Science & the Bible
I recently commented briefly (for me) on an apologetics web site on the posted query – Do Science and the Bible Agree? Basically, I said the question was oversimplified. Archeology constantly validates the historicity of the Biblical record. Consider recent work at Tell El Hamman which looks like a lock for Sodom and confirms key details of the city’s destruction – which is going pretty far back into the Biblical narrative. Now, I admit you can identify Sodom and conclude that it really was destroyed by sudden fire from above and still think of it as a natural event given a religious interpretation. And yet – those who, for years ridiculed the Bible on the grounds that no evidence could be found for the bare existence of such a place as Sodom (or the Assyrian Empire or the Egypt of Genesis/Exodus or…) surely have to give at least an inch as discoveries validate details of the Bible record. If it mattered when they thought these things were complete fabrications then it must matter to find out they were not. Even in this example you can see that the ‘agree/disagree’ model is an oversimplification. Never mind the relationship between the Bible and 19th-20th century biology There are movements in 21st century biology that offer more encouragement to people of faith – which demonstrates another way in which the question is oversimplified. With which branch of science and in what time frame do we wish to compare the Bible?
But even that doesn’t get at the heart of the question – at least as I see it. Many studies have been done concluding that the supposed war between science and faith is a myth – one largely created by Draper & White in 1874. You can still read their History of the Conflict Between Science and Religion if you wish but be warned, it has been pretty firmly established as propaganda. Draper and White are mostly responsible for most of us thinking that people in the time of Columbus thought the earth was flat. They did not. Likewise, the terribly distorted story most people think they know about Galileo and the church was crafted by Draper and White. More examples abound. Telling the truth would have drastically reduced Draper and White’s opportunity to ‘make hay’. So, they didn’t tell the truth. This begins to approach the heart of the issue.
There are several older studies and works that debunk the ‘Conflict Hypothesis’ set up by Draper and White and you can find those too but perhaps you would profit from briefer and more modern presentations by Elaine Howard Ecklund – whose books include Secularity and Science, Science Vs. Religion and Why Science and Faith Need Each Other, or, you can check out Ecklund on the web site Biologos - or Joshua M. Moritz – especially his article length Exploding the Myth of the Historical Conflict between Christianity and Science.
One of the most important theses set forth in these works is that such conflict as there is between science and religion is largely neither scientific nor religious – but political. That is to say the real heart of the disagreements concern money, power and influence. A second and related point is that there is more religion in the scientific community than the public might believe. One interesting data-set to ponder: About 50% OF American scientists have at least some religious/spiritual leanings. Some are very conservative Christians (or adherents to other faiths) and some simply suspect there must be a higher organizing power behind reality. This alone might be taken as encouragement by the faithful as the number is so much larger than we might have believed. But there’s another point to be considered. If you sequester the UNIVERSITY SCIENCE COMMUNITY and look to scientists in research, development, engineering, meteorology, medicine, - the list is too long to try to hit it all - outside the ivy-covered walls of university life, the tendency toward religion is exactly the same among scientists as in the general population. It takes the near-nil numbers of the University Science Culture to drag the figures down to 50% overall. It might pay us to ponder why this should be so. Ecklund makes (I think) a compelling case that the reasons are political.
Which brings me to my real thought on why the question ‘Do Science and the Bible Agree’ is vastly oversimplified. Science is not a person to agree or disagree or have feelings or intent. Science is not even a thing. The material universe is thing. The properties of the material universe are things. Matter, energy, and velocity are things. Science is an activity carried out by humans – who are self-interested, biased, short sighted, arbitrary, capricious and possessed of every other human foible you can think of. This is not to say that scientists are not possessed of human virtues as well, Of course they are. But we are all mixed bags. And I am quick to admit that the same has to be said of religion. Oh how the field of religion is poisoned by those who chase money, power and influence! And even among we of the faithful who are not out and out frauds, our human foibles far too often degrade our practice of religion. The criticism I am making is not unique to science.
But many will argue that science itself is uniquely immune to the human foibles that plague other human activities – that science is ‘uniquely self-correcting’ that the methodology of science produces an ‘arc toward truth’ completely independent of any foibles in its practitioners.
Hmmmm. The concrete nature of numbers and a vast body of regulation do not prevent bank fraud. The specificity of the law and an elaborate system of checks, balances and safeties do not prevent prosecutorial malfeasance. But SCIENTISTS – obviously, white lab coats turn away considerations of money, power, influence, or self interest in general as effectively as Kevlar turns away BBs.
I cry foul!
Does science agree with the Bible? That’s not even a real question! Do scientists agree with the Bible? That’s a real question but the answer is complex, and, even if we think we have successfully boiled it down to a reliable set of statistics, does not speak directly to the reliability of either the present practice of science or the Bible.
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Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Pastor of Indian Run Christian Church