MDB: For quite some time, I have avoided putting my thoughts on this blog regarding the science-religion debate. I have avoided it because (a) it is almost impossible to actually change anyone’s mind on either topic, and (b) adding my thoughts is but spitting into the massive ocean of writings on the topic.
This has not been easy, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I have both undergraduate and graduate degrees in science, so of course the topic is of interest to me. Second, I spent a good portion of my time several years back doing Biblical apologetics, and thus frequently got passionate about this subject. (I now consider myself a post-apologist, but that is another post for another time). Nevertheless, I finally have given in. The temptation I am faced with after this article from the New Yorker (h/t, Mockingbird) is too great to pass up.
So, without further ado, the Reboot Christianity entry into the Great Science-Bible Debate.
It seems safe to say that no topic so polarizes Christians and non-believers than the topic of science, and its relation to the Bible. In my years of apologetics and discussions, I find that people tend to fall into three categories of worldview: the scientific worldview, the Deistic worldview, and the Biblical worldview.
Those who hold to the scientific worldview are probably the easiest to define. They tend to accept en masse the current scientific paradigm for the world; though they may disagree with a few minor points here and there, as a general rule they accept the general scientific consensus. That is, they tend to believe in a Big Bang, followed by billions of years of stellar formation, followed by 4.5 billion years of earth formation, upon which simple life spontaneously formed. This simple life evolved into more complex life, and through a series of mass extinctions and short, punctuated periods of massive mutation, life reached its current diversity. Mankind is neither more nor less than a primate, albeit a highly developed, civilized, self-aware one. There is no God, or if there is, He is a distant, uninvolved deity. Say what you will about non-believers, but their understanding and paradigm of the world is fairly straightforward, and they are unified.
Halfway between the non-believer scientific worldview and the Biblical worldview is the Deistic worldview. This outlook accepts the moral teachings of the Bible but rejects its testimony on anything scientific. It tends to see the Bible as symbolic, useful for teaching us about human nature, but nothing else. The deists tend to believe that there is a higher power, perhaps even God/Christ; but they do not actually believe that this higher power is actively involved in creation and salvation. They tend to see God as a watchmaker who wound up the universe and let it run; they tend to see Christ as a great moral teacher, but remain skeptical about things like His miracles, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection. The Deist worldview is most likely the most widely-held outlook in all of America. Many people who attend church—and many who do not—accept this worldview. It allows them to straddle both sides: to get the seeming benefits of being a believer, without having to struggle with seeming disagreements between the Bible and science.
The third group, the Christians/Biblicalists, all agree that God is an active creator, and accept the miracles of the New Testament as they are written. Those with the Biblical worldview fall into two categories with regard to their approach to science: Young Earth Creationistism (YEC), and Old Earth Creationism (OEC).
The Young Earth Creationists believe that the earth is just a few thousand years old—the Genesis account is not only literal, but exhaustive in its accounting of generations from Adam until now. This group tends to reject any finding from astronomy regarding galactic distances and speed of light, as well as denying the dating of the earth using geological methods. There are many different explanations for the denial of the scientific worldview: maybe God is testing our faith with seeming ‘false’ evidence, maybe the scientists are just plain wrong about some assumptions (e.g., speed of light being a constant, radioactive decay rates are predictable), maybe Noah’s flood distorted the information, maybe the scientists are all faking the data in one giant godless conspiracy.
Old Earth Creationists tend to accept the findings of geology, paleontology, and astronomy but reject most of evolutionary biology. They see no disagreement between the Genesis account of creation and the scientific account. The seeming disagreement between the Genesis account (6 days) and the scientific account (billions of years) is explained in any number of ways: perhaps the Genesis account is poetic, not to be taken literally; perhaps a ‘gap’ exists between Day 1 and the other days of creation; perhaps each day is an era; perhaps time dilation and Einsteinian relativity explain the difference, such that the earth’s creation took literally both days and billions of years simultaneously. The primary difference between OECs and YECs is that the old earth creationists tend to accept the “hard” data of radioactive decay rates and stellar position estimates, while YECs reject these methods as fundamentally flawed and/or misleading. Both groups are in agreement, though, that God oversees creation; they both see evolution as a tenuous theory, incapable of explaining the great variance of life today, or the soul of humans.
