Believing Scientists Respond: Why Are You a Christian?


(system) #1

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://biologos.org/blogs/guest/believing-scientists-respond-why-are-you-a-christian

(Gary M) #3

Are you inferring that because you can find scientists who are Christians that Christianity must be true? Couldn’t we do the same with Islam? There are many very intelligent, highly educated scientists who are Muslim. Does this fact prove Islam is true?


(Christy Hemphill) #5

No, what kind of logical leap is that?

Obviously you can find people of all different religious persuasions in the sciences.

There is a narrative at work in some Christian circles that claims the realm of science is the realm of atheists. This article was to counter that narrative and provide examples of role models for Christian students who may feel pressured by certain faith communities to accept the false choice that a person needs to choose between their love for Jesus and their love for science.


(Gary M) #6

I think it is certainly possible for Christians or persons of other religions to work in scientific fields. However, most religious people I know in the sciences accept scientific consensus conclusions first and interpret their holy book accordingly. Not the reverse.


(Christy Hemphill) #7

Yes. You will notice the mission of BioLogos is to invite Christians to see the harmony between mainstream scientific consensus and Christian faith. They would not need such a mission if it wasn’t contested by some parts of the church, though. The people contesting scientific consensus on religious grounds are usually not science professionals.

Most people here would say that God reveals truth about himself and his will for people in the Bible. And God reveals truth about nature through science. Those two sources of truth can be reconciled and harmonized if both science and biblical interpretation are done well.


(Gary M) #8

That sounds great. Unfortunately, many religious people insist on using their ancient holy book to interpret science. This leads to the indoctrination of young children to distrust scientists and to adhere to scientifically ignorant ancient superstitions and folklore. It is great to hear that your organization promotes good science! There is no reason why science and religion can’t be compatible, as long as science sticks to the material world and religion sticks to the supernatural world.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #9

That relegation makes sense for science. But much of religion would not recognize any such relegation for itself (both rightly and wrongly it would seem.) Wrongly when religion seeks to ignore what we learn from nature, because it wants to adhere to alternate physical ‘realities’ that ignore evidence. Rightly (in the case of much of Christian theism) because there is no domain that does not fall under God’s sovereignty which certainly includes all the material domain. In this latter sense, Christianity subsumes all science and everything else too.

"…Where can I go from your Spirit? … wherever I go you are there. " from Psalm 139:7- 12


(Gary M) #10

Do you subscribe, then, to the theistic belief that statements in one’s ancient religious text always supersede modern scientific consensus?


(Christy Hemphill) #11

What does “theistic belief” mean? And how do get from there to “Scripture always trumps science”? Plenty of people believe in some generic God (i.e. are theists) but don’t subscribe to any Scripture or particular religious tradition. If we are talking about Evangelicals or the Bible Belt, or young earth creationists, just call a spade a spade.

Don’t you think it’s rather simplistic to offer the false choice of “science always trumps Scripture” or “Scripture always trumps science,” when both the discipline of science and the discipline of biblical interpretation are susceptible to human error? The results of any human endeavor should be embraced with a proper amount of humility. Scientific hypotheses and biblical hermeneutics are both human constructs that are inherently limited attempts to get at some presumed absolute truth about reality.

I think most people who accept the idea of absolute truth accept that there is only one reality. If you are a person committed to the authority of Scripture to say true things about reality and a Scripture interpretation and a scientific hypothesis make mutually exclusive truth claims about reality, they can’t both be true, and should both be examined. I don’t know how an intellectually curious person would ever be satisfied with some kind of rule that said science or a traditional Bible interpretation automatically “wins.”


(Mervin Bitikofer) #12

Only in the same kind of way that one might say the mind might “supercede” one’s eyes. There may be those rare occasions where my brain might not choose or want to believe what my eyes report, but in general no healthy brain long ignores (and survives) by ignoring what the eyes report to it. To say that the mind and the eyes are in a competition with each other is fool’s talk since the eyes are one of the mind’s best ways of interacting with and knowing of the physical world around it. That is how I would picture my theology (the “mind”) in relation to science (the “eyes”). To insist that they are in competition with each other is a category mistake left to those theists (and atheists) of fundamentalistic disposition.

edited - I like the use of “mind” better than “brain” in my metaphor.


(Gary M) #13

You bring up a very important point, Christy. If one finds a discrepancy between a modern scientific consensus on an issue and the consensus theological interpretation of a Bible passage on that issue, how does one resolve the apparent discrepancy?


(Gary M) #14

But what does one do if the modern scientific consensus on an issue and the consensus theological interpretation of a Bible passage on that issue conflict?


(Christy Hemphill) #15

Well, around here we would usually say you try to understand the ancient text in its ancient context, in which case it definitely wasn’t trying to speak to modern scientific realities. Properly understood in their cultural contexts most of the texts that supposedly “contradict” scientific findings turn out to be communicating something else to their original audience, and it is this original communicative intent that we would say is authoritative, not some kind of “face value” reading that imposes modern questions, assumptions, and worldviews on what it says.


