Re: Science vs. Theology - how they help each other

From: Loren Haarsma <lhaarsma@calvin.edu>
Date: Thu Apr 14 2005 - 09:14:07 EDT

Brent Foster asked the questions:
> Is it appropriate to allow what we know from the study of creation
> to affect how we study and interpret scripture?
> Is it appropriate to allow what we know from the study of scripture
> to affect how we study and interpret creation?

I would say yes and yes. But there are good ways and bad ways to do each.

 THEOLOGY AFFECTS SCIENCE:
   If we narrowly define "science" as the fields of physics, chemistry,
geology, biology, etc. as they are understood today --- empirical studies
of how nature operates --- then it's not immediately clear what influence
theology has. However, if we think more broadly in terms of "natural
philosophy," which includes philosophical and worldview interpretations of
those empirical findings, then theology has a huge influence for
Christians. Many times throughout the past decades, when someone told me
that there was a potential conflict between theology and science, I have
found that the conflict was not with the science per se, but with some
particular philosophical interpretations of the science.
   Christian, Buddhist, and atheist scientists might all agree that the
Dirac Equation provides a well-tested and empirically based model for the
behavior of particles, and they might agree that the "Big Bang" cosmology
provides a well-tested and empirically based model for the history of the
physical universe, and they might agree that living cells can be modeled
and understood on a biochemical basis. However, these scientists might
have profoundly differently philosophical and worldview interpretations of
these things. At the level of philosophical interpretation of scientific
findings, Christian theology has obvious and important influences on how I
understand creation.

   Even if we restrict ourselves to a narrower definition of science, it
seems to me that Christian theology still has an influence. Some
historians of science have argued that Christian theology had a
foundational influence in shaping the scientific approach which we use
today to study creation. Rather than repeating the arguments here, I'll
just give a web reference to a few paragraphs:
http://www.calvin.edu/~lhaarsma/ChristianityMethNat2002.html
(in particular, the section which starts with "Problem 3")

 SCIENCE AFFECTS THEOLOGY:
   I think it's wise, first of all, to put this into a broader context.
All of our life's experiences can affect our understanding of scripture.
Life experiences can sometimes significantly alter and improve how we
understand some particular passages. If we are living wisely,
prayerfully, humbly, and in fellowship with other believers, our
understanding of scripture should grow and improve with time. In this
context, science (or any other kind of scholarship) is just one type of
life experience.

   As others on this list have pointed out, there are a few particular
areas of theology where we might expect science to be especially useful in
improving our understanding. First, we proclaim God to be the faithful
creator, sustainer, and ruler of creation. Also, we have learned that
when reading scripture, it is wise to understand the literary, historical,
and cultural contexts of the original biblical text in order to best
understand its message for us today In addition, we have learned that in
numerous places in scripture, God used ancient pre-scientific ideas about
the nature world (e.g. that the earth is flat and fixed in place) to teach
theological truths (e.g. about God's power and faithfulness). When you
put all that together, it seems to me that we can appropriately expect
that science might be especially helpful in understanding some particular
passages of scripture which talk about the natural world.

Loren Haarsma
Received on Thu Apr 14 09:16:09 2005

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