Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Why I choose science over religion...and you should too!
Estimated reading time: Under 10 Minutes
Main point: Paragraph 1-3
The title of this article may seem shocking and unorthodox coming from a Christian, but it’s really not as radical as you might think. If you give me a chance to explain, I think I can justify it and maybe even convince you to share my view. I choose science over religion because doing so is logical and even biblical. The Bible tells us to examine everything carefully (1 Thess 5:21) and not to judge hypocritically (Matt 7:1-5, Matt 23:27, Rom 12:9); two commands I am obeying and advocating by choosing science over religion. However, don’t think that my view is just a blanket statement that applies to every situation. I will only choose science if making a choice is necessary and after very carefully considering and understanding both sides.
For the most part, science and religion do not overlap, so there is usually no reason to choose one over the other. Science and religion serve different purposes and answer different questions. The purpose of science is to learn about the physical aspects of the universe while religion answers questions about the supernatural and immaterial, such as who is God, what is the purpose of life, and what is morally right, etc. However, there are instances where specific religious claims pertain to the physical universe. Jesus even echoed this statement by saying He tells us of earthly things so we can believe what He tells us about heavenly things (John 3:12). It is only in those rare instances of overlap that I elevate science over religion because the scientific method, although limited to the physical universe, is the most reliable and accurate method for uncovering truth. Science transcends personal experience and can mostly rule out chance, other extraneous factors, personal biases, and errors in reasoning. It uses objective measures and produces results that are testable and repeatable1. It doesn't matter what your beliefs are, where you live, or what your state of mind is - if you do the same experiment, the results will always be the same2. The scientific method is the best and only way to carefully examine religious claims about the physical universe.
It would be foolish to disregard knowledge from a reliable source in favor of a less reliable source. If your doctor looked at the results of medical tests and said you have cancer, but your child said you didn’t have cancer, who would you believe? Absolutely 100% of rational people would choose the doctor. We need to accept belief in God in the same way: based on the best and most reliable information. Christians often do this and recognize the importance of reliability when building a case for the supremacy of the Bible and when rejecting other religious beliefs (including atheism). However, if Christians are not willing to fully apply science (and reason) to their own beliefs, then they are hypocrites! We must evaluate Christianity with the same standards we use for evaluating other people’s views about God, otherwise we lose our claim to truth and our beliefs are merely opinions.
There are many reasons why people become Christians, all of which boil down to truth (if it doesn’t, then I question whether that person is truly a Christian). Christians believe the Bible to be the word of God (2 Tim 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20) and that God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19, Hebrews 6:18, Titus 1:2)3. We really believe God exists and that His son, Jesus, died for our sins (Romans 10:9). Jesus claimed to be the truth (John 14:6) and that knowing the truth would set us free (John 8:32). Truth is of the utmost importance. If Christians don’t hold truth in extremely high regard, there is nothing separating us from the rest of the world.
While the scientific method is the most reliable method for knowing truth, it is limited and imperfect, so we must critically evaluate science and recognize other methods of attaining knowledge such as philosophy (i.e. logic and reason), history and other humanities, personal experience, and divine revelation. Understanding the relationship between all these domains, the limitations of each, and when to use them will help us discern what is really true. In the quest for truth, it is important to gain an understanding of whatever it is we are evaluated. It is just as important to critically evaluate science as it is to critically evaluate religion. In order to do that, we must have a deep understanding of both and their relationship. We need to be aware of their flaws and limitations4, know how science and religion might come in conflict, and recognize how they can help each other.
