Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Is the Church Anti-Science?

Recently, in the secular media, Christians who oppose evolution are scorned as being "anti-science". Such sneers, coming from atheists or liberal Christians, are hardly surprising.

But now the same allegation comes from within our own circle. A recent post--Church and Modern Science (hereafter referred to as CAMS)--on the Reformed Academic blog laments that the Canadian Reformed Church community has a negative view of  science, as evidenced by its opposition to an ancient earth and, more important, to evolution.

CAMS admonishes: By demonizing facets of our culture without further do--that is, without proper knowledge and honest evaluation -- we alienate those “in the know.”  Insisting on a literal reading of Genesis, and thereby rejecting modern science, we not only put our university students at risk but also hamper evangelization. Christians must interact with their culture, including modern science; A Reformed church must always be reforming. In the past, CAMS asserts, most orthodox theologians were pro-science. Hence we should be pro-science as well--which means being more open to evolution. Instead of maligning modern science, we should accept it as a gift from God.

To better understand the relationship between science and Scripture, CAMS urges us (1) to study its history, (2) to study the works of scientists and theologians currently engaged in this issue, and (3) to have an honest and open discussion within our church community.

Let's follow this prudent advice and see what is at stake.

Scripture, Science and History
First, since the issue centers on origins, it is crucial to note this really concerns history more than science as such.

Regarding science, Christians do not dispute operation science, the basic science done in laboratories, needed for medicine and technology. What is questioned are those theories and claims of historical science that challenge Biblical history. Historical science, such as evolutionary biology or geology, tries to explain the observed data in terms of presumed past events or processes.  Because the data can be explained via various historical schemes, historical science is much more speculative than operation science. It is highly worldview-dependent (See my post Science, neutrality and the antithesis).

This raises a crucial question. Should historical science be done within a Biblical worldview—where scientific theories are bounded by Biblical truths—or in terms of a naturalist worldview—where miracles are banned?

In science, reliable observational data always trumps theories. After all, theories are constructed to explain reality. Therefore, good theories may not contradict historical facts. Hence, if the Bible--God's inerrant Word--gives us indubitable, eye-witness historical facts, then such facts must surely constrain any viable theory of historical science.

Further, scientific accounts of the past necessarily presume only known physical laws and natural causes. Hence, if supernatural causes or unknown laws have in fact operated in the past, any scientific account may well be erroneous.

In short, Christianity is no more anti-science than it is anti-history. The question is--whose version of science or history do we accept as valid? For consistent Christians, Biblical truth always trumps fallible, human, scientific theorizing, with all its assumptions and constraints.

Some History
Accordingly, throughout the history of Christianity, orthodox theologians have insisted on the primacy of Scripture. In particular, the plain sense of Genesis was taken as historical truth. Young-earth creationism was most certainly not a recent Adventist invention, as claimed by CAMS. Rather, it was the majority view of Christians--including Augustine and Calvin--until quite recently (see my post Is the traditional view of Genesis Reformed?).

Indeed, Davis Young [Christianity and the Age of the Earth, p.13 a book recommended by CAMS] concedes:
"until the end of the 18th century, Christians were virtually unanimous in the belief that the Earth was about 6000 years old according to the teaching of Scripture".

Since the Reformation, most theologians in conservative Reformed churches upheld the plain reading of Genesis--until just the last few decades.

Questionable Recommended Reading
CAMS encourages us to read more than just creationist works. It refers us to the many, allegedly "orthodox" theologians who reconcile Scripture with evolution--John Stott, Bruce Waltke, N.T. Wright and, particularly, Tim Keller (see my post Genesis versus Dr Keller). We are urged to read the books of Christian scientists such as Francis Collins (The Language of God) and Own Gingerich (God's Universe), as well as the Biologos blog.

Unhappily, none of these authors critically examine modern science. They simply endorse the mainstream evolutionary view of origins, modifying the Bible accordingly. Because recent evolutionary research denies that all humans descended from an original couple, they demote Adam to tribal chief or metaphor. Thus Collins and Gingerich, among others at Biologos, reject the Biblical Adam and an historical fall. The departure of Adam, in turn, undermines such fundamental doctrines as original sin, Christ's atonement as a payment for human sin, and the authority of Scripture (See my post The Demolition of Adam.).

