Q&A: Why am I not allowed to believe in [science]?

Question: Why am I not allowed to believe in the Big Bang Theory?
Question: Why am I not allowed to believe in Evolution?
Question: What is my stance supposed to be on dark matter?

There are too many questions of this kind that I cannot encapsulate them all other than the [insert theory here].

Response:

Well, the simple answer for those who do not want to read the long answer, is you can. You can believe in those and be a Christian. You need to believe in what is True.

For the more detailed response, we need to backtrack to the overarching bigger issues that are really at play:

What are the boundaries of science and religion?
What is science about, and what is religion all about?
How is it possible for science and religion to be at odds with one another?
Do I use my Bible to prove science?
Do I use science to prove the Bible?

These are the related questions.

Let’s start with some definitions and boundaries:

Science
Science is supposed to be concerned with objective facts and observations. In science, we measure things, we observe things, and we speculate about things. We speculate about matter, its properties, and its behaviours. We are concerned with how things work in science. More specifically, we are focused on physical things that are observable in the natural world – either by the naked eye, or through tools that we develop to measure those things.

The limitations of science are the human brain, natural materials, and the materials that human brains have invented to help them research other material things. I’m not taking shots at it, I am, by trade, a scientist, but I am merely pointing out that its got its limitations, and in pop culture, these limitations are not often recognised. Science is asking “how this works” or “what that is”, or “what happened here” (materially). That is what science asks.

Religion
Religion is supposed to be concerned with belief about why things are, why they came to be, what kind of meaning does a thing have. In other words, in religion we might look at the same material that a scientist looks at, but instead of trying to answer what it is, we use religion to ask why it is. It is a different set of questions than what the scientists ask. Religion, of course, is also concerned with immaterial things, the things of spiritual nature – but I would like to discuss only where the two worlds are allegedly colliding.

The Bible
The Bible, as was discussed in another blog, is not a science text. The Bible is not a history text. The Bible is not claiming to be any of those two (though some modern Christians have tried to make those claims). The Bible is the narrative of the relationship between God and man through the ages. This matters immensely. The Bible did not say, let me explain to you how God made the world, but let me tell you simply that “In the beginning, He made it”.

Let’s get into the issues.

Conflicts
Why do we have issues? Because people outstep their boundaries regularly.

A TA or a professor may tell you that this science “proves” that there’s no God. They will say things like, “if evolution is true, then there is no need for religion, and evolution is pretty much true”.

A churchman might say, scientists are atheists, avoid them. A churchman may say, evolution is the tool of the atheists to disprove God and it’s not true, it never happened, God made it!

Both of these parties are outstepping their boundaries and not stating objective truths. The two disciplines are by no means mutually exclusive. If science is supposed to be concerned with facts, then all they may say about something is whether a thing happened or not. It is not a scientific statement to say “Since evolution has been observed, therefore there is no God.” The latter part is a question of meaning and interpretation, it’s not an objective material fact about a thing. The science can determine whether or not evolution is a fact or not, but it cannot ascribe meaning to that fact. Those meanings are best left to the philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, theologians and other disciplines that deal with meanings and speculations. That is not science’s realm.

On the other hand, religionists have no right to say that an objective thing “could not be”. That’s totally wrong. Something is true if and only if it is true. Read that sentence again. What I am saying, is that an objective thing is either true or it is not, irrespective of how we feel about that thing. I do not need to like gravity, but it exists. It existed in spite of people not knowing how to calculate it or ‘see it’ for millenia. Bacteria existed before they could see it through a microscope. The earth was always spherical (or oval-ish) in spite of people claiming it was flat. Objective things are true or false no matter how you feel about them. Consequently, a person from Church cannot claim that something is false because he does not believe in it! This is entirely irrational. I cannot claim that something is false because a book that I believe in tells me otherwise. If a book I believe in has a falsehood in it, then I should obviously ask myself why am I reading that book? It’s lying to me. Imagine if your holy book says the earth is round, and another person’s holy book says that it is flat. How do you decide who is right from a religious perspective? You cannot! It’s not a religious question, it’s a scientific one!

And that is where I want to go with this: science and religion are two distinct things. They are not at odds with one another, they can only complement and clarify one another. One informs the other. I use science to appreciate my religion, and I also use religion to give meaning to my science. The two are not asking the same things, they are different.

