On Miracles and Science

When reading Scripture one is immediately struck by the plethora of miracles one finds.  From the relatively minor miracle of changing a staff into a snake to the creation of the whole universe and the resurrection of the dead, Scripture is full of miracles that defy logic, everyday experience, and scientific explanation.

It is this last category that is often troublesome in our modern world.  Science has rightly earned its place as the gold standard for what is true and false, what is possible and impossible.  We have seen it debunk faith healers, mystics, magicians, psychics, and other false miracle workers.  We’ve seen it explain even the most unlikely events with cold uncaring logic and statistical arguments.  We have seen it work wonders that to any earlier civilization would look like magic or miracles: electric lights, telecommunications, even travel to the stars.  Science is truly an amazing tool and should be rightly used to sniff out charlatans, false prophets, and false miracles.

However, science for all its vaunted power has limitations and true miracles pose challenges to science’s ability to analyze them.  Even worse sometimes Christians are tempted to use science and naturalistic explanations to explain away miracles in Scripture.  Thus it behooves us to take a look at to what extent science should be used to analyze the miracles of Scripture, which we Christians hold as not false miracles but true ones.  What can science know and not know about these events?

First, we should take to heart what Scripture declares about God’s power and our ability to know how He does what He does.  God in Isaiah 55 puts it succinctly:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

See also Job 38-41 as well as 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.  The Lord clearly states here and elsewhere that His power is unbounded and our powers of reason are limited.  We are limited creatures, we cannot know all the ways of the Lord.  Our reason can only take us so far.  The Lord, though, does not leave us just merely flabbergasted at His power but rather tells us that He accomplishes His work via His Word.  His Word creates and destroys.  Now how exactly that happens is beyond our knowledge but we can know that the Word of the Lord is how God exercises His power.

This Word is powerful, so powerful that it is called Almighty.  There is nothing that it cannot accomplish.  Thus there is nothing outside the power of God.  God can literally do the impossible.  Even the logic puzzles that we craftily devise to thwart God’s omnipotence such as, “Can God create a rock He can’t lift?” are nothing to Him.  This is because even logic itself is a created thing.  Logic does not transcend God, after all, He created it.  If we say that God is subject to logic or logic predates God we are confessing that something is greater than God, which would undermine His omnipotence.  Thus it is clear that when the Lord works He is unrestrained in doing so.  The only restraints on the Lord’s power are the ones He places on Himself.

For the case of miracles then this means that miracles can abridge the laws of nature and logic.  They are also unique one-time events that are not repeatable or involve things that transcend the physical realm, as in the case of the repeatable miracles of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  As such true miracles undermine the very foundations of science making them inaccessible to the scientific realm.  Thus it is proper to say that in the case of true miracles science has no access to them, and we should expect that science will give untrustworthy or confusing answers when it comes in contact with a miracle.

That said miracles can be worked in ways that are detectable by science and frankly, the Lord can make it such that a miracle looks perfectly natural.  Such is His power.  The question then is what can we know and test about miracles.  Generally, there are two categories of things we can know about miracles.

Ongoing Effects: Most miracles are not transient events but have enduring effects.  Such as the Resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15). We can test this by looking for evidence of this event, namely the lack of a body, eyewitness testimony of Him being alive, and other historical/archaeological methods.  This enduring evidence is completely within the realm of science to test and validate as it leaves signals that we can detect via our natural faculties.

Testimonial Evidence: For most miracles, you have observations of the miracle being worked by God even if by the end of it everything looks perfectly natural like nothing is out of place.  For instance, we have the episode of the Sun standing still in Joshua 10.  Clearly, we do not see ongoing effects of this amazing event, yet we do have testimonial historical evidence from Scripture that it did happen.  Thus science will have limited access to validate this event as it leaves no enduring signal other than what has passed into history via human testimony.  The proper discipline, in this case, is not science perse but the art of history.

Certainly, though there is no reason why a miracle needs to leave either ongoing effects or testimonial evidence.  The power of God is such that He could remake the whole universe from scratch in an instant and we would be none the wiser.  For instance, the Lord can certainly make the universe in six days as He clearly states in Genesis 1 but still make it look much older than it really is to scientific measurement.  In fact, it is not surprising that science would give untrustworthy or confusing answers with regards to miracles as all the fundamental rules of science are broken by the miracle itself.  Science really has no access to miracles other than what miracles permit science to see.

