What the Heavens Declared to a Young Astronomer

"How I learned that the same God who numbered the stars knew and loved me personally." - C.Today

1177 reads

There are 13 Comments

Mark_Smith's picture

In 28 years as a Christian, and 20 years as a scientist, specifically a cosmologist, I have never met in person (so that excludes SI) another Christian who is even remotely interested in what science has to offer about understanding the natural world. Period.

When the topic comes up the cranky old back row believers get all creationist and wonder why the satanic scientists aren't teaching creationism to the kiddies at the local school. That's it. Then there is the "weirdo" who wants you to explain to you his theory on how dark matter is really "God's finger" writing on the canvas of the cosmos (yes, that really happened to me, not once, but multiple times from the same guy).

The last Sunday School class I led. The first day, a certainly lady found ought I taught science at the local university. She asked if I taught Genesis. I said I believe Genesis but I do scientific investigation and teach at a public school. I do not teach religion classes there. She snorted and proceeded to resist everything I did for 2 years. Wouldn't even read one chapter of the Bible a week, but she fought often for "creationism" to be taught in the schools. 

Then during the pandemic our pastor decided to have a Creation sermon series. It wasn't too deep. Really basic. Really Really Basic.He ended it with a facebook live event where he made a presentation on "the beginning" and trying in some way to join together science and Christian belief. Despite the fact that he knows I am a cosmologist and a Christian with a M.Div., etc., he never contacted me about the program. Fine. OK. Just shows me where I am at here. The questions were all "what can we do to take back schools from godless scientists" and "promote creationism." There was no interest in what cosmologist have measured (not dreamed up, measured in the sky! Measurements don't lie people!). So, there was no interaction about science and Christianity. Just a narrow view of what they think is right. Anything different and you are rejected.

josh p's picture

Mark, speaking for myself only, I don't interact with science much because I don't understand it well enough to really contribute much. That is probably the case for many. My wife was a medical laboratory scientist so, needless to say, she, not me, will be teaching our kids science! I took a class on biblical creationism in Bible college. My take away was that it is all quite complex and that many of the creationist arguments are simplistic. I absolutely reject any form of evolutionary theory and any claim that contradicts Genesis but beyond that I don't know much and suspect few believers do. I have read several creationist (or intelligent design) books about the complexity of the cell or human body in general. Those were quite compelling but I wouldn't want to engage a scientist on them. 

 

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Mark,

I'm similar to many Christians, though perhaps with a somewhat better science background than most, at least for someone who is not a scientist.  In college, I started out a chemistry major, moved to physics, eventually switched to Math for my B.S., and got a M.S. in Computer Science.  What that means is that I have enough science knowledge to be dangerous, but not enough to credibly discuss things like astrophysics or cosmology with someone who has made that their profession.

I am interested in such things, but I recognize that my ability to discuss it cogently is very limited.  I'm committed to creationism, but would like to understand more about what is observed, and how that fits into the biblical model, including whatever limits there are on our ability to measure things accurately and understand what those measurements are telling us.

I do think it sad that your pastor didn't even want to discuss any of what his program would cover with you.  Unfortunately, that attitude is not that uncommon among Christians, though when politicians throw around the term "follow the science," without any real understanding of what that means, I can at least somewhat understand how many Christians get suspicious of true science when really what they should discount is its abuse and misuse.  Many don't want to understand the difference, though.  Even with my limited understanding of scientific fields, I quickly realize when to change the subject when discussing such things with those who are as you describe and want to treat science itself the same as "witchcraft."

Dave Barnhart

dgszweda's picture

One of the problems in this debate is that too often scientists want to use science to contradict Scripture and too many Christians who are not trained in science, pull together flimsy arguments to argue against the science.  The truth is that much of science today doesn't align with Scripture and Scripture is for the most part silent on providing details to counter the arguments.  It is not really the place of Scripture in this particular item, and for most intents and purposes Scripture explains a creation account that is supernatural in its extent and therefore not constrained by science.  Regardless, we won't really resolve these conflicts, nor are we intended to and most Christians cannot argue with PhD scientists.  Again, not really the point of Scripture in this respect.

Mark_Smith's picture

josh p wrote:

Mark, speaking for myself only, I don't interact with science much because I don't understand it well enough to really contribute much. That is probably the case for many. My wife was a medical laboratory scientist so, needless to say, she, not me, will be teaching our kids science! I took a class on biblical creationism in Bible college. My take away was that it is all quite complex and that many of the creationist arguments are simplistic. I absolutely reject any form of evolutionary theory and any claim that contradicts Genesis but beyond that I don't know much and suspect few believers do. I have read several creationist (or intelligent design) books about the complexity of the cell or human body in general. Those were quite compelling but I wouldn't want to engage a scientist on them. 

 

You have a good statement here. The difficulty is, what does "contradict Genesis" mean? That is where all the problem resides. Genesis 1 is 31 verses that fill a single page. Is that really all we are supposed to know about how the universe started? Is it even a complete description of what happened? Is it intended to be play-by-play recount of events or is it more a categorization of what happened? A broad outline?