But though the YECs and OECs may disagree, Christians are unanimous in accepting that there is an active, involved, God behind Nature, and that Christ is His incarnation. And the scientists and Deists reject this notion wholeheartedly.
Based on the above, it would seem conversion is a fairly simple, straightforward task. If the scientist could convince the Christian about the accuracy of his data, then an intelligent, open-minded Christian would convert. If a Christian could convince the scientist about the reliability of the New Testament, then the scientist would convert. Yet neither situation almost ever occurs. In the thousands of debates I have had online or in person regarding the topic, I have only seen one time that someone actually changed their minds due to the debate. Every other time, they go away holding their old position.
Why is it so hard to convert? Because the two approaches indicate two different ways to think about thinking.
At its core, this is a debate between two groups with different, but overlapping goals, which they approach through different methodologies. The scientist is seeking Fact—data points to describe reality, which can be either confirmed or disconfirmed through repeated testing of the natural world. The methodology that they use to attain Fact is the Scientific Method. The theist, however, is seeking Truth—a complete understanding of reality, both natural and unnatural. The methodology that they use to attain Truth is philosophical investigation: the application of logic and reason to the human condition and our soulish behaviors.
To the scientist, of course, the theist seems flighty. They cannot test or reproduce the things that they investigate. Their view of the world is based entirely upon observation and logical (sometimes, illogical) philosophy; thus it is inherently possible to fall into emotional decisions and, ultimately, some amount of pure faith is going to be needed.
To the theist, of course, the scientist seems stubborn. He refuses to consider anything as evidence which cannot be measured or quantified. Hence, he limits himself only to those things which he can sense and reproduce. While the scientist sees this as his strength, it is also his greatest weakness—for it either ignores, or rejects the reality of, any part of the human experience that cannot be quantified (things such as love, sacrifice, honor, etc., become not ‘real’ things but rather tools of blind evolution to make you more likely to survive).
From a fundamental level, when you strip away all of the emotion and the grandstanding, that is the state of the situation: one group seeks Facts through investigation of the natural world, the other group seeks Truth through investigation of all that comprises our lives. One is experimental; one is theoretical.
But Fact and Truth sometimes overlap. And the interpretation of the natural Facts sometimes have implications that contradict the philosophical search for Truth. And it is at this overlap that the battles take place. And the first step in this battle, all too often, is to reject your opponent’s point of view. This tendency, to outright reject one’s enemy in order to firm up the boundaries, is at its heart the prime mover in the science-religion dichotomy. Albert Einstein once famously said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” It is a cliché, but no less true for all that. As long as scientists see their method as perfect and their opponent’s method as invalid, and as long as theists see their method as pure and their opponent’s method as godless, then there will be no end to the debate.
To say that science has much to offer the world, and is a noble pursuit worthy of informing Christian thought, is an absurd understatement. When you drive to work in the morning, or sit beneath the lights in the air conditioning of your office, or eat glorious pizza prepared from ingredients grown by farmers and then delivered right to your door, or see the surgeon to remove the blockage due to eating all of that pizza, you are enjoying the benefits of science. Biology has informed our medical practice, improving our health; none of us wish to return to the days of leeches and leprosy camps, I am certain. Chemistry and physics have led to breakthroughs in understanding how the world works, which then (through engineering) has brought about marvels as varied as the electric motor, internal combustion, television, the world wide web, and food production improvements. Geological breakthroughs have helped power the modern world with fossil fuels, and is helping with the next generation of energy to follow—all the while seeking to learn about our past.
I have met dozens, perhaps hundreds, of scientists and engineers throughout my career. I cannot recall ever meeting one who was purposefully misleading in order to further an agenda. Do not misunderstand—that does happen (the Piltdown Man hoax, for example, and the incorrect embryonic drawings of Haeckel, which are still reproduced in biology texts today). But these are exceptionally rare—not the rule, by any stretch of the imagination. As a general rule of thumb, scientists are meticulous, careful, open-minded, and thorough. They focus on experimentation and repetition in order to prove their results, so that their statements can be taken as factual. (I do have one complaint, though: not one in a hundred scientists understands proper statistical experimental design, which makes it highly difficult to control for randomness.) But from an integrity standpoint, I have no qualms about most scientists.
