The Limits of Science and the Transcendence of God

March 10, 2018 § Leave a comment

Since the Enlightenment, many have tried to position science and the Christian faith (or Theistic religion in general) as two mutually exclusive worldviews. Many thought, and still think today, that advancements in science have replaced our need for God or His miracles. How should Christians think about science? Are science and faith in God at odds?

Sometimes categories are just convenient ways of maligning one idea and exalting another. The truth is, science done scientifically is good and true just as teaching the Bible Biblically is good and true. Both can be distorted and misapplied. To understand both better, including their compatibility, we should first look at what both science and the Bible say about themselves.

GOD around nature

RESPECTING THE BOUNDARIES

How do we do science scientifically? Science is a systematic process by which we explore the natural universe through observation and experimentation. The Scientific Method pioneered by Sir Francis Bacon (a man of both science and Christian faith) in the 17th century, involves making observations, asking questions, forming a hypothesis, testing it through experimentation, and coming to a conclusion, or repeating and refining as necessary.

Stephen Jay Gould rightly recognized science and religion as separate areas of inquiry, but he strictly defines science as “fact” and religion as “values”, which is a limited perspective of both. Gould maintains that these separate “magisteria” do not overlap(1), but when it comes to science and Biblical Christianity, that’s only partly true.

Science cannot explain God because of its self-imposed limitation to inquiry about the natural and physical world. God falls in the category of supernatural, which means outside of nature. Science by definition is not qualified to examine God.

Science cannot explain science because the foundations of science are not scientific but philosophical. Science deals with how, not why. So when we ask why do science in the first place, we can’t offer scientific evidence or reasons to support it. Science has no adequate explanation for itself.

J. Warner Wallace, a Christian apologist and retired homicide detective, applies his investigative experience by following the evidence “outside the room”, as described in the premise of his book, ‘God’s Crime Scene’: “Can everything we see in the universe be explained solely from causes found within the natural realm, or is there evidence of an outside ‘intruder’? Is the universe a ‘scene’ that can be explained by natural ‘internal’ forces, or is an external ‘intruder’ a better explanation?”(2) Just as nature itself can’t explain nature, science, the limits of which is nature, points to something “outside the room.”

God CAN explain science. God’s word in fact lays the foundations for scientific endeavor and the natural universe we explore with it. Among other realities, the Bible accounts for the origins of nature, the laws of nature, and the exploration of nature.

The origins of nature are explained in the Genesis creation account. When we observe our world and consider its possible beginnings, the evidence points “outside the room.” As the Kalam Cosmological Argument for Classical Theism presents: Everything that began to exist has a cause, and since the universe began to exist, the universe has a cause. Logically, the first cause of the universe must be uncaused, and the eternal, personal, all-powerful Creator God of the Bible is a sufficient cause.

The laws of nature broadly encompass physical/scientific laws (like gravity and uniformity), natural law (morality and human rights), and the basic rules that govern logic (like the law of non-contradiction). These are called “laws” because they are consistent and reliable observed patterns in nature (including human nature and how we think) that are not conceived or established by us, but thought to be inherent or transcendent. In other words, they come to us from “outside the room.” The Bible accounts for these laws with accounts of God establishing order and uniformity in nature (Genesis 8:22)(3), writing moral law on our hearts (Romans 2:15)(4) and creating us in His image as beings who also think morally and employ logic (Isaiah 1:18)(5).

The exploration of nature is a fundamental part of human flourishing since the beginning, or at least since God scattered the nations at Babel (Genesis 11). Our scientific endeavor is fueled by a hunger to expand our territory and a thirst for knowledge about ourselves and our world. But why do science? Why do we spend billions launching exploratory spacecraft and searching for signals from aliens on the outside chance that we might not be alone in the universe?(6)

We can deduce from Scripture that we are made to ultimately encounter God through scientific exploration. Paul, in Acts 17:24-27, told the intellectuals of his day: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and… gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”. And in Romans 1:20, Paul makes it clear that we are “without excuse” for atheism and ought to logically infer a Creator, as most do, by observing creation.(7)

TRANSCENDING THE BOUNDARIES

If we take science “outside the room” to assess the supernatural, we are giving it a scope and authority it is not meant to have. Granting science such ultimate authority is one of the tenets of a religion called Scientism.

While science can’t transcend the boundaries of nature and the physical universe, God is by nature transcendent. God is infinite and limitless in His presence, power, knowledge and love, so boundaries are nothing to Him.

