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.