In sum, the authors and blogs recommended by CAMS expose the faith-destroying consequences of accepting evolution.

Honest and Open Discussion
CAMS pleads for a more honest and open discussion of this issue, for more intellectual freedom to explore other views on Genesis.

Perhaps the editors of Reformed Academic (hereafter RA) should themselves be more forthright about their own stance and agenda.

For example, the RA editors claim that they merely wants to discuss evolution. In practise, however, they never criticize but persistently endorse evolution. For example, they affirm: "Darwinian evolution is not opposed to Christianity"; "Theistic evolution is accepted among an increasing number of Bible-believing, orthodox Christians;" "Theistic evolution is not outside the boundaries of the Three Forms of Unity" (see my post Reformed Academic endorses evolution2).

Several RA articles (by Dr. van der Meer) specifically advocated human evolution, dismissing Gen.1-4 as simply not intended to meet the requirements of modern scientific and historical scholarship (See my post Evolution and The Fall). Alternatively, the RA editors lamely assert that "one can hold both that the theory of biological evolution and the text of Genesis 1-2 are true by suspending judgment as to how they fit together" (see my post Reformed Doublethink). Such cognitive dissonance will be attractive only to those who have embraced evolution but still pay lip-service to Reformed standards.

More than two years ago, in my very first blog post Is Reformed Academic Reformed?, I expressed concern that RA's starting point seemed to be a rather uncritical acceptance of evolutionary origins, entailing a reduction of Biblical authority and a new hermeneutic that re-interprets Genesis in conformity with mainstream (naturalist) science. The contributions of the RA editors since then strongly confirm this negative assessment.

Frankly, it seems to me that RA is more concerned with deconstructing the Bible--defusing anything contrary to mainstream science--than with honest exegesis.  In this regard, it is noteworthy that CAMS appeals to the famous Reformation slogan "a Reformed church must always be reforming" but significantly omits the all-important continuation "according to the Word of God." To the Reformers, reforming was meant in the sense that the church was always to subject itself to the authority of God's Word, testing the spirits of the age. Not, as some would have it, in the sense that we adapt the church to current culture.

Replacing "Thus says the Lord!" with "Did God really Say?" can only be detrimental to Christian faith.

Hardly the proper way to enhance either evangelism or student retention.

Ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei


Steve Drake said...

Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.”

The failure of the pastors in our churches to address this issue from an exegetical and hermeneutical standpoint in these quoted statistics is sad, very sad. Or if they have addressed them, they side with the compromisers of truth like BioLogos and their theistic evolutionary panderings, or take the 'Analytical' or 'Framework Hypothesis' view that the 'days' of Genesis 1 do not speak to historical sequence or duration, thus saying nothing except that 'God made everything'.

Blame can be laid on those of us who are parents, who don't start from an early age to teach the whole counsel of God, starting from Gen. 1:1. Who don't know and can't teach their own children the inconsistencies in radiometric dating, evolutionary biology, and assumptions behind the Big Bang cosmology. Who don't understand and can't teach the philosophical underpinnings behind and supporting modern scientism and it's reliance on philosophical naturalism.

Th blame is on us, pastors and parents. We have relinquished our role and it's time to take it back.

C. Trace said...

Thank you for this blog. Your posts and articles are eagerly looked forward to because they are clear and concise and give real understanding on these issues.

Henrietta said...

Thank you so much Dr Byl, this as well as your previous posting will be much appreciated by my like-minded friends at ! Henrietta Klaasing

Anonymous said...

Thank the Lord for keeping you John on the right track. Just recently it has come to my attention that man is used by Spiritual Beings to further their causes.
Fallen beings need never forget that there is a war going on all the time, as long as this period lasts.
We do not understand because we do not relialize that we are not in charge. His Word is the only trustworthy thing in this world! Roy G. van de Kamp