God Beyond the Telescope
But What About Science?
Science without religion is lame,
religion without science is blind.
ALBERT EINSTEIN, Out of My Later Years
Of all my science teachers, I remember Mr. Boline most vividly. He was fairly young, tall and thin. He invariably wore cowboy boots and a long full mustache, which made him look more like Wild Bill Hickok than a typical high school biology teacher, but perhaps that was why some of us liked him more than typically liked science teachers.
Although most of what Mr. Boline taught in his class made sense to me, occasionally some things he taught conflicted with what I had been told by my parents and church. Of course this wasn't the first time I had encountered such contradictions, but it was the first time I remember caring enough to think about them much. When I questioned Mr. Boline, he was pretty patient
with me, but after a while he became incredulous that I would continue to question "established science" in favor of "religious myths."
College brought more science teachers and classes, and by this time I had quit asking questions. I had learned to live a double life, giving one set of answers to my science teachers and another set to my Sunday school teachers. But my questions still persisted. I couldn't help coming away from my science classes with the distinct notion that my teachers believed science had disproved God and religion once and for all, and a growing part of me wondered if they were right.
For some modern science stands as a daunting barrier to faith, while others don't find the chasm between science and faith difficult to span at all. Where are you in this spectrum and why? Are there any specific scientific issues that make you question Christianity? If so, what are they?
Are Science and Religion Fundamentally at Odds?
After the impression I had received in school, I was surprised to learn that the Christian belief in a rational God who created rational beings in a rational universe had placed an important role in the rise of modern science. The ancient world viewed nature as being under the control of various unpredictable gods and thus erratic and incomprehensible. Only after the Christian belief in one transcendent, unchanging Creator God helped replace this view did people begin to see the universe as based on rational, knowable laws and as worthy of being studied.
In fact many of the pioneers of science were ardent Christians. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), credited with developing the scientific method, wrote, "There are two books laid before us to study, to prevent our falling into error; first, the volume of the Scriptures, which reveal the will of God; then the volume of the Creatures, which express His power."1 And Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), considered the father of modern astronomy, described science as "thinking God's thoughts after him."2
These pioneers of science did not see any fundamental conflict between science and religion. However, some today maintain that such a conflict does exist. Some of these people even define science in such a way that it
excludes the possibility of the supernatural. But on close inspection this view often can be traced to a confusion of the terms naturalism and science.
Do you think religion and science are fundamentally opposed? Why or why not?
A Sampling of Scientists Who Believed
Robert Boyle (1627-1691), founder of modern chemistry, was a well-known Christian who wrote and translated religious works and founded the Boyle Lectures, a lecture series with the purpose of convincing people of the truth of the Christian faith.3
Galileo Galilei (1594-1642), although well known for his confrontation with the church, was a man of faith. He wrote, "Holy Scripture could never lie or err, but its decrees are absolute and inviolable truth.... Although Scripture can indeed not err, nevertheless some of its interpreters and expositors may sometimes err."4
Isaac Newton (1642-1727), English mathematician and physicist, professed faith in Christ. He said, "I have a foundational belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by men who were inspired. I study the Bible daily."5
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), pioneer in mathematics and probability science, wrote a number of religious books expressing his faith and urging others to turn to Christianity."6
Naturalism Versus Science
While science could be defined as the observation and experimental investigation of the natural world, naturalism is a philosophical worldview shared by some but not all modern scientists. The basic presupposition of naturalism is that nothing exists outside the material world that is, we and everything around us can be explained by natural laws and processes. In this view science is usually considered the sole source of true knowledge, and anything that cannot be verified by the scientific method is considered suspect. However, here are some important factors to note about naturalism.
The truth of naturalism itself cannot be proved scientifically.
As discussed in chapter four, many recent scientific discoveries are pointing to the possibility of God, and as discussed in chapter five, many aspects of our own nature and experience cannot be explained in terms of naturalism, including the very belief in naturalism.
Though naturalism usually view things that cannot be verified by the scientific method as invalid, many important things that shouldn't be dismissed do not fit into the category such as love, courage, mercy and purpose.
What evidence can you think of to support belief in naturalism?
Do you believe things must be scientifically provable to be valid? Why or why not?
Are Science and Religion Mutually Exclusive?
Some attempt to evade the discrepancies between religion and science by saying that science and religion have nothing to do with each other. Or as a statement from the National Academy of Science reads, "Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought."7 The problem with this is that most of us find day to day that science and religion do overlap and that what we believe scientifically does effect what we believe regarding religion. For example, I have found that I cannot hold as scientific fact that which leading scientist George Gaylord Simpson claimed, "man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind."8 and simultaneously believe that God created human beings in his own image.
