I’ve been watching Cosmos on FOX on Sunday nights. I love the host, Neil deGrasse Tyson. His passion for making science–physics and chemistry and biology and geology–accessible to the masses is infectious. And the discoveries of science–what we know and are continuing to learn about God’s creation–are fascinating.
As much as I like him, he’s voiced some pointed critiques aimed squarely at Christianity during the series. That’s not a reason not to like him; we could use some critiquing now and then. But some Christians feel he’s been TOO antagonistic toward our faith during the Cosmos series.
Those most likely to take offense at Tyson’s editorializing are those who take a low view of the scientific method. Some Christians question the validity of many scientific truths. I’m not one of them. We can’t rely on the science that keeps our airplanes aloft, cures our diseases, and forecasts the weather at the lake this weekend and reject the science that intrudes into our preferred worldview or that would at first glance appear to challenge our faith.
Scientific understanding ought to be held up to the same level of critical scrutiny as any other truth claim. But once a scientific claim has been reviewed and validated, we ought to accept it. God is revealed–not challenged–as we understand more and more about the universe.
When Tyson appears too antagonistic to the faith or Christians turn blind eyes to scientific truth, we’re not seeing a conflict between Christianity and science; we’re seeing a conflict between scientism and biblicism. We’re seeing an ideological conflict that has very little to do with either being a follower of Christ or seeking rational truth about the observable world. In effect, what we see and hear are arguments between those who would put the Bible ahead of Christ and those who would put faith in the abilities of science ahead of verifiable, scientific truth.
I have a tendency to chuckle when I watch the most esteemed scientists in the world bend over backwards to try to explain where matter come from prior to the Big Bang or make wildly speculative claims about how life first came to our planet. Science may one day shed some light on those questions. But for now, a simple “Science can’t answer those questions” would suffice.
While watching scientists struggle to answer tough questions can tickle my funny bone, I’m tempted to cry when I watch otherwise intelligent theologians and evangelical leaders dismiss universally accepted scientific truths because they don’t fit neatly into a literal understanding of Biblical storytelling. On the other hand, we don’t need to be bending over backwards to make our biblical interpretation fit neatly into scientific truth either.
When God’s inspired word and scientific truth don’t match exactly, it’s okay to say I’m not sure. We would all do well to be more willing to say “I don’t know” a little more often.
The belief that science can reveal all truth (scientism) or that the Bible is the only source of truth (Biblicism) or that we are capable of complete understanding of truth (humanism) all fly in the face of another truth claim, one we ought to be more mindful of. Jesus said, “I am…the truth.”
We’re talking about heaven in worship right now. We’re having to ask questions about the nature of heaven, it’s place in creation, and how we understand a spiritual and even physical life after death. The idea of heaven, of life after death, is a direct affront to scientism and the idea that there could be more to life with God than scripture reveals is an affront to biblicism. Both biblicism and scientism crave certainty. Neither are very comfortable with doubt or the mystery the unknown.
But the truth is, this side of heaven, we’re gonna have to learn to be comfortable with some uncertainty. Even the Bible tells us there’s much we have yet to learn. And the breathtaking advances of science invite as many questions as they reveal answers.
God is bigger than the scientific method. There’s more to life than the senses can verify. Even rational inquiry has it’s limits. Scientism is a form of idolatry. But it’s not the only form. God is bigger even than our sacred scriptures. Bible worship is itself just another form of idolatry. We do not worship at the altar of scripture or the altar of the textbook. We worship at the altar of the Lord.
So on Sunday nights, when I sit down on the couch to watch Cosmos, I trust Christ to guide me. And as I hold scripture in one hand and my science textbook in the other, I wish that God (or natural selection) had given me a third hand to hold the popcorn!