The Bible again.
I want to come back to the Bible issue again because it’s so misused by both religionists and scientists.

You’ll hear people say, look, the Bible says that the earth is round because it says “He who sits on the sphere of the earth”. This is true. It’s also true that in other places it says “the four corners of the earth”. It also says that the moon is a light in chapter one of the Bible, and the moon is not a light, it’s a rock.

Do not abuse the Bible. It wasn’t making a scientific claim, so don’t ascribe those claims to it. Moses was not trying to explain to someone the science of things, Moses was writing down the vision of creation that he saw. He saw that God was making it, he saw what order in which it was made, and he described it with his own language. People today still say sunset and sunrise even though the sun neither sets nor rises. They still say “moonlight” in spite of the fact that the moon is not a light. We do not stone these people for saying it, because we understand that these are common expressions. Moses never made a claim that he was going to teach us the science of the Bible, he simply wrote down the beginning of the history of our relationship with God. That’s what the Bible is about – our story with God.

So, the Bible says that man was formed in the image and likeness of God, and that this was what made man, man. We are told that this happened after man was formed from “the dust of the earth”. What is the dust of the earth? If anyone claims that they know exactly what is meant there, I will not be able to believe them. We simply know that God made man from the elements of the earth. What was the process of making him? No clue. What was the time frame of making him? No clue. So on what basis are we, thousands of years later, claiming that we know? We do not know. If you think this view is overly liberal, look at how one Church Father spoke about this:

As for the question of precisely how any single thing came into existence, we must banish it altogether from our discussion. Even in the case of things which are quite within the grasp of our understanding and of which we have sensible perception, it would be impossible for the speculative reason to grasp the “how” of the production of the phenomenon, so much so that even inspired and saintly men have deemed such questions insoluble. For instance, the apostle says, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen are not made of things which do appear.”7 … Let us, following the example of the apostle, leave the question of the “how” in each created thing without meddling with it at all but merely observing incidentally that the movement of God’s will becomes at any moment that he pleases a fact, and the intention becomes at once realized in nature.
– St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection.

In modern English, what he’s saying is: let’s not waste time debating something we will never know, religiously. We don’t how how a single thing came into existence. He says, at the time he’s writing, that they should leave the ‘how’ things were made alone, not to meddle with it, and accept on faith that in some process He made it! Well, modern science is getting into the how of it, and this is not a wrong thing! It’s showing us more of His glory so that we can use the how to fix and do good things.

What does it mean to be in the image and likeness of God? Was this physical or was it spiritual? If you want to know the answer, do not just invent it or read some online document by some random person in another denomination. Go and read what the early Church fathers said! With any scripture, find out how those who wrote and read the text originally dealt with it, and do the same. Certainly, their views will be more authentic than some random person today.

For example:

We do not understand, however, this man indeed whom Scripture says was made “according to the image of God” to be corporeal. For the form of the body does not contain the image of God, nor is the corporeal said to be “made” but “formed,” as is written in the words that follow. For the text says, “And God formed man,” that is fashioned, “from the slime of the earth.”15 But it is our inner man, invisible, incorporeal, incorruptible and immortal, that is made “according to the image of God.” For it is in such qualities as these that the image of God is more correctly understood. But if anyone supposes that this man who is made “according to the image and likeness of God” is made of flesh, he will appear to represent God himself as made of flesh and in human form. It is most clearly impious to think this about God.
– Origen, Homilies on Genesis

Yet, there are people today who insist that evolution is false because how could the image and likeness of God be one of a monkey? There are many fathers who are adamant on it not being physical. God says of Himself, “God is spirit, those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth”, and yet we are in our debates saying the opposite. I am not trying to propagate any particular theory, but what I am saying is, make your objection rational, objective and authentic.

