Saturday, 5 October 2013

Science and the Bible

(Written on November 26, 2012, revised for blog on October 5, 2013)

Is the bible actually true?  This question arose in a threatening but unfrightening manner when I heard just one of Jesus’ statements repeated back to me:

Mark 4:31 - It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.

Scientifically, this statement is inaccurate.  There are seeds smaller than the mustard seed.  So then, did Jesus lie?  Was Jesus not God who knew all things?  What’s going on here?

First off, I believe that the bible should be read literally - but in context.  In context of...
  • the verse/sentence
  • the paragraph
  • the book/letter (eg.  Proverbs is just that, proverbs, sayings that are held true most of the time and are useful for wisdom, but isn’t necessarily going to hold true 100% of the time)
  • the group of letters/books (eg. The law given to the Israelites were specified just to them, they were a nation and God was giving them civil laws, on top of the moral laws like the Ten Commandments)
  • the testament – the easiest way that I view this switch between testaments is the camera zoomed out a bit from looking at just the nation of Israel to looking at all the nations. 
  • the whole bible
  • Jesus – the man who is God
However, even reading the bible in the contexts that I have provided doesn’t clarify this verse.  It still looks like Jesus isn’t telling the truth.

The Word of God is a gift to us humans.  God wants us to understand, so he uses words that we can understand.  From previous articles you will see that I believe the reason God displays emotions despite being timeless, and displays a figure to be seen, is because he wants to be in relationship with us.  For this reason, God is writing the bible in words that can be read and understood (at least at a basic level).  He is using the audiences’ knowledge in order to reach them.

Let us create a hypothetical situation where Jesus all of a sudden decides to be absolutely true in all regards:
Follower:  so you’re saying you’re the son of God, who causes the sun to rise.
Jesus:  well technically, the sun doesn’t actually rise.  The theory that the earth is the centre of the universe is a false Greek one.  In reality, the appearance of the sun rising is caused by the effect of the earth rotating on its axis.  I’ll come back to what an axis is later.  The sun doesn’t circle the earth, the earth is in a trip around the sun.  But, all of these celestial happenings are the work of my Father, yes.
Follower:  I can see you are very wise, the very concepts you are explaining are beyond the scope of my intelligence.  Truly, you must be the son of God to be that smart.  I implore you, come to heal my demon possessed child.
Jesus:  actually, your child isn’t demon possessed.  She is suffering from a mental deficiency in which the signals in her brain are moving in the wrong directions.  Signals are these tiny charged waves.  But to know what these waves are you’ll have to understand that every little thing is made up of even tinier things called atoms...

You see where there’s a problem, right?  When it comes to things in the scientific realm, for Jesus to say something absolutely true, he would have to explain science itself to it’s furthest degree, a science that we won’t ever come to realize.

Jesus wasn’t on a mission to save our minds, however.  It didn’t bother God that our understanding of nature wasn’t at the level of his.  God is more interested in saving our souls.  Jesus time was better spent talking about spiritual things for this purpose.

God had to draw the line at some point in engaging us in regards to science.  This being the case, I would like to add one more “context” in which to read the bible to understand it:  the context of the scientific understanding of the reader.  Do you know why Jesus chose to speak parables about farming and farmers?  It’s because that’s what the audience understood.  Perhaps if he revisited the wise men who had visited him as a child he would have told them parables about the behaviour of stars.  God wants to be in relationship with us, so he engages us at our level.

Recently has my realization of the implications of this substantially been impacted.  All of a sudden parts of the bible that I previously understood are no longer clear.  However, all of these things are inconsequential to our salvation.  If God chose to use evolution to create humans, this doesn’t change the fact that he made us (I by no means support the theory of evolution, but my feelings against a God guided evolution isn’t as strong as they once were).  Whether the people Jesus healed were demon possessed or not (I currently believe that it could be both a spiritual and physical problem, even in modern time) doesn’t change the fact that he performed miracles.  God really did literally send his son to literally die for us to literally save us to literally be with him.  The spiritual truth and lessons that we gain from the bible doesn’t change.

We still need to take these things literally.  We should also taking the scientific things God is saying literally - within the context of the audience.

One may think discovering more will reduce our opinion of God.  For example, now that we know that the sun doesn’t “rise,” do we think less of God because he doesn’t physically cause it?  Perhaps he does physically still cause that, but there’s more, now that we can see more of the universe we can be even more in awe by a God who created this ever more complex physical plain.

We can’t take the bible and make it fit our scientific ideas.  Nor can we take science and make it fit the bible.  Yet the two aren’t entirely independent or in direct conflict.  I will always hold that science is merely the discovery of God’s creation and how he does things.

In the realm of the relationship between science and the bible, volumes that can be written.  Hopefully this page will let you open your mind in an ever constant journey towards truth.  Remember that in the end, the simple message of the bible doesn’t change:  the message of God’s glory, his love for us, and the salvation provided through Jesus.

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