Science vs. God
For some reason, it's not easy to consider science and faith as anything but polar opposites
Last July I graduated from Nottingham University with a degree in Physics. At the end of this month, I start training for ordination in the Church of England. Several years down the line, I'll be a vicar. When I tell people about this transition, I often get confused looks. People ask why I wanted to make such a radical change, from science to God.
For some reason, it's not easy to consider science and faith as anything but polar opposites: belief in science implies that you only believe in things which can be proved through scientific method, ruling out belief in a god. Or, if you believe in God, surely you must disagree with science, because science has disproved God, right?
Any scientist who tells you that science has disproven God is a fool, a tool and... is generally bad at science. Anyone who says that a faith in God is incompatible with science, I believe, needs to look again at both faith and science.
I overheard a guy trying to convince his friend that science and God could peacefully coexist by saying 'science is the 'how', faith is the 'why''. He actually made a very good effort (if you're reading, well done!), though I'm not totally convinced by the idea - let me unpack it a little.
acknowledge that there are some things that science cannot comment on
Firstly, I like that this explanation very clearly puts science and faith on two different levels. It removes them from being two opposite sides of a coin and says that they each deal with something distinctly different. This is brilliant! With this separation, we acknowledge that there are some things that science cannot comment on. There are things that fall outside of the remit of science. This is completely true. We can't measure the Holy Spirit with a thermometer; we can't write an equation to define God's love; we can't put Jesus under a microscope. We just cannot prove nor disprove the existence of God through scientific method. God is beyond science.
However, this explanation also does the same for faith. It inadvertently suggests that there are things that faith has no concern with; that there are things outside of God's remit. If God was only concerned with the 'why', our faith would be very different. God is intimately interested with the 'how' too. Scientific discovery has serious implications for our morality. For example, we are now at a point where we are able to genetically modify embryos. If our moral code was dictated purely by science (survival of the fittest, perhaps) we would take a very different stance on this matter than considering it from the perspective of faith. God gives us an understanding of what it is to be human that science just does not. Faith is very much concerned with the 'how': how we understand ourselves, how we live our lives, how we treat others.
God gives us an understanding of what it is to be human that science just does not
This is not to say that we should comment on every bit of scientific discovery from a faith perspective. Whether I am made up of atoms or not is irrelevant next to the understanding that I was designed by a creator God... but it could still be true. Plus, scientists undertaking stem cell research have been in conversation with faith leaders over the moral implications of their work, but they don't seek scientific advice - the Bible doesn't explain the structure and behaviour of cells, even though our Father knows exactly how it all works. He designed it.
Studying physics, I was looking at the way we, as human beings, can best explain the phenomena that we see in our universe. Physicists come up with mathematical formulas and theoretical ideas to explain behaviour that we observe. Science is coming up with the best ways to explain what we see of God's creation. Scripture doesn't have anything to say for atoms and quarks, for gravity and surface tension... I think that's probably because a faith perspective is interested in the bigger picture. Writers of Biblical texts are quick to say how glorious God's creation is, but quicker to say how amazing God's character is and quicker to say how we should respond as Christians.
There is nothing to suggest that science and faith are incompatible. There has been no scientific discovery that directly contradicts a faith in Jesus Christ. Could God not have used a Big Bang as He created our universe?
Science is gaining understanding of God's world, and we can use that for His glory
But I would go one step further: I think that science and faith are not just compatible, but complementary. God gave us brains to think and a world to explore. He gave us the ability to work to learn more about His world and use that knowledge for His glory. Humankind is regularly pushing the frontiers of possibility in our efforts to find cures for disease, make crops that can be grown where people are starving, bring clean water to those in need... Science is gaining understanding of God's world, and we can use that for His glory.
I hope that the blogs we've put up this week will help you unpack this further. Some are pretty meaty, but give it a go. You should definitely read this great blog about Genesis and creation by Prof. Robert White.
If you're having discussions with friends who don't believe, but think science has all the answers, maybe reflect on this: Why is there order in the world? Science shows an amazing ordering of atoms, of cells, of... everything! We see order and we believe that God is the orderer.
If the stuff we've put up just isn't enough, there's loads of great (but, again, very meaty) resources on the Christians in Science website.
Does your church teach on science and God?