The Folly of Being Scientifically Learned but Biblically Ignorant
“I would rather have a reasonable background of knowledge of all the books of the Bible than to be an expert in two or three books, or for that matter, to be an expert in either the Old or New Testaments, with little or no knowledge of the other.”
Dr. Rex A. Turner Sr., Founder
Southern Christian University
Shortly after He created the beginnings of the human race, God granted His permission for mankind to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Inherent in God’s statement were two precepts: (1) that man was to involve himself in procedures of study and investigation that lead to a proper understanding of the world around him; and (2) that man was to be a responsible steward of the marvelous gifts that God had provided for him in nature.
The procedures of study and investigation that lead man to a proper understanding of his world we properly call “science.” Derived from the Latin scientia, our English word science means “knowledge.” Thus, one of the goals of science, and of the scientists who practice it, is to provide man with the knowledge relevant to the world he inhabits, and to his existence within it. Virgil Trout has summarized these ideas as follows:
The Bible recognizes the multi-dimensional nature of the human predicament. Man is regarded in the scriptures as being one having physical, intellectual, and moral capacities and needs. The biblical concept is that man has been created in the image of God to become, among other things, a steward of the earth. This means simply that God intended for man to become a scientist.... The Bible’s treatment of science is that this is a discipline of man, who is exercising his Creator-invested rights to explore his Father’s magnificent physical realm (1970, 1:48, emp. in orig.).
Science is indeed a wonderful enterprise, and those who are its practitioners are on an admirable quest. These dedicated men and women labor diligently to comprehend the intricacies and complexities of our Earth and Universe, and to explore and explain their multitudinous mysteries. The reward of their unending search—knowledge that can impart wisdom—is well worth the time and effort expended in the quest. Who among us can doubt the value of the scientific endeavor?
Within the past several hundred years, science has made great strides that have affected men’s lives in both a permanent and positive fashion. Germ theory was developed, antibiotics were discovered, vaccines were invented, and life-saving surgical techniques were pioneered. Within the lifetimes of many who read this article, science has performed feats so amazing that at times they seem to defy description and strain credulity. The genetic code has been elucidated, smallpox has been eradicated worldwide, and successful manned space flights have been dispatched to the Moon. Hardly does a day go by that we are not reminded of scientists’ successful search for the knowledge that has become so highly prized by the human race, and so beneficial to its continued existence on this planet. Rarely does a day pass that man’s future does not grow brighter as a result of the passing of these scientific milestones, and the use of the wisdom they have imparted to humanity.
In our day and age, scientific success stories, and the rewards they confer, arrive at breakneck speed. Today the citizens of most developed countries are better fed, better clothed, and healthier than they have ever been. Transportation, educational, medical, industrial, and even recreational facilities are vastly improved, compared to those of previous generations. We are the smartest, best educated, most mobile people ever to have lived on the Earth. Deadly diseases are being conquered, life spans are being increased, and daily living is being made more pleasurable as a result of our continued scientific advancements. All should be well with us. But is it?
SCIENTISM IN THE SECULAR REALM
There are growing indications that as our scientific prowess has grown, our ever-increasing knowledge of the creation has diminished, or replaced completely, our knowledge of the Creator. This situation has manifested itself in both the secular and spiritual realms.
As scientists have enjoyed increasingly more frequent and more impressive successes, an attitude has developed suggesting that science, and science alone, can provide answers to all of life’s questions. As long ago as 1935, the agnostic British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, advocated such a view when he observed: “Whatever is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know” (1935, p. 243). Almost thirty years later, the preeminent atheistic evolutionist of Harvard University, George Gaylord Simpson, echoed the same sentiment when he stated: “It is inherent in any acceptable definition of science that statements that cannot be checked by observations are not about anything, or at the very least they are not science” (1964, 143:769). Thus, with pronouncements that practically rivaled divine fiat, we were informed that everything of ultimate importance would be addressed, studied, and defined by the scientist and his method. All knowledge, we were assured, flowed from science, and “what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.”
