Today author David Mckay Barker is on the blog talking about a topic discussed in his newest book, Science and Religion: Reconciling the Conflicts.
In an age of severe contrast between the Bible and science, how are Christians to view the subject of science? How can we remain open-minded without letting unbiblical scientific theories influence our beliefs?
The severe contrast between the Bible and science has been a subject of intense interest to me for over 40 years. While a young guy it dawned on me that things I’d been taught in Sunday School as truth (like Noah’s flood) were not supported by popular geologic theory, or history as taught in public schools. Even though I’d had several history classes in high school and college, not one mention was made of the Flood. This and other concerns led me to a passionate and long-lived spare-time study of Bible chronology, Egyptian chronology, and science. This, in turn, has led me to some intriguing and promising possibilities for reconciling the conflicts between science and religion.
Let me share with you some of my favorite quotes (sung to the tune of “these are a few of my favorite things”). This one is from John A. Widtsoe, a scientist and religious leader (now deceased): “The Church holds that the methods used by science to discover truth are legitimate.” But he also cautioned: “In this wholehearted acceptance of science, the Church makes, as must every sane thinker, two reservations:  The facts which are the building blocks of science must be honestly and accurately observed. . . .  There must be a distinct segregation of facts and inferences in the utterances of scientific men. Readers of science should always keep this difference in mind. Even well-established inferences should not lose their inferential label.” Clear back in 1954 he wrote: “The failure to differentiate between facts and inferences is the most grievous and the most common sin of scientists.” One would think that the problem had improved since the, but it seems to have gotten worse.
In my opinion, far too many people attribute their loss of faith to “scientific enlightenment.” They seem to think that anything labeled “scientific” means tested and proven, not realizing that science not only includes facts, but also highly speculative guesswork (although scientists prefer other descriptions). After all, what is a hypothesis? And, what constitutes “proof”? “People in general have no notion of the sort and amount of evidence often needed to prove the simplest matter of fact.” (Peter Mere Latham). “When, indeed, is a thing proven? Only when an individual has accumulated in his own consciousness enough observations, impressions, reasonings and feelings to satisfy him personally that it is so. The same evidence which convinces one expert may leave another completely unsatisfied.” (Professor Nibley).
Another favorite quote: “What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.” (Austin Farrer)
As I’ve studied the subject over the years, I’ve found that far too much science is presented as though totally unbiased fact. Yes, facts and observations are involved, and theories are postulated to try to explain or make sense of those facts and observations, but science includes untestable suppositions—many of which have nearly achieved a “consensus” status among main-stream scientists. Furthermore, an atheistic view of science seems to have gained such a stronghold as to exclude science recognizing God’s hand in it from most of the collegiate and peer-reviewed papers.
One of the really big conflicts between popular science and Bible belief is the timing of events in Earth's history. I’ve found some works of scientists who have posed some important challenges to scientific dating techniques. These suggest that much of the contradictory information is based on assumption and surmise, not factual data only.
So, in short, my answer to the questions you posed “How are Christians to view the subject of science?” and “How can we remain open-minded without letting unbiblical scientific theories influence our beliefs?” can be summed up with: I don’t think we can, or should be, totally open-minded or unbiased—we, as converted Christians have received some knowledge from a source which science not only doesn’t generally recognize, but which its adherents often ridicule. We can learn from science though, and often find beautiful truths. We can enjoy those truths and strive to discern what parts of science really are truths and what parts are merely inferences or theories.
We can take comfort in the understanding that the revelations God has shared with us on any given subject are much more likely to stand the test of time—although we don’t always adequately understand those revelations. We should strive to maintain humility in our quest for truth and be open-minded enough to recognize that we don’t have all of the answers to all of the questions on all of the subjects. For instance, how much has He given us about the Creation? (There are only 55 versus in the Bible describing the Creation). It has been said that: “In that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things—Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof—Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.”