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Faith and Science

The other night I was talking with one of my friends about the role that our faith has in our pursuit of scientific truth. She was concerned because of a fairly common notion these days that intellectual evaluation of the world leads people to loose their faith. It’s a misconception that scientists and Christians alike have fallen prey to over the last few centuries. The basic idea behind that philosophy is that religion is for the ignorant. That it can’t withstand intellectual scrutiny and has no place in the mind of a person who wishes to understand how the world really works. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

One basis of this argument is the fact that many of the people who dedicate themselves to philosophy, science and other intellectual pursuits either lack religious orientation or abandon it in favor of their pursuit. But this reality is not a result of any actual intellectual discovery; it’s often the result of pride. There has not been one scientific discovery that disproves the existence of God. The intellectual who abandons the faith does so, not because of any actual discovery, but because of a decision that God has no place in his or her life. The logic goes something like this, “I don’t need God to answer my questions or intercede for me, I can accomplish everything through science. Why submit to God when I can take His place?” there are all manner of problems with that philosophy, but the main one is scope.

God gave mankind dominion over the earth. He wants us to understand how it ticks and take our place in his creative work. The problem comes when we try to take Him out of the original equation or turn the order that he created into something that it isn’t.

Another dilemma that we are confronted with is the common cultural (mis)understanding in many circles that religion creates a bias in our scientific endeavors that hinders progress and leads to unsubstantiated findings. This misconception is fairly understandable because Christians through the centuries and even to this day often try to use religious truths and literalistic interpretation of the bible to answer scientific and occasionally psychological questions. How did the earth come into existence? Well, the book of Genesis says that God created and populated it out of nothing in 6 days, so the whole process must have been completed in six 24-hour periods…. Not exactly. The creation story demonstrates to the faithful that God is the author of all matter, the author of all life and the author of humanity. It was not meant for a science book any more than a man’s description of his lover’s eyes are intended for a book on optometry (an analogy I borrowed from Christopher West). The lover is concerned with a different, but equally true, reality than the optometrist.

The truth of the matter is that our religion is supposed to teach us about faith and morals (who we are in relation to God and how we are to act) the topics of science are nearly entirely a different realm. It’s as if we were looking at a clock. There is nothing wrong with evaluating how the cogs and springs interact, what forces act upon them and how minutes, seconds and hours tick. But no where in that discussion will you be able to find an explanation for why the clock is ticking in the first place or who created said clock. That’s an entirely different course of study.

In the same way when we look at science, we are trying to figure out cause and effect, the laws of the universe, the forces that act upon us and other bodies. That is quite different from trying to discern why there is a universe in the first place, what was the First Cause and what does it want with us. Admittedly, they can shed light on each other. We used to think that God directly acted to make the wind blow, to make the tides stay where they are or the sun rise and set. Now, through science we see that all of these laws of nature and interaction, gravity and momentum and all other sorts of things keep the universe ticking. Instead of directly intervening to make everything happen in the world, God created laws that every molecule are governed by. And he just intervenes when he sees it appropriate. It doesn’t change any item of faith or morals, it just expands our understanding

Too many times in our past, Christians have felt threatened by science because of the notion that a truth that had been discovered would somehow undermine the Truth that God had revealed. The response was stated most succinctly by the first Vatican council in “Dei Filius”:“Even if faith is superior to reason there can never be a true divergence between faith and reason, since the same God who reveals the mysteries and bestows the gift of faith has also placed in the human spirit the light of reason. This God could not deny himself, nor could the truth ever contradict the truth.” On a personal level, I also like John Eldredge’s approach, “nothing is gonna jump out from under a rock and eat God.”

The centuries old fued between science and religion still has a long way to go, but if we take an objective look at it, there really isn’t a whole lot to argue about…

AMDG

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  1. the word of me
    June 19, 2011 at 2:04 AM

    Hello 2openhands,

    Good post, but I wish to quibble with some of it, if you don’t mind.

    You write:
    “There has not been one scientific discovery that disproves the existence of God.”

    That is true; I don’t think science can ever disprove something that is un-falsifiable. However the many different sciences have been busy doing their thing, and purely by accident, has made mince-meat of a lot of the old Biblical stories, and I think that is not going to reflect positively on Christianity and maybe will make a lot of people question things they have believed in all their lives.

