It was a warm summer evening. Two people were walking along the beach listening to the gentle lapping of the waves and looking at the star-studded sky.They both spotted a light flashing out at sea. One of them was a retired physicist, the kind of scientist who thought of nothing but his work. Science was his life. He rushed to his car where, being the sort of person he was, he kept all kinds of scientific equipment. He took out a stop watch and timed the flashes. He set up a photometer and measured the brightness of the flashes. He set up a spectrometer and recorded their spectrum. He noted the position of the light against the background stars. When he got home his wife said, ‘You look excited dear, did you see something interesting tonight?’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I saw what I deduced was a heated tungsten filament, enclosed in a silica envelope, emitting a regular pattern of flashes of visible radiation at an intensity of 2,500 lumens from a distance of 850 metres off shore.’
The other person on the beach that night was a teenager going home from the Sea Scouts. When he got home his mother said, ‘You look excited dear, did you see something interesting tonight?’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I saw a boat signalling SOS and I telephoned the coast guard, and they sent out the lifeboat.’
Which of the two people gave the most accurate description of what they saw?
Neither. They each gave a perfectly accurate description but in quite different terms. The scientist gave a description in the language of science. His language knows nothing of Morse Code and calling out the lifeboat! They strictly lie outside his sphere of interests as a scientist. The Scout’s description was ‘unscientific’ but, from the point of view of those in need, was the most significant - it was the language of rescue.
The limitations of science
Science does have limits both in terms of its methods and concepts. Scientists are concerned with the physical world of matter and energy - with mechanisms - how things work - ‘how?’ questions, e.g. ‘How were the flashes of light produced?’
There are other types of questions - more fundamental ones to do with meaning and purpose - ’Why?’ questions. Why is the light flashing and what does it mean - what is its significance?
Questions of value, morality and purpose lie outside the realm of science. This is common sense. So the ‘how’ question and ‘why’ question may complement each other, but the latter can’t be reduced to the former. For example how, scientifically speaking, do you put value on a human being and determine how they should behave? They are meaningless questions as far as science is concerned. It is like asking ‘What is the morality of Einstein’s equation E=mc 2 ?'
The concerns of the BibleIt is the deeper ‘why’ questions which are the main concern of the Bible.
There is a Creator who has made all things and sustains all things:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
John 1: 1
He is the infinite personal God who knows and can be known and therefore to whom we are responsible as we are made in his image.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honour.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
Humankind has dignity - the crown of the creation to act as stewards of the world under God.
Yet that role has been abused as we rebel against our rightful ruler and so all our relationships have been thrown out of joint - with God, within ourselves, each other and creation. This is the main point of the picture given in the bible in Genesis 3 and it is summarised in Romans 3:
As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.
All have turned away, they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good, not even one."
The rest of the Bible is the account of God’s rescue mission culminating in the Creator coming to his world in the person of his Son Jesus Christ to put us right with himself and eventually to repair a broken world:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Why are we here? To know God and be rightly related to him? How does that happen? By faith in his Son Jesus Christ.
No final conflict
Modern science grew from Christian soil. Christianity gave the philosophical basis from which science was launched and its motivation - to be good stewards of God finding out about God’s world for people’s good and God’s glory.
Here are the words of one leading historian of science, S Jaki (Science and Creation)
‘The scientific quest found fertile soil only when faith in a personal, rational Creator had truly permeated a whole culture, beginning with the centuries of the High Middle Ages. It was that faith which provided, in sufficient measure, confidence in the rationality of the universe, trust in progress, and an appreciation of the qualitative method, all indispensable ingredients of the scientific quest.’
In other words, science and Christianity are not deadly enemies,they are related kin as is a mother to daughter!