So as Christians we should be careful when we use science to explain or investigate miracles in Scripture.  Unlike the charlatans of our day, we know for a fact that the miracles of Scripture did happen.  Thus we should fully expect that science will have problems explaining or understanding them.  This isn’t a get out of jail free card though when it comes to a conflict between science and Scripture, rather it is a caution we should use when looking at the miracles of Scripture and then theorizing about what happened.  We cannot know all that the Lord did in these miracles other than what He has revealed in His Word.  Thus we should be careful not to eisegete into miracles and wedge in our pet theories about what happened.  Rather we should never underestimate the power of God to do what He desires.  We should marvel at the works and miracles we do observe and see the ongoing effects of, especially when we have evidence outside of Scripture as with the numerous testimonies of the Flood.

In addition miracles in our modern world, which do happen, must be tested against the Word of God.  The Lord has made promises that He certainly keeps.  Miracles do happen in response to prayer, but we are not to put our trust in them but rather in the Word.  Just because an apparent miraculous healing happens that confounds science or some other inexplicable event that defies logic occurs it does not mean that God was the worker. Satan does have real power to produce false miracles (Matthew 24:23-25, 2 Corinthians 11:12-15) and it may be a freak event that is perfectly within the realm of nature, though God can certainly use those to produce His desired end.  We can be fully confident that the miracles of heretics are false, and thus we should bring to bear science to unmask these false teachers for who they are.  However, the final adjudicator of what makes a miracle a true or false miracle is not science but rather the Word.  Thus we should always test miracles and those who perform them against the Word first and then against the arts and reason of man.

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon


Comments

On Miracles and Science — 15 Comments

  1. God’s Blessings Dr. Edmon!

    Thanks for tackling such a tricky subject. Given the empirically driven nature of the modern world, this is a subject that all Christians are likely to wrestle at some point in their lives.

    I do want to point out one area that I think someone coming from the classical theism approach would probably present in a different way. You say here that God can do the impossible:

    >>This Word is powerful, so powerful that it is called Almighty. There is nothing that it cannot accomplish. Thus there is nothing outside the power of God. God can literally do the impossible. Even the logic puzzles that we craftily devise to thwart God’s omnipotence such as, “Can God create a rock He can’t lift?” are nothing to Him. This is because even logic itself is a created thing. Logic does not transcend God, after all, He created it. If we say that God is subject to logic or logic predates God we are confessing that something is greater than God, which would undermine His omnipotence. Thus it is clear that when the Lord works He is unrestrained in doing so. The only restraints on the Lord’s power are the ones He places on Himself.

    The classical theism approach to this (which is the perspective that most early orthodox Lutheran theologians wrote from) would say that God cannot create/do contradictions. This is not a limit of God’s power, rather it is simply a nonsense statement. It would be like saying A = not A. We could order words into a sentence that looks grammatically correct, and appears to have meaning, but when you look closer at the syntax, you see it is actually just nonsense.

    Edward Feser, whom I think is probably one of the clearest modern expositors of philosophy from this classical theism tradition, explains the lack of force that this paradox has as an objection to the existence of God in this very succinct [blog post](http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/02/dawkins-on-omnipotence-and-omniscience.html):

    >>As to the substance: Note first that for almost all theists, “omnipotence” does not entail the power to bring into being a self-contradictory state of affairs (e.g. creating a round square or a stone that is too heavy for an omnipotent being to lift). The reason is that there is no such power; the very notion of such a power is incoherent, precisely because the notion of a self-contradictory state of affairs is incoherent. God’s power would be limited only if there was some power He lacked. Since there is no such thing as a power to make contradictions true, His inability to do so is no limitation on His power. (And if an atheist insists that an omnipotent being would have to have such a power, that only hurts his own case. For that enables the theist to say, in response to any possible objection that the atheist could ever raise: “Since God can make contradictions true, He can make it true that He exists even though your argument shows He doesn’t!”)