More specifically, some Protestant denominations use the Bible as a textually infallible book. This is not how we view it as Orthodox. For us, the Scripture is spiritually infallible, but the text is not infallible. There can be grammar mistakes, there could even be historical mistakes, because the book was not about that or claiming to be anything in those fields. In our understanding of spiritual inspiration, we do not believe that the Holy Spirit was dictating to the writers what to write, unless that was expressly said (like with some prophets). We believe that people were writing and the Spirit was directing both through and in spite of them! Often they had no clue what meaning they might have. So is it possible that when the Jews were chronicling for themselves their own history, that they got a name of a King wrong? Of course! So what? That’s not what we are concerned with when we read it. We are reading the stories of the Kings to find out about what happened when the Jews kept the Covenant, and what happened when they didn’t, and how did God deal with them throughout. We are not saying, “oh, the Lord wanted us to know who the King of the Medes and Persians were at that time”.

So, please, don’t abuse the Bible and try and make it say something that it was not meaning to say.

The original questions
So, how to answer those questions at the top? Well, my answer would now be simply:

a) Where there is objective fact known, there is nothing to have faith about. Something is true or it is not true. Period.

b) Where there is a lack of objective knowledge, one can only educatedly speculate – but must keep in mind that his speculation is just that, speculation. It can be educated and advanced speculation, but it remains limited human speculation nonetheless.

c) To the scientists, I would say, don’t overstep your boundaries.

d) To the religionists, I would say, don’t overstep your boundaries.

If you are going to refuse to believe in evolution or any other particular scientific theory, that is your prerogative. If, however, you are going to refuse it, it must be refused on scientific, not religious grounds. At the end of the day, it is either a fact or it is not, in spite of your beliefs. Faith is not supposed to be irrational. If you would like to be a young earth creationist, by all means do so, but do it because you believe that the scientific record, in your scientific view, actually says that that is what happened. Do not believe it because you invented a claim on behalf of the Bible that you need to justify. The Bible never in fact made any such claim, and we cannot force the science to agree with personal notions. This is not real science and it will breed a generation of atheists if we pursue this method.

The ideal
Rather than having really useless debates about these issues, why not use the science to show you how great your God is? God is immaterial and made material, and He made it really well! Why not marvel at science as just one more discipline in existence that testifies of His greatness? In fact, evolution, in my view, only could make sense with a God, rather than without.

Science, in my view, is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. He gave us the tools and the mechanisms to create and repair, even as He is able to do those things in perfection. He has given us a mind to comprehend the order of the universe that He designed, and it testifies of His own characteristics and Person. This can help us enormously in our spiritual lives and in our Theology. He has written so many concepts into nature – things like seeds needing to die to live, things like night and day, or things like gender and sexuality needed for completion, or families for population growth. He wrote spiritual concepts into the creation itself! How remarkable!

Never be afraid of science, because it means that you are not sure that He is real. Your God is above science because He made it. Like all other created things, use the science, rather, to know Him. People often spend too much time being defensive about their own views, that they sometimes lose the benefits of objectivity. They come to conclusions that hurt, rather than benefit, their cause, because they are not seeking the Truth, they are seeking to be right. Seek the Truth, and you will find God, because He is the Truth.

Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.
(Romans 1:20)

10 thoughts on “Q&A: Why am I not allowed to believe in [science]?”

  1. Sadly, there is no one on the other side, and by that I mean the scientific community, saying the same thing. I mean “don’t make these facts determine your purpose and meaning of your life, or how mankind ought to live life”… Instead, we hear the opposite. We hear it’s Ok to be lazy because it’s the path of least resistance and conservation of energy. We hear it’s Ok to be greedy because survival is at the core of our being. We hear it’s Ok to be selfish because that’s how we evolved. They then call this enlightenment, and the core of their values. The objective truth is no longer even in the picture, nor is it something they truly care about, what’s become more important is the implications they suppose result from scientific discovery. I’m pressed to believe that they don’t even care if the world is round or how mankind was formed, they rather care more how they can justify the passions and urges of this life.

    1. +
      I concur. This is what happens when someone tries to press an agenda, rather than seeking Truth. Many people are really wanting to prove themselves right, rather than to ask objectively what is right? The first most important question is what is the Truth? Th second is, “what does that mean?” God have mercy.

  2. Physical evidence shows that the Bible presents historical record. I have experienced the presence of the Almighty, in all His authority, therefore; it is easy for me to believe His prophets. Claims contradicting Scripture are statements of belief, not science.

