Have you ever heard someone say the Bible isn’t based on science? Or maybe you’ve heard people say that Christians don’t know anything about science. These types of false accusations are continually lobbed by those seeking to discredit Christianity for one reason or another. Let’s examine some of the claims and see if there’s any merit. I certainly don’t want to be foolish, and if there is no rational reason for believing in Christianity, then we shouldn’t. However, if there are rational reasons for believing, then everyone should seriously consider it.
What Is Science?
Let’s start with the claim about science. Usually when people say this there referring to a “laboratory science.” They would have us believe that all science happens in clean rooms, with lab coats, beakers, Bunsen burners, and the like. People speak as though unless you’ve got a lab coat on you aren’t doing “real science.”
I’ll be the first to admit that some scientists do in fact wear coats, gloves, and goggles. Experimental science is a great thing and is one way we learn information about the universe. As we’ll see, however, it’s limited in the conclusions we can reach using it.
I love getting word meanings from dictionaries; that’s kind of what they do. Here’s the entry from one of my favorite dictionaries, The Concise Oxford English Dictionary. It’s from England. We’re studying English. I hope you can see why I like it so much.
Dictionaries Are Fun!
- The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.
- A systematically organized body of knowledge on any subject.
- Archaic, knowledge.”
Science is People Based
All right, what does this mean? First, science is an “intellectual and practical activity.” Not all thinking is science, but human thought is certainly involved. Conclusions and hypotheses do not magically fall out of the sky. We use our brains to interpret and understand the information we collect. By necessity, this means that humanity, with all its personality, greatness, and failures is bound up in science. If you remove people from the definition, then you no longer have “intellectual and practical activity.”
Science is Big
Second, science is an “encompassing” activity; it is expansive. There is no narrow field or precise method of study that can claim individual ownership to the meaning of the word. Anyone who claims that science has a narrow definition is violating this principle; they are wrong. It’s as simple as that.
Science is a Process
Third, science is a “systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world.” A systematic study is merely looking at things with a method. It doesn’t describe a particular process, just the existence of one. Do you have a methodical way you collect, sort, and synthesize data? If so, then you meet this part of the definition of science.
Are you collecting data about rocks? Quarks? Fruit flies? Pompeii? The Russo-Japanese War? If you answered yes to any of these, then it’s possible you’re doing science. Scientists spend a great deal of time studying the genetic makeup and behavior of Drosophila. If exploring the behavior of a fruit fly is “science,” then undoubtedly studying the actions of people is, too. To deny that is just silly.
Science is Observation
Fourth, this “encompassing system” of science gathers information through “observation and experiment.” Gaining information without observation is impossible. If you conduct an experiment but don’t observe it, then you won’t learn anything. So, the key here is observation. Experiments may have a variety of forms, so there’s no real way to narrow that down. Historians, geologists, seismologists, psychologists, and microbiologists all conduct experiments. The key here is observation.
We observe things as best as we are able depending on the situation. Sometimes we’re trying to gather evidence from rocks, sometimes from journals, sometimes from very distant stars that we can hardly see. The process of observation is whatever method we use to gather evidence upon which to ply our intellect.
Is History a Science?
Now that we’ve got our definition, we can begin asking some specific questions. I’ve heard many people claim that history isn’t science. Fair enough; let’s put it to the test and see if they are right.
Do historians make observations? That is, do they gather data? Yes, of course, they do. History doesn’t consist of people sitting in a room conjuring up stories to foist upon the public. Historians painstakingly gather data from primary sources (journals, newspapers, books, and other “eyewitness” accounts). Sometimes, historians even borrow from different fields of study to gather information. These are all things that fit our definition of science precisely.
Do historians systematically study the behavior and structure of the natural and physical world? That’s a vital part of our definition of science. The answer is: yes, they do. Human beings are part of the natural and physical world. Why would we limit our study of the natural world to rocks? Are rocks more natural than people? That’s ridiculous! People are an inherent and important part of the natural and physical world, so studying them is science.
Can History Predict the Future?
How does history help us study or predict future behaviors? Have you ever heard someone say “history repeats itself”? Well, that’s wrong. History never repeats itself. There is only one Russo-Japanese war that took place between 1904-1905. It will never happen again. Sure, Russia and Japan might fight each other in the future, but all of the conditions and people will be different. History, very much like any other field of science, helps us to predict what will happen in the future. When we see the same things happening, instead of saying “history repeats itself” we ought to say something like “history predicted that events like this would occur.”
That’s not the same thing, you say? It absolutely is! The purpose of experimental science is to gather data for making predictions. This is the “practical” part of our definition. If you aren’t using information to predict something, then you aren’t doing science. History does all of that.
