Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Science Debate

A few weeks ago I attended a debate between a local pastor and an engineer from the local "Freethinkers" organization.  The topic of the debate was  "Does Science Confirm the Bible?" but this was more strictly defined at the event as- can the biblical account of creation be supported by biological science? (in other words: evolution versus creation) I was eager to attend as both an engineer and a Christian and as a wannabe scholar who dabbles in apologetics.

I have read some books and articles trying to reconcile science and the Bible but I had never actually seen it debated in person with specific points and counterpoints, watching the debaters think on the fly versus reciting prepared statements.  And I had just finished reading Finding God in the Waves by Mike McHargue (aka Science Mike), so such questions were fresh in my mind.  I went in with the mindset of asking myself how I would answer the questions, or what my rebuttals would be.  I also wanted to have an open mind because in my limited experience atheists, agnostics, and skeptics have legitimate points of contention and their questions should be taken seriously.

The Q&A ran long so I missed the ending.  I don't know if they actually declared a 'winner' or not, but in my opinion the winner was (drumroll).... the skeptic, and it wasn't close.

My biggest issue, and this is true with many books on this subject as well, was that the paster refused to debate the Bible on science's terms.  What I mean by that is that a scientific claim is made and the Christian responds with a Bible quote.  Sure, that may win over the Christians who already have their minds made up, but there's no reason for a skeptic to buy such an argument.  And the pastor dug himself into a deeper hole by claiming as his 'science' rebuttals cherry-picked quotes from scientists.

Yes, irreducible complexity is a compelling argument.  But that's a metaphysical debate, not a scientific one, despite what proponents of Intelligent Design might claim.  And yes, there are many believers (Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project for one) who are also scientists or even experts in these fields.  But personal quotes do not prove anything other than the what the person quoted thought about something.  Scientific proofs require evidence, measurement, and observation.  And the Christian side of the debate seldom goes down that road.

But why not?  I think on one hand we're afraid of where that road may lead (see criticisms of scholars like Pete Enns for example).  But I think more importantly, we refuse to admit that the Bible is not a science book.  Our personal doctrines and theologies have elevated the Bible to "Holy" status and therefore is objectively true from a scientific, historical, archeological, biological, anthropological... you name it, perspective.  There is no lens through which to view the Bible as 'not true'.  The problem  then is how we define truth.  Is it true that the earth was created in six days, or rather does that account reveal truth about who God is? Is it true that there was a literal Adam and Eve that lived in the Garden of Eden, or does their fall reveal truth about the sin-condition of the world?

In grad school I took a class called "The Philosophy of Physics" as one of the last electives I needed to knock out before I could get my degree.  The class was essentially a quantum physics class but without the math.  We discussed the philosophical implications of string theory, the multiverse, and quantum pairing.  And believe it or not the class actually strengthened, not hurt, my faith.  There was more "truth" debated in that course than I think I'd get in any 'creation science' class.  We need to be willing to ask ourselves hard questions.

I also think Christians are afraid of admitting they don't have all the answers.  Maybe you've heard the Bible described as "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth" as if that was its only value.  When we look at the Bible in such a way, we insist it must have all the answers to every question.  When science discovers something new, we simply don't know how to fit that new discovery into our worldview.

Because of the above reasons, Christians struggle to understand that faith and science do not have to agree.  There have been volumes written on this subject- here is just a recent example- so I won't get into this more deeply, but it is perhaps the most important point.  Today is not only Earth Day, but also the day organizers have set aside to 'March for Science'.  The driving concern of that march is that science has been politicized (it long has been) and that the current political powers have been dubbed 'anti-science' largely because of holding to biblical 'truth' over scientific truth.  Political decisions are being made under the assumption that the Bible is a science book therefore global warming can't be real, evolution is a hoax, and so on.

But the Bible stands on its own terms.  It doesn't need science to be proven.  In fact, it's not our job to prove God, he can stand on his own.  So let's stop approaching all of this with antagonism- science, politics, objective truth.  The only "proof" we need is our love for one another, "by this everyone will know" we are disciples (John 13:35)

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