen, 6% hydrogen, 1% nitrogen, and 1% other elements. Essentially this podium is made of the same basic building blocks as you or I, but in a different ratio, and in a very different structure. Things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
We can’t see the individual carbon, oxygen or hydrogen atoms, but we know they are there. What’s more, modern science teaches us that inside those atoms are protons, neutrons, and electrons, which of course are smaller still. Inside those subatomic particles the current theory is that if we could separate protons down to their base components, we would find smaller particles, called quarks. Everything we see around us is made up of things that we can’t see. It is only in recent years that we have discovered much at all of how this works, and we have only the beginning of understanding of how these particles are held together, instead of just disintegrating or flying off in all directions. But God knows, He knew all along how matter is formed, how the world is held together, how, as is says in Hebrews chapter 1, He upholds all things by the word of His power.
Yes, it requires faith to believe that God made the world, as you and I were not around to see it. That requires faith on our part, faith to believe that the evidence we see around us points to a created world, not an evolved one. And when people say there is a faith/science divide, it requires no less faith to believe a lot of what modern science tells us to believe. From the department of things that are not seen, according to the generally held model of the universe, which operates from the assumption that an unexplained big bang gave rise to all matter and energy in existence, there is something called dark matter. This cannot be seen, or measured, or detected in any way, but because of the way the universe looks, the way that galaxies are shaped, for the model to work, there needs to be dark matter. Also, because the universe is expanding, and the rate of expansion is increasing, the model also requires something called dark energy. Again, that can’t be seen or measured in any way, but for the big bang to have formed our universe, dark energy needs to exist. According to the model, between dark matter and dark energy, that’s about 95 percent of all matter and energy in the universe. What we can actually see and measure, all the stars and planets and galaxies? Those only make up 5% of the matter and energy of the universe.
I don’t know about you, but I think it requires a lot of faith to believe in something that can’t be measured, can’t be seen, and really offers no evidence of its existence, apart from the fact that theoretical physicists say that it must be real. Without it, the big bang doesn’t explain the universe, so it has to exist. Don’t get me started on the level of faith required to believe in something that happened 13.8 billion years ago, with no explanation whatsoever on what provoked it to happen, or where the original matter to cause it came from. If there is a science/faith divide, then it seems that a lot of people who profess an unshakeable belief in science need a lot more blind faith than those of us who profess belief in a creator.
There is a lot of faith required of those who would believe in science. And there is more science in scripture than most of realize.
A lot of people undertake a lot of study without achieving a lot of true understanding. It is good to learn, yes, but it is better to truly understand. In closing, I’d like to read a few verses from the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 12. Reading from verse 11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. 12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
We’ll pause there for a moment. There is a lot of study taking place today, a lot of research, a lot of publishing of research results. It doesn’t come to an end, does it? I’m not saying that it is wrong to learn, certainly not, but when learning does not bring understanding, and when it leads you away from God, then great caution must be used. Saying that science eliminates the need for God is foolhardy at best, and an outright lie at worst.
We all need God, we need the mercy He offers and the salvation that He provides through His son. We need to listen to Him, not to science so called, which changes from day to day, apart from maintaining a denial of His existence. We should seek to understand the world around us. We should recognize that it points to the One who created it all.
Let’s look at the last two verses of the chapter now. This is Solomon writing, his close to the book of Ecclesiastes. I will close with this.
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether