When Science Writers Write on Religion:
The Case of Isaac Asimov

by Jerry Bergman, Ph.D.

(Investigator 185, 2019 March

The late Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) is one of the best known contemporary science and science fiction writers in the West. The Russian born Jewish American has produced over four hundred fiction and non-fiction books on almost every area of science and literature. His writing talents and subject variety are legend, running the gamut from pornography (his Still More Lecherous Limericks is advertised for sale to adult over 21 only) to Biblical commentary (Guide to the Bible, 2 volumes).

His Education: He completed his Master of Arts degree in chemistry in 1941 and a Doctor of Philosophy in biochemistry in 1948, both from Columbia University in New York. In 1984, the American Humanist Association (AHA) named him The Humanist of the Year. He was for his entire life an outspoken aggressive anti-Creationist and a militant pro-evolutionist, a worldview that shows through in his writing. Nonetheless, his many fans include many creationists who find his science writing very enlightening in spite of his aggressive stand against Christianity.

In the Beginning
One of his books, In the Beginning, is a readable, flowing book written for high school or undergraduate college level readers. In the Beginning is a verse by verse commentary of Genesis and, although it contains much good information, it is rather superficial, lacks references or a bibliography, and is at times condescending of religious persons and beliefs.  
Asimov uncritically accepts all of the assumptions and conclusions of liberal scholars.  An example is the idea that Genesis is a “scissors and paste job” of materials from four separate sources. The “JEPD theory” is presented without ever acknowledging the many criticisms against it (one of many was reviewed in Time, By one Hand? December 7, 1981). Time Magazine reported on a five year computer study that found Genesis is more likely the work of a single writer and the JEPD theory, which has hardened into liberal orthodoxy, must be rejected or, at best, be thoroughly revised. This conclusion came from the research of Dr. Israel Radday and his colleagues, a respected scholar whom Time claimed earned wide acclaim for his computer analysis of other books of the Bible. Asimov should have acknowledged this important contemporary reference which demolished his JEPD theory.
The tone of Asimov’s book is set on the first page with such statements as “Against these strong, unwavering and undeviating beliefs [referring to people who believe that the Bible is God’s Word] the slowly developing views of scientists have always had to fight.” This superficial oversimplification evidences little knowledge of the history of science and religion. Sometimes Asimov is misleading, as when early in the book he states:

What does the Bible say, and what does science say?...[this book] does not argue one way or the other. It offers no polemics. It merely considers the verses of the Bible, line by line, and indeed word by word, discusses the content and meaning, and compares them with the scientific views that pertain to the passage (pp. 1-2).

As Asimov later admits, however, his book does no such thing. Rather than being objective and unbiased, as the above quote promises, his purpose is clearly to persuade his readers that, although having some “historical value,” the Bible is not God’s word and merely reflects the “unscientific beliefs of the ancient Hebrews.” Yet, Asimov has many good things to say about the Genesis account.  He admits that the Bible writers

labored to produce something that was as reasonable and as useful as possible. In doing so, they succeeded wonderfully. There is no version of primeval history, preceding the discovering of modern science, that is as rational and as inspiring as that of the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis (p. 3).

One interesting comparison Asimov makes is that the Scriptures teach Earth was at one time “without form and void,” or disordered which corresponds with the modern evolutionary theory that teaches the solar system was formed from a vast cloud of dust and gas. Whereas most scientists formerly believed that the universe has always existed, Asimov points out that most scientists now believe that the universe had a definite beginning as the Scriptures state.
He acknowledges that, while religionists have had their squabbles over Bible interpretations and religious issues, science has likewise seen its share of arguments, disputes and endless polemics (p. 8). A difference, Asimov claims, is that scientific opinion eventually swings one way or the other according to the facts, but religious opinion does not. This common claim is, of course, simply false. The fact is, some religious denominations have moved radically away from their original teachings. Many scientists also differ with his differentiation. We are still arguing some very old “scientific” controversies such as Darwinism, as anyone who has spent much time in science is well aware. One scientist wrote almost 20 years after Asimov died that:

Although Charles Darwin titled his book On the Origin of Species, speciation was one thing he could not explain. He called it the “mysteries of mysteries,” and even a century-and-a-half later the mechanism by which two groups of animals become genetically incompatible remains one of the greatest puzzles in biology (Bob Holmes, 2011. Evolution’s X Factor. New Scientist p. 33).

