The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom

Gerald L. Schroeder

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) , a devout Christian, applied laws of gravity and inertial motion To planetary motion. These properties, first conceptualized by Galileo Galilei, stated that a body continues in its present state of motion or rest unless acted upon by an outside force such as gravity or friction. It must have come to him as a lightning out of the blue to find himself accused by none other than the renowned mathematician Gottfried Leibnitz, co-inventor of the calculus, of bringing “occult qualities and miracles into philosophy.” Leibnitz felt gravity was “subversive of revealed religion.” What occult qualities? What subversion? According to Leibnitz, with inertial motion, the planets could keep up their motion without God’s hand continuously pushing them along. Of course the Bible makes no such claim of God’s constant planetary push. The laws of nature, as part of the creation package, were and are adequate for the job. Is there a theologian alive today who believes gravity subverts the grandeur of the biblical God?

If I had to assign chief blame for the ongoing struggle between science and religion and the resulting erosion of biblical credibility, it would be to the leaders of organized religion. Since Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) had the audacity to suggest that the Sun, not Earth, was the center of our solar system, their knee-jerk reaction to any scientific discovery that impinges on our cosmic origins has been to deny its validity. Only later, sometimes centuries later, do they bother to gather the facts.

Copernicus was a believing Catholic as well as a prominent astronomer. His discovery did not shake his faith. What does the position of the earth have to do with belief in a creator of the universe or the validity of the Bible? Nowhere does the text claim that Earth is central to anything. In fact, the very first sentence of the Bible---- “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen.1:1)----places the heavens before Earth.

But overly enthusiastic clerics, staking some imagined claim for biblical truth, extended Genesis to include what it never did: a positioning of the Earth.

As scientific data demonstrating the Sun’s centrality accumulated, the Church was forced into embarrassed retreat. The popular perceptionis that science had proven the Bible wrong. In reality, the claim of Earth’s centrality had nothing to do with the Bible.

A century passed before theologians reluctantly adjusted to Newton’s laws of motion and a universe that did not revolve around Earth. Then, as if adding insult to injury, Charles Darwin appeared on the scene with the Origin of Species and a claim for evolution. The year was 1859.

The thought that life in general and humans in particular had developed from lower life forms through random mutations was simply unacceptable to the Church. (We have discovered during the past three decades that it is also substantially unacceptable to science, but that is a topic for later chapters.) The concept of evolution was condemned as heretical, notwithstanding the fact that Darwin in the closing lines of his book attributed the entire evolutionary flow of life to “its several powers having been originally breathed by the Creator in a few (life) forms or into one.” Nonetheless, the gauntlet of heresy had been thrown down. Darwin’s adherents, though not Darwin himself, readily took it up.

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), known as Darwin’s bulldog, wasted no time. In 1860, just one year after publication of “Origin”, he attacked with a vengeance. An idea attributed to, but not found in, the opening chapter of Genesis purported to show that each species was a special creation unto itself. This was absolutely contrary to Darwin’s concept of the gradual evolution of species. For Huxley the scant fossil record, which today in its richness brings so much of Darwin’s theory into doubt, was absolute proof that Darwin had guessed correctly. In Huxley’s words, “History has embalmed for us (as fossils) the speculations upon the origin of living beings.”

Huxley must have been aware that Darwin did not base his theory on the fossil record. Darwin realized that the staccato nature of the fossil record in no way confirmed evolution via natural selection. Rather, Darwin noted the morphological changes produced by breeders of pigeons and other domesticated animals, and assumed (quite likely in error) that if in tens of generations lean ancestral stock evolved into robust productive progeny, then gradually over tens of millions of generations vastly greater changes would have occurred, changes so great that phylum by phylum life rose ever higher on the imagined evolutionary tree.

Such an evolutionary tree has yet to be discovered in the fossil record. But to Huxley the gaps in the fossil record were no obstacle. He had his preconceived notions and the facts were not going to stand in his way. And so he wrote,”The myths of paganism (read here the Hebrew Bible) are as dead as Zeus and the man who should revive them in opposition to the knowledge of our time would be justly laughed to scorn...In the 19th century, the cosmogony of the semi-barbarous Hebrew is the opprobrium of the orthodox.....The doctrine of special creation (of each species) owes its existence very largely to the supposed necessity of making science accord with the Hebrew cosmogony.” This is the same Huxley who later promoted a falsified fossil record that purportedly proved the smooth evolution of the modern horse.

I doubt that the author of the Hebrew Bible was either pagan or barbarous. The text is far too clever for a barbarian author. As for pagan, the basis of western society find their origins in the Five Books of Moses. Huxley wouldn’t have been Huxley without them.

Furthermore, Huxley’s reliance on the fossil record to eventually prove Darwin’s thesis of gradual evolution is now known to be misplaced. The statement Darwin repeats several times in Origin of Species, “natura non facit saltum”—that nature does not make jumps----is simply false. Transitional forms are totally absent from the fossil record at the basic level of phylum and rare if present at all in class. Only after basic body plans are well established are fossil transitions observed. Darwin would have been much closer to the truth had he written, “natura solum facit saltum”----that nature only makes jumps. In the words of Niles Eldredge, curator of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, “The fossil record we were told to find for the past 120 years (since Darwin) does not exist.”

Unfortunately, though the crude nature of Huxley’s attack on the Bible was ill-placed, his argument with the superficial understanding of the opening chapters of Genesis was in order. There is no biblical suggestion that each species had a separate creation, a claim that is so much anathema to avowed evolutionists. In fact, during the main discussion of land animals on the last of the six days of creation, the word creation does not even appear.

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