Science in a Broken Universe

In 1899, as the world waited for the dawning of the 20th Century, there was widespread optimism in the Western world. The economy was looking bright, the rapid developments in physics, astronomy and engineering promised a revolution in technology and discovery. The new century would bring an end of war, and through better education and an end to poverty mankind could attain to a Utopian Age on this planet. Human beings were assumed to be basically good. There seemed to be no limit to what could be done by science, by capitalistic enterprise, and by hard work.

No one talks anymore about an end to war, and few now espouse the "basic goodness of man." Our century has brought world wars, horrendous bloodshed, unbelievable violence, famine, international terrorism, and an explosion of social problems which seem to defy solution. Science has radically changed our way of life, but also placed weapons of mass destruction in all the wrong places--it is no longer difficult to imagine the total self-destruction of the human race in our time.

The Bible has always taught that every human heart prefers evil to good, and that the tendency of every man is toward evil, as a result of the disobedience of our progenitor, Adam. The desperate state of the world is a result of so many people autonomously and selfishly running their lives with total disregard for the plans and program of our Creator. Without God we are without real life and hope; we have neither the motivation nor the power to live moral lives that lead to wholeness and contentment. What is worse, though we may sense that something is wrong, we are not able to find the cure.

The human race is not all that is messed up. Nature is also broken! Dangers from asteroids striking the earth are portrayed for us on television science program while the evenings news tells us of hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, and a decreasing ozone layer increasing cancer risk. Earthquake fault studies ominously warn of the high probability of disastrous earthquakes in California with hundreds of thousands dead. Residents of Seattle and Portland are warned that the dormant volcanoes of the Cascade Range could awaken at any time and wipe out or devastate these great cities. Killer viruses have come upon us out of nowhere, infections no drugs can control are now common--nature itself seems to be against us. Is the probability of a grave natural disaster of one kind or another actually increasing? We don't seem to be living in a friendly universe after all. There is evidently no safe and secure place to live.

Again, the Bible has an answer: The universe is indeed broken. The Apostle Paul outlines this in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Church in Rome. He is writing to those who have come to know the Lord Jesus Christ and who have been reconnected with God:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:19-23)

This passage--a clear statement of what physicists call the "Second Law of Thermodynamics" by the way--connects human evil with the gradual destruction of the natural physical world. (5) Genesis reveals that man, made in the image of God, was created to live simultaneously in the spiritual realm and also in the physical world. In our spirits we who follow Jesus Christ are linked to eternity, to God (who is Spirit) and to the realm of invisible realities. In our bodies we are anchored firmly to the earth. Our bodies require an ecosystem, a controlled environment, food, oxygen, and protection from disease and trauma.

The fall of man (and a good number of the angels) has set everything on a downward spiral towards oblivion. So it is that all men grow old and die, and so it is that "entropy always increases."

The Apostle shows us that God's restorative work in man begins in the heart and spirit of individuals. Indeed, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, all things have passed away, behold all things have become new." (2 Cor. 5:17) Scattered around the world are some millions of men, women and children in whom God has begun building a new creation. The resurrection power and life of Jesus the Lord cleanses, restores and heals silently and invisibly--from the inside out. However the bodies of the followers of Jesus have not yet been made new, and neither has the rest of the physical and natural world been fixed as yet.

An important corollary to this discussion of basic theology is that we have to be careful how we do our science in a universe that is broken. We are not now living in Eden, we can scarcely imagine the pristine, unspoiled beauty of the universe when it was completed on the Sixth Day.

The great advances of science we are all familiar with have come about mainly in this century. Most of these theories and models are based on careful observations and studies of all the data obtained. Almost without exception the data of science is invariably interpreted based on the assumption that the laws of the physical world have never changed. Not so, says the Bible! (6) Were we travel backwards in time we would find one or more great disruptions in the laws of nature. The true account of our past is to a large degree hidden from our view. Our scientific models, such as Big Bang cosmology, to cite but one example, are basically flawed. We can not take a hundred or even a thousand years of measurements and extrapolate back in time to the beginning because there have been major discontinuities in the very physics of the creation since Adam left the garden. True, "the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork" as the 19th Psalm announces, but everywhere we look the universe is damaged beyond repair and in need of a radical renovation.

