Please go to www.natureandscripture.com to continue reading this blog. Thank you!
Thursday, December 23, 2021
Friday, August 7, 2020
Christians Should Not Be Afraid of Science: The Historical Use of Science to Inform Us About Scripture
I recently gave a talk at a local youth group on how current science supports the Genesis creation account and how science provides evidence not only that God exists but can tell us something about God and the truth of the Bible. When I was finished, a parent spoke up and basically said that I shouldn’t be using science to help inform us about God. The Bible actually teaches the opposite. Scripture is constantly telling us that the study of nature will point us to God. Since studying nature is doing science, the Bible teaches that we should do science to learn about God!
We see several examples in scripture showing us that it is important to God for us to know about the universe. The Old Testament teaches that Solomon was wiser than all other men; 1st Kings lists some of the topics about which Solomon was wise.
He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish.
King Solomon was a naturalist! God chose to give biological knowledge to Solomon, which he then shared with “people of all nations.” Information about the natural world - also called science - must be important to God. Solomon understood this when he said, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.”
Psalm 8 compares the universe to God.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him.
We obviously have to know about nature in order for this comparison to work; we must have already done some science in order to see how great God is. When we see the incredible immenseness of the universe, we realize how much God must care to pay attention to such a small speck. The more we learn about how fine-tuned the moon and stars have to be for life to exist on earth, the more we see the love that God has for us. Psalm 19 directly tells us that the universe will teach us about God, so we need to do some cosmology, astronomy and geology to see that the heavens actually do “declare the glory of God”.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
Paul begins with science when speaking to the Gentiles! In chapter 14 of Acts, Paul is speaking to the people in Lystra who had tried to make him and Barnabas into the gods Hermes and Zeus. Paul, of course, tells them that he and Barnabas are just men, but then he adds, “…you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” Paul then goes on to say that nature can testify to this God.
Here in Acts 14, however, we find the first recorded evangelistic message to an audience with no background in Judaism at all. So, it’s no surprise that Paul doesn’t start to talk about the way Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy (unlike Acts 10:43)! Paul tells them that the natural world is God’s testimony of his goodness and his interest in them. That is, he appeals to natural revelation, not to special revelation.
The greatest evangelist in history actually begins with science when telling non-Christians (who have no background in the church) about Jesus. Science can be a perfect starting point for evangelism today as well. Many people have at least a cursory knowledge of science, while the number of people that have no knowledge of the Bible or Christianity is increasing. Our society also tends to take “scientific” knowledge as truth while it tends to be skeptical of “spiritual” knowledge.
When Paul is in Athens, as recorded in chapter 17 of Acts, early in his speech at the Areopagus Paul talks about, “The God who made the world and everything in it...” Paul’s beginning point here is again with nature; pointing to the created world to show that the Christian God, while having created everything, is actually too great to be worshiped as part of the created world. When we do science, we are looking at the creation, which then can point us to the creator. Paul explains in Romans 1 why he chooses to begin with science when talking to those with no background in Judaism or Christianity.
For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
Looking at nature is enough to know that God exists and pointing to nature can be a beginning point to showing people that there is a God. Science is our current way of studying nature, so beginning your evangelism with science is a great way – and a Biblical way - to be able to tell people about Jesus!
Historically, Christianity has been a religion in which science was encouraged and even used to help interpret scripture. In the Middle Ages, as most people believe, some of the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, & Galen (the “Classical tradition”) caused suspicion, hostility, and condemnation from the church. But more often, critical reflection about the nature of the world was tolerated and even encouraged by medieval religious leaders. Many of the church fathers had been educated in the classical tradition before converting to Christianity and had acquired habits of rational inquiry. They used these tools to help develop Christian doctrine and to help defend the faith against detractors. For example, Aristotle’s philosophy could be used to rationally argue the existence of God.
Consequently, many of the church fathers expressed at least limited approval of the classical tradition. For example, the second and third century writers Athenagoras, Clement, and Origen all found Greek philosophy a useful tool in the defense of Christianity. Athenagoras marshaled the authority of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics in favor of monotheism. Clement attacked the earliest Greek philosophers for their atheism. But he [Clement] also acknowledged that certain philosophers and poets bore testimony to the truth, and that within the philosophical tradition there is a “slender spark, capable of being fanned into flame, a trace of wisdom and an impulse from God.” Tertullian himself viewed Christian religion as the fulfillment of Greek rationality, and he both advocated and engaged in philosophical activity.
