THE BIBLE AND MODERN SCIENCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Timothy 6:20 – 21
12-28-80 8:15 a.m.
And God bless the multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on the two radio stations that bear its message. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the morning hour message entitled, The Bible and Modern Science. In our doctrinal series on bibliology, there is one more, A Famine for the Word of God, and then this one today, Science and the Bible. And could I say, that out of all of the messages I have ever prepared in my life, there is not any that is more interesting to me, or pertinent to me, than the one delivered this morning.
In the passage of Scripture that we all read together, it closed with this, in 1 Timothy 6:20, “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some avowing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen” [1 Timothy 6:20-21]. Now that is an interesting word there: “science falsely so called” [1 Timothy 6:20]. It is a good translation. What Paul wrote there is pseudo nomos gnosis; pseudo is the word for “false” or “fake,” pseudo. We have it in the English language spelled exactly as it is in Greek, pseudo. Pseudo is false. Nomos is the word for “name” or “to be called.” So pseudopnomos is “falsely called.” And the Greek word for “knowledge” is gnosis, “falsely called gnosis, falsely called knowledge: which some avowing have erred concerning the faith.”
Now it is a strange thing—that is, it’s strange to me—that people who go to school and know just a little bit come away having the conviction that we have now enlarged our vision, and we have gone into the heights and depths of observation—the scientific method—and we now know more than God and more than the Bible, and we have learned by that scientific method that the Bible is full of inaccuracies and errors and scientific monstrosities.
There was an observation by Dr. Samuel A. Elder, a research physicist at Johns Hopkins University, and he said, quote, “If you have intellectual problems about the Bible, or about the person of the Lord Jesus, it is because you know too little of God’s Word, and not because you know too much science.” My observation persuasion is just the opposite of what some people think: that having an introduction to science we therefore have nothing but contempt for the Word of God. It is a most difficult asseveration to defend the proposition that there is contradiction between science and the Bible. On the other hand, it is the easiest thing in the world to defend that there is corroboration between the truth of God in the Bible and the truth of whatever science is able to observe and to learn in the natural physical world.
Now let’s take that first proposition. It is a very difficult assignment to defend the asseveration that there is a conflict between science and the Bible. On the thirty-first day of October in 1939, the following notice appeared in the Herald Tribune in New York City. The notice, quote: “Rev. Harry Rimmer speaks nightly this week and Sunday at Central Baptist Church, 92nd Street and Amsterdam Ave. on the harmony of science and Scripture. He offers $1,000 for a scientific error in the Bible.”
Now in the city of New York there was a Mr. William Floyd who read this advertisement and demanded the money, a thousand dollars, alleging a number of scientific errors in the Bible. He could not prove his allegation to the satisfaction of the preacher and the church, so he entered suit in the courts of New York against both the evangelist and the Central Baptist Church. The trial was held in New York on February 15, 1940. Mr. William Floyd, the plaintiff, brought in four chief witnesses to establish his case; namely, that there are scientific errors in the Bible, and therefore he was due the one thousand dollars. He brought in Rabbi Baruch Braunstein of an ultra-liberal Hebrew synagogue; he brought in Reverend John Haynes Holmes—and when I grew up, it was a household word, pastor of the First Community Church. He brought in as a witness Reverend Charles Francis Potter, pastor of the First Humanist Church. And then his fourth one was Mr. Woolsey Teller, who was vice-president of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism. Those were his four witnesses.
First, Mr. Floyd, the plaintiff: he stood up in the court, and he said—a large part of his case being an elaborate argument that the Bible makes absurd statements on the number of quail referred to in Numbers 11:31-32—and I read it: “And there went forth a wind from the Lord, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day’s journey on this side,” let’s say twenty-five miles on that side, “and as it were a day’s journey on the other side,” twenty-five miles on that, “round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth.” Now this Mr. William Floyd, avowing and asseverating the absurdities to be found in the Bible, this Mr. Floyd figured that this means a deposit of quail about four feet deep covering all the surface of the earth for three thousand one hundred thirty-six square miles. And then, in that suit, item number F of this part of the complaint reads, and I quote:
The cubical contents of this mass of quails would be approximately three hundred five billion, two hundred fifty eight million, five hundred fifty two thousand, four hundred forty eight cubic feet of quails, estimating that each quail pressed in the mass would occupy about three inches by three inches of space, thus displacing some twenty-seven cubic inches of space for the quail in the pile. The total number of quails, therefore, in this mass or mess of quails would be nineteen trillion, five hundred thirty eight billion, four hundred sixty seven million, three hundred fifty six thousand, seven hundred fifty two quails presented to the eye of the fundamentalist faith.