And too many scientists are guilty of way overstating and using science to support their "religion" of humanism.

One thing is for sure, Shakespeare hit the nail on the head with this quote: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." And discussing Genesis 1 reveals the limitations we have in letting Scripture be Scripture.

josh p's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

 

josh p wrote:

 

Mark, speaking for myself only, I don't interact with science much because I don't understand it well enough to really contribute much. That is probably the case for many. My wife was a medical laboratory scientist so, needless to say, she, not me, will be teaching our kids science! I took a class on biblical creationism in Bible college. My take away was that it is all quite complex and that many of the creationist arguments are simplistic. I absolutely reject any form of evolutionary theory and any claim that contradicts Genesis but beyond that I don't know much and suspect few believers do. I have read several creationist (or intelligent design) books about the complexity of the cell or human body in general. Those were quite compelling but I wouldn't want to engage a scientist on them. 

 

 

 

You have a good statement here. The difficulty is, what does "contradict Genesis" mean? That is where all the problem resides. Genesis 1 is 31 verses that fill a single page. Is that really all we are supposed to know about how the universe started? Is it even a complete description of what happened? Is it intended to be play-by-play recount of events or is it more a categorization of what happened? A broad outline?

And too many scientists are guilty of way overstating and using science to support their "religion" of humanism.

One thing is for sure, Shakespeare hit the nail on the head with this quote: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." And discussing Genesis 1 reveals the limitations we have in letting Scripture be Scripture.

Yes I see what you mean. With respect to Genesis, I'm thinking of things like a rejection of a historical Adam. I would be happy to hear any thoughts a believing cosmologist might have about Genesis but I could only deal with what is plainly stated in the creation account. 

dgszweda's picture

josh p wrote:

Yes I see what you mean. With respect to Genesis, I'm thinking of things like a rejection of a historical Adam. I would be happy to hear any thoughts a believing cosmologist might have about Genesis but I could only deal with what is plainly stated in the creation account. 

I struggle to find any cosmological model in today's science that aligns itself with a literal reading of Genesis, in particular around a literal 7 day - 24 hour understanding of Genesis.  But to be honest the cosmological models are built around what is studied and seen in science today.  They are also evolving.  With that said, it is hard to imagine one that ever becomes aligned as the creation event itself is not scientific.

Jeff Howell's picture

That was Dan Rather's comment at the beginning of the first Gulf war. For some reason, it sticks and is often used in family settings to this day. What do we know? Well, we know that Genesis, as given, is what God wanted Israel to have as the divinely inspired and authoritative version of how to understand their distant past, as well as the distant past of all people. We know from the study of ancient civilizations (doing comparative study), that Genesis also probably serves as the divine apologetic regarding origins, in contradistinction to the other myths and legends of the nations or people groups that surrounded the Israelites at that time. Genesis also grounded the Israelites firmly in the divine narrative in written history, in addition to the spoken history that had been passed down for the 400 years while in Egypt. It explains why things were the way they were (and for us, why they are the way they are), from the very beginning. One question that arises then for me often when I interact with science and the Scripture is this: Would God have allowed Israel to arrive at wrong interpretive conclusions about the material in Gen. 1-11 because of deficient cosmology, for instance? It really seems apparent that God affirms perspicuity/clarity in His admonition of Deut. 29:29. So, when we are relating and correlating science and Scripture, is it possible for us to arrive at a different conclusion today than what Israel arrived at and be correct, if our opinion or conclusions change because of scientific information? So, I am not picking a fight, but seeking to learn a bit more about the interplay and interaction of this field of thought ~ Jeff

dgszweda's picture

Jeff Howell wrote:

So, when we are relating and correlating science and Scripture, is it possible for us to arrive at a different conclusion today than what Israel arrived at and be correct, if our opinion or conclusions change because of scientific information?  

No doubt that this is possible.  This is why I am hesitant to pick scientific fights around Genesis.  Genesis is not a science textbook.  It was never meant to be.  At the same time, we need to realize that there are things that don't jive with science.  There are some elements of Genesis that don't appear to be negotiable (i.e. God created something out of nothing, He did it in 7-24 hour days....).  Just these two things go against science today.  First, there is no concept of a god in science, and there is definitely no concept of matter, energy, laws.... being created out of nothing.  This on top of all the other issues.

I am a scientist.  I was educated as a scientist and I worked as a scientist in the secular world.  I designed and carried out experiments that were based on theories and scientific principles that were in contradiction to my perspective of Genesis.  For me personally, I have resolved this in my mind by treating both differently.  I view science structured in such a way to allow me to study and interact with it, fully realizing that the structure has flaws and limitations.  I view Scripture as truthful, but also that it has limitations in terms of what it chooses and doesn't choose to touch.  This shouldn't be that striking as we have the same situation with psychology and Scripture.  For me, it doesn't present any issues.

