When Science Meets Faith
by Michael M. Chau
Science and Faith, contrary to what many people think, are not mutually exclusive. Many great scientists, such as Newton, Leibniz, Galileo Galilei, and Pascal, were devout Christians. Other more modern scientists, such as Einstein, Heisenberg, and Dirac, have also had strong religious leanings. So from where does the notion of a dichotomy between Science and Faith come?
Several examples can be given:
(1)The suppression of Science by Religious Authority apart from True Faith
For a long time the Earth was considered the static center of the universe, and all stars, including the Sun, revolved around the Earth. Later scientific discovery proved that the Sun is stationary and the Earth rotates around the Sun. Some church authorities, substituting the Bible with their own bias, suppressed this discovery in history, leading to the mistaken belief that Faith conflicts with Science. Nowadays, advanced astronomy has shown that neither the Earth, nor the Sun, nor the galactic center of the universe, for that matter, is stationary.
(2) The Erroneous Idea that “Science is Invincible”
Newton’s Principle of Mechanics, a landmark achievement in the history of Science, offered a unified explanation to the movements of celestial objects in the universe. His work led to the mistaken notion that gravity between bodies is the only effect, and mechanical movement is the only form of movement in nature. This extreme example led to the idea that there was no need for God. Later in the nineteenth century when the microscopic world of matter presented the complexity of the real world, Newtonian Mechanics came to an end. In the twentieth century Science has moved forward at an unprecedented rate, solving problems but at the same time presenting more difficult ones. The twenty-first century Nobel Laureate in Physics, David Gross, made a good analogy. He said, “A physicists is like a mountaineer, as he moves up the mountain, the mountain appears to be further away.” People gradually realized human wisdom when compared with God is far less than a bucket of water in the sea.
(3) The Bible, ahead of the Misunderstandings caused by Science
According to Genesis, God created everything in the universe in a short six-day period. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity confirmed this as inevitable. According to relativity, the time coordinate system experienced by an observer at rest is not the same as the time experienced by an observer in motion. While the observer in motion experienced a short period of time, to the stationary observer it appears long. Such difference increases as the motion speed increases. God can move at a very high speed, and with great energy for power. So to God it appeared to be six days of time, but to the world it appears as hundreds of millions of years. How wonderful and amazing the Bible is—not changing an iota in millennia! The modern philosopher Karl Jaspers, commenting about the scientific community, said: “In Science, half understanding led people to give up Faith; complete knowledge led people back to Faith.”
Science and Faith have moved gradually from disharmony to harmony. Scientific conclusions are temporary, relative, and can always be improved. They are Variables. Faith based on the revelation of God is Constant. The Bible says in Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This implies, as the modern Big Bang Theory asserts, that the universe has a beginning. Science can witness Faith, but it cannot understand Faith. Science itself does not create an obstacle to Faith.
Christian Faith Supports Scientific Development
Christian Faith and Science are not only in harmony, but Faith also supports the development of Science. Faith provides an objective material world for man to study. The first chapter of Genesis describes God creating everything in the universe in six days. He created light on the first day. Modern physics has confirmed that light is the most basic matter. Gradually God created inorganic matter on earth, then plants and animals. Finally, on the sixth day, God made His most beloved Man in His own image, and assigned him the management authority over all the other creatures. Man, being above all creatures, is entitled to know all creatures, to ask questions about Nature, and acquire scientific knowledge. Only God is the sole creator of Science, and superior to Science. Without a real objective belief, there can be no development of modern Science.
The Christian Faith points out the laws of Nature and Life, which await man’s discovery. Science is God’s creation, and the foundation of Faith is the revelation of God. This omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent God created Nature with His supreme wisdom so that everything is rational, and according to principles. Through diligent exploration and endeavor, man seeks to unlock God’s infinite wisdom, and glorify Him through Science.