Now that was his presentation of an absurdity in the Bible. Well, when you read it, it is very plain what the Hebrew says, that the quail were brought in, they were blown by the wind, controlled by the Lord God, out of Egypt across the Red Sea, and confused they were flying in coveys about two cubits—and the Hebrew is—above the face of the earth. By no means does the Bible say that they were killed, and plucked, and skinned, and packed together like sardines, but that they were flying in a height of two cubits above the earth, the face of the earth, and they could easily be caught by the hands of the people or by knocking them down with a stick. But that’s typical of the absurdities to which these absurd critics go to in order to discredit the Bible. Now that’s what Mr. Floyd said.
The second witness was Rabbi Braunstein in the court there in New York. And he started off by admitting he knew practically nothing about science, but he was a member of the liberal wing of Hebrew scholarship and had read a great deal. He alleged that the Bible contradicts itself as to the animals in the ark, saying there were two of each kind in one place and seven of each kind in another. When the counsel for the defense, the Honorable James E. Bennet, cross-examined him, he changed his testimony when he read Genesis 7:1 and 2 which says, “Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of the beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female” [Genesis 7:2]. This rabbi then declared he was very positive that the Bible was correct, and he turned out to be a witness for the defense.
Now the third witness was Reverend John Haynes Holmes who was the pastor of the First Community Church. He admitted he was not qualified to speak as an expert in any branch of science. His ideas concerning the Bible account of creation were merely his own opinions, and he could not qualify to speak for anyone else. All this did not constitute legal evidence, so he was dismissed.
Now the fourth witness was Reverend Charles Francis Potter. He was the pastor of the First Humanist Church. He admitted that he could not qualify as an expert on the various branches of science, which the judge considered necessary for a witness to know, so he could not speak with any authority. But he made his testimony. He stated his case; namely, that there was no flood as described in Genesis. The judge then asked him if he was there. And if not, where did he get his information? The preacher said he got it from reading and studying and finally admitted his opinions were merely his own.
Then the honorable James E. Bennet, counsel for the defense, cross-examined him. And the pastor of the First Humanist Church admitted he did not know whether or not there is a God, since he was an agnostic and ignorant on that subject. And he admitted that he never prayed and thought that God was just an idea.
Now, the next day, February 16, the vice-president of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism was the witness, Woolsey Teller. He was very positive and confident in repeating the atheistic slurs and insults against the Bible made familiar by the long line of atheists from Celsus to Voltaire to Ingersoll. He claimed to be an accredited scientist but admitted he had never been graduated from any college, was entirely self-educated by reading books, newspapers, magazines, so forth, and presumably majoring on all of the literature published by the atheists. When the counsel for the defense, the Reverend James E. Bennet, cross-examined the atheist, he made him admit that he had misunderstood and misread Darwin, compelled him to admit that he knew nothing of Hebrew or Greek or Latin, and also compelled him to admit that scientists make mistakes, and used one of his scientific authorities to illustrate the point.
And it was interesting to me, in reading of the case, that the point that the counsel for the defense, James E. Bennet, makes in cross-examining the atheist is one of the things you’ll find in my little book Did Man Just Happen, in the chapter on the hoaxes of anthropology. And it is this. There was a tremendously world-famous—you’ll find a long article about him in the Encyclopedia Britannica—there was a world-famous paleontologist. Palaios is the Greek word for “old” or “ancient,” onto, “being,” logos, “the study of.” A paleontologist: an expert in old things—this man, especially, in vertebrates. His name was Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborn, and he headed the American museum of Natural History in New York City and was head of the Zoological Research Department at Columbia University practically all of his life. Now, this man, Dr. Osborn, along with other anthropologists, had identified a tooth discovered by a Mr. Harold Cook in Nebraska, as belonging to a man who lived on this continent over one million years ago. They named the human anthropoid Hesperopithecus haroldcookii for Harold Cook. The Greek word for “evening” is hespera, hespera, and came to be referred to as “the western.” So, hespera: western, pithekos is the Greek name for “ape.”
