painting by Cristiano Banti (1857)
Creation and Providence |
| Doctrine of Scripture| Introduction | Nature and Practice of Science |
“When physicists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries found a fundamental rule that the universe seemed to obey they dubbed it a law. Many of these laws are profound and important, such as the laws of motion, the law of universal
gravitation, and the laws of thermodynamics. Some laws are less deep - such as Hooke’s law (which talks about how springs behave) or Snell’s law (which describes how light bends when it moves from one medium to another). Modern physicists tend not to use the word law. as it implies an infallibility that isn’t truly there when you examine the laws closely. That’s why quantum mechanics and general relativity tend to be referred to as theories rather than laws, though the two terms can be used (more or less) interchangeably. (Theories tend to refer to a framework, while a law is usually a single equation).”
About Science &
"Let no man think upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied
moderation think or maintain, that a man can search too far, or be too well
studied in the book of God's word, or the book of God's works, divinity or
philosophy: but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficiency in
both; only let men beware ... that they do not unwisely mingle or confound these learnings together."
You will find various voices offering authentic science and tested biblical scholarship - sometimes providing differing responses to the questions being raised, perhaps answers that bother your beliefs - even saying "I don't know." Has this not always been the case for Christians with our many denominations, theologies and worship practices? We ask only that you read, ponder, and perhaps join in the conversation.
believe that their faith touches all of life – including the
study of nature
and the stewardship and the use
of the natural world for human welfare. Discussions about God and nature have
taken place with varying
of intensity since the time of the early church. For the most part, Christians
have felt that faith and science can live in harmony when each is properly
understood. However, as science gained a deeper understanding of the natural
world and became more important in daily life, it opened many new possibilities
for interaction and potential conflict with Christian beliefs.
describes a few of these developments.
There are new voices seeking understanding and in other cases seeking to promote their views on particular topics. Be wary of jumping on bandwagons!
The rise of science
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was accompanied by a diminishing
influence of the Church and the Bible and the turn to a secular society where
government, education and medicine became, for the most part, independent of
church structures and beliefs. Scholars continue to debate the fine points of
how this has played out in
Europe and the Americas.
Others felt that these views should be opposed and left the ASA in the 1960s to form what became known as 'creationist' organizations - a search for harmony had ended in disharmony! In the years since the ASA has learned to live with 'disharmony' about many science related topics beyond origins - ecology, genetic engineering, overpopulation, bioethics, anthropic principles, and many more.
Evangelical clerics, college Bible faculty, and seminary faculty
opposed evolution and found a place in the organization in the early years -
joint meetings of the ASA and Evangelical Theological Society were held in the
1950s and 1960s. By the late 60s the theologians found the topics
discussed by the ASA to be less relevant to their concerns and the two groups
ceased to meet together. However, Biblical scholars were invited to speak on many
occasions in subsequent years.
As the 21st Century began, there was an increasingly virulent - sometimes science based - opposition to Christianity in the print media and on the web by the "new atheists." Interest in faith-science questions has expanded from the apologetics of conservative Christianity to include liberal and conservative Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, and beyond.
Today, many American Christians feel endangered by the results of scientific study and the philosophical conclusions that some non-Christians have drawn. Some include negativism toward science as part of a political package in the culture wars. Other Christians regard science as a gift from God that can be of enormous value to the human condition and are working to use science in a God-honoring way in medicine, agriculture, and preserve the environment. They view being made in the image of God is a mandate for these activities. Others are suspicious of the use of science to improve agricultural products or fight disease. Organic farming and folk medicine advocates are among the voices raised in opposition to the application of some scientific findings.
We will first offer some basic ideas important when considering particular issues. Since most questions have roots in the past it is important to take into account these earlier responses before we jump to the present discussion.