1.) Science is limited to the material universe, whereas the existence of God is a metaphysical question. Science will never be able to answer the question of whether or not God exists because science cannot give us infinite knowledge. If science can one day tell us what caused the Big Bang, then we will ask what caused that Cause. If it answers that question, then we will ask what caused that, and so on. Eventually we have to recognize that only metaphysics can answer the questions of whether everything needs a cause or if there can be an infinite regression of causes. However, since specific religions make claims pertaining to the material universe, science can evaluate the truth of these claims. For instance, Greek mythology tells us that Apollo literally pulls the sun across the horizon every day. Science has disproved this because we can see with a telescope that there is nothing pulling the sun, not to mention that the sun’s apparent movement is due to earth’s rotation, not a moving sun. Science has disproved Greek mythology. Miracles, on the other hand, are a different question. Atheists often point out that miracles contradict science and therefore, all religions that accept miracles are false. This is the result of confusing science with philosophy. Miracles are instances of supernatural intervention and are beyond the realm of science. When scientists investigate miracles, sometimes they find natural explanations and other times they find no explanation. In either case, they have not shown that miracles do not occur or that there is no supernatural cause. Logically speaking, if the universe was created by an all-powerful supernatural being, then it logically follows that said being could also intervene in the universe anytime He wants to. The difference is in explaining how the universe works based on the laws of nature versus whether or not God occasionally intervenes in the laws He created.
2.) Human error is always present, whether in reading the Bible or doing science. The creation and evolution debate is a perfect example of this for both cases. Most of the Bible is clear and easily understandable, but some verses, including those on creation, are ambiguous. There are very knowledgeable theologians on both sides of the debate that use sound reasoning to support their conclusion. It essentially comes down to the translation of the Hebrew word for day. Because it is used figuratively and literally throughout the Bible, it could be used either way in Genesis as well. Additionally, and I say this as someone who has no bias or conclusion regarding the creation and evolution debate, the science for evolution and creation is also subject to human error. The physical evidence for evolution is the same exact physical evidence used to support creation. Different conclusions are reached due to the underlying philosophical presuppositions of the person who interprets the physical evidence. I have yet to see any evidence for either side that is able to eliminate the other as a possibility4. This is why it is important to recognize where human error can play a role in objective science. Even when the scientific method is properly followed, it is human reasoning that draws conclusions based on the empirical evidence. This means that even objective science often relies on human reasoning ability, and even though it is very good at removing human error, assumptions, and biases, it is still somewhat prone to the same biases and errors as less reliable disciplines or methods for discovering truth.
To recognize human error or ambiguity in science, we need to increase our scientific literacy so that we can distinguish between the different types of sciences and the difference between empirical evidence and reasoned conclusions. Math is fairly certain. The Bible tells us that pi equals 3 (1 Kings 7:23 & 2 Chronicles 4:2; it might even say 3.14 depending on how you do the calculations, click here for more on this issue). This is an estimate, rounded to the nearest whole number so it fits with actual value (3.14159…). If the Bible said pi was 2, 4, any other whole number, or even if it rounded to a closer decimal and did so incorrectly (3.2, 3.3, etc.), then the Bible would be wrong! While math is virtually indisputable, other sciences leave more to question. Physics and chemistry are quite certain; biology, archeology, and geology are less certain; and the social sciences are the least certain. Regardless of the type of science, we also need to consider limitations within any specific experiment and be aware of the potential for human error is reaching conclusions that extend beyond the observation-based results.
3.) Science and religion can inform each other. That statement is probably very controversial to many scientists and many theists, but a little critical thinking shows it to be historically true and it will likely be true in the future as well.. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the Bible (or other religious texts) is sometimes vague or ambiguous. If we simply do not know what the Bible is telling us, then we can and should use science to inform our knowledge of the Bible. This was the case when Galileo discovered that earth orbits the sun. The Bible uses common and poetic language, some of which was used to support the view that the earth is the center of the universe (Genesis 1:14-18, Psalm 104:5, Job 26:7 & Isaiah 40:22). In this case, people read too much into the Bible and science was able to point this out to us and give us a better understanding of God and His Word. On the other hand, religion can also inform science. It can give us moral boundaries to use while doing science (cloning, stem cells, ethics boards, etc.) and it can also offer hypotheses for us to test. The benefits of this are probably most clear in archeology where the Bible has led to numerous discoveries. Even more broadly, science assumes a uniform and logical universe, an assumption that is unfounded without God, and something that led many early scientists to do their work.
