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Does Science Disprove the Bible?

July 27, 2013

It is often assumed today that religion and science are mutually exclusive. After all, science has disproved the very basic storyline of the Bible, creation from nothing, right? Well, not quite. I want to suggest two thoughts to help us understand that science and religion should not be pitted against one another, but should work together.

Science Produces Theories

First, is it within the power of science to prove anything? Science is the practice of taking data and forming theories to fit with that data. Theories. Science does not produce fact, it takes data and produces likely scenarios to explain that data. So what about Darwinian evolution? It has a lot of explaining power. I have no fear of admitting that as a Christian. For all of its explaining power, it is only a theory, and can never be a fact. By definition theories cannot become facts. I hope that smart Christians who are interested in science will understand this and provide equally compelling theories that also fit with the worldview and data of the Bible.

Philosophical and Religious Assumptions in Science

Second, can we completely divorce science from religion and philosophy? If we stripped science from all vestiges of any worldview, there would be no way to start the process of science. For example, how do we know that the physical universe actually exists and is worth studying? In order for the study of science to be considered a worthwhile endeavor, we have to assume the existence of the physical universe and that the study of it can reveal truths. That is, the physical universe is not simply an illusion to be overcome, as some philosophies teach. Another example: we assume the laws of logic, but why should we assume them? They work, but why should they work, and why should the human mind be able to comprehend the deep complexities of the universe? So, we have to make assumptions about the universe in order to justify science and to justify scientific methodology. However, these assumptions do not come from science itself. Without some sort of philosophy and worldview, when we study the natural world we would only be left with a set of data, but no way to interpret it. Scientists have assumptions just like everyone else whether they admit it or not. We cannot be 100% unbiased. The question is, how do we make sense of the assumptions we make in order to do science? I submit that we can only validate our assumptions with the biblical worldview.

Science Needs Philosophy and Religion

So, are science and religion mutually exclusive? I do not think so. I think science relies upon religion in order to justify its assumptions. Furthermore, I think people overstate their case to say that science is the only source of truth. Is there no truth to be found in the philosophy department at the local university? What about the history or arts departments? Furthermore, the idea that science is the ultimate source of truth is a philosophical claim. Science does not rule out philosophy and religion as sources of truth; it cannot. It needs philosophy and religion in order to function properly.

 

A thoughtful read on the subject: http://www.iep.utm.edu/s-rel/#SH3a

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16 Creation Ex Nihilo

June 21, 2012

Creation Ex Nihilo

In The Sound of Music, Captain Von Trapp, explaining how something he did earlier in his life brought about his relationship with Maria, sings that “nothing comes from nothing.” In other words, it is not possible from something to emerge from nothing, and he goes on to sing “so somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.” But the Bible teaches that in fact everything came from nothing. This is what creation Ex Nihilo (Latin for “out of nothing”).

The first words of Genesis, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” suggests that God alone was present at the beginning of time and being as we physically know it, and that he created the physical universe, which was not previously there. Hebrews 11:3 likewise says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” So, out of nothing, God spoke everything into existence.

Ex Nihilo and Faith

It is worth noting in Hebrews 11:3, it says that it is by faith that we understand this manner of creation. Ancient Greek and modern philosophy affirms the pre-existence of matter, that is, matter has always been around. Naturally speaking, it is not possible for anything to emerge from nothingness. As Christians, we have faith that the way the Bible describes creation is how it happened, and we seek to understand the data of science in light of revelation. This gives us a different understanding of the world around us than non-Christians have, but this is precisely what Hebrews 11:3 tells us will happen. So, we should not be surprised with someone, such as Charles Darwin, proposes a theory of the world that looks strikingly different from the testimony of Scripture. (In the introduction to the Origin of Species,Darwin identifies himself as a naturalist, then proceeds to explain the origin of species in purely naturalistic terms. It was his goal to give an explanation that precluded the supernatural, so it should not be surprising that he ended where he began, with a system that does not include the supernatural. His theory does not prove, and cannot definitively prove as it is only a theory, that there is no God, but only that a rational argument can be made to how species propagate in purely naturalistic fashion).

