Christianity and science – are they contradictory?

Lorence G. Collins

email: lorencec@sysmatrix.net

     
     

Introduction

A number of Christians from fundamentalist churches across the country have contacted me by email to challenge what I have written in my articles in this web site (http://www.csun.edu/~vcgeo005/ creation.html). The general assumption among them is that because of the tenor of these articles, I must be anti-Christian. Because I support the concept of evolution and age dating by isotopic methods, these challengers assume that I must be a typical Godless scientist (in their minds) who is determined to demonstrate that science and religion are conflicting and contradictory. Surely, I must also be bent on corrupting the morals of young people.

One challenger pointed out to me that although Albert Einstein was not a Christian or a religious Jew, he appeared to believe in a superior being/creator. Therefore, why should I want to go against his brain power? Others have sought to point out flaws in my arguments. Still others want me to check out another web site showing that my viewpoints are clearly wrong. Because of these kinds of challenges and the misperceptions that my scientific articles tend to generate, I am inserting this article to clarify my own theological position and to explain the purpose of writing the other articles.

Theological position

It generally comes as a great surprise when I tell these fundamentalists: I am a Christian! I have been a Christian as long as I can remember. My mother was a Quaker; my father, a Methodist. I know that being in a church building does not make me a Christian any more than if I stood in a chicken coop would make me a chicken. But I have made a personal commitment. I have spent more than 20 years leading (coordinating) Lay Witness Missions to more than 100 different churches (mostly Methodist, but other denominations as well), although I am retired now from this activity. As a witness, I have sought to bring people to Christ. I do not pretend to be a perfect Christian, but I am doing the best I can to follow the teachings of Jesus.

When the inquiring email correspondents received the above information and got over the initial shock, their next email inquiry often had the question:

"If you are a Christian, what is the purpose of writing these articles?"

That is a fair question, and when I had time, I answered them. Commonly, before responding, however, and because I did not know the theological position of the questioner, I generally asked them to read the following paragraphs and to comment or answer the questions at the end. Try it for yourself.

The flat earth and motions of the sun and earth

The Bible for some Christians clearly teaches that the earth has four corners like a map (Rev. 7:1) and is flat (Jesus could not see all the kingdoms of the world on a high mountain unless the world were flat; Matt 4:8). It also teaches that the sun rises in the east, moves across the sky, and sets in the west (Psalm 19:4-6). In Psalm 104:5 we read: Thou didst set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be shaken.

If we had been living some 600 to 800 years ago, there would be little to no question as to the complete accuracy of these biblical passages. It would seem like common sense that the earth was and is not moving. I wonder, though, if these people had an earthquake or two, whether their beliefs might have been shaken. In those days sailors were afraid to sail out into the ocean very far for fear of falling off the flat earth. In addition, it would also seem obvious that it was the sun that is traveling and not the earth. However, today with the knowledge of modern science, most of us would have to agree that the earth is indeed moving, and not even slowly. For example, if you live in the mid-latitudes of the United States, we could be going 800 to 900 miles per hour because of the rotation of the earth. Moreover, as much as 100,000 miles per hour would have to be added to these rotational speeds because of our annual trip around the sun, and even faster speeds because of the revolution of our galaxy, the Milky Way, and its other complex motions through space.

What would people at the times of Jesus and Moses have thought of such suggested motions? They would surely have laughed at this idea of great speeds. They would say: "If we spun that fast, we would be thrown off the earth, and if we went 100,000 miles an hour, we would be blown off the earth."

But if the Bible is literally true, we, too, should scoff at modern science and the idea of a sun-centered solar system. Even earthquakes must be considered non existent, because the Bible clearly tells us that the earth should NEVER BE SHAKEN.

Therefore, should not devout Christians, believing in the inerrancy of the Bible, insist that we teach in all schools that the earth is flat with corners, that it is the sun that physically moves around the earth, and that earthquakes are a figment of the imagination? What do you say?

Responses

I generally received some good answers to the above questions and examples. The respondents quickly told me that the Bible says that the earth is round instead of flat, interpreting that the circle of the horizon means that the earth is spherical (Isaiah 40:22). They reminded me that the Bible says that the earth floats in space (Job 26:7). These same respondents did not translate four corners literally but said that these words are a matter of speech, meaning the far reaches of the earth. They pointed out that on the basis of astronauts flying to the moon and looking back at the earth, the earth is obviously not flat but spherical (a pear-shaped oblate spheroid) and that it is well known that the earth orbits the sun. But how did they learn these facts? From modern science. A revolution in science (physics), long after the time in which the Bible was written, revealed that gravity holds us and our atmosphere on earth. I and my correspondents accept the words of the psalmist about the motions of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west without giving them literal credence. We know better and give them a poetic interpretation.

After acknowledging the foregoing, I pointed out that the new (modern) knowledge about the great age of the earth and the possibility for evolution reveals a more awesome Creator than the early biblical writers realized. I suggested that this modern knowledge gives us a better understanding of creation, as described in Genesis 1 and 2. If the respondents could accept the actual motions of the sun and the earth, revealed by science, even though they said they were fundamentalists and believed in an inerrant Bible, why could not they do the same in other places in the Bible where modern science has new knowledge? That new knowledge does not make the Bible have spiritual errors. We just have a better view from science of what the Creator did and how.

The writer of Genesis 1 and 2 gives a spiritual message that cannot be surpassed, and the stories of creation would have been fully understood by the audience to which they were addressed. Conrad Hyers’ (1984) suggests that one purpose of these stories was to dispel beliefs of that time which were offered by competing religions. These other religions claimed that the sun and moon were gods, that animals and plants were gods, that water was a god, that darkness was a god, and so on. In opposition to this belief, the writer of Genesis says that all these things are not gods and were created by the one God.

Additional challenges

After receiving the above information, many (but not most) of those who challenged me about my articles began reluctantly to accept what I had said. Some still wanted to challenge my explanations about the accuracy of isotopic age dating, evolution, Noah’s ark, and other scientific statements. Wanting still to be a winner in the arguments, one person called my attention to the following verses.

1Cor.3:19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness.

>Rom 1:22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools.

These words were obviously intended as a put down for me in my role as a scientist and for what I had written in my articles. But I then pointed out to this person that he would have to realize that these same verses could apply to him as well because of his new knowledge about the laws of physics. His wisdom did not make him foolish but a far better Christian for having an understanding of how God really created and for his ability to see how much greater this God can be by the way He uses his own natural laws, which He also created.

In reality, knowledge is not considered folly in the Bible. For those who would limit education in science could face the judgment of Hosea 4:6.

>My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.

Purpose of writing the articles

With the above as background, I can now explain more fully why I wrote the various articles on this website and why their contents are not anti-Christian. I wrote these articles because I am concerned that some Christians may be worshiping the Bible rather than worshiping Christ. These Christians may be trying to make the Bible perfect in all respects when it is not and worshiping it when they should not (Ex 20:3; Ex 34:14). Among other things, the Bible gives us an understanding of what early people believed. Through Jesus, the Bible introduces us to a Father who is the way and the truth (John 14:6-7). Why would such a truthful Father/Creator give us the natural laws, which He created and which provide the evidence that the earth and universe are billions of years old, if this were not the truth? Would a truthful Creator purposely lie to us or trick us? I do not think so.

As a Christian, I am concerned about bringing people to Christ at all levels of intelligence. Jesus tells us to seek the truth because the truth will set us free. What should a scientist do when the truth he or she finds, negates what a literal translation of the Bible says? If a scientist is required to believe a falsehood in order to become a Christian, such an individual will not do so because that would destroy his or her own integrity. I see nothing in Christ’s teachings that asks a person who wants to follow Him to give up integrity.

Some Christians would want us to believe in an inerrant Bible which states that the earth hangs in space without being shaken or moving. Those who challenged my articles and looked carefully at this example, did not allow themselves to believe such an untruth. Their integrity would not permit it. I think we need to offer the same opportunity to others, including scientists, who otherwise might choose to become a Christian if they were allowed to maintain their integrity.

I am hoping that my articles will show that requiring a belief in the Bible as a science textbook causes thinking people to turn away from Christianity. Did not the Creator give us a brain and expect us to use it? Should we not be offering these people a chance to follow Christ and keep their integrity?

At any rate, the bottom line to our being Christians, whether we are members of mainline churches or fundamentalist churches, is not relative to the issues of interpretations. It is whether a person is committed to following the teachings of Jesus. On that basis, a scientist can be a Christian just as well as any other person.

Still more challenges

I realize that what I have said so far may not fully satisfy those who wish to challenge my theological position. One such person, who still was not pleased with my responses, asked me to look at 2 Tim 3:16 and comment. It reads:

>All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

I can agree wholeheartedly with the positive intent and goals of this verse, but what is meant by the word inspired? Does it mean that what is written is perfect or inerrant? Certainly, the dictionary definition of inspired does not carry either of these connotations. The one meaning of inspired, among several possibilities, which best applies is that the biblical authors were divinely influenced when they wrote the original texts. That is not to say that God dictated to them. If God gave dictation to the early writers, one would expect God, not only to use perfect grammar and style, but also to employ perfect and inerrant science. But neither occurs. For example, the original Greek words, written by the author of Mark, are not nearly as well written in comparison to the nearly perfect grammar written by Luke, the educated physician. We do not see these differences between the books of Mark and Luke today because the lesser quality of writing in Mark is concealed by the English translations that use good grammar and style for both books. With respect to scientific accuracy, Mark 16:5 has one man at the door of Jesus’ tomb, whereas Luke 24:4 has two. In science, one is not the same as two. On that basis, the biblical inspiration is not in the inerrant perfection of the writing in these two books or their scientific accuracy, but how the writers transmitted and interpreted their feelings of how God spoke to them.

In any case, the inspired interpretations in the Bible are varied throughout. In some places they are in the form of inspired poetry, hymns, figures of speech, histories, allegories, hyperboles, metaphors, parables, a defense of monotheism versus polytheism (Hyers, 1984) or whatever. Almost none of these methods of writing requires the logical development and precision that is expected in the writing of science articles. To claim that the above biblical styles of writing result in statements that are inerrant science is neither true nor realistic. The early biblical writers had no compelling reason to be scientifically accurate in every place, and early readers of Mark and Luke would not have felt that saying one or two was a problem because the authors of this time had total poetic license (completely acceptable in that time), and the readers were looking for the spiritual truth and not science. Thus, all scriptures in the Bible can be inspired, but that does not make the Bible a perfect science textbook. Moreover, as a further argument against inerrancy, there are at least 17 known original Bibles, all of which are different. Therefore, they cannot all be inerrant. As we recognize this fact, it would be ridiculous to toss the whole Bible out because these 17 versions do not agree or because Mark and Luke disagree over one or two. To claim that God is perfect is acceptable, but to claim that the scientific accuracy of the word of God; written by inspired biblical authors is inerrant just is not true. Honesty about such facts will attract people to Christianity - not the lack of integrity.

Science and creation

A further point that needs to be made and emphasized here is that science is NOT totally separate from God. Science (including all the natural laws) does not come into existence until after God created. God is first. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen 1:1). Only after creation of the heavens and the earth can the scientist examine how God did this creating process (Skehan, 1999). On that basis, any man or woman of God should accept both biblical scriptures and science and use each source and kind of knowledge so that each person is complete and equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:17). In any case, however, I do not wish to be someone who is expected to interpret biblical passages as to whether they are scientifically false or true. This is something that each person must decide for his or herself.

In this article, obviously, I am speaking for myself and not all scientists, but in my view, Christianity and science are not contradictory. Moreover, the Bible supports the scientist in his or her search for new knowledge (ask, seek, knock; Luke 11:9) and expects us to understand and use that knowledge.

References

Hyers, C., 1984, The meaning of creation, genesis, and modern science: Atlanta, John
Knox Press, 203 p.
Skehan, J. W., 1999, Creation science: bad science, bad religion!: Geotimes, v. 4, n. 10, p. 18.

Acknowledgements

I thank my wife, Barbara, who greatly improved and helped clarify the content of this article and all respondents whose challenging questions and comments caused me to write it.

For more information contact Lorence Collins at:lorencec@sysmatrix.net

Dr. Lorence G. Collins
Department of Geological Sciences
California State University Northridge
18111 Nordhoff Street
Northridge, California 91330-8266
FAX 818-677-2820