Genesis and the Limits of Science

The Limitations of Scientific Inquiry in Discovering the Age of the Earth

Session 1

By Ron Jones, D.D. ©Titus Institute

Scripture quotations are from the ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), ©2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."


Introduction:

We are beginning a 4 week series entitled Genesis and the Limits of Science.

In Genesis 1 and 2, God tells us through his prophet Moses exactly how he created the universe and all of its parts and living creatures. Natural science has developed theories opposed to that revelation. And natural scientists as a whole reject any idea of a creator of the universe. Their influence has had a powerful affect on people, both Christians and non-Christians.

In the past, I taught a 4 week series on Genesis 1 and 2 where we look at the text of God's revelation in those two chapters. In interpreting the Scriptures as Christians we should always be careful that we are not overly influenced by science or any other human process of knowledge, but let the Scripture text speak for itself. However, science has become such a powerful voice in our culture and has had such an impact on the interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, that somewhere along the way we need to look at science and evaluate its ability to make definitive claims about the creation of the universe and the age of the earth.

In 2013, the book, Reading Genesis 1-2, An Evangelical Conversation was published. It was a book where Old Testament professors from a variety of Christian Colleges and Seminaries gave their very different views on how to interpret Genesis and the age of the earth. Richard Averbeck, wrote the very first article, starting with the underlying issue in the interpretation of Genesis 1. He stated, "This collection of essays and responses does not focus on 'scientific' issues. We are not scientists. But the discoveries in physical science most certainly cast a long shadow over the conversation." (Averbeck, Richard E., "A Literary Day, Inter-Textual, and Contextual, Reading of Genesis 1-2", Charles, J. Daryl, Editor, Reading Genesis 1-2, An Evangelical Conversation, Hendrickson Publishers, 2013, 7)

Dr. Averbeck's statement is so true.

In the history of the world after the time of Christ and the formation of the church, the majority opinion by people, Jews, Christians, and others up until the 19th century was that there was a God and that he created the universe and that he did it in six days.

James Repcheck in his biography of James Hutton, wrote this, "In the late eighteenth century, as in all centuries since the formation of the Christian church...all Christian churches, their clergies, and their followers believed that the earth was not even 6000 years old. This belief was a tenet based on rigorous analysis of the Bible and other holy scriptures. It was not just the devout who embraced this belief; most men of science agreed that the earth was young. In fact, the most famous of them all, Isaac Newton, had completed a formal calculation of the age of the earth before he died in 1727, and his influential chronology confirmed that the biblical scholars were right...[In 1785] Dr. James Hutton, an amateur naturalist who had spent decades studying minerals and their positions in the earth, had addressed an audience of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which included some of Europe's most accomplished men of science. He boldly announced that his theory of the earth indicated that it was immeasurably old. Though he certainly commanded the attention of his audience that day, he did not persuade many. Perhaps no one." (Jack Repcheck, The Man Who Found Time, James Hutton and the Discovery of the Earth's Antiquity, Basic Books, New York, 2003, p.13-14)

But that day was the beginning of the end for the view of science that incorporated the supernatural into its study. One underlying proposition of James Hutton and those that followed him was that God is not needed in science and its investigations. So eventually God was eliminated from the equation by redefining science as the study of the natural only. Another underlying proposition was that the earth was old, billion so years old. Today the dominant view of secular scientists is that the universe is 13.8 billion years old and the earth is 4.54 billion years old.

In this series, I want to examine the ability of science to make definitive claims about the creation of the universe without the supernatural and about the age of the earth without the supernatural. The Question I want to ask and answer in the next four weeks of this series is "Can scientists prove that God did not create the universe and can it prove the earth is 4.54 billion years old and the universe is 13.8 billion years old?"

There are Four Sessions:

Session 1 - The Limitations of Scientific Inquiry in Discovering the Age of the Earth

Session 2 - The Limitations of Stratigraphy in Discovering the Age of the Earth

Session 3 - The Limitations of Radiometric Dating in Discovering the Age of the Earth

Session 4 - The Limitations of Discovering the Origins of the Universe and Organic Life

MY GOAL IN THIS SERIES: My goal is to demonstrate that science cannot prove that God did not create the universe and that science cannot prove that the earth and universe are billions of years old because of its limits.

The supernatural cannot be disproven by scientific inquiry and the age of the earth, either young or old cannot be proven by scientific inquiry.

My point is this: Whether you are old earth or young earth, do not base your view of Genesis 1 and its proper interpretation on the theories of natural science, but on careful interpretation of the Scriptures.

Session 1- The Limitations of Scientific Inquiry in Discovering the Age of the earth

We want to look at two points. Let's start with the first one.