Science and Christianity
But even many who would say that science isn't fundamentally at odds with religion still maintain that the findings of science have disproved religion, and specifically Christianity. This widely accepted view has caused many Christians to stumble and countless seekers to dismiss Christianity without further thought. Is it true that science has rendered Christianity obsolete? Those who answer yes to
|A little science estranges a man from God. A lot of science brings him back. FRANCIS BACON (father of this scientific method)9|
this question generally point to two specific areas in support of their answer: evolution and miracles.
Have you heard people claim that science disproves Christianity? What examples have they given?
Do you believe that science and religion are "mutually exclusive realms of human thought" that have no bearing on each other? Why or why not?
Has the Theory of Evolution Disproved Genesis?
A few weeks ago I was flipping through the television channels and stumbled onto a debate about evolution in a popular sitcom. The stereotypical blond girl who obviously had more beauty than brilliance offhandedly mentions to her friends, one of whom is a scientist, that she doesn't believe in evolution. The scientist, shocked, tries desperately to convince her of her error. She dismisses each of his arguments with a shrug of her shoulders and a collection of outrageous counterarguments. "But evolution is a scientific fact!" the scientist finally sputters. "How can you not believe it?"
I would guess that this episode left more than one Christian with the same unsettled feeling they often experienced in high school classes. Evolution is the hot spot people usually think of first when discussing Christianity and science, and many have been taught that the theory of evolution has disproved the Bible once and for all. But, is this true? And what does it mean when someone says that the theory of evolution is a scientific fact?
Has the theory of evolution affected your view of Christianity? If so, in what way?
The Three Definitions of Evolution
When I was looking into this issue, I quickly realized that the answers to such questions depend heavily on how the term evolution is defined. People usually mean one of three things when using the term.
1. When most people speak of evolution, they are referring to the theory
that all life evolved from the simplest organism through purely natural processes with no conscious purpose.
2. But evolution can also refer to any kind of large-scale change without the restriction that only natural processes were involved.
|For Darwin, all evolution was merely an extension of microevolutionary processes. Yet despite... the reality of microevolution, not all biologists have shared Darwin's confidence and accepted that the major divisions in nature could have been crossed by the same simple sorts of processes... The German zoologist Bernhard Rensch was able to provide a long list of leading authorities who have been inclined to the view that macroevolution cannot be explained in terms of microevolutionary processes, or any other currently known mechanism. These dissenters cannot be dismissed as cranks, creationists, or vitalists, for among their ranks are many first rate biologists. MICHAEL DENTON (molecular biologist)10|
3. And evolution can also refer to relatively minor developments among animals in one species.
The least controversial of the three usages is of course the third one, which is sometimes called microevolution. Microevolution asserts that over time, through processes such as natural selection, gene mutations and hybridization, new varieties of species are formed. However, microevolution does not involve large-scale changes through which a species could move to a higher classification. In other words, it doesn't allow for a monkey to turn into a human being or a small land mammal into a whale. The occurrence of microevolution is well documented, and most Christian scholars agree that microevolution does not contradict biblical teaching in any way.
The first five chapters of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) dealt with this concept of small-scale evolution through natural selection, which was in itself a groundbreaking theory. But in the rest of the book he theorized that the processes at work in microevolution could progress without limit and account for all the variety of life that exists today. Since such large-scale evolution would take millions of years to occur, it is obviously not directly observable.
Many unresolved problems still exist with this theory. And despite evolution's widespread acceptance today, many respected scientists some of whom have no religious reasons to oppose evolution still have serious questions about the reality of large-scale evolution.
With that said, it is also important to mention that Christians have varying
views on the issues of large-scale evolution, with some believing that the creation "days" of Genesis correspond to long geological ages in which God used evolutionary processes to bring about life. When these people speak of evolution, they are talking about it in the second sense listed above: large-scale evolution that does not exclude the possibility of the supernatural.
Of course the most controversial of all the definitions is the first one naturalistic evolution. Many use the three senses of the word interchangeably and assume that because evolution in one sense may be well supported scientifically, all three types of evolution are proven facts. However, even if large-scale evolution is accepted as true, it is beyond the scope of science today to say that this process occurred without any intervention by a supernatural power or that no supernatural power exists. When the renowned scientist Carl Sagan said, "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,"11 he was stating a personal belief that is far beyond the limits of any known science.
Do you believe in evolution in any of these three senses? Explain.
What is your response to the claim that naturalistic evolution has not been proved?
What are your thoughts about the other two senses of evolution? Do you think they contradict the Bible? Why or why not?