Creation and the Trinity

John 1:2-3 makes it clear that the Son was involved in creation with the Father when it says, “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Again in Colossians 1:16, “For by [the Son] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” The Spirit was also involved. Genesis 1:2 describes the Spirit as “hovering over the waters.” (Dr. Robert Reymond in his Systematic Theology explains that the hovering is like the eagle in Deuteronomy 32:11 hovering over her young. The Spirit is “hovering over the uninhabited earth, ready to carry out the divine fiat” – page 386). Praise to the triune God of creation!

Where is God during the Storm?

March 5, 2012

Recently a very bad storm front passed through my area and that spun out several tornadoes that flattened houses and entire cities. My heart and prayers goes out to these people. I pray that God would speed their recovery efforts, and that he would comfort those who have lost loved ones.

At times like these it is common for people to ask what God was doing during the storm. Why did God allow the tornadoes to strike those on one side of the street but not the other, like here: http://www.wdrb.com/story/17068885/wdrb-reporter-provides-first-hand-account-of-riding-out-tornado? Why was my home untouched but others demolished? Was there anything particularly good about me or my prayers, or anything particularly lacking in the prayers of those that were hit? To find out what God has to say about this let’s look at Job and the Apostle Paul’s hardships.

Righteous Job

The very first verse of the book of Job describes Job as a man who “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” A few verses later in Job, however, we see that God allowed Satan to use Sabeans to kill and plunder Job’s livestock and servants (1:13-15). After that, the “fire of God” came down and killed Job’s sheep and servants (1:16). If that were not enough, three Chaldean raiding parties plundered Job’s camels (1:17). To top things off, a strong wind came in and crushed the house Job’s children were feasting in (1:18-19). Eventually, his health was taken from him, and his wife and friends turned on him (chapter 2).

Why did this happen to Job? The first verse makes it clear that it was not because of his own sin. He seemed to have close fellowship with God. I think we can assume that he prayed to God and loved God. In chapter 6:8-10 we even get to see Job’s prayer that God would end his troubles by letting him die. But God did not answer this prayer, and continued to let him suffer. Although Job complains later and would be silenced by God directly, Job’s first response is in chapter 1:21. He says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” Righteous Job says it is God’s prerogative to give and take away. All we have comes from the Lord, and it is the Lord who is to be praised in every situation, good or bad.

We should note that God had complete control of Job’s situation. Satan attacked Job, but God was holding his leash. God controlled the situation and got what he planned to get out of if.

Paul the Apostle

Skipping ahead to the New Testament, let’s look at the Apostle Paul. He is one of the greatest figures in the Bible. He is known as a great pillar of the faith, and penned many verses of the Bible. Surely if there was any man that God would delight in and listen to, it would be him.

In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul details the suffering he has had while following God. Starting in verse 23 he says he has “been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely [than my adversaries], and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” Although he was a great leader of the faith, God allowed him to suffer greatly.

Continuing in 2 Corinthians 12, we also see that Paul repeatedly denied a request to be healed of a “thorn in the flesh.” Starting in verse 8, Paul says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul’s requests were denied although he was a good man. He acknowledges that God has complete control of the situation, but also sees that God does not have to grant his request.

God has his reasons

We know from the Bible that God does delight to answer our prayers, but it should be apparent that God is not required to answer all of our prayers. He is not a genie that takes orders from us. Sometimes people pray and do not get what they pray for, like Paul. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. We may ask why the storm hit our neighbors and not us, but ultimately we are not privy to God’s reasons. He does tell us, though, that when we suffer, we should “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). And we know that, “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). God not only allows us to get into bad situations, but plans for these things to happen to us so that we might be sanctified (made more righteous in our actions and thoughts). God has complete control of everything that happens, as Ephesians 1:11 says (“him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,”). This does not make God evil, but it does mean that God allows bad things to happen so that we might become more like him. Beyond this, we don’t get to know why God has planned what he has for each of us. As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

So, what do we who survived this storm do? First of all, like Job and Paul, we praise God. He is good, glorious, and loving. Praise him that he even uses hard times to produce the ultimate good of our righteousness and his glory. We should also rely on him to help us recover. We should realize that we are all sinners (Romans3:23– “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”). None of us can say that we have never wronged anyone and that we have only ever glorified and served God with our entire heart. Because of this, we have all angered God and deserve his wrath, far more than has been received in any storm. We can thank him that it was not worse, as terrible as it is, and thank him that he gives us salvation through Jesus, who takes the punishment and guilt of those who simply trust in him as their source of salvation from God’s righteous wrath.

