Summary: Science tells us a lot about the world in which we live, but ultimately there are some questions for which the only answer is God, and faith is our proof.
For two years after college, I taught high school band in Hilton Head. I loved my students and I loved teaching, but what became clear to me in those two years was something I had known since I was fifteen; that my truly calling was to serve in the church. So, about midway through my second year, I submitted my resignation to the school principal and made my plans to attend seminary public. After word got out that I would be starting seminary the coming fall, I was having a conversation with one of the biology teachers at the school. She was nearing retirement, and in my time teaching, she had become a sort of mentor to me. So in this particular conversation, we were sharing our faith histories. I told her about my calling to ministry, and she shared with me her faith. She had grown up in the church, but in college, as she really began to study science, she found her beliefs to be irrelevant. There was no mystery, no need for faith, she thought, because science provided an explanation for everything. But then, she said, as her studies progressed and she started digging deeper into the questions of science, she found that there were some questions that science could simply not answer. “I realized then,” she said, “that sometimes the only answer is God. I’ve been in church ever since.”
For centuries, we have put science and creation at odds with one another. And yet, this is not necessary. As United Methodists, we believe that Scripture is the inspired word of God and that it contains “all things necessary to salvation.” But that does not mean our Bible is to be taken literally, or that contains all things necessary for biology and physics class. And by the same token, science cannot answer questions about our creator. At their most basic level, faith and science are seeking the answer to different questions. Science wants to know, “When?” and “How?” while religion seeks answers to the “Who?” and “Why?” “The more questions we ask about the world, the more we see that every system will, in the end, require some point of belief beyond what we can prove.” Werner Heisenburg, a theologian and Nobel Prize winning physicist captures this reality well. He says, “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”
So what are faithful Christians to make of science? Science teaches us that our universe began with what it calls a “big bang” event some 13.7 billion years ago, and that life (including human life) has all evolved over the last 3.5-3.8 billion years from some single-celled organism. But a literal reading of Genesis teaches that our world and all that is a part of it was created in seven days sometime around the year 4,000 BCE, a mere 6,000 years ago; a clear contradiction. So, faced with this contradiction, people tend to gravitate toward one of two possibilities. Many scientists say that creation is just a story, that it’s not real. And many faithful God-followers say that evolution is just a theory, not a reality. But scientific evidence for the origins of the universe and the emergence of life on our planet are overwhelming, and at the same time, the reality of God and the life-giving creator are beyond a doubt for many, including scientists like my biology teaching friend.
So how do we believe in science and creation? First, we must remember that God is a God of blessing, and part of God’s blessing to humanity is knowledge. Just think of all the places knowledge has taken us, look at all the advances in our society that spring from a growing wisdom of ourselves and the world around us. Such knowledge is God-given, and meant to help us grow into our fullest potential as God’s creation. Secondly, we have to understand that both science and faith are necessary for wisdom in this modern world, and belief in one does not necessitate the rejection of the other. Science is all about asking questions to get data and find answers, but life is about more than the physical processes of our world, and true life comes in faith. Science can help us understand the building blocks of the universe moments after it was created, but science cannot tell us why it was created or who might have created it, only faith can do that. Science simply cannot provide answers about some of the most important things life such as hope, sacrifice, and love; only faith can do that.
I’m going to come back to this specific question in minute, but first I want us to take a moment where we are to think a bit more about faith, and believing in a God that cannot be proven. Certainly, in scientific terms, God’s existence is not a matter of facts or data. As important as science is for so much in our world, there is no scientific physical evidence, no definitive proof of God. As we heard from the writer of Hebrews this morning, “Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” So faith is our only proof, and faith is nothing more than the assurance of the unseen. Kind of tough, isn’t it? The earliest Christians, those who saw Christ resurrected from the dead, may have had something resembling proof, “but every Christian since that unique moment in history worships a God they cannot see or touch,” a God that cannot be proven by any hard data. In fact, most of the information available about God isn’t about God at all, but instead about the actions and experiences of those who follow God. Just look at the “roll call of faith” we heard from Hebrews this morning; the faithful actions of Noah, and Abraham, and David, and Samuel, and ultimately Christ. These people sacrificially followed the call of God in their lives and in so doing their lives were changed, as were the lives of countless millions.