Conversely, many religious controversies have been settled long ago. Many were settled by Paul, Peter, and the Apostles centuries ago— how many Christians today argue whether Christians must be circumcised as a condition of salvation? Asimov’s statements may be more true in physics and chemistry than biology. According to Kline (1981), there are more debates in science today than ever before.
Other reviewers have also noted Asimov’s evident lack of Biblical knowledge. Gordon Stein, writing in The American Rationalist states,:

Asimov brings a broad breadth of scientific knowledge to his examination of Genesis.  How great his Biblical knowledge is, one never can quite be sure. He does seem quite positive about many of his interpretations of the Biblical text, even when theologians have been arguing among themselves over the meaning [of them] for years (p. 47).

Asimov recounts the story of how the view that outside intervention was needed to account for the universe has been slowly discarded in Science. Scientists, he writes

grew increasingly reluctant to suppose that the workings of the laws of nature were interfered with...in short, the scientific view sees the universe as following its own rules blindly, without either interference or direction. (p. 11)

He adds the rather seeping and highly debatable conclusion that “So far, scientists have not uncovered any evidence that would hint that the workings of the universe require the action of a divine being.”(pp. 11-12) He admits, though, that “On the other hand, scientists have uncovered no evidence that indicates that a divine being does not exist.” (p. 12)
Asimov also rehashes some of the old debates, i.e. God as the answer to where the universe came from raises the question “who made God?” Jews and Christians have answered God always existed, and is the uncaused first cause. The scientists answer is “The Big Bang is ultimately the creation of everything from nothing, then something appeared from nothing “perhaps smaller than a proton” (Hawking, 2018, p. 34). Then the expansion of the universe occurred and the stars and planets soon followed. Thus, the Big Bang explains the origin of space, matter, energy, and time from nothing (Hawking, 2018, pp. 29-31). In other words, thanks to the Big Bang “you can get a whole universe for free” because “the fantastically enormous universe of space and energy can materialize out of nothing” from the Big Bang (Hawking, 2018, pp. 31-32).
Conversely, Asimov does accurately describe the chief conflict between creationists and evolutionists, namely, “The Bible describes the universe created by God, maintained by him, while scientists describe a universe in which it is not necessary to postulate the existence of God at all” because it can somehow create itself (p. 13).
Asimov is rather dogmatic in many of his interpretations of both Scripture and science. For example, Asimov is certain “The heavens,” in Genesis 1:11 refers to a vault in the sky made out of a solid steel semi-circular dome covering the earth and the permanent objects connected to it (p. 14). One might wonder how he could be so sure about this interpretation, especially in view of the fact that many Biblical scholars have come to other, very different, conclusions.
Asimov also indulges in much fanciful speculation. He claims that the cosmic egg (the single body of matter, often described as about the size of a pin head or smaller, that existed in the “beginning” and from which all that exists came from, exploded in the largest conceivable explosion, called the Big Bang noted above, which was so enormous that its fragments were

at first entirely too hot for matter, as we know it to exist. Initially, the products formed in the explosion are energy. In tiny fractions of a second, the temperature dropped precipitously, and the Universe became cool enough to form certain fundamental particles of matter. Today, however, the Universe is too cool to allow these particles to exist. A full second after the big bang, the temperature of the Universe had dropped ten billion degrees, about what it is at the center of the largest stars, and the ordinary sub-atomic particles we know today came into existence. Later ordinary atoms were formed (p. 23).

This information, although presented as factual science, is based on current limited knowledge and enormous guesswork and assumption. Speculation serves a very important role in science, but should be labeled as such, which Asimov does not do. He is also evidently unaware of the difficulties of arriving at “truth” from the scientific method (Robbins, 1978; Bergman 1983). In short, Asimov’s ideas reflect his worldview and his evolution glasses successfully block out that which does not fit his worldview. This is now easier to see after almost 40 years after he wrote his book on Genesis.


Asimov, Isaac.1981. In the Beginning: Science Faces God in the Book of Genesis. New York: Crown.

Bergman, Jerry. 1983. “What is Science?” The Creation Research Society Quarterly 20(1):39-42, June.

Hawking, Stephen. 2018. Brief Answers to the Big Questions. New York: Bantam Books

Kline, Morris. 1980. Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty. New York: Oxford University Press.

Robbins, John W. 1978. Book review of Criticism and The Growth of Knowledge, ed. Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave. Creation Social Science and Humanities Quarterly, 1(2):13-17. Winter.

Stein, Gordon. 1981. Review of In the Beginning. American Rationalist. 26(3):47. September-October.