Flush with one success after another stemming from his incursions into the natural world, and drunk with self-infatuation, man, in his own egotistical pride, drifted farther and farther from his Creator. As a result, humanity progressively struggled to cut itself loose from the moral, ethical, and spiritual apron strings of God, and from the objective standard provided by His Word. Finally, at least in the eyes of some, science itself acquired the status of a god. The Creator God of heaven was no longer needed, or acknowledged. Science replaced His infinite wisdom, and organic evolution replaced His creative power. “After Darwin,” said Sir Julian Huxley, “it was no longer necessary to deduce the existence of divine purpose for the facts of biological adaptation” (1946, p. 87). At the Darwin Centennial Convocation held at the University of Chicago in 1959, Huxley boasted:
In the evolutionary pattern of thought there is no longer need or room for the supernatural. The earth was not created; it evolved. So did all the animals and plants that inhabit it, including our human selves, mind, and soul as well as brain and body. So did religion (1960, pp. 252-253).
This kind of thinking is known generally as scientism, which states that science is to be viewed as the whole of reality because it provides the key to all knowledge. Such an attitude is based on what is known in philosophical circles as the fallacy of reductionism. In committing this fallacy, scientism’s adherents have reduced the whole to one of its parts. Everything of ultimate importance in the world was relegated to the discipline of science.
This, of course, is terribly wrong, and presents a skewed viewpoint of reality that, when considered logically, is impossible to defend or accept. Most people, when pressed to consider the matter seriously, would admit, for example, that there are certain critical areas of human existence with which science simply cannot deal—morality, aesthetics, hate, greed, sorrow, and altruistic love, to mention just a few. Science, as science, cannot speak with authority in such matters, for they fall beyond the scope of the scientific method which, by definition, deals only with those things that are universal, reproducible at will, timeless, and dependable. However, it is not my purpose in this article to examine the various aspects of scientism, since I have dealt with them at length previously (see Thompson, 1981a, 1981b, 1981c, 1981d, 1995).
SCIENTISM IN THE SPIRITUAL REALM
The increasing prevalence of scientism represents only one part the problem. The growing popularity of all things scientific, and the overwhelming success of scientists in so many varied areas of human existence, have had a deleterious effect on Bible believers as well. It certainly is safe to say that the average person of our day knows far more about science and far less about the Bible than the common folk of half a century ago.
Modern technology promised us that if we would embrace it wholeheartedly, it would reduce our stress, grant us more free time, and enrich our lives. Yet when we heeded the siren’s call, we found that while our lives were, in fact, enriched in many ways, our stress levels continued to increase, and our free time continued to diminish. Television beckoned to us; computer games challenged us; the Internet astonished us; and the time to do simple things of yesteryear—like reading God’s Word—eluded us. We became utterly intrigued with any- and everything scientific. We witnessed daily science’s unparalleled successes. We stood in awe of its amazing accomplishments. We marveled at its unequaled power. And we were impressed—mightily!
But what will happen as man’s flirtation with, and knowledge of, science accelerates—while his relationship with, and knowledge of, his Creator degenerates? The possibilities are both staggering and frightening. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that we, in our generation, already are beginning to see the tragic results of our unsatiated fascination with scientific matters, and our willful neglect of spiritual matters. To our detriment, we have become a people who now know more about science than we do the Bible. And sadly, it appears that we do not even recognize our own folly. The evidence suggests that it is much later than many of us realize, or perhaps are willing to admit.
In the past, Bible believers generally were people who possessed a hard-earned, working knowledge of The Book, and who were quick to put that knowledge to use in day-to-day situations. We had been taught, correctly, that God “granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that called us by his own glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3). God’s Word, we knew, provided us with that knowledge, and the wisdom that came from diligent study of it. Today, however, in many instances we are more adept at discussing scientific matters than spiritual matters, because our knowledge of the former is so much greater than our knowledge of the latter. And it is no secret that, on occasion, current scientific theory does not agree with biblical teaching. What recourse, then, is available to the person faced with the fact that his scientific knowledge seemingly is at odds with The Book he has been taught reveals the will of God?
First, one simply might acknowledge that the Bible is inspired of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and as such is accurate in its renderings. If such a person has studied the matter(s) at hand, and is assured that his understanding of Scripture is correct, he will revere the Word of God as just that—the Word of God—and will accept its teachings as trustworthy, in spite of modern-day claims to the contrary.
