Science & Faith: Friends or Foes?

For all my SpongeBob fans, you might know the episode where SpongeBob and his friend Patrick (he has the greatest name) are going door to door selling chocolate bars.  As they arrive at one house and SpongeBob makes his sales pitch, the man on the other side of the door gets wide eyed and begins screaming “CHOCOLATE” at the top of his lungs over and over.  Naturally, this scares SpongeBob and Patrick and they end up running away from the crazy man for the entire episode.  But when the man finally catches SpongeBob, he calms down and quietly says, “I’d like to buy all your chocolate.”  SpongeBob thought this man was an enemy, but he actually turned out to be a friend.  Maybe science and faith are the same.  The church has run from science only to realize it wasn’t our foe, but our friend.

Three Options

It seems that there are three options when it comes to approaching science and faith:

  1. Cling to the Bible and let go of science
  2. Cling to science and let go of the Bible
  3. Find a harmony between the Bible and science

I am going to suggest that we go for door number three.  Though option one may sound the best at first, I hope you see why option three is better.  Let’s make clear that we are not denying the inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible—we do affirm these truths—but we can misinterpret Scripture.  Scripture is never wrong, but our interpretation of Scripture can be wrong.

Triage the Issue

Shortly after Maddi and I got married, she was driving a tiny little Dodge Neon.  While sitting at a stop light, a girl rear-ended Maddi.  Maddi didn’t feel the best in the world, so we took her to the emergency room to get checked out.  When we arrived, the nurses triaged her to figure out the extent of her wounds/injuries.  If she walked in with organs hanging out, then obviously they would consider her before someone who walked in with a paper cut.

In the same way, we need to triage theological issues.  There are some that are more important than others.

“For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3–4, CSB). 

The fact that Paul uses the words, “most important,” means there are some things that are not as important.  Essentially, the gospel is most important.  If we elevate anything above the gospel as more important, then we have an idol. This isn’t to say that other things don’t matter, but to say nothing matters more than the gospel.

Closed Fist Issues: issues essential to salvation

  • Examples: Salvation, Jesus’s death & resurrection, trinity, virgin birth, atonement

Open-Hand Issues: issues nonessential to salvation

  • Examples: Baptism, Lord’s Supper, worship styles, age of the earth, Big Bang, days of creation, worldwide v. regional flood, evolution, etc.

When you stand before Jesus at the end of this life, he isn’t going to ask you what you believed about the age of the earth or evolution, he is going to look at how you loved him and loved others.  Jesus isn’t going to bring up the box that you checked on the 8th grade science test that says evolution is true or that the earth is a certain age.  Jesus is going to talk about the boy in your 8th grade class who needed to hear about Jesus but never did.  He is going to look at whether or not you repented of your sins and believed in him.

Keep the main thing the main thing.  Let’s not elevate lesser issues to be higher issues.  Is that not what the Pharisees did?  When we elevate an open-handed issue to the status of a closed-hand issue, we lose sight of the gospel and civil war begins in the church.

Gavin Ortlund aptly points out that back during the time of the Reformation in the 1500s, “more Christians were killed by each other over baptism during the Reformation than were killed by the Roman Empire over their faith in Christ.”  In his words, there are better hills to die on.

The Bible is Not a Book About Science; It is a Book About Jesus

Let’s say I had a Bible and a biology textbook and two different people walked in the room.  The first person, Bob, says he wants to know about photosynthesis.  The second person, Bill, says he wants to know about the meaning of life.  Which book will I give to whom?  Bob will get the the biology textbook and Bill will get the Bible.  Why?  Because the two different books address two different questions.

Galileo said, “The Bible tells you how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”  He knew that Scripture is written with a specific purpose in mind.  It is not scientific literature.  Moses was not writing to refute Darwin because he had never met Darwin.  Moses was not writing to tell us how old the earth is; he was writing to tell us who created us.  If I wouldn’t use a math book to find the meaning of life, why would I use a Bible to learn everything about calculus?  We must keep the purpose of the book in mind.

What happens when we don’t keep the purpose of the book in mind?  In the 16th & 17th centuries—through their scientific discoveries—Galileo, Copernicus, and Kepler began to make claims that the earth was round.  All of these men were Christians and saw no conflict between this scientific discovery and their faith.  However, the church at that time saw it as a conflict in the way they interpreted Scripture.  So, over a long process in which both sides did not act very Christlike, they excommunicated Galileo from the church and rumor is that they even burned a dude named Brunno at the stake.  What was their reasoning for believing that the earth was fixed and the unmoving center of the universe with all else revolving around the earth?  They would look to a few Bible verses:

  •  “The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken” (Psalm 93:1, CSB).
  • “He established the earth on its foundations; it will never be shaken” (Psalm 104:5, CSB).
  • “The sun rises and the sun sets; panting, it hurries back to the place where it rises” (Eccl 1:5, CSB).

Again, Scripture is never wrong, but our interpretation of Scripture can be wrong.  We now know without a doubt that the earth is not flat and is not the center of the universe.  These verses were made to mean something that they were never meant to mean.

If we see science and Scripture in conflict, then either our science is off or our interpretation of Scripture is off.  God is the author of both the book of nature and the book of Scripture, so the two can never be in conflict.  Scripture is never wrong, but our interpretation can be wrong.

Another axiom that we need to hold to is this: The Bible is written for us, but not to us.  Moses didn’t know about: the scientific method, Darwinian evolution, or the water-cycle.  But he did know that God that spoke through a burning bush and that the Israelites needed to know they had a God who loved them.

If the Bible begins to mean something for us today that it couldn’t mean to the original audience, then we need to take a step back, and make sure we are reading Scripture in context.  If we look at Genesis one, we should know that it isn’t written to see how God created everything but that God created everything.

What should we do?  Let the scientists and science books speak to science.  Let the Savior and the Bible speak to salvation.

Different Paradigms

A paradigm is a way through which we view the world.  Science and Scripture are two different paradigms.  They are not conflict paradigms but complementary paradigms. 

Science answers questions of “how?”

Scripture answers questions of “why?”

Think of this: Science can help us understand how to kill cancer, but faith helps us answer the question of why it is good for us to kill cancer rather than allow cancer to kill us.

If you have questions of “how” things work and processes, then science is your best go-to.  But if you have question of “why” and the meaning of life and purpose, then Scripture is you best go-to.

Fix Your Eyes on Jesus

“Let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–12, CSB).

The author of Hebrews says he wants us all to “lay aside every hindrance.”  A hindrance is not just sin, but can also be an open-handed issue being elevated to a closed-fist issue.  In that moment, we have lost sight of Jesus.  So the author goes on, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

Our eyes don’t need to be on the age of the earth or a certain attitude about the origin of species as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. The earth did nothing to die for our sins, so why focus so exaggeratedly on its age?   Our eyes need to be on Jesus, because he and he alone died on the cross for our sins.

Science Should Lead You to Jesus

Science should lead us to Jesus.  It was science that led the wise men to Jesus.  “After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was—the star they had seen at its rising. It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was” (Matt 2:9, CSB).  The wise men (Magi) we astronomers by trade.  They allowed their scientific knowledge to lead them to their savior.  Can we do the same?

If somebody gives you an ultimatum when it comes to science and faith, then it is a false ultimatum.  God’s two books can never be in conflict because God can never be in conflict.  A harmony between the two is not only possible, but even plausible.  Don’t let this be a tripping point for your faith and don’t make it so for somebody else!

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