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Isn't Religion Discredited by Science?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

What makes that question so intriguing is the difficulty of imag­ining either a chicken that didn’t come from an egg or an egg that didn’t come from a chicken. So you come to this rather startling conclusion, once you think about it, that you have to look outside the sequence of chickens and eggs to explain them.

A similar problem, only miles deeper, involves the human body and the genetic code imprinted on every cell within it, that fabu­lously intricate instruction manual called DNA. The only thing that can conceivably make this miracu­lous stuff is the human body, and the only natural way there can be a human body is if there is first DNA. It’s the ultimate chicken-and­-egg mystery. We have two things of stupefying complexity—the human body and human DNA— and neither one seems possible if the other wasn’t there first.

That’s the barest glimmer of the marvel of you and me.

And you are not to let anyone rob the wonder away, not even if it’s someone holding a test tube with the aura of science all about. We were specially created by God, our Maker. We were knit together in the wombs of our mothers, where Deity saw our unformed bodies and wrote all our days in his book before any of them came to be. That’s right. God. You have to look beyond the sequence of DNA and the human body—you must search outside the sequence of birth and death—to explain us.

You have to look up.

You must follow the gaze of the Man from Galilee, who alone has the right and the authority to speak on the mat­ter of our existence.

In Matthew chapter 5 we find Jesus sitting on the side of a mountain, teaching his disciples, pulling back the veil, sharing his timeless secrets. He expounds the cloud­less worldview of the One who made the world. Sit and rest and listen to the unwavering voice, asking us to con­sider them again, the lilies of the field, and to see how the Father helps them with their clothes.

“Look at the birds of the air. . . . your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? . . . O you of little faith.”

Please read Matthew 6:25-34.

Let me quickly assure you that I won’t take an extreme position in this chapter. The point will be to suggest an hon­est approach to science that will allow you to “oooh” and “ahhh” over the latest scientific discoveries with the rest of us. Go ahead and blend with mine your hushed “thank you” to scientific research for the medicines that keep loved ones alive. Wonder at the technological achievements that make your life so very comfortable. At the same time, please know that in every generation before ours, there were people who brought a healthy skepticism to the very latest and most self-assured decrees of science. Especially when science mean­dered into philosophy, ethics, or theology, when it pontificated beyond its own expertise, those who ques­tioned were right to.

Have you heard about the pamphlet published in 1852 titled Ten Scientific Facts That Clearly Contradict the Bible? Not a single “fact” is still taken seriously today. There’s an important point to be made here. Some people think the conflict between science and faith goes back to the days of Galileo, whom the church ignorantly condemned for say­ing that the earth was not the center of the universe. “See,” they gleefully say, “the church should have listened more closely to science.” But in truth it was the mathematician and astronomer Ptolemy who had told the church that the earth was at the center in the first place. The church’s prob­lem was that it did listen to science. What science said . . . well . . . it kept changing. Today’s new science will, with certainty, be smirked at tomorrow. I’m not the only one who thinks so.

In his intellectual landmark The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Harvard nuclear physicist and historian of sci­ence Thomas Kuhn reveals scientific consensus to be a sea of shifting sand. The history of science, objectively observed, demolishes the notion that the best science of any generation can ever approach truth with certainty. Here’s what scientific progress is really like: a community of practitioners forms under the umbrella of a paradigm, a governing point of view that, for a time, seems best to fit the facts and wins the intel­lectual field. Institutions are founded on that model, careers are made, textbooks are written, and theories (in name only) harden unnoticeably into concrete fact. But then that para­digm, unquestioningly embraced by a generation, painfully and inevitably gives way to another. Inevitably!

Here’s how it happens. An anomaly is observed. Some new phenomenon appears, and no matter how the standing theory’s box is stretched and pulled and modified, the prob­lematic fact refuses to fit inside it, creating a crisis in the sci­entific community. Eventually, the old theory, so colossal and far-reaching and seemingly invincible, cannot be sus­tained any longer. It comes crashing under its own weight. And at last a new idea, a new theory, a new paradigm emerges and takes hold—one that both explains the data originally gathered and one that could have predicted the anomaly as well.