So, at this point, you’re probably thinking “history doesn’t always accurately tell us what will happen.” You’re right, but it’s science not prophecy. Other areas of science don’t have a 100% track record, either. Is meteorology a science? Sure, of course, it is. When’s the last time you met a weatherman who was always right? Why would we hold history to perfection but not meteorology? Climate scientists are wrong far more often than they are right. That could be a good thing since they usually predict our imminent destruction. However, no one can rationally deny that studying the climate isn’t science.
If studying climate change is science, then studying history is science, too.
Is the Bible Based on Science?
So, back to the original question: is the Bible based on science? We cannot confuse ourselves by turning the Bible into a science textbook. It simply isn’t. The purpose of the Bible is not to teach you about biology, cosmology, astronomy, or any other field of specific study. That goes above and beyond the purpose of the writers. Anyone who claims the Bible is a book about science is wrong.
Does the Bible talk about science-y things? Yes, it does. For example, it talks about the hydrological cycle. However, that doesn’t mean the Bible is a textbook on hydrology. Hydrology isn’t what the Bible is about.
The Bible is a book full of history. However, the Bible is not a historical textbook. While it talks about history, its purpose is not to teach or instruct in history. The Bible focuses on the spiritual redemption of humanity and the promise of a future glory made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus.
The Bible Isn’t a Textbook
So, while the Bible isn’t a textbook, it’s a different question to ask, “Is the Bible is based on science?” I argue that it is. That doesn’t mean the Bible contains all the scientific facts in the universe or that its purpose is to teach us about the sciences. But the Bible doesn’t need that as its purpose to be based upon science.
Art is not a science. However, science is the basis for much of art. The mixing of various colors, the use of different mediums, and even the process of some artistic applications would be impossible without scientific inquiry. The artwork itself, however, is not science, and its purpose is not to instruct about science.
For example, an artist working with wood might run an electrical current through a board to create a beautiful image of a lightning storm. Despite their painstaking efforts to portray a realistic meteorological event, the piece of artwork is not a meteorology textbook. However, it was science that made the artwork possible. The art is based on science. In the same way, even though the Bible is not a science textbook, it is still based on science.
Then Everything Is Based on Science
People generally don’t mean these things when they say the Bible isn’t based on science. They usually mean the Bible talks about things that are experimentally unverifiable. If that’s what you intend, then make that claim instead. Don’t make blanket statements like “the Bible isn’t based on science” or “Christians don’t know anything about science.”
Is everything in the Bible verifiable through laboratory experiments? No, I don’t know anyone who makes that claim. I would venture to say most things in the Bible cannot be verified in a laboratory. That isn’t because the Bible has no scientific foundation, it’s because the Bible is based on a different kind of science, namely, history.
In addition to history, we could argue the primary foundations of the Bible are philosophy and rational thought. Historians, linguists, archaeologists, anthropologists, and other fields of study have all contributed to our understanding of the Bible. While the primary focus of the Bible is spiritual, to say it has no basis in science is not true.
Some may argue if that is the case with the Bible, then nearly everything is based on science. To that, I heartily agree. I believe we are rational and intelligent people, and I would expect most of what we do to be based on science. What would the world look like if most things weren’t founded on scientific inquiry? As it is, there is already plenty of chaos; imagine what it would look like if irrational ignorance ruled the day.
The Bible Is Verifiable
Perhaps the reason people level this accusation at the Bible is they would like to say it is unverifiable. To attempt verification of historical events with laboratory experiments is a fool’s errand. It is an impossible task. One may as well try and develop laboratory experiments to prove George Washington was the first Constitutional President of the United States. It cannot be done.
Would anyone today deny the fact that Washington is the first Constitutional President? Surely not, but upon what basis can we be so sure? We invoke the powers of science separate from the systematic processes of, say, organic chemistry. Instead, we turn to the science of history to gather data and determine whether our hypothesis is correct. Is there any information which indicates Washington was the first president? Is there any information present to the contrary? What is the validity of these sources? Are they contemporary, antecedent, or subsequent? Historical research and inspection are much more involved and complicated than merely cracking a textbook and regurgitating an answer.
Since the Bible is indeed based upon science, it is verifiable or falsifiable. There is no reason for this to cause alarm in people who honestly want to know the truth. Either the Bible can be verified (at least portions of it) and should be given serious consideration, or the Bible can be refuted and rejected almost entirely.
Is The Bible Verified?
That’s a great question and is worthy of a separate article. For now, it’s enough to say the Bible is indeed based on science. That doesn’t make the Bible a science textbook or even the best source for information about scientific inquiry. However, the Bible does talk about scientific principles, is awash in various scientific fields, and is, whether we like it or not, part of our journey in determining the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world. That’s pretty much what science is.
Someone astutely pointed out the Bible claims to be a book of divine revelation. This is a great point and certainly true. The authorship of the Bible isn’t under consideration here, but the way we understand the Bible is. We use different scientific disciplines to both understand and verify the Bible, but the authorship of the Bible is a different question altogether. Without a doubt, the Bible claims God as its ultimate author, which necessarily means no human processes or sciences were involved.