Christian Faith encourages the practice of Science. The starting point of Science is practice, and with practice come experiments. To practice is to pay with industrious work, including both manual and mental labor. To Christian Faith work is very important. The beginning of Genesis describes God laboring to create the universe in six days, and on the seventh day He rested. The world’s six-day workweek labor system today is derived from this. Jesus Christ was born and raised in a working family. The Apostle Paul labored during his preaching journeys through tentmaking to support self and other poor brothers and sisters. The couple in charge of the Corinthian church, Aquila and his wife Priscilla, not only did missionary work, they wove tents as well. This emphasis of work culture has been wide spread in the western societies. Societies that pay attention to labor, respect labor, and glorify labor, cultivate an atmosphere for the development of Science.
Consider the example of the Greek culture, one built on leisure provided by slave labor. The Greek culture had high achievements in literature, art, and philosophy, while natural Science paled in comparison. Likewise in China, the dominant tradition—the Confucian culture—also despised labor. In feudal societies, the socalled intellectuals mainly studied old literature, composed poetry, wrote, painted, and engaged in other mental recreations. The mental workers governed the manual workers who supplied them with their needs. Such a degree of contempt for laborers in a society is unlikely to produce modern Science.
After Christianity spread throughout Europe, the Germanic societies believed that before the law of God everyone is equal. They believed that God created Nature, and He delights in people who are diligent in workmanship. Beliefs such as these promoted the birth and development of Science and civilization. The Bible says, “Blessed is the Nation whose God is the LORD.” The belief that “Scientific accomplishments can only come about by the denial of religion” is proven false by both the Bible and history.
Proper Applications of Science
Nature is a creation of God, and Faith originates from revelation given by God. Science is the knowledge given Man to manage Nature. Science is, ultimately, the link between the Creator and all His creations. It is obvious that Faith is above Science in that hierarchy.
Freedom and Reasoning are two characteristics of life. Among all animals, Man has the highest intelligence, and Science is a product of reasoning. Like Freedom, Reasoning can be applied correctly or incorrectly. God’s intent is that Man use his intelligence to add to his well-being. Science, however, has sometimes been abused by Man, causing harm, bringing disasters, and adding to his miseries.
From the sixteenth to nineteenth century, Science progressed rapidly while Faith was marginalized. Extreme ideas, such as “Science is Power” and “Science is Superior” were rampant, and Man became a slave to Materialism. Man was enjoying material riches but his mind was losing spiritual discernment which ultimately threatened his own survival. The consequence of departing arrogantly from God and blindly abusing scientific knowledge brings about destruction. Faith, on the other hand, refreshes and lifts the human spirit from emptiness to hopelessness.
Man as Unfaithful Managers
Genesis Chapter 1 states that God created the universe, and communicated directly with the first couple, Adam and Eve. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). Even in the abundance of the Paradise, Man still had the responsibility to labor, tend, and take care of the garden. Such laboring is part of living, and God said it is good.
God gave Man scientific knowledge to manage the garden well. He educated Adam through inspiration and he gave Adam the freedom to apply his knowledge to name every living creature according to their special features. Adam understood and managed well, until he and Eve were tricked by Satan, and through their own greediness disobeyed God and ate the fruit God had forbidden them to eat. The spiritual communication they had with God was broken, and they no longer deserved to live in the garden.
Man’s greed and disobedience led to the downfall of the working class and the destruction of the Earth. God must have sighed when he said: “the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it” (Genesis 3:17b, NLT). Due to the first Adam’s lack of contentment with God’s provision, Mankind became slaves to materialism. To meet man’s insatiable greed, happy laboring has become “torturous.” This has led to the commercialization of society, producing a secular culture that competes for money and status while overworking people.
God’s intent from the beginning was that Man possess scientific knowledge. Even today He desires that Man use scientific knowledge to reduce the degree of his labor, to overcome diseases, and improve the quality and enjoyment of life. People need to put Faith and Science in the proper perspective, drive Science with reasoning, and let Science play a beneficial role for the well-being of Mankind. Applying the various disciplines of Science with reason, looking to God for answers, brings honor and glory to God.
(This article originally appeared in Chinese Today, Vol. 50, June 2011 titled “What does Science have to do with Faith?” It is adapted and translated by Michael Chau with permission.)