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The Language of Science and Faith: An Excerpt
In the Galileo case we all too often assume that "science won and religion lost," but that is an absurd conclusion, especially as Galileo was speaking for an influential group of Catholic astronomers working to reform their Church. The conflict was between two different groups within the Catholic Church. Culturally, however, the Church lost in the sense that it was embarrassed and held up to ridicule for its decision, unfairly in the opinion of many scholars. But the Church won in the sense that Galileo's position was eventually validated—by Christian scientists—and the Church moved away from an erroneous interpretation of those Bible verses suggesting that the earth was stationary.
Today, as Christians wrestle with evolution, we see the same dynamics. Many Christians are ridiculed by the secular world and by the more scientifically educated wing of Christianity because of their opposition to Darwin. Many insist on a particular literalist interpretation of a few Bible verses that is not actually consistent with the original Hebrew and close their minds to evolution. This, of course, is a highly negative interaction. But at the same time, as the evidence for evolution becomes ever more compelling, many Christians are embracing alternative interpretations of Genesis and moving away from error.
Although science and religion certainly overlap in some cases, neither is an exhaustive source of truth capable of swallowing up the other. There are still questions that only science can address, and religion should simply concede on those points. And science cannot answer questions about life's purpose or the existence of God. Scientists in the public square should refrain from pontificating on these topics as if suddenly science has become a religion. We also have to keep in mind that science makes mistakes—sometimes significant ones—but science is self-correcting over time, as history shows so clearly.
The historical lesson to be learned here is that Christians should be wary of using the Bible as a scientific text. Every generation has had pundits insisting that the science of its time was taught by the Bible. So Christians confidently wedded their faith to their science only to have it experience a painful divorce when science moved on to new ideas. The Faith of many Christians today is wedded to pre-Darwinian and even pre-geologic science of the nineteenth century, and that marriage is now in serious trouble.
The task of developing dramatic new understandings of Scripture in response to the advance of science is a most challenging undertaking and cannot be taken lightly.