Science and Revelation

Science vs. Revelation

The church has long maintained that God reveals himself to us both through the scriptures and through nature.

Romans 1:20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  

But, are these means of revelation separate? Should science play a role in the interpretation of scripture? This question is relevant to the study of the creation account in Genesis 1 since many maintain that the desire to conform to the present view of science is the only reason for considering the “days” of creation to be anything other than normal 24-hour days. Philosopher and theologian J.P. Moreland addressed this question in a question-and-answer session following a lecture at the Northshore Church in Everett, Washington on February 2, 2002

I doubt, sir, that you or anybody else in the room takes the Biblical passages that say that ‘Jesus will call his angels from the four corners of the earth’ to teach a flat earth. I also doubt that anyone in here says that when the sun rises and sets it literally means an earth-centered universe. But you must understand that … there were times when the church interpreted the text that taught that God/Christ will call his angels from the four corners of the world to teach very obviously that the world has four corners. The text says that. You can read it until you're blue in the face, and it says that the Earth has four corners. Similarly, the Bible says the sun rises and sets. Now, that's what it says. You can dance around it all you want. That's what the text says. But there's nobody in here that believes that. No one in here believes the earth has four corners. And so, what we've done is taken that language and interpreted it metaphorically. Similarly, with the rising and setting of the sun, we treat that … phenomenologically — we say that's the language of description; it is not meant to be taken literally.

Now, when it comes to the … flat earth and the rising and the setting of the sun: it was scientific evidence that caused people to say ‘maybe we'd better re-look at those passages.’ There was nothing exegetically or strictly in the Hebrew grammar and syntax. There was absolutely nothing about the literary genre of the passage or the historical-grammatical method of interpretation that could tell you anything at all about one way or the other — it was scientific evidence. So now the question was raised by the church interpreters: ‘Is there anything essential to this passage that's violated if we take the four corners of the earth to be metaphorical?’ Now, their answer was in that particular passage, ‘no.’ That particular text can allow for that without violating the teachings of the scriptures in that particular text. Now, is this procedure risky in other passages? You bet. But does it follow that it should never be applied? No, you've gotta take texts — each text, on its own. So, the devil's in the details, and you've got to be very, very careful.

It is clear from these remarks that science can play a role in the interpretation of scripture, but that it must be done carefully. We also need to keep in mind that the Bible was never intended to be a textbook on science. The following is a statement by John Calvin in 1534.

The whole point of scripture is to bring us to a knowledge of Jesus Christ — and having come to know him (and all that this implies), we should come to a halt and not expect to learn more. Scripture provides us with spectacles through which we may view the world as God's creation and self-expression; it does not, and never was intended, to provide us with an infallible repository of astronomical and medical information. The natural sciences are thus effectively emancipated from theological restrictions.

There is a great deal of science that supports the Christian world view. Consider these quotes by some famous scientists

There is no doubt that a parallel exists between the big bang as an event and the Christian notion of creation from nothing. George Smoot, Astronomer, U.C. Berkeley, Nobel Prize in Physics, 2006

Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say, ‘supernatural’) plan. Arno Penzias, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1978

An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to almost be a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going. Francis Crick, Co-discoverer of DNA

I think that many Christians today are fearful of science. We need to remember that all truth is God's truth whether revealed by observation of nature or by the words of scripture. When both are correctly interpreted there can be no conflict. Historically, Christianity was one of the main contributors to the birth of science. The Greeks believed that man could figure out nature using reason. The Christian view is that God created the universe out of nothing and therefore had complete freedom to make it however he wanted. Therefore, to understand nature one must look and see, i.e., experiment and observe. Experimentation is one of the main concepts of science. Christians believe that God created the natural world, but He is not part of it. Therefore, we can freely investigate nature without disturbing the “gods”. In addition, science is based on the idea that the natural world is rational and that man has the rational ability to understand it. This concept follows easily if everything was created by a rational creator and that man was created in the image of God, but it is hard to understand the origin of this concept otherwise. Up until the 1800s almost all scientists were Christians (Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Boyle, Pascal, Lord Kelvin, Faraday, Maxwell, etc.). In fact their motivation for doing science was to discover something of the mind of God.

A good source of articles on the relationship between Science and Christianity is the American Scientific Affiliation. This is an organization of scientists who are also Christians. It was started in 1941 to provide a place where issues relating to science and the Christian faith can be openly discussed. Their web site is