6th July 2014
Hasn’t science disproved Christianity?
The short answer is ‘No’. Science can only deal with what is observable and/or measurable; the scientific method is defined by The Oxford English Dictionary as “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.” God is not available for scientific observation or experimentation, and his existence can neither be proved nor disproved by science. Christianity is a religion of faith, and the Bible defines faith as ‘being sure of what we hope for an certain of what we do not see.’ (Hebrews 11:1.)
Just because science cannot prove something is true, that does not mean it is not true. Historical facts are very difficult to ‘prove’ – they cannot be observed or experimented on; at best they rely on evidence. Neither are things such as love and beauty open to scientific proof. Yet few people would deny their reality. As Shakespeare says in Hamlet, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’
When people say that science has disproved Christianity, they often are thinking about particular aspects of Christianity – especially the Genesis account of creation, and the historical narratives in the Old Testament. It is worth thinking a little about these two subjects.
When thinking of creation, it is important to say that both the scientific claims and the Genesis accounts require a closer examination. The received wisdom about the big bang and evolution are not in themselves open to observation or experimentation. There is plenty of evidence to back up those theories – the fossil record, the diversity of species, and chemical experiments, for example. But many questions remain, even for the best of theories, and future scientists may come up with completely different explanations. The Genesis account needs to be seen to be what it was meant to be – not a scientific document, but a theological one which is not concerned with what exactly happened and when, but to declare that God was behind it all, that it was all meant, that human beings are especially important to him, that he alone is to be worshipped (rather than the heavenly bodies or anything on earth), and that he is still in control of the earth and its destiny. All sorts of other lessons come up as well, but I don’t believe we have to try and make Genesis fit in with, or disprove, current scientific thinking.
The historical narratives of the Old Testament are also much questioned these days. Theologians notoriously question most of them – whereas historians usually regard the Old Testament documents as of historical importance and worth taking into account. Again, it is important to see the historical accounts for what they are. The numbers of people involved, for instance, sometimes seem impossibly large; perhaps those numbers were not intended to be taken literally. (I find the numbers involved in World War 1 equally difficult to cope with, even though they are fairly accurate.) The writers chose their material to get across the truths that they needed to convey, about a God who acted in history to save his people and to make them a blessing to the world. It is truth we all need to know.
In the end, religion and science are both about truth and reality. We all have a lot to learn.
1) How should we react when people question truths we hold dear?
2) Are ‘blind faith’ and ‘blind unbelief’ as bad as each other? How can we see?