If the physicists seem to achieve their ends more successfully than the theologians, that is simply a reflection of how much easier science is than theology. – John Polkinghorne
I don’t know about you, but I think John Polkinghorne is one smart guy. If you know the name, you know that he started out as a physicist, and ended up as an Anglican Priest. It is beyond question that he is a well regarded physicist, having earned a PhD at Cambridge, where he later became a professor, and was elected by fellow scientists as a Fellow of the Royal Society – a prestigious lifetime position. It is also beyond question that he is a Christian – a man of devout faith in God. He was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2002 in part because of his treatment of theology as a natural science that invigorated the search for an interface between science and religion. His writings apply scientific habits to the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy – including the Trinity, Christ’s resurrection, and God’s creation of the universe. And he says that science and faith in God need not be in conflict.
The National Acadamy of Sciences recently highlighted the interplay between science and faith, saying “Science is not the only way of knowing and understanding.” Following are statements by two other prominent scientists who like Polkinghorne, are also Christians.
“Creationists inevitably look for God in what science has not yet explained or in what they claim science cannot explain. Most scientists who are religious look for God in what science does understand and has explained.”— Kenneth Miller, professor of biology at Brown University and author of Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Religion.
“In my view, there is no conflict in being a rigorous scientist and a person who believes in a God who takes a personal interest in each one of us. Science’s domain is to explore nature. God’s domain is in the spiritual world, a realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science. It must be examined with the heart, the mind, and the soul.” — Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project and of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Excerpted from his book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 6). (More from Francis Collins can be seen on http://biologos.org .)
In the recent past I have disagreed with those who assert that the Christian faith and science are incompatible. It is not science that is incompatible with religious faith – it’s atheism! People like John Polkinghorne, Kenneth Miller, and Francis Collins prove that one can be Christian, and still be a scientist. Steven Jay Gould’s “Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA)” notwithstanding, there simply must be places at which both science and faith could at least theoretically arrive. Call those places truth, or call them reality. If something is true, and if science will one day discover it, then man having had faith in it before it was discovered, does not invalidate it’s “truth-ness.” In the Christian faith, there are doctrines which we accept as matters of faith that are non-negotiable. These include the assertion that God exists, and a fairly small list of others. Atheists have things they take on faith as well. They believe that God does not exist. They dismiss people of faith as “weak-minded” or “believers in superstition”, but they rarely if ever acknowledge themselves to be operating on faith.
As Pastor Tim Keller so deftly describes in a recent talk at MIT, you cannot prove the existence of God. But neither can you disprove it. Either way, you have to make a faith assumption. A lot of people just don’t want to think about it. They just want to be left alone. The problem is, you can’t just abstain. Everybody has to vote. If you vote “I don’t know” you are really voting no. I say that because a “yes” vote for God must be made affirmatively. You are either a believer or not.
Some people want to believe, but can’t get past the seeming conflict with science. They read the creation account in Genesis and compare it to what science “knows” about things like the age of the Earth, and Man evolving up from “lower” species, and just shake their heads and move on. I used to believe that the Genesis account was more allegorical, and that the important points were that God created every thing, He created every being and that He created man “in His own image” and “breathed life into” him. I worried that my understanding of science (limited as it is) had “forced” me to adapt the Genesis account so they would not seem to be in conflict.
But what an amazing revelation! I just read where the church father Augustine, writing in the early 400’s AD, came up with an interpretation of the creation narrative based on scripture alone, that takes both the “young-Earth” and the “day-age” creation adherents off the hook, and made it compatible with most of what science holds dear today, including evolution! He said in part that based on a careful reading of both the Genesis 1 account and other passages, it is not only possible, but probable, that the Creation narrative does not preclude evolution! He sees the “days” differently. He believes Genesis 2:4 has the following meaning:
“When day was made, God made heaven and earth and every green thing of the field.”
This leads him to conclude that the six days of Creation are not chronological. Rather, they are a way of categorizing God’s work of creation. God created the world in an instant but continues to develop and mold it, even to the present day! So not only is instantaneous creation from nothing (ex nihilo) still in there, but evolution is part of the creation as well! Time was created at the moment of creation as well, and Augustine insists that the Bible is not even open to any other interpretation on that matter! For him, eternity is a realm without space or time. Interestingly, this is precisely the state of existence many scientists posit existed before the big bang.
Yet there was one point on which Augustine would not have been open to alternative interpretation. Though he likely would have been comfortable with the theory of evolution as an explanation of origins, he would have seen it as guided, not random or unguided. For Augustine, God created a universe that was deliberately designed to develop and evolve. The blueprint for that evolution is not arbitrary, but is programmed into the very fabric of creation. God’s providence superintends the continuing unfolding of the created order.
Reading this article in Christianity Today gave me a renewed sense of appreciation for the accuracy of scripture. The ancient words are unique among all written documents. Many people have, for many years, been trying to dismiss the Bible as out of date, inaccurate or irrelevant. But it has survived for thousands of years. And every time science comes up with something that “proves” the errancy of scripture, what we find is that it is our interpretation that is in error, not the Word.
I appreciate the respectful tone taken by the National Acadamy of Sciences and the Christian scientists mentioned here. We all are searching for the truth. We all take some things on faith. We may never agree, but we certainly can and should be respectful of each other’s honest opinions. Most of all, we need to learn the difference between real, actual facts and things that only seem factual until you strip away the metaphysical presuppositions behind them.