Monday, June 15, 2015

Two Beautiful Books: Science... err... correction: Nature and Scripture (Part 5)

So, as many of you know by now, I am in the middle of a series on science and Scripture (actually nature and Scripture, and you can read about why I make that distinction in the first post), and my goal in this series has not been to tell you what to think regarding some of the sub-topics of science and Scripture (e.g. the age of the universe) but to help you to learn how to think about science biblically and consistently as a Christian. In the first four posts in this series, laid a biblical framework for doing just that, using the analogy of building an intellectual and spiritual "house." And, in sum, that framework is the following:
  1. In the first post of this series, I defended the idea that all truth is God's truth, and in some fashion all truths point us to God, which is the concrete for our foundation in the metaphorical houses we are building.
  2. In the second post of this series, we looked at the Belgic Confession and saw that God reveals His truth and we discover it through the two "books" of nature and Scripture. From that I argued that God has revealed Himself infallibly in the books Scripture and nature, and since God is the author of both books there is no inherent contradiction between the two. When it comes to the house we are building, this is the foundation upon which we will build everything else.
  3. In the third post of this series, we began to look at human fallibility, and I argued that when apparent conflicts arise, it is not because science and the Bible are in conflict but because we human beings are either interpreting Scripture wrongly, the scientific data wrongly, or both wrongly. We can think of this as the framework for our house, upon which we can put a metaphorical roof and walls.
And, in the fourth post in this series, we talked about where the conflict really lies when we hear about apparent "contradictions" between science and faith, science and Christianity, or however one words the tension. There I argued that the conflict is not between science and Christianity but between two worldviews: naturalism and theism. In short, it is not that "science" says things that conflict with what Scripture actually teaches but that a scientist interpreting the data through a naturalistic worldview says those things, but a Christian can interpret the same data from science through a theistic and biblical worldview and derive an interpretation that is just as valid. So, the conflict is not between science and Scripture or the data they give us but between the worldviews of fallible humans interpreting that data. And, if we move the argument up out of the finer details of various interpretations of data into the realm of worldview, then we get at the heart of the problem, and the debate becomes which worldview can best explain the universe in which we live.

Today we are going to move forward using this biblical framework for thinking about science and Scripture, and we are going to start to talk about how to live in a world that is over-impressed by science. Now, when I say "over-impressed by science," please do not misunderstand me. I love science. My background is in physics, and I still read several of the top journals on a regular basis. Science is a great tool, but our culture has raised science from the level of a wonderful tool to the status of an all-encompassing worldview, which is not where it belongs (see this post for more details on that). That is why I say our contemporary culture is "over-impressed by science." So, we need to learn how to live in such a world, and, moving forward, learning how to live in our day and age, will help us to put the "walls" and a "roof" on the metaphorical houses that we are building. But, let me say right at the outset that our houses will not be perfect. There will be some leaks in our roofs and drafts in our walls because we are fallible humans, but if we learn to think within the biblical framework we have laid out, our houses can be sufficient to live confidently as Christians in our world.

First, we need to talk briefly about the ways that people attempt to relate science and Scripture, science and faith, or however one puts the tension. There is a continuum of possibilities with two polar extremes, and we need to think about where in this continuum we should build our "houses":
On one end of the spectrum is the constant clash idea. This is the view of many today who write books and news articles, and it’s the idea science and religion, particularly Christianity, will always be at odds. Usually this is held by atheists and they use it to say that Christianity simply needs to give up and listen to everything they claim "science says," which remember is not science but their naturalistic interpretation of the data. However, I have met some Christians that try to live here. Yet, I would argue that is not faithful to Scripture. As we talked about yesterday, God has told us that He has revealed Himself and His truth in nature, so the study of nature starting from the proper, biblical assumptions, will never truly conflict with Christianity. That was the foundation of our house that we learned about in the third post.

On the other end of the spectrum is the independence idea. This is the view that "science" and Christianity are totally independent of one another. They should never come into contact so they should never conflict, agree, or relate to each other at all. Some more moderate atheists take this position, but usually they are not the ones writing books because they do not care to write books about two things that, in their view, should not interact at all anyway. Yet, this is not sustainable either. The worldview of naturalism held by many scientists puts them in the position of having to make religious conclusions: like how the universe came into being, what is the meaning of our existence, why the universe is finely tuned for life, etc. Their answers to those questions are answers that are inherently religious, which sets them up right in front of Christians ready to clash. Now, I have also heard some Christians take this view. They usually phrase it differently, saying something like: "Science answers the "how" and "when" questions--e.g. how the universe came into being and when it happened--and Christianity answers the "who" and "why" questions--who created it and why He did it." Now, there is some truth to that, but it is not completely true and fails at several points:
  • First, because someone has to approach the data from science with a worldview and interpret it within that worldview, they have assumptions about "who" and "why" that play into their interpretation of "how" and "when." If the naturalist assumes no one created it and there is no meaning to it, then that affects how they interpret the data. Christians know God created the universe and that He did it for His own glory, which affects how we interpret the data as well. So, the "how" and "when" questions can never really be independent of the answers we assume to the "who" and "why" questions.
  • Second, while Scripture is not a scientific textbook designed to give us details about genetics, physics, biology, etc., that does not mean Scripture has nothing to say about our universe and how it came into being. Ge. 1-2; Jb. 9, 38-41; Ps. 104, 148; and many other Scriptures make some very specific claims about the creation of this universe. We do not have time to discuss the creation account itself and the various interpretations of those passages, but one cannot simply say, "Well, all those passages are just allegories or something like that and aren't making scientific claims." They are to some degree or another. So, Scripture does have some things to tell us about the universe and the how and when of its creation, and since Scripture is our highest authority that should come into play for a Christian interpreting the data from science.
  • Third, while the data science gives us from nature is not a philosophical or theological textbook designed to give us details about God, nature is a book written by God that does declare His power and manifest some of His divine attributes. That is why Ro. 1:20 says, "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they [i.e. all mankind] are without excuse." So, nature does have some things to tell us about the who and why of creation. These things are not as detailed as what Scripture tells us, but it is simply false to claim there is no information about God there at all.
So, an atheist who does not understand Scripture and who does not think through his naturalistic assumptions completely might be able to get away with saying that science and religion should simply be completely independent, but a Christian who wants to be faithful to God's Word cannot live there. So, we Christians have to build our house in the middle, which is integration territory--Scripture is our highest authority that puts parameters around how we interpret the data from scientific research, and the data from scientific research can help us refine our interpretations of Scripture. This is where we start to put walls a roof on our intellectual houses that we are building.