Medieval Scholastics deeply valued Aristotle and his writings and believed that his teachings on reason could be incorporated into church theology. Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine), one of the most important Christian church fathers during the 4th and 5th century, wrote at length about the connection between the Genesis account in the Bible and the natural sciences contained in the classical tradition. Augustine had no problem using natural science to help interpret scripture. Roger Bacon agreed with Augustine.
His goal was to demonstrate that the pagan learning of the classical tradition was a vital resource, capable of offering essential services to theology and the church; and moreover that it posed no insuperable religious threat, that suitably disciplined and purged of error, it would serve as a faithful handmaiden of religion and the church.
Thomas Aquinas’ writings in the 13th century were the culmination of this thought; combining the theological principles of faith with Aristotle’s philosophical principles of reason.
Thomas Aquinas as biblical exegete, metaphysician, and philosopher of nature offers us a rich array of insights for contemporary discourse on the relationship among sacred texts, the natural sciences, and philosophy. He can help us to avoid the whirlpool of a reductionist materialism as well as the stumbling block of biblical literalism. His principles continue to serve as an anchor of intelligibility in a sea of confusing claims.
Augustine also wanted Christians to be knowledgeable about the natural world and use it as a handmaiden of theology and religion. He worried about Christians talking nonsense about science and how that would hurt the religion.
Augustine made it clear that although scriptural knowledge is vastly superior to knowledge gained through the senses, the latter is inestimably superior to ignorance. Moreover, he worried that Christians, naively interpreting scripture, might express absurd opinions on cosmological issues, this provoking ridicule among better informed pagans and bringing the Christian faith into disrepute.
Taking a quick, but relevant digression, Augustine’s warning to Christians is still relevant today. Bernard Ramm in the 1950’s observed this exact thing and gave a similar warning.
It is impossible to settle the complex problems of Bible-and-science, theological and empirical fact without a well-developed Christian theism and philosophy of science. For example, the idea of creation is rather complex. Evangelicals were not always aware of the great deal of thought put into this matter by Augustine and Aquinas. As a result, evangelicals posed the problems of modern science as resolving down to : (i) fiat, instantaneous creationism; or (ii) atheistic developmentalism. This is certainly a gross over-simplification, not a genuine probing, of the entire concept of creation.
This way of thinking has resulted in science being taught with absolute disregard of biblical statements and Christian perspectives. Science mostly is done with no interest as to what the Bible says on the subject and is now developed and controlled by people who do not believe in the scientific credibility of the Bible. Both science and theology are hurt when we operate as if the divide between them exists.
Back to the Middle Ages, Augustine wanted the interpretation of scripture to stay consistent with the cosmology and physics of the classical tradition and used the natural sciences in his role as a theologian and bible interpreter. Christians should think of Scripture and Creation as two “books” that should be read together for understanding of the fullness of God’s self-revelation; science is a God-given tool for discerning the handiwork of God in Creation and is fully compatible with God’s Word revealed in Scripture.
Article 2 of the Belgic Confession of 1561 states: We know God by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: God’s eternal power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict humansand to leave them without excuse. Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for God’s glory and for our salvation.
God has put us in this universe and made us curious because what we learn about nature teaches us about Him. Biochemistry is showing us that only an incredible mind could be responsible for the information and intricate systems we are finding. Cosmology is teaching us the grandeur and vastness of the universe; which had to be created by something even more grand. Geology and biology are showing us the incredible fine-tuning needed for life to exist on earth and the care that had to be taken by the creator to make a home for us. The very small and the very large both point us to God and show us His characteristics and His greatness. The Bible tells us to do science for this very reason. Christians throughout history have followed this instruction; it has been to the detriment of Christianity when we don’t.
 1 Kings 4:33 ESV
 Proverbs 6:6 ESV
 Psalm 8:3 ESV
 Psalm 19: 1-2 ESV
 C. John Collins, Science & Faith, Friends or Foes?, Crossway Books, 2003, page 190
 Acts 17:24
 Romans 1:20
 David C. Linderg, When Science and Christianity Meet, University of Chicago Press, 2003
 David C. Linderg, When Science and Christianity Meet, University of Chicago Press, 2003, page 12
 ibid, page 24
 ibid, page 14
 Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture, William B Eerdmans Publishing, 1954, page 19