Whereas the Christian faith and the world of science provide complementary views of our existence, too many insist on driving a wedge between them – as if believing in mainstream science is anti-Christian or following Christ is unscientific. Part of the reason for the supposed incompatibility of faith and science is that extremist thinkers – atheists and Christians alike – misunderstand, or deliberately mischaracterize, those with whom they disagree. Dishonesty, intended or otherwise, must be exposed and addressed, for it engenders distrust and stifles progress.
Atheists, for example, claim that religion is the cause of most wars – a myth often heard but which has no basis in fact. They suggest that Christianity is a virulent and destructive meme trasmitted primarily from parent to child, but the decline of the Western church and the explosive growth of the Eastern church undermines this suggestion. They confuse cultural Christianity, the lingering reminiscence of our ancestors’ faith, with vibrant, personal faith. The distinction becomes clear when individuals living in nominally Christian societies cannot explain even the fundamentals of the faith: It has become, for them, a badge of identity and not a matter of the heart. Where Christians are persecuted mercilessly and cultural Christianity is stamped out, true faith will not be denied.
How can true faith be identified when many thousands of conflicting Christian denominations exist around the world? It is, indeed, a sorry state of affairs that Christians have created a kaleidoscope of dogmatic quibbles and personal preferences that distort the light of the gospel message. The ancient creeds, however, offer a distillation of the Bible’s message and identify the core beliefs accepted by all true believers regardless of denominational preference. In Faith, Science and Understanding, John Polkinghorne suggests that they are “concise summaries of the Church’s belief arising from its intense reflection on the foundational events recorded in scripture and the continuing experiences of worship and obedience present in the lives of its members, who are seeking to live in the faith of the risen Christ.” In the creeds are captured the very essence of the historic, living and breathing Christian faith.
Too many Christians are willing to embrace misleading sound-bites about science and fail to grasp its power and relevance. Theory is dismissed as “what someone thinks may be the reason why something happens,” whereas scientific theory is not this at all: It’s well-established and largely settled science – a framework within which mountains of evidence can be explained. Others suggest that evolution “explains the origins of the universe, of life, and of humankind,” but this is not the case. The science of evolution is limited in scope. Some claim that God plants misleading evidence – such as an ancient appearance to a young earth – as a test of faith, but this questions the very personality of God: If God misleads, which of his promises are secure? To comment meaningfully on matters of science, we must understand and accept its purview and utility.
Science provides a sophisticated toolset and a testable model of physical reality. With the emergence of new and more detailed evidence, that model will change; science is always a work in progress. While physicalists claim that science will eventually explain every aspect of our existence, this is highly debatable. Billions around the world claim supernatural experiences that science cannot prove and physicalists must deny. Science can neither address issues of metaphysics nor prove itself. Why an initial moment of creation with very low entropy? Why the unidirectional arrow of time? Why the fine tuning of universal constants and ratios? Why a physical reality that’s testable and ordered? Why our consciousness and conscience? Why acts of selfless love? Why Beethoven symphonies? Why political opinions? Why reasoned discussions like this? The limitations of science are clear.
The Bible invites us to discover the invisible attributes of God through detailed study of his creation. As Christians, we’re encouraged to test everything, because testing can reveal flaws in our understanding of reality. Faith infuses meaning to the discoveries of science, as is clear from the lives of Maxwell, Faraday, and other prominent Christians in science. In return, the conclusions of science may question and challenge our faith, which is always to be welcomed. As Hugh Ross wrote in Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, “the Bible calls for an exploration of the truth with eyes wide open and mind engaged. Permitting scientific and spiritual curiosity to work together sets people free to run toward, not away from, the complex why questions.” To permit healthy engagement between faith and science, however, we must be intellectually honest and bold – and not retreat into safe ideological havens.