1. Science is limited by its foundation upon inferences (theories) which cannot be proved.

1.1 Science is founded upon inferences and observations.

In science, there is a difference between inference and observation. Observations are descriptions of what we see, hear, taste, smell, or touch with our senses. Inferences are possible explanations for the phenomena that is observed.

Science is based on observations and inferences because science seeks to explain what is happening in the natural world not just describe it.

This is taught by scientists themselves and is a fundamental tenet of science.

Here is a quote from the article "What Science Is" from the website of Indiana University (Bloomington) http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/lessons/unt.s.is.html

"In its most fundamental sense, modern science is a process by which we try to understand how the natural world works and how it came to be that way. It is NOT a process for merely collecting facts about, or just describing, the natural world, although such observations do provide the raw material for scientific understanding. Scientific knowledge is the inferences that scientists draw from the data - the models for how things work." ("What Science Is" from the website of Indiana University (Bloomington) http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/lessons/unt.s.is.html)

Observed phenomena = descriptions of the phenomena he observes. Inferences = possible explanations for the phenomena he observes. Hypotheses = limited formal explanation based upon inferences that can be supported or refuted through experimentation or observation. Theories = in-depth formal explanations based upon inferences that has been supported by experimentation or observation. Laws = descriptions of observed natural phenomenon based on inferences where no exceptions have been observed that is accepted as an assumption

Science is a combination of observed phenomena, i.e. facts and theories (based on inferences). Inference and theories can be wrong. Scientists recognize this.

In an article entitled, What Is Science? On the website of Indiana University, it says, "One constant theme is that there is no certainty in science, only degrees of probability (likelihood), and potential for change. Scientific understanding can always be challenged, and even changed, with new ways of observing, and with different interpretations...It's not a process that produces certainties, or absolute facts. Science is a process that can only produce 'possible' to 'highly probable' explanations for natural phenomena. These are never absolute certainties, but many are fully acceptable for all practical purposes; they work. With new information, tools, or approaches, earlier findings (theories, or even facts) can be replaced by more accurate findings".

("What Science Is" from the website of Indiana University (Bloomington) http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/lessons/unt.s.is.html)

Hypotheses and theories can never be proved. Why? Because they are inferences from observations. There could be another explanation for the observed phenomena. Science is limited because it is based on theories and observations. The observations may be facts, but the theories are not. As we have seen, scientists readily admit this.

Why is this important to understand? The Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution are theories. Theories are formal inferences. They may be supported by observation (facts), but they are not facts and they cannot be proved. Another inference/theory that is equally supported by observation (facts) is equally valid.

More on this later.

1.2 Drawing inferences from observation to form generalizations (hypotheses/theories) is inductive reasoning which has a serious logical fallacy.

Inductive Reasoning and the Problem of Induction.

The scientific method uses inductive reasoning.

Wassertheil-Smoller Quote: "Inductive reasoning is the opposite of deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning makes broad generalizations from specific observations. Basically, there is data, then conclusions are drawn from the data. This is called inductive logic, according to Utah State University."

"In inductive inference, we go from the specific to the general. We make many observations, discern a pattern, make a generalization, and infer an explanation or a theory." (Dr. Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, a researcher and professor emerita at Albert Einstein College of Medicine...Quoted in "Deductive Reasoning vs. Inductive Reasoning" By Alina Bradford, Live Science Contributor | July 24, 2017 10:11pm ET https://www.livescience.com/21569-deduction-vs-induction.html)

Scientific Inductive Reasoning

1. Observe 2. Discern a pattern 3. Make a generalization/inference (tentative hypothesis) 4. Develop a theory

This is how a theory is developed.

Hypotheses are limited formal explanations based upon inferences that can be supported or refuted through experimentation or observation. Theories are in-depth explanations based upon inferences that have been supported by experimentation or observation.

If a theory has been supported by experimentation or observation, does that mean it is true or proved? No, because of the "Problem of Induction."

Karl Popper, who is generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century, who was not a Christian, warned scientists about this problem in his book, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, published in 1935. He wrote, "It is usual to call an inference 'inductive' if it passes from singular statements..., such as accounts of the results of observations or experiments, to universal statements, such as hypotheses or theories. Now it is far from obvious, from a logical point of view, that we are justified in inferring universal statements from singular ones, no matter how numerous; for any conclusion drawn in this way may always turn out to be false: no matter how many instances of white swans we may have observed, this does not justify the conclusion that all swans are white."

Science can never be sure that it has the correct hypothesis or theory because science can never know if they have observed all instances of something. This is what Karl Popper said.

Do scientists today recognize these problems with their limitations for science? Yes.