So this tooth they said belonged to an anthropoid who lived here on the continent of North America a million years ago. And I saw this. I saw this in an exhibit in the Field Museum in Chicago. The scientist built up a vast literature about this Nebraska Man, ape-man; pictures, descriptions, males, females, habitats, habits, a whole race who inhabited this country where we live over a million years ago.
Now what was interesting about that Nebraska Man, that Hesperopithecus, is: at the Scopes evolution trial in Dayton, Tennessee, Williams Jennings Bryan was confronted with this evidence and with the great scientist, Dr. Fairfield Osborn, the authority who proved the antiquity of this anthropoid: this half-man, half-ape who lived a million years ago. Bryan’s reply was that the evidence was too scanty to base such far-reaching conclusions and pleaded for more time and more data. But they laughed in his face, and I’m old enough to remember that. And had not the great Fairfield Osborn, along with other anthropologists, dated the Nebraska Man, Hesperopithecus, over one million years—now, what happened? In the years that followed the Scopes trial, the skeleton of the entire animal to which that tooth belonged has been discovered. That tooth belonged to a peccary, a species of a pig now extinct in the United States, but at one time found all over this continent in large numbers. And upon that, the judge threw the case out of court and dismissed the trial.
Whenever you try to prove a scientific error in the Bible, you have a major assignment. You can’t do it. It has been tried by the courts, and it cannot be done. On the other hand, it is the easiest thing in the world to avow that whatever is true in science, you will find a truth of its repercussion, and description, and presentation in the infallible Word of God. Now, I wish we had about five or six or seven hours. So until the time runs out, let’s take one thing after another.
Archaeology, to me, one of the miracles of modern times is that every spade of dirt that has ever been turned by the archaeologist corroborates the Word of God. They have been digging in those tells and in those sites of the great Fertile Crescent, the biblical lands, they’ve been digging there for hundreds of years. And everything they’ve ever discovered corroborates the truth of the Bible. There’s never yet been an artifact or anything dug up that denied the Word of God. Absolutely nothing.
There was a time when they said, “Moses could not write.” Bible says Moses wrote these things; Moses could not have written them, they said, because writing was not invented when Moses lived. Then they discovered the Tell el Amarna tablets in Egypt, then recently, just the last two years, they’ve discovered the Ugaritic literature in Ras Shamra, and finally a library of those tablets in Ebla. And now we know those places in northwestern Syria, now they know that writing was discovered thousands of years before Moses.
Then they said, for example, there was no such thing as a Hittite. All through the Bible you read about the Hittites. That was a configurated imagination of some fertile minded author of the Bible. No Hittite ever lived. Then they began to dig and to dig, and now we know there was a great Hittite Empire preceding the Egyptian Empire, which preceded the Babylonian, which preceded the Persian, which preceded the Greek, which preceded the Roman Empire. The first great empire that covered all that part of the world was Hittite.
Then they said there wasn’t any Belshazzar. No Belshazzar. They had a certain proof of that because right down the cylinder of Cyrus that’s been discovered, he names all of those kings of Babylon, and there’s no [Belshazzar] in it, the last one was Nabonidus. When Herodotus visited Babylon seventy years after Cyrus conquered it, the name of Belshazzar had dropped out of history. Yet, in the Book of Daniel, there’s a Belshazzar. Then they began to dig in the rubbish, the tel of Babylonia and look at those cuneiform inscriptions and tablets, and my dear people, I could write you a biography of Belshazzar. His father Nabonidus didn’t like to reign. He lived over there in an oasis in the Arabian desert, and Belshazzar his son was the nominal king of Babylonia.
Then, as another instance, they said the Gospel of John could not have been written by the apostle because the theological development in it would have taken him two hundred fifty years to develop. It is impossible, they said, for John to have written the Fourth Gospel. And while they were mouthing those things, they found, they dug up, in the hermetically sealed sands of Egypt, they found a quotation from the Gospel of John that must have been written about 98 AD. All of the archaeological discoveries corroborate every syllable of the Word of God.
Let’s look at the science of cosmogony; cosmogony, the science of creation, the science of where the world came from. It says in the seventh chapter of Acts that Moses was learned in all the arts and the science of the Egyptians [Acts 7:22]. Now through the archeological spade we can read the very textbooks that Moses studied. Now they had a cosmogony. It was this: that there was flying through the atmosphere, there was a flying a giant egg, a giant egg. Now this was their latest science, as Moses was taught it, there was flying a giant egg. And when the process of mitosis was completed, there burst out of that egg the world. Now that was the latest science as Moses was taught. So I pick up the Bible to read about that giant ovoid, and instead I read ten of the greatest words ever written, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” [Genesis 1:1]; cosmogony.
