Should we harmonize Scripture with science?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

Question: Aren’t skeptics of the resurrection acting just the same as Christians do when confronted with the theory of evolution? Skeptics deny the plain evidence and accept alternate theories based on the presuppositions of their worldviews. Isn`t that how Christians act toward the theory of evolution? And aren`t Christians being unreasonable in this? I say that because science is superior to studies like history in that it requires observation, testing and repeatability. Therefore, the findings of science have a greater chance of being true than the findings of history, because history is not experimentally repeatable. Because of this, shouldn`t history (and particularly the Bible) be harmonized with science, instead of science being harmonized with history?

Answer: Greetings friend. You have made some interesting observations. We are in agreement that a person’s worldview will affect his interpretation of the things plainly seen (Romans 1:20) and that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is historically evident. I also agree that we Christians should act toward the empirics of science as we expect skeptics to behave toward the empirics of Scripture. After all, Scripture and science are not at odds with each other… their popular philosophies are — but not their techniques and not their data. However, for me to call Christians unreasonable in this debate, I would have to assert that the popular understanding of evolution is equal to the discoveries of hard science, and I refute that.

Additionally, history and science are similar in some aspects but dissimilar in others. They both require data and the interpretation of data. But with the physical sciences that is a much more straightforward process than is the interpretation of history. For example, there is much less debate about how why an ice cube melts than there is agreement about the socioeconomic impact of World War I. Although both require data, the interpretations are relatively firm for science but spongy for history. So, where science and history are useful (not in a list of data points, but as conclusions), they are markedly dissimilar and should not be considered as equals for comparison. I do not agree, therefore, that just because scientific technique includes successful repeatable experiments that we should bend other findings into harmonic submission. We Christians are playing the long game. We should continue to seek the truth over false harmony until the Truth himself comes back for us.

If by harmonize you mean that one discipline should be subordinated to the other no matter what the cost to the truth, I disagree. All truth is God’s truth — and should be respected as such. Therefore truth, not harmony-for-its-own-sake, should be the target for Christians and scientists alike. But if by harmonize you mean that when both disciplines arrive at the truth they find themselves in harmony, then that harmony would be the highest goal. God guarantees that that kind of harmony does indeed exist, but there is no guarantee that we will arrive at it in our lifetimes. That may make us sad… but that is no reason to give bad science the floor.

Christians should have no problems with real science. As you have emphasized, real science advances on observation and experimentation, and its results must be repeatable to be valid. It is a foolish Christian who butts his head against the legitimate results of hard science. First, there is never scriptural warrant for doing so, since God presides over the physical world and over truth itself. Second, it always our failure to interpret his world and his word rightly that causes the problems. That being said let us consider that not all sciences are “hard,” and here your question confuses two different types by introducing the term evolution.

When Edwin Hubble discovered a difference in the “redshift” of galaxies depending on their distance from the earth, he concluded that the universe was expanding. This was verified by subsequent observations and experiments. And since we see our universe expanding over time it is reasonable to postulate that if we wound back the clock sufficiently, we would find an extraordinarily dense universe. That is a reasonable conclusion from some sound observations. But that is quite different from scientists finding “evolution” in the fossil record. Such a conclusion relies on questionable interpretations of a softer science.

Please note I am not dismissing the good science that is involved in examining artifacts, earth strata, chemicals and the like. I believe that the vast majority of professionals involved in these studies are proceeding under strict scientific methodologies. And furthermore, I realize that part of trying to figure out a complex history is to look at different possible models for that history. This is a reasonable process, and I have no problem with that. What I have a problem with is promoting one of those models as if it were a fact — equal in veracity to the fact of our expanding universe. These are not equivalent. I can observe the redshift and agree with the conclusions of expansion, but I cannot look at artifacts and say with the same certainty that because some fossils came before the others that they caused the others and that this proves the evolutionary model. I refute that. I have never seen an artifact or a series of artifacts that give satisfactory evidence to cross-species evolution. Precedence is not causation. And a carefully arranged set of fossils might win the school science fair, but it is far from proving that the evolutionary model is true.

If we Christians are going to talk science, we had better figure out what legitimate science is and not be bullied by philosophy masked as science. We should also understand the limits of modeling — how models are always useful yet never conclusive. What this means is that when a scientist stops presenting his findings as a model and starts presenting that model as the truth, he has ceased acting as an expert. He is now presenting his findings based on his worldview…and his worldview is not his science… it is his philosophy! And philosophy is a place where he would be an amateur — very informed in his beliefs, perhaps — but an amateur nonetheless. Please remember that an expert’s credentials are specific. Never allow such a person to assert a power that he does not own.

I have no problem asserting that anyone who is highly accomplished in one area is probably inadequate in others. Therefore, I shall give no credence to an expert, no matter how credentialed or how popular, who has the arrogance to carry his evolutionary juju into theology or philosophy — unless, of course, he is equally an expert in those fields. Let me take this further. For such a person to foster the impression that he is equally an expert in issues of philosophy as he is in his scientific specialty is fraudulent behavior. This is where the public falls down. Being adequately entertained, the average consumer-of-facts will not differentiate between the empirical itself and the interpretation of the empirical. Neither will he be bothered that a qualified fact-gatherer is not of necessity a qualified theologian.

Although I agree with you that we should give true science every opportunity to advance, in both discovery and in informing the public, I do not agree that evolution (as it is commonly presented as macroevolution vs. God) should be presented as hard science because of its interpretive nature. If the editors of television and textbooks who purport to present science, stuck to micro-evolution (which is readily observable) or presented macroevolution as a model rather than as a foregone conclusion that only weird religious people would oppose, then I would leave them alone. Otherwise, I yell, fraud! Let me say that again. Fraud!

Not all Christians are as comfortable as I am with science. One reason for this is that I do not subscribe to a literal seven days of creation scenario. My studies show that this puts unwarranted constraints on the language. However… I am just a guy with an opinion, and opinions vary on this. Unfortunately, many people wrongly think that to be a Christian one must subscribe to a young Earth scenario. But this is a secondary issue. The primary issue is the possession of Jesus Christ himself. That is what makes one a Christian! But there are many believers like me who do not oppose the notion that the earth could be very old. As such, we can allow science and Scripture to play together in the backyard… because they really want to. It is the other parents who think that they will hurt each other.

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