Darwin on Trial by Philip Johnson (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993). Johnson offers a comprehensive summary of arguments against large-scale evolution and naturalism.
Evolution: A Theory in Crisis by Michael Denton (Bethesda, Md.: Adler & Adler, 1986). A molecular biologist gives a thorough presentation of the purely scientific arguments against large-scale evolution.
Three Views on Creation and Evolution, J.P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds, eds. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999). This is a good resource if you are interested in learning more about the spectrum of theistic thought concerning evolution. It contains sections written by proponents of the three dominant views: young-earth creationism, old-earth creationism and theistic evolution.
Are the Miracles in the Bible Scientifically Possible?
The second perceived contradiction between Christianity and science concerns the issue of miracles. Yesterday I fell into conversation with a retired geologist who believes that Jesus was a good moral teacher but most of what the Gospels say about him is pure invention. I asked him what he based his opinion on, and he was quick to answer. He said he didn't believe the Gospel accounts because of all the miracles they contain. As a scientist, he didn't believe things happen without a scientific cause. "I haven't seen a miracle happen today," he stated, "and I find it hard to believe they ever happened."
From Noah's flood to walking on water to the resurrection story, the Bible is full of miraculous tales. And this geologist is not alone in finding these miracles cause for doubting the truth of Christianity. Can a sane person in this scientific age actually believe in miracles?
Have the miracles in the Bible caused you to question its reliability? Why or why not?
Are there some miracles in the Bible that you find easier to accept than others? If so, which ones, and why do you think this is?
A Double Order of Christianity Hold the Miracles
Some have tried to sidestep the issue of the miraculous by attempting to extract miracles from Christian teaching. These people claim that all the miracles in the Bible are simply mythological stories that the biblical writers used to represent spiritual not historical truth. When I first encountered this argument, it seemed an appealing possibility a way to keep all the relevance of Christianity while doing away with the troublesome problem of having to believe the miraculous.
But when I tried to reorganize my thinking about Christianity accordingly and subtracted all the miraculous, I was left with a confusing muddle of high-minded thoughts that had lost all their power. If the New Testament was saying anything, it seemed to be saying that we have a new relationship with God through the significance of Jesus' life. But if Jesus was just a person like me who died and was buried just as I will be, on what basis is
this new relationship offered?
I came to find that I agree with C.S. Lewis who wrote, "[Christianity] is precisely the story of a great Miracle. A naturalistic Christianity leaves out all that is specifically Christian."12 In fact, when attempting to identify the purely symbolic meanings of the miraculous stories in the Bible, I realized that to maintain the stories with any meaning at all, the very lest I could come away with was that a powerful God, who created nature and loves us, does exist and is intensely interested in our lives. And with that in mind, it made no sense to believe that such a God would not at times supernaturally intervene in the events of history.
Do you agree that even if taken metaphorically, the miracle stories of the Bible seem to teach the existence of a powerful God, who created nature, loves us and is intensely interested in our lives? Why or why not?
If such a God exists, do you think it is more difficult to believe that this God would or would not intervene in human affairs? Explain.
|Modernist theologians... claim that it is of no religious importance whether Moses really led Israel through the Red Sea or whether Jesus' body was really resurrected; the religious question is whether Israel saw God's hand in their history, and whether "Easter faith" was resurrected in the hearts of the disciples. But this seems ridiculous and self-contradictory; it implies that God really led Israel by not really leading it, and that there was an "Easter faith" without an Easter. PETER KREEFT AND RONALD K. TACELLI13|
Science and Miracles
So if Christianity cannot be divorced from the miraculous, that leaves us right back where we started, asking if science has disproved miracles. But if an all-powerful God does exist, is there any scientific reason to doubt the possibility that this Being's acts might at times deviate from the normal course of nature? Those that would answer yes to this question often point to one of three reasons.
1. Miracles contradict natural laws. Many who disbelieve in the miraculous claim that what we have discovered about natural laws excludes the possibility of miracles. But natural laws are only a description of how nature normally functions, and belief in miracles does not deny that nature normally functions in these set ways. In fact, it is necessary to recognize the existence of natural laws before one can
even speak of miracles. Miracles, by definition, are exceptions to these laws. Discovering these laws can do nothing to tell us whether or not a miracle is possible.
