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What Should You Do When Scientists and Theologians Disagree?

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In a recent post, we discussed that science and theology should be partners, not enemies. Nevertheless, some scientists and theologians disagree on key issues. How, then, do we find a resolution when certain scientists present evidence that appears to conflict with Christian teaching?

As Christians we believe that there cannot be any real or final conflict between theology and science, because God is the author of both the “book of Scripture” and the “book of nature.” If there is a conflict between certain theologians and certain scientists, it exists because of human error in interpreting Scripture or interpreting nature.

In other words, there will sometimes be disagreement between theologians and scientists, but there will never be disagreement between God’s two books (Scripture and nature).

Theologians and scientists may disagree, but Scripture and nature won’t.

In light of these convictions, I offer three principles to resolve the disagreements that sometimes exist between theologians and scientists. These three principles are modified from an article written by the Christian philosopher Norman Geisler:

1. Either group (theologians or scientists) can err. For that reason, either group should be open to correction.

Both theologians and scientists have made mistakes. On the one hand, centuries ago many theologians thought that the Earth was square, based on biblical texts referring to the “corners” of the Earth. However, scientists have demonstrated beyond doubt that the world is not square, and theologians now realize that the biblical authors used “corners of he Earth” language metaphorically.[1]

On the other hand, decades ago many scientists thought the Earth was eternal. However, most scientists now believe in the “Big Bang” theory, which explains that the universe is expanding outward from a point of “infinite density” (which is as close scientific language can come to saying that it appeared out of nothing).

2. The Bible is not a science textbook.

Scripture does make statements that can be investigated and either affirmed or denied by scientists. However, it does not use technical scientific language and it does not give scientific theories. Instead, it uses language that would be accessible to persons who are observing the world from an ordinary human standpoint.

When Scripture is interpreted correctly in this manner, we see that God’s written Word does not conflict with science in any real or final manner. Any disagreement we find should be located in human interpretive error, rather than in any real conflict between God’s two books.

3. Science is constantly changing.

One generation of scientists might argue that the universe is eternal, while the very next generation argues that the universe emerged from a point of infinite density and therefore had a beginning. For this reason, Christians should be careful not to hurriedly revise a traditional interpretation of Scripture in order to satisfy the demands of contemporary scientists.

Conclusion

God’s revelation of himself gives Christians deep motivation to embrace the sciences and do excellent work in them. Viewed from a Christian perspective, science is the discipline of studying the good world that God has given us.

Yes, scientists and theologians will occasionally disagree. But rest assured that nature and Scripture won’t.

This post is adapted from Dr. Ashford’s new book, Every Square Inch. Details>>

[1] For a fascinating treatment of this historical debate, see Kenneth D. Keathley, “Flat or Round? The Sixth Century Debate,” in Intelligent Design: William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse in Dialogue, ed. Robert Stewart (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2007), 196-209.

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Bruce Ashford

Bruce Riley Ashford is the author or co-author of six books, including 'The Gospel of Our King' (Baker, 2019), 'Letters to an American Christian' (B&H, 2018), 'One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics' (B&H, 2015), and 'Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians' (Lexham, 2015).

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