Many western Christians have difficulty harmonizing what they know about science with the Bible. Since the spread darwinism many Christians find their faith challenged by concepts such as the Big Bang, macro-evolution, and even historical sciences like archaeology. Some expositors take the position that anything within science that runs contrary to their understanding of the Bible means that the science is wrong. Others go another route to say that Christians should not attempt use scientific discoveries to reinterpret biblical passages.
While there are many challenges to be overcome between the general notion of science and the Bible, Christians should not be upset or feel inferior when it comes to these issues. I believe that science and the Bible, when carefully approached, are actually complimentary disciplines from which we can learn much. And the Bible doesn’t suffer from it, in fact, our understanding of scripture can be robustly enhanced as a result. To understand why this is I’d like to make the case that scientific disciplines are a form of revelation that expose us to truth in the natural realm.
Theologically speaking, there are two kinds of revelation that tell us things about God, man, and the world around us. These two revelations are known as:
- General Revelation
- Special Revelation
General Revelation is that which is observed or discovered about the world or cosmos around us. From General Revelation we learn two categories of knowledge. We learn the facts about the world around us and how things work. And we use General Revelation to help us understand about God’s nature. The scripture supports this idea in several passages.
“Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth;’ and it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:14-18).
“When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?” (Matthew 16:2-3).
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2).
“Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:20).
In the passages above we see the two functions of General Revelation. One tells us about the world around us and, in fact, these things encourage us to study the world around us so that we may understand how things work. The other uses the world around us to give us hints about the nature of God, as in the Romans 1 passage.
Special Revelation is different from General Revelation in that General Revelation testifies to us about the existence of God, but does so in a limited fashion. We can deduce from General Revelation that God exists and has certain attributes. But General Revelation does not tell us about all of the personal attributes of God or his plan for humankind. Only Special Revelation can do that.
Special Revelation is the act or record of God revealing himself to man directly, as he did through the prophets and the writings of scripture.
What many people fail to understand about these two forms of revelation is that they are both instituted by God to tell us certain truths. The truths of General Revelation are no less true than the truths in Special Revelation.
Many Christians regard Special Revelation (the Bible) as being of a higher order than General Revelation. In one sense this is true. The direct revelation of God to us about himself is certainly of a higher order than a discovery about the natural world. However, Christians should recognize that both forms of revelation reveal truth—it is just that the truths being revealed are different.
In this sense, it is possible, and wise, for us to look at scientific discoveries that help provide insight about the Bible’s truths. Both are forms of truth and both are means of discovery in their disciplines, and both have something to say about the other. The caution, however, is to understand that we sometimes lack knowledge or interpretive insight to whatever it is that we might be studying.
It is true that no scientific discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference. In this sense, scientific discovery and the Bible compliment one another. But it is equally true that our understanding in either realm may be incomplete. Take, as an example, the once believed notion that the sun revolved around the earth. Some in the church stood their ground on this idea (though universally the whole church did not believe this). Where did they get this idea? It wasn’t from the Bible. Rather, it was from a mistaken understanding of what the Bible taught. Nowhere in the Bible does the text say or imply that the sun revolves around the earth. At the same time it also doesn’t say that earth revolves around the sun either. When the discovery was made that the earth revolves around sun, churchmen needed to take a renewed look at scripture to see if their understanding of it was faulty. We all know the results of that discovery. This is classic case of using scientific discovery to help mold our interpretation of the biblical text.
We can, legitimately, refute the idea that we cannot combine scientific knowledge with the Bible to arrive at truth. General Revelation and Special Revelation are both forms of truth discovery. They operate differently in different realms and can therefore compliment one another nicely. Christians should not be afraid of what General Revelation brings to the table. And scientists should not be afraid of what Special Revelation also brings to the table.
What about contradictions? For instance, evolution is routinely taught as a trump card against the possibility of the existence of God. Famed physicist, Steven Hawkings recently stated that laws like gravity make the existence of God unnecessary. Aren’t these examples of scientific discoveries trumping the Bible, thus calling its revelation into question? I don’t think so, and here’s why.
There are three parameters that we should apply to both General Revelation and Special Revelation. If a scientific discovery or interpretation contradicts the Bible then one of three things is wrong:
- Either the scientific discovery or understanding is wrong, or
- Our understanding of the biblical passage is wrong or incomplete, or
Our scientific knowledge is incomplete.
Science is a process of discovery. Not all ascertains made in the scientific realm are always correct. Theories and discoveries over the centuries have added to knowledge, but also are sometimes reinterpreted as new information comes to light. A great example of this is archaeology. Many archaeologists have doubted certain biblical accounts because there were no discoveries to support them. At one time it was thought that Pontius Pilate was a fiction—until there were writings discovered that confirmed the biblical account that he existed. Many people believed that Sodom was a fable since there was no discovery pinpointing its location—until discoveries in the last seven years revealed Sodom’s location near the north end of the Dead Sea in Jordanian territory.
In both disciplines of General Revelation and Special Revelation we are always in a process of discovery. Both categories are fixed in that they both exist and have something to say to us. In both categories our knowledge or understanding is sometimes incomplete. But in both we have treasure troves of discovery to be made. General Revelation can aid our understanding of the Bible and Special Revelation can aid our discovery in the natural realm. As such, both are forms of truth that compliment one another and neither should be ignored by the scientist or the Christian. This is the best approach to harmonizing what we know about nature and the Bible.