One of the most pressing questions facing Christians in our day is how to determine the proper relationship between faith and science. Whenever I approach hot-button issues such as this, my first step is to analyze why the subject at hand is so divisive. What makes people hold the stance that they do, and why is it so hard to change one’s mind?
Part of what makes the faith vs. science issue difficult is that the concept of “faith” carries a different meaning from individual to individual. People often talk about things they believe, based on reason. For instance, you may say that you believe coffee is bad (or good) for your health, based on your own experience with it and studies you have read. You may have “faith” that changes to your diet will impact your health. But is this the same kind of faith that you have in the Gospel? Why or why not?
Likewise, science also means different things to different people. It means one thing to college students who are forced to take a science class on their way to an English major. But those who have spent a career in science have very different conception of what science is.
Throughout church history, conflicts between religious faith and science have appeared in a wide range of debates. In the Renaissance era, there were faith-science clashes over the position of the earth in the universe. For the past century, three major debates have been Creationism vs. Evolution, the age of the earth, and human relation to the environment.
I believe that there is a critical distinction to make when discussing faith and science. They key is to differentiate what is ultimately true, from what has functional relevance in day-to-day life. I am confident that this distinction, when understood, can shed new light on many of the controversies Christians are dealing with today.
The proper role of science is to help us live healthy, safe, and productive lives. Science exists to tell us what “works” – how to cure diseases, accomplish tasks with computers, or improve transportation. There are “laws” of science which are adhered to in order to make systems work. Where science oversteps is boundaries, is when science tries to tell us what is the ultimate truth on a matter.
For example, consider the law of physics that net force = mass * acceleration. Why should this be taught to physics students? It is taught because it makes machines work. But, is the ultimate truth of the forces upon us defined by mass * acceleration? Maybe not.
Some people have testified of miraculous experiences in which force did not equal mass * acceleration. I have heard stories about cars making sudden, unexplained movements, or even going through each other, to avoid collisions. I myself once had an experience in which I do not believe force equaled mass * acceleration.
I believe there are forces upon us that cannot be explained by that law from physics. The “true” equation might be something like mass * acceleration * (spiritual_power_A_magnitude).
Taking this a step further, we should not assume that spiritual_power_A is confined to that “miraculous” experience. Most likely, spiritual_power_A is always present to some degree, even as we are casually walking casually down the street. It might just be a tiny influence on the speed in which we walk. We don’t notice it unless the magnitude is really high. When the Bible speaks of “walking in the Spirit,” I believe that means living with the realization, and appreciation, of the fact that the spirit of God is a continual influence upon us in some way or another.
Consider Acts 17:28 – “In [God] we live and move and have our being.”
Thus, there is more to our movements than what physics can explain. So, I do not believe that mass * acceleration is the ultimate truth about net force. But nevertheless, the equation makes machines do what they are designed to do (except for unusual incidents where spiritual power runs really high). Thus, I have no problem with schools teaching the equation from physics.
However, we need to rethink the meaning and value of education. Many people think they are going to school to learn what is true about the world. But that leads to conflicts where religion says one thing and science says something else. People should not study science with the goal of becoming enlightened about truths of the universe. Instead, study science to learn how to build something, or make computers faster, or find new energy sources.
Having explained my overarching views on religion and science, I want to discuss the specific issue of Evolution. I do not believe that the model of Evolution, as taught by evolutionary biologists, represents the truth about how we came into existence.
I believe the creation account in Genesis is the model that God has ordained for people to understand their origins. When we think about who we are in relation to God, and our role in the universe, God wants us to literally imagine ourselves in the way Genesis describes, and form our theology with that image as our starting point. When we see ourselves this way, our lives move in the direction of Truth.
The problem I have with “Theistic Evolution” is that it presupposes Evolution to be the truth about our origins, and then builds a theology with Evolution as its base. If we take Evolution as a true depiction of our origins, I believe it clashes with some Scriptural themes, especially regarding God’s sovereignty.
That said, from a scientific standpoint, what do I think about the academic study of evolutionary biology? I am not opposed to it. Proponents of evolutionary biology claim that their models aid medical research into treating and preventing diseases. If this research leads to a cure for cancer one day, I would not seek to stand in the way of that progress.
Instead of pitting faith and science against each other, or straining to make them converge, I advise a pragmatic approach to science in which we gain whatever we can from theories and research, while realizing that they are not the ultimate truths about the way things are.