Given what we know about natural science and the laws of nature, many wonder about the compatibility between Christianity and science. Hasn’t modern science disproved the supernatural claims of Christianity? Considered philosophically, hasn’t David Hume (among others) shown that miracles are a violation of nature? And if so, either: Christianity, which affirms the possibility of miracles, is false; or miracles are in fact impossible, again making Christianity false.
In this four-part blog series on the topic of Christian faith and natural science, I consider the following subtopics:
(1) how a miracle is not a violation of the laws of nature;
(2) how science and Christianity complement, not contradict, one another; and
(3) why this discussion is important for us today.
Today’s post is an introduction which sets up the rest of the series; I begin with this painting from Rembrandt:
Imagine an art connoisseur commenting on this painting as follows:
“Rembrandt’s ‘The Jewish Bride’ is an articulate and exquisite portrait of pigmentation at its finest! The delicate scale-like paint patches have only deepened in value as oxidation has taken hold over time. The hues present at the middle to lower-right areas exhibit precisely the CMYK color codes which range from 30-96-76-26 to 17-58-76-16. By far its most outstanding, though often overlooked, feature is the way in which paint-on-canvas congeals so well – this awesome activity is of course nothing less (and beautifully nothing more!) than a function of the powerfully present covalent bonds. To any struggling artist , I heartily commend these aspects of artistry for the production of Renaissance-reminiscent physio-chemistry!’
I suppose this (fictional) commentary can be considered a legitimate way of describing the magnificent piece of art. However, arguably there are other more appropriate descriptions that can be given, ones which are not so reductionistic. So it is with the rest of the world: either we could describe things on the basis of scientific materialism (“Molecules in motion are all that matter”); or we could seek to capture the beauty, the rationale, the meaning in the world–facets of nature which can only be fittingly described from a vantage point of faith.
This series of blogs on faith and science is important not only for reasons having to do with defending Christian doctrine (e.g., the resurrection of Jesus) and evangelism (in crafting a compelling message to non-Christians), but also for the sake of Christian orthodoxy. For even Christians are confused about the relationship between miracles and science—not the least of whom are alleged Christian theologians like Rudolf Bultmann who wrote (many years ago): ‘It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles’ (Bultmann, New Testament and Mythology, p. 4). As a mentor of mine has often said, “apologetics is need as much within the church as without.
So is Bultmann right? Can we use medicine and believe in miracles? Can we enjoy the “scientific” advancements of, say, Vitamin water while holding to the idea that Jesus walked on water? Well, of course we can—we do; so it is possible (psychologically, at least). But I suppose the force of Bultmann’s objection questions whether we should–are we justified? This is the gist of what I plan to cover in the next three blogs.