Science and faith (Part 1)


Sermon by Rev Stuart Simpson on 10 June 2018

Readings were Psalm 111 and Matthew 6:28-30

Download this sermon as a PDF

Over the next few weeks we are going to explore how science and the Christian faith rather than being combatants of truth, can and should be allies. They may not always agree but they should listen and value the other. The series is going to explore – with the time available:

  • Science and Christian Faith rather than Science vs Christian faith
  • God, evolution, evil and redemption, by Jonathan Boston
  • And Artificial intelligence and what it means to be human by Neil Dodgson

These will, I’m sure raise questions, so there will also be a forum on the 8th of July to provide an opportunity to discuss these topics in a deeper way, along with further resources for people to access and material for home groups to use.

Science and Christian Faith rather than Science vs Christian faith

Why does there seem to be such a conflict between Science and Faith? We only need to look back in history to hear that many faithful believers in the church were also scientist and there continue to be many faithful followers of Jesus, who work in the field of Astronomy, Physics, Biology, the list goes on…

Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury expresses this well,

A number of historians of science have pointed out, with a great deal of supporting material, that most of the significant scientific advance in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries came from ordained clergy of one Church or another.

St John’s recently hosted Professor Jenifer Wisemen, a senior astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where she serves as the senior project scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope. Professor Wiseman is also a professing Christian. In her presentation at St John’s she was able to hold together her faith in Christ and her obvious desire to discover. Or in other words, the book of God (faith) in one hand and the book of nature (science) in the other.

She and many other scientists see Science and Faith as complementary. Martin Luther King Jr, though not a scientist, but someone who had a great deal of respect for science, said the same thing.

Science investigates, religion interprets. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals, they are complementary. Although Science and Faith are different, they should be complementary. If they are so complementary why does the church so often ignore scientific discovery and why does science so often dismiss faith/religion as myth and hocus-pocus?

I believe it is because of fear, Considering Christian faith, it is a fear that our faith might be uncomfortably stretched or some of what our faith is built on, destabilised. Concerning science, it is the fear that somethings can’t be known, discovered or explained and therefore are ultimately uncontrollable.

I experienced a slight tinge of fear when my Orthodox view of the flood narrative in Genesis met the science of geology and evidence of history, which claimed there has never been a global flood that covered the entire earth, nor that all modern animals and humans descend from the passengers of a single vessel. What was I to do? There were three options. And I think they are three option that we all might face at sometime or another:

  1. Abandon our faith in order to accept the results of science
  2. Deny scientific evidence to maintain our interpretations of Scripture
  3. Reconsider our interpretations of Scripture in light of the evidence from God’s creation

If we take our faith seriously we will follow the third option, which is biblical, highlighted in both readings today. We are charged to both worship God, recognising the awe and majesty of God and also ponder on the delights of Creation. To ponder, to consider, which means to study, to think about and to discuss Creation, it means to hold faith and science closely together.

“There is a science laboratory in Cambridge, England, called the Cavendish Laboratory, named after the eighteenth-century English chemist and physicist Sir Henry Cavendish (1731–1810). It is distinguished by having the words of Psalm 111:2 inscribed over the entrance to its building as a charter for every believing scientist:

Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them. (Boice)

One of King’s best works is his book Strength To Love, which is a collection of sermons that King wrote on a number of topics. One of the sermons in the book is called “A tough mind and a tender heart”, which is King’s meditation on Jesus’ exhortation to his followers in the Gospel According to Matthew that his followers be as “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” In King’s sermon, he extols the need for a “tough mind,” which he says is defined by “incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment.” The modern world, he said, has far too much “softmindedness” of “unbelievable gullibility.”

“Softmindedness often invades religion,” he said. “This is why religion has sometimes rejected new truth with a dogmatic passion.”

In a number of speeches, sermons, and other works, he extolled the great progress of science and the potential of technology to make life richer for all people. Which is why, in “A tough mind and a tender heart,” he criticised those who saw a divide between science and religion.

My pondering of the Flood narrative overlaid with scientific discovery created a different picture, and yet one that is still complementary many ways. For example, If we read Genesis and the flood story through the lens of ancient cosmology we will see that ancient Israelites lacked telescopes, satellites and other modern scientific equipment. They pictured the universe as it appeared to everyday observation. Ancient near Easter people thought that rain comes from an ocean above the sky, and that this ocean wraps all the way around the earth.  They also thought of the ‘whole earth’ as simply the edges of their current maps, which mostly consisted of today’s Middles East.

Science says the ‘whole world’ was smaller for the ancient Israelites than our understanding of the whole world today. And yet faith still clings to the truth that God’s promise of redemption spoken to the Ancient Israelites covers the world, the entire world as we know it today.

Both Jonathan and Neil are going to share some ideas that may be new to you.  They may even challenge your faith. There will always be new ideas and new scientific discoveries that Christians need to take seriously. It also important that taking seriously doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with, rather it is an opportunity to share the truth that human wisdom, intelligence and research is limited by our humanness – we are not God and our knowledge is partial and incomplete.

How might you respond when your faith is challenged by science?

  • Abandon your faith in order to accept the results of science
  • Deny scientific evidence to maintain your interpretations of Scripture
  • Reconsider your interpretations of Scripture in light of the evidence from God’s creation

I pray that God might guide us to both grow as toughminded ponderers and continue as faithful followers of Christ.

 

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