Science and Religion

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1 1 Science and Religion Scripture: Colossians 1:15-20 By Pastor John H. Noordhof Williamsburg Christian Reformed Church October 21, 2012 Morning Service People of God: Today we will deal with the troubling and complex question of the relationship between science and religion, before getting into the more specific debate over evolution and creation. Some would argue that the development of science has proved that Christianity is false. Many think that evolution rules out the position of the Bible on the creation and fall of man and so undermines the entire story of the Bible. Of all the objections and questions that we will be dealing with in this series, this is the one that I will have struggled the most over. Struggled not so much in terms of coming to an answer, but struggled in terms of how to express an answer. That s because the topic has generated more heat than light, more controversy than insight. Too often, Christians in response to the challenge of evolution have focused on the wrong issues. And so, I realize that I am entering a minefield of controversy, offering some answers that might be different than what you might hold to. And so it might have been tempting to just bypass this objection. But you cannot. We cannot ignore the claims of science, nor dismiss the evidence of creation. When we explore the world in which we live questions arise. At night see the stars. The closest star is 40 million million kilometers away. At the speed of light, it takes 4.2 years for the light to arrive at earth. The center of our galaxy is 25,000 light years away. And then there are the other galaxies, the nearest one being over a million light years away. How do we account for that? There are the dinosaur bones. While the younger generation here is growing up knowing a wide variety species of dinosaurs by name, never questioning their existence, the older generation, now passing from the scene had great doubts whether they ever existed. My mother didn t believe they were real. It was all made up. Even when my parents visited me in Alberta and we went to Dinosaur Provincial Park and saw the bones sticking out

2 from the ground, she still could not accept it. Perhaps because it raised all kinds of questions: How do they fit into the creation story? What do their fossils say about the age of the earth? As we explore our universe these are some of the questions that arise. Do these questions cast doubt on the claims of the Bible or do they actually support the claim that there must be a Creator? How do we answer them? It is very important that we provide a framework to dealing with these questions, because our students are confronted with them. For a few a lack of a good answer from the church has led them away from the faith. Or they have completely separated their faith from their science. Or they have rejected parts of the Biblical message. None of these results are what we want. And so, this morning, I want to begin to tackle this very complex issue. And because it is complex, it will take me three messages to say what I want to say. This morning I will focus on the broader relationship between science and religion; then I ll focus on the more specific debate of evolution and creation asking what do we mean by each term; finally, I ll preach on Genesis One allowing the text to speak for itself, without the baggage of modern debate setting the agenda. My point throughout will be this: There is indeed a conflict, but the conflict isn t between science and religion, but a conflict between different worldviews. One in which the Christian worldview is a legitimate voice that ought to be heard, even in scientific circles. But should science and the Christian faith, even need to be taking to each other? Perhaps science and religion are so completely separate that we should NOT even be having this discussion. There has a long history of trying to reduce religion to mere morality, or to our feelings and emotions that has very little to do with the world of science. Faith has been relegated to something private and personal, to be kept out, not just of science, but out of politics and economics as well. But the gospel cannot be reduced to mere personal morality or personal feelings. The gospel of Jesus Christ isn t that small. Instead, it is as broad and as all encompassing as the creation itself. Our reading from Colossians underscores the wide-dimensions of the good news of Jesus. Jesus is the one through whom all this was created. Jesus is the one through whom all things are being redeemed. As a result, the gospel is far than securing the forgiveness of sins though that is an essential part of it it is about the complete restoration of creation. That touches upon all of life. 2

