People of Faith, We Can Love Science
People of faith shouldn’t fear science. In fact, we can love it because it’s similar in some ways to faith.
Wait, Let Me Explain
No, I am not equating them, they are different things. Each is a different way of processing information and synthesizing past knowledge with present questions for future decisions.
I must do a bit of setup first to explain how we came to be situated within a long line of passed-along knowledge both in science knowledge and in faith accumulation. My goal is to convince you, if you are person of faith, is that because of our faith, we can embrace what our fellow humans are learning about our world. We should join in the contemporary dialogues concerning a number of scientific topics especially when it comes to taking care of the blue dot we call home.
While this is intended to ease people of faith into comfortably taking part in scientific appreciation, I am happy to welcome people who don’t consider themselves people of faith as well. I do not have a scientific background, but as a university graduate I have had opportunity to take science courses, as a Graphic Designer I have had opportunity to assist in materials promoting scientific topics. My own faith background is Christianity, so I write from that standpoint; I have no authority or expertise from any other position.
Some Definitions and Explanations
I assume that if you’re reading this, you have some operating definition of science. For example, we know it’s the discipline which explains why the sky is blue, it has illuminated the reason why blood is red when we see it, and it tells us about the many mechanisms that make some flowers’ petals a rich violet color. There is more that science explains to us, no doubt, but we learn from it about the way things work here on the blue dot where we live.
Faith isn’t as easily defined as it’s usually not peer-reviewed. It has occurred all over the world and in appears throughout history so I can’t quantify it within a ten minute read. The best I can do is offer my own operating definition of faith.
Faith is a placeholder for what I don’t yet know, a placeholder for an unknown value. When that value is discovered, it will be assigned its own place in my understanding, given its own name. “How is Faith different from simply expecting to know or expecting to learn?” you may ask.
In some contexts, not yet knowing means refraining from further decision or action until more information is available, and this is good. For example, I can’t purchase a house until I know the cost. I start looking up prices, interest rates, market values to gain ideas about the financials. I do that research because I expect to know. But, I knew that I would buy a house so I began to save money even before the research or the purchase decision. This is faith in the sense that I use. faith means that I will know, so I start acting by saving money.
Everything is Built upon Something Else
Science didn’t appear out of nowhere. It’s the result of millenia of knowledge transmitted and recorded among various cultures and media. This vast knowledge was gathered, refined, and structured in the experiments and tests of thinkers who lived long before I was born. Mars explorations and space station initiatives means that this process will continue long after my death.
“If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” — Sir Isaac Newton
My Faith didn’t spontaneously arise from dirt. It too is the result of the synthesis of many persons’ writings before me, from across cultures and time.
Ancient Humanity Was smart
Ancient humanity wasn’t dumb or any less intellectually-capable than we are today. They didn’t have the technology or the centuries of accumulated knowledge that we have today, but their minds were just as vibrant as ours. That we land satellites on spinning comets in the black of space shouldn’t be taken as proof of our intellectual superiority.
Take these ancient human accomplishments into consideration. Speaking of satellites, we land them on asteroids, partly due to our astronomy knowledge. Astronomy incorporates some things we learned as far back as the Chaldeans who wanted to map the heavens, to know when the constellations would cross their night skies again. How far is it to the comets, the moon? Eratosthenes, an ancient Greek, calculated the circumference of the earth using shadows in a water cistern and some known distances. We know that he performed those calculations rather well because we can confirm his accuracy today using satellite cartography. Think of the egyptian pyramids, attuned to celestial objects’ positions and tooled with such precision that their component bricks fit together nearly perfectly.
Ancient humanity was smart and our modern science began upon their efforts and the subsequent efforts of many others who lived after them.
It’s the same way with faith. It, like science, benefits from the efforts of those who lived before me. We ended with Egypt’s example earlier, let me continue from that example. More specifically than Egypt, I need to start with one of its native citizens, a person who lived in two cultures, fluently spoke two languages, and continually evaluated two worldviews.
I am talking about the Old Testament figure Moses.
If you don’t know his story, it’s fascinating. While he lived in two cultures, he never quite fit into either of them.
