Christian Faith & Science
A while back there was boxing fight that turned into a fiasco. Mike Tyson lost the fight against Evander Holyfield when he bit off a piece of Holyfield’s ear. Sylvester Stallone, not a man widely known for his quotable comments said of the fight,
‘You should only fight vegetarians [and] I think a fighter should eat before the fight.’
The scrap between those two is a little like the relationship of the Christian faith to science.
The relationship between Science and the Christian Faith has not always been amicable. Historically, the Church has sometimes resisted the most basic advances in science. Galileo’s ecclesiastical trial in 1633 was one such event as he argued in support of Copernicus’ teaching that the earth revolved annually around the sun, rather than the earth as the centre of all things.
It has been at times a fairly testy relationship, with both looking unkindly at the others metaphorical ear lobes, yet many of the greatest scientists have been Christians.
Johannes Kepler of the 16th Century saw Science as, ‘Thinking God’s thoughts after him.’ The 17th Century’s Blasé Pascal was a mathematician and a scientist, inventing the barometer, the computer, and penning the classic Pensees. There was the 17th Century’s Isaac Newton, who wrote as much on theology as he did on science, and the list goes on. Bacteriology and Louis Pasteur, antiseptic surgery and Joseph Lister, chemistry and Robert Boyle and energetics and Lord Kelvin. All Bible-believing scientists.
They show the great truth:
When science is truly science, there is no conflict with faith, when it is truly faith.
Problems arise when one strays over into the arena of the other. Christianity strays when it dismisses the factual teaching of science, such as the age of the universe. Science strays, when it moves from observations and conclusions about matter and processes, to making pronouncements about God.
Carl Sagan, astronomer and biologist, is notorious in this regard. He nibbles on our ear lobes, when he moves from studying the world and the stars, to making conclusions that there is no God. He fails to see that God is not a part of matter, chemicals, stars or processes. So when a scientist moves from processes to spiritual conclusions they have moved from science to scientism, from observations to speculation and from reason to a form of belief.
That is rather like the observation of one Russian cosmonaut who announced after travelling around in space that there is no God. One theologian, said, he just needed to step outside his space suit for a few minutes and he’s find out that there was a God.
True science has no conflict with the Christian faith, to which it owes much of its origins. Let me share with you a little parable which amplifies this point.
Imagine a family of mice who lived all their lives in a large piano. To them in their piano-world came music, filling all the dark spaces with sound and harmony. At first the mice were very impressed by it. They drew wonder and comfort from the thought that there was Someone who made the music – though invisible to them. They loved to think of the great player they could not see.
Then one day a daring mouse climbed up into the piano and returned very thoughtful. He had found how the music was made. Tightly stretched wires that tremble and vibrate were the secret. They needed to revise all their old beliefs. None but the most conservative could any longer believe in the Unseen Player. Later, another explorer carried the explanation further. There were hammers striking the wires. This was a more complicated theory, but it all went to show that they live in a purely mechanical world. The Unseen player came to be thought of as a myth, but the pianist continued to play.
Science is at its best when it describes the hammer, strings and notes of the world. It is at its worst when it says that hammers, strings and notes prove that there is no pianist. Hence Christians have reacted in different ways to science.
In Jesus: The Man Who Lives Malcolm Muggeridge writes of scientists who become increasingly aware of the mystery of the universe and come to religion through knowledge of the limitations of science. Every victory of science reveals more clearly a divine design in nature, a remarkable conformity in all things, from the infinitesimal to the infinite. This is similar to David Sarnoff and similar to Paul Davies’ position.
Explaining the nature of the piano keys is helpful and necessary for our enquiring minds. Science fills out the world that Scripture like Psalm 9 is so rapturous about.
Genesis tells us that the basis of all science is in creation. Genesis 1 tells us so beautifully of the Creator’s work in making the seas, fish, birds, sun, moon, stars and animating all life. Science at its best celebrates the gifts of the creation, the minerals which give us gold rings, the power which warms our houses, the kettle that boils our water and the microwaves that make our lives so much easier.
There is one man in the Bible who had a great interest in science. Such was his grasp of knowledge that people came from distant places to hear him speak and teach. He married many different women to cement alliances with other countries and kings. In fact it is difficult to see how he had time for any science at all with 700 wives and 300 concubines, without mentioning his children (or as a little child once put it, Solomon had 500 wives and 300 porcupines). This was the golden age forIsrael; one of great affluence and influence. And in the midst of it all, science emerged.
1 Kings 4:29-34 show us Solomon’s special insight, especially verse 33,
‘He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish.’
If only his knowledge of faith matched his knowledge of the Lord. Over time, Solomon corrupted his nation with idolatry and ill-will built up over conscription of his building works, and he set the scene for national division. But here in a fleeting moment, we see a scientist in Scripture.
How good it is when Christians have expertise that others can benefit from. Some of you have that. We have some brilliant mechanics, flower arrangers, singers, engineers, computer people, musicians, carpenters, teachers, chefs and more in the Body of Christ.
But the Bible teaches us that what we can do is less important than what we are. For what we are, is based upon whose we are, and that is the most important knowledge we can have.
John 17:3 says, ‘Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.’
Scientific knowledge, as important as it is, does not make us loving people, forgiven people, generous people, or prayerful people. While the Bible is never dismissive of true science, it believes that there is more important knowledge that human kind needs. We need more than science to save our age. Our scientific power has exceeded our spiritual power.
We have guided missiles and misguided men.
‘Within the last century,’ Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘man has leaped ahead in scientific achievements but has lagged behind morally, with the result that he is not technically capable of destroying the world and morally incapable of restraining himself from doing so.’
Science has served evil purposes in our century, from land mines to chemical warfare. It was used in the holocaust to serve evil. In our post-modern times there is a cynicism of science towards Christianity and there is a disbelief that it can possibly serve destructive purposes as shown through late term abortions to euthanasia.
Scientists have the same spiritual needs as any of us. They need to be redeemed as well through what John 17 talks of. A great truth, a prior truth, a deeper truth, the truth of personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
True Science is a great gift to us all, even a gift from God, but the greatest gift is the gift to science and scientists that we call grace through Jesus Christ.
Science explains, Christ saves. Science helps, Christ forgives
By George Robert Iles