Saturday Sermon: “Science vs. Faith: A False Dichotomy?”
Though some may believe that moving the science/faith dialogue forward is best left to scientists, scholars, and theologians, we at BioLogos recognize that our pastors play an invaluable role in the conversation. Across the globe, pastors are helping their congregations work through difficult issues of science and faith with honesty, insight, and a gentle spirit. To this end we present an ongoing series recognizing sermons (and the pastors who give them) that are helping to promote the harmony of science and faith. If you know a sermon or podcast related to science and faith that has especially spoken to you, please let us know.
During the 1600’s, the majority of philosophers, religious authorities, and astronomers alike believed in what is known as a geocentric universe—a universe centered on the earth. However, the scientist Galileo was convinced otherwise. It was his conviction that the universe was heliocentric, or centered on the sun. When church leaders learned of his ideas, Galileo was forced to recant and abandon this (what they believed to be) heretical belief. This event marked the beginning of the science and faith war. [For more information concerning Galileo and the Inquisition, please visit the following BioLogos blogs: here and here.]
According to John Van Sloten of New Hope Church Calgary, however, the idea that God’s truth and scientific truth disagree with one another is a “false dichotomy if ever [he] has heard of one.” If God has indeed created all things, pure scientific truth should never be a “problematic thing” for Christians. If anything, Van Sloten continues, scientific truth enriches the faith as it reveals his majesty and provides Christians with a deeper understanding of God. He emphasizes that both the Bible and nature (as understood through science) are God’s books. Therefore, any point of conflict between the two arises only when the Church is reading one book incorrectly. Although science is not contrary to the Bible, countless scientists have strayed away from faith on account of this misconception, and many Christians have missed out on the opportunity to worship God through the study of His creation because the church has been too afraid to fully engage this field. To stress the idea that nature reveals God, Van Sloten quotes King David in Psalm 19: 1-4: “The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make Him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is silent in the skies; yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world.” Creation indeed reveals God’s beauty, ingenuity, and greatness.
Then, Van Sloten addresses this question: how can one reconcile the belief that God is providentially working in and through the world with the claim that science can empirically explain how everything works? He points to a quote in Dr. John Polkinghorne’s book Science and the Trinity that says:
…it has been widely recognized that the intrinsic unpredictabilities that twentieth century physics has uncovered as limits on our knowledge of detailed behavior both in quantum theory and chaos theory have significantly qualified the kind of merely mechanical physical process that previously had seemed to be the deliverance of science.
In other words, although science can explain much of the world, there are laws at work within nature that cause it to be unpredictable, and thus restrict science’s ability to describe things in a detailed and “mechanical” manner. For this reason, one cannot use science to discredit God’s providence operating “in the ordained open grain of nature.” Van Sloten further explains that if humans have the capacity to act as influential agents in the world, it is reasonable to believe that there is a Creator with an analogous capacity. Scientists, he says, may even be the greatest example of this concept as they constantly intervene and manipulate the natural order of things in their research. Thus, not only does nature leave room for God to work, but also, it can be influenced by the will of humans.
As the sermon closes, Van Sloten re-emphasizes that scientific discovery allows a person to stand in awe of God and worship him more. Although one may disagree with the atheistic conclusions that scientists draw from their discoveries, the data itself reflects his beauty and glory; it is not to be neglected.
John Van Sloten is the senior pastor of New Hope Church in Calgary, Canada. Previously, he worked as a real estate developer in Toronto (planning and constructing shopping centers, office towers, etc). For the past 10 years, he and others have been building the unique vision and community of New Hope Church.