Taylor: Science and the Bible

Science acknowledges and corrects its errors; believers not so much

The signboard for a local church asked, “Are Science and the Bible compatible?”

Well, of course they are. If you cherry-pick the right verses, you can show that the Bible knew about everything from DNA to autism long before science discovered them.

After all, the Bible contains 66 books, around 780,000 words, credited to 40 different authors. But the book of Isaiah had at least three authors. Several of Paul’s letters were written by someone who wasn’t Paul. Tradition says that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, but a careful examination reveals that at least four groups shaped sections of the narrative to suit their own priorities. The Psalms identify more than a dozen different writers, plus another 47 by that prolific author, Anonymous. And the Proverbs are a collection of folk wisdom, by who knows how many people.

Total, up to 100 authors.

If you took any library shelf containing the writings of 100 different authors, you could almost certainly find in those texts at least one sentence that would support any idea at all.

So yes, science and the Bible can be compatible.

But using the same process, you could pick texts to prove that the Bible and science are hopelessly incompatible.

I wonder, though, why it’s so important to prove that the Bible and science can be compatible. Is there an underlying assumption that if they aren’t compatible, one of them must be rejected?

Given the theology of this particular denomination, I bet it wouldn’t be the Bible. The Bible, they would insist, is a complete and inerrant revelation of God’s intentions. And God cannot be wrong.

But the Bible is not God’s only word.

As a letter writer to a Christian Reformed Church periodical argued several decades ago, he saw no conflict between science and the Bible. He called the Bible God’s faith textbook; he called the world God’s science textbook.

I would go farther. I would argue that God IS science.

God is the laws of physics that enabled the universe to explode into existence. God is the laws of chemistry that allowed certain atoms to bond with other atoms, forming new materials. God is the principles of biology by which individual cells cluster together to function more effectively—including becoming human bodies. God is the social sciences that explore how we human beings relate to each other, and to all other beings. God is the immutable, unchanging laws of mathematics that ensure two and two will always make four.

When the Bible disagrees with science, it doesn’t mean that God was wrong. It means simply that the people trying to discern ultimate truths grasped only part of the picture. Just as Ptolemy got only part of the solar system right, Einstein missed quantum theory and Newton had flaws in his calculus.

Later generations of scientists corrected those mistakes.

Bible writers did the same. The prophets revised earlier understandings of a vengeful God; the New Testament records a shift to a loving God.

But in one sense, I suppose, the Bible and science are not compatible. Science acknowledges and corrects its errors; true believers seem unwilling to do the same with the Bible.

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