Glossary of Science and Theology Terms

Adiabatic Expansion: A volume increase wherein cooling results from the expansion alone, not from any loss of energy from the system.

Agnosticism: (Gk. a - no, gnosis - knowledge) Literally: “no-knowledge-ism.” The view that one does not, or can not, know ultimate reality (especially God). The position that God’s existence cannot be determined due to an insufficiency of knowledge (thus implying the suspension of judgment).

Albedo: The ratio of reflected light to the total amount of light falling on a surface.

Amino Acid Residues: The essential molecular building blocks within proteins.

Amino Acids: Organic molecules containing the amino group NH 2 and at least one carboxyl group. These acids form the basic constituents of all proteins.

Angular Momentum: The measure of a body's tendency to continue rotating about its axis.

Anthropic Principle: The observation that the universe has all the necessary and narrowly-defined characteristics to make man and his sustained existence possible. The view that the universe is conspicuously “fine-tuned” for human existence.

Anthropomorphism: The act of ascribing human characteristics to non-humans (especially to God).

Antinomy: A contradiction or inconsistency between two apparently reasonable statements or principles.

Apologetics: (Gk. apologia - defense) The branch of Christian theology that provides rational justification for the truth claims of Christianity. Christian apologetics involves providing positive evidence for the faith, answering questions or objections, as well as critiquing alternative (non-Christian) systems of thought.

Appearance of Age: The hypothesis that God created the universe, the earth, and life with (false) indicators of a nonexistent past. If this hypothesis were true, scientific measurements of great age conceivably could be reconciled with a recent-creation interpretation of certain biblical passages.

Archaeology: The scientific study of the material remains of ancient cultures.

Atheism: (Gk. a - no, theos - God) Literally: “no-God-ism.” The view that no God or gods exist. The position that denies or rejects the existence God.

Atheist: Someone who denies the existence of a divine being.

Atonement: Satisfaction for wrongdoing or debt. In Christianity, the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross (specifically His death) by which sinful human beings are restored to fellowship with their holy and just God.

Attributes of God: Qualities or characteristics that are attributed to, or predicated of, God (e.g., all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere present).

Autonomy: The state of being independent, self-determining, or free.

Axiom: A self-evident proposition; a statement that needs no proof because its truth is considered obvious.

Baryons: (also known as nucleons) The heavier particles, e.g., protons and neutrons, that make up the nucleus of an atom; any particle whose decay products include a proton.

Beauty Principle: The proposition that the correct description of nature is that which manifests the greatest degree of simplicity, elegance, harmony, and consistency.

Big Bang (inflationary): The theory that the universe expands adiabatically according to the standard equations of general relativity from an initial state of infinite density, temperature, and pressure except during the period from about 10 -43 to 10 -34 seconds (of the universe's existence), when it expanded at an exponentially accelerated rate.

Big Bang (standard): The theory that the universe expands adiabatically according to the standard equations of general relativity from an initial state of infinite density, temperature, and pressure.

Bipedal: Characteristically walking on two feet.

Black Body Radiation: Radiation characteristic of a body that perfectly absorbs all the radiation falling on it.

Black Hole: A massive system so centrally condensed that its force of gravity prevents everything within it, including light, from escaping.

Causality, Principle of: Every effect must have a sufficient cause; everything that comes into being must have a cause.

Christology: (From the Gk. Christos - Christ or Messiah) The study of the person, nature, and work of Jesus Christ.

Church Fathers: The intellectual and spiritual leaders of the Christian church (following the apostles) during its first 500 years. The Father’s theological and apologetic writings were central to the expansion and development of the Christian faith.

Closed Universe: An expanding universe with sufficient density that gravity eventually halts the expansion and forces a collapse.

Contingent: The state of being dependent upon something else for existence.

Continuous Creation: The hypothesis that everywhere in the universe new matter is spontaneously and continuously being created out of nothing. In steady state theories the rate of creation is set so that, as the universe expands, its overall density remains a constant.

Corollary: A proposition logically derived from another that already has been proved.

Cosmic Rays: Streams of penetrating particles that bombard the earth from outer space. The most energetic of these particles come primarily from supernova remnants.

