Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Separation of Church and Science

Psalms 104:5 “He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.”

In the 1500s everyone knew the earth was the center of the universe. It was common sense. The earth doesn’t feel like it is moving (except for an occasional earthquake) and the sun, stars, and the moon move all the time. Astronomers were able to explain things like eclipses with this geocentric model, however the 5 wandering stars presented a problem. Except for not twinkling they looked like ordinary bright stars but their movements were very strange--they moved independently from the rest of the stars, they sped up and slowed down, and sometime even reversed direction. Astronomers struggled to come up with theories that explained this phenomenon.

Ultimately Copernicus, amongst others came up with the Sun centered heliocentric model that explained the motions of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The Catholic Church did not support this model on Biblical grounds—Psalms 104:5 and other references. Martin Luther reputably said, "However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.”

Ultimately, over the course of hundreds of years, the scientific evidence built up to completely validate the heliocentric model. Pope Benedict XIV suspended the ban on heliocentric works on April 16, 1757 and now 250 years later, very few people dispute the heliocentric model.

I think that most Christians would agree that if an immovable earth were still the generally accepted position of the church, that it would hinder people from accepting the Gospel.

Nearly five hundred years before the geocentric debates started in Europe there was another schism between science and religion—in the Muslim empire. After a very productive period from 750 to 1050 A.D where Islamic scholars made big contributions to science and math Islamic science began to decline. According to Wikipedia:

"Seminaries systematically forbade philosophical thought which comprising both natural and theological aspects of world in Islamic context. Even polemic debates were abandoned after the 13th century. Institutions of science comprising Islamic universities, libraries, and hospitals, had been destroyed by foreign invaders like the Mongols and never promoted again. Not only wasn't new publishing equipment accepted but also wide illiteracy overwhelmed Muslim society.”

The Muslin world turned away from science and its methods.

In June 2007 a Gallup poll asked people their views on the origin and development of life on earth. Sixty six percent agreed that the following statement was true or probably true: “That God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years”. If you polled the physics, chemistry, or medicine Nobel prizewinners of the last 20 years, or all the physics professors in all the public universities in the US I think you'd get a different response.

Beyond just disagreeing with specific theories, many in the evangelical world have depreciated science in general and its methods. The Answers in Genesis ministry, which recently generated national press with the opening of its Creation Museum in Kentucky is an example of this. Consider the quote below, taken from their website:

“No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.” (from “Summary of the AiG Statement of Faith”)

Clearly the Answers in Genesis organization has decided to subjugate science to their interpretation of scripture. I believe that this subjugation will not lead to truth, but rather to scientific illiteracy.

I’m not suggesting we promote science to the position of the ultimate authority of our lives. However when scientific experts build a compelling case (let’s say 49 out of 50 experts agree) against the prevailing interpretation of a portion of scripture then it's time to seriously consider reinterpretation.

In the past devout Christians like Isaac Newton and James Maxwell revolutionized science--now in the 21st century Christianity is becoming synonymous with scientific farce. I believe the gap between evangelical Christianity and science is hindering the cause of Christ.


Heidi said...

I agree. Although science is certainly not infallible, and our understandings are always moving forward, there is no reason that a Christian should be forced to deny realities of our world and cosmos because of biblical interpretations. I don't look to any sacred scriptures as my infallible guide to reality, but if I did I would have to question why any religion would want to deny the grandeur and complexity of our reality.

By the way, thanks for the help on my scripting problem. You were right - the problem was the archive plugin. I thought I was going to have to uninstall the whole thing, but I think things are fixed now.

Vance said...

Heidi, Somewhat ironically the religious people point to grandeur and complexity as things not explained by science--justifying their anti-science position. I plan a posting soon where I hope to explore the reasons Christians don't accept evolution in more detail.