Are Nature and Scripture Compatible?
The debate about the proper interaction of science and theology is raging as much as it has ever been. Hot tempers fly that result in ice-cold relationships. For as much discussion and debate that takes place, it seems that nothing is being accomplished. For those caught in the middle, questions still remain unanswered:
1. What do we do when science contradicts our theology or our theology contradicts science?
2. Are they allowed to contradict?
3. If not, which should I choose?
4. Can’t they just agree to disagree?
These are all questions that shaped by spiritual struggle several years ago. I was constantly told that I could not trust science because it contradicted my theology, and at the same time I was told that I could not trust theology because it denied science. I felt like I had a choice: live a double life- allowing one source of truth (religion) in one area of reality, but not allowing it relevance in the other areas. Or I could completely deny one of them as a valid source of truth, giving up my theology completely, or giving up science completely.
How could I live what I do not believe, and how could I deny what I know to be true? These further haunting questions demanded answers yet seemed unanswerable. Neither hypocrisy nor denial are very appealing traits. Unfortunately these are often presented as the only options available in our search for the true worldview. In this post, my goal is to present a compelling alternative that grants that science and theology are valid sources of truth that often overlap in the aspects of reality that they claim to explain. I will also put forth a method for dealing with conflicts in the overlapping areas and explain the liabilities of not dealing with such conflicts.
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The Overlap: I believe that science and theology are fully compatible with one another. Both often speak about the same features of reality, but because we are not omniscient we often find that our science and our theology contradict one another. If we wish for our theology to inform our understandings of creation (scientific models) and behavior towards each other and the rest of creation (ethics- 2 Timothy 3:16), overlap is necessary. Likewise, if we wish for our science to inform our theology (Romans 1:20), overlap is necessary. If we are to believe that overlap is necessary, then contradictions cannot exist between science and theology. This will be the starting point for this alternative view. The next step is to make an important distinction.
Interpretation and Raw Data: The next step to this view is the distinction between raw data and the interpretation of the raw data. When we are attempting to reconcile science and theology, we are attempting to reconcile the raw data that each one interprets. For science that raw data is nature, and for theology that raw data is the scriptures (original language, where possible). Every piece of raw data must be interpreted. By interpretation I mean that we examine the raw data and explain it in light of the other raw data that we have. It is common, and incorrect, for someone to confuse nature (the raw data) with science (the interpretation) and/or scripture (the raw data) with theology (the interpretation). The raw data is what is necessarily infallible (to use the religious term), while our interpretation (in virtue of our lack of omniscience) is necessarily fallible, but not necessarily false. The processes described below will help our interpretation of nature (science) and our interpretation of scripture (theology) reflect the full, true understanding of each…