I’m Craig Smith, and I have the privilege of serving as the lead pastor at Mission Hills Church in south Denver. I love answering difficult questions with Bible driven truth.
Today we’re going to answer the question, “can the Bible and science go hand in hand? Can they coexist?”
The short answer is yes, they can and they should, but it depends a little bit on what you mean by science and the Bible.
You may think you know exactly what you mean by that, but the reality is there’s a lot of different ways to answer those two questions. We need to make sure that we’re answering them in a reasonable way before we can really get to the question of whether or not the Bible and science can can go hand in hand.
In theology circles, we talk about the idea that revelation – which is really just the revealing of information – comes to us in two major categories of revelation. General and Particular Revelation.
1. General Revelation Definition
General revelation is information that God gives us that is available to all people at all times and all places. It is available to all people at all times and all places. That’s the world of nature in particular.
And when I say it’s available to all people, I don’t mean that everybody has equal access to it. I mean that it’s there for everybody.
500 years ago, we couldn’t necessarily look at the microscopic world today. We can now look at the microscopic world, but the microscopic world was there even in the past.
So whether or not somebody can make use of it or not, depending on their technological advancement, the raw data is still there. So there’s the data of nature. It’s available to everybody at all times in all places.
General revelation is the realm of where science works.
It looks at what the natural world, that God created, tells us about. About the natural world and God because sometimes in looking at the natural world, we come to understand some things about the person who created it.
In fact, there’s a movement called Intelligent Design, which is a group of scientists arguing that the more we look at nature, the more we actually find out that there had to be an intelligent designer behind creation.
2. Particular Revelation Definition
Particular revelation is information that God gives us that’s available to particular people at particular times in particular places.
Particular revolation is information that God gives to specific people at specific times in specific places, and it’s often recorded. Then other people have access to it, but not everybody does. For instance, the Bible is an example of particular revelation.
Some people live before particular books of the Bible were written, so not everybody had access to it.
GENERAL + PARTICULAR REVELATION TOGETHER
So the question then is, can general revelation and particular revelation go hand in hand? Can what we learn about the world from science go hand in hand with what we learn about God through the Bible?
And the answer is yes. Although, as I said, it depends a little bit on how you define both of those terms.
So here’s the thing. We tend to think that science gives us these definitive statements about the natural world. But that’s not what it does. Really what science does is it looks at the data from the natural world and it creates hypotheses.
It says we see this data and we think the best way to explain it is this hypothesis. Then that hypothesis is tested. And if it’s tested and the hypothesis bears out enough times, it moves into the realm of what we might call “theory,” but even theory isn’t the same thing as fact.
Sometimes people mistake science for facts, and most scientists will say, well, that’s not quite the case. We’re developing hypotheses. We’re developing theories on the basis of that. So we think this is how the world works. This is how we think the world got here with this. This is how we think it got to look the way that it does on the basis of our observations and our hypothesis and our theories.
But theories change all the time as new data becomes available and as we make new observations that don’t quite fit it. So it’s really important that we don’t believe science is fact and the Bible is faith (which is a common thing people do, and that’s a mistake).
Science isn’t fact. It’s an attempt to get to facts by developing hypotheses and theories and the basis of observation.
THE BIBLE’S INTERPRETATION
The other thing that is important to understand – and sometimes Christians get a little upset about this one, but I think it’s absolutely true – the Bible has to be interpreted too. Now, I think we can get to a right interpretation of the Bible. I think with the right effort, we can come to understand what an author originally intended.
We can come to a pretty objective understanding of what the Bible says. But there are times that we make mistakes, right?
For instance, for a long time people thought the earth was flat. I know people think the earth is still flat today, but that’s a whole different issue! That wasn’t really a religious assertion. It was a scientific assertion because that’s the way it looked to everybody. Nobody had ever observed the curvature of the earth, so everybody thought that.
They read in the Bible and saw things like “the sun rises,” and they thought the Bible teaches that the earth is the center of everything.
It’s flat like we observe, and therefore, the sun is the one that’s moving.
But then we came to understand the world was actually round and that the world is not the center of everything. Our earth actually goes around the sun.
Then we realized, what the Bible was doing was, it was just describing things in what we call phenomenological language, meaning describing things the way they appear rather than the way they scientifically are. We realized it’s using poetic language, which we do today too right?
We realized we misunderstood the Bible. We were reading into the Bible something that it wasn’t intended to say.
WE NEED TO HAVE HUMILITY
We have to really have a sense of humility about both scientific understanding as well as biblical understanding. And when we have that humility, we actually find that they work very, very well together.
The reality is that all truth is God’s truth, meaning there’s no truth that is going to contradict another truth or contradict God’s truth.
Therefore, science isn’t going to come up with a truth that contradicts the truth of the Bible. Assuming science has rightly understood what’s actually true, what actually matches up with reality, and that our reading of the Bible matches up with what the Bible’s actually intending to say.
The reality is that the Bible’s not a scientific textbook.
It’s not trying to make scientific assertions. It does overlap with scientific assertions in some places, but for the most part, the Bible is not trying to tell you how nature works.
And science for the most part doesn’t tend to make faith assertions. It does overlap at some point because there are places where science says, “this is where we came from and this is what happens after we die.”
Faith and science definitely have places where they overlap, but they are dealing with two kind of different fields.
When rightly understood, the Bible can uncover things about the world and about the God who designed it. Science can and should go hand in hand with what we uncover about the world, about the God who designed it.
BIG BANG VS CREATION
Here’s a question I get a lot. Science says the universe showed with a big bang, and the Bible says that God created everything.
So do those go hand in hand? Well, yeah, they can because science is saying, “here’s how God seems to have done it, that there was nothing and then there was sort of an explosion of something.”
Interestingly enough, it does say that the first thing God created was light, and science is now saying almost exactly the same thing, that the first thing to be created was light or electromagnetic radiation.
Is it a coincidence that the Bible says that was the first thing and science is now saying that’s the first thing? Maybe not.
That’s kind of clever, but really what the science field is doing is describing how the universe seems to have begun and how it got to look like it does now.
And the Bible is describing who did that and maybe, on some level, scratching the surface on how he did that. But those are two kind of different angles coming at what looks like the same thing.
There’s no particular reason why they have to be in contradiction where there’s sometimes a little bit of a struggle.
Science says the Big Bang happened 14 billion years ago. Doesn’t the Bible say that it only happened 6,000 years ago?
That’s one possible interpretation, although an awful lot of conservative scholars think that the Bible says that the creation happened longer ago than 6,000 years ago, just based on the biblical evidence.
We have to have humility where we’re going. What does science actually know versus what their hypothesizing or theorizing, and what do we actually know from the Bible versus what we hypothesize and theorize based on the best interpretation of what we have?
Humility’s still necessary, but I think both science and the Bible are describing from different angles, that same initial event from which the universe began.
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