Scripture Matters, But Only Science Disproves Science

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As I sat up in our Youth Lounge listening to some of the youth group kids rehearse their lines for an upcoming play, I was appalled at the indoctrination I was witnessing. The play was Inherit the Wind, which recalls an early twentieth century trial over the teaching of evolution in school. The debacle sets up a false dichotomy between science and faith, between evolution and the Bible. And these young high school students now think they must choose between the two, with the obvious answer being evolution since the trial depicts the alternative to be an irrational, close-minded and naïve, blind leap of faith.

I’d like to scold the schools for promoting such ignorance of thought, but it’s no less the fault of well-intentioned but ignorant Christians. This is not, mind you, an argument for evolution. I simply want to convey the calm, level-headed position the Catholic Church has always held (at least officially), as well as my personal frustration that so few otherwise bright men and women seem to be willing to listen to the reasonableness of the claim.

Here’s the problem. Scientists are using scientific discoveries to disprove religious conviction, and believers are using Scripture to disprove scientific discovery. Both sides are being dishonest.

Science is limited to what can be observed through experimentation (to material and efficient causality), but it can answer very little, if anything at all, in regard to meaning and purpose, to the existence of a (non-observable) spiritual realm—since, by its nature, science has no means to determine formal and final causality. But many scientists ignore that limitation and use their discoveries to back-up their religious and philosophical premises: atheism, materialism, and random chance. Even if evolution is true, it does not follow in any way whatsoever that there is no God or that God does not create with a loving, meaningful intention with his hand intimately involved in all aspects of created reality.

To make that connection isn’t just bad philosophy, it’s bad science.

However, I’d also like to scold believers for getting drawn into the debate. In a very real way, well-intended Christians have created this debacle by not listening to the Church. Many faithful men and women have taken the bait. By using the Bible to argue against science, we’re telling the world that atheistic scientists are right to blur the lines and to ignore the limitations of scientific discovery. And this, in large part, is due to our own misuse of Revelation. The Bible is not a science book. It asks the question “Why” God created the world, not “How.”

Science is not disproven with Scripture, it’s disproven with science.

The creation-evolution debate is a false dichotomy because atheists who appeal to evolution are bad philosophers, but also because Christians are misreading Scripture. For a solid explanation of the proper way to approach Scripture (hermeneutics), read paragraphs 100-140 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Within this framework no scientific discovery has ever disproven the Word of God, and none ever will.

If evolution turns out to be true, says the Church (and ancient Judaism), that’s perfectly reconcilable with the creation accounts in Genesis. The primary meaning of the first three chapters of Genesis has nothing to do with God literally creating the world in seven days. It has everything to do with God creating the world as a cosmic temple, within which Man exists as the “high priest” of creation and thereby the conscious, free and personal representative of that creation to receive the gift of life from God and offer it back to him in thanksgiving. If science proves that man in fact evolved through a material process over the course of billions of years, it just means that the (unintended) literalist interpretation of the creation narrative is indeed false. But the Jews were never really worried about that question anyway, and neither is the Church.

For a solid (but quite scholarly) article on the creation account as a highly symbolic, temple-building narrative, click here.

For a simpler read that expresses much of the same, click here, or for a more in-depth look into the relational (more personal/intimate) aspects of the narrative, click here.

At this point, we don’t have to believe in evolution. But we do have to understand the science of Scriptural interpretation. When we do, we can trust that no amount of science can ever debunk anything God has revealed in Scripture. He’s the author of both “books.” Faith and reason are of  a piece, a wedding, as it were. Grace builds on nature, and God does not deceive our senses. So while scientists must be honest about the limitations of their expertise, believers must also be honest about the gift of human reason and the goodness of scientific discovery. The natural design of the created order is just as much an insight into the mind of the Creator as the Revelation we could never have known through our human efforts. And neither book should be read into for the sake of our own preconceived notions. We must let God speak, and be willing to listen. Truth will never contradict.

Seth Evangelho

Seth Evangelho

Seth Evangelho serves as a fulltime evangelist and youth minister in Laconia, New Hampshire. Originally from California, he holds a masters in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville and is married with two young children. Read more on his blog: From the Trenches at WWW.SETHEVANGELHO.COM

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19 Responses

  1. I agree that only science can disprove science but what disproves religion?

    Semantic point : “At this point, we don’t have to believe in evolution” At no point should anyone believe in evolution. I certainly don’t. Rather than believe I accept evolution because of the overwhelming evidence supporting it.

    1. A good semantic point. We don’t “believe in” scientific discovery.
      What disproves religion…and questions of final causality? Reason disproves falsehood and contradiction, to be sure, so long as the limitations of natural theology and philosophical pursuit remain humbled before the gift of faith. What’s fascinating about the Catholic position is its stability as a viable philosophical worldview. The claims go beyond what we could know through our own efforts since they are of a supernatural origin, but they can’t be “disproven” because they don’t contradict natural reason. I believe, not because I have reasoned my way there but because (via the gift of faith) 1) I trust that God has revealed it, and 2) there are “motives of credibility” (CCC 156) that satisfy the critique of reason.
      One need not believe, but I think there is an argument to be made for faith as the most reasonable position. And then there’s that whole encounter with Christ thing…when it happens, it kind of seals the deal.