    Now I know this can open the door to some many old theological debates between divine simplicity and theological personalism. Or another one over voluntarism; the idea of the primacy of God’s intellect or will, and that is not what I wish to do by pointing out this contrary point of view. In my personal studies, though, it appears to me to be far too common that modern christians (including conservative/confessional Lutherans) are not aware of the rich philosophical traditions that underpin the theologies out of which Lutheranism was born. Our lack of a basic understanding of the metaphysics that our theological traditions are based on often leads to theological error (i.e. denial of authority of scripture, open theism, etc.). Furthermore, with some of the brilliant work that modern philosophers in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition are doing, such as Edward Feser, David S. Oderberg, etc., I hope that we are seeing philosophy moving back to take its rightful place as the queen of the sciences, as there much important recent work showing the need of a moderate realism picture of reality to even make sense of science and the world around us. For more on this see Feser’s book [The Last Superstition](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D40EGCQ/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1).

    Thank you again for lending your input into this area of science and religion. I think it is a very important topic, and completely agree that we tend to want scientific explanations far too often, and go too far thinking that we could even in theory understand everything about God.

    I look forward to reading more from you on this topic.

    In Christ,
    Chris

  2. One quibble I have with the author is the statement that science is the standard of truth. As Christians, we should be careful not to affirm the often mistaken understanding of science in the current culture. As the post indicates, science is about explanations that can be tested and applied if sufficiently reliable. That a scientific explanation can be relied on sufficiently to allow for application does not make the explanation “true”. Science is a method of inquiry, but not an arbiter of truth or falsity. And as Christians we should not reaffirm this mistaken perception of science that leads to a mistaken trust in and idolatry of science. Science has been a great benefit to mankind, but it is not all that the current zeitgeist would have it be.

  3. It is interesting that in C.S. Lewis’ The Space Trilogy” in the final volume “That Hideous Strength”, the organization used by Satan to try to remake mankind and take over earth was named N.I.C.E (National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments). It proclaimed that science was going to save and transform man. That was published back in 1945.

  4. @Chris #1

    Thanks for the philosophical points there. I certainly have no objections to using well grounded philosophy to deal with some of these quandries or apparent objections. However, I have also seen it be the case where a well meaning Christian subjects God to philosophy rather than the inverse. Thus God becomes constrained by logic. Theology becomes subject to philosophy. One of the brilliant lights, among many, of the Reformation was an embrace of paradox, the things we just simply cannot explain with logic or philosophy. It was a recognition that philosophy, as wonderful as it is (I’ve been listening to this fantastic podcast which I highly recommend: https://historyofphilosophy.net/), is not the end all be all about God. Rather what we can definitively know about God is clearly revealed in Scripture, even if it confounds us. So that would be my caution. That said, I do love good philosophical proofs and it is a great apologetic to have numerous philosophical weapons to bring to bear. It is a discipline I need to learn more about myself as a scientist. It is far too often neglected, which is a true shame. Much wisdom is in philosophy. We need to have philosophy and theology work together and not be at odds with each other. That is the right balance.

    @Richard Lewer #2

    C. S. Lewis was always a prescient man. His Space Trilogy is amazing and I have heard (and I should read it) that his Abolition of Man is incredibly relevant today.

  5. @Dr. Paul Edmon #3

    Thanks for the recommendation on the podcast. I have listened to some of that podcast in the past. I would like to point out though the person running that podcast demonstrates the same lack of knowledge with basic scholastic philosophy, and thus should be taken with a grain of salt whenever he is talking about theological ideas (or philosophical ideas that have direct theological implications).

    The prime example of this is in his episode on the overview of Aquinas #243 “The Ox Heard Round the World: Thomas Aquinas” he makes a very common, yet elementary mischaracterization of Aquinas’ five ways. This shows that he has little to no interaction with the primary sources and certainly no interaction with secondary sources from within the tradition. At 18:40 he begins to talk about Aquinas’s first way and says Aquinas is saying that everything that moves has a cause of it’s motion. How do we know that something cannot move itself?….how do we know that we cannot have a chain of causes that extends back into infinity?” He then goes on to say at 19:00 “The argument has more holes than a movie about the invention of swiss cheese.”

    The first problem is that this argument is not just about motion, it is about change in general (in a metaphysical sense).

