Science vs. faith? Try this third alternative.

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.

 

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Zachary Hines

    Thank you SO much for this article Richard. I’ve been a Christian who for many, many years has delighted in the interconnectedness of faith and science, and the ways in which both bring our view of God the creator into greater clarity. I can’t wait for this series. Thank you so much for doing this.

    -Zachary Hines

  • Rob Hager

    Hello Richard,

    a good post, that one!

    In my mind the folks of creation_dot_com are just trying to do that (seeking that harmony). And I might want to add that pretty many of the atheist/agnostic side of science (because science is done by both) have a hard time with your proposed third way “All truth is God’s truth”. Whatever the case, it would be VERY desirable if folks on all sides could just talk about their various interpretations of scientific facts or postulations in a peaceful manner and respect the other persons view of things.

    The reason we can’t do that is – at least partially – not arrogance, but fear. The atheist/agnostic fears that a God might actually BE and have something to say about the life and how he chooses to live it, and the Christian fears the opposite (haven’t we all at some point or other asked “where are you, God?!!!”). Fear makes one fight all the fiercer. Arrogance would imply that you’d be so sure of your position so you could and would just ignore the other side.

    I agree with your closing thought “it’s all good” as there really is no reason at all to be against what is perceived (i.e. science) but I also think it crucial that (creationist) christians should be allowed their interpretations of it, as far reaching decisions are based on the outcome (marriage, sanctity of life, motivation in life … e.g. abortion, genocide, genetics, etc. are viewed positive or negative by different people). So, apart from fear I also see the fight for the lives/souls of people as a reason why all of that “culture war” isn’t as cultivated or civilized as we could wish for.

  • http://brokentelegraph.com Ian

    A grand slam, Richard.

  • Vicki

    Rob,

    Atheists don’t fear God. They don’t think God exists. If I thought there was a goblin in my closet, I would be afraid of it. And, I suppose it is fair to say that I find the thought of a goblin in my closet frightening, but only in a scary movie sort of way. It isn’t real. I don’t think it is real. So I am not actually in fear for my safety. Likewise, someone who doesn’t think God exists, is not afraid of God. Nor are they mad at God, as is also commonly claimed. If someone tells you they lack a belief in God, have the humility to not assume you know better than they do what is going on in their own head.

    Richard,

    I think I understand what you are going for in your description of bad science. I certainly agree that it is very bad science. My concern is that the ideas expressed there sound a bit as if you think this is the common view. The description above this, of literal faith, is not unusual and was once the norm. Whereas your description of science is not at all common. Obviously, there will be those attempting to be scientists who are going about it with the wrong mindset, but what you have described is the sort of wrong thinking one would hope had be set straight in a freshman level class. “If we can’t explain it – it can’t be true” is demonstrably not at all the attitude of science. If we can’t explain it, we are fascinated and lean in for a closer look. Scientific theories often change and only a very ignorant “scientist” would think otherwise. Only in math is anything proven. Otherwise, theories have only repeatedly not been disproven. It is well understood that one fact could disprove a theory that had been supported previously by a thousand facts. I just hope you understand that what you described is not science taken too far. It isn’t science. I honestly can’t imagine any atheistic scientist, even the reviled Richard Dawkins, not accepting any religious claim if they were presented with the proper evidence.

    I’m very excited about the upcoming series. My small group (which happens to be almost exclusively scientists of some sort or another) just started reading Collin’s The Language of God as a sort of follow-along.

  • Jonathan

    Hi Richard,

    I spoke to you briefly after yesterday’s (Nov 6th) sermon about Creation. I met you initially at the Fir’s Men’s Retreat a few years ago. Nice to see you again.

    Anyway, I have a bit of ministry locally where I speak at churches and schools regarding the authority of the Bible, and I advocate the young-earth position. I’m affiliated with the ministry of Answers in Genesis. If you have time I’d love to sit down and discuss some of this with you.

    One of the big points for me has been the issue of death. If millions of years and evolution are inserted into the Bible, it means that you have death before Adam and Eve sin – which really contradicts a plain understanding of Scripture and the Gospel (Romans 5:12 for example). How do you see this working out?

    I’m also curious about some of the things that have convinced you in the realm of science that the earth is so old, especially since you say that you once believed the earth was young. You mentioned carbon dating – but that shows the opposite from what I’ve read. For one, it’s a method that can’t be used past 100,00 years or so max (not millions and billions). For two, with the amount of C14 they’ve found in coal beds and diamonds, it seems those deposits can’t be older than a few thousand years…

    Love to chat if possible,
    ~ Jonathan
    jonathanmmiller@gmail.com


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