Faith is believing what is not seen (Heb 11:1), but this does not mean believing without reason. Faith should be the product of reason (1 Peter 3:15), not an enemy of it. Christians have a vast and comprehensive list of reasons on which we can build our faith. We have strong philosophical and scientific arguments that make sense of the beginning and design of the universe beyond what naturalism can explain. We have historical evidence for the resurrection and the reliability of the Bible. We have personal experiences ranging from miracles, drastic life change, and being filled with joy from our relationship with Him. We have scientific confirmation of numerous specific claims in the Bible and despite many opportunities for science to disprove the Bible, it never has in any instance. Not even once, regardless of the claims of ill-informed skeptics.
There are certainly what appear to be disagreements between the science and the Bible, but closer investigation reveals these to be the result of ambiguity or linguistic misunderstandings. One instance that initially gave me trouble is that the Bible says rabbits chew the cud (Lev 11:6 & Deut 14:7), which means they regurgitate their food and eat it again. Rabbits do not chew the cud; however, they do practice refection (they eat their poo). The word used is usually translated as chew the cud, but a more accurate translation of the Hebrew is to say eat partially digested food, which is aligned with scientific observation.
All truth is God’s truth and so the more we learn through science, the more we learn about God. All biblical claims are either supported by science or are yet to be tested. My view of science and religion should not be revolutionary, nor should it be scary. Christians do not need to fear science. We need to embrace it and do so fully. Increasing our scientific literacy will lead to stronger faith, a deeper and more fulfilling relationship with God by helping us learn about Him, and it will help us fulfill our God given purpose of bringing the Gospel to non-believers, especially those who are scientifically oriented.
When there seems to be a disagreement between science and faith, I am not advocating that anyone just blindly choose one over the other. I am advocating that everyone should take the time to fully understand both sides; to check for ambiguity, uncertainty, and sound reasoning. Additionally we should also apply this type of scrutiny to information that supports ours views, not only when our views our challenged. So in theory, I will choose science over religion if there ever is a disagreement, but the science has to be sound and the contradiction must be unambiguous. However, in practice, I am reasonably certain that there never will be a real, genuine disagreement between science and the Bible, so I will never have to make a choice between the two. In fact, I cannot even think of a possible instance where there could be a clear contradiction between the two (beyond what is already in agreement). Hopefully, I have convinced you to share my view.
Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.
1 Corinthians 14:20 (NIV)
“Test everything. Hold on to the good" (1 Thess. 5:21). The Bible calls for an exploration of the truth with eyes wide open and mind engaged. Permitting scientific and spiritual curiosity to work together sets people free to run toward, not away from, the complex why questions. – Hugh Ross (from, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is)
1. God is the most reliable source; however, He chose to reveal Himself most thoroughly through the Bible, which we know is true mostly due to historical and philosophical support. God could have made it so that nature even more clearly points to His glory or He could speak to us through large scale, miraculous, and indisputable ways, but for reasons which we can only guess at such as free will, the fall, or others, He decided to use more uncertain methods.
2. You may get different results occasionally, especially in the social sciences; however, the differences will be attributable to slightly different conditions, which means it was not the same experiment.
3. The Bible was written by God, not men, and so it must be true (otherwise it would be written by men). To paraphrase Norman Geisler, the Bible is literally true, but every word is not true literally. The Bible can and does use figurative, poetic, metaphorical, or common language and still be true in the same way we use that type of language in our speech. While it was written for people of that time, it was also written to transcend culture, so the principles apply even today and always will.
4. Religion is limited by its concept of God and logic (which is usually part of the concept of God, but is a factor regardless of recognizing it). For instance, the Christian God is love, good, and logically. These attributes are part of Him character and He is limited by them. He can not act in a way that is opposed to His attributes.
5. If you haven’t investigated creationism and it seems kooky, I know, I’ve been there. I thought it was completely irrational, unscientific, and anti-intellectual until I honestly and humbly took the time to try to understand it and think things through from that perspective. If you want to know more about it, Answers in Genesis has a plethora of great resources.
Thanks for reading. If you have a question, comment, or disagreement, please write it in the comments.
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