A Starting Point
A Starting Point
When examining science-faith issues, we must appreciate the facts that (1) different people may come to different conclusions when faced with the same evidence and that ( 2) the evidence (or the way that we assess the evidence) may change over time. As one digs (ponders), what may appear clear on the surface becomes more complex and sometimes unsolvable based on the information at hand. Our religious and educational backgrounds weigh heavily on how we think. This becomes very clear when one leaves home for college. Humility and reserving judgment are important virtues when examining science-faith questions or anything new in our experience.
Christians believe that God has revealed himself in nature as well as in the written word (sometimes called the "Two Books" concept). The ASA seeks to do justice to both sources of revelation. However, tensions may arise when the 'two books ' are brought to bear on a particular question; What role does each book take? What happens when the books appear to differ? Are there areas of priority? Does one book always have the last word?
While it is important to carefully evaluate faith-science issues, we should also recognize that our redemption is not affected by our views in this arena. Also, the fact that Christians disagree should not destroy the fellowship that we have in Christ. Too often scientists (and Biblical scholars) feel isolated in their church or academic community because of their beliefs.
Perhaps, it would be easier to function as though modern
science and the Bible had nothing to do with each other except in matters
involving morals and ethics, but that would ignore what chemist/historian Colin Russell
"...the battery of historical data which point to a massive mutual debt between science and Christianity."--Colin Russell, Cross-currents: Interactions Between Science & Faith (1985), p. 20.
This material is
offered to students of all ages to help you to become informed, perhaps
make decisions, and strengthen your faith. Whether you are new to the subject or
an "old hand" finding this page for the first time, it is important that you
develop a grasp of the nature and use of both Scripture
and science before plunging into the issues that capture our mind
today. Please let us know how we are doing.
Please let us know how we are doing.
Evangelical theologians are actively engaged in studying the influence of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) documents on the early Old Testament, as well as the literary forms in which Genesis was written. Time will tell whether these conclusions will join earlier interpretations that have challenged Christians seeking to link scientific accounts of the past with the biblical record. John Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One (2009) and Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology (2011) offer a fresh approach.
Yet the September 2010 Issue of PSCF illustrated anew the difficulty in achieving agreement on Genesis. _____________________________________________________________________________________
Nothing is more highly debated in evangelical circles
than the way that the early chapters
III The Nature and Practice of Science
Ask a scientist friend to define science and you will be surprised by the response. What seems easy to explain and obvious to anyone takes many twists and turns when one is active in scientific research or engages in "philosophical analysis" about how science works.
Here is a carefully written discussion of the nature of science by Dr. Helen Quinn, a theoretical physicist at SLAC in Physics Today, July 2009.
....thoughts from other authors:Science is an intellectual activity carried on by humans that is designed to discover information about the natural world in which humans live and to discover the ways in which this information can be organized into meaningful patterns. A primary aim of science is to collect facts (data). An ultimate purpose of science is to discern the order that exists between and amongst the various facts.
Science involves more than the gaining of knowledge. It is the systematic and organized inquiry into the natural world and its phenomena.
Science is about gaining a deeper and often useful understanding of the world.
Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers in the preceding generation . ..As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.
To do science
is to search for repeated patterns, not simply to accumulate facts.
The stumbling way in which even the ablest of the scientists
in every generation have had to fight through thickets of erroneous
observations, misleading generalizations
Regardless of the diverse ways that scientists describe their task and the ways this plays out in their own experience, it is clear that science is both understanding and doing - making sense of nature and making "better things for better living" as the earlier du Pont slogan proclaimed. The interweaving of medical research to discover the mechanism of a disease and the search for a cure illustrate the complexity of the scientific enterprise.
Many of us take our ideas about the nature of science from Francis Bacon - who lived four centuries ago. For Bacon, science is the objective pursuit of reliable knowledge. Although one might "know" something through authority, faith, or intuition, scientific method is distinct in that it must be possible for other investigators to ascertain the truth of scientific theories. It is founded on objective observation, the formulation of hypotheses that fit the data and predict other possibilities, repeatable experiments that can fail as well as succeed, and analysis and review by the scientific community. Baconian science rests ultimately on pure, objective dispassionately collected observational data followed by the application of special logical procedures to those data in order to produce scientific theories. This set of stringent procedures constituted the 'scientific method.' - something you learned by 8th grade.