Science can not tell us about the realm of the spirit (7) where a new creation is now under construction (8). As amazing as new discoveries are in every field of science they tell us only about a fallen, dying race and a broken universe whose past history can not be fully unraveled and whose future is one of certain decay and ruin.

But the Bible tells us this is not all there is; there will come a time when all things are made new. The great good news is that those who know the Lord Jesus Christ already participate in, and are in touch, with a whole new creation--soon to be unveiled by One who is not only Creator, but also Redeemer, Savior and Heir of all things.

We are to shine as the sun. We are to be given the morning star. I think I begin to see what it means. In one way, of course, God has given us the morning star already. You can go and enjoy the gift on many fine mornings, if you get up early enough. "What more," you may ask, "do we want?" Ah, but we want so much more. Something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, though God knows even that is bounty enough -- we want something else which can hardly be put into words -- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul. But it can't. They tell us that beauty, born a murmuring sound, will pass into a human face. But it won't-- or not yet, at least...The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last. (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

Science cannot give us the dreams of our hearts, but can only modify our physical existence here and now, to try to make it more comfortable in this broken and dying world. But what we really long for is outside the physical realm, sometimes dimly sensed in moments of beauty, and only reachable through Jesus Christ.


  1. Greek: apokalupsis = unveiling, as in "revelation."

  2. mataiotes = vanity, emptiness as to results. Destined for ruin.

  3. phthora = a bringing to an inferior or worse condition, corruption, decay--however the word does not suggest annihilation.

  4. sunodino = to share birth pangs with, to be in travail with. The animal world is subjected to suffering and death along with man, and because of man. The entire universe is waiting for the final redemption of God's people at which time the universe itself will be made new. Man's central place in the universe is implied in this passage.

  5. Entropy is a thermodynamics term for measuring the amount of available energy for doing useful work. The concept has been extended to measure the degree of order in systems. The broad picture is that the universe is inexorably moving from order towards chaos, from abundant energy reserves to none--to rot, ruin, decay and emptiness--what scientists call a "heat death." Before the Fall we can infer either that the Second Law was not in affect, or that God constantly repaired and renewed the resources of the universe as they were used up.

  6. See especially the powerful arguments of the Apostle Peter in this regard, 2 Peter 3.

  7. See First Corinthians 1-2.

  8. John 14:1-3, "Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."

    This article is related to an earlier essay of mine, The Limits of Science.

Related recent article:

Commonweal, June 5, 1998, Vol. 125; Pg. 14; ISSN: 0010-3330

Overestimating the power of science

by Phillip E. Johnson

In 1981, the United States National Academy of Sciences passed a resolution saying that "Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought whose presentation in the same context leads to misunderstanding of both scientific theory and religious belief." The statement was intended only for use in a public-relation campaign against the creation science movement, and it has never been invoked against evolutionary pantheists, agnostics, or scientific materialists. For example, the Academy makes no protest when Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) uses the authority of science to promote atheism, or when physicists promote a "theory of everything" that will allow its possessors to "know the mind of God," or when Carl Sagan proclaimed in his Cosmos series that "the Cosmos is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be." On the contrary, the National Academy gave Sagan its Public Welfare medal.

Chet Raymo is another in the long line of scientific metaphysicians who yearn to make a religion out of science; and so he argues that Christians should adopt for religious purposes what he calls "the new creation story." His description of the new story is more in poetic than scientific language, as befits an admirer of Teilhard de Chardin, but he clearly is referring to the standard version of evolutionary naturalism. According to this story, nature did its own creating through unintelligent material processes, particularly the purposeless Darwinian mechanism of random mutation and natural selection. God was involved if at all only in the very beginning, in setting up the laws, and thereafter nature runs by itself. In Raymo's words, nature itself "becomes the sublime scripture," humans are viewed as the universe becoming conscious of itself through evolution, and prayer consists of rejecting miracles while giving praise and thanksgiving to nature.

The National Academy's motives may have been partisan, but there is clearly some truth in its warning that mixing science with religion can produce a highly intoxicating brew. Teilhard's comment that "less and less do I see any difference between research and adoration," which Raymo quotes with approval, is about as far from the ideal of scientific > objectivity as one can go. When scientists begin to worship their own concepts, they are tempted to proclaim vast philosophical systems rather than stick to what the data is showing.