Second, a person might dismiss the biblical record as little more than ancient folklore—worthy of about as much admiration and reverence as, say, Aesop’s fables. Such an attitude rejects biblical claims of inspiration, and instead does obeisance to current scientific or philosophical pratings.
Third, one might—from all outward appearances—claim to accept the Bible as speaking truthfully and accurately on whatever matters it addresses, all the while in reality compromising its teachings on a variety of subjects. Thus, while such a person pretends to respect the Bible as God’s Word, instead he is sowing seeds of compromise. Generally this is the person who waits to see what “science” has to say before making any determination on the matter. Then, if science is at odds with the Bible, the Scriptures must be “corrected” to fit scientific data or interpretations. We never are told that science must correct its view, only the reverse—viz., the biblical record must be altered to fit the currently prevailing scientific data. The person in this category generally has such an abysmal knowledge of the Bible, and yet is so enamored with science and its pronouncements, that it no longer matters what God’s Word says on any given subject. Science always takes precedence. As noted Old Testament scholar Edward J. Young observed:
What strikes one immediately upon reading such a statement is the low estimate of the Bible which it entails. Whenever “science” and the Bible are in conflict, it is always the Bible that, in one manner or another, must give way. We are not told that “science” should correct its answers in the light of Scripture. Always it is the other way around (1964, p. 53).
Eventually, the Bible is strained through the sieve of “science,” and whatever survives the process—if anything—may be accepted with confidence, while the remainder is to be resolutely rejected.
SCIENTIFICALLY LEARNED BUT BIBLICALLY IGNORANT
At times like these, when the “people in the pew” are so ill-informed and poorly educated in biblical matters that they often no longer are able to recognize error, they become easy prey for those intent on compromising Scripture. This especially is true when those advocating compromise are polished public speakers who are well educated and scientifically trained, and who are in apparent leadership roles. When they speak, they speak with a scientific authority that is compelling. And, as people accept what they hear, incorporate it in into their personal belief system, and pass it on to others as “truth,” eventually a generation arises that “knows not Jehovah” because, in the end, reverence for God’s Word is replaced by unabashed admiration for, and complete dependence upon, all things scientific. Unfortunately, the evidence is clear that this is occurring in our generation with increasing frequency.
One of the most popular scientists within the religious community today is Hugh N. Ross, the founder and president of Reasons to Believe, a non-profit work devoted to Bible-science issues. Dr. Ross received his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Toronto, and served for a time as the minister of evangelism at the Sierra Madre Congregational Church in Sierra Madre, California. He is a prolific writer, whose 1989 book, The Fingerprint of God, made the Christian Booksellers Association’s list of best-selling paperbacks. Dr. Ross also is an accomplished and much-sought-after speaker who has a nationwide television program seen weekly on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN).
Most important, however, is the fact that Dr. Ross is currently the leading, most eloquent, and most visible spokesman for the doctrine known as “progressive creationism.” According to most of its proponents, progressive creationism is opposed to atheistic evolution, but similarly is opposed to a literal interpretation of the Genesis record of creation. Dr. Ross himself has defined progressive creationism as “the hypothesis that God has increased the complexity of life on earth by successive creations of new forms over billions of years while miraculously changing the earth to accommodate the new life” (1990).
Ross accepts and promotes, among numerous other false ideas: (1) the Big Bang view of the origin of the Universe; (2) an ancient, multi-billion-year-old Earth and Universe; (3) the Day-Age Theory, which suggests that the days of Genesis 1 were actually millions or billions of years each, rather than 24-hours in duration; (4) a local Noahic flood, rather than a global inundation; and (5) the integrity of the evolutionary geologic column in regard to its stipulations that life flowed from simple to complex. Ironically, Dr. Ross suggests that each of his views actually is based on a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible. Thus, when many Bible believers hear him stress that he accepts the literal nature of the biblical record, their guard is down and they are less likely to detect the serious nature of the many errors he advocates.