Make no mistake, science has been of tremendous value, and is a noble pursuit. But there are two things that must be always be kept in mind regarding science: inherent limitations of worldview, and the Decline Effect.
Regarding the first, it is a basic fundamental of science that only those things which are testable shall be considered. Science is interested in the things of this world, which can be tested using instruments made on this world. That is perfectly fine, and reasonable. However, it must also always be kept in mind that this is limited. We are three-dimensional creatures in a universe which might (according to some) be ten or more dimensions. About 99.99999996% of the universe’s electromagnetic spectrum is invisible to us, our eyes and brains only able to process a small sliver as visible light. We observe the universe from one of eight planets orbiting one of 300,000,000,000 stars in our galaxy, which is one of 170,000,000,000 galaxies. Most of our reliable scientific data (decay rates, atomic measurements, speed of light, etc.) have been measured in the last hundred years; so we have no data from 99.999998% of earth’s history or 99.9999993% of the universe’s history.
So by virtue of ignoring all non-natural data, science limits itself to ignoring anything which is not material—so things such as personality, spirituality, human nature and the like which are difficult or impossible to quantify are simply ignored (or, at best, shoehorned without data into an existing theory such as evolution). But even in those things which scientists do measure—physical parameters and the like—we are greatly limited in what we can know, because we exist in such a small location, can see so little of the universe, and have such short lifespans to make such measurements.
This combination of limitations—the qualitative (which we choose to ignore purposefully), and the vast majority of the quantitative (that we cannot measure due to our limitations as three-dimensional beings able of viewing the world only from Earth), necessarily means that we base many of our decisions on grand assumptions. We assume that the things we have measured here, over the past hundred or so years, in our three dimensions, are representative samples for all places in the universe at all times. That may or may not be true. It does not invalidate science, but it is a qualifier that any open-minded will always consider.
The second issue that scientists must consider, and often fail to understand, is what the above-referenced New Yorker article dubs, the Decline Effect. If you did not read the above article, let me summarize in three key points.
First, scientific journals have an overwhelming bias in their publishing, one of which they probably are not aware. Statistician Theodore Sterling found that ninety-seven percent of all published psychological studies found the effect that they were searching for. That is, 97% of the time they confirmed their hypothesis; 3% of the time they rejected it or had inconclusive findings. Biologist Richard Palmer performed a similar study on biological journal data, and found that virtually every bit of data presented to a journal—no matter how high the integrity of the scientist—failed every test for randomness in a sample. In other words, the data proved to be non-random—influenced. Cherry-picked. Selected for publishing, while non-confirming data was eliminated as “flawed”. Palmer said, “Once I realized that selective reporting is everywhere in science, I got quite depressed. As a researcher, you’re always aware that there might be some nonrandom patterns, but I had no idea how widespread it was.” He later said in another interview, “We cannot escape the troubling conclusion that some—perhaps many—cherished generalities are at best exaggerated in their biological significance and at worst a collective illusion”.
Second, it is a mandatory part of the Scientific Method that experiments shall be repeated over and over, in order to eliminate the effects of randomness. Yet very few scientists actually attempt to repeat their experiments, or those of others. According to the journal Nature, one in three published findings are never even cited by another paper; the vast majority of the remaining published experiments are never repeated by others. John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at Stanford, took the 49 most cited clinical research studies (all double-blind studies) and found that they were replicatable less than 41% of the time. (His paper on the subject was titled, “Why Most Published Research Findings are False.”) Let us think about that—the most cited studies from the journal of the American Medical Association, when repeated, were more likely to be contradicted than they were to be confirmed. Yet these studies were cited by dozens of pharmaceutical companies and other doctors, and used for decision-making—without anyone bothering to reproduce the experiments.
Third is the decline effect. Several scientists are beginning to study replicability of experiments, and are finding an inherent tendency to decline over the course of further studies. It has shown up in psychological studies, biological studies, and virtually everywhere else you can look. The decline effect is the observation that the more you reproduce a successful study, the less substantial the results will appear. Some of the scientists in the New Yorker article found that their very carefully-controlled studies would show very strong effects early, and then decline dramatically with each successive attempt to reproduce the results.
