Can we really appreciate modern science and be a Christian? Doesn’t one cancel out the other?
Here’s the surprising thing: there doesn’t have to be a full-blown battle between science and Christianity.
We need science—it gives us practical benefits that help us live well. We need science to help us know well—science begins to help us understand the cosmos.
But let me suggest that we also need Christianity to live well. Christianity is all about Jesus, who claimed to be the author of life. If that’s the case, then what he has to say about life is worth listening to.
We also need Christianity to know well. We need the Bible’s take on why exactly things aren’t right with the world, and why things aren’t exactly right with us.
But here’s the thing—we need good science, and we need good Christian thinking. Science depends on being open-minded in order to do its investigations—but is it always open-minded?
For example if I begin with the assumption that it’s only by evolution, over time, by random chance that all things came into being, am I actually loading the dice? Does my starting assumption end up blinding me to results that I may not necessarily like?
Science can sometimes be closed-minded.
And Christianity needs to be good Christian thinking. Christianity depends on saying what the Bible tells us. But do we? For example, the Bible does speak about all existence, but it doesn’t always explain the particular “When?” or “How?”. It’s more interested in the “Why?” or “So what?”. I mustn’t say more than what the Bible says, and I need to appreciate the Bible isn’t a modern scientific textbook. There are some things about which the Bible is simply silent.
But when both science and Christianity are good, we have a win-win situation. CS Lewis, the late Oxford lecturer and writer, put it this way: “In science we see the notes to a poem; in Christianity we have the poem itself.”
Sure, we won’t know everything—how could we? There’ll be findings from science the Bible is more or less silent about, and there are things about life that science can’t really answer. But we’re not wasting our time with science when we ask questions like “When?” or “How?”, and we’re not wasting our time when we read the Bible and ask: “Who put this all together, and why?”
Science doesn’t have to be anti-Christian, and Christianity doesn’t have to be anti-science.
It’s unfair to ask science to answer questions it just can’t answer: “Is there a God?” “What’s life all about?” It’s also unfair to ask the Bible to speak about things it just doesn’t necessarily speak about—questions that are best left to science.
But science and Christianity can work together—and with this we can approach the man Jesus Christ, about whom Christianity revolves, and ask: “Is he the creator of all that is?” and: “Can he explain my life?”
Thanks for clicking on “Go Deeper” after watching or reading Gavin’s answer. This section gives you some more points to think about, in a slightly deeper way, and points you to some other online resources you might find helpful if you want to take this issue further.
So, here’s a quick “A-B-C” of the whole science and Christianity issue.
As Gavin suggested, the Bible and science are trying to answer different questions. Science is about “How?” and “When?”; the Bible is asking “Why?” and “Who?”.
It’s a bit like if you were given a cake. A scientist could look at it, analyse it, experiment on it. They could tell you what ingredients the cake is made of, what its molecular structure is, and at what temperature and for how long it was baked. They could probably tell you how long you had to eat the cake before it went mouldy.
But they couldn’t do an experiment which told you who had baked that cake, and why. To know that, you’d need to find, and listen to, the baker. You’d need to listen to your Auntie Christine, who could tell you that she’d made the cake, and she’d made it for you to eat and enjoy. Only the maker, Auntie Christine, could tell you WHO made the cake, and WHY they made it.
That’s what the Bible claims to be: the Maker of the cosmos telling us WHO made it, and WHY. So Genesis, the first book of the Bible, starts: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis chapter 1 verse 1). A little later we find that God “made mankind in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). He made you and me to have a relationship with him as we enjoy living in his world and looking after it his way.
The Bible isn’t primarily concerned with answering the science questions of “How?” and “When?”. And if we try to find answers in it about how God made the universe, and when exactly it happened (Big Bang type questions)—or if we ask the Bible how exactly God made human life (evolution type questions)—we might find ourselves frustrated.
But that doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t reliable, or that Christianity isn’t credible: it just means the Bible’s not a scientific textbook.
Everyone has beliefs which can’t be scientifically proved. So we can’t scientifically prove that someone’s husband or wife loves them (though they probably believe he or she does!) And we can’t scientifically prove whether there’s a God or not: an atheist believes there isn’t, and a Christian believes that there is. The existence of God is a question science can’t answer definitively, one way or the other.
In fact, the whole of scientific experimentation rests on a belief that this universe has order. In other words, science is only possible if we assume that an experiment conducted under the same conditions in the UK and in India will have the same result; and an experiment conducted under the same conditions tomorrow will have the same result as today. From what we can see of the universe, there’s observational evidence that it is ordered: but we can’t prove that it is. Science itself rests on a belief that cannot be scientifically proven through conducting an experiment.
The point is this: everyone has a set of beliefs that science can’t prove or disprove. An atheist has a set of beliefs just as much as a Christian does. There could be a God who usually works in this world through what we call scientific processes (that is, the God of the Bible); or there could be nothing beyond those scientific processes. But we can’t scientifically prove it either way.
But it makes sense to base our beliefs on evidence (so people believe their husband or wife loves them because they say they do, and then back up that claim with their actions). Question is—when it comes to God, which way does the evidence point?
The man Jesus Christ claimed to be the God who created the universe, and simply sustains it day by day, who stands behind what we call science, who wrote the laws of the cosmos.
One day, out on a sea during a huge storm, with his friends who were experienced sailors panicking and fearing being drowned, this man Jesus stood up and said: “’Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (Mark 4:39). Jesus was a man who could control the creation just through his words, just as at the beginning of Genesis we find that it’s by God speaking that things change in creation.
So the huge claim of the Bible is that Jesus proved that there is a God who created all things, by doing things that only such a God could do—like controlling the weather. Christ is the evidence that there is a God. And that’s the reason why Christians believe what they do: that there is a God who made a universe which is ordered and can be observed and understood, in which “science” works; and that that God came to earth as a man, as Jesus.
So, to sum up: science and Christianity are concerned with answering different questions; everyone, atheist or religious, has a set of beliefs which can’t be proved or disproved by scientific experimentation; and the reason Christians believe that there is a Creator of the universe is because of the evidence provided by the life and actions of Jesus Christ.
There’s far, far more that can be said about this issue! And if you’re still curious, or want to think about things more deeply, here are a few suggestions:
READ Unnatural Enemies by Kirsten Birkett (you can get a copy here)
GO ON a Christianity Explored course, and ask your questions there.