In the back of my biology lab book, hiding in the midst of other discussion questions, I found an inquiry that got my brain moving. I’m no philosopher, nor a science geek (although I admire people who are 🙂 ) But even ‘normal’ people like me have to try to find answers to the big questions of life. Some of us do it more frequently than others, but we are all operating by what we believe about the natural, tangible, physical world, and what we believe about the unseen, spiritual world.
I wasn’t expecting to find a big question in my ‘boring’ biology lab book – but there it was.
The question: can science answer questions of faith?
It gave me pause. After all, our world is so complicated. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the spiritual ends, and the physical begins – and both ‘dimensions’ of reality seem to influence each other. We really do have parallel universes, I guess!
I started scribbling notes, as I thought about it. Finally, because I had no clue if I had a reasonable answer, I texted a trusted friend. Then, I looked up the definitions of science, and faith.
According to the online Oxford Dictionary – (paraphrased by me)
Science: basically, science is the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation ad experimentation.
Faith: can mean complete trust or loyalty to someone or something. In this way, faith CAN apply to science; we trust the principle that if we place water in a kettle over a hot burner, it will boil. Of course, faith can also mean belief in something even though there is no conclusive, absolute proof. That’s why it takes FAITH. And as good scientists know, we cannot PROVE anything 100%. We can make good, careful evaluations of the physical world. But there is always the chance that we’re wrong.
But the faith I’m thinking of is the religious faith – the faith that the Bible defines as ‘being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:1 NIV).
So, using these definitions, it’s pretty clear that no, science cannot answer questions of faith, because science depends on observation, and only studies the natural world. Whereas the spiritual world cannot be seen by the physical human eye, and is a separate realm, though the two lands impact each other frequently.
Science can help confirm answers that the Bible provides to our questions of faith. ‘Is there a God’? is a question of faith. Ultimately, the Bible answers that – but it also points out that ‘since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities… have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.’ (Romans 1:20). We can see effects of God’s work in the natural world. Eventually, though, we have to rely on a certainty of what we cannot see.
Inversely, can faith answer questions of science? No, not exactly. The Bible is not for studying bacteria, or gravity, or telling you the best way to bandage a wound. The Bible is concerned with saving our souls, not our physical, temporary lives, though it addresses the physical aspect of mankind very often. Again, the Bible does have a lot to say about the natural world. After all, as my friend pointed out, the Cambrian explosion is best explained by the Biblical account of the flood – and though many have tried to come up with theories of the beginning of the universe, none are so systematic and satisfactory as the account of Creation in Genesis 1. But ultimately, the Bible is using these guides in our natural world to point us to an unseen, but very real, God, and an awareness of unseen, but real, spiritual truths. (Please understand, I believe everything in the Bible is true. When science contradicts the Bible, we can rest assured that science, devised by fallible man, is wrong, and the Bible, written ultimately by God, is true. The Bible has often been proved right later on when science and or history and the Bible at first disagreed. However, the Bible is not, as my friend said, a ‘science book’).
This is why, I believe, the field of psychology can be so controversial among Christians, especially for those living, like me, in the ‘Bible belt’ of America! After all, humans are these strange half-breeds – these complicated creations. We have hearts, souls, minds, and bodies. We are miraculously created to be spiritual AND physical. Humans are complicated. Theologians rightly address the souls and spiritual well being of their congregation, but must realize that we are finite, physical beings if they are to properly understand humans! And psychologists, who have developed a 3 dimensional view of human beings based on the biopsychosocial model, can never hope to fully understand humans if they do not recognize that humans have a fourth dimension – a spiritual dimension.
I do not believe that Christians and scientists (psychologists, biologists, ect.) need to be hostile to each other. All truth is God’s truth. Sometimes, in fields like psychology, it can be messy to sort out the tangled strands of humanity. But we don’t have to have all the answers – because God does. We just have to take one step at a time in the Spirit. Sometimes, it may even be hard to understand how things like neurotransmitters and the physical brain relate to the soul and our innermost heart. But I have confidence in my God, and I know my understanding is so limited. The truth will be revealed one day. Eventually, we’ll get to heaven, and after we’ve been received by our Father in heaven, we can ask all the questions we ever wanted. And we’ll say, ‘oh man! I never even thought of that – it makes sense now!’
Till then, I will continue to study science, and learn about our world, because true, good science DOES point us back to God – and I will study the Bible, because God’s Word has never been wrong about science before. And I suspect it never will be. And the things I don’t understand, I’ll just keep studying, till I die and get my questions answered.
Please leave comments if you want! Have you wrestled with questions of science and faith and how they relate to each other?
Happy day to you!