“And this time we’re really, really certain,” say the folks in the lab coats.

It is not science’s fault that the puzzles of such apparent simplicities as light and gravity, energy and matter are sim­ply beyond humanity’s full grasp. As Albert Einstein said, “The universe is not merely more complicated than we can understand. It’s more complicated than we can imagine.” All I’m saying is that before you go pinning your personal philosophy to the most recent dogmatic certainties of sci­ence, you need to realize that they will be gone tomorrow. Please see science as it really is: the composite work of countless human beings meshing facts with hunches, advancing imaginative ideas with interpretive observations, celebrating successes and hiding errors, baring their biases in the face of opposing points of view, and now and then los­ing all objectivity. (Witness the faithful clinging to Darwin with no factual support. Watch the shoulders shrug over the fossil record that steadfastly refuses to say what it’s supposed to. Perceive the determination not to let a divine foot in the door in the straight-faced theory that aliens must have seeded life on this planet.) Or is it somehow a slam on sci­entists to say that they are really a lot like the rest of us?

Speaking of healthy skepticism, there are just a few things I don’t get. One is how scientists can be confused about whether light is made up of particles or waves, yet be certain it is uncreated . . . and continue to speak as if the case against faith is self-evident. What I don’t understand is why by knowing the laws governing the formation of raindrops, we would know that God does not form them. (We don’t know that about rain, by the way, and still it falls on the “righteous and the unrighteous.”) And I don’t see how life ever ush­ered itself in, how that squirrel named Chance ever scram­bled across the million-lane highway in front of it.

I fail to grasp what is so unreasonable about believing that God made the world, this lone island of life in the blue uni­verse, with an aspect of age. Children like to ask whether Adam and Eve had belly buttons, signs of a babyhood they never had. Sounds silly. But you see, in Christian theology the earth has a belly button, that is, it was created as a mature world, bearing the apparent signs of a history it never expe­rienced. What would have taken a stupendous stretch of time if we would have had to wait for it to happen by itself—take the pinpoints of light flickering from the other end of space or the stunning extravagance of life-forms on this planet—all came to be in the span of a week at the speaking of simple, creative words. This fact alone will forever confound any sort of science that proceeds from naturalistic assumptions. As Martin Luther once said, “A slight error at the beginning becomes very great at the end.” What then if the error at the beginning, at the level of prior assumptions, is colossal?

Here we hit the essential issue: assumptions. Let me be honest about my own presuppositions in the hopes that you will be honest about yours. I simply believe that divine revelation is an immeasurably more reliable way of know­ing the fundamental truths of our existence than is scien­tific investigation. Divine revelation is the Christian epistemology—how we know what we know. God reveals his Truth in his Word. The human lens has proved itself to be cracked and blurry, flawed and limited, and destined to futility. This is shown when the human search for truth invents its own starting points, when human thought is no longer tethered to the “natural knowledge of God,” when reason cuts itself loose from the awareness of the Divine that comes naturally to us all through conscience and the awed contemplation of nature.

I live by faith, you see. My assumption is that if science were ever to scale the mountain of ignorance (by asking of nature the right questions and rightly reading its signs), as the members of the heroic community topped the last rise and ascended to the highest peak, they would find that a classroom of Sunday school children had reached it first— boys and girls at their verses.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light.’”

