There’s a big question out there, and it’s a question many are afraid to ask. Is scientific knowledge subject to faith, or is faith subject to knowledge? I put the question that way because few people seem to think they are compatible, let alone complementary.
Putting faith ahead of knowledge results in claims that evolution is false because it runs counter to the teaching of the Bible. And we can replace ‘evolution’ in that statement with ‘cosmology’, ‘geology’ and other scientific disciplines. But starting with scientific knowledge also results in difficulties, some scientists claim that atheism is an essential conclusion and there is no need to think in terms of a Creator.
Instead, let’s accept that there are organisations like the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge, England that represent the views of many scientists who are also Christians. The two need not be in opposition at all. What follows is my own, personal view and perhaps a way forward.
The Universe tells us about the Creator – Let’s begin by considering that if the Universe was brought into being by a deliberate creative act, then the nature of of the Creator will have left its stamp on what he made. It’s easy to see this is true for creative people. Whether we consider prose, poetry, painting, film directing, musical composition, musical performance, photography, architecture or design of physical products, we can often identify the person behind the work because their personality and style are there for all to see. Most of us could look at three paintings, one by Renoir, one by Constable and one by Picasso, and immediately say which artist created which work. A skilled and experienced art critic could make far finer judgements, not only about an artist’s identity but probably his approximate age at the time the work was produced.
In the same way, Papa’s hand and style are very much present in what he has made. For example, the Universe contains many events that are random and unpredictable. Given twenty atoms of a radioactive isotope, nobody can tell in advance the sequence in which those atoms will decay. But the Universe also follows patterns or rules. If we know which isotope we are dealing with we can predict roughly how long it will take for ten to decay, and that it will be about the same amount of time again until there are only five remaining. The Universe is full of unpredictability on the one hand and predictability on the other. It has rules, yet chance events play an important role as well.
Science is the best way we have of discovering the rules that govern our Universe. Maths and science also allow us to understand the uncertainties it contains.So people who believe in a Creator (as I do) can conclude that he uses both randomness and rules to build the natural world and either finds them useful features or perhaps even essential. So surely we should use science to better understand the nature of the One who is behind everything. Alongside all of this, the Bible brings information about his spiritual nature – that he is holy, invisible, powerful, omnipresent. And above all, the Bible tells us that he is defined primarily by his love.
Faith and knowledge – I hope you will agree that if we are to fully appreciate and understand the Almighty, we must draw from both faith and knowledge. Our understanding of the Universe does not depend on the Bible, it depends on what we see all around us. And our understanding of the Bible doesn’t depend on our understanding of the Universe, but on a hard-to-define spiritual awareness that is available to everyone who will search for it.
There are two potential errors here for the unwary; both are serious and both are common.
- We should not try to predetermine what the Universe will tell us by studying the Bible.
- We should not limit the spiritual truth of the Bible by invoking science.
For the fullest understanding of the nature of the the Almighty (and of ourselves), we must draw from the Bible for spiritual truth and from science for physical truth.
Essential kenosis – A recent book by Thomas Jay Oord explores the Creator’s nature in depth and is well-argued and very readable. If you want to go deeper with this topic I heartily recommend his work, ‘The Uncontrolling Love of God‘. He argues strongly for what he calls ‘essential kenosis’, and the idea that love is Papa’s most fundamental characteristic while his power comes second. And this explains a lot about pain and suffering, evil, and Father’s apparent inability or unwillingness to prevent bad things happening.