Cosmological Argument: One of the traditional proofs for the existence of God. Derived from the word “cosmos” (world), the argument attempts to prove that the world requires the existence of God as its ultimate cause.

Cosmological Constant (›): The term expressing a hypothesized repulsive force. Einstein added it to his original gravitational theory to enable the theory to predict a static, non-expanding universe. There is no evidence, as yet, to support the existence of such a force.

Cosmology: The study of the universe as a whole, including its origin, structure, characteristics, and development.

Coupling Constant: A number that expresses how strongly any force interacts between two bodies.

Creatio Ex Nihilo: (Lat. phrase) Literally, “creation out of nothing.” St. Augustine was the first to formulate the view that God created the world out of nothing (without the use of preexisting matter). The world was created purely by the creative power of God.

Creationism: The view that the world was brought into existence directly by God, rather than through blind, naturalistic processes.

Critical Density: An average density (of the universe) that if exceeded will cause an eventual collapse of the universe. Alexander Friedmann calculated that figure to be about 2 x 10 -29 grams/cubic centimeter. An average density of that value or less means that the universe will continue to expand.

Darwinism: Of or pertaining to the views of English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Specifically referring to Darwin’s views concerning biological evolution which, as a comprehensive theory, asserted that all life on Earth was the product of purely natural processes.

Day - Age Theory: The theory that the creation days of Genesis (chapter one) are actually long ages, rather than literal 24-hour periods.

de Sitter Universe: A model of the universe that appears static because of a peculiar system of spatial coordinates and the assumption that the matter content of the universe is zero. When the assumption that the universe contains zero matter is corrected, the model predicts an expanding universe.

Deceleration Parameter (q o): The term expressing the rate by which the expansion of the universe slows down.

Deism: Belief in a God who created the world, but does not intervene within it (God is transcendent but not immanent). This religious worldview, which emphasizes natural law over revelation, was most popular during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in England, France, and America.

Deist: Someone who believes in the existence of a divine being, but a distant one, a deity who maintains no personal interaction with the creatures he caused to come into existence.

Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA): A long double strand of nucleotides containing the genetic code that specifies and controls all the characteristics of an organism.

Determinism: The view that everything in the universe is controlled by previous conditions, and therefore could not be otherwise.

Deuterium: A heavy isotope of hydrogen with one neutron and one proton in the nucleus.

Doubt: To be uncertain as to the truth of something. In a biblical context, doubt is not the same as “unbelief.”

Dysteleology: Lacking a function or constructive purpose. Some argue that parts of the universe lack function or a constructive purpose, therefore offering evidence countering the claim that the universe was designed.

Electron: The lightest of the elementary particles that have measurable mass. It carries a negative charge.

Empiricism: (Gk. empeiria - “experience”) The view that all knowledge is acquired through five sense experience.

Entropy: A measure of the amount of energy in a disordered form (i.e., unavailable for work) within a system.

Enzymes: Protein-like molecules that serve as catalysts in the assembly of amino acid chains.

Epistemology: (Gk. episteme - “knowledge”) The branch of philosophy concerned with the origin, nature, limits, and validity of knowledge.

Evidentialism: An approach to Christian apologetics which asserts that the truth of Christianity can be verified on the basis of evidence (e.g., fulfilled prophecy, miracles, various philosophical and scientific proofs). It is generally agreed that there is a point of common ground between believer and unbeliever when it comes to argumentation and the basic facts of history and science.

Evolution, Theistic: The view that God’s purposes are carried out through the normal evolutionary processes found in the natural world.

Evolution, Theory of: Charles Darwin’s biological theory that complex life forms have developed gradually from more primitive life forms through the mechanism of natural selection. Natural selection serves to eliminate unfit life forms and generates new forms through the process of mutation.

Ex Nihil Nihil Fit: (Lat. phrase) Literally, “from nothing, nothing comes.” A principle of causality.

Faith: Biblically speaking, to willfully place one’s confident trust in a reliable source or person (especially God [Christ]). Biblical faith therefore involves three things: (1) knowledge of the source, (2) assent of the will, and (3) a commitment to trust.

Fall, The: Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience which resulted in divine judgment (estrangement and separation from God). As a result of the fall, guilt and moral corruption were passed on to the entire human race.