It seems clear to me that the first two findings above are the cause of the third. If—despite our best efforts—scientists and journals have a strong tendency to find and publish only studies which have positive findings (rather than negative ones), then obviously the scientific literature will be inherently biased toward findings which confirm the status quo hypotheses. If, further, scientists have a tendency to cite and rely on published findings rather than the (much more expensive, time-consuming, and arduous) task of trying to reproduce them, then the decline effect’s cause is rather clear. Randomness in experimentation cannot be removed simply by careful control. The only way to eliminate randomness is repeated experimentation. But that is not happening today. Thus, initial experiments will get results which are subject to randomness, of course. This will make some of the experiments provide unnaturally positive results, simply because of random chance. And some, of course, will provide inappropriately negative responses by random chance. But the negative ones do not get reported today—instead, only the positive. So we have already selectively reported results which are “too good” and will not hold up to further experimentation. The expectation of the scientific method is that these results will be rigorously confirmed by other scientists. Thus, the randomness factors would be removed. But that is not what is happening – they are not being widely repeated, but rather accepted as already demonstrated facts.
Do you see what we have done? We have ignored (despite good effort to the contrary!) the findings which disconfirm our theories. The scientific method will catch this—if people check our work. However, no one checks our work! Instead, once something is published in a journal, it is taken as already demonstrated and reproduced. So any random variation in data which wrongly confirmed the initial experiment is then accepted in all subsequent usage.
Why do scientists tend to trust each other, rather than reproduce the results? First, there is professional trust and respect—which is good. Second, our scientific community today is one which demands results—university professors must “publish or perish”, and corporate funded scientists must rush the next new drug to the counter. So it is inefficient and ineffective to use your precious research time simply confirming results that others have already done. Ideally, for every scientist making new research, there would be ninety-nine spending time confirming these findings and reproducing them under different conditions. But being a “reproducing” scientist of other people’s breakthroughs is not possible today. That does not get you tenure; that does not bring in research grant money; that does not keep you employed by a drug company.
We are not using the scientific method as we think that we are. We believe that we come up with a hypothesis, demonstrate it with an experiment, and then scientists around the world reproduce the experiment to prove that it is true. Instead, we skip the last step and simply accept it as a ‘scientific community.’ The end result, of course, is that scientists become blind to the effect of randomness. Even the facts that they are gaining, in many cases, cannot be trusted.
So many scientists, when debating the religious, deride their opponents for believing in things that are superstitions. “If it cannot be disproved,” the thought goes, “then it is not science, or strong knowledge.” The irony of course is that—while knowing this fact—so few scientists actually seek to disprove or replicate the experiments that they wholeheartedly accept as truth. They are dismissive of “unscientific” ideas…yet they fail to apply their high standards to their own theories and do not even realize that they are doing it.
This by no means, of course, indicates that science is not giving us daily miracles. It by no means indicates duplicity on the part of the scientists. It by no means degrades their contribution to reality. What it does, however, is give scientists a misinformed view of their world. It erodes the firm foundation for their factual analyses, giving them a disproportionately strong confidence in what they think are well-confirmed studies, but which in fact are often selectively shared and not at all thoroughly tested.
More than anything, with those scientists who are naturally prejudiced against the religious and see them as superstitious rednecks, this blindness to one’s own faults creates a sense of elitism and superiority. It breeds the belief that scientists alone hold the key to knowledge, and that they are somehow of a better stock of mind than those who disagree with them. Such a concept, of course, does not lend itself toward respectful, open-minded debate.
In the same way that scientists have done much good for the world, it must be admitted that Christians have done much good. Non-believers love to point out that Christian churches were behind the burning of witches and the punishment of scientists. It makes for a good story to see the great scientists of the Enlightenment fighting against the Dark Age Catholics, getting burned at the stake and all of that. It is, of course, demonstrably untrue. Galileo’s famous Inquisition (and subsequent house arrest to his villa) came not due primarily to his science, but largely because he wrote a short story in which he made the Pope the village idiot. Copernicus is often said to have been persecuted, but he was in fact a practicing Catholic priest, and his work On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres was not even published until after his death—he never was tried for his beliefs.
