Can the Bible and science really work together to give us a picture of the world, or are we doomed to choose between them in order to define our reality either by faith or by observation?
Yes, we’re tackling that one today. Lucky me.
Yesterday, on Labor Day, I took a break from all of my labors to… do laundry and clean the yard, and finally give my grill a good scrubbing. Oh, and I listened to a podcast or two, and one challenged me to dig deep and think critically. The conversation lingered on why people seemed so critical of science today. If you’re not sure what I’m getting at just type in “global warming,” “anti-vaxers,” or “flat earth truthers” to see what I mean. The podcasters joked about how there seems to be an oddly shaped line running down conservative and liberal circles as to whether or not we as human beings can trust science.
We can trust science… to a point. See, science’s role is to describe the way things are. It doesn’t have the mechanism to make a value judgment on anything, but requires interpretation to make sense of the observation and data collected. Religion, on the other hand, is all about answering value judgements and the ultimate questions every human being wrestles with at some point in their lives: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “How shall I live?” “What does it mean to be human?” Science has a hard time with those questions. It can certainly describe the scenario, but the ultimate “why” is out of its grasp.
I have never had an issue with science, really. My family dealt with optics and the science of eyes and vision correction. Even though they were steeped in the medical and scientific field, each of them has a healthy respect and reverence for God, especially as they look at the complex structures within the eye, and how fragile the entire system is.
My father in law is an amazing chemist who develops plastics and materials for commercial and industrial use. His chemical work can be seen in my house in a few clear plastic popcorn bowls that have come in handy more than once. He, though, has no trouble observing systems and reactions and interpreting data and worshiping the God who developed those systems and reactions in His great imagination.
Reading Genesis has given me some pause recently, as its description of Creation is so poetic and captures the imagination. For all of its poetry and majesty, this one passage (Genesis 1-2) has caused more than its fair share of debates and disagreements. Was it literally six days? Was each day a longer period of time? Is this just a poetic retelling of an event human beings would have trouble comprehending? Is the earth young or old? Evolution or nah? Why do the two chapters seem to disagree?
I think if we get caught up in those details, we may miss the point. What is the point? God made it. Period. It’s like looking at a piece of art hanging in a gallery and wondering how long it took the artist, or what methods, brushstrokes, and materials he used. Sure, those can be important questions to think about, but regardless of what conclusion we come to based on our information and study we can still enjoy and marvel at the masterpiece sitting in front of us.
Genesis, and the whole segment of the Bible from Genesis to Deuteronomy, is answering the question, “How should I live, and why?” Think about those ultimate questions listed earlier. How many of those ultimate questions are answered in the first two chapters of the Bible? Who am I? I am a creation of God made to care for the earth God also made. Why am I here? I am here by the power, grace, and love of God, who made me to share in His love and care of the earth and its life. How shall I live? I will honor God by honoring his creation by tending to it. What does it mean to be human? It is to be an image of God in His creation, to create, build, dream, and strive – to be in relationship with God, humans, and the earth.
Rabbi Sacks, as well as David Bentley Hart, point out that belief in an organized, creative God who founded the universe on order paved the way for science, which needed an ordered universe in which to function.
How do you view the relationship between religion and science? What do your conversations concerning these two things sound like with your family?