Here it is – the short, broad-readership, story-filled book about why God loves science and why science has always been stimulated, supported and has flourished within a worldview in which people seek to serve God.
Let There Be Science!
Like its background text, Faith and Wisdom in Science (good for further reading by the way), it’s main task is to blow away the myth that science and orthodox Christian faith are in any necessary conflict now, or at any time in history.
On the contrary, we find that throughout the ages, the faith required to do science, that our minds might just be up to the job of perceiving the inner structures of the universe, as well as its cosmic glories, is motivated by the same ‘Faith’ that dares to suppose that those very minds reflect in some way that of their Creator.
Furthermore, we find that the reason to do science is also theologically grounded. Historically, the great scientists at the start of the early modern period when experimental science got off the ground, had a worked out theological reason for acquiring knowledge of the natural world. To take just one example, Johannes Kepler, whose calculations following Tycho Brahe’s new observations of the planets identified for the first time the true structure and dynamics of the solar system, said:
Those laws are within the grasp of the human mind. God wanted us to recognize them by creating us after his own image so that we could share in his own thoughts… and if piety allow us to say so, our understanding is in this respect of the same kind as the divine, at least as far as we are able to grasp something of it in our mortal life
Science is hard, sometimes painful – new ideas get stifled if they go against the grain, our confused minds find many false avenues to waste time down, experiments and calculations go wrong. Yet this very painful ‘harvesting’ of knowledge about nature is strongly resonant with the mandate we understand humankind has from the Bible in Genesis chapter 3:
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
though the command to name the animals and birds – where names stand in for a knowledge of their natures – was not rescinded. We find, as in Faith and Wisdom in Science, God in conversation with humankind about nature once more in the wonderful Book of Job. Here, the essential ingredient of science – the creative question – is celebrated and explored in the great ‘Lord’s Answer’ to Job in chapters 38-42. Just read a taste of this agenda-setting text from chapter 38:
Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?
34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who gives the ibis wisdom
or gives the rooster understanding?
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
And now here what a great scientist such as Werner Heisenberg says about questions:
In the course of coming into contact with the empirical method, physicists have gradually learned how to pose a question properly. Now, proper questioning often means that one is more than half way towards solving the problem
So why do so many people, and especially sadly, so many young people, think that they have to choose between science and Christian (or any) faith? Sadly the answer is because of misrepresentation and a covering over of truth by all sides:
- The ‘conflict myth’ was really set off by two books in the late 19th century by Draper and White. Little read today and historically discredited, their polemic nonetheless lies underneath many peoples’ thinking.
- Bad history, such as representing the Galileo affair as the clash of science with religion (when it can’t have been – all those involved on both sides were Christians and the arguments were almost entirely scientific ones) serve to bolster the impression of conflict.
- A recent (20th century), theologically bad, way of interpreting the Bible that assumes that it gives us shortcuts to scientific answers, rather than setting out our task, has had terrible effects. For example, the pitting of ‘The Bible’ against ‘evolution’ is quire wrong.
Here we have just a taste of the work we need to do, and when we’ve done it, what then? Perhaps Heisenberg has more advice for us:
The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you!
By all means raise a glass with Dave and me to the wide and healthy readership of Let There Be Science (already in the Amazon top-5000 and top 3 for science and religion after just a day!).
Better still – do come along to Waterstones York (tell them you are coming) at 7pm on Tues February 21st to here Richard Staples of BBC Radio York talk with me and Dave about the book – and have a glass or what have you as well!