Origin Science

Origin Science versus Operation Science

Recently Probe produced a DVD based small group curriculum entitled Redeeming Darwin: The Intelligent Design Controversy. It has been a great way to inform Christians about Intelligent Design and show them how to use a conversation about this topic to share the gospel.

This year also marks the twentieth anniversary of a book Norman Geisler and I published entitled Origin Science.{1} In light of the current controversy concerning intelligent design, I want to revisit some of the points we made in this book because they help us better understand some of the key elements in the debate about origins.

The foundational concept in the book was that there is a fundamental difference between operation science and origin science. Operation science is what most of us think of when we talk about science. It deals with regularities. In other words, there are regular recurring patterns that we can observe, and we can do experiments on those patterns. Observation and repeatability are two foundational tools of operation science.

Origin science differs from operation science because it does not deal with present regularities. Instead it focuses on a singular action in the past. As we say in the book, “The great events of origin were singularities. The origin of the universe is not recurring. Nor is the origin of life, or the origin of major new forms of life.”{2}

We argued that “a science which deals with origin events does not fall within the category of empirical science, which deals with observed regularities in the present. Rather, it is more like forensic science.”{3} In many ways, origin science is more like the scientific investigations done by crime scene investigators. The crime was a singular event and often there was no observer. But CSI investigators can use the available evidence to reconstruct the crime.

Likewise, research into origin science must use the available evidence (the bones and the stones) to try to reconstruct a past event. We therefore concluded that:

In origin science it is necessary to find analogies in the present to these events in the past. Thus, for example, if evidence is forthcoming that life can now be synthesized from chemicals (without intelligent manipulation) under conditions similar to those reasonably assumed to have once existed on the primitive earth, then a naturalistic (secondary-cause) explanation of the origin of life is plausible. If, on the other hand, it can be shown that the kind of complex information found in a living cell is similar to that which can be regularly produced by an intelligent (primary) cause, then it can be plausibly argued that there was an intelligent cause of the first living organism.{4}

Rise of Modern Science

When we discuss the differences between origin science and operation science, it is important to point out that evolutionists and creationist differ in what they believe caused the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin of major life forms. “Evolutionists posit a secondary natural cause for them; creationists argue for a supernatural primary cause.”{5}

Evolutionists argue that a naturalistic explanation is all that is necessary to explain these origin events. There is no need for the supernatural. Julian Huxley, speaking at the Darwin centennial celebration in Chicago, declared: “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.”{6}

Although most scientists today make no room for the supernatural, that was not always the case. In fact, it can be argued that it was a Christian view of reality that essentially gave rise to modern science.

In a landmark article on this topic M.B. Foster asked: “What is the source of the un-Greek elements which were imported into philosophy by the post-Reformation philosophers, and which constitute the modernity of modern philosophy? And . . . what is the source of those un-Greek elements in the modern theory of nature by which the peculiar character of the modern science of nature was to be determined?” These are two important questions. He said: “The answer to the first question is: The Christian revelation, and the answer to the second: The Christian doctrine of creation.”{7}

Foster argued that modern empirical science did not emerge from a Greek view of nature. Instead it arose because the founders of modern science had a Christian view of nature. They “were the first to take seriously in their science the Christian doctrine that nature is created.”{8}

Foster argued that only when the Greek concept of necessary forms in nature had given way to the Judeo-Christian idea of a contingent creation did it become necessary to take an empirical route to finding scientific truth. Once these scientists came to view nature as contingent creation it became necessary to use observation and experimentation to understand it. From there, modern science arose.

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon’s belief in the concept of creation is well known. Bacon even confessed that his motivation to observe and experiment was based on the creation mandate in which God said to man: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over [it].” (Gen. 1:28).

Of this mandate to subdue creation Bacon wrote, “Only let the human race recover that right over nature which belongs to it by divine bequest, and let power be given it; the exercise thereof will be governed by sound reason and true religion.”{9}

Speaking of the natural world, Bacon declared, “The beginning is from God: for the business which is at hand, having the character of good so strongly impressed upon it, appears manifestly to proceed from God who is the author of good, and Father of Lights.”{10}

Bacon believed that a careful observer of nature could discover certain “fixed laws” which he could use in subduing the world and have dominion over creation. In fact, he believed that nature (like the Bible) is the revelation of God. So Christians need not fear that any discovery in God’s world (science) will destroy their faith in God’s Word (Scripture). For “if the matter be truly considered, natural philosophy is, after the word of God, at once the surest medicine against superstition and the most approved nourishment for faith, and therefore she is rightly given to religion as her most faithful handmaid, since the one displays the will of God, the other his power.”{11}

Bacon believed he could discover the orderly laws by which God established in the creation. He described three approaches:

The men of experiment are like the ant, they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes a middle course; it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own.{12}

Therefore the modern scientist is neither a scholastic spider not an empirical ant but a Baconian bee who extracts from nature what is available for transformation.

