Astrophysics and Apologetics
by John Halford
According to a Christian minister and theoretical scientist, science can expand our vision of the majesty of creation. After all, what is science, but “thinking God’s thoughts after Him”?
David Wilkinson is one of a rare breed—an ordained minister and an astrophysicist. He is chaplain at Liverpool University, but has accepted the appointment of Fellow of Christian Apologetics at St John’s College, Durham. We talked with Dr. Wilkinson about the challenge of reconciling science and faith.
What science does show us are things like the extravagance of God.
John Halford:What are “apologetics”? What is it that you do?
David Wilkinson: Don’t confuse apologetics with apologies. It means explaining and defending the Christian position by logical argument. I think apologetics today is twofold: one is a traditional understanding of apologetics, which is answering questions like “Why is there suffering in the world if there’s a good God?” or “How can we reconcile science with Christianity?” But I think apologetics is far more than that. Apologetics is making the truth of the Christian faith relevant to the concerns and interests of people today.
The Bible tells us “the heavens declare God’s glory.” That was written 3,000 years ago. Today we know so much more, and we should have a much greater appreciation of the greatness and majesty of God. Yet so much of science seems to be against the concept of Creation and a Creator.
Many people have this image of science being against the concept of Creation, but I don’t think that’s valid. One of the fascinating things over the last 20 to 30 years is that scientists have become more and more interested in questions about God. Maybe not questions about the Christian faith, but they are interested in the big questions. For instance, in my field of astrophysics, many of my colleagues would be fascinated by questions of purpose and why are we here? Science itself doesn’t give answers to that. What science does show us are things like the extravagance of God.
What do you mean by that?
Well, we know that our sun is one star in a galaxy of a hundred billion stars, and our galaxy is one of one hundred billion galaxies in the universe. Then when you read in the first chapter of Genesis, almost by the way of a side comment, “He made the stars also,” you begin to see something of the greatness of God.
I think science has helped my faith, because it has given me an appreciation for things like the importance of evidence within the Christian faith. But my faith has also helped my science. Albert Einstein said that “science is thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” Science has expanded my vision at just how good and elegant and beautiful and majestic the creation is.
Why is it then that some scientists tend to regard questions of faith and revelation as irrelevant?
I think a lot of that comes from what we might call the conflict hypothesis. That is that science and faith are somehow opposed and mutually exclusive. You can trace that back historically to the turn of the last century where people like G.H. Huxley tried to free science from the control of the church. Up to that point the great scientists were Christian believers.
But I think the reality now is that most professional scientists would be far more open to religious questions than perhaps they would 30 to 40 years ago. There is a genuineness of interest and searching for spiritual answers as well as scientific ones…
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