This view of science achieved dominance, becoming practically the official conception by the early 20th century, and still underlies many popular ideas about science. But however attractive its promises, Baconian inductivism is in fact irreparably defective, disintegrating at nearly every point when examined by philosophers. Among its many problems are these: (a) There simply is no form of logic by which theories, laws, and the like can be inferred from empirical data; and (b) empirical procedures cannot confer certainty upon any scientific theory.
The following summary of an article by Philosopher of Science, Del Ratzsch sets forth the current situation:
Further, the principle of underdetermination of theory by data indicates that science requires a conceptual environment extended beyond the merely empirical. Historically, that indispensable confidence and conceptual richness was drawn from religious principals. Some current historians argue that without the broader Christian conceptual matrix, modern science might never have arisen. Ideally, a worldview should be a unified, integrated whole. But for much of the 20th century, many people thought that religion and science were simply irrelevant to each other. At worst, religion was seen as fighting a rearguard action against the seemingly inexorable advance of a science destined to conceptually engulf everything it touched.
Science is now recognized as (1) at least partially embedded in a wider conceptual context and (2) unavoidably drawing resources from that wider context. Science can thus be locked into place within a number of different worldviews, with advocates of each claiming that it confirms their particular view.
There are many who insist on some version of methodological naturalism--that whatever the ultimate metaphysical reality, genuine science as science must (either definitional or practical) be completely detached from everything other than the purely natural. But rigid cases for such prohibitions are increasingly difficult to construct, and even some secular thinkers now admit that there are no compelling reasons why Christian thought cannot contribute to a legitimate conceptual context for science.
Thus, it seems that empirical data and science are pretty much an imaginary idea. What we are really dealing with is interpretations of data and science within philosophical foundations. These can include Ontological Naturalism, Methodological Naturalism, and even Creationism (typically, Young Earth Creationism). Old Earth Creationism apparently finds its foundation in Methodological Naturalism.
There are many who insist on some version of methodological naturalism--that whatever the ultimate metaphysical reality, genuine science as science must (either definitional or practical) be completely detached from everything other than the purely natural.
Charles (Chuck) F. Austerberry, A view from the ASA Listserve, (2008)The thoughts of a practicing scientist.
A further pair of blog comments
Science Falsely So Called
by "Benjamin" August 25, 2010
The Theories of Natural Selection and Evolution are not science because they cannot be tested. They fall into the philosophical realm of tautology. A tautology is a formula whose negation is unsatisfiable. Karl Popper (1902-1994) wrote extensively about this problem to the irritation of evolutionists. Although they disagreed with him, they were never able to negate his philosophically arguments. Karl Popper famously stated "Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program. One of his greatest critiques of evolutionists is that they only looked for evidence to support their theory. True scientific method searches for other evidence, forms other hypotheses and seeks to disprove the favored hypothesis. None of this is allowed in the field of evolutionary studies. Strangely, as critical as Popper was of evolutionary science, he remained committed to it.
Response It's "Only a Theory"
by javadave61, August 25, 2010
Benjamin... The fact is, evolution is a theory to explain numerous facts, not a single fact to be tested in a laboratory. Christians often argue that "evolution is only a theory, not a fact," as if it's some nebulous philosophy. When we say those things, we completely embarrass ourselves. Evolution is indeed "only a theory," BUT a theory is higher than a fact, for a theory explains all the facts. We don't say that the theory of gravity is "only a theory." The theory of gravity will never grow up into a fact. All the creation scientists have to do is produce one fact that does not fit within the theory of evolution, and the theory will be changed or undone. In fact, science is a very competitive field, and you only make a name for yourself by proving that something someone said before you is wrong. Scientists would LOVE a verifiable test that can be repeated in a laboratory that would fit outside the theory of evolution so a newer, more comprehensive theory can take its place. In fact, I believe someday that will come. Just as the theory of gravity was subsumed into the far more encompassing theory of relativity, so the theory of evolution will continue to be expanded to give us a clearer picture of the workings of nature.
