Science Versus Faith

Science Versus Faith

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:9-10

When in college, I participated in a small group with one of my professors, discussing paleontology, dinosaurs, and other events that happened long ago. This was a college that had a Christian tradition, and so, I assumed my faith would be welcome in the discussion. I asked my professor how he fit God and the creation story into his scientific view of the world. He didn’t answer, but rather looked at me like you might look at an annoying child who just introduced the Tooth Fairy into a serious discussion on structure and function of teeth. Most people would have felt like a moron, but, bearing the confidence and arrogance of my youth, my ego was unfazed, and the discussion simply moved on from my apparently stupid question.

The implication was that my faith and creation story were fine for kids, but that as I grew, I must turn to reality – to science. These two things – faith and science – just didn’t have anything to do with each other. It seemed that science was to supplant my faith as I learned to engaged in critical thinking. Christians once thought the Earth was the center of the universe. Copernicus and Galileo came along and suggested instead, that the Earth revolved around the sun. The church objected, but science won out in the end, supposedly establishing a pattern in which science deposed faith. For instance, today’s passage speaks of God separating the land from the sea, but science now teaches us about tectonic plates and subterranean forces that shaped the Earth.

Though my ego was unfazed at the time, my experience in that small group got me thinking critically regarding the question of faith and science. Were the two irreconcilable? This was a question that took me a couple of decades to work over in my mind. I read books by famed atheists and paleontologists, and I finally came to read Francis Collins, Language of God. I don’t often plug specific books in this blog, but if you’re struggling with the science and faith conflict, I highly recommend this book. In it, Francis Collins – then the director of the human genome project – insisted that science and faith were not incompatible, but rather that science was simply learning the language of God. When we discovered tectonic plates, we weren’t replacing God’s creation story. Rather, we were just learning the details of how he did it.

This is the conflict for many Christians. We trust science when it comes to computers, cars, and airplanes, but when it comes to the age of the universe, we realize what godless heathens those scientists must be, and we walk away. If though, we can see the light from a star that is billions of light years away, then we must believe that the universe at least appears to be billions of years old. We can’t really ask a scientist to accept that God made that beam of light, already on its way to the Earth, and that this was all done 6,000 years ago. Maybe God did it that way, but if it looks old, science is going to call it old.

As I said yesterday, to me, the age of the universe isn’t worth fighting about. God could have done it thousands or billions of years ago. Maybe the language of the creation story is more protohistory than literal history. Or maybe God fit billions of years of work into a literal seven days. I don’t know. The fact is, God created everything, and science is learning how he did it. Science shouldn’t diminish our faith but rather should enhance it and inspire us as we learn the wonder and detail of his amazing creation.

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