Mark_Smith's picture

What you did was good science. Science is about understanding nature by observing, making a hypothesis with a prediction of an experimental result, and then running the experiment to see what is found. That is the scientist's job. Period. It is not the scientist's job to conform to any worldview when arriving at explanations, developing predictions, and running experiments. The job of the scientist is to model the behavior of nature. 

Assuming God created nature, and set it in operation in an orderly way, doing science this way will eventually reveal that.

Jeff Howell's picture

There are a number of variables that you have to consider when doing science, right? You have to be aware of pre-existing bias, personal limitations of knowledge, any number of things. And, that's true with Scripture and the work of interpretation. By and large, I assume our group on Sharper Iron probably agrees that a portion of Scripture under study/scrutiny has one meaning, and possibly many applications. Regarding Genesis 1-11 in particular, would the following conclusion be logical, biblical, and timeless? However Israel as the original recipients received, understood, and applied Genesis 1-11 (the "Bereshith"), provides the basis and example of how succeeding generations of faithful should handle the text when it comes to interpretation, regardless of what is discovered through the means of general revelation such as scientific discovery? As such, this would allow the ongoing discovery of scientific processes in the natural, created world while rightly positioning it as a secondary authority to the primacy of the Scriptures themselves. ~ Jeff

Mark_Smith's picture

Jeff Howell wrote:

There are a number of variables that you have to consider when doing science, right? You have to be aware of pre-existing bias, personal limitations of knowledge, any number of things. And, that's true with Scripture and the work of interpretation. By and large, I assume our group on Sharper Iron probably agrees that a portion of Scripture under study/scrutiny has one meaning, and possibly many applications. Regarding Genesis 1-11 in particular, would the following conclusion be logical, biblical, and timeless? However Israel as the original recipients received, understood, and applied Genesis 1-11 (the "Bereshith"), provides the basis and example of how succeeding generations of faithful should handle the text when it comes to interpretation, regardless of what is discovered through the means of general revelation such as scientific discovery? As such, this would allow the ongoing discovery of scientific processes in the natural, created world while rightly positioning it as a secondary authority to the primacy of the Scriptures themselves. ~ Jeff

I am not a fan of the way you wrote this, assuming I am reading it correctly. What matters ultimately is what God communicated and meant by His revelation, not how people receive it and understand it at any given time. When it comes to Genesis 1-11, the clear intent is to communicate that God created the cosmos. It also includes a lot of categorization and parallelism (days 1-3 compared with days 4-6, for example) that is clearly a literary device perhaps more than an intended description of the exact order of how events happened. The ultimate example of this is comparing Genesis 1 with Genesis 2, where part of the creation is retold to focus on mankind, but with clear differences in details and characteristics. So, I am not sure that humans know enough by revelation alone in Genesis 1-2 (combined with a few other verses sprinkled thought out the Bible) to say almost anything about the science of cosmology other than that God created the universe by divine fiat. He did not use pre-existing matter to do any of it. He spoke and that power created. He then made mankind in his image to carry out dominion and to multiply throughout the creation.

 

Jeff Howell's picture

Sorry if I mess up this formatting. I am not really good at the whole quote thing, and need to learn it better. Mark, I think what you wrote is somewhat helpful, but I want to clarify better what I am going for here. The point that I am making is that the internal evidence, or the hermeneutic of Israel, is on display through the Pentateuch regarding how Israel received, interpreted, applied the revelation God gave. For the first time since the beginning of time, there is a written record, the Divine account, of what happened and what Israel needed to know about what happened at "bereshith." No longer would there be any reason to consider any legend, myth, or creation history that may have been heard in the past. It would be within the lines of reason to say that if Israel had been wrong in how they understood it, God would have pointed that out. They are the original audience, after all. If they don't get it right, no one will, in reality. I do not mean to suggest that it is subjective at all, based on the readers intuition. That is not accurate, so let's set that aside. I am simply seeking to apply the principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture. I can agree with the presence of a parallelism existing in Genesis 1. It is written revelation, and as such, literature. I am not comfortable assuming that the body of chapter 1 is simply a literary device of categorization and parallelisms to the extent that it cannot or does not communicate creation week specifics. That becomes more speculative in my opinion. Literary devices reflect the creative genius as well as order and arrangement by God as author. There is a beauty in the parallelism of the Scripture, for sure. This is my understanding of God's Word at the start. When the reader proceeds from Genesis 1-2 through Exodus and into Exodus 20, then further on, encountering 31:14-18, and on to Numbers 15:32-35, it is really clear that the normal, literal, face value hermeneutic is established. I am affirming the 6 day creation week, including ex nihilo, based on internal evidence of Scripture alone, as evidenced by how Israel handled the original text. The general revelation of scientific discoveries should further result in praise and adoration of such a magnificent Creator. And if a reader never was exposed to Darwin, Big bang, or any general revelation arguments from science, that one would end up being a 6 day creationist in his/her understanding of Genesis 1-2 because of a literal hermeneutic and perspecuity of Scripture (Deut. 29:29). So, by this I mean to say I am not a post-modernist interpreter by any means. ~ Jeff