    The second problem, and the most common error that almost all people who try to critique the argument make who do not understand it, is to think that this argument is talking about a chain of causes and effects going back in time (a linear series), and needing a first cause to the series. This is not at all what the argument is talking about. Aquinas explicitly states he does not think we can prove empirically or philosophically that the universe/existence has a beginning (we can based on revelation, though). He does say that all change, at every moment, needs an uncaused cause to hold it in existence at every moment. Rather than this being an argument about a linear temporal series, then, it is a vertical argument about a hierarchy of causes at every moment in time. An example may be a chain. Each link derives its ability to hold the chains below it from the one directly above it. If you don’t have a point at which the chain is anchored, none of the links have any ability to hold anything. Or from a modern science perspective, we can trace the motion of the physical universe at each moment, and all the matter contained in it, back to some fundamental forces, but we cannot explain where these forces derive their causal power. Again, Aquinas would say that you need a primary source from which everything derives its causal power (and even its being) in this vertical sense, or to use the scholastic term, per se.

    You can listen to Bishop Robert Baron’s recent podcast episode of Word On Fire where he critiques a recent YouTube video along the same lines that did a similar overview of Aquinas’s five ways, but serverly distorted them. WOF 096: Aquinas and the Arguments for God (Part 1 of 2) http://wordonfireshow.com/episode96/

    I find the fact that this YouTube video has nearly 1 million views very disturbing, becuase that is nearly 1 million people who are being taught false notions of Aquinas’s teaching, and are probably using it as further evidence to stay in rebellion against a God they don’t think exists.

    Also, Edward Feser critiqued Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion along the same lines on the most recent Pints With Aquinas podcast episode http://pintswithaquinas.com/podcast/ed-feser-responds-to-richard-dawkins-on-thomas-5-ways/

    I apologize, for I do not mean to simply use this thread to pontificate on scholastic philosophy, but as I mentioned previously, I am finding that most people do not know anything about basic metaphysical concepts that people in the time of Aquinas and Luther and the reformers just took for granted. Worse yet, they often seem to have an opinion on these metaphysical concepts, and their errors quite often seem to be one of the root causes of most theological errors.

  6. “For instance, the Lord can certainly make the universe in six days as He clearly states in Genesis 1 but still make it look much older than it really is to scientific measurement. In fact, it is not surprising that science would give untrustworthy or confusing answers with regards to miracles as all the fundamental rules of science are broken by the miracle itself. Science really has no access to miracles other than what miracles permit science to see.”

    How would this apply to, say, us witnessing the supernova in 1987 when it was 168,000 light years away? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SN_1987A

    Did that supernova happen 168,000 years prior and take that long to get here? Or do you think the supernova did not actually happen?

    This is the question I always ask my YEC brothers (I am an LCMS Lutheran with an Engineering background) but I have not really heard anything in response that makes any sense.

  7. @ Marcus #7

    I don’t think we should place full stock in whatever the current scientific consensus is on historical matters because it is always changing. Thomas Kuhn has a very famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), that is look at the philosophy of science and concludes just this. Kuhn rightly points out that science, by nature, will always see shifting paradigms in thought. This is because it never arrives at 100% certainty as it is an inductive methodology of gaining knowledge. This just means that it is reasoning based on observation that is always subject to change based on new observations.

    I like to think of the dating of the universe like this. Imagine how hard it is for a criminal investigator to piece together evidence for a crime that was just recently committed. Now imagine how hard this task becomes for a cold case detective with a decades old crime. Now imagine you are looking at a crime that happened even further in past, say who killed Abraham Lincoln or even further back into human history. Your access to available evidence becomes less and less at each jump back in time.

    Now take this same principle and apply to cosmological scales of distance and time. I think it is absolutely absurd that we think we can place a high level of certainty that the universe is 13.8 billion years old. It is somewhat similar to saying you found a caveman skull with a crack in its skull and saying you can be confident they were killed by blunt force trauma to the head. There is so much time that has passed between then and now, who can say when or how that crack in their skull actually got there.

    There are some strong lines of evidence for why scientists believe this current date, but, in reality there are only a small hand full of reasons why they do so. Who is to say that we won’t find out some principle of reality tomorrow that will upend everything we thought we knew about one or all of these lines of evidence?

    Right now we have a concept of inflation as a placeholder to make sense of the distribution of matter in space given the speed of light and the current thought on the age of the universe. We could discover a new principle of physics tomorrow that could completely upend all of our current thoughts. This is what has happened in the past and will likely continue into the future.

    I do think that ultimately, all truth necessarily has to agree with all truth. That is to say that I don’t think it is possible for God to deceive us (this would simply be outside His benevolent/ perfectly just nature), nor do I think it is possible for their to be a biblical truth that is different than a scientific truth. This just doesn’t make any sense. It is like saying A = not A. I do think that we just are not in a position as a finite, created being to know all truth. We can therefore be mistaken in thinking science is pointing us in one direction, when in fact the ultimate truth is we were mistaken.