But to call it a mere philosophy that isn't falsifiable is misguided. All a creation scientist has to do is head into laboratory with a primitive form of bacteria and let these bacteria reproduce for a period of ten years. An entire generation of bacteria live and die within about a 24 hour period. Over a period of years, thousands of generations pass, giving us a chance to observe evolution in a fast forward mode. All creation scientists have to do is conduct this experiment and demonstrate that no evolution has occurred. But in fact, scientists have already done this with upwards of 30,000 generations of bacteria reproduction and have seen repeatable and predictable evolutionary changes in the bacteria. In fact, this happens with viruses, which is why we have to have a different flu shot each year. We kill the viruses, but the mutated generations live to evolve into a new strain. If you believe evolution is a false philosophy, don't get your flu shot!
But here's where God screams out his name. Each time these bacteria tests have been done, these bacteria evolve in nearly the same way each time. What this demonstrates is that evolution is not "random," but directed. That shows intelligence and purpose. Rewind the clock of time, refire the big bang, and eventually, you'd have upright intelligent creatures that are fully self-aware and capable of knowing and worshiping God. Evolution may appear random on a micro scale, but the broader picture reveals purpose and design. Unfortunately, we Christians have surrendered the territory known as science and have left Dawkins and company to interpret the data to a new generation of future atheists. We will answer for that someday.
Jitse M. van der Meer, "The Struggle Between Christian Theism, Metaphysical Naturalism And Relativism,: How To Proceed In Science? Pascal Centre, Redeemer College Ancaster, Ontario Canada 1995.A thesis arguing that Christians are mistaken in their belief that material reality can be understood without reference to non-material created causes, such as mind, or to non-material uncreated causes, such as God.
IV. Ways of Relating Scripture and Science
Concordism1 is the hermeneutical belief that
scripture and true science are in agreement.
It takes the Bible in a more or less literal - chronological fashion and seeks
to adapt science to fit that reading of the Bible which written in a
pre-scientific ancient near east culture. Many evangelicals hold a concordist
position. This approach is found today in
scientific creationism and various
One televangelist noted that the recent
phenomenon of four "red
indicated the the end of our age.
A second tradition views the Bible and science as providing two kinds of information; the Bible provides a picture of the Creator, His purpose and plan for creation and redemption of a fallen humanity while science offers details and concepts of the World that are refined and transformed as more information is received. 2 This approach seems to avoid conflict but fails to engage a biblical response to the nature of humanity and the role of humans in this world.
A third view is found in the reformation belief that "scripture alone interprets scripture" (sola scriptura). Here one begins not with with hermeneutics but with the more fundamental level of religious presuppositions - a biblical world view.3 Christians from congregations and organizations which encourage this "third view" have developed numerous ways to interpret the early chapters of Genesis - a confusing start for those new to this field.
A fourth view seems to be gathering strength in the early 21st Century as the challenges of genetics and paleontology build new tensions between evolution and Christianity and our desire to keep the Bible and natural science in "conversation." Evolution is seen as a "game changer - a literal/historical reading of Genesis will not do - unless we want to reject the scientific evidence.4 Rather we should return to an allegorical approach such as that of Augustine which were common in the Patristic (early) and Medieval Church, whereas Protestant Reformers leaned toward a literal approach. Martin Luther, for example, criticized Augustine for his allegorical interpretation of the six days of Creation.
