God and Science: Irreconcilable Differences?

On a Facebook group called “Conservatives and Liberals in Search of Understanding,” one conversation discusses how science and the arts have fallen prey to political agendas.

One person brought up how people approach science like a religion, and how science and religion are incompatible.

But are they? Do we have to approach God on only a spiritual, or at least emotional level, ignoring our intellect? Do we have to study science leaving our emotions at the door?

During the discussion, I stated by comparing religion – or at least faith – to science is apples and oranges. Since their end-goals are so different, comparing the two is counter-productive.

The more I think about it, however, the more I see how they’re not only compatible, but are intrinsically linked – assuming we are willing to see the connections. That’s key. It seems to me some scientists (and science enthusiasts) are unwilling to see God in the natural world, and enough religious people fail to acknowledge that the pursuit of science can help us see and understand God more clearly.

Recently my son and I watched a fabulous 6-part documentary called “Egypt” produced by the BBC. The episodes focused on three men who were key in discovering the rich history of ancient Egypt; from Tutankhamun’s tomb to the life of Ramases and finally translating hieroglyphs via the Rosetta Stone.

The last two episodes focused on how the British and France raced to be the first to translate the hieroglyphs, most specifically Thomas Young of England and Jean-Francois Champollion. During the show, a monk from the Catholic Church expressed concern that Champollion’s studies would lead to proof that the earth was older than 6000 years old.

My first thought was why? Why, if God is the creator of everything, would we – especially as Christians – be afraid of evidence that challenges, not the Bible, but our notions of it and God? It may seem like I’m parsing a bit, but hang with me. It’ll all make sense by the end.

I soon realized the Catholic Church at that time wasn’t concerned about people’s faith being challenged or weakened. When people are shown that their church is incorrect in their doctrines – especially when it comes to science – the Church wanted to shut it out, or silence it, because when people question their church, the church loses power.

Galileo Galilei believed and was able to prove mathematically that the Earth and other planets in the Solar System rotated around the Sun at a time when most everyone else believed we were the center of the universe. His views were controversial to say the least. He, too, challenged the Church that wielded even more power than during Champollion’s time. He was eventually tried by the Inquisition and was convicted of heresy where he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

Even so, hundreds of years later, most people have accepted his and other scientific discoveries that the Earth and the universe is much older than 6000 years, and we are indeed not the center of the universe.

Yet Christians, in accepting this, don’t find any disconnect to these discoveries and their faith and the authority of the Bible. How does that work?

A few things.

Some have accused Christians of abandoning their reason and intellect in favor of their faith in God and the authority of the Bible.

Galileo felt this way when the Church tried to silence him. One of my favorite quotes expresses his frustration quite succinctly:

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.

Nor do I, and nor does the Bible:

“Intelligent people are always ready to learn. Their ears are open for knowledge.” – Proverbs 10:15

“Only simpletons believe everything they are told! The prudent carefully consider their steps.” – Proverbs 14:15

“They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” – Romans 1:19-20

There are many more, but I don’t want to inundate you too much. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with doing your own research.

God has countless times (well, not literally, but certainly more than I have personally counted), encouraged if not outright demanded that we use our intellect as well as our hearts to learn and grow toward him. As the passage in Romans said, if we want us to know him better, look at and study his creation. All of his qualities can be found there.

Sure we get things wrong; it’s part of being human, but anything we discover doesn’t change who God is. It can change our perception of him and certainly challenge our faith. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, such challenges and uncertainties in our notions can lead us to greater understanding and greater faith.

Some have claimed that theories such as the Big Bang and Evolution disprove the Bible. If we try to read the Bible as a scientific paper on the origin of the universe, of course we’ll find discrepancies. Doing so, however, makes as much sense as reading a toddler’s first book on colors to discover how fast light travels and bends around gravity wells. We have to consider the audience when reading the Bible. It was originally written for a nomadic people who had no formal education and had no concept of galaxies, or that every life form is made up of millions of individual cells, and it all starts with a single DNA strand.

One such argument is that the Earth and heavens were created in a single day. Our understanding of space and how light travels alone tosses that idea out. So does that mean the Bible is wrong? No. The Bible also says that to God, “… a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.” (Psalm 90:4) He is eternal, so a day to him could very well last millions, if not billions or trillions of years when measuring time how we perceive it. Again, we have to remember to consider the original audience.

So to anyone who uses scientific discovery to “prove” God does not exist, I can only tell them to look deeper, because they haven’t looked deep enough. Besides, God will only go where he’s invited. If someone refuses to see God, there’s nothing anyone can do to prove otherwise. They have to first acknowledge the possibility. I like to use Christopher Columbus as an example. He didn’t know the Earth was round before he set sail; he believed it and then set out to prove it. Many didn’t believe he was right until he showed them otherwise. The flip-side of that is there are still many who believe the e

arth is flat, and no amount of proof will convince them. They simply refuse to see. Proving God’s existence works the same way. He will remain invisible until people are willing to acknowledge his existence.

Which is the very heart of scientific search and discovery: To present a hypothesis – no matter how outlandish it seems at first – research and experiment until we are able to prove one way or another if it’s true or false.

Do we get things wrong at times? Absolutely, and we will continue to stumble our way through, taking many a wrong turn here and there. But that doesn’t change anything. The Sun will shine and galaxies will continue forming and imploding long after our bodies turn to dust. And God remains who he is regardless of how we view him.

Science can no more disprove God than these words disprove my existence.

And scientific search and discovery is one way we can find him.

 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. – Jeremiah 29:13

 

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