Recently there has been much discussion over why many in the younger generation are leaving the church. Some have said one of the reasons is, “The younger generation does not want to choose between God and science. They feel conservative Christianity forces them to make that choice, and they are choosing science.” In response, many Christian leaders are falling all over themselves to believe everything science says and to deny anything in the Bible or traditional Christian doctrine that contradicts science. I think they have over reacted and hope to show why in this article.
First, let me say that science is a very helpful way of looking at the world. It studies nature and thus helps us know and appreciate God’s creation. Throughout the history of science, many of its greatest practitioners have been devout Christians. Christians should study science, become scientists and give glory to God for its fruits. Christians should not be anti-science.
Also, science can be helpful in theological reflection and biblical interpretation. While the Scriptures are the inerrant word of God, human interpretations of Scripture are not. Our theological models can be wrong. Corrections can be prompted in many ways, one of which is new scientific discoveries. These new perspectives can cause the church to ask, “have we understood Bible properly?” When there is a conflict between the church and science, science is not always wrong. In all the ways just described, the Christian does not have to choose between Jesus and science.
Having said all this, every Christian must choose between Jesus and science just like they must choose between Jesus and everything. Jesus said we must hate our father and mother to follow him. By this he did not mean we shouldn’t honor our parents as called for in the 5th commandment. He himself cared for his mother’s needs as he died on the cross. But he was using hyperbole to make a point: He must be 1st in our lives in all things and if anything comes between us and him, we must choose him. Jesus loved his mother but when she asked him to disobey God, he followed God. In the same way, we can greatly appreciate science, but if it asks us to choose between itself and Jesus, we must choose Jesus.
The question comes down to what is the ultimate interpretive framework for looking at reality. For the Christian, the ultimate reality is Jesus who existed before the creation, who brought creation into being, who continues to uphold creation and who will redeem creation. All facts learned by science which studies creation must be ordered by the interpretive framework of Christ and if science in anyway defies the Lordship of Christ, science is wrong.
Our Enlightenment dominated culture says autonomous human reason is the ultimate authority, science being one form of human reason. Because humans hunger for certainty, our culture urges us to trust in science as the ultimate authority in order to find psychological peace and sociological harmony. The culture says, it’s OK for you to believe in Jesus as long as you don’t contradict science. Thus it comes down who is the ultimate reality, Jesus or human reason.
We must recognize science is not an independent authority, separate from human influence, issuing mandates from on high. Science is a human activity. Nothing humans do is perfect and thus science is not perfect. This is confirmed by a study of the history of science. New data, new studies, new theories are constantly changing what science believes to be true. What used to be gospel to scientists 50 years ago is now disregarded as out of date. What science believes to be the absolute truth today will be looked at as foolishness by scientists 50 years from now. Science is not a value free activity. Cultural, political, philosophical contexts affect the way scientists view and organize data.
We live in the tyranny of our present reality. It is the human hunger for certainty and control that exalts current scientific theories to inerrant authorities. It is human hubris that trumpets current human beliefs as the pinnacle of reality that cannot be questioned. For the Christian, Jesus is the ultimate reality. If current scientific theory disagrees with him, then it is wrong and will be proven wrong as new data becomes available. It will change as science has done 1000’s of times in the past and will do so 1000’s of time in the future.
I have not brought up any particular scientific theory that might be in conflict with orthodox Christianity and I have done that on purpose. I want to establish the principles for guiding the Christian in this discussion. It is much more complicated and difficult to fight through all the issues involved in real life conflict. Good Christians may disagree on the resolutions. How much should traditional biblical interpretation be altered? How much is the current scientific theory in error? How can we look at the facts from both and cause them to fit together so that they do not conflict at all? These are all issues that must be dealt with, with great care.
In writing this article I am not encouraging Christians to be anti-science or science bashers. Instead, I am simply asking us to be critical thinkers and not accept without question what ever is put forward as scientific. What I want to encourage the Christian to see is that the Enlightenment framework for interpreting reality should not be accepted without question. For the Christian, Jesus is the ultimate reality, not human reason. If the two contradict, we must acknowledge Christ as Lord.
From the standpoint of the gospel, our security, worth, value, salvation and identity is found in Christ alone. Human works, including science, are all dirty rags and cannot raise us to heaven. It is only Christ that can reconcile us to God and give us ultimate purpose, meaning and life. In relation to science and all other aspects of the universe, the Christian must say, “All I have is Christ!.” I trust in him alone to unite me to the eternal love of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.