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|'To my mind there is no conflict between science and religion. Scientific discovery enhances theology.'
|The Bible and Scientific Discovery|
'here is no version of primeval history, preceding the discoveries of modern science, that is as rational and as inspiring as the first eleven chapters of Genesis.'-The late Isaac Asimov
If space is 'the final frontier', surely science is one of our most intriguing methods of exploration. Even those who found physics, biology and chemistry beyond them at school are fascinated at the advances science has made recently. Suddenly scientists are again thought as great pioneers at the furthest reaches of human knowledge of the universe.
Newspapers and magazines headline their journalistic pieces on some latest 'Big Bang' discovery with such expressions as 'Let there be Light', 'Peering Back to Genesis', 'In the Beginning', and 'the Hand of God' - all well known biblical metaphors.
So what remains fascinating about so many recent astronomical discoveries is the language which is used to express these great inquiries into the ultimate meaning of things. How we express our search for answers, our desire for the infinite, our scientific questions into origins.
The Language of the Universe
Scientists, not to mention media people, often seem to fall back on ancient biblical terminology to publicise the importance of the astonishing new discoveries in the realm of astrophysics.
Perhaps it is because of the awesome grandeur of the universe as we understand it (only the beginning if we are to believe those who tell us that is constantly expanding!) - that we feel the desire to use words which have power and overtones of something more than the mundane and the routine. Think of the astronaut who looked at the earth from space and quoted the psalmist's words: 'What is man that you are mindful of him?'
Think of the pilot who said as he soared through the clouds that he felt he could reach out and touch the face of God. Even Albert Einstein said that his ultimate goal was to understand 'the mind of God'. Human terms did not seem big enough somehow. There was something verging on the spiritual and forced these men to reach out for biblical language.
When Words Fail Us
Even in the beginning of the new century, we still turn to Bible-sounding language to mark the great events of humanity. Remarkable new scientific discoveries encourage scientists to use language we do not expect from them. Famous cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, had previously equated answering the most fundamental of all questions - why are we and the universe here? - in the same terms Einstein. With 'knowing', as he put it, 'the mind of God'.
Even in the age of sophisticated maps, aeroplanes and satellites, man is still the great seeker! The desire to know is as deep within the human psyche as it ever was. We may not have as many uncharted waters or continents to discover, but the big questions are still out there - demanding answers.
Yet, is this search for beginnings really worthwhile? Or is it, as some say, just chasing the end of the rainbow? In the early '70s The Columbia History of the World described humanity's search for its beginnings as 'relentless, compulsive, unending - and hopeless. We know much, and we know nothing. The origin of what is man, the earth, the universe - is shrouded in a mystery we are not closer to solving than the chronicler of Genesis'.
So the biblical description of the creation is not totally out of fashion. Its terminology is often to express humankind's quest of his and his universe's origins. Recent discoveries about the nature of our universe are offering us more understanding about the deep time and space surrounding planet earth. New astrophysical and cosmic knowledge suggests that perhaps men and women can get closer to their origins by relentless scientific enquiry after all.
The Bible is still employed to capture something about the beginnings of time that science has yet to establish fully. Continues The Columbia History: 'Indeed our best current knowledge, lacking the poetic magic of scripture, seems in a way less believable than the account in the Bible, or in any of the ancient texts.' No one exceeds the literary abilities of the Bible when it comes to poetic expression of primeval events.
God and Science
So why the conflict we so often between religion and science? Why should it be that it is only at times of great scientific discovery, or when a man first looks at the earth from space, that the language of the scientist and of the Bible begin to merge? When one really begins to understand, it should be God and science, not God versus science.
After all, if you think about it, God must have the most perfect, complete, infinitely superior comprehension of science that exists. As the instigator of all physics, chemistry, biology and astronomy, as well as art, music, speech and geography, the Bible reveals is one who delights in the physical world and all its spectacular variety.
Yet today some scientists still regard God as Persona non grata. The religious columnist, Clifford Longley, recently paid mock tribute to this fundamental misunderstanding when he wrote of 'the widespread conviction that science and religion once fought a bitter duel, that religion was spectacularly vanquished, and that ever since, science has reigned supreme.'
Also Henry Adams wrote in his book on Mont Saint-Michael and Chartres: 'Under any conceivable system the process of getting God and men under the same roof - of bringing two independent energies under the same control has been an extraordinary difficult and painful process.'
That thought still rings true. Why is it that we are still so reluctant to allow God even a small corner of our research into the great unknown? It seems that when it comes to bringing human thought and Godly-reverence together, we have a long way to go. Yet should this be so? Should we not make every effort to reconcile the two?
Some remarkable people have made great strides to bridge the gap between the secular and sacred worlds. The eminent physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne for example, wrote in an article appropriately entitled ' Scientists no Threat to God the Creator': 'I am asked whether the latest discovery about the origins of the universe is a problem to God. My answer has to be no. To my mind there is no conflict between science and religion. Rather scientific discovery enhances theology.'
Here is real understanding! Is not God the greatest scientists of them all? Is he not the Master Architect of the whole universe? As the Bible so clearly states: 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).
In the Beginning...
So how do we put together what the Bible says about beginnings with what science is presently showing us? It is the precise language through which creation is expressed in Genesis chapter one that seems to trouble so many. Yet it need not.
F.F. Kevan, former Principal of London Bible College, expressed it in the first edition of The New Bible Commentary: ' The biblical record of creation is to be regarded as a picturesque narrative, affording a graphic representation of these things which could not e understood if described with the formal precision of science. It is this pictorial style that divine wisdom in the inspiration of the writing is so signally exhibited. Only a record presented in this way could have met the needs of all time.'
Does this then mean that the Bible story of the history of the universe, the world, and all life is not true? Certainly not. Remember that mot human history is pre-scientific in the modern sense of science. A scientific creation account of pages of formulae would not have been understood until now.
However, when we merge the understanding science offers us - the pictures of space, the detailed magnification, the material world - with the timeless wisdom of the Bible, then we can begin to grasp what the origins of the universe were like. What is more important we begin to comprehend why. What was the purpose for their existence in the first place?
In Newsweek magazine, astrophysicist George Smoot of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California, made a most profound observation. He said in the conclusion of a feature article entitled 'God's Handwriting': What amazes me is that human beings have the audacity to conceive a theory of creation.'