What is the Church's Role in Science?
Everyone is aware of the uncomfortable tension between Christianity and science; both sides have dug deep trenches, lobbing attacks at the other side. The source of this tension is vastly different foundations of truth. The Church holds fast to Scripture as the inerrant word of God and the primary lens to view the world through. Alternatively, the current paradigm of science requires a naturalistic lens that presupposes that everything can be fully understood by careful experimentation and observation of natural processes. Because of these fundamentally different presuppositions, each side attacks the other, unwilling to listen or understand.
This has not always been the case. The foundation of science was formed throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance and was driven by people who had faith in God. At that point in history, there was very little financial or practical reason for studying science. The main motivation for studying, what at that time was known as natural philosophy, was trying to understand the Creator. (If you’re interested in reading more about how science began, I recommend the book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution by James Hannam)
This powerful combination of theology and scientific observation paints an amazing picture of our God and the work He has done. It allows us to see the craftsmanship of our amazing God while at the same time recognizing the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross so that we can have a personal relationship with Him. Scripture forms the lens through which we can interpret scientific observations. Christians have a unique ability to contribute to science, as we hold a deeper unknowable truth that science could never discover on its own.
It is important to recognize that theology and science have a relationship and, if not used correctly, can cause more harm than good. Scripture has to form the foundational truth, as it’s the direct word of God. However, the Bible never claims to contain every truth, such as the equations that describe the motion of planets, but, instead, focuses on God’s glorious plan of redemption through Jesus Christ.
Science is great at helping us understand how the universe God created works; however, there are two main reasons why it can not form the foundation of truth that mainstream science seems to demand. First, it is bound to man’s limited perspective – We are not God and do not have a complete picture of how the universe works. So, although we can use tools to increase our ability to observe God’s creation, our perspective is ultimately limited. Secondly, as we can read in Genesis, creation has been corrupted by sin entering the world. This means we should recognize that our observations are a distortion of God’s intended creation.
If we depend too heavily on science as our primary source of truth and ignore the Word of God, we are bound to interpret the results of our observations incorrectly. The origin of life is getting more and more difficult to explain with only natural processes. Although we may learn more about the engineering and chemistry of life, we know from Scripture that God’s hand is behind it. From that perspective, we are no longer attempting to explain how something can come from nothing but, instead, discovering how brilliant and inspiring the works of the Lord are. This should be the motivation behind science, not to learn something for its own sake, but to learn something about the God that created the universe. Just as so many of the early natural philosophers strove for.
Inversely, if we ignore science and reason, we are in a dangerous place that doesn’t align with Scripture. The choice to ignore science robs God’s people of worship and the awe that is found in God’s creation. God uses his creation to show people who He is, as it is written in Scripture, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,” Romans 1:19-20.
If Christians leave science to godless people, the conclusions of science will be godless. If we, as the holders of the truth in God's Word, also look for Him in the evidence found by science, we can discover more about the amazing world God has created. We as a Church should be supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ who work in the sciences, as they are fighting for truth in a difficult environment and need our encouragement.