Nature can’t logically create itself. God transcended nature, first, when He created it (Genesis 1:1). As Deism would suggest, God could have created the universe and then left us alone, but Colossians 1:17 puts Him “in all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (The so-dubbed “strong forces” that hold atomic particles together are interactions that physicists don’t fully understand). God could have left His creation to perish completely in their sin, but instead God loves us, cares for us, and is active in and author of our story.

This love led Him to absolutely transcend our world in the sending of His Son (John 3:16-17)(8). Jesus Christ was born in the flesh, living a perfectly sinless life as fully man, but died as an atonement for our sins, a payment He could only make if He was also fully God(9). After defeating sin and death on the cross and through His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended back to the Father, leaving us His Holy Spirit.

Our sin cemented a barrier between man and God. Through Christ, God, who is no respecter of barriers, broke it down. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes (or transcends) to the Father except by Me.” (John 14:6) If not for God’s transcendence into our world, especially through Christ, we could never realize transcendence into His—but that’s exactly what He offers through faith in Christ alone. Jesus is the only “Way” we can truly get “outside the room.”

SCIENCE AND FAITH

Some claim that “science says” this or that. But outside of the definition and parameters we’ve given it, does science itself actually say things? Or is it more accurate to say that science is a process by which scientists say things? Scientists are people with individual worldviews and the choice to either use science correctly or make it do things it’s not supposed to do when they say things.

Does “science say” that our universe created itself, or that life originated from non-living matter, was seeded on earth from another part of the universe, or diversified by natural and undirected processes over billions of years? Actually, people with Naturalistic or Materialistic worldviews come to such conclusions in the name of science (or Scientism)—without observation, without testing, and without the aid of actual science. They are starting with a certain assumption dictated by their worldview and working to prove it using science.

If we prop up science with worldview assumptions or take it outside its self-imposed limitations, we are anti-science. If we assume that God is only a conceptual crutch to explain natural phenomena until science replaces Him, we are anti-theology. People who consider themselves Christians should evaluate science on the basis of what science teaches about itself. Likewise, people who consider themselves scientifically minded should evaluate Christianity on the basis of what Christianity teaches about itself.

In another act of transcendence, God has given us His word, and the Bible understood Biblically does not contradict science understood scientifically, but instead supports and even explains science. When we see, do, and define both science and the Christian faith correctly and honestly, the two are in harmony.

1) Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA), Wikipedia contributors (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-overlapping_magisteria)
2) God’s Crime Scene: a Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, by J. Warner Wallace, David C Cook, 2015, p. 23.
3) “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (NIV)
4) “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” (NIV)
5) 
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lordthough your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (ESV)
6) “The Cost of SETI: Infographic.”
Bad Astronomy, 1 May 2011 (blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/05/01/the-cost-of-seti-infographic)
7) “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (NIV)
8) “
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (NIV)
9) My post:
“God and Man Collide: Why the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Matters” (https://godneighbor.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/god-and-man-collide-why-the-hypostatic-union-of-jesus-matters/)

First Chapters: Confronting Creation is Confronting Christ

January 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

Amazing-Nature-773

The apostle Paul famously declared in the first chapter of Romans that the existence of our Creator can be deduced from observing creation.

“For what can be known about God is plain to them…since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Rom. 1:19-20

But creation brings us further than the general revelation of God to the Gospel of Jesus. Three other first chapters reveal that in nature we not only confront God the Father, but God the Son, through whom all things were created. From John 1, Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” John 1:1-3

“[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created…” Col. 1:15-16

“…He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world.” Heb. 1:2

From what God made in the first chapter of Genesis and what He has revealed about His Son, we are “without excuse” to deny not just our Creator, but our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, who was with us from the start.

Naturally Speaking: What Does Creation Really Say?

March 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

nis_campaign_promoNATURE IS SPEAKING is the name of a campaign to remind humanity of its place in nature, which according to Conservation International is the place of an ant relative to a boot. The warnings from this environmental organization with a genuine concern for the earth frame mankind as planetary parasites, voicing authority through movie stars chosen to portray elements of nature. This project reflects a popular secular environmentalist view today, steeped in Naturalistic thinking, so it’s worth examining from a Christian perspective.

