By Drew Coons
“All truth is God’s truth.” Although a cliché, this is accurate. Church and science both belong to God. But some Christians and scientists do have conflict, even animosity, primarily rooted in methodology. Christians emphasize faith. Scientists look for evidence. However both faith and evidence are biblical.
My first experience with faith and evidence came in engineering school. I studied a lot, hoping that high grades would lead to the best job. Then I became a follower of Christ and got involved in Christian activities on campus. My involvement kept me from doing my homework before an important exam. As the professor distributed the tests, I was terrified. “God, please save me!” I prayed. To my joy, the questions were just the things I knew. When I got my graded paper back with an A, I thought, “This is wonderful. Now that I’m a Christian, I won’t need to study anymore.”
I went back to my Christian activities. At the next exam, I wasn’t worried. Matthew 21:22 promised, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” I remember praying, “OK Lord, I’m believing and asking.” Opening the exam, I learned that God is not a genie. The evidence indicated that he expected me to do my homework. After that lesson, prayer and homework together gave me excellent grades and led me to an amazing job designing critical components for the space shuttle.
Conflict Between Christians and Scientists
On the space shuttle project I met brilliant scientists, even geniuses, who disdained Christianity. Yet conflict between Christians and scientists related to faith versus evidence is nothing new.
In the fifteenth century, new technology shed light on the prevailing Aristotelian worldview by which the church interpreted Scripture. The most famous incident was Galileo’s heresy trial and conviction. Galileo, observing through a telescope, had asserted that the Earth revolved around the sun, contrary to church teaching.
More recently, extremists among both scientists and Christians have given each group ample reasons for distrust of the other. Richard Dawkins, an atheist biologist and frequent talk show guest, regularly attacks Christianity with acerbic wit, supposedly on behalf of science. Celebrity scientists Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and others have publicly rejected God.
Science can rely on extraordinarily complex mathematics which yield non-intuitive answers. Results reported by scientists are therefore impossible for non-scientists to verify and can even vary over time. Medical researchers, for example, can’t seem to settle on whether certain foods are good or bad for our health. No wonder some Christians can be skeptical of science.
Scientists observe that there are conflicting beliefs within the church. Christians who claim to get unsubstantiated messages directly from God make scientists scoff. Some religious segments are hostile to science even to the point of refusing medical care for their children. No wonder some scientists fear that religion could undo scientific advancements that have saved lives and improved living conditions.
Scientists Can Learn from Christians
“Doubting Thomas” was not present when Jesus first appeared after the resurrection. Thomas insisted that unless he could see and touch, he would not believe. A week later Jesus reappeared with Thomas present. When Thomas professed belief, Jesus mildly rebuked him for not believing previously. Expecting evidence was not Thomas’s shortfall. Evidence had already been provided by the empty tomb and the eyewitness testimonies. Thomas’ mistake was demanding absolute proof. Similarly, many scientists dismiss God by demanding absolute proof.
Jesus said, “At least believe on the evidence of the works themselves” (John 14:11). God has provided plenty of evidence for faith within the universe scientists investigate. For example, behavioral scientists have shown that anger, hatred, and even poor neighbor relations are bad for our health. Jesus taught against these 2,000 years ago. According to the big bang theory, everything suddenly appeared from nothing. Does this not shout out of God’s doing? (Interestingly, the big bang was first recognized in 1927 by MIT educated Georges Lemaitre, an ordained priest.)
After the space shuttle project, I earned a graduate degree in science and pursued a career in research. However, subordinates didn’t like working for me. I was arrogant, demanding, and contentious with those who might disagree with me. But slowly Christ changed me. Through faith I learned how to respect and care about others. Then people wanted to work for me and enthusiastically assisted. Even I liked myself better. Our employer patented 24 of my inventions. My work contributed to over a billion dollars in product sales. Scientific ability without faith was inadequate to do this work. My life change is evidence of God.
Sadly, the poor qualities I had as a young researcher, while not universal, are not uncommon in the scientific community. Egos based on intellect are easily threatened. Grant money and professional reputations are at stake. Many scientists are unhappy, lonely people. Although about 40 percent of scientists profess some sort of faith, most do not know Christ.
Fortunately, Christians can help scientists gain faith in Christ. Several years ago my wife and I led a Bible-based marriage seminar near Cape Canaveral, Florida. Most of the audience were scientists or engineers at NASA. Remembering my experience with scientists on the space shuttle, I carefully explained and gave evidence for my biblical interpretations. They loved the seminar and several trusted Christ. The event went so well that we were asked to repeat it later for other scientists.
Christians Can Learn from Scientists
Honest Bible teachers will admit that you can make the Bible say anything you want. We Christians sometimes inappropriately pick verses to justify what we think. Scientists likewise desire to believe their own ideas, but they have a system of looking at evidence to verify or deny those ideas. The great theologian Augustine compared secular truth to the valuable gold and silver the Israelites took out of pagan Egypt. He taught Christians to appropriate God’s valuable truth from any source and use it by understanding Scripture.
Remember my student exam experience? Evidence showed that my biblical interpretation, influenced by self-interest, wasn’t accurate. Although the Holy Spirit leads us, God expects Christians to do our homework. First Thessalonians 5:21 specifically relates to wisdom from God: “Test everything. Hold on to what is good.” Especially when there are conflicting biblical interpretations within the church, we should look for evidence to verify or deny. The Bible is never wrong. But our interpretation could be inaccurate.
Inaccurate biblical interpretations can have consequences. I once observed a conman take money from Bible-believing Christians. I warned them that the inflated promises, secrecy, and story inconsistencies evidenced fraud. But wanting to believe the conman, they misinterpreted verses and went ahead. Many thousands of dollars were lost. By contrast, in Acts 10 early Christians believed the message of Christ to be only for the Jewish people. After seeing evidence of Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit, they changed their minds.
Church and Science Together
Church and science together in God’s hands are amazingly powerful. For example, Scotsman James Clerk Maxwell experienced an evangelical conversion at age 22 and remained devout all his life. Albert Einstein later credited Maxwell for defining the foundation on which all of modern physics is based. Many other important scientists have also been dedicated Christians.
Years ago a Muslim government was in power in Nigeria. Christian missionaries weren’t welcome. Not even America’s Peace Corps was welcome. But that Muslim government was willing to accept engineers, regardless of their religion. Although I was a research specialist, my background was engineering. To get missionaries into Nigeria, a Christian organization found a job for me as a water engineer, working inside that government.
Initially only one station was pumping water in the 19 towns for which I had responsibility. People were dying of cholera and other waterborne diseases. My living conditions were horrid. I was stricken with malaria and other tropical ailments. Faith enabled me to continue, and science allowed me to bring every station into service. People would come running with buckets to fill with fresh water. Children would shriek and laugh with joy. Thousands of lives were saved and hundreds trusted in Christ.
Romans 12:18 admonishes, “Live at peace with everyone.” Let us not allow different methodologies or extremists to cause conflict. Church and science working together with faith and evidence will benefit everyone. Both Christians and scientists seek truth—and it’s all God’s truth.
Drew Coons is a former scientific researcher and retired missionary in Paron, Arkansas.