You have a tremendous restatement of the proposition of Sir James Jeans. He wrote a book entitled, The Widening Aspects of Cosmogony. He said that the world, the universe, is like a great clock and it’s running down. That the energy is dispelled, is given up when the complex is broken down into the simpler, like gasoline, or like uranium, or like radium—that the whole universe is running down. Now you have a great restatement of that in the Bible in Psalm 102, which is quoted in [Hebrews 1:10-12]: “Of old hast Thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of Thine hands: They shall perish … all of them shall wax old like a garment; and as a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed:…” [Psalm 102:25-26]. The earth is running down. The whole universe is running down just like Sir James Jeans says in his book and just like it was written in the Bible a long time before.
There is a great, tremendous anthropology in the Bible and in science, and they both corroborate each other. It’s a remarkable thing how the Bible never reflects the background of those monstrous absurdities that were believed in the days in which the Bible was written.
We take just one instance: the Babylonian world. They had a science of anthropology, and it was very, very interesting. There was a great god named Marduk, a good god, and there was a bad god, a wicked one, named Tiamat. And Marduk and Tiamat fight to the death, and Marduk overcomes Tiamat, and he flattens out his body and that’s the earth. Now that’s the latest science of the Babylonians, the Chaldean age. And then, according to their latest science, on that flattened body of Tiamat, which is the earth, why, Marduk spit. And where he spat, men sprang up, and then the men spit, and where they spit, women sprang up, and then the women spit, and where they spit, animals sprang up.
Now that’s the latest science in the days of the Chaldeans. And when I read that, I thought about that thing. There was a sign in a warehouse: “Don’t smoke. Remember the Chicago fire.” And a wag, underneath wrote, “Don’t spit. Remember the Johnstown flood.” The tremendous anthropological statement of the Bible is one that I use every time that I perform a wedding ceremony, such as I did last night. “In the beginning God created the man and placed him in the garden of Eden [Genesis 2:15]. And He said, ‘It is not good that he live alone.’ And God made for him the woman” [Genesis 2:18, 21-22]. That is the anthropological statement of the Bible. And it is the foundation of our human life.
If I speak of astronomy, think of what God says in His Word. In Job 26:7 it says, “God hangeth the world upon nothing.” God hangeth this earth upon nothing. When that was written, the entire world believed, the entire earth, all men believed that the earth was on some kind of a permanent foundation. The Egyptians taught that it was on [five] pillars, one at each corner and one in the middle. That one in the [middle] was sheer speculation, I tell you. You might go to the corner and look at the one on the corner, but how would you look at the one underneath? They said it was on five pillars, that’s what the Egyptians taught. There’s not a schoolboy, there’s not a one of you kids up here that don’t know that the Greeks taught that the world was held on the back of a great giant named Atlas. And the Hindus taught, in their latest science, that the world was balanced on the back of a giant elephant, who was balanced on the back of an immense turtle, who was swimming in a cosmic sea. The whole humanity believed something like that, but the Bible said, “God hangeth the earth upon nothing” [Job 26:7].
Look again at the marvelous, scientific truth of the Word of God in Isaiah 40: “He that sitteth above the circle of the earth” [Isaiah 40:22]. Why, the whole world until recently, modern times, believed that the world was flat. And yet, the Bible said “God sits there above the circle of the earth,” that the earth is round. Sometimes I’ll hear someone say, in the eleventh chapter of Isaiah and the twelfth verse, it refers to the Lord as “taking Israel from the four corners of the earth” [Isaiah 11:12]. And then the guy will say, “You see there? The Bible teaches that the earth has four corners.” Well, the trouble with that: Isaiah never had the privilege of writing in English, and “the four corners of the earth” is an English expression, it’s not a Hebrew expression. I read one time an advertisement for the Marines. “The Marines serve the United States at the four corners of the earth.” That’s an English expression, that’s not in Hebrew. In Isaiah 11:12, the Hebrew says that, “God will gather Israel from the farthest distance, kanaph, from the farthest distances of the earth.” There’s not anything in science that ever denies the Word of the Lord.