In the project, Julia Roberts plays Mother Nature, Harrison Ford speaks for the ocean, Kevin Spacey portrays the rainforest, Edward Norton is dirt, Penélope Cruz is water (if she married Edward, would they be mud?), Robert Redford is the redwoods (see what they did there?), Ian Somerhalder is a coral reef, and Lupita N’Yongo is a flower (more videos have been added since I wrote the original post). The imagery is breathtaking and the voiceovers are thick with anger and sadness at our destructive attitude toward nature, and in some videos return a destructive attitude toward mankind.

NATURE IS UPSET

Julia Roberts, in her Mother Nature video: “I’ve been here for over four and a half billion years, 22,500 times longer than you. I don’t really need people, but people need me. Yes, your future depends on me. When I thrive, you thrive. When I falter, you falter, or worse. But I’ve been here for eons. I have fed species greater than you, and I have starved species greater than you. My oceans, my soil, my flowing streams, my forests; they all can take you or leave you… Your actions will determine your fate, not mine. I am nature, I will go on. I am prepared to evolve. Are you?” (Roberts’ scolding tone here has been compared to the White Witch of Narnia’s.)

Harrison Ford’s lament in a perfect, growly, old-man-of-the-sea voice: “I am the ocean. I’m water. I’m most of this planet. I shaped it. …every living thing here needs me. I’m the source. I’m what they crawled out of. Humans are no different. I don’t owe them a thing. I give, they take. But I can always take back, That’s just the way it’s always been. It’s not their planet anyway. Never was, never will be. … Me, I could give a damn with or without humans. I’m the ocean. I covered this entire planet once and I can always cover it again.”

As a result many label this campaign as “anti-human”. Humanity has definitely caused harm to nature. Conservation International bids us to “change course now, because saving nature is the only way to save ourselves.” There is a lot of truth in these videos. Nature can definitely kill us, and we couldn’t live without it. “We need nature,” and it’s absolutely true that we have an obligation to preserve it, care for it, and live with it responsibly.

CREATION IS CONFUSED

Nevertheless the confusion here is where this obligation to the planet comes from, and where it comes from is important. The secular voices behind this project believe there is no greater force than nature and no louder voice than humanity’s to speak for it in order to save nature and ourselves. Forces of nature are anthropomorphized (animals or objects animated with human qualities, like speech and attitudes) because the clear principals of Naturalism and Naturalistic Evolution behind these films leave no room for anyone else speaking.

The Christian worldview offers clarity to the confusion this project expresses on several points. Starting from the ground up, the filmmakers need God in order for their point to be completely coherent. Without a Creator God as described in the Bible, mankind would be, as these videos imply, just another evolved animal species. As such we would have no moral obligations at all—not even the moral obligation to care about other plants and animals species, future generations, or even ourselves. Even if we are simply after self-preservation, Naturalism offers no purpose or value for life of any kind, including ourselves. But we claim purpose, not just instinct. Even the moral “good” of survival, passing on genes to the next generation, and basic altruism can’t be accounted for by Evolution. Why are these “good” without an objective and pre-existing moral standard for good? At the end of the day, survival and caring for the planet are subjective preferences if we imagine the world without God.

And let’s not forget that creation requires a Creator. Paul wrote in Romans 1 that what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19b,20) From what has been made, we ought to recognize our world is not the result of the undirected processes of nature, a nature that can’t logically make itself. It was God who shaped the earth, not Harrison Ford’s ocean.

The videos point to humanity as the problem and despise it for neglecting nature. Such humility is a good start, but it’s incomplete on a Naturalistic view. God’s word says that humanity is loved but fallen (Genesis 3). God created a “good” creation (Genesis 1:31), and along with mankind, creation has fallen under the same curse of sin, groaning (Romans 8:22) for a day of restoration. The annihilation of the human race fantasized about in this project and as the theme of many of books and movies is misplaced. Our enemy is not nature or man, but the sin that has plagued both. We desire redemption.

NATURE SPEAKS TO GOD

Is nature really speaking through these prophets of Mother Earth? No indeed. If nature says anything, it declares the glory of its Creator.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
Psalm 19:1-4

GOD SPEAKS TO NATURE

At creation, it was the voice of God that spoke nature into existence.

And God said, “Let there be light,” … “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” … “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” … “Let the land produce vegetation…” … “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky…” … “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth…” … “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds…” … “Let us make mankind…” And it was so.
Genesis 1:2-29

GOD SPEAKS TO MANKIND

Our stewardship over the planet is a charge from the Creator.

