As most who read this blog know by now I am a Professor of Chemistry and thus (take a deep breath) a scientist... We all know, or have heard repeated over and over … Science has Disproved Christianity… the elite and intelligent know it … it is only a matter of time before average Americans come to their senses and realize it. This is the proposition discussed in Chapter 6 of Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God. There are several aspects to the conflict – or apparent conflict – between science and faith that often serve as barriers to consideration of the Christian story in our educated and skeptical society.
One of the goals of the BioLogos foundation, begun by Francis Collins and continued through the efforts of many Christian scientists and other leaders, is to overcome the idea that science and faith are incompatible and that science has disproven Christianity. So many, both in the church and outside it, feel that this is an either or proposition. It isn’t. Tim Keller has been involved in some of the gatherings organized by the BioLogos foundation, and has contributed a whitepaper on Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople.
Before digging into the question of science and Christian faith I would like to start with a video that may help to start us on the right foot and relieve some of the tension.
I had the privilege of hearing the inaugural public performance of this piece – as a duet by Francis Collins and Tom Wright. Perhaps some day this version too will be available, but for now we can enjoy the version I’ve linked. It isn’t either Genesis or Science, either reason or faith. We can take Genesis seriously, reason seriously, science seriously (and accurately) and still retain faith.
Keller addresses a number of questions in Chapter 6 of The Reason for God.
1. Science has proven that miracles are impossible. We’ve heard this statement in many forms and many places. It is, of course, not true. Science cannot disprove miracles, as science can only address the question of normal or natural cause. None of us actually think that miracles represent the normal process in the world today or were the standard mode of operation in the past.
If there is a Creator God, there is nothing illogical at all about the possibility of miracles. After all, if he created everything out of nothing, it would hardly be a problem for him to rearrange parts of it as and when he wishes. To be sure that miracles cannot occur you would have to be sure beyond a doubt that God didn’t exist, and that is an article of faith. The existence of God can be neither demonstrably proven or disproven. (p. 86)
There is another important point here as well – miracles are not and never were intended as magic tricks, or as on call interventions for our individual good. When we consider miracles the most important point is why — why are miracles performed in the first place?
In the ministry of Jesus and in the early Church miracles had purpose. They fulfill prophecy and enact the coming of the kingdom of God. Disease, hunger, death, pain, suffering; these are not the intent of God in his creation. As Keller puts it: Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’s miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming. (p.96) A corollary to this must be the realization – any miracles today must also have purpose.
2. Intelligent people don’t believe in God. People like Richard Dawkins and his ilk like to point out that only 7% of members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) believe in a God who actively communicates with humanity, at least through prayer. From this a causal link is assumed – intelligent scientific thinking leads to the nearly inevitable conclusion that there is no God. This is a very common opinion. It runs rampant in the circle of my peers, but holds a much broader sway as well. In the first post in this series I mentioned a conversation with a Christian 20-something who was contemplating how to discuss the Christian faith with a friend who was sure that modern science had removed all rational basis for faith and was amazed that there are still scientists and other scholars who believe.
But, there are several problems with the conclusion that intelligent people don’t believe in God.
First – most scientists base disbelief on other than scientific grounds; the factors are nearly always a complex mix of intellectual, social, and personal issues.
Second – while all scientists base their science on methodological naturalism, it is not true that all or even most profess belief in ontological naturalism or “physicalist naturalism” – that the ultimate explanation and reason for everything lies in the as yet unknown theory of everything. There is more to life than elementary particle physics and string theory. Most scientists today, for example, believe that our conviction that genocide is morally wrong is not an “accident” of evolution – but an absolute value.
Finally – I (RJS) think that the well documented drop in percentage of believers as one moves into elite circles – faculty at top universities, scientists elected to the NAS, Nobel Prize winners – comes in part from the highly competitive nature of science and the fact that it is hard to balance a Christian lifestyle with the level of effort and commitment required to excel in science today. This is not a criticism of those successful Christians, but a realistic assessment of the forces at play. Values influence choices. Choices influence achievement.
3. Evolution disproves the Bible. This, of course, depends on our interpretation of Genesis and other passages of scripture. Scientific knowledge may inform the interpretation of some texts – and it may be inconsistent with certain interpretations. But this does not mean that evolution disproves the Bible. Frankly, God’s method in creation is not fundamental to Christianity. This topic has been discussed in great length on this blog since my original posts on The Language of God and The Reason for God some five years ago. I refer any interested reader to the Index of Posts for an overview. In chapter 6 Keller notes:
I think Genesis 1 has the earmarks of poetry and is therefore a “song” about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation. Genesis 2 is an account of how it happened. There will always be debates about how to interpret some passages — including Genesis 1. But it is false logic to argue that if one part of Scripture can’t be taken literally then none of it can be. That isn’t true of any human communication. (p. 94)
For the record I think that God guided some kind of process of natural selection, and yet I reject the concept of evolution as All-encompassing Theory. (94)
Keller’s most important point is that this is a “nonessential” with sincere Christian believers taking different positions. Keller notes:
…those who are considering Christianity as a whole should not allow themselves to be distracted by this intramural debate. The skeptical inquirer does not need to accept any one of these positions in order to embrace the Christian faith. Rather he or she should concentrate on and weigh the central claims of Christianity. (p. 94)
I agree with Keller here. But it is easier said than done. The voices of those who insist that Christians must reject much of what we have learned from science are loud and often uncompromising. It takes a great deal of patience and desire to ignore this and focus on the central claims of Christianity.
The Science and Faith Archive provides links to a large number of posts, where all of these issues and more are considered in far greater detail than possible in this post, or in the one chapter of The Reason for God.
What are the essential issues in the science and faith discussion?
What role should this discussion have in outreach and mission?
Is it an important issue for a church attempting to reach an unchurched population?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.
Added: Here is a video of Collins singing a different song – but a good view of the double helix in mother-of-pearl referred to by Wright.