For those who survived, let us grieve with those who are grieving. We have reason to praise God and glorify him, but those who have suffered great loss also have the right to grieve as their pain is very real. It is often said that Job’s friends were working perfectly up until they opened their mouths to counsel Job. Sometimes people just need a shoulder to cry on. I encourage you all to assist those who are grieving, and in time help them glorify God through their struggles.

For more on this subject, you can also look at my post “Why is there suffering when God is good?”

Sunday School Lesson on Romans 9-11

October 25, 2011

We have been going through the book of Romans in our Sunday school class for a little while now, and this past Sunday I was assigned the task of teaching on Romans chapters 9-11 (we are using a study book that lumped those chapters together). While this is an unfortunate pace for getting through these deep chapters, I thought I would share what I came up with. These are my notes. They may or may not be helpful to you. I typically teach for about 45 minutes during class, and I probably cover 90-95% of my study materials with some time for questions and comments.

 

Main Point of these chapters: God’s faithfulness to his promises, and God’s righteousness

A couple of main questions:

– If God is saving Gentiles and transfering his promises to them, then is God not faithful to the Jews?

– If Gode is not faithful to the Jews, how can we trust him to be faithful to the church and to the promises of Romans 8?

– The previous chapters have really emphasized that all people are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Both the Jews and the Gentiles are condemned before God. The Law was no help to the Jews. However, all may find salvation by God’s grace through Christ.

 

Chapter 9 (focusing on verse 6-13, 27-29, 30-33)

– Paul is troubled that many Jews are not following Jesus

– v 6 – Although the Jews are not responding to the gospel, it is not as though God’s promises to the Jews has failed.

– Romans 9 argues that salvaiton was never promised to all of the Jews. In verses 6-13 we see that there always was a winnowing process. It was always the case that some were saved and others were not.

– God’s promises are not thwarted because God controls everthing. He elects some people to salvation, and thereby ensures that his plan of salvation will succeed.

– v 30-33 – God elects some people to salvation and leaves others in their sin, but at the same time, the Jews were guilty for failing to see that the Old Testament pointed towards Christ, and for not seeing that the Gentiles would be included in the plan of salvation.

– So, Romans 9 shows God’s faithfulness to his promise of salvation by clarifying that he never promised to save all Jews, and by assuring us that he has elected, and therefore will certainly save those he chose to save. Furthermore, God is righteous because he does not save by works. If he saved by works, he would not be righteous in saving anyone because all people have fallen short of his standards and should be punished. But, since he saves by grace, he is righteous in saving people. 

 

Romans 10 (focusing on verses 5-13, and 18-21)

– Israel missed the OT clues that we are not saved by works, but by faith

– v 5-13 – salvation was based on faith, even during Moses’ time. Not saved by amazing works (such as ascending to Heaven or descending into the abyss) – quoting Deuteronomy 30:12-14. It is by faith we are saved (verse 11 quotes Isaiah 28:16)

– We can only be saved by hearing the good news first. Knowledge of the gospel precedes faith in it.

– Verses 18-21 – God has sent witnesses to Israel. They heard, but did not follow. So God gave the gospel to the Gentiles so that the Hews would be jealous and turn to the gospel

– So, God is faithful to his promises with Israel even as the gospel is going to the Gentiles because ultimately God is using this to bring the Jews to faith in Jesus. And, once again, God is righteous because salvation is based on grace, which God has made plain from the beginning (that is, he has not changed the plan of salvation up midstream, leaving the Jews hanging).

 

Chapter 11 (focusing on verses 1-6, and 25-36)

– v 1-6 – God has chosen a remnant of Israel to be saved

– God is faithful because he never promised that all Israel would be saved, but only some.

– But this is not completely satisfactory (it seems), as many from Israel reject God. God furthermore promises a mass return to God among the Jews (11:26 – “all Israel will be saved” – a future, end-time salvaiton of the Jews in the end times).

– God seems to have turned the tables on the Jews by choosing the despised Gentiles for salvation. This shows that salvation is a gift of God alone. God did not choose the Gentiles because there was anything desireable in them.

– Now that the Gentiles are grafted into God’s chosen people, they are tempted to boast in their premier standing over the Jews. But Israel’s fortune will be reversed when “all Israel” is saved in the future. God promised end-time salvation to Israel, and he will do it, not becuase of their ethnicity, but because of his grace and mercy as they turn towards Christ.

