Even a person of deep faith can sometimes be intimidated by the astounding proclamations that come from the scientific community, to the extent that we may be inclined to tune them out, or reject them out of hand.
Science has become so specialized it’s difficult for laymen, even those with technical training, to wrap their minds around modern scientific concepts—a universe packed with dark matter and dark energy we can’t “see”, evolutionary adaptation, extra dimensions suggested by string theory, mind boggling time scales when talking about the history of the universe or the number of galaxies and stars.
Christians believe all reality and truth originates in God, so how can we fear anything that proceeds from honest science grounded in evidence? Rather than being intimidated by huge numbers—billions of galaxies, a 14 billion year old universe, quarks so small you’d need to line up trillions of them to make a grain of sand—we might marvel that God is the Creator of a universe far more impressive and dynamic than a single world around which a handful of celestial bodies move in perfect rhythm. As one of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia characters says of Aslan, “He’s wild, you know. Not a tame lion.”
We can respect scientists, like athletes, who play by the rules, limiting themselves to observation, measurement, and evidence. Scientists “playing by the rules” cannot endorse invisible realms because such realms cannot be measured, because they aren’t testable. However, science has a rich history of discovering previously undetectable realms—microorganisms, atoms and even smaller particles, ultraviolet light. Not to imply that every invisible realm is discoverable by science if only we could invent the right tools. Rather, an image of how things can be real and affective without being measurable, as the vertical (“up”) dimension would be undetectable/invisible to flat plane creatures.
With much of science obscure to those not steeped in advanced mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, it’s even more important to distinguish between evidence-based conclusions, and speculation. Some scientists, prominent voices among them, are not as careful as they ought to be at distinguishing what evidence supports from speculative conclusions. Today’s scientific consensus: about 14 billion years ago an unimaginably huge amount of “stuff”, in which matter and energy were indistinguishable, at an unimaginably high temperature, compacted into an unimaginably small space—if time and space even existed—“exploded” to initiate the universe (the Big Bang). From whence did this “Micro-speck of Everything” originate, what caused it to “explode” and expand? Science has evidence for what happened immediately after the “explosion” but can only speculate about the nature and source of this “Micro-speck of Everything”. Speculation isn’t a bad thing so long as the difference between evidence and speculation is made clear. We have to be especially careful about an ideological scientism that goes beyond science to construct a God-less belief system about the universe, man, ethics, and morality. Unharnessed from biblical principles, man is free to make his own rules, but history demonstrates that when man makes the rules, “unencumbered” by the Gospel, bad things happen, and with more powerful technologies, even worse things happen (tens, if not hundreds, of millions tortured and murdered in the 20thcentury).
Science has evidence for evolutionary adaptation, for living things evolving new qualities and capabilities, testable evidence when it comes to rapidly reproducing organisms like viruses—how they evolve resistance to antibiotics. Many scientists embrace a theory of “chemical evolution” that preceded, and then produced life on Earth, a theory that largely relies on statistics: given enough organic “soup”, enough time (3.5 billion years), energy rich environments, living organisms that could reproduce were produced from the chemical soup, similar to using statistics to “prove” life elsewhere in the universe based on the age of the universe and number of planets.
Lest we think a billion years is ample time for anything imaginable to occur, even the earliest of these theoretical transitions: chemical soup to the most primitive cells containing DNA, to photosynthetic cells, to more complex cells that could survive in the oxygen-rich environment produced by photosynthesis, would have required astounding increases in levels of complexity, and these only involving the simplest forms of life.
Christians consider life a gift from God, even if God used millions or billions of years to accomplish it. Do now well-understood “mechanical” processes preclude the need for a benevolent God, or worse, mitigate against such a God? We don’t need modern science to inform us that bad, unexplainable things happen to good people, as this was known in Moses’s time and by early Christians—human clocks rapidly ticking down, grief pursuing us, even the longest lived. A better question for believers is how do such events and developments play out in realms that are invisible to science and mankind? Is there a deeper meaning, as Christians embrace a deeper meaning for the apparent absurdity of the Cross? Some are willing to concede the possibility of a Creative Agent, a kind of Divine Watchmaker or Mathematician. As to a benevolent God, the Father icon Jesus reveals, only Divine Revelation or a personal experience of the invisible realm where God resides (Paul on the road to Damascus) can reveal such a Deity. The human paradox is we cannot discern this benevolent God with our senses and intellect alone, or with any macro or microscope.
The size and age of the universe, number of galaxies, may make us feel insignificant—cramped and small, but we can view these numbers from a different perspective. 1) You and I are infinitely larger than the “Micro-speck” that contained the universe before the Big Bang; 2) Science has yet to discover life beyond Planet Earth, much less self-aware, self-reflective life; 3) As Christians, we believe God Himself occupied the brief moment of time that’s allotted to human beings; 4) Science itself recognizes that human beings represent the highest level of complexity discovered thus far in the universe, more complex in terms of elements, chemical processes, and energy flows than the largest stars and planets. Viewed this way, numbers tell a different story, and whether our ancestors’ smaller numbers or today’s very large numbers, theologians suggest the Creator is outside of time and space, and unrestricted by these created dimensions.
What is the responsibility of believers, especially theologians, philosophers, and pastors? Theological and philosophical principles and perspectives may go beyond measurable evidence, but ought not to contradict reason and evidence, not at war with honest science.
Scientists and believers alike are creatures that seek resolution of questions and mysteries. This desire seems hard-wired into us. The more we learn about Planet Earth, our solar system, the universe, the more questions and mysteries we encounter. An honest scientist and an honest believer have much in common, each questing for deeper knowledge and meaning. This world and universe may be much different (less tame) than our ancestors could have imagined, but wonder at its majesty and beauty hasn’t diminished. To the extent that science keeps in its lane—the relentless pursuit of evidence, and conclusions that fit the evidence—it is an occupation believers ought to heartily embrace.
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