    For example; there was never a world-wide flood…this particular Bible story has been doubted since the early 1700’s and geologists and other earth sciences that impinge on this myth have thoroughly proved that the earth was never completely underwater at any time…in at least the last 10,000,000 years. This is an unquestioned fact in the world of the pertinent sciences.

    Another few examples are; there was no Adam and Eve…just recently DNA evidence confirmed what scientists have been saying for many years…man has been running around the earth for hundreds of thousands of years. The proof is just about everywhere– all over the earth. There was never a “Tower of Babel” scenario as the Bible relates. Science knows for a fact that humans have been spread all over the earth for many, many thousands of years. North and South America have been populated for over 13,000 years…the “Tower of Babel” myth took place about 2000 BC if you believe Biblical chronology.

    Australia, India, China, most of Asia, and most of Europe have been populated for a minimum of 35,000 to 40,000 years…I really doubt if they were just grunting at each other. Languages have been around the earth for well over 4,000 years.

    Another example is the Biblical myth of the Hebrew Exodus. For over a hundred years archaeologists have been searching the Sinai desert trying to find ANY evidence of a million+ Hebrews crossing and populating the area for 40 years. Not one piece of archaeological evidence has been found in all that time. Evidence for other peoples and tribes (small) crossing has been found, both before and after the time mentioned in the Bible, but nothing to answer the Exodus myth.

    Moses and Abraham may not have even existed. Many Biblical scholars believe the Pentateuch (first five chapters of the Old Testament) was written in the time of the Hebrew exile in Babylon, long after Moses supposedly lived…a pious fraud devised to bring the people together as a tribe/race.

    Seminary schools around the world have been teaching for many years the fact that for most of the Bible chapters we don’t really know who wrote them. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are anonymous manuscripts written by…who knows. Several have said that we don’t really know what Jesus was teaching because we are not sure of the writers and their connections to Him. There are no writers at the time Jesus was alive and for years after who wrote of Jesus, despite the fact that this was a time of great literature and exploration of the world and philosophy and religion.

    I mean the man was supposed to be bringing people back to life, curing leprosy…the most feared disease of the time, cloning and multiplying bread and fish, turning water to wine, walking on water, and who knows what else…and nobody deigns to write of this man until he had been dead 30 to 40 years or so. His disciples practically let his worship slip away…what the heck were they thinking?

    It took the Orthodox Church (later the Catholics) 400 years to produce the Bible—why? What took so long…perhaps a little messing around with the manuscripts, trying to make some sense of all the mythical stories in them? The Catholic Church had unhindered and total possession of all the literature from the earlier times, to do with whatever they wanted, from day one, till the Christian Reformation in the 1500’s AD.

    A thing I passed by earlier is: if there was no Adam and Eve, that means there was no “original sin” and therefore no need for a Jesus to expiate our sin that we somehow inherited from the first couple…despite the fact that God Himself says in the bible that the sons DO NOT inherit the parents responsibilities/sins/etc.

    All of these things and more contribute to my really doubting if there is or ever was a God. If the Bible is a human constructed work of fiction…and it really really appears to be so…what does that say about the probability of a God?

    • June 22, 2011 at 11:02 PM

      Hi,
      Thanks for taking the time to write that reply. You make quite a few good points and actually highlight some of what I’m talking about. I’m not expert (on anything really), so I can’t speak with any authority, but here are my personal thoughts.

