Resources on Faith and Science
Some Introductory Thoughts
For people raised in, or largely only exposed to, the evangelical church it can be a common assumption that there is only one Christian way to reconcile scripture with scientific discovery which is to place upon scripture the full burden of literal and historical proof when it comes to the explanation for creation, human origins, and ancient history. Those who hold to this framework take Genesis (specifically the first eleven chapters) as a literal historical work, making it the same genre as a news article of today describing some event that has transpired. It may come as a surprise then that while Genesis could be interpreted via such a method that has not been the only method by which Christians (the whole of Christendom) have interpreted or understood the purpose of the text.
The intent of this page is not to belittle any who hold to literal 7-day creation view; rather I want to put that view within it's proper context which is to say that it is not the only possible way to interpret scripture and still claim the identity of a faithful Christ follower.
How we understand scripture is crucial when it comes to discerning who God is. If we get scripture wrong, then we are going to get God wrong. This is because is a record of humanities interactions with God as he revealed himself to us.
It is important that we understand the various genres at work within the Bible. The Bible is not a single genre; rather it is a library of many different genres. Within the Bible we find not just accounts of history, but legal documents, poetry, allegory, and even mythic stories of which the intent is not to convey truth through literal historical claim; rather it weaves a rich theological web by which we gain a fuller understanding of God's nature and desire.
Within the words of Jesus we find this to be true; whether in the illustration of a camel passing through the eye of a needle, or the richness of his parable teaching. The bible has a deeper literary heritage than a single interpretive lens can reveal.
Likewise the Bible is bound within specific cultural contexts. While all of scripture was written for us, it was not all written to us. The ancient world of which Genesis through Deuteronomy inhabit was far different from the one of today. Not only did they use different words, and live in different cultures, they held a fundamentally different view of how creation was structured. We often take for granted in our thinking that there is a separation between the material world and the spiritual world. For those that were passed the oral traditions of the origin stories of humanity they only understood the world as one thing in which material and spiritual realms are bound together like two sides of a coin.
So, when we come to such an ancient text with our modern expectations of empirical (provable through the five senses) truth we are asking something of the text that it never sought to provide an answer to; rather we are imposing upon it.
Here are some resources that go into better detail how it is that we can, and should interpret scripture within its proper context:
Reconciling Science and Faith
An effect of the enlightenment, and subsequently the philosophical entrenchment of modernism is the arrival of scientific inquiry as a means by which humans can know what is and isn't true about our material world. Sir Isaac Newton, a man many see as the father of modern science, was also a deep man of faith. Where many today see a clear division Newton did not, and it is worldview that still guides many scientists today in both their faith and their desire to understand the universe.
Many in the modern atheist club such as Dawkins or Hitchens argue that God only exists as a phantom of human thought; a being created by us. Central to their argument is that God cannot be found via any scientific experiment; there are no means by which one may offer material evidence of God's existence. Second, and important to this worldview, is that the material world is the totality of existence and that there is no spiritual 'other' in which God could exist.
Dawkins and Hitchens; had they stopped here would be able to make a true statement which is. We cannot prove through modern scientific means that God exists. They however move past this statement of truth and add to it a claim (I would argue a claim of faith), that this alone is sufficient evidence on which to claim that therefore no God exists. However the best science can say is that it cannot prove, nor disprove the existence of God. That is to say it is not necessarily the job of science to reveal God directly.
When Newton, and other scientists of Christian identity, practice(d) science it is a means by which they better understand God's creation. It is not an antagonist to faith; rather it is a companion of faith. Science complements faith by giving us a way to experience and understand more deeply the world God has given us to inhabit and explore.
In summary, many in the atheist camp ask for people to make a leap of faith. Claiming scientific inquiry disproves God's existence is asking more of scientific inquiry than it can produce; namely that it can neither prove nor disprove God through material means. The effect of modernity upon us is that we are constantly asked to choose between two polar opposites in which science and faith are seen as the extremes. In reality though more nuance is allowed than this argument gives credit. However, a thinking person can see through this false dichotomy and hold a more nuanced view.
Below are resources that explore the companionship of faith and science further.
- Video (3 Minutes): A Biologists Perspective
- Video (40 Minutes): I Have a Friend Who... Believes Science Disproves Faith: Sermon by John Ortberg
- Essay: What Scientists Do by Steven Benner (PDF)