In 1995, Mark Van Bebber and Paul S. Taylor published Creation and Time: A Report on the Progressive Creationist Book by Hugh Ross, in which they exposed a multitude of scientific and biblical errors committed by Dr. Ross in the name of “defending Christianity.” Their approach was low-key and scholarly as they dealt with issues, not personalities. In assessing Ross’ work, however, they concluded:
What distresses us is his continuing use of various erroneous teachings about the Bible. We believe these teachings are leading people down a wrong and dangerous path—a trail trod by many in the past that has repeatedly led ultimately to even more serious theological problems and loss of faith in God’s Word (1995, p. 9).
I agree with the assessment made by Van Bebber and Taylor, and I do so because I have seen firsthand where Dr. Ross’ views lead. In his hands, scientific theory has become the controlling factor in biblical exegesis. And in the process, a quagmire of illogical and unscriptural views have emerged because his scientific knowledge has outpaced his biblical knowledge, as the following quotation confirms. In the 1991 edition of The Fingerprint of God, Ross wrote:
More than speaking merely of God’s existence, the creation, according to Romans 1, also reveals essential truths about God’s character, which would include His desire and means to form a relationship with man. As an illustration of the accessibility of that information, the Bible includes an account of an ancient character, Job (Job 7-19) who, without the aid of scriptures, and in opposition to the religion of his peers, discerned all the elements of “the gospel,” the good news of how man can find eternal life in God. The creation, thus, reveals all the necessary steps to develop a right relationship with God. These steps are uniquely corroborated by the Bible (1991, pp. 181-182, emp. in orig.).
Dr. Ross might be viewed as scientifically astute, but judging from his defense of the false doctrine of progressive creationism, and his incorrect position on the efficacy of God’s written revelation, it is clear that the same may not be said regarding his Bible knowledge. Few among us would doubt that God has provided a revelation of Himself in nature (Job 12:7-8; 26:13-14; Psalm 19:1-2; 97:6; Acts 14:17; 17:24-28; Romans 1:20-21; see also Thompson and Jackson, 1985). Further, few would argue that this revelation (known as “general” or “natural” revelation because it is found generally around mankind in nature) can testify, within limits, to the existence of the Creator (see Thompson, 1995, pp. 48-57). But to suggest that the creation “reveals all the necessary steps to develop a right relationship with God” could not be more wrong.
Where, in the creation, do we discover that sinful man is lost, and in need of salvation at the hand of an Almighty God? Where, in the creation, do we learn of the love of God in sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins and provide for us the free gift of salvation? Where, in the creation, do we learn of the existence of the church, which is the community of God’s saved on the Earth? Where, in the creation, do we learn how to worship and serve God as He has commanded? Where, in the creation, do we learn of the importance of obedience to God’s law? Where, in the creation, do we learn of the existence of a heaven to be gained and a hell to be avoided?
None of these things can be provided by general, or natural, revelation alone. Rather, special revelation is needed—i.e., revelation that comes directly from God Himself to man in a form that instructs man as to exactly what God demands, and expects. Only within the pages of the Bible can that special revelation be found. And only within the pages of the Bible can the above-mentioned questions be answered. Nature, as such, is impotent to provide such answers. In Ross’ scheme of progressive creationism, however, natural revelation takes a position of preeminence because, after all, it is based on empirical evidence. Finally, then, according to this view, man no longer needs God’s special revelation to instruct him on the plan of salvation, sanctification, justification, grace, or any other such topic.
To take the position that the Bible basically is unreliable in its plain statements about God’s activity in creating the Universe (as progressive creationism teaches), and that the creation alone “reveals all the necessary steps to develop a right relationship with God,” will cause thinking inquirers ultimately to reject its teachings on theological subjects. Jesus said, “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” (John 3:12). If Jesus and His writers have told us about “earthly” things and we are not disposed to believe such, how can we be expected to believe statements from these same men with regard to important spiritual matters?
Van Bebber and Taylor were correct in their warning about Hugh Ross’ teachings when they remarked that “these teachings are leading people down a wrong and dangerous path—a trail trod by many in the past that has repeatedly led ultimately to even more serious theological problems and loss of faith in God’s Word.” This is exactly what happens when a person knows too much science, and too little Bible. He not only places his own soul in danger, but causes others to place theirs in jeopardy as well. It is indeed a “dangerous path.”
