Can I believe in science and the Bible?From hot topic God and Science.
The short answer to this question is ‘yes’, as many scientists who are Christians will tell you. However, the longer answer is more complicated! Whether you think you can believe in both science and the Bible depends upon what you’re expecting to get from each of them. For example, where should we go for answers to questions as diverse as: Where does rain come from? What is lightening? Is there a God?
Let’s start with the Bible. It is an ancient document produced over at least 1,000 years in many diverse settings, as well as being God’s word. The question is: what should we expect from the Bible, and how should we correctly read it? The key thing is to consider the genre of the thing you are reading; in other words, what type of literature is this? We all know about genre, but rarely realise it! We read a letter from our bank manager differently to a letter from a lover, because they are different genres. In the same way we read the poetry in Psalm 18:2: ‘The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer’, differently to Acts 27:29: ‘Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight’. The latter clearly refers to a physical rock which destroys a boat, the former means that God is like a rock to the Psalmist, i.e. he is dependable and strong, solid. So genre matters when we read the Bible, otherwise we might mistake what the author was trying to say.
The importance of genre
The genre of a text determines the kind of thing you should look to get from reading it. Let’s look at Genesis chapter 1, for example, which is the narrative of the seven-day creation (it may help you to go and read it before you carry on reading this article). What kind of literature is Genesis 1? It’s a narrative – things happen in it – and it has some features of poetry as well: repeated phrases (‘and God said’, ‘according to their kind’, and many others), and a repeated structure in how each day is described. In Genesis 1, many words and phrases are found three, seven or 10 times; the introduction contains 35 words, earth is mentioned 21 times, God is mentioned 35 times (all multiples of seven). All this suggests that the genre of Genesis 1 is a mix of poetry and narrative, and that the author was very interested in the symbolism of numbers, as well as telling us something about God. Is this the kind of text which you would expect to get scientific information from? As Ernest Lucas says in his book Can we believe Genesis today? (IVP, 2005): ‘The more we look at Genesis 1-3…the more it becomes clear that the meaning of the passage is essentially theological, not historical or scientific.’ In other words, the point of Genesis 1 is to tell us that God is the creator of the universe, not exactly how (scientifically) God did it. The main point here is that the Bible is not a scientific document, it’s a theological one. We should go to the Bible to find out about God, not about science.
Mechanisms and morals
Now let’s turn to science. What should we expect science to tell us? The aim of science is to explain how things happen in our world. Science is concerned about mechanisms – how did that earthquake occur? How does a cell turn cancerous? Science is limited to studying repeatable, observable and measurable phenomena – and it’s very good at doing it! However, the study of mechanisms is not all there is to life: we could describe in great scientific detail how butter, flour, sugar and eggs, when combined and heated, make a cake, but it would tell us nothing about what the cake was for – a birthday party, perhaps. Similarly, we may think that it’s good to care for the poor and to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves (and most scientists who I know do think that!), but that’s not a scientific conclusion, it’s a moral one. So science isn’t everything and, in particular, it cannot tell us whether there is a God or not. God is not a mechanism within the universe, and science leaves to one side the question of God and simply gets on with studying things within the world.
So science and the Bible are concerned with very different parts of life: science with how this world works, and the Bible with questions of meaning: why are we here? Is there anything worth living for? Is there a God? As a Christian, science for me is about finding out how the world which God made works. Science is thinking God’s thoughts after him, but we cannot say whether there is a God or not using science.
So can we believe in science and the Bible? Yes! In fact I think we need both. Let me finish with a quote from Francis Bacon, the father of the scientific method, who died in 1626: ‘Let no man think or maintain that a man can search too far or be too well-studied in the book of God’s word [the Bible] or in the book of God’s works [science].’
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