It is definitely true that most scientists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are non-believers; but one finds that Christians have been the firm foundation of most scientific advancement in history. Copernicus, the discovered of geocentrism, was a priest. Kepler, the father of modern astronomy, was a devout Lutheran. Isaac Newton, the inventor of calculus and father of physics, carried a list of sins with him as a reminder at all times and wrote over a million words of Biblical prophesy interpretations. Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, was a monk. The Big Bang Theory was proposed by Georges Lemaitre, a Catholic priest, and originally rejected by most scientists as being too inspired by the Bible. The biological classification system was developed by Claudius Linneaus, who was trying to define what the divisions (or “kinds”) of animals were listed in Genesis. Michael Faraday, discoverer of electromagnetism, was famous for his devoutness. William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, the father of thermodynamics, attended chapel every day, opened his classes with a prayer, and was a famous opponent of contemporary Charles Darwin. Leonhard Euler could rightly be considered the father of modern mathematics, and was a devout Lutheran his entire life.
Outside of science, Christians have done even greater good. Christians kept alive scholarship during the Dark Ages after Rome fell to barbarian hordes, and kept us from losing all of the Greek and Roman advances. Christians (following Biblical rules) slowed the spread of the Plague by quarantining the sick. Christians developed the concept of freedom of religion. Christians led the movement to free the slaves in America. Christians led the civil rights movement, and the Bible was invoked frequently throughout the process. Christians argued against the rise of eugenics, when it gained popularity among science. Studies show that Christians are more likely to give to charity than secularlists (91% to 66%), give 3.5 times as large an amount, and volunteer nearly twice as much of their time for charities.
Just as it is wrongly close-minded to deny the greatness of science, so too is it wrong to deny the great humanitarianism of Christianity.
Yet just as I demonstrated that scientists limit their worldview, it must also be admitted that Christians greatly limit their worldview. And, just as it was with the scientists, that has both advantages and disadvantages.
The scientists limited their worldview by applying the scientific method to the small sliver of the universe that we can perceive. From here they gain their Facts, which they use to try and describe the world. Christians, on the other hand, already accept the Truth regarding Jesus the Christ; from this Biblical starting point, they deduce all other beliefs.
The Bible is more than the Good Book—it is the Best Book. Written by more than 60 authors (most independent of the others’ work) over a few thousand years, from dozens of different countries and cultures, it is nonetheless coherent and woven together beautifully to tell the story of a creative God, a rebellious people, an offered Law, a failed response, and ultimately a sacrificial Grace. It is an amazing work, and the more I have understood it, the more I believe it is without inherent contradiction…which is impossible without divine intervention. Its scope covers everything from Bronze Age nomadics like Abraham to the Iron Age kingdom of Israel to the dawn of the Roman Empire.
If the scientific method is the filter through which scientists view knowledge, then the Bible is the filter through which Christians view knowledge. All knowledge that we gain is subject to it.
The only problem with the Christian worldview is that it tends to suffer from interpretational myopia—that is, our own culture, interpretations, denomination, and personal convictions tend to change our view of Scripture. As I mentioned before, Scripture spans all ages and dozens of kingdoms and historical periods. It was carefully collected and copied in its original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek), and then has later been translated for us into our languages. It was written by honor-shame cultures; we are a guilt-innocence culture. It was written in limited-goods societies; we are an infinite-goods society. It was written with an eye toward ritual purity; we do not understand ritual purity laws. That is the culture—or, to be more correct, the dozens of cultures—encompassed in the Bible are different than ours. This will naturally cause some people to read a passage differently than others. Even within America, give a person raised poor and a person raised rich the Sermon on the Mount, and they might read it from two totally different vantage points.
Does this mean that Scripture is dynamic and up to the interpretation of whatever mood one is in at the time? No. An honest reading of Scripture finds almost universal agreement on what defines righteous living, in our failure to live up to that standard, and Jesus’ work to save us from that condition. So the Scripture is quite clear, and teaches us a great deal about human nature, sin, guilt, and the human condition. Christian traditions as varied as Roman Catholicism and the Baptists agree on these things. God created man; man is rebellious and sinful and disobedient to God; God offers salvation through Christ, who was born of a Virgin, was wrongly crucified, and risen from the grave; Christ asks us to undergo baptism into the faith and celebrate the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of His sacrifice.