Falsifiable: Something that is at least theoretically open to invalidation.

Fatalism: The view that all events are predetermined by fate and therefore unalterable by mankind. “Whatever will be will be.” Often fate is described as an impersonal and capricious force.

Finite: Having specific boundaries, limitations, or an end. Limitations in attributes and character. God’s creation is finite. Contrasted with infinite.

Flat Universe: A universe with a density equal to Friedmann's critical value, a universe expanding forever at a rate just fast enough to prevent collapse.

Foreknowledge, Divine: God’s perfect knowledge of all actual and possible events.

Frame of Reference: The position in time and space from which measurements and observations are made.

Free Will: The view that human choices and actions are self-caused (i.e., uncoerced or independent of external causal factors).

Frequency: For any kind of wave, the time between peaks of successive wave crests.

Fundamentalism: A movement that arose at the beginning of the 20th century to reaffirm the tenets of orthodox Protestant Christianity and to defend the faith militantly against the challenges of liberal theology, higher criticism, and Darwinism.

General Revelation: God's expression of Himself to man through the realm of nature (apart from special revelation).

Genome: The complete set of chromosomes necessary for reproduction.

Globular Cluster: A spherically symmetric system of stars typically containing more than 100,000 stars.

Grace: (Gk. charis - “favor” or “goodness”) Biblically speaking, the unmerited favor of God. The goodness and kindness of God which is extended to undeserving mankind.

Gravitational Collapse or Contraction: The falling of matter toward the center of a system as a result of mutual gravitational attraction.

Greenhouse Effect: The retention of heat at the earth's surface caused by atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide that allow short wavelength radiation from the sun to pass through but then trap the long wavelength radiation emitted by the earth.

Half-Life: The time required for the disintegration of half the atoms in a sample of a radioactive isotope of an element.

Heliocentrism: The belief that the sun is the center of the solar system.

Heresy: A belief or teaching that seriously departs from (or contradicts) the central teaching of the Bible. An outright denial of essential Christian doctrine.

Hermeneutics: The science of biblical interpretation.

Hesitation Model: A model for the universe wherein the value for the cosmological constant is carefully set so that the expansion of the universe can be halted for an arbitrary period.

Higher Criticism: Application of the methods and suppositions of literary and form criticism to the study of the Bible. This involves critical studies concerning the authorship, dating, form, and sources of the books of the Bible.

Hominid: Any primate species that bears a close anatomical resemblance and some behavioral resemblance to modern man.

Homogeneous: A system in which the component parts are identical in their structure and characteristics.

Hubble Age: The age of the universe calculated by extrapolating the observed expansion of the universe backward in time to the starting point.

Hubble's Constant: The observed expansion rate of the universe.

Humanism: The view that “mankind is the measure of all things.” To invest mankind with supreme value.

Imago Dei: (Lat. “Image of God”) Mankind was created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Though tarnished by the fall, mankind reflects the image of God in the following respects: personality, rationality, volition, and spirituality.

Incarnation: (Lat. carne - “flesh”) Literally, “becoming in flesh.” The Christian doctrine that Jesus Christ, the Second person of the Trinity, took to Himself a human nature and became man, without in any way diminishing His deity (John 1:1,14). Jesus Christ is one person with two distinguishable natures (divine and human).

Incompleteness Theorem: A principle derived by Kurt Gödel, which states with incomplete information about a system, it is impossible to prove a necessarily true theorem (i.e., a one and only one descriptive statement) about that system.

Indubitable: Beyond all doubt; absolutely or unquestionably true.

Inerrancy: Literally, “without error.” In its strongest form, a reference to the Bible being completely trustworthy in all matters in which it speaks (including matters of faith, practice, history, and science). The belief that the Bible, as a consequence of its divine inspiration, contains no contradictions or errors in its original autographs.

Infinite: Without boundaries, limitations, or an end. No limitations in attributes or character. God is infinite (perfect in attributes and character). Contrasted with finite.

Inspiration: Biblically speaking, the process by which God moved the biblical writers to produce the scriptural books. This divine supervision removed the possibility of human error, but allowed the personality and style of the various writers to be reflected. Thus the Scriptures are theopneustos “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16).