    1. +
      Philip – I’m not denying that there is history *in* the Bible. I’m not denying that a scientific thing can be *in* the Bible. I am saying that that is not what the Bible is trying to do though. For example, I could tell a story about my day, and in my day, I could mention that some president got assassinated or that ISIS lost Mossul. That fact might be true historically, but the point of my narrative was to talk about my day. If someone then goes and takes my diary, and tries to use it to say, “what a great source of history, everything in history should match this”, they would be using my diary wrongly. Because maybe I was wrong, maybe today was the day that I heard about the assassination and it was earlier. Maybe Mossul wasn’t recaptured and it was a false report. It wouldnt’ matter to me in my diary because it’s not the point of my diary. That’s my point.

      So what I am saying is, use the BIble properly. It didn’t have as an objective to be a historical record, or you would find way more in it than what is there.

      Pray for me.

  3. Hello there, great article. Matches what I think and believe as well. I was wondering though, are there some sources from the fathers that confirm they did not believe the text of the bible to be infallible?

  4. +

    Hey Ron!

    Thanks for the comment. A dear friend of mine is writing a paper about this and is goign to reply because he’s a boss at this stuff more than I could dream to be.

    I do want to clarify one point. When I say textually fallible, I mean that it can have a grammar mistake, it can use expressions etc… because it’s not dictated. I am not saying it can give a wrong message and that be “okay”. 🙂 I just don’t want to cause confusion for other readers.

    I’d also love for you to take a listen to:
    http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/aftoday/the_eastern_orthodox_approach_to_the_bible

    You’ll find some relevant discussion on what kind of ‘errors’ (if we can call them that) make sense. There’s a transcript of the podcast at the botom!

    pray for me.

    1. +

      Dear Ron,

      Here are some broad patristic references that might pique your interest:

      – Papias of Hierapolis (2nd century): cited in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 3.39, where he notes that St. Mark wrote with great accuracy the events pertaining to Our Lord, but not in the order in which they were spoken or done.
      – St. Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd century): Against Heresies 5
      – Origen (2nd/3rd century): On First Principles 3, 4; Philocalia 15; Commentary on Matthew, frag. 11; Commentary on John 1, 10, 13
      – St. Athanasius of Alexandria (4th century): Against the Heathen 2
      – St. Basil the Great (4th century): On the Six Days 1
      – St. John Chrysostom (4th century): Homilies on Genesis, where he uses the term “considerateness” to speak of how God condescends, and speaks to man in his own language. Vatican II cites Homily 17 as an example of this precise sort of condescension in its dogmatic constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum (3.13).
      – St. Gregory of Nyssa (4th century): Commentary on the Canticle of Canticles, prologue; On the Beatitudes; On the Six Days; Answer to Eunomius’ Second Book
      – Victor of Antioch (4th century; contemporary of St. John Chrysostom): Commentary on Mark, where he addresses the issues and different views concerning the Lord’s crucifixion at the third hour.
      – St. Thomas Aquinas (13th century): In his Catena Aurea (Golden Chain) on the Gospel According to St. Mark, he lists quotes from different Fathers of the Church, who identified errors by St. Mark, from the erroneous attribution of the opening prophecy to Isaiah, to his unique assignment (in contrast to the other Evangelists) of the Lord’s crucifixion to the third hour.

      This list is not meant to be exhaustive, and I’m not sure if it’ll be helpful. But, if I may, I should note that I personally dislike the use of “infallibility” and “inerrancy.” Not only are the concepts post-Enlightenment, and a result of the West’s (scholastic) dialogue with Islam, but they are problematic, even controversial, according to one Greek Orthodox Metropolitan, to say the very least. I personally prefer to look at Scriptures through the “scope” (a favourite term of St. Athanasius) of the Incarnation. The Lord became flesh, and deified humanity in Himself. However, the Lord did “not discard the proper limitations of the Human Nature which He assumed at His Incarnation” (St. Cyril of Alexandria, On the Gospel According to St. John). In Him, all that is human, and all that is divine are united “without separation and without division, yet without confusion and without mixture.” The same can be said of the written word of Scripture, which Origen beautifully calls the “enfleshment” of the Logos, “being both the Word of God and the words of men, both perfectly divine and perfectly human at the same time,” to quote Fr. Thomas Hopko of Blessed Memory.

      1. +

        Dear DoubtingThomas,

        I’m sorry that I didn’t reply earlier – I haven’t been on my blog in a long time, and it was in the pending section.

