Part of this post mysteriously disappeared sometime today, June 3. I don’t know how long ago that happened; in fact, it may never have been published correctly, though some of the comments that were written here seem to indicate it was for at least a while. I am rewriting it to finish it out again at about 10 pm Eastern time. It is not the same as it was before. My apologies. I don’t know what happened.
David Heddle has been posting on the relation between science and religion on his blog, He Lives. I especially appreciate what he says in “God is not a God of confusion.” I recommend you take a look there before you read on here.
Speaking from a Christian position, I think that much unnecessary confusion arisse from those who correctly understand that the Bible is perfect and inerrant, but incorrectly conclude that the way they understand the Bible is also inerrant. David points out that this ain’t necessarily so.
We can shed light on David’s topic by taking a common principle of Scriptural interpretation, and extending it somewhat. Bible students universally agree that we must let Scripture interpret Scripture. That is, we must not latch onto one verse or short passage and draw conclusions from that small piece alone. There are many passages on prayer in the New Testament. Some of them, taken individually, would lead one to believe that we can make God do things just by asking him according to a certain formula. Only by considering the full teaching on prayer, in all the relevant contexts, do we approach a correct understanding. We can get there, too, on prayer and other topics too, for the Bible is clear on its major teachings. Scripture interprets scripture.
Science also interprets science. This is so commonplace in the sciences it hardly needs to be stated. Findings in one area of research certainly affect conclusions in other related areas, and vice versa.
But if David is right, as I think he is, that both Scripture and science are revelations of God, and both need to be interpreted, can we not extend the principle? Consider this approach: Revelation interprets revelation.
This would mean that where science and the Scriptures speak to (or even seem to speak to) overlapping areas, we ought to be looking for how they can inform one another. Where there is agreement, that ought to increase our confidence that our interpretations are on the right track. Where there is disagreement, that ought to tell us we have more work to do: we’re on the wrong track, either in our understanding of nature, or of Scripture or both.
This could be a dangerous proposal. In some Christian circles the rejoinder will be quickly shouted, “You can’t let science overrun Scripture!” Many scientists would cry out the converse: “How could you possibly let an old book like that influence your view of nature?!” It’s not my purpose here (I’ve worked on it elsewhere) to explain why some of us believe there is knowledge and authority to be found in the Bible; I’m speaking mostly to those who already accept that is true (so was David Heddle, in his post). What I do want to say is that I’m not talking about either field overrunning the other. If all truth is a unity, then Scripture correctly understood must agree with science (nature) correctly understood, where the two overlap with each other.
Scripture and science only partially overlap, of course. Science has nothing particularly important to offer on whether Jesus Christ rose from the dead or how we enter a relationship with him. Those aren’t matters for scientific investigation. Scripture doesn’t help us program our VCRs, much less map the genome or solve the mystery of dark energy. But there are important areas where the two do intersect. The most obvious is origins. Biblical revelation also speaks to some of science’s underlying assumptions, like the question of scientific realism, the rationality and knowability of nature, and more.
Anyway, if the Bible is indeed true, then Christianity has nothing to fear from science, and science has nothing to fear from revelation. All we might have to fear is that certain cherished interpretations might be overturned, as we let revelation interpret revelation, and draw on our full range of knowledge to try to understand the full range of truth.