Can Science and Faith Be Reconciled?
Statistics indicate that scientists are three times less likely to attend weekly religious services than non-scientists. Less than ten percent of American scientists believe in a personal God. To atheist Richard Dawkins these statistics prove “that the more intelligent, rational, and scientifically minded you are, the less you will be able to believe in God.”
Is that so? Does science favor unbelief? And must Christians reject science? Is science another religion that believers must separate from in order to stay true to God?
As we wrestle with these questions, we need to remember that both faith and science depend on revelation. God reveals himself in Scripture and nature. Both special and general revelation form a coherent testimony. God doesn’t send mixed messages. Apparent inconsistencies indicate not God’s failure to reveal himself, but our failure to rightly read God. So both believers and unbelievers must take seriously God’s revelation in nature and in Scripture.
To develop a biblical relationship between faith and science, we might engage three questions.
Has Evolution Disproved Creationism?
Scripture says that God made all forms of life according to their kinds (e.g. Gen. 1:12, 21; 1 Cor. 15:37–41). This truth is foundational. Paul proclaimed God to the Athenian philosophers like this: “The God who made the world and everything in it,” and “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth … has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:24, 26, 31). The God who made the world has the right to judge the world.
So what if the world has no maker? Evolution provides a story of humanity independent of a Creator; life as we know it evolved through natural selection from a common source. Thoughtful people should reject the myth of creation, along with God’s claim on our lives, now that a scientifically credible theory has taken its place. Evolution is so fiercely defended that you cannot object and retain credibility in the scientific community. According to Dawkins, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet someone who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane.” Strong words.
But Darwinism fails to answer simple questions. For example, where are the transitional fossils? If species have evolved from a common source we would expect to find evidence of species in transition; for example, of animals that were evolving into an ape. But there aren’t any. One prominent atheist wrote this, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference … not the evidence of fossils.” And why must similarities between creatures suggest evolution? Similarities point not “to common ancestry but to a common Creator. As an artist’s various paintings resemble each other, so God’s various works resemble one another.” But evolutionists refuse to accept this explanation.
And there are deeper questions. Where did the first building blocks of life come from? How does life emerge from non-life? Given the law of entropy, how did order emerge from chaos? And how does a purely material universe account for souls which all but the most stubborn admit that we have?
The claim that science has made religion obsolete is a hangover from an age in which scientists knew much less about life’s complexity. In fact, evolution is dogma masquerading as theory. Humans are incurably religious. And for many “Darwinism is … an emergency replacement religion for the many troubled souls who need one.” But the God who made the heavens and earth has revealed everything we need to know about his work of creation.Evolution has not disproved creationism. It is an alternate system of faith that mishandles the God-given data.
Are Miracles Impossible?
The Bible is filled with miracles, events most of us have never seen and which seem to contradict nature’s laws. And biblical miracles are not incidental to the Bible’s message. Jesus urged skeptics to believe in him because his miracles prove that God the Father is in him and he is in the Father (John 10:37–38). When John the Baptist wondered whether Jesus was the Christ, Jesus told him to look to his miracles: he healed lepers, gave the blind sight, made the lame walk and the deaf hear, and raised the dead back to life (Matt. 11:2–6). Jesus’ miracles testified to the coming of God’s kingdom (Matt. 12:28). If modern science could disprove miracles, much of the Bible would be discredited. Then who could trust any of it?
But arguments against miracles are really just circular reasoning. You must obey the law, because it’s illegal to break the law. In other words, the Bible’s miracles couldn’t have happened because miracles can’t happen. Worldviews are like sieves; they let pass what they are designed to let pass. Critics disbelieve miracles not because they have examined all the evidence, but because their worldview disallows miracles. A closed universe is basic to a naturalistic worldview. There cannot be a God who is sovereign over nature (and therefore over me). Naturalists are guilty of the very thing they criticize: close-mindedness.
This is how Paul defended the most important miracle. Of course Christ did not rise from the dead if the dead do not rise (1 Cor. 15). But Christ’s resurrection is evidence that the dead do rise and that resurrections are not incredible (Acts 26:8). In fact, Scripture’s central argument for believing in God is the miracle of the resurrection (Acts 17:31). Scripture foretold that the Christ would rise from the dead (Ps. 16:10–11; 1 Cor. 15:4). His death in a crowded city (Acts 26:26) was certified by a Roman official (Matt. 27:58). And the resurrected Christ appeared to hundreds of people, most of whom were still alive when the claims of the resurrection were published in the Christian Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:6). We can know that miracles happen because Christ is risen!
How Can I Harmonize Faith and Science?
First, understand the stakes. Allowing science to dominate faith is fatal. Affirming naturalistic evolution cancels belief in a historical Adam and obliterates Scripture’s covenantal structure. What does it mean that Christ is the second Adam if there was no first Adam? (1 Cor. 15:45). Denying miracles forces you to believe that Christ has not risen. If that is the case, you are still dead in your sins. Everyone who dies apart from the resurrected Christ perishes (1 Cor. 15:12–19).
Second, follow the lead of scientists. Ours is not the first scientific age. Many other scientists—who were learning things about the universe never previously known—retained their faith in God. Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Newton, Mendel, Pasteur, and Carver along with hundreds of Nobel Prize winners have believed in the God of Scripture. The world’s wisest person was a scientist who studied trees, beasts, birds, reptiles, and fish (1 Kings 5:33–34), and believed in God.
Third, recognize the limits of science. Science cannot cancel faith because it operates in a different arena. “Science investigates ordinary (natural) causes and effects that can be subjected to repeatable tests.” Sciences “exceed the bounds of their competence when they reduce all phenomena to natural causes.” In fact, to do science well requires a right understanding of special revelation. Many scientists operate on borrowed principles of orderliness and design while denying them in theory. For an unbeliever “the world exhibits rule-governed and mathematical characteristics for which there can be no reasonable account.” Science swerves out of its lane when it contemplates questions only special revelation can answer.
Fourth, be humble. We believe that faith and science are saying the same thing. Still, “In any pursuit to harmonize our knowledge of God’s special and general revelation, we must walk humbly.” Scientific theories are constantly changing. And while Scripture doesn’t change, our recognition of how it might shed light on complex natural phenomena should be constantly maturing.
Fifth, believe to understand. Human knowledge, including scientific knowledge “is subjective and rests on [non-negotiable] assumptions.” What we believe always affects how we think. But somehow non-believing scientists like Dawkins get a pass as if they are just following the data. “Since the late Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, there has been a naïve cultural optimism, an overly high regard for the ability and willingness of the scientific community to pursue impartial objectivity” in its discipline. But everyone does science according to the basic commitments of their worldview. Reading the Bible as a true, alternate explanation of the origin of the universe is not an escape from reason because revelation is a valid source of knowledge.
Sixth, use science to feed your awe of God. Nature is meant to lead to “worship, to awe and wonder.” In the Bible those who meet God are never casual (e.g. Is. 6:5). And creation’s majesty can help us hallow God. Miracles—God’s unusual work in nature—should excite us. They show that the Jesus who is powerful is doing something wonderful with that power. Jesus’ miracles “are a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.”
True science and true faith are friends, not enemies. Science is a method of understanding God’s natural revelation and can help strengthen our trust in God.
William Boekestein is pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
"A Celebration and Lament over Science" by Vern Poythress
"A Brief Theology of Human Origins" by William VanDoodewaard
Surviving Religion 101 by Michael Kruger
God, Adam and You, ed. by Richard Phillips
All Mankind Descending From Him? by Richard Gaffin
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