Bacon’s understanding of Scripture was shaped by the writings of John Calvin. Both Calvin and Bacon were trained in the methods of Renaissance law. Calvin had applied this new method to Scripture, the book of God’s Word. Bacon adopted this legal method of inquiry and applied it to the book of God’s world.{13}

Kepler and Galileo

Johannes Kepler’s astronomical views were also bedded deeply in his theistic beliefs about creation and the Creator. He stated that we “will realize that God, who founded everything in the world according to the norm of quantity, also has endowed man with a mind which can comprehend these norms.”{14}

Kepler viewed the universe as a great mathematical machine created by God. Thus he wrote,

My aim in this is to show that the celestial machine is to be likened not to a divine organism but rather to a clockwork . . . insofar as nearly all the manifold movements are carried out by means of a single, quite simple magnetic force, as in the case of a clockwork all motions [are caused] by a simple weight. Moreover I show how this physical conception is to be presented through calculation and geometry.{15}

Kepler assumed (as the Pythagoreans did) that the universe was mathematically analyzable. But unlike the Greeks, Kepler believed that since the observable physical world was a creation of God, one could come to know God’s thoughts by studying the physical laws of the universe.

Another great astronomer was Galileo. He believed “the Holy Scriptures and Nature are both produced by the Word of God; the former is the results of the dictation of the Holy Spirit, and the latter is the most obedient agent of the ordinances of God.” Galileo also added: “I do not believe the same God who gave us our senses, our reason, and our intellect intended that we should neglect these gifts and the information they give us about nature, or that we should deny what our senses and our reason have observed by experiment or logical demonstration.”{16}

Galileo believed that the observable laws of nature operate with unalterable regularity. Therefore scientific theories must fit nature. Nature cannot be changed to fit our scientific theories. God works in regular ways in the operation of his universe. He added that mere ignorance of natural causes of the operation of the world is not a sufficient justification for positing a supernatural cause.{17}

The supernatural is the source of the natural world, but the natural is the proper domain of science. Science deals with “natural phenomena” which supernatural realm is not subject to such test.{18} Thus, mere ignorance of natural causes of the operation of the world is not a sufficient justification for positing a supernatural cause.

By this distinction Galileo hoped to secure the domain of operation science from unjustified intrusions by religious dogma while retaining nonetheless his belief in a supernatural origin of the natural world.

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton believed that God created the solar system. He held that the entire solar system was formed from a “common chaos” which is described in Genesis 1:2. From this chaos the “spirit of God,” by means of gravitational attraction, formed the separate planets.” In a letter to Thomas Burnet he insisted that “where natural causes are at hand God uses them as instruments in his works, but I do not think them alone sufficient for ye creation.”{19}

For Newton, “this Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all, and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God or Universal Ruler.” For “Deity is the dominion of God not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect.”{20}

Newton believed that God had dominion over all His creation:

And from his true dominion it follows that the true God is a living, intelligent, and powerful Being; and, from his other perfections, that he is supreme, or most perfect. He is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient; that is, his duration reaches from eternity to eternity; his presence from infinity to infinity; he governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done.{21}

This Christian concept of God was at the very center of Newton’s cosmology. It was the very foundation of his scientific investigation. According to Newton, the universe was God’s great machine, and scientists could discover the laws by which this machine operates because these are the laws of God.{22} Thus for Newton, God is the primary cause of the universe and natural laws are the secondary causes by which God operates in the natural world.

Sadly there is a bitter irony in all of this for creationists. The scientific method we employ today was built on the belief in a Creator and His creation. Now, a few centuries later, the science has been used to replace creationist beliefs about origins.

These early scientists shifted their emphasis from a primary cause (God) to secondary causes (natural laws) through which He operates in the natural world. Over time, the subsequent preoccupation with these secondary causes caused scientists to reject the legitimacy of positing a primary cause for these origin events. “In short, natural science came to bite the supernatural hand that fed it.”{23}


1. Norman Geisler and Kerby Anderson, Origin Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987).
2. Ibid., 15.
3. Ibid., 14.
4. Ibid., 16.
5. Ibid., 15.
6. Ibid., 19.
7. Ibid., 37.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid., 40.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid., 41.
12. Ibid., 42.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid., 44.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid., 46.
17. Ibid., 49.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid., 50.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid., 51.
22. Ibid.
23. Ibid.

© 2007 Probe Ministries

Kerby Anderson is president of Probe Ministries International. He holds masters degrees from Yale University (science) and from Georgetown University (government). He is the author of several books, including Christian Ethics in Plain Language, Genetic Engineering, Origin Science, Signs of Warning, Signs of Hope and Making the Most of Your Money in Tough Times. His new series with Harvest House Publishers includes: A Biblical Point of View on Islam, A Biblical Point of View on Homosexuality, A Biblical Point of View on Intelligent Design and A Biblical Point of View on Spiritual Warfare. He is the host of "Point of View" (USA Radio Network) heard on 360 radio outlets nationwide as well as on the Internet (www.pointofview.net) and shortwave. He is also a regular guest on "Prime Time America" (Moody Broadcasting Network) and "Fire Away" (American Family Radio). He produces a daily syndicated radio commentary and writes editorials that have appeared in papers such as the Dallas Morning News, the Miami Herald, the San Jose Mercury, and the Houston Post.


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