        I want to point out, from your and other people’s comments, that this is just a blog. I’m not claiming to write the definitive paper on anything that I write. I’m saying it because of comments like, “it only addresses the most superficial of concerns”. I’m not offended by this or being defensive, but the comment is a subjective one in response to someone who made no objective claim. 🙂 I also wish to point out that my blog isn’t about whether or not God or a god exists. I’m a Christian writer, writing to Christians, so I write with that context in mind.

        As for your comments/questions:
        1. The existence of God is not an issue of objective truth just for atheists. I’m a theist and the existence of God is still a question of objective truth for me. I want to make that very clear as someone who struggled with that whole issue myself.

        As per how is it to be addressed, one needs to ask what it is in order to assess the questioning. For example, God is immaterial. So will science, which is concerned with the material world, be the decisive factor to evaluate and measure something immaterial? No. If, however, a designer exists who made the science, then I would hope (but I can’t assert) that the thing created reflects its creator somehow.

        At the same time, faith doesn’t come from nowhere (hopefully). I ought to have *reason* to believe that there is a God. So blind faith isn’t cool either.

        Somewhere, the science, the faith and many other factors are going to intersect. Everything that makes up the ‘design’ should be incorporated in the evaluation of whether or not the faith is rational. The problem is that today, people seem to only think of science alone and not anything else. On the theist side, often they are overly concerned with faith alone, as though the two are mutually exclusive.

        2. Correction: science is trying to explain the material and observable world. Often it has it right, often it has it woefully wrong. The interaction of God with the material world is not only in ‘miracles’. Miracles are a phenomenon in which something defies the rules of the material world. A miracle is not simply an interaction of God with creation. I’m clarifying because what you definied is not the Orthodox Christian perspective. We believe that the world itself is a miracle in that it didn’t make itself. God’s interaction with it is something normal, and it’s not always done materially.

        Science needs to know what its about. So if science is about the material world, then no, it’s not its job to define the spiritual world, unless that world interacts with its own. For example, if someone was ‘cured from cancer’, there’s an objective measure of whether or not that occurred or not. If someone received sight again, there’s an objective measure of that. If, however, one was possessed, there is not necessarily going to be a science that can determine that in all cases. So no, it’s not science’s job to define or declare the validity of everything because that is not the scope of science. Science needs to know its scope. If someone was never blind and claimed to be healed of blindness, of course, the scientist has every right to call out the bluff. A scientist cannot, however, assess whether someone is ‘spiritually well’ or not. It’s not the scientist’s scope.

        So, in response to your last paragraph. Yes, some people want to hang their hat on a proof for the existence of a god. This is true. It is also true that others are asking wrong questions or makign wrong assumptions, and it leads them to bad answers or bad conclusions. Science for me is a big part of my belief in God, and it’s not the sole defining part of it either. Faith must be rational. So the whole thing that is a thread in yoru comment seems to be “faith alone or science alone”, and as I said, that’s an approach that won’t, in my view, take one very far.

        I don’t believe in a God of the gaps. That’s where the reasoning of science alone versus faith alone takes one. I believe in a God who works in and through creation. He uses the very things He made and that doesn’t make Him lesser. If I invent an appliance and use it, I’m not lesser than my appliance by using it. If God created things and used them, I don’t ever see a need for a god of the gaps. That god isn’t my God.

  5. Good article, but I feel it only addresses the most superficial of concerns.

    1. For atheists, the existence of a god is a question of objective truth. It is a “what is it” question, not a “how” question. Is this a question that can be addressed by science or is it a matter of faith alone?

    2. Science explains the material and observable world. But it can’t be denied that Christianity is about a god that interacts with that material world. Typically we call these miracles. So even to the extent that there may be a spiritual realm outside the reach of science, is science equipped to at least talk about whether miracles, insofar as they are the spiritual world interacting with the material world, are real?

    The reason that these, and other questions like evolution, are important, is because people want to hang their hat on a proof for the existence of a god. If it’s a matter of faith alone, then asking for proof is a non-starter. But if asking for proof is a reasonable question, how do we evaluate proper truth without science? And if science is the only reliable way, then we have a god of the gaps problem that seems insoluble.

    I feel this is part of the conflict between science and religion.

Comments are closed.