(Gary M) #16

But couldn’t the proponents of any ancient religious text do the same thing?

For example, let’s say that a particular religion’s holy text appears to claim that X happened many thousands of years ago. However, modern scientific consensus states that it is impossible that such an event ever happened. Couldn’t the religion in question evade an accusation that their holy book is wrong simply by claiming that the ancient authors never meant to be understood literally. Even though for hundreds if not thousands of years, adherents to that religion believed that this passage in their holy text was to be understood literally, they were obviously mistaken, since science has demonstrated the literal interpretation to be false. In other words, if the literal interpretation of my holy book conflicts with the scientific consensus on an issue, then the fault lies with the interpretation of the ancient text, not with the original authors of the text.

Doesn’t this method preclude anyone from ever proving that ANY ancient religious text is wrong?


(Mervin Bitikofer) #17

If, for example, some religion’s ancient texts taught that the earth was flat (or immobile) as central non-negotiable teachings for that particular faith, it would be safe to say that those faiths (and their ancient texts) would be considered successfully discredited. But if someone’s ancient text teaches nothing of the sort, but instead makes use of that era’s common understandings in order to teach other things, (e.g. the psalmist rhetorically asks: you know how the earth is solid and unmoving beneath your feet? - God is solidly dependable just like that!) - we can safely conclude this is not a teaching about astronomy but a teaching about God that accommodates to the understandings of the times. Of course those who want to deny all such accommodation and insist that anything the Bible even just mentions or uses must automatically be understood as an historical/scientific proposition on modern terms, then yes - their understanding of scripture may (and does) easily run afoul of reality and/or science and would force them to make a choice.

So I think it’s safe and even trivial to say that yes: our understandings of text are subject to truth and reality. They can be wrong. And if it is obvious that those authors meant to teach exactly that (wrong thing), then yes, that would make those texts wrong. For much of history this wasn’t an issue (since it didn’t occur to anybody that the earth might really be moving, or that God making us from dust might actually be quite a long and involved process!). So now science has cued us in to more detailed cultural understandings and we are being accommodated to in different ways today that will likely be considered silly and wrong by others centuries from now who will need their own accommodations then. But if the teaching (how great and faithful the Creator is), remains the timeless truth, then the ancient scriptures will be continuing to prove just as true across all these eras. Science helps us cull away some of the extraneous or erroneous understandings. It is a valuable servant to all of us and our theologies in that regard.

edited for clarity


(Christy Hemphill) #18

Yes. Why do you automatically frame this as “evasive”? There are rules for exegesis and hermeneutics though. You don’t just get to make up something convenient and call it authorial intent.

That’s complicated. The original audience/authors of the Old Testament believed in a three tier universe in which a flat disc earth was set on pillars over a watery abyss and the whole thing was covered by a hard dome sky. It was not scientifically accurate, but this worldview is accommodated in the Bible. When they talk about the foundations of the earth and the floodgates of heaven, they were speaking “literally” about their conceptualization of the cosmos. But you can still ask the question, were they trying to teach a science lesson? If not, then those mistaken ideas about the structure of the universe don’t count as part of the truth the text was intending to communicate.

Either you believe the truth claims of the religion or you don’t. No one has faith as the result of a successful religious document fact checking session.

Plus, even if you could prove everything in the Bible is 100% historically and scientifically correct, it would not get you close to proving that Jesus death and resurrection reconciles sinners to God, which is the whole point of the religion. None of the major truth claims of Christianity can be proven via science or history.

You could make the argument that some religions make more warranted truth claims than others, but that is philosophy, not science.


(Gary M) #19

" No one has faith as the result of a successful religious document fact checking session."

I’m confused. Most apologists I talk to define faith as “trust based on evidence”. They say that faith defined as “hope without evidence” is a misinterpretation of the Bible and is naive. What is your definition of faith?


(Christy Hemphill) #20

LOL. Sorry, I think apologetics is mostly to help people who already believe stuff feel more confident and secure about it. I don’t think it’s the path to belief, at least not for most people. Maybe it helps some people overcome certain rational obstacles.

Faith is being sure of what you hope for and confident of what you can’t see. (That’s the Sunday School answer.) I think faith is knowledge based on encountering God in a personal, relational way. The evidence apologists point to helps you not feel crazy about having personal encounters with God.


(Gary M) #21

“some religion’s ancient texts taught that the earth was flat (or immobile) as central non-negotiable teachings for that particular faith, it would be safe to say that those faiths (and their ancient texts) would be considered successfully discredited.”

So is there a teaching of Christianity, that if it could be proven false, would discredit Christianity in your mind?


(Gary M) #22

So the primary reason that you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Creator God and your Lord and Savior is your personal experiences? How would you respond to someone from another religion who says that she is 100% certain of the reality of her God based on her personal experiences?