On key issues there is universal agreement. But on other issues—both theological and non-theological—there are interpretational differences of opinion. I know great Christians who are Calvinist, and great Christians who find it completely wrong; I know great Christians who see the Biblical account of Genesis as a literal six days of creation, and other great Christians who see it as six ages of creation. I know great Christians who see the Bible as inerrant in every passing detail, and others who see it as inspired by God but containing cultural influences of the people who wrote down the words. Biblical believers come in all shapes and sizes, but their interpretational filters cause them to see things in different ways. (Caveat: I do not consider in the “Biblical” category here, those who deny that the Bible is Truth. Those who see Jesus as simply a ‘great moral teacher’ or the Bible as a series of parables fall into the “Deist” category above. I am discussing those who believe that the miracles of the Bible truly occurred, that Jesus really was resurrected, etc.).
These differences of interpretation have a tremendous impact on our debates regarding science and Christianity. For one, it immediately splinters our side of the debate. The YEC interpretations do not agree with each other, nor do the OEC interpretations. While the scientists have a coherent system to defend, we are splintered and divided even amongst ourselves.
Of course, this is to be expected. Scientists start with their observed facts and induce an overarching worldview; we Christians start with a worldview and then deduce the interpretation of observed facts. Neither is more or less reasonable than the other, but it does mean that the Christian starting place leaves more avenues for internal disagreement than the other.
And so now, hopefully, you begin to see the problem—and even more hopefully, start to glimpse the solution.
Non-believing scientists are interested only in natural Facts. They begin by rejecting any evidence or testimony which is not grounded in experimentally-discernable data from nature. The problem with this being, of course, that they have completely handicapped their ability to understand any more than what they can measure. The scientist is like a color-blind man who rejects the claims of anyone around him claiming to see color: since he cannot measure it himself, then he feels he must reject it as untrue. So the scientist unfairly handicaps himself in his search for knowledge by only allowing himself to consider a limited data set—things which he can physically see and manipulate and test. Even worse, many of the fact that he does think are proven he never bothers to check up on; he just assumes that if it is published it is correct. This is a dangerous combination of narrow-mindedness and misplaced arrogance.
The Christians are interested only in Truth. Because the scope of God is impossibly large to comprehend, the natural tendency is to take their view of the Bible (which may or may not be what the Bible actually says, due to cultural/literary interpretational issues) and make that their worldview. So anything which disagrees with that viewpoint—even if the Fact inconveniently happens to be actually true—must be rejected. This can make the Christian stubbornly ignore even the most well-demonstrated facts, out of a fear of compromising their Truth.
So on the one hand you have a group who is seeking Fact, and who sees knowledge as dynamic and ever-changing based upon experiments (which may or may not actually be getting done). On the other hand you have a group who is seeking Truth, and who sees knowledge as static and never-changing, having been revealed by God.
And therein is the summary of the entire situation: dynamic Fact-hunting in the natural world on one hand, and static Truth-seeking about the next world on the other.
The first man can never truly embrace religion; the second can never truly embrace science. Each must hold something back, simply by virtue of how they think about thinking. The scientist starts by excluding any evidence or consideration that is not natural; how then, through any amount of experimentation, is he to believe in something non-natural? By his own starting place, he has limited his data set; therefore, his conclusions can never rise out of that initial limitation of scope. Once locking yourself in a room, you can have little to say for or against what is happening on the other side of the house.
The Christian can never truly embrace science, for to the Christian Truth is Truth. The ultimate Truth of the universe does not change—regardless of what such-and-such experiment shows. When you are looking at the house from the front yard, you can never really care or give proper consideration to what is happening inside that one room in the back.
Therein lies the futility and uselessness of the Christian arguing against the scientist, or vice-versa. A scientist—no matter how many facts—will ever change a fully-convinced Christian. Sure, you might pick off a few blind sheep—people who believed without thinking and thus whose faith have a foundation of sand rather than rock. But those who came to believe in Christianity because they believe in its Truth, and see it in human nature and the spiritual conditions around them, cannot ever be dissuaded from that Truth. By what? A few random facts that might change a year from now, when a new experiment comes out? Could someone wearing a blindfold convince you that the room is dark, just because of his evidence that he sees no light? Of course not—likewise, the thinking Christian will never be convinced that his faith is wrong based upon someone who, as a matter of a starting place, excludes all evidence outside of nature. To the Christian, the scientist is a fool who, on his camping trip, spends his time studying and mapping the inside of his tent rather than enjoying the beauty of the world around him.
