This semester, I’ve been assisting a professor in a signature course at the University of Texas called “Science and the Bible.” This post and those that will surely precede it in no way reflect all the material in the course, nor do they represent the opinions of the professor or various authors read. The course establishes an environment of open, healthy dialogue concerning a controversial topic, where all views are accepted and discussed among the class (of 18 students sitting around a table).
I hope to share a general philosophy concerning this topic before getting into the nitty-gritty of the details and points of controversy.
I wrote a piece about 4 months ago (linked above) concerning the common faith of all believers, centered around Titus 1:4 and Jude 3:
To Titus, genuine child according to the common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
Beloved, while using all diligence to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you and exhort you to earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
The common faith, which results in our common salvation, that requires our active contending, has everything to do with the person and work of Christ. So long as someone believes that the Bible is the Word of God (as a basis for our fellowship), that God is Triune (the Person of Christ), that God became a man named Jesus, lived a perfect human life, died on the cross for our sins, resurrected on the third day, ascended to the right hand of the throne, and will come again (the Work of Christ), I should receive them as a brother in Christ. Everything else is a nonessential matter that requires the liberality of the Paul of Romans 14, including your beliefs in the following topic.
Unfortunately, evangelical Christians tend to see science and the Bible as mortal enemies, always at odds and contradicting one another. The contention is framed in a way that seems to force Christians to either abandon their faith and accept science or reject what the scientists are saying and remain faithful to the Lord and His Word.
The idea that there is a point of contention between science and the Bible comes, not from the mainstream of scientists and evangelical theologians, but from radical loud-mouths on extreme ends of the spectrum. The debates and media attention center on those who feel there is a huge point of contention. The Ken Ham and Kent Hovind’s of the world fight against the Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens’, confusing all the less educated (in matters of both science and the Bible) believers and nonbelievers.
The real situation is that there is little difference between the percentage of Americans in a church meeting on Sunday and the percentage of scientists in a church meeting on Sunday. Also, the majority of scientists, Christian or not, see no major points of contention between science and the Bible.
NOMA, standing for non-overlapping magisteria, is a term coined in Stephen J. Gould’s famous book: Rocks of the Ages. The general premise places science and religion in completely different realms of teaching. Science tells us what exists and how things change, while religion describes why things exist and change. The scientific magisterium describes the observable and its processes. The religious magisterium describes the unobservable, philosophical questions concerning purpose and morality.
When you are looking to understand the make up of man’s corporeal body, you don’t look to the Bible. You should look to science. While the Bible may seem to make certain claims about the make up of man (Gen. 2:7; Ps. 103:14), they should be seen as describing a philosophic principle (i.e. man is dust, nothing, temporal, not eternal) rather than as a scientific textbook.
When you are looking to understand the reason man exists, you don’t look to science. You should look to the Bible (Rev. 4:11; Zech. 12:1; Gen. 1:26; Eph. 1:3-11).
The radical scientists described earlier violate the NOMA principle, imposing on religion’s magisterium with data meant only to describe physical phenomena. The radical fundamentalist Christians do the same, imposing verses taken out of context of the Bible’s purpose and intention in the magisterium of science.
The results of violating the NOMA principle can be dire. Taking science as a moral compass always results in a strict form of materialism that characterized Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union of Stalin. Taking the Bible (and other religious traditions) as a scientific understanding of the world results in intellectual suicide and ridicule from the world we are trying to save, remaining in a sort of darkness that characterized the Catholic Church for 1300 years.
Dr. Ken Diller made the diagram above, describing the different perspectives, methods, evidences, and reasons used in understanding the old creation with science and the Bible. The Bible was given to us by God, not as a scientific textbook, but as a conduit to reveal God’s person, purpose, and plan. The framework used in the scientific investigation only communicates how things happen using observable proofs.
When it comes to the apparent conflicts between science and the Bible (age of the earth, creation days, evolution, etc.), the Christian has three options:
- Abandon our faith in order to accept the results of science
- Deny the scientific evidence to maintain our interpretations of Scripture
- Reconsider our interpretations of Scripture in light of the evidence from God’s creation¹
It would do Christians well to honestly consider the scientific evidence in all matters of apparent conflict, look at various interpretations of the Scriptures, and realize that there need be no compromise in intellectual integrity or spiritual fervency in such matters. I will address some of the hot-topics in later posts, but it must be understood that our standing as believers rests in the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.