During His earthly tenure, Jesus addressed the concept of being scientifically learned but spiritually ignorant. On one occasion, in addressing the multitudes before Him, He said:
When ye see a cloud rising in the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it cometh to pass. And when ye see a south wind blowing, ye say, There will be a scorching heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye know how to interpret the face of the earth and the heaven, but ye know not how to interpret this time (Luke 12:54-56).
Pity such people. They were scientifically intelligent, but biblically ignorant. The Son of God stood in their midst, and they were so preoccupied with material matters that they completely missed the significance of the spiritual matters Christ presented to them. The Lord called those people of His day “hypocrites”—a scathing rebuke indeed.
But what of the people of our day who commit the same error? Shall their condemnation be any less severe (John 12:48)? They have overemphasized the scientific, and de-emphasized the spiritual. With what results? At first, people abandon their respect for God and His Word. Then, they see their faith wane because man’s “wisdom” has replaced God’s (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-25), causing their faith to be so poorly grounded and so weakened that it cannot sustain either itself or them through life’s trials and tribulations. Ultimately, they lose their way, and their souls, in what has become one of the greatest, and yet one of the most common, tragedies of our day. The price we have paid for being scientifically learned but biblically ignorant has been far higher than we ever could have imagined.
Sadly, all of this could have been avoided if we simply had been content to remain “a people of The Book” who heeded Paul’s admonition to Timothy to “give diligence to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). I introduced this article with a quotation from the late Rex A. Turner Sr., founder, former president, and esteemed chancellor of Southern Christian University in Montgomery, Alabama. The hallmark of Dr. Turner’s life was his oft’-made statement:
I would rather have a reasonable background of knowledge of all the books of the Bible than to be an expert in two or three books, or for that matter, to be an expert in either the Old or New Testaments, with little or no knowledge of the other.
If every Bible believer thought like that, what a difference it could make! We, like the Bereans, would “receive the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). And in doing so, we would gain for ourselves not only a “reasonable background of knowledge of all the books of the Bible,” but protection against being blown to and fro by the latest scientific theory. May we return—quickly—to the days of yesteryear when we were known as “a people of The Book,” and when we were unashamed to be called such.
Huxley, Julian (1946), Rationalist Annual. See also: L.M. Davies (1947), “The Present State of Technology,” Transactions of the Victoria Institute (London: Victoria Institute), 79:70.
Huxley, Julian (1960), “The Evolutionary Vision,” Issues in Evolution, [Volume 3 of Evolution After Darwin], ed. Sol Tax (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press), pp. 249-261.
Ross, Hugh (1990), Dinosaurs and Hominids (Pasadena, CA: Reasons to Believe), audio tape.
Ross, Hugh (1991), The Fingerprint of God (Orange, CA: Promise Publishing).
Ross, Hugh (1994), Creation and Time (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress).
Russell, Bertrand (1935), Religion and Science (London: Oxford University Press; reprinted in 1961).
Simpson, George Gaylord (1964), “The Nonprevalence of Humanoids,” Science, 143:769, February 21.
Thompson, Bert (1981a), “What is Science?,” Reason & Revelation, 1:2-3, January.
Thompson, Bert (1981b), “How Does Science Work?,” Reason & Revelation, 1:9-11, March.
Thompson, Bert (1981c), “The Limitations of Science and Its Method,” Reason & Revelation, 1:21-23, June.
Thompson, Bert (1981d), “Scientific Humanism,” Reason & Revelation, 1:25-27, July.
Thompson, Bert and Wayne Jackson, (1985), The Revelation of God in Nature (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Thompson, Bert (1995), Creation Compromises (Montgomery, Alabama: Apologetics Press).
Trout, Virgil R. (1970), “Some Relationships of the Bible and Science,” Spiritual Sword, 1:47-49, January.
Van Bebber, Mark and Paul S. Taylor (1995), Creation and Time: A Report on the Progressive Creationist Book by Hugh Ross (Mesa, AZ: Eden Communications).
Young, Edward J. (1964), Studies in Genesis One (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed).