Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Christianity and Science: Enemies or Allies?

One of the biggest hot button topics that you are likely to find in discussions between skeptics and believers concerns the relationship between science and Christianity.  To many, these are on opposite sides of the boxing ring, mortal enemies with no room for co-existence.  But I do not believe that needs to be the case.  I believe that the two can exist in harmony and can lead to a more comprehensive understanding of God and his creation.  But to do so, it is important to distinguish between science, “the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena”, and scientism, “the collection of attitudes and practices considered typical of scientists”.  Scientism is really a type of philosophy that is oftentimes at odds with faith and Christianity.  But science is a tool that can help us to understand the creation better, and thus to understand our creator better.

The challenge that we often face is when a claim of science is at odds with one of our beliefs, beliefs that we find support for in the Bible.  Past examples of this conflict includes the shape of the earth, flat verses spherical, and the centrality of the earth to the universe.  At one time it was thought that the earth was flat, and that the sun, as well as the rest of the universe, revolved around the earth.  And the church looked to the Bible to support these beliefs.  It took some time for the church to accept that the earth was actually spherical and, later, that the earth revolved around the sun, and was actually a rather insignificant piece of the universe.

Today, there are two other controversial subjects that seem to define the divide between science and Christianity; the Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang theory.

The Big Bang

This name is somewhat misleading because it would lead one to believe it was a noisy explosive event.  What this theory does is provide an explanation, based on the best physical evidence available, for the early moments of the life of the universe; a universe that began as an infinitely small, infinitely dense and extremely hot point, a singularity, that began to rapidly expand, and has continued expanding up to the present moment.

The Big Bang theory itself makes no attempt to explain how this singularity came to be or how the expansion was triggered; although many scientists have offered explanations that remove the need for a creator (remember the definition of scientism?).

Probably the biggest sticking point for many Christians here has to do with the time frame.  The Big Bang posits a universe that is about 13.9 billion years old with an earth that is 4.5 billion years old, as opposed to the 6-10,000 year old estimate that comes from the Old Testament genealogies.  Genesis 1:1 says: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”.  Other than ‘and God said’, there is no indication in Genesis as to just how God accomplished this feat.  The Big Bang theory does provide a possible scenario.

Evolution

The Theory of Evolution provides an explanation for how life, once it started, diversified across the face of the earth.  Many people try and place the origin of life as a part of this theory, but do so incorrectly.  The Theory of Evolution assumes life had already started.  The data for this theory comes from many sources including: similarities between species, observation of evolution in action, the fossil record and genetics.  The Theory of Evolution is a challenge to Christians because it seems to take the creation of the different species of life present today, especially humanity, out of the hands of the creator, placing it into the blind hands of an evolutionary process.  But, who is the creator of that supposedly blind process?

The other issue that many Christians have with evolution is best exemplified by a statement from Richard Dawkins, a militant atheist scientist: “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”.  But that is just scientism rearing its ugly head again.  The Theory of Evolution, like the Big Bang, only describes a mechanism, not the source of the mechanism.

Conclusion

In my opinion, science is not a threat to Christianity or to our faith.  Seeking to better understand the creation, and how it works, actually increases my awe of the creator.  This universe, and the life it contains, is truly marvelous, regardless of just how God went about making it the way it is.

Regardless your stand on the Big Bang theory and the Theory of Evolution, you should recognize that these are not central to our faith and should not be issues that divide believers, or cause believers to fight with non-believers.  It is unfortunate that the focus of our debate so often is side tracked by these issues and never gets to the important issues, like faith in God and his purpose for us.

4 comments:

  1. Hello Ed,
    while I agree with your view on the relationship of science to Christianity, I am not certain to whom exactly you are referring when you say that the "Church" once believed that the earth was flat. As a matter of faith, I believe that no group of Christians, united by the Holy Spirit, would be inclined to misinterpret the Bible and enforce that view at a political level to the extent of persecuting scientists who have proof to contrary. I refer of course to Galileo Galilei.
    I trust you agree that to argue with science using a literal interpretation of the Bible leaves the Christian appearing "foolish" to the non-believer. Recall, however, that when the Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians; "Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe." (ver 20-21)
    It is my conviction that when science disagrees with Christianity, the Christian will "wait on the Lord" with no assumptions, doubts, anxiety, or disgrace, and thus not endanger faith, and at the same time risk the pitfalls of Biblical interpretation.
    Rob

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    1. The "church" in this case was actually referring to the Catholic church rather than the real body of Christ.

      I do agree with Augustine (http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Hippo) that we unfortunately look foolish to the world when we take stands on Genesis that we shouldn't be so dogmatic about.

      The issue with the wisdom of this world is that it turns away from the creator, not that it investigates the creation.

      My faith in God as my creator and Lord trumps all else. But that does not mean that I have to ignore what the creation seems to tell us about itself.

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    2. I haven't read much of Augustine of Hippo but since having wrent myself away from the seduction

      of Catholicism, I've been wary of any who are known by the appellation of "Saint". I mean no disrespect toward Augustine. He was both a unique individual and a product of his time. It's just that, in my opinion, his association with the Catholic Church leaves his spiritual motives suspect and questionable. While that institution did much to rebuild the civilization that

      collapsed after the Romans, it still leaves many, even to this day, in the dark with respect to the original Christian message.

      And like the Catholic Church, the wisdom of this world can turn one away, and lifts up the non-believer in their "foolishness". On the other hand, to be dogmatic about what the Bible says potentially denies us the opportunity to learn. There has to be an intermediary, and that's the role of the Holy Spirit; the Lord trumps all. In that way we do not have to be anxious about apparent inconsistencies between science and the Bible, especialy since the Bible does not seem overly concerned about those things that are given to us through science; the Christian emphasis is on spreading the Gospel and seeking the Kingdom of God.

      I'm certain that this would also spare us the temptation of being led astray.

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    3. I was really just referencing the specific quote from Augustine rather than his body of work. I think it was relevant to the point you were making.

      Romans 1:19-20 tells me that the creation itself bears witness to God. And because of that I believe that the creation tells the truth about itself. So if this planet says it is 4.5 billion years old, I believe it.

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