The question within this post’s title – Can science inform our faith? – can make many Christians uncomfortable. We are all probably aware that plenty of learned scientists can be somewhat anti-faith. Such people undertake scientific study with no regards for maintaining a solid foundation of faith in Christ and the gospel as taught in the Scriptures. A negative agenda, nonetheless.
Hence, the reason we can feel quite uncomfortable with the idea of science informing our faith. But, while such concerns are understandable, I don’t believe such concerns are the full picture for understanding how faith and science works. I am convinced the two do not have to be in competition, but rather, believe it or not, they can work together.
Let me explain more.
God created a good world. That is very obvious from the opening chapters of Genesis, right the way through the whole tenor of Scripture. We see this in such places as Genesis 1 and Psalm 19, and hence why God ultimately desires to renew the whole cosmos (Romans 8). And this good creation created by a good Creator is truly worth investigating in all its glory and splendour.
Not only that, but God has given us every good field of study to understand the good world He has created – from artistic endeavours, to mathematical endeavours, to philosophical endeavours, to historical endeavours to a whole host of other endeavours that we identify as general revelation. And one of those disciplines of study that also falls into the category of general revelation is that of the natural sciences, such as biology, geology, astronomy, etc. Every one of these areas falls under the umbrella of God’s good general revelation.
Thus, good study of God’s good earth under the discipline of the natural sciences is not actually anti-faith. Yes, as I have noted, some have set their sights on using such to destroy the faith. But there are plenty of faithful and solid scientists, actually both Christian and non-Christian, that have produced very good and foundational scientific study in understanding God’s good earth.
Now, I must set out as well that I am not asking Scripture to become subservient to science. But what I am asking is for us to recognise that science can come alongside our faith, helping inform us of God’s creation, and even possibly understand either what the Scripture is communicating in such areas or what Scripture is not communicating in such areas.
The greatest example I have recently been reminding us of is what happened when people like Copernicus and Galileo who, in the 16th century, came to understand, through good scientific astronomy, that we live in a heliocentric universe with the sun as its centre. But this was quite contrary to the prevailing view of the church in that day. Why? Because the church was convinced that the Scripture taught we lived in a geocentric universe with the Earth at its centre. For example, the Scripture spoke of the movement of the sun in its rising and falling. But we now know, and have known for a while, that the sun never moves. Rather the Earth does. Oh, yes, we still speak in this phenomenological language of the sun rising and setting. But, scientifically, we know what actually moves.
You see, here was one of the greater examples of how good natural scientific study led to understanding our universe, as well as what Scripture teaches, or what it does not teach in regards to that subject. In an ancient near eastern culture, and even in our modern culture, it is very acceptable to speak phenomenologically, meaning we describe things as they look to the human eye. And it still looks as if the Earth stands still and the sun moves. But, scientifically, we know for certain that the opposite is true.
It took a while, but people finally realised that the good study of astronomy leads us to faithfully conclude that our glorious universe is heliocentric. And this is quite ok when we realise that the inspired writers of Scripture never actually looked to communicate about astronomy or biology or geology or any of these natural sciences. God inspired these authors to communicate His inerrant truth within the midst of an ancient near eastern understanding of our universe.
And, you know what? Our knowledge still fails in comparison with the infinite One who created it all. We will continue to fall short of fully and completely understanding God’s good creation in all of its glory, since it was created by the Sovereign and Almighty One.
Again, this does not mean we make Scripture subservient to science. Nor are we to swallow every pill that comes to us, for science can err. But we are not to be afraid of faithful study of the natural sciences. Nor do we have to fear certain scientific terms such as carbon dating or fossil record or genomes or geological stratum, etc. These fields are not inherently anti-faith or anti-God. Some could use it that way. But there are plenty who undertake such endeavours with integrity.
So, I am personally convinced that science, true and good science, is not opposed to God or the truth of Scripture. All truth is God’s truth. And we can definitely utilise the disciplines in the varying sciences to understand the good creation of this world which God has given us.
For a great resource for Christians who want to consider more how faith and science work together, visit the BioLogos website.
I totally agree, Scott. Well said. There are large domains of overlapping between the specific and general revelations – what God revealed to us directly and indirectly, through the created order. It would be quite strange if such overlapping didn’t exist. So, science indeed can inform us about some aspects of our faith, about some details of our worldview, which is based on our (Christian) faith. And our Christian faith is indeed falsifiable (in scientific terms) as Paul says in 1 Cor. 15. Prove for instance that Jesus has not been risen from the dead and our faith will be vain. There are observable facts, quite essential for Christianity to be true.
But we need also to be very careful about where science can and where it cannot inform us. Because science very often says more than it has the power to say. This is not bad from scientific point of view, since there is no other way for science to advance and to develop. But it could be bad if such claims are taken as ultimate and established truth, especially concerning our faith.
The recent example is the interview with Stephen Hawking, promoting his newest book “The Great Design”, where it looks like he is suggesting that the Universe appeared on its own without a creative power. Even if someone can prove that the laws of physics allow this to happen (which is far beyond of our current knowledge) one cannot jump to the theological conclusion that God did not make it. (I’m not sure whether he actually has said this, but this is how he was understood.) After all, the Bible itself claims that the Universe has been created out of nothing, so such a scientific finding will be consistent with the Bible.
So, we must allow scientists to make big claims, that’s OK. But we must not be fast to believe them. Wait one or two centuries and then believe it 😉
Thanks for the comment.
I would suppose there is a scientific explanation for every supernatural act within the natural world we partake in. Now, I am not saying that we would 100% always be able to explain everything supernatural with a natural/scientific explanation. By no means, since we are finite. But if there are good scientific explanations for items A and B of God’s good world, then I suppose there must also be for C, D, E, F…. We just don’t always have the data.
But the infinite One does have ‘the data’. If He informed us with the general revelation to explain good items A and B, then I would assume there is sufficient scientific data within the deeps of the Infinite One to explain other such good things. But, again, we lack (and will probably always lack, at least in this age) the sufficient scientific data ourselves to explain things after studying the good gifts of God in all their varying forms.
I hope that makes sense. Any thoughts on that?
Yes, I think this is helpful, to wait and evaluate over time. This is why many Christians were unwilling for quite some time to consider evolutionary methods as a way God brought about the creative process. But, I hope we have learned that, though we might be cautious with acceptance of certain scientific data, we should not be so overtly anti-science, nor accusatory as such being anti-God. You, of all people, know this.