    Ultimately, I do not take a stance on these deep history topics (age of universe, age of earth, date of first people, etc.). It is interesting to think about, but whatever the true answer is, at this point only God knows. Maybe we will someday, but until/if He reveals it to us, we won’t know for certain. I, rather, place my trust in the revelation that God has given us. Scripture should always be the ultimate litmus test for whatever we think we know! I also now tend to place my trust in the more deductive methods of reasoning, as they take a place higher up in the chain of knowledge than does the inductive methods of science.

  8. Another few things to keep in mind about our current scientific understanding of the universe:

    We have no idea what 96% of the universe is. We just call it dark matter and dark energy.

    We have no idea how or why inflation happened (or if it really did). This is a short period of time at the beginning of the universe when the universe expanded at an incredible rate (some say faster than the speed of light, but this is somewhat misleading). This is just a complete mystery that we are supposed to accept because the math works.

    We have no idea what quantum mechanics is actually saying about reality. There are dozens of different interpretations of what any of it actually means, all of which paint a completely different picture of what reality is.

    We have no idea why the universe has a cosmological constant (the current rate of expansion) that is finely-tuned to 1:10^120

    There are so many others one could list. I find it kind of sad that some people put so much stock and certainty into the idea that science proves we don’t need God to explain reality when every day we are really just learning how much more we don’t know.

    Furthermore, there is always the discussion going on in science too if we are hitting the limits of what we can test and will just be left without an ultimate explanation and no way to peer “into” the universe any further. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/have-we-reached-the-end-of-physics/

    Other resources:
    Intelligent Design:
    https://www.discovery.org/
    https://evolutionnews.org/

    Reasons to believe (old earth creationists):
    http://reasons.org/explore/blogs/impact-events/read/impact-events/2017/03/10/persuasive-reasons-thoughts-on-fine-tuning

    Evolutionary Creationists
    http://biologos.org/

    Young Earth Creationists
    http://www.icr.org/
    https://answersingenesis.org/

  9. From an astronomical perspective we have multiple lines of evidence that support the age of the universe being 13.7 Gyr (billion years). Namely.

    1. Distances: The furthest stars and galaxies we can observe are 13.7 Glyr (billion light years) away. It would take 13.7 billion years for light to arrive from them. We know for a fact that the speed of light has not changed over that time scale as we have done measurements to detect that. The cosmic distance ladder is very robust (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_distance_ladder).
    2. Age: The oldest stars and globular clusters we see are about 13.7 Gyr old. The ages of stars are very well known and based off of very straightforward physics.
    3. Stellar Generations/Nucleosynthesis: We can see multiple levels of stellar generations each with more metals than the last. Those metals take time to produce in sufficient quantity.
    4. Cosmic Microwave Background: The oscillations and temperature of this are consistent with a 13.7 Gyr age.
    5. Baryon Acoustic Oscillation: The scale of this feature is consistent with a 13.7 Gyr age.

    From an astronomical point of view, the age of the universe is pretty much set in stone. Even if you reject 2-5 as being bad physics (which I would strongly object to), 1 is inescapable. It’s just basic math. It takes fundamentally that much time for light to traverse the distances. It has been shown that you can’t tinker with the speed of light to get this to happen either.

    As to @Marcus French #7 you can make the same observation for any astronomical object or effect. My contention would be that God creates all of this when He makes the stars on the 4th day of creation. While we know that no death exists prior to the Fall we don’t know if supernovae or other physical events were permitted pre-Fall since they are massively destructive. At least from my perspective I see no reason why the Lord can’t create a supernova mid explosion at creation. To me it makes perfect sense that the Lord would make a self-consistent universe. Thus galaxies, light, stars, and all that we see in the heavens were made on that 4th day with light in transit from these events. It is when the Lord says He made them. Thus 1987A would have been built mid explosion when the Lord creates on the 4th day, looking as it does. Either that or you could say that when the Fall happens all of that occurs (there is some argument to be made as to the catastrophic reality rending effects of the Fall that frankly we don’t fully understand). However, that is all speculative. What I can say definitively is that the heavens as we see them were made on that 4th day (and yes I do mean 4th consecutive 24hr day as I know that is an object of contention). This is a consistent with the Omphalos Hypothesis idea that the Lord makes a mature Earth and heavens, but does the work 6,000-10,000 years ago (depending on if you think the genealogies are complete or not). After all Adam, Eve, plants, and all the animals are fully mature when they are made, so can the heavens.

