The intersection of faith and science: Our culture at the crossroads

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The intersection of faith and science: Our culture at the crossroads

July 29, 2020 -

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Our culture often sees science as having the answers to most of the challenges and needs of our day. Unfortunately, many in our day also see faith as either irrelevant or, sadly, dangerous. So, let’s honestly deal with the intersection of faith and science. First, we’ll lay some groundwork, then we’ll apply what we discover to creation, evolution, and the miraculous.

An unscientific history of science

Around 400 B.C., Hippocrates pioneered the belief that physical diseases have natural causes and looked for their solutions, not in the pagan religions of the day, but in approaches which birthed the “science” of medicine. But the Western world would wait nearly 20 centuries for Leonardo da Vinci and Nicolaus Copernicus to break significant new ground in scientific investigation. Francis Bacon (died 1626) and his laws of investigation are considered by many to herald the beginning of what is now known as the “scientific movement.”

As a result, the “scientific” worldview did not exist when the Christian movement began. We may feel a scientific need to know what happened to the dinosaurs, but those in the biblical era did not. No conflict between science and faith was possible.

To the contrary, Christianity did more to prepare for the later scientific revolution than any other religious worldview. In the first century, conventional wisdom was highly mythological and superstitious. No one would think to investigate the makeup of water, for instance, because the gods could change its composition tomorrow. The science we call geography was risky, as no one wanted to anger the deities responsible for their respective land areas. The gospel was incredibly good news that the world is created and ordered by a benevolent God.

Greek rationalism and Christian confidence in an ordered creation would eventually make the scientific movement possible. In the medieval era, the Church dominated the progress of knowledge, arguing for an earth-centered view of the universe which made the Church central. We are all familiar with the tragic rejection of Galileo’s theories which followed. Under Newton’s influence, “scientists” began to see the universe as a machine governed by laws of mechanistic causality. God was no longer needed to explain the laws of physical experience. When Darwin pioneered evolutionary theory, a Creator became unnecessary for explaining the origins of life as we know it. The result was a heightened dualism between science and faith, reason and religion.

Fortunately, dynamics within the science-faith relationship have changed dramatically in recent generations. Einstein’s theories of relativity showed the universe to be far less mechanistic and predictable than Newton thought. Problems with Darwin’s assumptions made atheistic evolution less tenable.

And Christians have increasingly accepted the fact that the Bible was not intended to be a science textbook. While we believe that God’s word speaks with authority and truth to every subject it addresses, we also know that it was not written to define the age of the earth or size of the universe. It tells us what we need to know to follow Jesus, not all we would like to know about the world he created. So long as scientific declarations do not contradict intentional biblical truth, there can be no conflict between the two. All truth is indeed God’s truth.

A biblical approach to creation

Let’s apply this mindset to the question of creation. What did the biblical authors actually tell us about our origins?  First, God created all that is (Genesis 1:1) and pronounced it very good (v. 31). Second, he created life in the sea and birds in the air (vs. 20-21), living creatures on land (v. 24) and mankind in his image to “rule” all the life he created (v. 27‒28).

Third, God created the universe in six “days,” the Hebrew word for a defined period of time. These were not necessarily 24-hour days marked by sunrise and sunset. In fact, while “there was evening, and there was morning” each “day,” God didn’t create the sun and the moon until the fourth “day.” Some of the ancient rabbis thought Genesis meant that God created the universe in six literal days; others believed he created in six acts with undetermined periods of time between them; still others argued that he created in six “eons” or “ages.” Genesis doesn’t specify, because the answer is of no practical significance to our lives.

When did he create the universe?  Again, Genesis doesn’t say. If I could tell you precisely how old the universe is, would such information change your life today?  However, some have told us more than the Bible says. For instance, in the 1650s, an Irish archbishop named James Ussher added up the biblical genealogies and decided that God made the world in the year 4004 B.C. His dating system was printed in the margin of the first Scofield Study Bible (published in 1909), so that generations of Bible students believed the Bible “teaches” that the world is 6,000 years old.

While current geological estimates place our planet at 4.5 billion years of age, “young earth” theorists, influenced by biblical genealogies and other interpretations, aren’t so sure. Some use “Flood Geology” to claim that the pressures caused by Noah’s flood made the earth appear far older than it is. Others claim that God created the universe six to ten millennia ago, but made the world to appear older than it is. Still others argue for a “gap” between Genesis 1:1 (when God first made the universe) and verse 2 (when he remade it, presumably after Satan’s “fall,” a few millennia ago).

What should we believe about creation?  That God did it. How long ago?  In how many days?  Apparently we don’t need to know, or we would. His word tells us all that is essential for living in his will. Where it is silent, it is best if we take the hint.

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