How do we make sense of our world? What is the relationship between scripture and science?
Have you ever felt a disconnect between Sunday mass and the world on Monday, strong enough to make you secretly wonder whether as a Christian, you’re kidding yourself?
Britain is now officially a secular country. Sceptics outnumber the faithful. Despite saying OMG twenty times a day, most people seem to worry little about him. They focus on the here and now. They dislike being told how to live their lives, let alone by someone wearing a cassock. This is largely a Western phenomenon. A Ghanaian Bible teacher told me: ‘In our country, you don’t have to convince people that God exists.’
So, what happened in this part of the world?
Apparently, it all began a few centuries ago when the wise and learned started to distinguish between reason and faith. It didn’t take long for some of them to confine the latter to the rubbish heap. God was still a distinct possibility – after all someone must have started off the universe – but gone were the days when rational thinkers would put up with clergymen peddling superstitious fantasies.
Scientific progress seemed unstoppable, ready to steamroll the myths of old. Who needs gods and angels when you have laws of nature. Richard Dawkins quipped about people shoehorning the divine into our gaps of understanding: ‘the trouble with gaps is that science has the annoying habit of coming along and filling them’ (R.D., Outgrowing God).
What we broadly call Western secularisation may be a complex mix of factors; but no doubt one of the main drivers was the historic split between the natural and the supernatural – at the expense of the latter.
The people who wrote Scripture didn’t make that distinction. God had made heaven and earth. Heaven was just next door. That door kept swinging open as God interacted with his creation, sending angels, speaking through human prophets, performing signs and wonders, choosing a particular Near Eastern tribe to be his people, and personally entering the scene as a Nazarene carpenter. For believers, from Bible times onwards, everything was God’s, and his presence could be seen and felt all over the place. One of the greatest Christian thinkers, Augustine, did distinguish between natural and supernatural, but without separating them.
Were folk who believed in the close connection between the seen and unseen worlds dumb and childish, whereas we’re all grown-up and well-informed? Did they mistakenly see God’s majesty in every little gap of their understanding, simply because there was no science to fill the power vacuum?
And supposing that was the case, why believe a word they said, or rather, wrote down in what we call sacred Scripture? Doesn’t even Vatican II acknowledge that ‘not to recognise the human features of Scripture would lead us into fundamentalism’?
So, if you’re struggling to make sense of what you heard in church by Monday morning, if you’re even tempted to give up on faith altogether, might this be to do with the modern creed that science alone holds the keys to the mysteries of the universe? If so, stay with us as we explore these issues in more depth over the coming months, one step at a time.
For reflection and discussion:
Do I worry that science and reason might be incompatible with Scripture and church teaching?
The palaeontologist S.J. Gould claims that faith is about human meaning and values, whereas science is about theories and facts about nature? Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Can faith and science include all of these aspects?
In practice, do I separate the supernatural (Sunday worship) from the natural (the way I lead my everyday life)?
The Mystery of the Supernatural, Henri de Lubac, Crossroad Publishing Co, U.S.
Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it befits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.
Johannes Kepler, German astronomer (1571-1630)