    I don’t agree with the other YEC theories that try to mess with physics to get a universe that looks old but is really young. There are too many scientific problems with that approach that don’t accord with the evidence we have. I’m fine with people pursuing those theories though as I am happy to be shown I am wrong scientifically, but everything I’ve learned and know about astronomy leads me to reject those theories as they just don’t accord with what we observe.

  10. @Chris #9

    Yup, very true. One should take any bold claims at complete knowledge of the universe from cosmologists and particle physicists with a massive grain of salt. I talk a bit about that in my talk on the topic which I linked in the article above, but here it is again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Q7HMeqaIEk

    Suffice it to say Scripture is our final arbiter about these things, not science. Science though is a valid method to finding true information about the domain it is designed for, but that is it. Once its basis is undermined, it isn’t as useful anymore. That really is the point of the whole article above. I will also clarify from an earlier comment that while I do believe that science is a method of finding the truth, I don’t believe it is the only way or give a complete picture. Different disciplines have access to different parts of reality. Whether it be art, history, science, philosophy, theology, etc. The question comes up what happens when these spheres overlap. At least for science and theology, this is the best approach I have seen:

    https://www.cph.org/p-28560-In-Christ-All-Things-Hold-Together.aspx

    https://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=3469

  11. Dr. Edmon, I have some concerns about the age of the earth/universe.

    I understand how “omphalos” works, and I agree it makes a certain amount of sense. Since there were no other people around to care for Adam and Eve, God had to make them adults, looking 18+ years old. For Adam and Eve to have fruit to eat, trees had to be created mature, with fruit already on the branches, looking as if they had taken years to grow and mature. If you take Gen. 1:14 as God making the stars visible to Adam and Eve “from the get-go” to serve as “signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years,” I can see the logic of making starlight instantaneously visible on earth, even over vast distances.

    I don’t understand, though, why God would create a vast fossil record of creatures that had never lived. That really does smack of deception, no irreverence toward God intended!

    I know that “Flood geology” proponents will claim that 99% of the fossil record is of creatures that died during the Deluge, but I have read too many refutations of that idea to find it convincing. It seems pretty clear (to this layman) that the principle of faunal (and floral) succession is a real thing, not an artifact of which creature could clamber to higher ground faster during the Flood (how could flowering plants “escape” the rising waters until they reached “Cretaceous” rocks?).

    I also wonder: why God would create the cosmic microwave background radiation if there was no Big Bang?

    It also seems to me that the arguments for the “omphalos” idea could be used to argue for geocentrism. Luther called Copernicus a “fool,” and said, “However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.” There is at least one LCMS layman I have read online (backtoluther.blogspot.com) who thinks we need to go back to the geocentrism of Luther, Walther, and Pieper, precisely because “Scripture is our final arbiter…not science”!

    Also–doesn’t “omphalos” basically concede that all the evidence is on the side of an old earth/universe?

    I believed in a young earth/universe until almost 4 years ago, when, in a Bible class on apologetics, I was shown a slide (from Answers in Genesis, I later discovered) that stated, “Hundreds of physical processes set limits on the age of the universe…More than 90% of these processes give an age less than billions of years.” I wondered, “If that’s so, why do 99% of scientists think the universe is old? Are they all dupes of Satan?” That just seemed implausible to me.

    So, I started doing research online and in the public library. I rapidly discovered that “young-earth creation science” is pretty much lousy science, and that, as you put it, there are “multiple lines of evidence” supporting an old earth/universe.

    Call me irresponsible, but I decided that God was God, and still the Creator, if he took billions of years instead of thousands of years to make our world. I also decided that, maybe, we should look into other ways to interpret the “creation days,” just as we did with Joshua 10:13 and geocentrism, rather than bend reality to fit one particular interpretation of Scripture.