      1. The role of reason in theology and philosophy is like mathematics in physics (my field). It doesn’t add any content but allows one to get from one’s premises to conclusions/predictions.

        In science and theology many premises can be postulated. As an example Einstein in his special theory of relativity postulated that 1) the speed of light is constant to all observers, 2) laws of physics were the same for all observers and 3) no preferred reference frame, From those three assumptions he produced the conclusion of special relativity. It’s a beautiful theory, elegant and comprehensive and mathematically valid. But there were many competing equally mathematically valid theories at the time as well, Why did his succeed. Only because his conclusions agreed observations.

        The obvious parallel is with religion. There are hundreds (thousands?) of mutually exclusive but internally consistent theologies in the world today, all approached with the gift of faith, sincerity and leading to a believer’s subjective satisfaction. The fact that most of them have to be wrong and the adherents of such a faith are content in their own exclusivity should give at the least pause, and at the most critical examination to see if one is a member of the correct view or the incorrect view and asking how can one know, not that one is right, but if one is wrong,

        Science makes progress by asking how might I be wrong. Religion doesn’t see to as it never really asks that question.

      2. I appreciate your points very much. While I can only claim to have faith by the grace of God, I do believe it builds on nature (grace, that is). My journey has taken me down many roads (some, regrettably so). Critical examination was the starting point, and initially opened the door for me to reject Catholicism. However, eventually, and not without irony, it has led me back to the Church. Great points, Rationalist 1!

  2. “Science is limited to what can be observed through experimentation (to material and efficient causality)” Also science can address formal cause.

    As to final cause, well that depends upon one’s theology, with explanations that vary with the multitude of competing religions and denominations.

  3. Science cannot be walled off from God. Most scientists today are trying to do just that, they want to be the high priests of the religion of science. The scientists have run into a brick wall with their theory of evolution and they refuse to even look at ID. They are blinded by satan to the beauty of Gods creation-us.

    1. Scientists don’t refuse to look at ID any more than they refuse to look at astrology, alchemy or Big foot.They just require any evidence to show that ID has a shred of evidence in its favour.

      For a good Catholic book on evolution written by a Catholic scientist read Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul by Kenneth Miller. It’s excellent.

    2. ‘They are blinded by satan to the beauty of Gods creation-us.’ Do you really believe this???? All they do is study the universe. How is that being blinded????

    3. “The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

      – Neil deGrasse Tyson

      Scientitists aren’t “blinded by Satan”, they’re just not blindered by religion.

      1. To go from nothingness to matter, from nonliving matter to living organisms, from plants to conscious animals, and from conscious animals to human beings meant the appearance of new and completely different properties. To assume that
        these transitions occurred by themselves is to say that order naturally comes from chaos. In other words a junk pile makes itself into a 777 dreamliner.

      2. I would suggest reading up on evolution. Kenneth Miller’s book, Only a Theory is a good start. In that you will learn that the changes do occur randomly but the selection is not. Natural selection, over billions of years, has shaped the world around us.

      3. It is easy to say random mutations; but when you get down to the actual science, it is not that simple. The number of mutations needed to create a new body part is never possible, because the number of mutations that are required will render the protein fold unuseable. Plus the odds against producing those mutations that are needed is so high as to render the possibility impossible.
        I have studied evolution for years and I used to be a big fan of evolution. I read Darwins two main books when I was in high school in the 50’s and i kept up for years. But as the new knowledge of the inner workings of the cell became known I became less of a fan and now I still believe in “evolution”, but only as far as changes that take place that are already in place and are just called on to “turn on”.
        You are aware that DNA is now known to only be responsible for the plan to produce the protein folds. There is something else in the cell that determines the building of body parts; they don’t have a clue what it is.

      4. I would again suggest reading the Kenneth Miller book. He deals with the Dover school board trial and how creationists brought arguments like you are giving to say evolution is incomplete. And while science doesn’t know all the steps it does in some cases and it has varying levels of understanding in other cases. And are no time is there any indication of a result that is “irreducibly complex” and could not have occurred through evolution,

      5. I know the book and the man. One of the books I have read is “Darwins Doubt”; it took me a year to work thru it and understand it. It is full of the problems of evolutions that I believe are going to be impossible to solve. There is a process at work and it is not evolution; the process is not known now and may never be known, but science should be working in a different direction than evolution.

      6. Stephen Meyer in that book Darwin’s Doubt exhibited some rather dubious scholarship. Of perhaps most notable is his Cambrian Explosion analysis. But the Explosion wasn’t instantaneous, it lasted about 30 mission years.

        Not a good book for evolution scholarship ( http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2013/06/meyers-hopeless-2.html). Rather the author has preconceived notions and is trying to introduce doubt by distorting the science.

      7. Science has a good one page critic of it.

        http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6152/1344.1.full.pdf

        No,. I haven’t read it but then I haven’t read Velikovsky’s “Worlds in Collision”. I have only a limited time and if a book is full of factual error and obsolete science and the author has a definite bias then it’s not worth my time.

        I actually like to read books that challenge my point of view, bit that one doesn’t make the cut. I read the Economist magazine cover to cover each week. I don’t necessarily agree with their economic analysis but it’s well written and argued and it challenges be. On the other hand I would never read anything by Bill O’Reilly.

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