It would be a mistake for me to move the argument this book is making from the “Thus saith the LORD” of the Bible to the “Here’s what we now know” of even the most brilliant and well-meaning human authorities. In my mind, should I appeal to the numerous underreported findings of science that could support creationism, for example, even if I win the point, I surrender too much. I will have silently conceded that the real reason I know I am right is that some folks with Ph.D.s in quantum physics agree with me. But that is not the reason at all. I refrain from making the hesitant glance in their direction. I give up the passion to avoid sounding stupid, and I cheerfully make my confes­sion of faith in the God who fashions the snowflakes. I won’t even concede that the Bible is true in spiritual issues and is only mistaken in matters of biology or botany or astronomy. The Bible makes no such distinction. You see, my belief is simply not anchored to prevailing scientific the­ory, and it certainly is not tied to the pious, amateur “Christian science” from a previous generation. My con­fession dangles miraculously in midair, held only by the hand of God. Any attempt to buttress God’s revelation with human thinking only diminishes his revelation and obscures the mystery and marvel of it.

“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command.”

By faith. Allow one more analogy, a very personal one. If you brought me evidence of my bride’s unfaithfulness, I don’t care what it is, I would still know that I could trust her, for reasons having nothing to do with the weight of the seeming evidence against her. Some spouses, you say, do turn out to be unfaithful? Yes, but some spouses deserve to be trusted far more than they are, regardless of how things may seem for a time. Just so, I trust God is faithful. That is my assumption. I trust him. But not blindly, as you suppose.

I now direct your eyes to the single, greatest anomaly in the long history of a predictably dying humanity, to the stub­born aberration, the event that had no right to happen. I refer to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. I know that it happened, and I accept all of its earth-shattering ramifica­tions, every single one. I throw my head back and laugh as I think of every thought that needs to be rethought when one has visited ancient Jerusalem. There it is.

I leave it to the scientists to discover where they went wrong. The resurrection of Jesus is the real thing, the once­-for-all-time thing that would not bend down for the test of repeatable experimentation. I worship the Anomaly, the Christ, and let the intellectual chips fall where they may. The minds that resist the miracle are themselves both miracles and fools. Let every fact obediently follow; let every theory dash its head against this rock if it has no room for Truth. He lives.

And there follows an entire worldview, whole and complete—the way things look from atop the hill shaped like a skull. You are authored by God, fashioned and made. You are also a fallen thing, rebelling against your very Life. But he came for the love of you. He died to call you forgiven. Only trust him, and because he lives, you will too. It is his desire to hold you as his own, to sustain your faith against the world’s enlightened condescension, by his own Word. And it is his plan someday to come and take you home.

Call it the God-so-loved-the-world view—the one that successfully predicted such fundamental issues of your exis­tence as meaning and mystery and wonder—the one with answers to such ubiquities as guilt and fear and death. To see this view is to see how much is at stake in this matter of sci­ence versus faith. Where do we come from after all? Ponder a line from journalist Steve Turner: “If chance be the Father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky, and when you hear State of Emergency! Sniper Kills Ten! Troops on Ram­page! Whites go Looting! Bomb Blasts School! It is but the sound of man worshipping his maker.”

Is it so? Or do we come from—and is the way open to return to—the Love, the very essence of God, and the Truth that were at the founding of the universe? So says the Word of God. We come unavoidably back to the real issue. Who are you going to believe?

The Creator thundered from his cloud to the question­ing mind of Job: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?”

Appropriately humbled by those stirring words (again), I listen skeptically to the world’s talk concerning the great puzzle of our existence. A baby girl nuzzles her head against my shoulder, warm puffs of air tickling my neck. And I, a true radical now, remember the humbling beauty of the cos­mos and the vast spaces of knowing that the world’s theo­ries leave out, and I wonder what I did to deserve lapping water or Canada geese, the color blue or middle C. “If you can’t touch it, smell it, kick it, enter its measure into a col­umn, it doesn’t exist,” some like to say. But I inch closer to the puzzle’s Creator as he whispers his pleasures into my ear: “Consider how the lilies grow . . .”


Cling to today’s science if you will, but it will be old tomorrow. My God is forever young, never tired, still delighting in the glorious repetitions of the wonderful world he has made. “[His mercies] are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” As the sun dares to rise golden above another day, I can almost hear the silent whisper of Christ.

“Again.”


 

From More Prepared To Answer © 2004 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

 

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