    As I recall, the Synodical website says that the Bible nowhere states the age of the earth. (That it is 6,000-10,000 years old is an inference by some.) I also once read a 1965 article by Dr. Walter Roehrs (co-author of the Concordia Self-Study Commentary) that basically said it was not heresy to interpret the 6 days of creation as figurative. I also own a 1972 book published by CPH which contains the following statements by Dr. Paul Zimmerman (then president of Concordia–Ann Arbor): “We are dealing with an account [Gen. 1] of the origin of all things in which ‘time’ as well as ‘space’ is in the process of being created. This alone may rule out any common-sense notions or scientific notions we have of ‘time’ today…The text does not give us the length of the days…Oesch has pointed out that ‘the Christian church has nowhere dogmatized the present measurement of time (24 hours) for these days.'” So, it seems to me that being an “old-earther” is not the same as being a heretic.

    Dr. Edmon, you seem like a smart and honest guy. I welcome any further insights you may have. Thanks in advance!

  12. @James Gibbs #12

    James, I think you hit on two very important things. 1. Current scientific consensus certainly points to an old universe. 2. The Bible nowhere explicitly states the age of the universe.

    I think the best course of action for Christians is to speak clearly where the Bible speaks clearly, and to quote Ludwig Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” I think when it comes to the age of the universe, then, we should remain agnostic about it as the Bible does not explicitly state a date for creation.

    From the theological perspective, I do think that there are many excellent theological points to the young-earth reading of Genesis. Throughout church history, there have been many different interpretations of creation, though, so if we are going to be honest with ourselves, we should admit that a young-earth reading of Genesis really is just a speculation on our part – it is not a clear and direct revelation. Also, as you pointed out James, the LCMS has not made a young-earth reading a church dogma, and thankfully so!

    From the scientific perspective, I still think that it helps immensely to keep in perspective where empiricism fits into the realm of knowledge. There are limits to what we can test. For instance, you cannot scientifically prove that minds other than your own exist (solipsism) or that the universe didn’t simply pop into existence 5 minutes ago looking exactly like it does now.

    This certainly doesn’t mean that we should distrust everything or distrust the things we can test. It does mean, though, that there are limits to what we can test. We shouldn’t necessarily expect to be able to peer deep/far enough into space and understand how the universe came into existence. It may just be inaccessible to us. It also means that science presupposes a lot of things for us to even be able to trust it’s methods and conclusions (uniformity of nature, logic, cause and effect).

    Furthermore, science is always subject to change (Kuhn’s paradigm shifts). This really is a strength of the method and why it is hopefully always moving towards truth. However, many today place an unwarranted level of certainty in science and some even think something is only true if science can prove it (scientism). This is most certainly false, as 1. you cannot prove with science that it is the only means of gaining knowledge, and 2. I just listed a couple things above that are not even testable by science and yet we all would say we know the truth of.

    Right now, the universe does appear to be 13.8 billion years old. Maybe this is absolutely correct, and many Christians are simply mistaken in the young-earth reading of Genesis. This is just our best scientific understanding right now though, and we are being disingenuous if we don’t admit that this is a working theory. There is a multitude of reasons for why we may simply be mistaken. The truth is, we cannot know with certainty what is true here, and I think both sides of the creation debate do a disservice to Christians when they dogmatically take a side. This is why I really think the best answer for Christians is to remain agnostic on the age of the universe.

    This question used to cause me great distress until I really studied philosophy and understood the many reasons we have knowing God must exist (e.g. Edward Feser’s new book Five Proofs of the Existence of God) and also began to see the limitations of science (see Dr. Edmon’s excellent recommendation of In Christ All Things Hold). This really helped me see where I should place my trust, then. I trust the God who entered into His own creation and sacrificed His own life as a ransom for ours.

    Ultimately, science is a methodology, a tool to help us gain knowledge. God is the ground of all reality from which all knowledge comes from and He has revealed to us exactly what we need to know. Whenever we start to place more faith in a tool than the one who created and actively holds all things in existence at every moment, we are now worshiping ourselves instead of our creator.

  13. As to the reading of day in Genesis is literal or not I leave to statements already made by the LCMS and other more competent scholars of Hebrew such as this article by Doug Judisch on page 265 of this Concordia Theological Quarterly (Volume 52, Number 4, October 1988): https://ctsfwmedia.s3.amazonaws.com/CTQ/CTQ%2052-4.pdf

    There are far too many theological problems with not taking Genesis literally, as it demands to be read. Plus the order of creation is different than that accorded by current scientific theory with automatically invalidates any and all old earth/theistic evolutionary models as plants on land would have to predate the creation of distinct heavenly bodies.

