In anticipation of an upcoming teaching series I’m doing on Genesis 1, I posted the first in a series of considerations on the relationship of faith and science. You can read the initial post here. A great discussion ensued in the comment section, and there was one significant comment that’s should be pondered in some depth.
Regarding the importance of our beginning assumptions they wrote: Do they start with God’s word, or do they start with man’s ideas? Everyone has a bias (only some are willing to admit it), everyone has to make a starting point assumption a-priori concerning origins because we weren’t there.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this observation, because it is true that assumptions provide the framework through which we look at everything. The great fissure that has occurred between the science and faith communities has happened precisely because of these assumptions which, on both sides of this debate, seem inadequate to me.
FAITH: Biblical truth trumps Scientific Discovery.
This is the Galileo problem addressed in the previous post. There were people who refused to even look through the telescope because the Bible says that from the “rising of the sun to the place where it sets…” at least three times! In their desire to defend the Bible’s authority, history tells us that people of faith have, over and over again, refused to alter their view of the Bible when the scientific community challenges their views.
With God’s word as the starting point, the brilliant Martin Luther wrote: There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around the sun….that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must invent something special. The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.
It’s all so simple right? Read the Bible literally, and you’ll know the truth, and where your literal reading conflicts with scientific discovery, the Bible is right and science is wrong. I hope the limitations of this view is self-evident. If not, be careful next time you drive towards the horizon; you might just fall off (see Isaiah 11:12 for a historic justification of a flat earth)
SCIENCE: If we can’t explain it – it can’t be true.
Stubborn dogma isn’t solely entrenched among the faith community. At its worst, the scientific community views its paradigms as infallible, as if they’ve achieved full “enlightenment” (pun intended). Armed with their “complete” understanding of the universe, they’re quick to dismiss any miraculous events recorded in the Bible as evidence that the Bible is nothing more than a book of fables. In thus “materializing” the universe, they are failing to recognize:
1. that their own world of science is constantly in flux, discarding or refining old theories as new evidence comes to light.
2. that there is much for which they will most likely never have an answer, including the big question of “first cause”
3. that the best science doesn’t pre-emptively dismiss what it can’t explain as “impossible”, but rather recognizes the fact that all is not yet known.
It’s easy to see how either of these starting points contribute to the chasm that often exists between the science and faith communities. Both positions are flawed by their arrogance and reveal that their dogma resides, not just with their starting point, but with their conclusions. Bad Science rejects anything that doesn’t reinforce an atheistic, materialist worldview. Bad Theology rejects anything doesn’t reinforce a literal interpretation of the Bible. Can you see that both positions are rooted in arrogance, and that this is the real problem? Can you see how the rhetoric and accusation from both sides will only serve to widen the chasm? As a result, I’d like to propose a third, better starting point:
All truth is God’s truth: Scientist, and Christian, John Lennox, writes: “since God is the author both of his Word the Bible and of the universe, there must ultimately be harmony between correct interpretation of the biblical data and correct interpretation of the scientific data.” If we can begin here, several very good things happen:
1. We begin to see the science and the Bible are both revelation from God, and as such can ‘co-inform’ each other, in complementary and compatible ways. This is in keeping with the Bible’s declaration that the created universe declares the glory of God, and as such is worthy of both our study and delight.
2. Specialists both across and within disciplines can learn to listen to each other with humility, allowing their own views to be informed by the other.
3. Both science and theology will be continually refined and enriched by the other.
So, rather than setting up science and the Bible as adversaries, and asking which you’ll choose, I’ll be teaching Genesis one from the starting point which declares that truth can be discovered through a telescope, a microscope, a math class, and the reading of Genesis. It’s all good because it’s all about seeking to uncover what God is saying to us, whether through nebula, or Noah.
I welcome your thoughts.
To read more of Richard’s thoughts, check out his blog here.