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We live in curious times. On the one hand, a surprising percentage of American Christians expend a great deal of energy denying a huge swath of contemporary science and its findings. Ken Ham and the Creation Museum—and what is looking to be a bit of a boondoggle in the fairly new “Ark Encounter” there—are honored for telling us the “real” story about cosmology and earth’s history even as their own scientists scurry around 24/7 to defend creation in seven twenty-four hour days by desperately explaining away things like carbon dating, the constancy of the speed of light, and the entire fossil record.
On the other hand probably most of those same believers joined everyone else in the country yesterday to watch the solar eclipse. Here was a celestial event that everyone appreciated and that no one doubted would take place exactly as astronomers and other scientists told us it would. We have been able to calculate and predict the exact times of solar eclipses for a long while now. All of it relies on precise measurements involving orbital mechanics, the movement of the planets around the sun and of the moon around the earth, and a bevy of other scientific tools and methods.
But here is the thing: most of those very same methods—that no one doubted were correct and were functioning with 100% efficiency in predicting how much of the sun would be covered at any given location in the U.S. on Monday—are the ones that undergird a whole lot of other things. The age of the earth, calculations based on cosmological movements, determining distances to stars and galaxies a long way from earth: it’s the same science that yields conclusions on a universe that is 13 or so billion years old as well as the age of the earth and the moon. Yet we embrace the accuracy of eclipse predictions but then—with no reason beyond having made an iron-clad hermeneutical decision that early Genesis can be interpreted one and only one way—we impugn so much else that spins out of that same science.
It’s an irony I have noted often when speaking about faith and science issues. Go to the most conservative congregation you can find and you may well discover that their sanctuary is clotted with all the latest digital technologies, all of which are the fruits of hard science. Read the church prayer line of most any congregation and you may see, for instance, a note that Erma Watson will be having spinal surgery this week because of what her MRI revealed about some ruptured discs. But the science that brings us the MRI brings us a whole lot of other things based on quantum mechanics, physics, and mathematics all of which yield hard data on how and when something like our solar system and this earth came into being. But whereas no one would suggest to Erma that she not undergo surgery because, after all, how can you trust what an MRI scan shows, they will suggest—even demand—that we disbelieve a whole lot else that this same science and technology uncovers.
I am aware that there are lots of legitimate hermeneutical and even scientific questions that we as fellow believers can fruitfully discuss and debate in this faith and science arena. But the inconsistency with which we treat science and its technological and theoretical fruits—and the accusations leveled against even fellow Christians who labor in the sciences—are not well thought out, are not logically consistent, and very often end up being pretty uncharitable. I hope that can change one day soon.
Meanwhile, although I espouse views on the history and age of this universe very much at odds with Mr. Ham and his Answers in Genesis folks, when I watched the eclipse yesterday, I could give a hearty, full-throated, sincere affirmation that the sun and the moon whose interactions Monday caused all the hubbub were lovingly set into place by our Creator God, who also to this day maintains and superintends his own cosmological laws that hold all things together. Yesterday, a la the poet who wrote Psalm 8, I did consider the sun and the moon that the Lord had set into place, and I praised him again for his fine workmanship.
Thanks for connecting a few dots for me. I’ve struggled with explaining the very topic you discussed here. Your skill at clarity is appreciated.
Well said, and may the Calvin Board of Trustees consider such things for their science faculty.
Your comments echo the discussion my wife and I had after witnessing the marvel of the accuracy of astronomer’s predictions. We were in Kentucky to see the total eclipse yesterday. Amazing experience!
Wonderfully convincing! Thanks!
Well put. i’ve noted that many of the climate change deniers, nonetheless have thrown out the Farmers Amanac ant put their seeds or fertilizer according to the GPS, and the ill have shunned the snake oil and seek a “specialist”..
“It is a simple point, yet one that is very important to note; everything humans discovered about Creation; through experimentation, hypothetical thought or the shared accumulation of data, are precepts that existed before they were discovered. Humans found and named these ideas, but they did not create them. In fact, everything humans discover, or will ever discover, or will ever anticipate that they will discover, has already been created and established in this reality.”
Thanks for the clarity, Scott.