Likewise, rarely will a Christian truly ever convert a scientist who is convinced in his atheism based upon his worldview. True, you might convince a few who accepted atheism just because it was easy or in vogue. But to someone who truly does not feel that we should believe in that which we cannot see and measure, Christians seem no different from a pagan or a fortune-teller—we follow some unseen belief, without apparent basis or regard for fact.
So, where do we go from here? Do we simply throw up our hands, consider the situation unfixable, and give up? Or do we accept some silly notion like that of Gould, letting the two be totally separate spheres of knowledge, with the one teaching us about spirituality and human nature and the other teachings us about the physical world, and ignore any overlap? I do not believe such is necessary.
The only way to make gain in the science-religion debate is to understand how we each think about thinking. The Christian must realize that he is beginning with Truth (which might be colored by his own cultural interpretations) and deducing facts; the scientist must realize that he is beginning with Facts (which might be wrong, due to the decline effect and narrow available data) and deducing truth.
So for the scientist, I recommend a large dose of humility. Admit to yourself, deep down, that your worldview is based upon taking an extremely limited access to facts, and using that to define a view of the universe. Admit that it is overreaching take the results of experimentations done in one tiny corner of the universe in a very short timeframe in three dimensions, and utilize this to draw conclusions about the things that you specifically excluded from your data gathering. For the scientist, we must admit that if we limit our data to a small corner of the natural world, then that corner is where our conclusions are valid. To apply those findings to the entire 10+ dimensional universe, or to draw conclusions about the spiritual realm (or lack thereof), is overreaching. At my work, if I do some experiments on the impact of a peroxide catalyst to a polyester resin, I do not then apply those results to a vinylester resin. In the same way, we must be careful that what we measure in our corner of three dimensional space is not over-applied. (Further, we must be certain that the facts we are getting are actually true, and not subject to the decline effect.)
For the Christian, they must become open-minded. They need not sacrifice any of the Truth in order to admit that perhaps interpretations might vary, or cultural misunderstandings might occur. Christians already do this in some cases—take the flat earth, for example. We Biblicalists believe that God inspired Isaiah to make a prophesy about Isreal’s disobedience and their ultimate salvation. As part of that prophesy, in Isaiah 11:12 he refers to the “four quarters” of the earth. Now there are two ways to approach this: one is to insist that God wrote every single word in an attempt to convey every possible fact about creation, and thus this indicates that the earth is flat and has four quarters; the other (reasonable) approach is that God inspired Isaiah’s prophesy, and Isaiah used a common phrase for his time to mean “all of the earth”. This is an example where virtually every Christian agrees that the earth is round, and sees that as not at all affecting the Truth of the Bible. The same could be said for any number of other passages. So the Christian must keep in mind that he is talking about Truth, not facts: therefore, the scientific community, if they can thoroughly document and prove a certain fact, can inform our reading of the Bible, not detract from it.
This path alone is the key to success. The scientist needs to be aware that he is the finder of facts, and to accept the reality that his limited dataset will almost certainly preclude his ability to ever fully describe the overarching Truth of the universe—how could it, considering our human limitations for gathering such facts? The Christian must realize that a newly-found fact can inform his understanding of the Truth, not detract from it; thus, when new facts are discovered, this should be investigated and, if reasonable, should help us understand the mystery that God gives us.
If we followed this method, consider how we would view the most common science-religion debates.
The geologists would give their evidence based upon sedimentary layers and radiometric dating, admitting that we cannot directly test most radiometric dating methods independently (as they take thousands of years to half-life), but saying that the evidence looks strong. The Christian would say that was an interesting finding, and perhaps the OEC interpretations are onto something, but it does not change human nature, Christ, or salvation.