– v 11:36 – the result is that all things are from, through, and to God. All things exist to bring God glory.

 

Final recap: God is just because salvation is based on his mercy, not our works, which are unable to save. God is faithful to the Jews becasue he never promised all would be saved, and he insures that he will save some by electing them. He will also save “all Israel” in the future. So, we can trust in God’s faithfulness and righteousness because he has proved himself to be faithful and righteous in the past. We can trust him to save us through Christ, and to glorify us after our life is over as he promised.

Note: Most of my study material came from Dr. Tom Schreiner’s commentary on Romans in the Baker ECNT commmentary series. He has a very helpful summary section on Romans 9-11.

Why is there suffering when God is good?

August 24, 2011

Many people ask the question, how can there be so much suffering in the world if there is supposed to be an all good, all powerful God in control of everything? How can there be devastating earthquakes and hurricanes? How can there be birth defects? How can there be so much bad when there is someone so good in control? This question has unfortunately led many people away from faith in God. Is there any good response to this question? I think there is (and I will try to give it to you).

Sin

Romans 8:18-23 gives us part of the answer. It says that because of sin “creation was subject to futility,” is in “bondage to decay,” and “has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” If you remember, in the first chapters of Genesis, God created the entire universe and it was good. There was no corruption or decay. It was in a perfect state. But after sin entered the world things changed. God cursed the ground because of man’s sin and said that man would have to struggle as he worked, and weeds were introduced (a direct curse against Adam as he the gardener of the Garden of Eden). It is because of sin that the world is messed up. There are tornados, sicknesses, natural disasters, etc. because Adam, the first man, introduced sin into the world. Creation, including our own bodies, is subject to deformity and decay now because of sin. If you want to hear more about this, please listen to my pastor’s (Dr. Tom Schreiner) sermon on this topic here: http://cliftonbaptist.org/sermons-and-audio/?sermon_id=405

But God Created

I think the question still remains to a degree because we can still say that God created a world that he knew would fall into sin and decay. And, while he is not directly responsible for evil, he still created a world in which evil would exist and controls the boundaries of it. So, the question remains, how can a good God create a world that he knew would be inhabited with bad and evil things? I think that the ultimate answer is that God created the world and everything in it for his own glory (Rom 11:36). God created a world that would fall because he wanted to show us the terrible consequences of our sin so that we will see the exceeding greatness of his grace in Christ. God brought about a world that would be corrupted through sin to demonstrate the devastating nature of sin, and to show us how he hates and punishes sin, so that we would turn to him for salvation and forgiveness through Christ. God uses evil to accomplish the ultimate good – knowing, glorifying, and having fellowship with God. We see this same thing happen with Joseph in Genesis 37-50. God knew the evil that Joseph’s brothers intended for him and allowed it to happen. He knew they were going to attempt to kill him, but would send him in slavery to Egypt instead. But Joseph says in Genesis 50:15, “as for you [the brothers], you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Surely Joseph being left for dead, then sold into a foreign land would qualify as an evil. But God planned on that evil in order to bring about the good of making Joseph a great man in Egypt so that his brothers and parents would be provided for when the famine came. God created and planned those events in such a way that even the evil things would bring about good. That is what God is doing with all “bad” and “evil” things, he is using them for the greatest good – our salvation through Christ with the result that we have peace with him, and joy as we glorify him.

Sin is the problem

Why do people have a problem with this answer? I asked Dr. Schreiner this after his sermon on Sunday. His reply was that we do not feel the gravity of our sin. We are appaled that God would allow bad things to happen in this world as a consequence of our sins because we do not really believe that our sins are that bad. We are not appaled by our sins as God is. We do not see the evil of our own hearts, and we do not see that when we sin we are rebelling against God and offending him personally. We should worship him and love him as our creator and our Father, but we reject his love and offer of peace through Christ, and choose to pursue our own fallen passions, even though our passions were created by him to be fully satisfied through him and obedience to him. We reject the idea that God could allow bad things to happen in this world because we reject the idea that our sin is “that bad,” and thereby also reject the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Bible as the Sole Authority

August 2, 2011

I am currently reading J.I. Packer’s book, ” “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God,” and he has some very good points about the authority of the Bible in his third chapter. (By the way, “fundamentalism” here follows the original meaning of the word, which is, those who hold to the fundamentals of the Christian faith. The five fundamentals described in the early twentieth century when the term was first coined were: “the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, the deity of Christ, His virgin birth and miracles, His penal death for our sins, and His physical resurrection and personal return” (“Fundamentalism”… pg 28)).