CARLO ROVELLI is a theoretical physicist, working on quantum gravity and spacetime physics. He is professor of physics at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille, France. "Science is not about certainty. Science is about finding the most reliable way of thinking, at the present level of knowledge. Science is extremely reliable; it's not certain. In fact, not only it's not certain, but it's the lack of certainty that grounds it. Scientific ideas are credible not because they are sure, but because they are the ones that have survived all the possible past critiques, and they are the most credible because they were put on the table for everybody's criticism. The very expression 'scientifically proven' is a contradiction in terms. There's nothing that is scientifically proven. The core of science is the deep awareness that we have wrong ideas, we have prejudices. We have ingrained prejudices. In our conceptual structure for grasping reality, there might be something not appropriate, something we may have to revise to understand better. So at any moment we have a vision of reality that is effective, it's good, it's the best we have found so far. It's the most credible we have found so far; it's mostly correct. But, at the same time, it's not taken as certain, and any element of it is a priori open for revision." Rovelli, Carlo, Science Is Not About Certainty Article in New Republic, July 11, 2014, https://newrepublic.com/article/118655/theoretical-phyisicist-explains-why-science-not-about-certainty)

This means that the Theory of the Big Bang cannot in fact be proved. There may be another equally valid explanation.

However, some scientists believe that there is such certainty in their inferences concerning the age of the earth they challenge the faith of Christians who believe in a young earth.

Bill Nye stated, "The earth is not 6000 or 10,000 years old. It's not. And if that conflicts with your beliefs, I strongly feel you should question your beliefs." (Zaimov, Stoyan, "Bill Nye Warns Americans Believing in Creationism Are Stifling Innovation", 2012, https://www.christianpost.com/news/bill-nye-warns-americans-believing-in-creationism-are-stifling-innovation-82104/)

The Age of the Earth is based upon several inferences as we will see in the next two weeks. Bill Nye is so certain that the theory of evolution and the Big Bang are true that he tells Christians who are Creationists to abandon their views.

This brings us to our second major point.

2. Science is limited because of its refusal to consider any supernatural explanation for the natural phenomena that is observed.

Science does not include supernatural causes for any natural phenomena.

According to an article on the website of the Indiana University (Bloomington), entitled "What Science Is," science cannot include the supernatural. "Scientific explanations cannot include supernatural forces...Only natural explanations can be used. Scientific explanations must be potentially disprovable, but supernatural explanations can never be disproved (supernatural causes, by definition, do not predictably follow the laws of nature). Whatever results occur in any test can be attributed to those mystical powers, effectively ending any further efforts to seek a natural explanation." (http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/lessons/unt.s.is.html)

Scientists say that they do not include it because it cannot be disproved. That is true.

However, what if there was a supernatural cause for the existence of the universe?

What if the God of the Bible is true and if what God says in the Bible is true. Then science immediately eliminates any discovery of this actual truth. Genesis 1:1 states in very simple terms that the universe, i.e. space, time, matter, and energy was supernaturally created by God. It was a miracle by his divine infinite power. There was no single point, that exploded in a Big Bang and then expanded into a universe of billions and billions of stars.

Their claim that the supernatural cannot be included in scientific study would not be so bad if scientists left the origins of the universe discussion outside of scientific study and if scientists did not offer their own naturalistic explanations of the origin of the universe as the only possible explanation. Scientists claim the Big Bang theory explains the universe and that any supernatural explanation is nonsensical.

But what if there is actually a supernatural explanation. What happens if there is a God and that God is eternal and self-existent? What happens if that God created the universe and he had both the divine will to create the universe and the divine infinite power to create it exactly as he chooses.

Shouldn't we as human beings consider that as a possibility?

This is what the Bible reveals.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God is the eternal self-existent creator over all. In Genesis 1:1 God is mentioned without any indication of his origin. The Bible starts with God's eternal existence. God is there. There is no indication of how he came to exist. God just is. This is a display of God's self-existence. No one brought God into existence. God always was and always is. God has no beginning and no end.

In the beginning before time even existed God was!

Psalm 90:1-2

1Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

2Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

The Scriptures also reveals that this eternal self-existent God is the one who created the universe by simply commanding it to exist.

Psalm 33:6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.

If science is defined without the possibility of the existence of God or the supernatural, then scientists should not claim that their naturalistic explanation is the only one that is reasonable. Therefore, if there were a supernatural cause for the origin of the universe, science could never discover it.

Romans 1:18-23 18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools,

23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Paul tells us that discovering God as the Creator of the universe is plain and clear to all human beings through observing creation and realizing that only a being with eternal power and a divine nature could accomplish it. If this is true, then why don't scientists realize there is a creator? After all, they have images from the Hubble Telescope showing incredible stars and space phenomena, yet they do not see it. In their hearts, they knew there was a God, yet they did not honor him or give thanks to him for creating the universe, instead they turned to idols.

Naturalistic science has created their own limits in science which keeps them from discovering the Creator of the Universe who has so clearly revealed himself to them not only through the creation, but even more clearly through his Son, Jesus Christ.