March 23, 2014

Origins, Science, and the Bible (part 2)

ALMA radio telescope, Chile
By Hendrik van der Breggen

Origins, Science, Bible
(part 2)

Today, I want to think about some philosophical matters that are relevant to the overall conversation about origins, science, and the Bible. More specifically, I will argue that God’s revelation via nature and God’s revelation via Scripture have domains which overlap.

To make my case, I will do two things. First, I will question the limitation placed on questions typically handed to science (how?) and to theology (why? who?). Second, I will point to some areas of overlap.

1. Questions

Typically, science is understood as answering questions having to do with how. How does the world work? How do material forces operate? Science has been extremely successful in answering these questions, allowing us to understand the laws of nature and thereby improve life via technology.

In my studies in philosophy of science, however, I have noticed that how questions don’t exhaust the sorts of questions/ issues addressed by the sciences. Some sciences also address that issues.

For example, astrophysics deals with, among other things, whether or not it is the case that the universe (i.e., all physical matter/energy, space, time) began.

Also, astrophysics deals with, among other things, the question of whether or not it is the case that the universe’s initial conditions are “fine-tuned” to be conducive to subsequent life (whether subsequent life wholly evolved via chemical and biological evolution, was wholly specially created, or was specially created with some degree of subsequent evolution).

Also, the science of SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) deals with whether or not it is the case that a signal from space is due to an intelligent cause, without knowing how an intelligent cause works, without knowing what its nature is, and even without knowing whether it has a designer or not.

In my studies of the Bible I have noticed that the questions of who—e.g., Who is God? Who are we?—and the questions of why—e.g., Why did God create? Why are we here? Why do we do evil?—don't exhaust the sorts of questions/ issues addressed by the Bible. The Bible also addresses that issues.

For example, Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Whatever else Genesis tells us about who God is and why God created, Genesis 1:1 lets us know that God caused the beginning of the universe and that the universe began.

Hebrews 11:3 clarifies Genesis by letting us know that “the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

(Yes, Hebrews says “by faith we understand that…,” but the revealed truth that X is the case is of interest here. Also, a prior verse in Hebrews says “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It seems, then, that this view of faith needn’t rule out observation and good reasoning to help us have assurance and conviction, especially when Psalm 19:1-2 tells us that “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.”)

Also, John 1:1-3 tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things were made through him….”

Also, a couple of other passages of Scripture tell us that time had a beginning. For example, 2 Timothy 1:9: “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (italics added). Also, Titus 1:2: “[We have] eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (italics added).

Clearly, then, science deals with more than how questions, and the Bible deals with more than who or why questions: both science and the Bible also deal with issues of that—i.e., that something is the case.

2. Overlap

But this means that sometimes there’s an overlap between that which nature reveals to be the case and that which Scripture reveals to be the case. So, if the Bible is true, then sometimes our reason and observation of the world should allow us to discern at least some of God’s activities in nature which have also been revealed in Scripture.

Interestingly, the evidence of the big bang beginning of space, time, and matter/ energy seems to allow us to discern via reason and observation what has also been revealed in Scripture: i.e., that the universe—all matter/energy, space, and time—began.

(I’m here thinking of William Lane Craig’s many works, including his book, co-authored with atheist Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology [Oxford University Press, 1993], and more recently Craig's books Reasonable Faith [Crossway, 2008) and On Guard [Cook, 2010].)

Interestingly, the evidence of the universe’s fine-tuning for life seems to allow us to discern via reason and observation what has also been revealed in Scripture: i.e., that the universe displays effects of an intelligence.

(I’m here thinking of Robin Collins’ work that will be presented in his upcoming book The Well-designed Universe: God, Fine-tuning, and the Laws of Nature. See too the readable summary of the evidence for fine-tuning over at the BioLogos website.)

Interestingly, the evidence of the living cell (e.g., DNA) seems to allow us to discern via reason and observation what has been revealed in Scripture: i.e., that the making of life requires some sort of information input ("word") that smacks of intelligence and non-physicality.

(I’m here thinking of Stephen C. Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design [Harper, 2009].)

It seems, then, that if we widen our awareness of the sorts of questions/ issues addressed by the sciences (not just how, but also that), and if we widen our awareness of the sorts of questions/ issues addressed by the Bible (not just who and why, but also that), we can thereby notice that the Bible’s special revelation concerning the nature is confirmed when we examine nature.

3. Conclusion

In closing, a comment from mathematician and philosopher of science John Lennox is appropriate. (Lennox, who has debated the popular atheist Richard Dawkins, is someone whose philosophical work I greatly respect and whose work pretty much makes the same points I’ve set out above.)

Lennox writes: “I am not, of course, claiming that the Bible can inform every branch of science, but I am claiming that there are certain fundamental points of convergence of such immense significance for our understanding of the universe and ourselves that it is worth pointing them out. Such convergences between the Bible and contemporary science add to the Bible’s credibility in a skeptical world—as Scripture itself would warrant us in thinking (Rom. 1:19-20).” (John Lennox, Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning according to Genesis and Science [Zondervan, 2011], 142.)

This is not to say that we should use the Bible as a science textbook, but it is to say that we should let the convergence points inform theology (by suggesting some interpretations of Scripture to be better than others) and that we should let the convergence points inform science (by suggesting possible lines of further scientific inquiry).

It is also to say that the project of connecting the dots between science (when done properly) and Scripture (when interpreted properly) belongs to philosophy and theology, and that these connections (when clear) can serve the church's tasks of apologetics and evangelism—to help point people to the God who became flesh in Jesus.

Reason and observation have an important role in discerning God’s revelations in the world. As a Christian who is a philosopher with an interest in apologetics, I find this exciting.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

No comments: