Monday, April 5, 2010

Theology's Scientific Support

Statements concerning the danger of repeating the mistakes of history have been made by many authors. So it is with the quality of the contemporary Christian response to science in general and, in particular, the attitudes of creationists with respect to earth and human history. In our last post we discussed Augustine’s surprisingly persuasive 5th century arguments for Christians to be astute in matters of science and to let its wisdom inform their theology.

This theme has recurred among many early figures in the scientific revolution beginning four centuries ago. Francis Bacon (1561-1627), father of the inductive method of science discovery, saw science as the “most faithful handmaid” of religion and connected the acquisition of scientific knowledge with Daniel 12:4: “Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” He believed scientific knowledge increased man’s “dominion over creation,” in fulfillment of God’s instructions to man in Genesis 1:28.

Galileo (1564-1642) also counseled respect for science in order to assist the Christian in his understanding of scripture: “…and so it seems that a natural phenomenon which is placed before our eyes by sensory experience…should not be called into question, let alone condemned, on account of scriptural passages whose words appear to have a different meaning.”

Isaac Newton (1643-1727) also viewed science as “the handmaid of religion.” Bacon, Galileo, and Newton all deeply respected Christian theology, each having a powerful vision of the interrelationship of science and religion. To Newton science was the Te Deum (hymn of praise to God) of religion; there existed no fundamental conflict between them.

There was eager acceptance, therefore, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, for the gathering excitement generated by geological discoveries. Orthodox Congregationalist theologian Leonard Woods (1774-1854) could write that the best Bible study method was “that which is pursued in the science of physics…by the maxims of Bacon and Newton.” Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge (1797-1878) believed in the inerrancy of the Bible, but defended “the proposition that the Bible must be interpreted by science.”

The drift away from acceptance of the equal truth value of God’s two books--the Bible and the Book of Nature--has prevailed and even intensified since the birth of fundamentalism around the start of the 20th century. My personal conversations with believers in recent creation have concluded in a variety of ways. Some dismiss the findings of modern science out of hand. Others say the science pointing to an old universe is driven by preconception, presupposition, and a faulty world view and should be rejected. Many challenge me to “prove it using the Bible only.” And finally, there are alternate explanations offered under the umbrella of “creation science.”