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What Is the Relationship Between Science and the Bible?

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by J.P. Moreland

 

Christians are committed to the reality of knowable truths from the Bible and science. Further, Christians seek to integrate claims from both sources into their worldview. How is this done? What is the relationship between the Bible and science?

 

Some claim that the history of Bible-science interaction is largely a war, with theology constantly losing. But for two reasons, this claim is false. First, the relationships between the Bible and science is much richer than what can be captured by a warfare metaphor (see below). Second, many times the teachings of the Bible and science confirm each other, and when there have been differences, it is not always the Bible that has be reexamind. Sometimes scientific claims have been reinterpreted. For example, shortly after Darwinism arose, creationist predicted that there would be gaps in the fossil record, with no clear transition forms, whereas evolutionist predicted that thousands of transitional forms would be discovered. Evolutionist were wrong.

 

In general, the warfare metaphor is not adequate. At least five different models have been offered to capture the integration of science and the Bible. None of these positions is exhaustive, and one can subscribe to any of the five on a case-by-case basis.

 

1. Distinct realms. Claims from the Bible and science may involve two distinct, nonoverlapping ares of investigation. For example, debates about angels or the extent of the atonement have little to do with organic chemistry. Similarly, it is of little interest to theology whether a methane molecule has three of four hydrogen atoms in it.

 

2. Complementary descriptions of the same realm. Claims from the Bible and science may involve two different, complementary, noninteracting approaches to the same reality. Sociological aspects of church growth and some psychological aspects of conversion may involve scientific descriptions of certain phenomena that are complementary to a theological description of church growth or conversion. Claims in chemistry that water comes from combining hydrogen and oxygen are complementary to theological claims that God providentially creates water.

 

In general, we may describe God's activity in terms of primary causes (when God acts in an unusual way and directly, miraculously produces an effect) or secondary causes (when God acts in ordinary ways by sustaining and using natural processes to accomplish a result). The complementarity approach is most effective when God acts by way of secondary causes.

 

3. Direct interaction. Claims from the Bible and science may directly interact such that either one area of study offers rational support for the other or one area of study raises rational difficulties for the other. For example, certain theological teachings about the existence of the soul raise rational problems for scientific claims that deny the existence of the soul. The general theory of evolution raises various difficulties for certain ways of understanding the book of Genesis. Some have argued that the second law of thermodynamics supports the theological proposition that the universe had a beginning. Special creationism--for example, young-earth and progressive creationism--are applications of this approach to the question of the origin and development of life.

 

4. Presuppositional interaction. Biblical teaching can be used to support the presuppositions of science. Some have argued that many of the presuppositions of science (eg., the existence of truth; the rational, orderly nature of reality; the adequacy of sensory and cognitive faculties as tools suited for knowing the external world) make sense and are easy to justify through Christian theism but are without justification in a worldview that does not include God.

 

5. Practical application. Biblical teaching can help one practically apply principles discovered in science and vice versa. For example, theology teaches that fathers should not provoke their children to anger; psychology can add important details about what this means by offering information about family systems, the nature of causes of anger, ect. Psychology can devise various tests for assessing whether one is or is not a mature person, given a normative definition (a definition of what ought to be the case and not just a description of what actually is the case) from the Bible as to what a mature person ought to be like.

 

It is the direct interaction approach that opens up the possibility that scientific and biblical claims may provide mutual intellectual support or be in conflict with one another.

 

Three things should be kept in mind in approaching areas of apparent conflict. First, the vast majority of biblical teachings and scientific claims have little to do with each other directly, and it is wrong to give the impression that most of the issues from these two sources support or conflict with each other. Areas of potential conflict are quite small compared to the vastness of ideas from the Bible and science.

 

Second, there are several areas where scientific discoveries have lent support to biblical assertions:

 

--evidence that the universe had a beginning

--evidence that the universe is fine-tuned and delicately designed so that life could appear

--evidence strongly suggesting that there is no naturalistic explanation for the origin of life and moreover that life is characterized by information that always comes from a mind

--evidence that living things are irreducibly complex such that all their parts need each other to function and thus could not have evolved gradually

--numerous archaeological confirmations of biblical claims

--psychological discoveries of the importance of a unified spiritual, moral free agent to explain human functioning and maturity.

 

Third, we should face areas of conflict honestly but confidently in light of points one and two. Christians ought to make sure we have understood scriptural and scientific data correctly, and we should seek solutions that are both biblically and scientifically adequate. Given that Christianity provides a reasonable worldview for justifying science, that most areas of science and the Bible do not directly interact, and that many scientific discoveries have added confirmation to biblical teaching, there is no reason why Christians cannot be rational in admitting that there are currently areas of conflict for which we do not have adequate solutions. No worldview is without some problems and unresolved questions. Still, contrary to popular opinion, the difficulties that scientific claims raise for biblical teaching are far from overwhelming, and they are fewer in number than one would expect by listening to propagandist from secular culture.

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