So it was with Teilhard, and so it is with evolution-worshipers generally. The first thing to understand about Raymo's "new story" is that scientists cannot prove that known natural forces can produce complex biological organisms. They assume this crucial and highly debatable fact, regardless of the evidence. No one has demonstrated that chemical evolution can produce life in the first place. Indeed this field is in a state of confusion and cannot even begin to account for the information content of the simplest organisms. Despite what you were told in school and in countless public television nature programs, natural selection has no substantial creative power. Ask for evidence and all you will get are examples of trivial variations in fundamentally stable populations. Look at the fossils and you will see a general pattern of unexplained sudden appearances of new forms of life followed by stasis - meaning the absence of fundamental evolutionary change. Neo-Darwinism is more accurately classified as materialist mythology than as science.

The highly regarded Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin explained the true basis of evolutionary science in a remarkably candid essay in the New York Review of Books (January 9, 1997). Lewontin has as low an opinion of the adaptationist "just-so" stories of the neo-Darwinists as I do. In spite of his skepticism, however, he accepts the basic story of evolutionary naturalism because, in his own words,

We have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

If you are going to define science as applied materialist philosophy, then of course you are going to end up with a materialist creation story, one that excludes the possibility of a personal God who created us and answers prayer. Just don't make the mistake of thinking that this new story has been validated by scientific testing. The important questions are all decided in the assumptions and definitions.

In fact the new story is rapidly becoming an old story and it may not be around much longer, even in the scientific world. For a look at the way things are going, see the recent article in the Boston Review by James A. Shapiro, professor of microbiology at the University of Chicago, with the provocative title "Scientific Alternatives to Darwinism: Is There a Role for Cellular Information Processing in Evolution?" Just to give the flavor of the article, here is a string of excerpts:

The molecular revolution has revealed an unanticipated realm of complexity and interaction more consistent with computer technology than with the mechanical viewpoint which dominated when the neo-Darwinian modern synthesis was formulated....It has been a surprise to learn how thoroughly cells protect themselves against the kinds of accidental genetic change that, according to conventional theory, are the source s of evolutionary variability....The point of this discussion is that our current knowledge of genetic change is fundamentally at variance with postulates held by neo-Darwinists....Is there any guiding intelligence at work in the origin of species displaying exquisite adaptations that range from lambda prophage repression and the Krebs cycle through the mitotic apparatus and the eye to the immune system, mimicry, and social organization?

Shapiro takes jabs at both the Creationists and the neoDarwinists, accusing both groups of "presenting a static view of the scientific enterprise." He blames Creationists for refusing to credit the successes of science, but also comments that, when faced with new ideas, neo-Darwinists "assume a defensive posture of outraged orthodoxy and assert an unassailable claim to truth, which only serves to validate the Creationists' criticism that Darwinism has become more of a faith than a science."

James Shapiro plays by the same scientific rules that Richard Lewontin does, and so he is still talking about the origin of cellular information-processing systems as a problem in "evolution." But the systems he describes are analogous to sophisticated computers, and there is no known natural process that can produce anything of that kind. Scientifically, Shapiro's program is identical to that of Michael Behe, the molecular biologist (and Roman Catholic) author of Darwin's Black Box (1997). The difference is that Shapiro tries to use language that scientific materialists can conceivably tolerate, whereas Behe dares to make the obvious inference that the evidence of biology points unambiguously to design, and hence to the reality of a Designer.

In short, Chet Raymo is urging Christians to rely for their salvation on a theory derived from materialist philosophy, rather than from scientific testing. Since scientific materialists don't hesitate to give advice to religious people, I suggest religious people should return the favor. Let's gently advise the evolutionary scientists that they need to cultivate a bit more of that objectivity they are always recommending to others. They could make a start by learning to tell the difference between what they assume and what they investigate.

Phillip E. Johnson is professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book is Defeating Darwinism - By Opening Minds (Intervarsity, 1997).

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September 29, 1998. Additions December 3, 1998. March 23, 2019. October 27, 2019.
Special Thanks to Penny Fryman Setterfield.