The late skeptic scientist Stephen Jay Gould believed faith and science are two ships passing in the night. They take no notice of one another. Gould believed science and religion speak from, to, and about, different domains. “Science gets the age of rocks,” he wrote, “religion the rock of ages.”
Some Christians have adopted Gould’s view, seeing it as a framework for faith that avoids contemporary scientific controversies. When scientific consensus seems to go against the Bible, they simply defer the question to the fact that Bible doesn’t have much, if anything, to say about this world. The only way to adopt such a view, however, is to reject the authority of the Bible.
The Bible has a lot to say about the natural world. For starters, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). This is a claim that affects the entire physical universe. You cannot get a bigger scientific statement than this.
The Bible also says humans are the special creation of God (Gen. 1:26). In the first chapter of the Bible, we have claims regarding the entirety of the cosmos and an explanation of the human race. This means that the Bible categorically speaks to all the physical world and the human experience.
The Bible, however, is not a scientific manual. The goal of the biblical narrative is not to train anyone in physics or genetics. The Bible is concerned about more, not less, than the physical world. That’s why believers can care about both science and faith.
I often illustrate this point with my children. Three of my four children have a metabolic genetic disorder. Their bodies do not properly break down food and convert it to glucose. I’ve never, on any of our trips to the emergency room, asked our geneticist to treat the children using only the King James Bible as a reference. I want him to know his profession well and administer care with a great deal of skill.
If my children’s disease had gone undetected or untreated, they likely would have died in infancy. Their disease is thought to be a large contributor to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Needless to say, I am profoundly thankful for science.
Yet, while science can save their lives, it cannot tell them how to have a life worth living. In this way, the limits of science are clear. The Bible speaks to the origin and purpose of this world. Thus, the Christian faith doesn’t prohibit scientific study, rather, it offers a foundation for the rational exploration of the universe, a moral compass for research, and — better yet — a purpose toward which everything is pointed.