He had a dual cultural heritage because of the way he was stealthily raised by his own biological mother. She raised him while she worked as his nanny, but employed by his adopted mother, the Pharoah’s daughter. The Pharoah’s daughter decided to adopt him when she found him in a basket afloat in the Nile in a basket. I won’t blame you if you immediately think of an outrageous reality TV right now, but, really, you should read the story for yourself.
He was educated in the best egyptian school (he had great connections). The educational privileges of growing up in the world superpower of his day and his dual-culture experience came in quite handy as he negotiated between a Pharoah and the Hebrew people enslaved to the Egyptians.
When the Hebrews were finally released, Moses led the entire Hebrew nation in their eastward emigration to Canaan. During this time Moses penned the first five books of the Old Testament, provided a written record of the Hebrews’ forebears, setup the initial justice system for the Hebrews, codified some of their laws, recorded their faith practices, instituted hygienic guidelines, implemented property laws and familial inheritance, to name a few. I don’t think it’s a stretch to describe Moses as a prototypical renaissance man.
Moses also informed the Hebrews about cosmological things but within some limitations I hope to explain. He can’t explain heat transfers, matter coalescence, the solar ecliptic, or even the tilt of the Earth. Even with his own Egyptian schooling in such things, there is a likely obstacle he faced in delivering such detailed knowledge of the cosmos to the newly-freed Hebrews: they lacked a formal education. Moses became their first teacher.
Simplicity for sake of the audience is elegance
The Hebrews lived in Egypt for the past 430 years prior to their emigration. Much of that time they were enslaved and treated harshly as low-level cattle attendants. The Hebrews weren’t given access to the grand learning accumulated by the Egyptians. Whether it was knowledge gained by Egypt’s own efforts, or collected from earlier civilizations such as the Chaldean’s astronomical observations, the Hebrews weren’t allowed into the Egyptians’ libraries or classrooms.
“In Science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.” — C.S. Lewis
Given this disadvantage, Moses had to keep the cosmology lessons simple. While Hebrews today hold an impressive number of Nobel prizes the Hebrews under Moses tutelage weren’t ready to hear about what Moses knew of the heavens. We can’t know what Moses knew about astronomy, but he wrote about matter coming together to form the Earth (Genesis 1:2, 1:9). Maybe we should ask about what he didn’t write?
We Should Learn to Tend the Garden Better
Alongside Moses’ curtailed lectures on the logistics involved in the Earth’s formation to the Hebrews, we who live today have the enormous body of collected observations after before Moses’ life. While Moses is a great historic figure, influential to a thriving modern democracy, we should not limit our own scientific zeal to his writings.
Whether we watch rocket launches or consider the modern day efforts to care for the Earth, we are taking part in the same responsibilities that Moses mentioned when he wrote about allowing the land to lay fallow after crop yields (Exodus 23:10–11). When we ensure that our automobile exhaust systems are properly functioning we are taking care of the same garden that early humans tended. As we take care to eat healthy foods, avoiding processed chemicals, we are following in the same admonitions towards a healthy diet that Moses demonstrated for the early Hebrews.
We Can Be Better Informed
We disrespect the records of Moses accomplishments while establishing the Hebrews when we attempt to say things that the Bible does not say. When we take the Bible from its stated role of communicating Jesus Christ’s redemptive mission and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3–4) and teaching us about our eternal value to God, we are misreading the Bible. The Bible isn’t meant to be a science text, it’s meant to earnestly transmit to us what Christ says of His own role (John 14:6).
What Happens Next?
Because of our rebellion we broke nature, we broke creation, we began the process of wasting the Earth away. We broke ourselves too (Romans 3:23).
I have no authority to tell anyone what steps are needed to fix the problems we’ve caused to our fellow humans and our blue dot orbiting around the sun. If we consider what Jesus said about the surging water levels (Luke 21) or Paul talking about creation’s suffering (Romans 8), we are guilty and we are responsible for the planet and our sin.
We need to come to a right relationship with Christ before we can fix those things that we can fix. Remember that others are broken too and if they are trying to fix the world around us, then let’s remember that Christ died for them too. Maybe we can help each other.
The Bible isn’t meant to be a science textbook. It’s meant to show us the way to salvation in Christ. Let’s cherish it for what Christ has accomplished to emigrate us to be with Him one day while we cherish the place upon the blue dot where we now live.
“On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.” —Martin Luther