Do the Bible and Science Contradict Each Other?

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As a child Rosalind Picard, a Professor of Computer Science at MIT, was encouraged by a neighbour to read the Bible – starting with the book of Proverbs. She expected to encounter fantastical stories, but found it profoundly wise. She went on to read the whole Bible, and found herself changing in response to what she read. Later she described that time as “an experience of being spoken to. When you enter into a conversation with somebody, if you’re willing to truly listen, then you are also open to being truly changed.” Rosalind enjoyed being made to think. She began to question her assumptions about Christianity, and although it was a long time before she became a Christian herself, that journey started for her with the Bible.

For a Christian, the Bible is God’s word to us; it tells us about God’s character and creative purposes, how he has related to people in the past, and his promises for the future. Science is a specific way of studying the world, exploring the physical properties of things – a wonderful way to explore God’s creation. With this in mind, if the Bible and science seem to be contradicting each other, surely we have made a mistake in interpreting one or the other?

Science is very good at answering certain types of questions: ‘What size is it?’, ‘How fast does it travel?’, ‘What is it made of?’, and so on. Questions like ‘What’s it for?’, ‘What should I do with it?’, and ‘What’s it worth?’ can’t be answered using scientific methods. Much of the misunderstanding in discussions of science and religion come from not recognising the limits of science.

Some people have responded to scientism – the attempt to use science as a philosophy of life – by rejecting or finding fault with science. The result is that a false definition of science is reinforced, and others feel they have to choose between science and Christian faith. A more fruitful solution is to remind ourselves what science is, affirm its great successes, and reject any claims that overstep the limits of what it was designed to do.

It’s also important to recognise what the Bible is, and what sorts of questions it can answer. I believe the Bible is true, and that its writers were inspired by God to write words that are still relevant today. The New Testament contains accounts of Jesus’ life on earth, his teaching, death and resurrection; the growth and teaching of the early church; and promises about God’s actions in the future – all grounded in God’s revelation of himself and his purposes as described in the Old Testament.

Old Testament contains a number of accounts of God’s creation and ongoing creative actions in the world and his interactions with the people of Israel and their neighbours; songs of praise and worship; words of wisdom; and prophecies that applied both to the immediate future of the Israelites and also to events further in the future.

The Bible was written well before people began to investigate the world in ways we would recognise as scientific. Of course, people in the Ancient Near East were studying the world around them, observing the movements of the stars, the processes of life and death that happened all around them, the seasons, the behaviour of physical objects, and so on. But they did not study the mechanisms underlying these things systematically using the tools of science, and they did not see or describe the world in scientific terms – not because they weren’t intelligent, but because science as we know it wasn’t happening at that time.

Instead, the Biblical writers used words that were commonly used in their own cultures to record events, share truth and wisdom, and tell stories that convey deep truth about God’s character. If we want to understand God’s intention in inspiring these words, we need to do some careful work to connect with those ancient writers and find out what they meant, before we can discover what those words mean to us today.

The Biblical scholar Tom Wright wrote in his book Simply Christian (SPCK, 2006), “The interpretation of the Bible remains, then, a huge and wonderful task. That is why we need to engage in it as far as we have time and ability. We must do this not only individually, but also through careful and prayerful study within the life of the church, where different members will have different skills and knowledge to help. The only sure rule is to remember that the Bible is indeed God’s gift to the church, to equip it for its work in the world; and that serious study of it can and should become one of the places where, and the means by which, heaven and earth interlock, and God’s future purposes arrive in the present.”

I believe these principles can help us have far more fruitful conversations about science and Christian faith. Like Professor Picard, if we allow any apparent conflicts to fuel our search for understanding, not only will we learn as individuals, but we will also draw others into a conversation that is more relevant to wider society today.

 

For further exploration

Can Science prove God Exists?  LINK

Tackling Difficult Questions LINK

A brief guide to interpreting the Bible

Rosalind Picard’s story is told in the book Test of Faith: Spiritual Journeys with Scientists

Can Science Prove God Exists?

Chemistry
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To risk sounding like a smart aleck seven-year-old, technically speaking you can only prove things mathematically. If you need to know that one plus one equals two, don’t go to a chemistry lab. The natural sciences deal with objects and forces that can be observed and measured. Scientists look at the evidence from their experiments and try to come up with a way of thinking about the material world that makes sense.

For example, if I travel around my local area and see nothing but brown cows, then I could try out the statement that “all cows are brown”. I couldn’t prove that all cows are brown. I could never rule out the existence of a different-coloured cow somewhere in the world. Scientific knowledge is always provisional. Continue reading

How Can a Christian be a Scientist?

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luvqs, Pixabay

I used to ask this question as a student. It took me a while to get to know the University staff who were Christians. I was aware of pressing ethical issues and controversial questions about science and the Bible; I knew science was a demanding career that might compete with church commitments; I knew some high-profile scientists were hostile to Christian faith. I wondered, who could make it in the world of science and still hold onto their faith? Continue reading

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NASA

The world is one tiny piece within a vast universe – so vast that I, at least, can scarce comprehend it. The world we inhabit is one planet within a solar system . . . within a galaxy . . . within the universe. Our sun is just one of between 200 billion and 400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and earth is just one of at least 100 billion planets. There may also be ten billion white dwarfs, a billion neutron stars and a hundred million black holes. And that is just one galaxy out of possibly two trillion galaxies! …

Most nights I consider it a clear night if I can see Orion and the Big Dipper, and it is a sad reality that most of us are seldom in places that are dark enough at night for us to enjoy the stars in all their splendour. In fact, light pollution is now so bad that more than one third of the human population is no longer able to see the Milky Way. In Chapter One we reflected on NASA’s ‘black marble’ images, realizing that the earth at night is electric with lights criss-crossing across the globe.… Continue reading

Guest Post – Physics and Faith: a personal journey

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Magnetic domains viewed by the Faraday Effect © Matesy GmbH, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

When I was a Physics student, I used to tear down the posters of the University Christian Union (CU).  It was an unexpected moment for me therefore when I found faith and became a Christian, while I was working on a PhD in magnetic domain theory.  In the early hours of the morning of the seventh of May 1971, alone in my room, God showed me how much I needed him.

I sometimes feel my experience has parallels to that of Saul meeting Jesus in Acts 9.  There were no lights or voices, just a sudden feeling of an urgent need for meaning to my life Continue reading

Guest Post: 200th Anniversary of the Discovery of Antarctica

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I am writing this sitting in a tent in Antarctica, surrounded by whiteness and wilderness. I have come here to undertake geological research as part of the joint US-UK International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, which seeks to determine how the mighty Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica will contribute to the rate and timing of sea level rise across the globe in the coming decades. This is urgent work – the rate of ice discharge from the glacier has more than doubled over the past 2 decades, and looks set to increase further. Under the right conditions, the glacier also has the potential to enter a runaway retreat phase which could result in catastrophic ice loss because its catchment reaches hundreds of kilometres inland.

This is my seventh time in Antarctica, Continue reading

Gene Editing: Could You be a Superhero?

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Allan9187, Pixabay

I recently learned that the DNA testing company Orig3n offers what they describe as a ‘fun DNA test’ claiming to be able to provide information on an individual’s strength, intelligence and speed. I love superhero movies, perhaps partly because they tap into my own wish to be able to achieve everything extremely well at lightening speed. Alas, even without a DNA test I already know from hard experience I cannot be super-anything. Even with gene modification, the chances of making me stronger, faster and more intelligent may be pretty slim. Continue reading