2. Nothing happens without a scientific cause. This argument is an example of confusing naturalism with science. It is naturalism, the philosophy that nothing exists outside of the material world, that leads to this belief, not science. Nothing in science can prove that everything always has a scientific cause.
|When a thing professes from the very outset to be a unique invasion of Nature by something from outside, increasing knowledge of Nature can never make it either more or less credible than it was at the beginning. In this sense it is mere confusion of thought to suppose that advancing science has made it harder for us to accept miracles. We always knew they were contrary to the natural course of events; we know still that if there is something beyond Nature, they are possible. C.S. LEWIS14|
3. Science has never documented a miracle. Some would say that even though science may not prove everything has a scientific cause, it has given us ample reason to believe this because science has never documented a miracle. However, the scientific method can study only those things that normally occur in nature and are repeatable, and a miracle is an isolated event that is not, humanly speaking, repeatable. Therefore a miracle is outside the realm of scientific experimentation. With that said, it is also interesting that science has documented many things that it cannot currently explain. It is our faith in science that makes us identify these things as unexplained phenomena rather than miracles.
Can you think of any other scientific argument against miracles? If so, explain.
So Why Haven't We Seen Any Miracles?
Beyond all this I suspect that the major reason most of us have trouble believing in miracles is that we personally have never experienced an obvious miracle. This is true for me. Although I have experienced some events that were uncanny in their timing and details, I have never seen anything that defied all attempts of a natural explanation. So if miracles are real, why don't we see obvious miracles around us everyday?
1. Because an obvious miracle, by definition, must be rare. As I state that I have never experienced an obvious miracle, I have to admit that I'm not sure what I would call an obvious miracle. Would I need to see for myself someone walking on water or turning water into wine? With my skeptical mind and the proliferation of Vegas-style magicians, I'm not sure even these things would convince me. And these kinds of obvious miracles, by definition, must be rare. If each of us had the opportunity to walk on water, this would no longer be an obvious miracle; it would just be an unusual mode of transportation.
|[If God's reality] were too obvious, then even the most selfish, meanspirited person would believe in him and even (for selfish reasons) try to serve him.... There is good reason to think, then, that God would give people "room" to reject him, because he only wants people to believe in him who are willing to believe in him. C. STEPHEN EVANS (Christian philosopher)15|
2. Because miracles most often are performed at great spiritually significant moments in history. The Bible doesn't promise that miracles will be experienced equally in all times. As Lewis explains, "God does not shake miracles into Nature at random as if from a pepper-caster. They come on great occasions: they are found at the great ganglions of history not of political or social history, but of that spiritual history which cannot be fully known by men."16
3. Because of our unbelief. The Bible indicates that unbelief prevents miracles (Mt. 13:58). I daresay that many in our scientific age likely would not believe in a miracle even if they saw one, just like the rich man's brothers in Luke 16:31.
4. Because God doesn't coerce faith. The Bible indicates that God wants us to serve him voluntarily. I believe if we were truly confronted with the overwhelming power of God through his repeated and obvious interference in the world, there would be no room for voluntary love; we would all be overwhelmed into submission.
If an all-powerful Creator exists, do you believe there is any scientific reason to doubt that miracles may occur? Explain. Do you believe science is able to say undeniably that no higher power exists? Why or why not?
Miracles: How God Intervenes in Nature and Human Affairs by C.S. Lewis (New York: Macmillan, 1960). I drew much for this section from this book. It is somewhat tedious to read, especially at the beginning, but offers wonderful mind-stretching insights.
In Defense of Miracles, Douglas R. Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, eds. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1997). This thorough book offers discussions on the possibly of miracles from philosophical, scientific and historical points of views.
The Limitation of Science
When I began looking into science and religion, I was surprised to find that it is not even possible for any known science to disprove God. It is naturalism, not science, that eliminates the possibility of the supernatural. If an all-powerful God does exist, then accepting the acts of miracles and creation is not difficult. Additionally, even macro-evolution, the one area people point to most to disprove Christianity, has not itself been proved; even if it were, this would still not address whether the process might not have been accomplished by a Creator.
|Faith tells us what the senses cannot, but it is not contrary to their findings. It simply transcends, without contradicting them. BLAISE PASCAL (inventor, scientist, mathematician)17|
But even with a thorough understanding of these points, perceived contradictions between religion and science are unavoidable. As Norman Geisler explains, "Biblical theology involves human understanding and error. Likewise, science is fallible human attempts at understanding the universe. So conflict is inevitable.18 This conflict can be especially difficult for Christians involved in science.
A friend who was a biology major particularly struggled with this. Raised in a Christian home, he was overwhelmed by the underlying thought systems in his science courses that challenged many of the things he had been raised to believe. He began questioning his faith and searching for his own answers. "It was a scary time for me," he says, "a faith-shaking time." For him, however, it came down to gaining a clearer understanding
of the limitation of science. "Science looks for patterns," he explained, "and measures things, but they haven't come up with a God-meter yet."
Do you believe science has disproved Christianity? Why or why not?
Chapter Twelve || Table of Contents