False Assumptions Some Christians Make Over Science

Title: False Assumptions Some Christians Make Over Science

Text: 1 Corinthians 13:12, James 2:19, Jeremiah 33:3

Time: June 24th, 2012

 

Well, as you know, every year I try to visit the Jamestown, NY library book sale and pick up as many theological books as I can. Since I don’t really have a book budget, I try to get as many reference books and Bible commentaries as I can – you know, the really expensive type of books that cost a lot to buy outright from the stores or order on the Internet. This year I didn’t find many commentaries, but I was able to get a few Greek reference books to help me study New Testament Greek. I also got a popular science book that I’ve been aware of for a couple of years, but never purchased. I’ve read parts of it from the library and bookstore, but never had the chance to read it entirely. It’s a book by a Christian who works in science, Francis Collins, called, The Language of God. Collins was the leader of the Human Genome Project that completely mapped out the human genetic code about a decade ago. He’s a scientist and he’s a Christian, so I was interested in what he’d have to say about faith and science. Unfortunately, he comes across as more of a scientist than a Christian. What I mean is, he takes as bedrock truth everything that the present scientific consensus teaches, and then evaluates Christianity on that basis; rather than takes the Christian faith as his starting point and evaluates scientific claims in light of it. In the book, for example, he says that the conflict between faith and science is unnecessary because there really is no conflict. By the end of the book it becomes clear what his approach to solving any apparent conflicts between science and Christianity – reinterpret biblical Christianity to fit into contemporary science. But surely this isn’t a valid Christian solution. In fact, it certainly isn’t a faithful Christian approach at all. I’ve also known a few other Christians, besides Collins, who take a similar approach to conflicts between Christianity and other areas of knowledge; they basically readjust the faith to fit whatever field of study in which they are working. But again, surely, that isn’t the solution. Why must the Bible always give way? And why must different fields of human knowledge carry the assumption of being true? I think the problem for Christians like Collins is that they hold to the wrong assumptions when they tackle the problem of thinking about their Christian faith in respect to other fields of knowledge. I’d like to address three false assumptions that Christians, like Collins, make as they try to reconcile faith and human knowledge. Yes, in the final analysis, “all truth is God’s truth,” whether stated in the Bible or coming from science. But as humans we struggle with how truth from the Bible is related to truth from the natural world. But we should guard against oversimplified answers. Here are three false assumptions that we should beware of when we tackle the issue of faith and learning.

 

First, we should not assume that science is always right. 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.” The Bible teaches us that we are fallen beings on a dying planet. Due to the fall into sin by our original parents, Adam and Eve, every part of our being is corrupted by sin, including our mind, senses and reasoning ability. Consequently, we must always bear in mind that our ability to observe and reason from our observations is limited. Now science is based on observations and reasoning by us fallen creatures about the fallen world of nature. While God has used the scientific enterprise to advance our civilization here on earth in amazing ways, we should always remember that our human computer, the mind, is broken. If we were practicing science, say, before the Fall, then we might have every right to assume that it’s conclusions would be flawless – since there’d be no sin or corruption to throw off our observations and conclusions. In other words, if Adam and Eve were to do science – make observations and make reasoned conclusions – they’d have every right to assume that the results of science would be 100% true, since there’d be nothing in the way of perfect results (assuming they practiced good scientific methods). But the fact is, we aren’t back before the Fall, we are operating after it, and therefore all of our scientific observations and conclusions are susceptible to the negative effects of the Fall. But a lot of Christians forget this. For example, in The Language of God by Francis Collins, the assumption on his part seems to be that science is a near infallible guide to getting at the truth of the natural world. He pretty much takes it for granted that if the scientific method is faithfully followed, then truth will be the result. But that is a false assumption because of the fallen nature of man and the so-called “noetic” effects of the Fall – that is, the effects of the Fall on our mental reasoning. Collins nowhere addresses this issue, but it is very important from a Christian standpoint. In this respect, he’s very naïve in his boundless faith in “science.” But he should know better, simply by looking at the history of science, and by seeing how many times its conclusions have changed. But let’s, for instance, say that the established scientific consensus has been established for one hundred or even two hundred years now on a certain question. Does that give us certainty that the question is absolutely settled truth? No. Because the so-called “noetic” effects of sin extend not just to individuals but also to groups too. If one man can be wrong, so can all men be wrong. Because of the corrupting effects of sin the whole human race can be wrong about something; that is completely possible. So you see, we all need to take a more humble approach to scientific conclusions. Maybe science has it right on a particular point, but maybe not. We shouldn’t automatically assume that science is always right whenever there is an apparent conflict with the Bible. That’s a false assumption. Let’s beware of it. Like the above passage states, “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” Let’s keep that in mind.