“Then God said, Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” (Genesis 1:26)

You [God] made them [mankind] rulers over the works of Your hands; You put everything under their feet.” (Psalm 8:6) 

This certainly doesn’t mean we have the right to abuse His creation, any more than we have the right to crash a car we borrow from someone else. Stewardship involves responsible care of what God has charged us with. That means we should be right-headed about the environment. We will always clash with each other about what “right-headed” means in terms of what may or may not be affecting the forest and the oceans and the ozone, but it’s critical to know first who the owner of all of that is. And He has identified Himself to us.

THE POINT OF NATURE

Nature is for us. Statements like that often have atheists up in arms about Christian hubris, but this is not to say that man is the center of the universe. We are not; God is. Our ultimate authority, the Bible, tells us that nature is for us to see and then point to its Creator, who is known by His marvelous works. God made the earth for mankind to live in, to care for, and to discover Him through. He created the heavens too, so that we may look in that direction for something greater than us, greater than nature, greater than the sin that causes neglect. Through nature we discover a sovereign Lord who set the earth in motion and reassures us that it will endure until His perfect timing brings its restoration (Genesis 8:22; Revelation 21:1-6). Yes, we absolutely should take better care of the earth, because it’s His. Christians can watch these videos and see our correct place in the world, as stewards of God’s amazing creation. And with the sound muted, we can watch these videos and worship not the creation (Romans 1:25), but nature’s Creator Himself.

[Related post: The Logical Failure of Moral Evolution]

Hiking Through Genesis

June 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

20140628-233942-85182863.jpg“The heights of the mountains are His…” 

I recall our recent vacation in Colorado as a hike through the historical reality of the book of Genesis. The beauty of creation is obvious, making its Creator obvious, but much of the beauty in places like Glenwood Canyon is actually the result of destruction.

Soaring cliffs with diagonal stratigraphic stripes echo from a era when violent collisions of tectonic plates thrusted pieces of earth at all angles, forming the Rockies and vast mountain ranges all over the globe. God’s original creation was once baptized in a flood of judgment, reshaping it into a different world, yet one we can still admire and see His hand in.

Pristine hidden mountain lakes, waterfalls, and gardens remind us of the even more ancient history of Eden, before perfection was poisoned by man’s disobedience. On a particular trail, a lizard scurried across our path, a harmless version of the legged serpent who prodded Eve toward the forbidden fruit with the challenge, “Did God really say…?”

In Colorado, and elsewhere, that same challenge to God’s created order lingers. Passing through Denver, we visited a cake baker scorned by the new moral regime for “insensitivity” toward alternative forms of marriage. While visiting our niece there, we passed by the oddly and aptly named “Pridefest”, a celebration and manifestation of that challenge of old: “‘Did God really say’ that a man be joined to his wife?”

If art is a reflection of the good, the beautiful and the true, then nature qualifies as art. Breathtaking canyons and scenic vistas born out of destruction are a picture of God’s redemption of the lost. That’s the good in it. The beauty is obvious, and the truth is what it says about the Creator it glorifies—that He is big, creative, just, powerful, yet loving enough to restore sinful men made righteous through the destruction of His Son (and our sin) on a cross.

20140628-075452-28492051.jpgAt night, the stars we can see but cannot count once illustrated God’s promise of new life through Abraham’s offspring. From the true blue expanse above, painted brightly at dawn and dusk, to the life-giving rivers that twist through canyons as a remnant of holy wrath, creation is a historical art gallery of beauty from destruction. God will one Day destroy and remake the world one last time, and He can also remake hearts so we can forever hike those trails too.

In the meantime, “Sing for joy, you heavens, for the Lord has done this; shout aloud, you earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the Lord has redeemed…”
(Isaiah 44:23)

God’s Two Books: Are General and Special Revelation Equal?

February 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

504px-Jan_van_Eyck_059In a previous post I shared what I thought about the perceived dichotomy of science and the Bible: While the Bible doesn’t set out to teach science, we can’t deny that it is relevant to science in various descriptions of God’s natural order. Nevertheless, it seems a popular stance to pit the Bible against the findings of science, even though the two naturally are not at odds.

In discussions with other Christians over controversies like the age of the earth or the flood of Noah’s day, some seem driven to separate science from the Bible to the point where the Bible can’t possibly shed any light on what we study in the scientific fields, as if it speaks to every other area of life but science. Recently, one believer asserted that the Bible can be fallible on matters of science and we should only regard what it teaches spiritually.