Isotope: Any one of two or more forms of the same element with different atomic weights, i.e., with different numbers of neutrons.

Isotropic: Independent of direction or angle. A property is isotropic if it is the same when viewed from any direction.

Leptons: Elementary particles that do not participate in strong nuclear reactions, e.g., electrons, neutrinos, and photons.

Light Year: The distance light travels in one year (approximately 5.9 trillion miles or 9.5 trillion kilometers).

Logic: The branch of philosophy concerned with the principles of correct reasoning. The science that evaluates thinking and argumentation.

Luminosity: A measure of the intensity of light emitted by an object.

Macroevolution: Evolution on a large or broad scale (change throughout the phylum).

Materialism: The metaphysical view that all reality is reducible to, or explainable in terms of, matter and its physical properties.

Messiah: (Literally, “anointed one,” Gk. Christ) The promised Old Testament deliverer who was uniquely anointed by God to carry out the work of redemption and usher in the Kingdom of God. The title claimed by Jesus, and attested to by His apostles.

Microevolution: Evolution on a small or limited scale (change within species).

Microwave Background: The radiation left over from the big bang. This radiation follows the spectrum of a black body radiator with a temperature of about 3° Kelvin.

Miracle: A divine intervention into the natural order of affairs (inexplicable from a purely naturalistic viewpoint).

Missing Mass: The amount of mass, beyond what has been measured, that would be required to eventually bring the universe collapsing in on itself.

Modernism: Reflecting the philosophical and religious views of modern times. Relating to Christianity, it emphasizes higher critical textual claims, liberal theology, and a naturalistic outlook (antisupernatural bias).

Monotheism: Belief in one, and only one, God. Belief in a single personal deity. Contrasted with polytheism.

Natural Selection: The biological concept that individuals with greater skills in adapting to their environment (survival skills) thrive.

Natural Theology: Knowledge of God by means of the natural intellect, apart from special revelation.

Naturalism: The view that the natural, material, and physical universe is the only reality. The philosophy of naturalism is characterized by monism, materialism, antisupernaturalism, scientism, and humanism.

Nebular Hypothesis: The idea that the galaxies, stars, and planets all condensed out of an amorphous nebula of molecules and dust.

Neo-Darwinian Evolution: The hypothesis that all species of life developed continuously by strictly natural processes from atoms to molecules to proteins to cells to advanced organisms.

Neutrinos: A class of electrically neutral particles, with little or no mass, that experience weak nuclear and gravitational interactions only.

Neutron: An electrically neutral elementary particle with a large mass; one of the class of particles known as baryons.

Nihilism: The view that there is no meaning, purpose, significance, or value in the universe.

Non-Contradiction, Law of: (A cannot equal A and non-A) One of the fundamental laws of logic. Stated metaphysically: “Something cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect.” Stated epistemologically: “Two contradictory statements cannot both be true at the same time and in the same respect.”

Non-Theist: Someone who does not acknowledge the reality of a theistic God.

Nuclear Fusion: The merging of lightweight atomic nuclei into more massive nuclei. A small amount of the combined mass is lost because it is converted into energy.

Nucleochronology: The age-dating of astronomical bodies from the relative abundance of radioactive isotopes.

Nucleosynthesis: The process of forming elements from protons and neutrons.

Olber's Paradox: The question "Why is the night sky dark if the universe is infinitely large, infinitely old, with an infinite number of stars?"

Old Earth: The view that the earth was created billions of years ago (approximately five billion years ago). This is part of the broader ancient universe model. This position interprets the creation days of Genesis as six long ages (not six consecutive 24-hour periods). Contrasted with Young Earth.

Open Universe: A universe with a density less than (or equal to) Friedmann’s critical value. Gravity cannot prevent such a universe from expanding forever.

Original Sin: The doctrine that the universal sinfulness of humanity (both guilt and moral corruption) came from Adam’s initial sin (Gen. 3). The sinful condition of humanity was inherited from Adam.

Oscillation Model: The idea that the universe alternates between phases of expansion and contraction.

Paleontology: The study of fossils and ancient forms of life.

