Science, History, the Bible and the Quest for Certainty

Arguing over Puzzle Pieces
Arguing over Puzzle Pieces

Let’s face it, humans crave certainty, and who can blame them? For 200,000 years, humans lived as hunter-gatherers, who were, and still are, very conservative when it comes to change.(1)  Hey, if it has worked forever to keep us alive, why mess with it?

When one worldview was challenged, as must have happened when the green plains of the Sahara gradually desiccated into the vast sea of burning sand that it is today, the only humans who survived were those flexible enough to adapt-by moving to riverbanks and oases.

Relatively recently history (those things that are written down) and science (the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical world through observation and experiment) have come to be accepted as the sources of certain truth.

For example, we say an event is “historically accurate.” By that we mean it is Truth, it is certain, we can take it to the bank. But history is not only written by the victors, it is written almost exclusively by well-to-do males. If the ruling elite approve that version of history, they will promote it, if not, they will suppress it. What is the history of the vanquished, the women, children and the slaves? Who cares? So history is not Truth, it is not certain.

As for science, humans have always observed the structure and behavior of the physical world; they could not have survived for even a week if they failed to do so. But relatively recently (past several hundred years) science as a method for discovering the truth has come into vogue. It has legendary sages, rituals and a view of the cosmos, just like indigenous religions. But real scientists admit that it is contains the induction fallacy, it is not certain, it cannot claim to be Truth.

Yet this honest admission by real scientists is fiercely rejected by many modern hunter-gatherers, terrified by uncertainty, craving a final Truth that will keep them safe, keep them alive, forever. That science is the source of all Truth and the Savoir of humankind is a religious belief. It still has a powerful hold on the western mind, but it is fading.

When I was a child, we were all going to live better through chemistry, nuclear power was going to free us from drudgery, DDT was going to kill all the bad bugs and psychology was going to create a New Man, even if involved lobotomies.

Strangely (to me) many Christians insist on the truth-dealing properties of history and science and fear that if their book does not fit these recent standards for truth, then the whole book is baloney. This is an example of culture affecting religion. Why should they insist on these modern standards? Because the surrounding culture does so. Our modern culture does not value intuition, oral tradition, or the innate and universal spiritual impulse. It does not value art, poetry or song. When these perfectly valid sources of truth about human nature return to their rightful position of importance the controversy over whether science, history or the Bible is “true” will be over.

It is as if a huge puzzle was blown apart by a hurricane long ago and now some find a few pieces here and some find a few pieces there. They hug their pieces close to their chest, shrieking “I have the puzzle!” But no, you only have pieces of the puzzle. When you bring all your pieces to the picnic table and put them together, you will have a better picture of the puzzle, you will be closer to the Truth.

(1) Jared Diamond, The World until Yesterday




  1. I love this post! I think you’re right that this is why we are afraid to embrace the fullness of our humanity – both faith and reason, both poetry and prose, both spiritual and physical – because we crave certainty. We want to be dead certain…? Like St. Thomas Aquinas said, “The truth cannot contradict the truth.” Christians should never fear science, for the natural and supernatural come from the same Source.

    1. Thank you for the encouragement. Yes, we are fractured folks and need to reclaim our wholeness. I personally think human beings are amazing and that we are here to flourish-to sprout, grow toward the light and bloom. Man-made limitations keep us back from that and we should cast those limitations off-and flourish. 🙂

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