    So far as Joshua is concerned, the Sun really did stop. No question there. As to how God did that? Who knows. Maybe it was a local illusion. Perhaps the rotation of the Earth really did stop. What we have is what Scripture says. I am not one to doubt that God can do exactly what He says. It’s a miracle that the Lord can work as He will to make His Word true though everyone be a liar (Romans 3:4).

    With regards to the problems Omphalos, I will readily admit that they certainly exist. I have no suitable explanation of the fossil record, and I certainly don’t trust all the science of the Creation Science folks (though some of it is good). My only hypothesis does have to do with the Flood but since the Flood is a miracle, its hard to know what exactly happened in that instance or in the cosmology breaking events of the Fall. I also have no good explanation for the variety of prehuman skeletons we have found or cultural remains. As previously stated unless you assume that the genealogies are complete, Scripture has no hard rule for when the 6 days of Creation occur. Perhaps it is during this time that the cultural remains are made. As to the various prehuman skeletons and genetics gleaned from them, I’m going to have to throw up my hands and plead ignorance. I just don’t know enough about the science of paleontology and evolutionary biology to be able to poke holes or find a reasonable out. I’ve heard ideas, but none are satisfactory and being a nonexpert I can’t evaluate their veracity sufficiently. As far as the CMB, I chalk it up to God making a self consistent universe, which as an astronomer the CMB is needed for that. That said could God make a universe that looked different? Of course. That’s counter factual though, all we have is the universe we do have. Accounting for every single reason for why ever little dot and tiddle exists is getting a level of speculation that just isn’t warranted. Things are as they are. The Almighty certainly knows His reasons even if we don’t (it may even be as trivial as the Lord thought it would be cool to put in, who are we to criticize). That said there are definite problems. So while Omphalos is my favorite theory as it let’s Scripture be Scripture and science be science it is not with out problems.

    It would be dishonest of me to say that the scientific account isn’t highly compelling. It is exceedingly compelling and frequently causes doubt for myself about whether I am believing a lie or not. In those instances I flee back to Christ and His Resurrection which is no lie (1 Corinthians 15).

    Omphalos certainly does concede that the universe looks old. No getting around that. I have yet to hear a credible theory that supports a young earth from a purely scientific accounting. Does that mean one doesn’t exist? No. What it does mean is that to all metrics the universe is old and we have no naturalistic way of accounting for it to be young. Not shocking though as miracles are supernatural. As stated above, it isn’t shocking that our naturalistic science would give conflicting results in the face of a miracle. Science is not the final arbiter, it is just a tool for stitching together observed natural events in a coherent way. That it works as well as it does is a testimony to the Creator right there, as one would not expect a coherent cosmos from a random event that some how generates something out of nothing that is in fact intelligible.

    All we can go with is what we observe and what Scripture as a historical account says. God explicitly tells us what He does in His Word. He cannot lie and will not lie. A person is not a very good liar if he makes something that looks real and old and then explicitly tells you he manufactured it yesterday (see the Harvard glass flowers collection which you would swear were real but are actually made by people). In fact it just shows how amazing a craftsman that person is. God certainly can do likewise. His Word is clear, inerrant, infallible, efficacious, and inspired. He tells us He does it. He tells us all that He wishes us to know about how He does it. In six 24hr days (evening and morning) by His Word, beyond that we have to sit under the tutelage of God’s chastisement of Job. In the end that is all I have, the rest are just ideas that I have to make objective observational fact and Scripture (which I will add is observational fact because it is a historical account that has provenance) meet up.

    It’s definitely a tough one to be sure. I wish I could give more satisfactory answers, I certainly know the inadequacy of any explanation I have. I know my thinking is certainly incomplete on this, and I continue to grow in my understanding. To that end I will encourage all to continue to study the Word, study philosophy, and keep up to date on the current observational facts and scientific thought. At the very minimum study Scripture. After all it is far superior to any philosophy or science, for “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10).

  14. Dr. Edmon, thanks for your lengthy and courteous response. I need to think about this some more, and plan to get back to you with more thoughts later. I just printed (and will read) the CTQ article you linked to.

    Chris, thanks for your thoughts as well. I appreciate the courteous tone from you, too.

    It’s been hard to find LCMS folks who will (a) really listen, and (b) respond without attacking. I have truly struggled with this for the last two-and-a-half years.

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