 

Second, we should not assume that theism equals biblical Christianity. James 2:19, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” Theism is a technical philosophical term used to describe the idea of one God who is intelligent, personal, all-powerful, all-knowing and all-present. The three great monotheistic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam all subscribe to a theistic idea of God. However, there is more to Christianity, for example, than theism, because Christian truth goes further than a philosophical idea of God, it fills in the general description of God with the specific details found in the Bible. The Christian God is the biblical God. Now another common false assumption of some Christians like Francis Collins is to equate theism with Christianity. Or in other words, to assume that a general view of God is the Christian view of God. But this is false, because Christianity doesn’t teach a general view of God, but a very specific view of God spelled out in detail in the Bible. Throughout the book The Language of God, Collins talks in pretty general terms about God and faith and truth. Now starting from this general and vague understanding of God, he then talks about how compatible science is with belief, and how evolution in no way contradicts his own faith in God. Now if we are talking about the general truth of theism – the belief in one God – then of course evolution doesn’t contradict that teaching. But what about the specific teachings about God in the Bible? I think a lot of Christians see no problem between anything in science, and particularly with evolution, because they are talking about science and theism, or evolution and theism, and not science with biblical Christianity, or evolution and biblical Christianity. Christianity goes way further than general theism in how it describes God. It doesn’t help to talk about Christian faith in terms of general theism, and seek to minimize the conflicts between scientific conclusions and Christianity on that basis, because you aren’t comparing the same things. In order to bring about harmony between science and Christianity we must show that the biblical data corresponds with the scientific data, that the scientific teachings match the Bible’s teachings. We can talk about general faith in God all we want, and how nothing in science disproves God, but that doesn’t address the real issue. Like James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” In other words, belief in God isn’t enough; it has to be the biblical God of Christianity. At the present time, there is a conflict between the conclusions of science and the teachings of the Bible, specifically about origins. We need to explore ways of understanding the Bible and science to bring about harmony between the two. Simply to assume that science is always true and Christianity must be brought in line with it, like Collins proposes, isn’t the solution. We need to keep working.

 

Third, we should not assume that reason trumps revelation. Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” There is also another false assumption in the academic and scientific community that Christians should be careful not to assume – that reason is superior to revelation. Many or even most scientists discount the whole notion of divine revelation to begin with, so there is a bias against biblical teachings from the beginning. Starting with the Enlightenment of the 18th century, the assumption was that all religion is man-made, that all so-called revelation is merely the product of human inspiration. Therefore, from the standpoint of secular, humanistic Enlightenment thinking there really is no such thing as bona fide revelation from God in the Bible. Now most academics and scientists today in their work follow that same secular assumption. It shows up most noticeably whenever there is a conflict between science and the Bible. For example, in respect to the scientific theory of evolution, most academics and scientists assume that Darwin is correct – because his theory was arrived at by observation and reason – and that the Bible is incorrect, because it was arrived at by so-called revelation, which is seriously questioned or even completely rejected today by more and more people. Now the temptation for Christians is to simply follow the secular assumptions of the modern world and also assume that whenever science conflicts with the Bible, science is correct. Or put differently, whenever there is conflict between reason and revelation, reason is to be trusted over so-called revelation. This is how Francis Collins comes across in his book on science and faith. He pretty much assumes that reason has priority over revelation, even the Bible. And that’s how a lot of Christians think too. But it’s basically incorrect to make that assumption. Look at the above passage in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Now we notice a number of points in the verse. First, skipping to the end of the verse, we learn that we as humans don’t know everything. That’s not news for any of us because we already know that we don’t know everything. The second point is that God says to the prophet that he will tell him “great and unsearchable things.” So here is a description of divine revelation. Why does God reveal himself? Because we as humans don’t know everything and we need to know certain things that are important.

 

But that’s not all the verse says. It also shows that we obtain this revelation, this knowledge from God, by calling upon the Lord. It isn’t obtained by going out into the world and making observations and then drawing reasonable conclusions based on these observations. In other words, it isn’t based on following the scientific method. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with following the basic scientific method. We are all grateful for all the benefits and blessings of the modern world that have come about through science and technology. There certainly is a place in God’s world for human knowledge, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for revelation as well. The Enlightenment tried to eliminate all revelation by claiming that only through human reason can we arrive at truth, and that any talk of divine revelation is false. That same bias against revelation exists today, which is why whenever there is a conflict between the Bible and science, the secular world automatically believes reason over revelation. This is wrong and stupid. It’s arrogant. It comes from a heart of pride – pride in human achievement and accomplishment, and antagonism against God. Christians have no business agreeing with or promoting this secular, humanistic pride. Instead, we must not assume that the product of human reason is always correct. We must not assume, like most secular people today, that revelation in the Bible is inferior. We must not assume, like more and more people are today, that whenever the Bible disagrees with science that Christians must adjust their beliefs to conform to current scientific theories. There’s good reason why God gave us revelation in the Bible. For example, God has his reasons why he revealed to us the Creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2. It’s there for a reason. The way it’s written and what is revealed and how it’s revealed are all there for good reason. The Genesis account tells us things that science can’t tell us or isn’t telling us or is telling us incorrectly. Some of what is revealed lines up with science and some doesn’t seem to line up. Should we automatically assume that science is to be believed and the Bible isn’t? No. Should we assume that since science is based on human observations and reasoning that it is truthful, while the Bible is based on so-called divine revelation so it shouldn’t be trusted? No. We as Christians need to approach both science and the Bible carefully, seeking to understand the best we can what God is saying in revelation and what nature is saying through observation and reason. Maybe we’ll understand both fully one day and see how they perfectly match. But as Christians we should start with what God reveals and work from there, not the other way around.

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