Pantheism: (Gk. pan - “all” or “every,” theos - “God”) Literally, “all-God-ism.” The view that makes God identical with the world. “All is God and God is all.” The world and God are synonymous.

Pantheist: Someone who views the universe itself as some kind of divine being.

Paradox: Two seemingly contradictory statements or propositions, which once resolved explain or reveal a more fundamental truth.

Peptide Bond: The linking of a carboxyl group from one amino acid to an amino group of another acid with the resultant release of a water molecule.

Perfect Cosmological Principle: The assumption that the mean density of matter in the universe is constant.

Photon: The smallest unit of light energy capable of existing independently.

Planck Time: The moment 10 -43 seconds after the big bang creation event. For any time before this moment, gravity affects all physical processes.

Polytheism: (Gk. polus - “much” or “many,” theos - “God”) Literally, “many-gods-ism.” The belief in many (more than one) gods or deities.

Predestination: To foreordain. The sovereign decision and decree of God to determine the destiny of all souls. God’s eternal selection of certain individuals for salvation (election).

Presuppositionalism: An approach to apologetics that asserts that the starting point of any appropriate Christian apologetic involves the acceptance of: (1) The existence of the Triune God, and (2) the infallible authority of Scripture. This view allows for no neutral ground between believer and unbeliever concerning the facts of history. Neutrality is not possible because of the believer’s fallen noetic condition, and because all facts must be interpreted within the framework of the larger biblical revelation. This approach is closely tied to the Reformed thinker Cornelius Van Til.

Primeval Atom: A single, gigantic atom which, as it disintegrated, became the present universe.

Protogalaxy: A galaxy in its formative stages of development.

Proton: A positively charged elementary particle with a large mass, also one of the baryons.

Protostar: A star in its formative stages.

Pulsar: The collapsed core that remains from a supernova explosion. A pulsar rotates so rapidly (typically about once a second) that energy associated with its magnetic field bursts forth once every rotation period.

Quantum Gravity: Physical theories now being designed to cope with conditions before the universe was 10 -43 seconds old. At 10 -43 seconds, the force of gravity within the universe becomes comparable to the strong nuclear force. At such a magnitude, gravity may be modified by quantum mechanical effects.

Quantum Mechanics: The realm of micro phenomena in which energy is not infinitely divisible and the micro phenomena possess both wave and particle characteristics.

Quantum Tunneling: The process by which quantum particles penetrate barriers that are insurmountable to classical objects.

Quasars: The most powerfully radiant objects in the universe, typically emitting more energy than a thousand normal galaxies from a volume only one trillionth that of a normal galaxy.

Reconstructionism: A doctrinal system combining Puritan beliefs about law, politics, and Biblical end-times events with the beliefs of presuppositionalism.

Redshift (doppler): A shifting of the spectral lines of a radiating body toward longer wavelengths in direct proportion to the velocity at which that body moves away from the observer.

Redshift (gravitational): A shifting of the spectral lines of a radiating body toward longer wavelengths caused, in this case, by the gravitational field of that body.

Relativity, Special: A physical theory derived from the combined propositions that 1) there is no observable absolute motion, only relative motion, and 2) the velocity of light is constant and independent of the motion of the source.

Relativity, General: An extension of special relativity theory to include the effects of gravity on matter, energy, space, and time.

Revelation, General: Revelation of God made available to all people through the created order.

Revelation, Special: Revelation of God through a special source (Moses, Jesus Christ, the Bible).

Revelation: God revealing or unveiling Himself. The self disclosure of God.

Ribonucleic Acid (RNA): A molecule composed of long chains of phosphate and sugar ribose along with several bases. One form is used by the cell to transfer information from DNA for assembling proteins.

Ribosome: An organic particle, composed of RNA and certain proteins, used by cells to manufacture other proteins.

Runaway Freezing: The cycle that begins when cooler temperatures result in increased snow and ice, which in turn cause more sunlight to reflect away from a planet's surface, further lowering the temperature and causing still more snow and ice to form, etc. until the whole surface is frozen.

Scientific Method: A method of empirical inquiry involving prediction, observation, and experimentation (a framework of restraint).

Secularism: An age without God or religion.