As we move forward in learning how to live in a world over-impressed with science, we need to talk about an idea that is inherent in the last sentence of the previous paragraph: mutual correction between our interpretations of science and our interpretations of Scripture. Now, please when I say that, do not jump to the conclusion that I am trying to say the claims of scientists can overturn/override Scripture. They cannot. I am committed to the inerrancy, inspiration, and authority of Scripture, as we talked about in the first post. Have you ever heard of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy? It is a document about the inerrancy of Scripture written in 1978 by more than 200 evangelical leaders a bunch of different denominations. It is very, very helpful in defining inerrancy. In the 12th article it says this:
We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit. We deny that biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.
I completely agree with that statement. But, note that it says scientific hypotheses cannot overturn the "teaching of Scripture," i.e. they cannot overturn God's infallible revelation, what Scripture actually teaches. And, of course they cannot. God is the author of both books, so the data from science properly interpreted will never even attempt to overturn the actual teaching of Scripture, and if it does, then that theory is just wrong. But, that little world "actual" is very important. R.C. Sproul, who was one of the great pastors and defenders of the Christian faith of the 20th century, wrote in his book Scripture Alone when talking about this article of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy:
It is important to note that the second denial… does not carry with it the implication that scientific hypotheses or scientific research are useless to the student of the Bible or that science never has anything to contribute to an understanding of biblical material. It merely denies that the actual teaching of Scripture can be overturned by teachings from external sources… To say that science cannot overturn the teaching of Scripture is not to say that science cannot aid the church in understanding Scripture, or even correct false inferences drawn from Scripture or actual misinterpretations of the Scripture.
Perhaps several examples might be helpful here. First, any claim of a scientist about his scientific research cannot overturn the actual teaching of Scripture.
  • For example, Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss have each written a book claiming that God is no longer necessary for the beginning of the universe (my responses to both of them can be found here and here). They claim that the universe could create itself and attempt to show why that can happen. Now, there are a number of scientific inaccuracies in their claim (check out my responses for some of those), but from a Christian, biblical perspective, we do not even need to go that far to know they are just plain wrong. However we interpret the creation of account of Scripture, there is one thing that is beyond dispute when it comes to the actual teaching of Scripture: God did the creating. Christians can perhaps debate amongst themselves how God did it and how long it took Him, but no one debates the fact that He did it. That is the actual teaching of Scripture, Hawking and Krauss' theories really have nothing for us to help us understand Scripture.
  • Another example might be Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett's claims that resurrection from the dead is impossible. They claim to have scientific reasons for believing that, but really it is their naturalistic assumptions that makes them believe that, yet they attempt offer some scientific theories trying to prove that resurrection from the dead is impossible. Now, they are just plain wrong about that. 1 Co. 15 is quite clear: If Jesus was not raised from the dead bodily, then our faith is in vain. The actual teaching of Scripture is that Jesus had a physical, bodily resurrection from the dead. There is no other legitimate way to interpret that. So, any scientific theories that claim otherwise, cannot help us understand Scripture better.
Yet, there are times when a scientific theory can help us understand Scripture better or correct a misinterpretation of Scripture, as Sproul states above. As we established in our biblical understanding of science and Scripture: we are fallible humans who sometimes make do mistakes in our interpretations of Scripture. The example I gave in part 3 of how Copernicus' (and later on Galileo and Newton's) heliocentric model of our solar system helped correct misinterpretations of Scripture is an easy illustration to point out again. For more than 1000 years, Christians thought they had the right interpretation of passages like Jos. 10 that seem to say that the earth does not move and the sun moves around the earth, and it was not just Christians but scientists did too. But, over the course of about 200 years, scientific research corrected both Christians and scientists' interpretations of nature and Scripture. So, now virtually everyone agrees that the earth moves around the sun.

At this point, when I was first giving this information as a seminar to college students, it was asked, "How can I know where I should stand firm with my theology no matter what a scientist says and how can I know where I can perhaps let their theories alter my interpretation of Scripture?" That is a great question, and it is one that we will address in the next post, for this one is getting too long as it is.

By His Grace,

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