I think that we determine what the Bible teaches by what it says. From what it says, the thrust of Biblical doctrine is not dominated by what we address in modern science, but in the Bible we see that scientific processes and systems are mentioned and observed. The reasons they are mentioned and observed seem to be for the most part ultimately theological, to teach about nature’s Creator, for instance, as Paul does in Romans 1: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — His eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (vs. 20)

General Revelation is what God reveals through nature. Special Revelation is what God reveals through the supernatural, most importantly in the person of Jesus Christ, but contemporarily in the revelation of the Bible. Historically, God has revealed Himself supernaturally at different times in different ways to different people. Today, of all possible supernatural revelations, I consider the Bible the most important to the Church age (and so here I use the Bible fairly synomymously with Special Revelation).

Dual Revelation—the idea that the Bible and Nature stand as two equal authoritative books—seems to be what drives the emphasis of science as a way of determining theology, as well as the reverse. Dual Revelation, however, is our brainchild, not God’s. God apparently does intend to show himself through the wonders of science (Psalm 19:1). The natural world that we study with science does reveal much about our Creator, and inspires worship in those who understand, Biblically, that God created nature. Hugh Ross explains this view of an equal authority of these two books: “God’s revelation is not limited exclusively to the Bible’s words. The facts of nature may be likened to a sixty-seventh book of the Bible.” (1)

761px-Phot-26-05Ideally, dual revelation would like the two books to agree and affirm each other, but inevitably, one is compromised to line up with the other. Science can confirm what we see in the Bible, but nevertheless we need to start with the Bible, not the “67th book” of nature. Why? Foundations.

• It’s a fundamental teaching of Christianity that Nature is cursed (Genesis 3, Romans 8:22). Using our observations of Nature to prove the Bible is Biblically backwards.

• It’s a fundamental truth in Scripture that our ability to reason is also affected by the curse on creation. Proverbs 3:5 says to “lean not on your own understanding.” We are not only limited in our scope of knowledge and reason but inclined toward self-deception. Man has “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things instead of the Creator…” (Rom. 1:25) Of course faulty reasoning can affect our interpretation of the Bible as well as our interpretation of the universe. But it’s the Bible that teaches that Christians have a Helper in the Holy Spirit (John 14:6, 26; 2 Pet. 1:20,21) to guide in “accurately handling the Word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15), not Nature.

• The foundations of Christian theology are historically tied to Sola Scriptura—that God’s Special Revelation in the Bible is our preeminent source of doctrine. It’s only in recent history, corresponding with scientific advancements following the Enlightenment, that General Revelation was elevated to something of an equal authority with the Bible.

• The fundamental truth of Christianity, that man is depraved and in need of a Savior, and how salvation is acquired, is contained completely in God’s Special Revelation to us in Scripture, and it is not found at all in the General Revelation of Nature. Even nature is meant to lead us to something, ultimately a relationship with the Creator, whom Scripture identifies in detail. General Revelation may show us facts, but Special Revelation shows us the meaning.

• The foundation for General Revelation is found in the Special Revelation of Scripture (Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:20), so without Scripture, we would have little reason to consider Nature a way of knowing God. Anything Nature says would mean nothing significant without God’s supernatural revelation.

450px-Old_booksIf Dual Revelation represents two books by the same author, they should agree. The Bible is set apart from Nature in authority and importance by what it clearly proclaims about itself. One claim is that we can “test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” (1 John 4:1). Another is that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction” (2 Tim. 3:16), so by IT we are to judge everything else. The 66th book of the Bible also warns that “if anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book.” (Rev. 22:18) Tacking on a 67th book and granting it equal authority then is ill-advised. Any attempt to make these “two books” agree should be done by testing our observations and experience of the natural world against God’s Word, not the other way around.

General Revelation shows us certain facts about ourselves and the material world that should direct us toward our Creator. Special Revelation, specifically God’s written Word, grounds those facts in ultimate truth about our Creator, and bears a message of love and salvation. The former is not complete without the latter. That’s why science and philosophy and whatever other ways we use to think about the universal aspects of God through Nature have their place—a place of subservience to what has God revealed to us through the anchor of all revelation, the Bible.

1. (Hugh Ross, Creation and Time: A Biblical and Scientific Perspective on the Creation-Date Controversy, (NavPress, 1994) pp. 56-57.)

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