You state that “an amazing percentage of American Christians” expend an amazing amount of energy denying some of contemporary science. I am dismayed by the amazing percentage of “Christians” that choose to deny what the Bible says because they have put blind faith in science when it contradicts what the Bible clearly states. The first few chapters of Genesis begin with the FIRST thing God wants us to know about him. And those few chapters are the very thing that skeptics choose to throw out. Many places in the Bible talk about the original creation and how it came to be. Christians can’t pick and choose what to believe. Either you believe it all or you just as well throw it all out. I would rather explain to God why I chose not to believe in some of what science says than why I chose not to believe in the Bible, His word to us!
One of the difficulties we have as Christians, Shirley, in this faith-and-science discussion is precisely this kind of dismissal of people like me as people who refuse to honor God’s Word. The “take all of it or throw it all out” mentality is not only deeply hurtful to me, it is dishonest and inaccurate. By way of analogy: Our brothers and sisters in more dispensationalist churches believe in a literal rapture of believers ahead of a 1,000-year reign of Christ before the final judgment. We in the Reformed camp disagree. But these fellow believers get to such a belief because of how they INTERPRET something like 1 Thessalonians 5. We disagree with them on the right way to understand those verses but their not believing our Reformed take on it–and their not using the tools of Reformed hermeneutics–hardly justifies telling them that since they reject what Thessalonians so obviously says, they may as well throw out the whole Bible. You and I would disagree on the proper INTERPRETATION of early Genesis, and that is OK. But your reading of it is itself an interpretation. To make your understanding the ONLY way to interpret those verses–and to claim that all who disagree with you are godless Bible haters–is highly tendentious, wounding, and just wrong.
I would like to expand a little on my earlier response. For those who interpret the 1st 7 chapters of Genesis differently, this causes all kinds of problems with the entire Bible. Many references are made throughout the entire Bible about the happenings that occur here. Hebrews 11:1-7 has commendations about many of the people listed in early Genesis who lived by faith. If you go with the evolution story and believe that man has evolved from monkeys, then you miss out on the beautiful fact that man was created in the image of God and had the breath of life breathed into him. You also miss out on the fall of man and the first inkling of how deceitful Satan is. If man is not made in the image of God, than man is not fallen out of the perfect relationship with God, and is not eligible for salvation through the blood of Christ. And that pretty much negates the whole story of salvation through the blood of Christ. And the rest of the Bible doesn’t apply.
God has given us the entire Bible, that has survived down through the ages, as a revelation of Himself. It is a beautiful story that is interwoven throughout it’s entirety. It you start cutting out threads by saying they don’t belong there, pretty soon we have something so full of holes that it falls apart. We can find explanation of difficult passages by studying other passages. But don’t interpret it differently without other passages to justify your thoughts or to co-inside with modern science. Just read it and believe it at face value. That’s what He intended.
Thank you for this post. As a Christian and a scientist, I have spent a lot of time trying to balance my understanding of science and religion. I have also had many discussions with young Christians in graduate school who are trying to work through the intersection of their religious views and the rigorous intellectual demands of academia. I, and many of my young colleagues, find ourselves frustrated by simplistic viewpoints within the Christian community that fail to take the dialogue between science and religion (and, more broadly, academia and religion) seriously. I appreciate your willingness to do so.
I am especially appreciative that you pointed out that science is a logical edifice built upon our common understanding of fundamental laws. One cannot simply remove the consequences of one of those laws without repercussions throughout the entire edifice. Radioactive decay (used in geological dating) is an excellent example. If one postulates a change in radioactive decay rates, one must also assume a change in the binding forces within an atomic nucleus with corresponding repercussions for all chemistry.
God, in his wisdom, has provided his followers with two books of revelation: General and Special. That’s what we were taught from kindergarten on. Made sense, we thought, along with other neatly defined bits of doctrine. But we never anticipated the treasure chest of revelation of which pretty flowers, warbling birds and giant sequoias are but titillating samples. Now that scientists have the magic keys of scopes, quantum mechanics, and the human genome, we Christians should not fear what that chest contains. Rather we should be eager to peer into it and discover how neatly the two books complement each other.
Thank you for Scott, Ron, and Ottens for these helpful words. When our president denies science, he confirms his ignorance. And the world will be worse off for it. All of the helpful studies and improvements that have taken place will now go backwards until we get more thoughtful leaders who choose to follow what science has learned.