The pages of PSCF reflect the diversity of strategies for relating scripture and nature.2 We often hear the cry that the Word of God always gives in to the word of science. Yet we forget that there have often been good reasons for this. Christians of an earlier time and some today have been all too willing to espouse fanciful unfounded descriptions of nature in an attempt to save favored models of biblical interpretation. At this stage of our understanding it may be appropriate to recognize that there are numerous ways of approaching faith-science questions that appears faithful to the Bible rather than insisting that a particular choice trumps all others.
Paul Marsten, Understanding the Biblical Creation Passages, 2007 Lifesway 60pp., ebook, pdf . This very readable e-book offers insight into the ways that some current scholars approach the interpretation of the Genesis passages.
1 One may hold a concordist
position on historical narratives as found in Gen. 1-3 even though the
chronology of the story is figurative. It is the actual characters and the
events which are historical in a concordistic sense. See
At this stage of our collective
understanding of it may be appropriate to recognize that there are numerous ways
of approaching faith-science questions that are faithful to the Bible rather
Two Biblical Hermeneutics Discussions
1. The Baylor 2009 ASA Annual Meeting Papers : PSCF, 62 Number 3 September 2010
2. Concordism and a Biblical Alternative: An Examination of Hugh Ross’s Perspective (2007)
Paul Seely, Concordism and a Biblical Alternative: An Examination of Hugh Ross’s Perspective PSCF 59 (March 2007): 37.
Additional Explanations on Concordism: A Response to Paul Seely’s Critique
Paul Seely, Reading Modern Science into Scripture PSCF 59 (March 2007):51
Carol A. Hill, A Third Alternative to Concordism and Divine Accommodation: The Worldview Approach PSCF 59 (June 2007): 129.
See: Jesus Creed Collection of Discussions of recent science-Christianity books and blogs
Peter Rüst, Early Humans, Adam, and InspirationPSCF 59 (2007): 182.
David F. Siemens, Jr., Extended Humpty Dumpty Semantics and Genesis 1 PSCF 59 (2007): 194.
James Barr, Biblical Chronology: Legend Or Science? (The Ethel M. Wood Lecture 1987. Delivered at the Senate House, University of London on 4 March 1987. London: University of London, 1987).
Richard H. Bube, "Towards A Christian View Of Science," JASA 23:(March 1971): 1-4. An ASA Classic
Peter Enns, Preliminary Observations on an Incarnational Model of Scripture, Calvin Theological Journal 42 (2007), pp. 219-236.
Meredith Kline, Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony, PSCF 48: (March 1996): 2-15.
Clark H. Pinnock, "The Ongoing Struggle Over Biblical Inerrancy," JASA 31 (June 1979): 69-74.
Walter R. Thorson, "Hermeneutics for Reading the Book of Nature, 55 PSCF (June 2003): 99-101.
A report from the ASA Commission on Creation (2000) offers a General Statement on Creation which was felt to reflect the general thinking of the ASA community and several more statements representing narrower views on the details of creation. One might think that biblical and scientific scholars could have gotten together and forged a definitive statement on origins rather than a grocery list but the issues are too complex to achieve accord. at this time. We can agree on the who and perhaps the when but the how is speculative. We see patterns in nature and marvel at its detailed interworkings, harmony, and beauty as those created in the image of God but the details elude us.
One of the enjoyable aspects of relating science and Christianity is the ever-changing challenge of new discoveries. Environmental questions, medical advances, astronomy, neuroscience, and the social sciences offer new challenges for reflection. None of us can be an expert on everything, but we can cultivate ways of thinking and attitudes that allow us to be a productive part of the discussions .
If this discussion has caught your attention you may want to turn next to the Bible-Science discussion.
We close this page with several useful articles and materials on science and a number of short autobiographies of ASA members
Science for All Americans: Book about Science Literacy By Project 2061 - American Association for the Advancement of Science.A Short volume covering the basics of science.
Autobiographies A personal view of the spiritual and scientific odysseys of ASA members and friends. Please send us yours.