Science And Hermeneutics
Both science and theology are concerned to explain the phe-nomena of the natural world, and they do so from two dif-ferent perspectives. The natural sciences tend to focus on the operation of secondary causes—how atomic movements, chemical reactions, and other things produce effects in the universe. With re-spect to the physical world, theology often emphasizes the role of the primary cause—God—who brings everything to pass according to His comprehensive decree and sovereign providence. Both perspec-tives are necessary for us to have the fullest awareness of the created order, and since all truth is God’s truth, we can be confident that truth discovered in one area will not contradict truth discovered in another.
God’s revelation is infallible no matter where He provides it. We are accustomed to viewing the revelation that theology focuses its atten-tion on—Scripture—as infallible, and rightly so given what Scripture says about itself (for example, Ps. 12:6). Yet we must also remember that God’s revelation in nature is infallible as well. If God tells us truth about Himself through the natural world (Rom. 1:18–32), it follows logically that this revelation cannot err because the Lord cannot err.
However, though special revelation and natural revelation are both infallible, our understanding of them is not. Sometimes we make mis-takes, and the discoveries in science can help us see where we have erred in interpreting Scripture. For example, until Galileo’s day, many people thought Scripture teaches that the earth is stationary and the center of the universe. This was based on biblical descriptions of the sun’s rising and setting in texts such as Ecclesiastes 1:5. But Galileo’s discoveries helped us see that the Bible does not generally use techni-cal scientific language in describing the natural world. It tends to use ordinary ways of speaking about the world according to how things look to the naked eye. There is nothing wrong with speaking in such ways when we are not intending to describe how the world works with scientific precision. Even in this age of science, we are unafraid to speak of the sun rising and setting in the appropriate contexts.
It is also true that our discoveries in Scripture can help us see where we have erred in science. The biblical account of creation, for instance, has motivated many scientists to highlight the problems and incon-sistencies inherent to attempting science on the basis of an atheistic and naturalistic worldview. In turn, many scientists have been forced to rethink their conclusions about God and the universe.
Many of the supposed conflicts between science and theology would not exist if we would be slower to speak and quicker to learn from other disciplines. Scientists and theologians often end up speaking past one another because they have not taken the time to gain even a basic understanding of each other’s area of study. Let us endeavor not to repeat this error
Passages for Further Study
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