One of my positive distractions from an unhealthy focus on the current pandemic and subsequent isolation has been to stay informed on humanity’s exploration in outer space. On November 15, 2020, SpaceX’s ‘Resilience’ lifted four Astronauts, Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins and, Soichi Noguchi, to the International Space Station (ISS). The four-person crew spent 27 hours in a private company’s capsule before docking with the space station. The ISS took ten years and more than 30 missions to assemble. This feat was the result of unprecedented scientific and engineering collaboration among five space agencies representing 15 countries. The space station is approximately a football field size: a 460-ton, permanently crewed platform orbiting 250 miles above the earth. NASA assembled the first rudimentary station in 1969. As of November 17, 2020, 241 individuals have made 396 spaceflights to the ISS. For 52 years, humanity has trusted science to suspend the ISS above the earth safely and has entrusted 396 lives to its care.
(Here is a link to the ISS website: https://www.issnationallab.org)
This kind of information bolstered my trust in science as I navigated the current Covid pandemic.
What makes the scientific method even plausible is the fact that we inhabit an intelligent universe. Both theists and atheists affirm this truth. Theists appreciate God’s revelation of Himself through His creation, as exemplified in Psalm 19. In the opening lyrics to this song, the Psalmist proclaims God’s revelation of Himself through the universe.
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
In them, He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.
Its rising is from one end of heaven,
And its circuit to the other end;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.”
The Psalmist continues his song by affirming God’s revelation of His nature through His word.
“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them, Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them, there is great reward.”
For me, each new scientific discovery prompts an upgrade in the quality of my worship of the Creator. The more I know Him, the better I worship Him.
Historically, it is often theists who have been the most reticent to accept scientific discoveries. The stream of Christianity in which I was rooted sometimes viewed science and the Bible as in conflict. The doctrine concerning the nature of Scripture provided an apologetic for such a view. This teaching claimed Scripture’s infallibility, absent of any mistakes or contradictions.
There is danger in claiming more for the Scripture than Scripture claims for itself. In the Old Testament, Psalm 119 presents one of the most extensive claims for the word of God in one passage. The songwriter creatively crafted this impressive ode to God’s word using the Hebrew alphabet for its structure. Woven into the text are numerous synonyms for God’s word: law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, righteous judgments, and ordinances. The Psalmist views God’s word as a personal ministry tool wielded by God for the provision of life, personal revival, instruction, correction, personal growth, spiritual maturity, wisdom, understanding, guidance, encouragement, comfort, and peace.
Based upon his reflections on God’s word, the Psalmist makes these declarations to God: “Your judgments are right, your commandments are faithful, your word is settled in heaven, your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, your testimonies are wonderful, upright are your judgments, your testimonies are righteous and very faithful, your word is very pure, your law is truth, the righteousness of your testimonies is everlasting, all your commandments are truth, and, your law is my delight.”
In the New Testament, there are such passages as 2 Timothy 3:16:
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” and 2 Peter 1:20: “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
God inspired human agents to write Scripture. God did not dictate Scripture. God’s word passed through fallible human grids. For example, each of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, reflect the human grid through which the details of Jesus’ ministry on earth passed. One story, four storytellers, each story colored by a unique personality and perspective.
The Scripture does not claim to be a scientific textbook. It is a revelation of God, His nature, and His purposes. Scripture documents a God who reveals Himself in the context of His relationship with humankind. He reveals Himself within the confines of the cultures in which those individuals lived. When he refers to the mustard seed’s size, for example, Jesus is not making a scientific statement. Natural scientists have discovered smaller seeds in subsequent years. The mustard seed was the smallest know seed to the people of the culture in which Jesus lived. When the author of Genesis couches creation in terms of 7 days of creation, he is not teaching science. He is affirming God as the creator of the universe and humanity. The author crafts the creation story in a memorable way to a culture accustomed to passing down information orally through the telling of stories
Science is a broad field. There are three significant categories of scientific pursuit and discovery:
The formal sciences are branches of science concerned with systems, such as logic, mathematics, theoretical computer science, information theory, systems theory, decision theory, and statistics. The methodology is a priori (theoretical deduction based on reasoning or knowledge) as opposed to empirical.
Natural science is the study of natural phenomena that addresses the universe’s cosmological, geological, physical, chemical, and biological factors. The two main branches of natural science are life science and physical science. Life science is alternatively known as biology, and physical science subdivides into physics, chemistry, astronomy, and earth science.
Social science is the study of human behavior in its social and cultural aspects. Social sciences include psychology, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, economics, human geography, linguistics, management science, media studies, political science, and social history.
Natural and social sciences are empirical sciences. Observable phenomena provide the knowledge base for scientific discoveries. Scientific discoveries must be capable of being verified by other researchers working under the same conditions.
There have been many significant scientific discoveries since Jesus walked the earth. I wonder if we might hear these words again if Jesus were to revisit the world physically, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you.” We humans have been intellectually endowed by our Creator. He has informed us about His value system in Scripture. Absent a personal visit from Jesus; we can combine our intellectual endowments and His value system and adapt our understandings and behaviors as human culture progresses.
Having served in a people-intensive vocation, knowledge of the social sciences has proven to be very helpful. I attended a Christian college to earn my Bachelor of Arts. I planned to attend seminary after college to earn a Master of Divinity in preparation for entering the ministry. I knew I would be receiving plenty of Biblical and theological training in those venues so I opted to major in sociology in college. I endeavored to learn as much as possible from the other social sciences as well.
In my first vocational ministry position, I was excited to begin practicing what I had learned from seven years of college and seminary study. I also carried a lifetime of learning in the church. Shortly after arriving, our local newspaper published an editorial letter submitted by a long-time congregation member. The editorial was about alcoholism. The author’s premise, alcoholism is a sin. The congregant’s appeal was, “Stop sinning!” My heart sank when I read this letter. One of my first thoughts was along the line of,
“Now no alcoholic in our community will want to attend our church. Most certainly, no alcoholic in our community will come to me for counseling.”
Declaring “YOU ARE A SINNER!” or “STOP SINNING!” is not effective counsel. Those declarations unnecessarily alienate strugglers from the very source that could potentially provide healing and deliverance. This source, the Christian Church, can combine scientific understanding with spiritual resources. I have counseled individuals who had convinced themselves they were sinning sinners. Being unsuccessful in all their attempts to stop their sinful behavior, they sought my counsel. Fortunately, social science provides different contexts to understand human behavior other than the context of sin. One of those contexts, for example, is addictive behavior. Both natural science and social science have provided insights and tools for successfully treating addiction.