These truths point to the inherent agreement between a contextual reading of Scripture and God’s self-revelation in nature (Psa 19; Rom 1:20; Acts 14:17). Since God is the Author of both the Bible and nature, interpreting each requires understanding their unique ways of knowing and allowing each field to inform the other. As Oden points out, “Christian faith in God the Creator relies primarily on Scripture’s witness to divine revelation. Partial insight into the truth of revelation may also occur through scientific investigation and rational inquiry” (1.1.6). In other words, reasonable faith and God’s creativity point to both religion and science as ways of coming to know the one true God of the Bible. And though science could never provide such a conclusion on its own, neither should this undermine its place within a Christian worldview.
Perhaps the best way to bring together science and religion is to understand how each enables us to perceive the inherent wonder and meaning of the world around us. Einstein glimpsed this in his understanding of order and mystery, but many thinkers through the ages have referred to it as the telos (Greek) or purpose of the universe. So while our understanding of God’s ends and means will at times require “modification in the light of the empirical evidence,” understanding the overriding and undergirding role of divine power in the universe allows us to see how the “concept of teleology can be mapped onto a Christian framework of understanding, shaped by the core notion of divine providence” (McGrath, ch. 10).
As Lewis remarks, what we need, then, is “a new Natural Philosophy, continually conscious that the ‘natural object’ produced by analysis and abstraction is not reality but only a view [from a particular perspective], and always correcting the abstraction” through the tools provided by methodological naturalism (Abolition 78-79, emphasis added). Lewis continues along much the same line that Einstein began, noting that this “regenerate science” is possible only through personal humility and prudent epistemology: “When [such a science] explained it would not explain away. When it spoke in parts it would remember the whole. While studying the It it would not lose . . . the Thou-situation” (Abolition 79). Unfortunately, this is a balance that modern science has yet to strike. As McGrath laments, “The curse of the scientific age is that human beings are reduced to genetic and social stereotypes. Individual identity has become a matter of an impersonal genetic code” (McGrath 13). We have lost a sense of Thou, both toward our fellow man, and to the One whose image we bear.
So while science deals with those subjects that are accessed directly through observation and experimentation, religion (or rather, biblical religion) deals with those subjects accessed directly through the special revelation of God through his Son and Scriptures. Or in the words of the apostle Paul: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17 ESV). The question, then, is how to handle apparent disparities between science and the Bible. On one hand, many would like to begin by assuming that the scientific consensus is correct and then search the Bible for clues to validate it. Such an approach, however, clearly reverses the priority given in Scripture.
While it is important to point out when “truths found in Scripture converge with those found in our observations of the world around us,” we should instead  identify “what the Bible’s authoritative claims are,”  “examine those places where people might insist that the Bible . . . is in conflict with science . . .  decide whether it does or does not” and  rely first and finally on what the Scriptures teach (Walton). After all, as J.I. Packer reminds us, while “no article of Christian faith admits of full rational demonstration, that should not daunt, nor even surprise us; for it is the very nature of Christian faith to believe, on the authority of God, truths which may neither be rationally demonstrated nor exhaustively understood.”
A biblical reading of the Bible therefore requires accepting what God has said, and knowing that no “scientific facts are inconsistent with the true meaning of any passage of Scripture” (Hermeneutics XXI). Of course, as fallible human beings, we may very well have misinterpreted the biblical or scientific evidence and ‘created’ a contradiction of our own, but this doesn’t mean we should ignore evidence against our position—it means we need to become better students of God’s Word and God’s world. Far from being threatened by science, then, sound biblical teaching requires a careful and faithful interaction with a scientific understanding of the natural world.
I would like to propose, then, the following as a Model for the New Natural Philosophy (see too, What We Believe):
- There is one triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—one in essence; perfect in being, character, wisdom and power; the Maker and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible.
- God’s witness in Scripture speaks with infallible divine authority. It is to be believed in all that it affirms, obeyed in all that it requires, and embraced in all that it promises.
- God also reveals himself through his creation, which displays his glory, eternal power, and divine nature. Properly interpreted, Scripture and nature are complementary and faithful witnesses to their common Lord.
- God created humans in his image with the capacity of reason to humbly and carefully develop our view of the world through honest and loving dialogue. But since humans are fallible creatures, specific interpretations should be open to further modification based on the evidence.
- Modern science has achieved many discoveries that support the reality of God as Creator, but has also produced certain auxiliary hypotheses and overarching interpretations that are inconsistent with the word of God.
- Our goal, then, is to develop an integrated theology of creation that identifies “what the Bible’s authoritative claims are,” seeks confirmation and clarification from the scientific community, recognizes where the two are at odds, and relies first and foremost on the testimony of Scripture (Walton).
Of course, as you may have noticed, this model is not really new at all. In fact, Christians recognized this biblical relationship between science and faith long before the advent of modern science. For example, Augustine sets forth these same principles in his fourth-century work, The Literal Meaning of Genesis. There, he states that, “Nature is what [God] does,” and therefore we must remain open to learning of him through both Scripture and nature (quoted in Louis 6). And when “we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received . . . we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that . . . we too fall,” when that particular view is demonstrated to be false (Literal 1.51). As always, then, our faith follows the evidence God has given (Heb 11:1).
The Christian view of nature, then, is not an either/or proposition. It involves a balance of faith and reason, nature and super-nature, science and religion, providence and miracles. So while it will not always agree with the scientific consensus, biblical Christianity will find much support from what students of nature have discovered. As Chesterton once wrote, “It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence [whether scientific or biblical]—it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed” (Chesterton 159). Unfortunately, many believers today commit the same fallacy by rejecting this same evidence, when what requires correction are their own views on natural theology.
So to borrow the words of Jack Collins, “I will not deceive you by making myself out to be neutral: my sympathies are with the harmonizers. But I hope that I am honest enough to change my mind if the evidence leads elsewhere. The only way [for Christians] to proceed is to keep our focus on the grammar [of the Bible] and to keep the hermeneutical issues in plain sight” (Collins, locations 1387-1389). Such is only possible, however, when we recognize that our faith should always be in taking God at his word, and not our own rational capacities. So that, in the end, we might all fall down at the feet of our Creator, singing, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev 4:11). Amen.
- Augustine. De Genesi ad Litteram (The Literal Meaning of Genesis). Trans. J.H. Taylor. Ancient Christian Writers. Vol. 41. New York: Newman Press, 1982. Web. 11 Jun. 2011.
- Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1908. Print.
- “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics.” 1982. Bible Research. Web. 21 Apr. 2010.
- Collins, C. John. Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary. Phillipsburg, PA: P&R, 2006. Kindle.
- The ESV Study Bible. Ed. Lane T. Dennis & Wayne Grudem. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Bible Study with Accordance.
- Lewis, C.S. The Abolition of Man. 1971. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. Print.
- Louis, Ard. “Miracles and Science: The Long Shadow of David Hume.” BioLogos. Jun 2010. Web. 2 Jan 2015. PDF.
- McGrath, Alister E. Surprised by Meaning: Science, Faith, and How We Make Sense of Things. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2011. iBooks.
- Oden, Thomas C. Classic Christianity. HarperCollins, 2009. iBooks.
- Packer, James I. “The Interpretation of Scripture.” ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God. Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity, 1958. 101-114. Bible Research. Web. 21 Apr. 2010.
- Walton, John. “Reflections on Reading Genesis 1-3: John Walton’s World Tour, Part 2.” BioLogos. 17 Sep. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.