To read Roy Gane's assessment of prior attempts to harmonize the Bible and science, click here.
Must we choose either science or the Bible and compromise or ignore the one that we do not choose? Christians are all over the map on this question. Variety of opinion would not be such a problem if it were not for the fact that conflict between science and the Bible is damaging faith. For example, when a young person educated to respect science, but who has not yet developed solid personal faith, is confronted with choosing science or faith in the Bible and its Creator God, he/she will naturally be strongly tempted to give up the latter, become agnostic (or atheist), and leave the church at least in spirit. Tragically, this trajectory is not theoretical, as we see young people close to us who have been raised in Christian homes and educated in Christian schools exiting from faith.
An attractive solution is to invest resources in apologetic science, that is, science that confirms the Bible. This quest is somewhat like exploration of archaeological material remains to confirm the historicity of the biblical account. There have been excellent contributions in these areas of science and archaeology. But sometimes we don’t find what we are looking for, or what we find appears to contradict the Bible, pending further investigation.
Research in a single discipline is a messy process, with new data and breakthroughs answering some questions, but raising many more. Comparative study between two disciplines compounds the messiness of both disciplines and complex relationships between them. This is especially challenging if the two disciplines belong to different domains of epistemology, such as texts and material remains. Texts can state or imply ideas, including stories of events. But material evidence analyzed by science, including the science of archaeology, cannot directly tell a story; it presents effects of events preserved in a medium that is affected by various forces over time. So it is often difficult to know exactly how things got to be a certain way and how long the process took: Was it gradual or sudden/catastrophic, or a combination of both?
Observations And Suggestions
I have plenty of questions regarding the relationship between Genesis and science. But here are a few preliminary observations and suggestions regarding potential for positive, faith-building engagement in our Christian community:
- Let the Bible be the Bible and let science be science. Let investigation in these areas be the best quality, taking as much evidence into account as possible, rather than picking and choosing what supports our preconceived convictions. We must learn to live with differences in perspective between science and the Bible, recognizing that our human knowledge is limited to small pieces of a huge puzzle. We can recognize harmony between God’s written Word and nature, his “second book,” but let’s not force artificial harmonization where differences appear. We should not put a burden on biblical scholars and theologians to come up with interpretations of the Bible that fit science; nor should we put a burden on scientists to come up with scientific data that is apologetically correct from a biblical perspective.
- Theologians and scientists should seriously and patiently listen to each other to understand problems and concerns faced by those working in the other area of inquiry, which is largely unknown to them. Because theologians are in the “driver’s seat” in the church, they should make an effort to reach out to scientists and learn how to communicate with them where they are, rather than marginalizing them and driving them underground.
- We should work to build mutual trust and not jump to conclusions regarding each other’s Christian commitment. Just because a person is grappling with big questions does not mean that he/she cannot be a person of faith (see, e.g., the book of Job). Of course, a sincere, open-minded, thinking (and therefore having questions!) person of faith will speak of God and his written Word with respect and will not use his/her questions to undermine the faith of others.
- The Creation issue is not simply a science versus religion debate, with all scientists on one side of the question and all theologians on the other. Representatives of both sides are in both disciplines. In fact, some theologians have been at the forefront of those trying to bend the Bible to fit science.
- Definition of terminology is important for communication within any given discipline, and it is even more crucial for cross-disciplinary communication when two parties have limited understanding of each other’s disciplines. Upping the ante even more is the fact that some terminology has become loaded. For example, the word “evolution” means “development.” We all agree that there has been some kind of evolution/development to bring about the phenomena that we know today. But to many, “evolution” instantly evokes Darwinian macro-evolution as an atheistic explanation for the origin of the species.
- We should not manufacture or exacerbate problems. Science and true religion are not intrinsically in conflict. If the same God who created the natural universe has revealed himself and his activities in words, we would expect harmony between nature and his words. Of course, science is not simply nature: It is human interpretation of nature. Religion also involves varying degrees of human interpretation, especially of sacred texts. Regarding the origin of Planet Earth, the clarity of Genesis 1 (and other passages on creation, which should not be overlooked) leaves no real interpretive wiggle room to escape the idea that God made it from nothing and brought about life and its environment here in six days. Science can fill in many details regarding development since Creation, but it is simply beyond the scope of science to explain ultimate origins. So we should not pit science and the Bible against each other in such areas where their scope does not even overlap. Biblical revelation is intended to teach us about things that we cannot gain from our own investigation through science. The two branches of revelation should be complementary rather than contradictory.
- Rather than viewing apparent contradictions as threats, we can take up these challenges as opportunities for stimulating collaborative research. As in many lines of investigation, it is areas of conflict that give birth to exciting new breakthroughs.