The astronomers would give their evidence based upon the redshift/blueshift, and evidences from probes, admitting that we can see only a tiny sliver of the universe and have no real likelihood of every gaining a better view, but that the evidence looks strong. The Christian would say these are interesting findings, and can help us be awed at God’s wonderful creation, but it does not change human nature, Christ, or salvation.
The evolutionists would give their evidence based upon the fossil record and microevolutionary trials, admitting that we cannot directly test theories of macroevolution (as it would take millions of years), but saying that the evidence looks strong. The Christian…well, on this one the Christian will never be able to agree to purely random mutations leading to humans, but the Christian could possibly be open to accepting that God directly evolved our body styles prior to giving it a soul in Adam. Regardless, the Christian would say, it does not change human nature, Christ, or salvation.
I am by no means saying that anyone needs to sacrifice their worldview.
I am saying that scientists need to truly embrace who they are—the seekers of Facts based upon nature. They therefore must be careful not to draw conclusions which go beyond their facts, and thus are limited in their conclusions based upon their limited data set. They have a noble pursuit, and can greatly make our standard of living better and help us understand more about how the world works; but they also must beware of drawing conclusions that are not supported by the narrow history of facts from which they can draw.
I am saying that Christians need to truly embrace who we are—the holders of the ultimate Truth. God did not give us all the Facts…He gave us the big secret, the big truth. He taught us about human nature, and sin, and righteousness, and sacrifice, and true love. And He asked us to share that with the others He created. Not to argue with His created over why He gave them hair on their arms.
Perhaps I can best explain with an analogy. God built us a beautiful tent (the earth) to live in this wonderful, mysterious forest He made (the universe). He gave us a brief tour of it in His Scriptures. And He tells us that we will only be camping out in the forest for a short while, but one day will come by and pick us up. Looking at this tent and this forest, we think it is beautiful and amazing and full of wonders and mysteries; God says, “Just wait until you get to move in to the mansion I’m building you.”
Now some of us are sitting back in this tent and enjoying ourselves, appreciating the mosquito screen as we look at the beautiful trees around us. But the scientists? Well, they are measuring and weighing the air mattress. They are mapping out the tent. They are comparing notes and trying to understand its wondrous mysteries, and (through the screen in the side) trying to figure out what they can about the forest. The Christians trust that He gave us the tour that we were meant to have. The scientists want to understand the tent, and improve on it where we can.
Nothing is wrong with that. It may be that we misunderstood something God told us during His tour, and they will actually describe it better through their work. It may be that they can make us more comfortable, by better understanding the glorious place God put us. They can help us better understand the tent God built us and the forest that surrounds us—and from that we can learn a bit about the Builder, too. There is some value in that, and we should thank them. But, frankly, the scientists are missing the point of living in the house.
So what approach should we Christians take? Shall we argue with them, saying, “I know that you say the window is one meters long, but I distinctly heard God say it was a half meter long?” Or should we say, “Brother, I will not argue with you. Come and enjoy the view with me, and let’s talk about the One who made it.”
Christians, are the scientists who argue with you wrong? Often. Not always. Probably not as much as you think. Are they evil and godless and conspiratorial? They are no more evil than the rest of us are. Most are simply seeking knowledge the best way they know how. You can either help them with that search, or argue with them about the things that they think they have found.
As for me? I will love them for who they are, and show them the respect of listening to their theories. I may disagree with a theory or two—no matter how often they say it, I may know that their explanation does not fit with the Truth that God has let me take a small sip from. But no value exists in arguing finer points of this or that fact. Great value exists in talking about the One who made them.
So next time a scientist wishes to debate, consider carefully your response. For a long time, I debated with them—respectfully, but very well. Almost to a man, they agreed that I made good arguments. Many times I had scientists tell me that I had given them more to think about that any other Christian with whom they had debated. None of the real believers in science changed their minds, though.
You want to know the better approach—the Christian approach? Say, “I see where you are coming from, that is interesting. Not sure I totally buy it, but it wouldn’t destroy my faith if it were true; so if you are convinced about it, go for it. But be careful that you do not end up focusing so much on the creation that you miss the chance to meet the Creator. Because this world is just a tent in the wilderness—the mansion is up over the hilltop. I may not be able to describe all of the science of this world, but maybe I can provide you a guide to the Next World.”