“There is no quicker way for a scientist to bring discredit upon himself and upon his profession than roundly to declare – particularly when no declaration of any kind is called for – that science knows, or soon will know, the answers to all questions worth asking, and that questions which do not admit a scientific answer are in some way non-questions or ‘pseudo-questions’ that only simpletons ask and only the gullible profess to be able to answer. … The existence of a limit to science is, however, made clear by its inability to answer childlike elementary questions having to do with first and last things – questions such as ‘How did everything begin?’; ‘What are we all here for?’;’What is the point of living?’ .” Peter Medawar (Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1960)
I ran across this quote recently (in a book I will be reviewing soon), and was instantly smitten with it. That has been a thematic thought in my opinions about science, but I’m not a Nobel winner, or even college educated, so it always seemed a little presumptuous to say it myself. But the truth is, science cannot answer every question humans ask. And science, however advanced, must always admit that there is more to know.
In spite of my hesitation, I have been telling my children this from their first introduction to all things science-related. We don’t avoid science. We are Christians, we lean towards the literalist view of the Bible, we believe in God, and God who is Creator and actively involved in his Creation.
At the same time though, we are favorable towards our children continuing education well beyond highschool, as their callings in life may require. And in furthering their education, they are going to encounter a secular/humanistic presentation of science. In my observation of my peers who were raised with a super sheltered approach to science, many of them ditched faith right quick when as adults they were presented with mainstream college-level science. It’s a fairly common theme in “I survived funadmentalism” discussions. The two options seem to be “Cling to your silly fairy tale” or “Be a rational, thinking person and realize that Science rules, not God.” Well honestly, if you put it that way, who would choose the first?
Fortunately, I was raised by parents who are intelligent, intellectual, and came to faith while studying the sciences required for a medical degree. I heard my dad’s story again and again–ultimately the complexity and order of life made it impossible for him to have faith that it all came from nothing and developed without direction. Science, theology, and the combination of the two were the subjects of many conversations and debates in our family. It is good that my children will have examples to look to, when the question arises as to whether they can believe in God without ditching their intellect.
It is good also that we can look to history for people whose faith not only did not prohibit their investigations of the natural world, but in fact kept the light of science and knowledge burning during some very dark times in history. Even more recently, many of those to whom important scientific discoveries are attributed saw no conflict between their personal faith and their work. Among them: Copernicus, Galileo (yes, really), Descartes, Newton, Faraday, Kelvin. Much more recently, Dr. Francis Collins directed the Human Genome Project and currently directs the National Institutes of Health. He has this to say about the claimed discordance between faith and science:
“Actually, I don’t see that any of the issues that people raise as points of contention between science and faith are all that difficult to resolve. Many people get hung up on the whole evolution versus creation argument ‘” one of the great tragedies of the last 100 years is the way in which this has been polarized. On the one hand, we have scientists who basically adopt evolution as their faith, and think there’s no need for God to explain why life exists. On the other hand, we have people who are believers who are so completely sold on the literal interpretation of the first book of the Bible that they are rejecting very compelling scientific data about the age of the earth and the relatedness of living beings. It’s unnecessary. I think God gave us an opportunity through the use of science to understand the natural world. The idea that some are asking people to disbelieve our scientific data in order to prove that they believe in God is so unnecessary.
If God chose to create you and me as natural and spiritual beings, and decided to use the mechanism of evolution to accomplish that goal, I think that’s incredibly elegant. And because God is outside of space and time, He knew what the outcome was going to be right at the beginning. It’s not as if there was a chance it wouldn’t work. So where, then, is the discordancy that causes so many people to see these views of science and of spirit as being incompatible? In me, they both exist. They both exist at the same moment in the day. They’re not compartmentalized. They are entirely compatible. And they’re part of who I am. “
The rest of the interview is well worth reading, as he describes his journey to faith. Not surprisingly, C.S. Lewis played a major role in that.
Now obviously, Francis Collins’ views are in conflict with those who lead towards Apologia-type science. I have heard that if one does not believe in the literal 24-hour, 6-day creation that one must automatically deny the work of Christ. I disagree strongly with that. Just as it is foolish to think that because we know science, we know everything, it is foolish to think that we humans can have a perfect and complete understanding of things we were not there to observe and couldn’t comprehend even if we were. I believe that God created the world. I believe in a literal Adam and Eve, and a literal Garden of Eden. I believe it was created in perfection, and was corrupted when sin entered into the equation. I accept as truth the record of the Old Testament as the history of God’s beloved Israel and as the foreshadowing of his arrangement for the redeeming of sin and the conquering of death through Jesus. In that way, I’m a fundie through and through. But believing all that still leaves a great deal unknown. The Bible’s record focuses on a very small corner of the earth, and on a specific people, for a specific purpose. Leaving a great deal untold. Even believing in the creation story as recounted in the Bible to me leaves open the very real possibility that the account was given in a way our tiny human minds would be able to understand and accept, and there’s probably a whole lot that went on, and some interesting wrinkles in the fabric of space and time. We seem able to accept that when reading Revelation, but somehow not for Genesis, in spite of the fact that the divine creation of a universe out of nothing is a pretty big departure from natural law, just as the concept of heaven is.
So for science, the thing we want to remember is that we don’t know everything, and that not everything can be answered by science, and that sometimes, what is presented as fact is in fact a guess. But none of that prevents us from observing, learning, searching, seeking, and making educated guesses. These things are not wrong, and they are not anti-faith, and neither is our faith opposed to them.
We believe that Faith and Reason can live together in the same house without tearing each other apart. Further, we believe that Faith and Reason need each other to each reach their full potential.