Three Views of Scriptural Authority

First, Packer notes that there are only three options when it comes to an ultimate authority in a Christian’s life. It can be the Scriptures, the authority of the church, or one’s own extra-biblical principles that are used to evaluate the Bible and the world (subjectivism). In the first option, the Christian reviews all of life through the lense of the Scriptures. He gains insight into the world as he gains insight into the truth of God’s word. The second position says that the church tells the people what the Bible says and how they should understand the world, thus making the authority of the church the authority over the Bible. The third position only accepts as much from the Bible and the church as is acceptable to the individual’s own standards, making the individual the authority over the Bible and the church.

Jesus’ View

So, what did the leader of the Christian faith think about this? After all, no matter how you answer the above question, we all should follow our leader, right?

Packer points out that several times in the New Testament, Jesus affirms the authority of God’s word, the Old Testament by making such statements as, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17), and saying that the Scriptures cannot be “set aside” in John 10:35. He viewed the Old Testament to be infallible truth, and understood himself to be a fulfillment of the Old Testament. And, being God, he viewed his own word as infallible and authoritative also ( “Heaven and Earthshall pass away: but my words shall not pass away” – Mark 13:31). Even Jesus viewed the Divine word (the Old Testament at that time) as authoritative, as well as the divine word he is speaking. He did not give people the right to ignore parts of it, in fact he criticized the religious authorities of his day for adding on to it and ignoring parts of it (Luke 11:37-42 and Matthew 15:4-6 respectively).

A Decision

So we are left with a decision. Either Jesus was right about the authority of God’s word and its infallibility, or he was wrong. If he was right, we should study God’s word, the Bible, and seek to be transformed by it. If he was wrong, then he is also wrong about his own self and his mission, as he views his life as a fulfillment of the Old Testament. And, if he is wrong about something so central to his beliefs and who he is, why should we think he is right about anything else he said? In short, why would we place him as the leader of our religion if he is wrong on almost every account? As J.I. Packer notes, “it is sometimes said that to treat the Bible as the infallible word of God is idolatry. If Christ was an idolater, and if following His teaching is idolatry, the accusation may stand; not however, otherwise. But to worship a Christ who did not receive Scripture as God’s unerring word, nor require His followers to do so, would seem to be idolatry in the strictest sense.” (“Fundamentalism”… pg 62). It is all or nothing. Either Christ is right, and we should worship him and revere his word, or he was wrong and to worship him is idolatry. Follow Christ, my friends.

16 In the Beginning God Created…

July 30, 2011

God was First

The very first words of the Bible are simple enough. “In the beginning, God created…” In these brief words we are told that there is a God who is mighty enough to create all things. And, as he created all things, he himself is not a created thing, and he created everything out of nothing (creation ex nihilo). God is the great creator and authority over all things. This is a foundational truth for the Christian faith.

Created by Christ

The New Testament parallel to Genesis 1:1 is found in John 1:1-3, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Verse 17 reveals that this true word is Jesus, the Christ. Although his physical body was only about thirty years old at the time, he was in existence before the foundation of the world, as he was God. So, when Jesus was born, it was God, the creator himself, who took on human flesh. And, it was our very creator who was physically killed on the cross as our sacrifice with the result that we might be forgiven for our wrongdoings towards God and have peace with him.

Created with a Purpose

Why did God create the universe? Was it because he needed us? Psalm 50 answers that question in verse 12 by saying, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.” God does not live off of us. Although this verse says that God can feed himself, as the context is talking about God not relying on sacrifices for food, God is spirit, and does not need food. And, apparently he was doing just fine without humans or any creature before he created the world. So, God does not need us. He can exist (and did exist before creation) and be just as glorious without creation. But he decided to create us so that we might have the joy of knowing him (Psalm 16:11) and glorifying him (1 Corinthians 10:31). All things were created for the purpose of bringing glory to God. Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” All things come from him, the creator, and are sustained by him, and were made for his purpose, which is to show his glory. Glory be to God!