3 That s means we cannot make a complete separation between faith and science. Yet, we do need to recognize that the Bible and science do focus on different areas of concern. The Bible does not focus on questions of physics, biology or chemistry. For that matter the Bible is not a handbook for politics, economics or social policy. It does have implications for all these areas, but it is not directly focused on them. As a result, we need to make sure that we are asking the right questions of the Bible. That means the church needs to be careful not to overstate what the Bible teaches. On the other hand, science too needs to be careful not to overstate its case either. Science cannot answer every question, we ask. Questions of beauty, love and faith are beyond its area of expertise. The scientific method deals with what is observable, what can be tested and measured, what can be repeated. It has a very hard time dealing with the non-material components of the universe. When science starts asks questions of why and purpose, then it is going beyond the scientific method and into areas of philosophy and religion. Then, science has gone beyond its area of expertise. And so, there needs to be a recognition on the part of both biblical scholars as well as scientists that there are limits to their areas of expertise. At times, both sides have strayed and made claims that led to needless conflict. Perhaps the best case of the conflict between science and faith is that of Galileo. This scientist lived from 1564 to He got into trouble because he argued that the earth revolved around the sun, rather than the accepted teaching that the sun revolved around the earth. The Catholic Church charged Galileo with heresy. He was found guilty and placed under house arrest, which he was still under at the time of his death. In 1992 Pope John Paul II acknowledged the church s error in this case and apologized. Here is a case where the Bible was used in a wrong way. When the Bible speaks about the sun rising and setting, it wasn t using technical scientific language, but figurative, everyday language language we still use today. In that sense, the Bible was not wrong. But it should not have been used to support the teaching of an earth-centered universe. But the case of Galileo is a little more complex than scientist versus the church. But there are two points we must remember. First, Galileo did not have all the evidence he needed to back up his claims. At that time, it was a theory not fact. Second, Galileo main opponents were not theologians but other scientists. His fellow scientists rejected Galileo s claim not because of biblical texts, but because they followed the science of Aristotle, a Greek who lived long before Christ. These scientists used the church to get 3

4 Galileo removed from his job as professor. While this doesn t excuse the role of the church, the issue wasn t just a conflict of science versus religion. It was a conflict between two types of science. Unfortunately, the case of Galileo is used to show that must always be a conflict between science and religion. And yet the argument has been made that Christianity allowed science to flourish and develop. Why is it that science developed in the West, rather than in other areas of the world? China, for example, was far more advanced than Europe throughout the middle ages, yet science eventually took off in Europe, not in China. The reason given is that Christianity provides an understanding of the world that encouraged science to develop. In primitive religions, the world is viewed as being inhabited by the gods. Now if everything around you is inhabited by spirits it wouldn t be right to put them under the microscope. But since Christianity makes an important distinction between the Creator and the creation, it s okay to study the creation. Since a tree isn t god, I can study it. Christianity provides other basic principles that are necessary for science to develop. For example, we believe in an ordered, structured world, where there is consistency from one day to the next. For science that means the laws of nature are valid yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Scientists carry out their experiments and investigations based upon this common assumption. As a result, you can make the case that Christianity, far from being in conflict with science, has actually encouraged its development and provides the basic principles by which science operates. Science owes a debt of gratitude to Christianity. So why does it feel that today there is a huge gap between science and religion? Maybe there isn t. Maybe the focus has been on a few key issues, like the debate over evolution, but forgetting that overall, on most of what science explores and discovers is completely in harmony with the Christian faith. As a result, we can study biology, physics and chemistry as Biblebelieving Christians, and for the most part not come up with any difficulty. Yes, there is a matter of the debate of evolution/creation. We ll get into that more next time. In the meantime, as Christians we would say, especially as Reformed Christians, who take God s revelation in creation very seriously, we would say that ultimately that there is no conflict between science and religion. Science has its focus on general revelation; Christianity has its focus on specific revelation. Both we insist have their origin in God. God is the one who has given to us both the creation and the Bible. And God is a God 4

5 of truth. He does not speak from two sides of his mouth. What God reveals in creation and what he reveals in Scripture, therefore, cannot ultimately be in conflict. When they seem to, we need to ask: Have we been reading Scripture wrong? Have we been asking the wrong questions to this book? It s possible. Those who used the Bible to insist the earth is the center of the universe or that the earth is flat were wrong. But these cases were rare and never made the mainstream of the church s teachings. The confessions of the church, for example, which pre-date the scientific revolution, never dealt with the specific issues, like the age of the earth, or the sun revolving around the earth. So we ve never had to retract the confessions of the church on scientific issues. But the other side of the coin is this: If there appears to be a conflict between the finds of science and the teaching of Bible, we also need to ask: have we ve been reading creation wrong? Certainty scientific theories have changed over time. In addition, sin has tainted the evidence of creation as well as our reading of creation. So it is possible, to read the creation wrong. And we have insisted that where the Bible does speak to an issue or a concern, it does have the last word. That s because it is clearer revelation of God. Science and religion. They need not be in conflict. Science reveals to us the wonders of God s creation, while the Bible reveals the Creator more clearly. Together, they complement one another, revealing a wondrous and powerful God. Amen. 5

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