Having enjoyed the comforts of the indoors, our hosts have now retired to the back porch. Sir Brett enjoys a long island iced tea while Lord David sips frequently on a rum and coke. They are comfortably seated on the finest outdoor seats that Wal-Mart has to offer. The night is cool, the breeze is light, and the conversation continues.
Brett: As one who studied the Bible in college, allow me to ask you some questions. Should scientific knowledge ever bear on religious knowledge? That is, should a scientific theory ever be weighed in order to modify a theological stance? Surely not new scientific theories, since most have such a short half-life. But old ones, well-accepted by the community? For example, Darwinian Evolution: if it still stands as successfully describing the origin of species in 200 years, should Christians begin to look at what that means for our doctrine of imago dei? What about after 1000 years?
David: The short answer is yes, scientific can and sometimes should have bearing on religious knowledge. But then I’ll come back and say “no, it shouldn’t” because scientific knowledge and religious knowledge are inherently different and it would take an epic work of science and discovery to prove otherwise.
Let me attempt to explain that (forgive me if I’ve said some of this already in this discussion). Science provides the “how”, it (as of now) does not and cannot provide the “why.” Darwinian Evolution, for example, does describe the origin of the species. Or rather, Darwinian evolution provides one possible theory for HOW our species came to be. Science, through a Darwinian lens, provides a description for a process that may or may not have occurred. It cannot, under those conditions, also make a claim for why that process occurred in the first place or even perhaps who or what initiated that process.
Evolution may be a very good explanation for how things happened, but just because we have an explanation for life that makes more “scientific” sense, doesn’t mean that it automatically disqualifies a creationist explanation. (Quick side-note: It seems as if Darwinian evolution is a symbol of man’s arrogant attempt to find a more “logical” or “rational” way of explaining our existence that doesn’t rely on a higher authority that we would have to submit ourselves to.) If we build on the previously accepted assumption that science is treated as a religion, then it’s no different than saying “Hinduism’s creation account makes more sense than that of Christianity, so of course that one must be true.” Science has no greater bearing on the existence of God than any other religion because evolutionary theory does not in any way conclusively rule out the existence and influence of God. In that way, no, science does not bear on religious knowledge UNLESS it allows us to eventually build time machines and go back to witness the evolution of man firsthand, or discover a malevolent alien race that has been pretending to be God by manipulating our minds and history.
Alternatively, there have been points in history where religious knowledge wrongly attempted to wrest control of scientific knowledge, for example in the debate between a heliocentric and geocentric view of the solar system. (Quick side-note follow-up: Things like the church’s insistence on a geocentric solar system also shows man arrogance as we’ll even use religion to show that we’re at the center of the universe.) Science rightly called out religion for being intellectually dishonest and making claims about reality outside the scope of the Bible. While the Bible speaks to foundational truth, it does not contain all specific truths, which is where science becomes so important.
To sum up: in theory, yes it is distantly possible that science could have a meaningful and course-changing impact on religion, but that’s a tall order that we’ll never see.
About imago dei: My understanding of the Genesis account is that it’s intended to be more abstractly descriptive rather than scientifically precise. That is to say that it is inherently true, but the main point is not exactly how God created man, but that God was the one who created man. The means by which this happened is largely irrelevant and explaining the specifics of our creation was not the intended goal of the creation account. Maybe God took an afternoon to form man out of dirt and mud, maybe the dust is a metaphor for some evolutionary process, who knows.
Brett: You bring up some interesting points, particularly in how doubt affects any given field of study. I will be most interested to discuss this more, but it must wait until next time.