Sin: (Gk. hamartia - “sin”) Anything contrary to the will or commands of God. The Bible defines sin variously as an affront to God, to miss the mark, unrighteousness, Godlessness, and especially lawlessness.

Single Revelation Theology: The belief that God reveals Himself reliably only through Scripture.

Singularity: An infinitely shrunken space representing the boundary at which space ceases to exist or at which space comes into existence.

Skepticism: To doubt, question, or suspend judgment on philosophical and/or religious issues. In a strict philosophical sense, to deny that true knowledge is attainable.

Sovereignty of God: The view that makes God the absolute ruler and controller of all things. A reference to the absolute authority of God.

Space-Time Manifold: The four-dimensional continuum of space and time in which all the physical realities of the universe exist.

Special Creation: The doctrine that God personally intervened in the natural order to produce things that did not previously exist and that could not be produced by natural processes alone.

Specific Entropy: The amount of photon entropy per individual proton, an amount that approximately equals the ratio of photons to baryons.

Steady State Model: The hypothesis that the universe, though expanding indefinitely, takes on an unchanging and eternal quality since the voids that result from expansion are filled by the continual spontaneous generation of new matter.

Stellar Evolution: The processes by which stars condense out of primordial clouds, ignite nuclear burning processes, exhaust their nuclear fuel, and end their existence either in some kind of explosion or as a slowly dying cinder.

Strings: Tubelike configurations of energy that may have formed 10 -34 seconds after the creation of the universe and may have subsequently served as the condensation centers for galaxy formation.

Supernatural: The realm above or beyond the natural, physical world.

Supernova: The cataclysmic explosion of a massive star in which most of the star is blown off into interstellar space.

Teleological Argument: (Gk. teleos - “end” or “purpose”) A proof for the existence of God. The argument stated: Design requires a designer. The universe exhibits evidence of complex design. Therefore, the universe was designed by a cosmic architect (God). This argument has been advocated by many thinkers (Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas), but its most popular version was expressed by William Paley (the “watchmaker argument”).

Theism: (From Gk. theos - “God”) The worldview that affirms the existence of an infinite, eternal, and personal God, who is the transcendent creator, and immanent sustainer of the world. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are considered theistic religions.

Theist: Someone who believes that one divine being not only exists but also reveals Himself as the creator and ruler of the universe.

Theodicy: The problem of evil. An attempt to justify the goodness of God in light of evil.

Theology: (Gk. theos - “God,” logos - “study”) The study of God. Rational discourse about God.

Transcendence of God: God being beyond, independent of, or distinct from, the time-space world.

Transcendent: Existing beyond and apart from the limits of the material universe.

Trinity: The Christian concept of God. The one true God exists eternally and simultaneously as three distinguishable persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Uncertainty Principle: The principle first stated by Wemer Heisenberg that the uncertainty in the position of a particle multiplied by the uncertainty in the velocity of that particle must be greater than a specified number.

Ussher’s Chronology: A hypothesized calendar of biblical events based on the assumption that no generations were omitted from the genealogies and that the numbered days of the Genesis creation account were consecutive, 24-hour periods.

Virial Theorem: A theorem (applicable to point sources) that enables one to calculate either the dispersal time for star clusters whose total mass is insufficiently condensed for gravitational containment or the time required for the stars of more condensed clusters to assume randomized velocities.

Virtual Particle: A particle created and destroyed in so short a time that violations of energy conservation (in its creation) cannot be detected.

Wavelength: For any kind of wave, the distance between the peaks (or crests) of successive waves.

Worldview: A conceptual framework for interpreting reality. An attempt to arrange one’s most basic beliefs into a coherent system that can serve to evaluate and interpret reality. A comprehensive outlook on life.

Young Earth: The view that the earth was created several thousand years ago (possibly as recent as six to ten thousand years ago). This is part of the broader young universe model. This position interprets the creation days of Genesis as six, consecutive 24-hour periods. Contrasted with Old Earth.

For a catalog of materials pertaining to faith, science, and the Bible contact:

Reasons To Believe
P.O. Box 5978
Pasadena, CA 91117

Phone (626) 335-1480

P8906 © Copyright 1989 Reasons To Believe

Revised by Kenneth R. Samples May 1998