Roy M Cashmore has a look at Science and the Christian Faith
In his review of John Twisleton’s book ELUCIDATIONS, (ND September 2021) Barry A Orford made to remark: ‘Would that more scientist-theologians would put their heads above the parapet to challenge the shallow scientism which is pedalled enthusiastically in the media.’ In my younger days I taught both science (especially biology) and RE, and am a Reader of more than 50 years, so I saw this as a challenge.
Most people will cite Darwin and his Origin of the Species as setting science and theology on a seeming collision course but others include Gallileo and his telescope and Copernicus who challenged the literal reading of Genesis by saying that the earth was not flat nor as described in with water under the earth, and that the heavenly bodies did not simply show through holes in the firmament but moved on orbits. Then Darwin challenged specific creation with the theory of evolution. These all resulted in the Church branding them heretics and thereby the rift between science and Christianity.
As it became clear: the earth was roughly spherical and revolved around the sun, and that living species do evolve, not least in the changes brought about by plant and animal breeders. The Church has been slow to relinquish the belief that Genesis is literally true though divinely inspired. By anyone’s understanding, humans did not appear until the sixth day (Genesis 1.1 et seq) so what human was there to witness the events of the first five days? And that account contradicts the Adam and Eve story (Genesis 2.4 et seq) as the former states that ‘God created human beings in our own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them’. Alan Richardson in his book Genesis I-XI (SCM Press; 1953, 1963) points out that the former version was from the P source/tradition and the second from the J source/tradition, and later editor(s) of the Pentateuch did not attempt to conflate them. The head of RE when I was teaching (a Baptist minister) put it this way ‘Genesis does not tell how things were created but why they were’.
Once the Church took the stance that those who contradicted Genesis were heretics, it was bound for collision. But, interestingly, most scientists admit they do not know what caused the Big Bang. We as Christians, together with other monotheists, have the answer: God the Creator.
I do not see a conflict if we do not hold to the literal truth of the opening chapters of Genesis but accept that it was divinely inspired; to teach that God created all things and that sin did not come from God but from the devil and human folly. We can question the literal truth of the early Scriptures as they were passed on orally for ages. Later Scriptures we might see as more reliable as they were committed to writing much sooner and that includes the New Testament books. There are those who have said that it is not necessary to believe in the Virgin Birth of our Lord. I say two things to that: if Jesus was not of the virgin birth of the Holy Spirit, would he not have been just another prophet and not the Son of God who, St John asserts, In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God? And as we accept that God created everything in the universe yet doubt the Virgin Birth or even the Resurrection, it’s like saying ‘I can see how the Blackpool Tower was made but I can’t see how they got the flagpole on the top’.
Christians should accept those scientific theories which are well demonstrated and embrace the positive aspects they bring to light. Believing that God created all the natural laws, the energy and matter which has been required for them to work and bring about this wonderful, complex, dynamic universe in which we find ourselves is far more stupendous than believing that each organism was produced, almost like a model that could replicate itself but be unable to change to adapt itself to cope with changing circumstances and conditions.
To ask unbelievers and scientists: Where did the matter and energy come from to produce the universe? Who established the laws of nature which the matter obeys? For Christians, the answer is God the Creator, the force that was before anything else. This is belief in a God who created a fully dynamic universe, who cares so much for us to send his Only Son to save us, has performed miracles, and inspired humans to produce great works and discover the inbuilt wonders of his creation.
We must speak out: the Church is not opposed to science. For we are surely all grateful for the drugs, vaccines and treatments which are available to promote our health and prolong our lives. I was one of twelve in the science department when I taught. Apart from one, all were practising Christians; the other was a practising Jew. So much for scientists not being believers!