      1. In this blog I was specifically discussing faith and SCIENCE. Most of your arguments are more relating to HISTORY. That being said, much of our historical understanding (and the ones that you are discussing) comes from scientific methods and discoveries so I can certainly see where you are coming from. When we are discussing history, there is ABSOLUTELY an ability to disprove aspects of certain religions. If Jesus never walked the earth, then Christianity is invalid. Period. If he didn’t rise from the dead, the same can be said. These historical instances are central to the reality of the Christian faith.
      2. As to your assertion that the entire world was never under water at one time, I realize that there are a lot of scientific ways of trying to deduce this, but unless you have a video camera that goes back 10 million years with uninterrupted feed you really don’t KNOW. You can logically assume from all these methods that your deductions are correct, but science is constantly discovering how misguided it has been in certain areas. When dealing with time frames of thousands of years or tens of thousands of years we have to remember that the assumptions we make can only be tested on the scale of hundreds of years at best, there’s no reason to assume that they don’t apply in greater chronologies, but keep in mind you’re taking it on faith 😉 Also, keep in mind that a God who interacts with nature to cause certain events can choose to interact with nature to effect the way that nature records it. For my part though, it wouldn’t be that detrimental to my faith if there never was a great flood that covered the entire world as we understand it today. The greater point of the story was that the flood wiped out the entire inhabited world. (which would have been a much smaller area at the time). This is a common misconception about the bible. It has historical events in it, but it is not written as a history book in the manner that we are accustomed to in western society. The point of the bible is to reveal God’s love for His people throughout history, so God is the key figure and history is the backdrop. So the literalistic meaning does not necessarily have to hold true. In some cases it is not intended to. For instance, if we wrote a book and stated in a section that it was “raining cats and dogs” or “raining buckets” we would tell anyone that they were misguided in interpreting it to mean that felines and barking creatures fell from the sky (or that metal water jugs were hurled from heaven at terminal velocity). When looking at the bible, it’s always important to evaluate the intended lesson. I don’t think you are too far off in any of yours though.
      3. As far as the lack of proof for the flight from Egypt, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, it just means that it’s an article of faith. Once again, when there is no evidence you have to decide what to believe. To believe that it was all a work of fiction is a faith all it’s own.
      4. As far as the fact that the Pentateuch was written during the Babylonian exile, from my understanding, that’s probably true. Oral tradition (i.e. passing things down verbally without writing them) was a much more common way of accounting beliefs in the Jewish culture than writing ever was. The same is true for many other cultures and situations. For instance, the first written account of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey wasn’t accounted for until around 600 years after he originally composed it (at least that’s my understanding), but most historians believe the work to be reliably similar to what the author wrote. It’s hard for me to understand when I have a hard time remembering certain bible verses how people back then could memorize entire books and pass them down, but that is exactly what happened and it was still a common practice even in Jesus’ time. Literacy is a pretty recent phenomenon, memorization and recitation was the way that most people had access to the Word.
      5. There’s another problem though with the whole concept of fictitious background. Where DID they come from? At this point, they were already a recognized race (that was in captivity) and something had brought them together. The fact that they had knowledge of these different lands implies that they acquired it somewhere (if not through their ancestors knowledge it must have been through the kindness of their captors who decided to tell them bed-time stories about all the pretty lands that they had visited). Also, if you look at the bible, both the Old Testament and the New, you find a trait that is very rare in fiction… it’s not very flattering. Generally, if people are going to make up a story about where they came from, they will make one that paints themselves in a fairly positive light. The bible however, is much more a story of God’s love in spite of our worthiness than it is a message of his reward for the holiness of his people.
      6. The statement above also applies to your comments on the New Testament. Once again, I agree with your general timeline of the compilation of those books. Why weren’t they more eager to put the words and actions of Christ on paper? Mainly, because they couldn’t write. Jesus didn’t exactly pick the most educated guys to be his apostles. He chose common people. And when he chose them, he called them to make disciples of the nations, not to write a book. From the beginning, it was a faith formed by interaction, by spoken word and by deed. The whole written thing was an afterthought. Throw in the fact that for the first three centuries, Christians were being killed for their beliefs and any writing that they had was being confiscated, and it’s no real surprise that there weren’t a whole lot floating around. That being said there were actually more letters from various sources than we have in the bible. We still have many of those writings but the church had to decide which ones were actually divinely inspired. That’s a topic for a different blog though…
      7. I will be the first to admit that there have been corrupt individuals within the church who had intentions that were less than admirable. There have almost certainly been people who have used their position within the faith to gain fame, fortune, power, land and any number of things which are completely beside the point of religion. That being said, this motivation doesn’t have any credibility as an explanation for the ORIGIN of the faith (at least if we are talking about Christianity). As mentioned above, for the first 3 centuries of Christianity, followers of “the way” had nothing to gain in this world besides martyrdom. Jesus was crucified, all of the apostles were killed for their beliefs (except for John who died in exhile), there were no cathedrals, no coffers, no political influence, no pretty vestments, no schools, no hospitals. All of those things came after the church had spread on it’s own merits. The advent of all of those “extras” and whether or not they are beneficial or necessary for the faith when it can be publicly practiced is another subject for a different blog…
      8. The whole Adam and Eve and original sin question is another one that requires a pretty lengthy response to be adequate, but from where I stand I don’t need to look all the way back to my first ancestors to find a reason why I need a Savior. If you do, you’re either in a much better or much worse place than I am.

      Thanks again for your perspective and patience. Sorry it took me so long to reply.

      AMDG

  1. March 16, 2014 at 12:58 AM

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