Let’s take just one other instance. Let’s take physics. Physics: nobody in the earth, until modern times, ever thought that air had weight. It has weight. Air has weight. It has pressure. But Evangelista Toricelli in 1643, visiting Galileo, of whom he was an amanuensis to the last part of his life, this Toricelli invented the barometer and discovered that air has weight. It was a new thing, 1643. And when I turn to Job 28:25, I read, “God giveth weight to the wind.”
Or, could I take one other. You will not find in all scientific literature as fine a statement of the atomic theory as Hebrews 11:3. In Greek it’s a magnificent statement and even in English it says that, “Things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Or, could I refer to Paul as a wonderful cytologist; in 1 Corinthians 15:39, “All flesh is not the same flesh: there is one kind of flesh of men, another kind of flesh of beasts, another of fishes, another of birds.” That’s what Paul writes. And isn’t that a strange thing? Up until just recently, it was the supposition that this blood and that flesh and all of it was cytologically, protoplasmically, cellularly the same. Then they began discovering it and digging into it and found that the nuclei of each one of these species of life is different, and the chromosomes are named differently. Paul would have been a wonderful cytologist. There’s this kind of a flesh and this kind, and this kind and you can identify the kind of a blood and the kind of a flesh by a hair, or a piece of anything of the animal, or of a man, just exactly as it says in the Bible.
All the way through the Word of God, all the way through it, from the beginning to the ending, whatever you read in the Bible will be exactly as the things that you find in the discoveries of true science. For, you see, the same Lord God that made this book out there, the book of the world around us, is the same Lord God who wrote this Book here. And He knew the truth from the beginning. And when men study and learn and observe what they study and learn and observe will be the truth as you will find it in the Word of God. They corroborate each other. The same Author who wrote this one also wrote this one.
Now may I conclude? Naturally, we’re not studying the Bible as a book of physics, or a book of astronomy, or a book of anthropology. We are studying the Bible to know the great Lord God who made us [Genesis 1:26-27], and who can save us [Romans 10:13]. The only avowal of the message this morning is that the truth of God is no less here than it is out there. And I can have great confidence, when I read the Holy Scriptures, that I am reading the truth of the Lord. I can base my life upon it, and I can base my soul upon it, and my eternal salvation upon it because God, its author, is truth. He said so, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” And we come to God by Him [John 14:6]. That’s the Bible; the Word of God; the truth of the Lord.
It’s like this; a precious young woman, a dear, dear Christian, I’d say she’s about seventeen years of age, falling into a tragic pulmonary disease was in a semi-coma. And when I went to see her, they aroused her out of that coma and told her that I was there. And she said to me, “Would you read to me out of God’s Book?” And I read the twenty-third Psalm. Then she said, “Would you sing me a song?” And I sang, the best I could, “In the Sweet By and By.” Then she said, “Would you pray?” And I knelt by the bed and prayed, and at the end of the prayer, she sank back into the deep coma and died. That’s the Book. That’s what it’s about: the truth of heaven, and the truth of God, and the truth of salvation. I can base my life upon it. I can. And if the earth lasts ten thousand more years and we learn ten thousand things more about this great creation, it will be just as it is in the Word of God. “The same yesterday, and today, and for ever” [Hebrews 13:8]. Pastor, would you read me out of the Book? Now, may we stand together?
Dear Lord, what a God-blessed and wonderful assurance that when we read the Bible, God’s Word, we are opening our hearts to the everlasting truth that can never change. He who said, “I am the truth, the way, the life” [John 14:6], is the One who revealed to us the secrets of His great creation on its sacred pages [Genesis 1:1-31]. And He is the One, who, knowing all things, provided for us a way of deliverance and salvation [John 3:16, 14:6]; Acts 4:12]. And whether it be in youth, or whether it be in the strength of manhood or womanhood, or whether it be in old age, God lives. Our Savior is King over death and the grave [1 Corinthians 15:55-57], and His promises never fail.
And in this precious moment that we stand before the Lord as intercessor, somebody you to give yourself in trust to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8], would you come? A family you to put your life in the fellowship of our dear church, or just one somebody you following the call of our Lord, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we sing, down that stairway, down one of these aisles. “Here I am, pastor. I’ve decided for God.” And thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest You will give us in our Savior’s wonderful name. Amen. Now while we wait, while our deacons are here and our ministers are here, while the angels of heaven are here, to answer God’s call today, make it now, while we wait and while we sing, while we sing.