By Stan Layton, Pastor/First Presbyterian of Picayune
The Picayune Item
In 1610, using his newly invented telescope, Galileo Galilei discovered four moons revolving around Jupiter and reasoned that the planets, earth included, must revolve around the sun.
Galileo’s greatest opposition came not from the scientific community but from the church. The church had long held that the earth was the center of the universe and for either a theologian or a scientist to suggest otherwise was to commit rank heresy. In February 1616, a special tribunal published an edict ordering Galileo to abandon his opinions or face imprisonment. He declared submission to the decree and stayed out of the public eye until 1632 when he published his first major astronomy book, which explained his heliocentric view of the universe (The One Year Christian History by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, 346-7).
Given modern science appears to have proven Galileo right (at least partially so) and the church wrong, are we to conclude that science and the Bible contradict one another? Hardly. There may be apparent tension between the Bible and science, but there are no ultimate contradictions. Though God does reveal his glory more brilliantly in the scriptures (inasmuch as they reveal his marvelous work of redemption), he reveals his glory no less truly in the created world.
Attempting to resolve apparent tension between the Bible and science, some well-intentioned Christians have reminded us that “the Bible is not a science book.” The problem with this response is that it betrays the doctrine of divine inspiration. While the Bible is not a science book, God is nevertheless the author of all scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-7) and he does not make mistakes. While his purpose for the scriptures is not primarily to communicate scientific facts, he is still the author of all the scientific details in the Bible. Thus, when he speaks concerning scientific details, he speaks truly in all such details.
So what are we to do with those apparent discrepancies between scripture and science? We look at ourselves. While God does not err, we often do. We may err in our interpretation of scripture or we may err in our scientific conclusions.
And what can draw from this? First, Christians should be passionate students of science because creation reveals the glory of God. Second, we should be humble and correctable concerning both our theological and scientific conclusions. That said, we should not quickly dispose of “traditional” and universally held interpretations of scripture in favor of the latest conclusions of modern science. Many of the most widely and tenaciously held conclusions of modern science are still relatively new. Scientists themselves may be discarding them not long after we embrace them. There is much wisdom in the old proverb: “He who follows the spirit of this age may find himself a widower in the next.” In matters where the Bible and the scientists appear to disagree, we must ultimately be convinced by God in his Word. Or as the inspired proverb states, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; …” — Proverbs 1:7a ESV