FAQ: Science and Suffering

Welcome to Journey Church – my name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey.  And it’s a joy to be able to part of this church.

We are in week three of our series we are calling FAQ’s – and we’ve asked you all to write out some questions for us to answer.   This morning we are going to talk about two issues.  Science and suffering.

I’m going to talk about the science and faith part of things, and then I’m handing it off to Jan Thompson, who is the founder and leader of Christopher’s Hope Orphanage in Haiti, whom we have supported over the past ten years or so.

Which is almost as long as we’ve been a church.  For 11 years now Journey has been meeting in schools, sharing the good news that there is a God – and that he is good and trustworthy.  And for 11 years we’ve been helping people think highly enough of Jesus to trust Him with their lives.

That has become our working definition of faith.  Thinking highly enough of Jesus to trust him with the day to day operation of your life.  Trusting that he is good, and great, and that he will never leave you.  And I love the definition because it starts with the word “Think”.

By the way – Jesus begins his ministry with this word.  He actually begins his sermon on the mount with the word – Re-Think.  We translate it as Repent.  But the word is literally – change your thinking.   Jesus begins his ministry to save the world by inviting people to think – as well as a request that we be willing to re-think how we think.

Now – this is important to understand because I remember once having lunch with a friend who said something like, “I want to believe, but I know that faith requires me to stop thinking and just believe – but I don’t know if I can do it – I’m a science guy.

Is that correct? Did God really give you that big beautiful brain of yours in order that you might learn to turn it off when it comes to faith?  Of course not, right?  God has not called us to be dumb, or pretend to be dumb.

So – here’s the questions that were asked that I’m putting under the umbrella of the tension between science and faith.

  1. Must I believe in a literal six-day creation of the world?

Q:  Must I believe in a world wide flood?  There seems to be no iron-clad evidence any world wide flood occurred.

So first – let’s talk about the tension between faith and Science.

The first question to ask is – is there actual tension?  Must there be tension between being a follower of Jesus and a scientist?  And the answer is of course not.  There are many scientists who are followers of Jesus.

In fact – I came across a 2009 survey from sociologists at Rice University asked more than 1600 scientists at 21 elite US Research facilities this question: “Must there be a conflict between faith and science” and an overwhelming majority of scientists said no.  86 percent stated there doesn’t need to be a conflict.  And this comes from a target group where 33 percent of the responders indicated that they considered themselves atheists.

Even Einstein – who was not a Christian – he was a brilliant scientist and a poor theologian – even he was quoted as saying that “science without religion is lame, (I’d say even dangerous, frankly.) religion without science is blind.”

All that to say Einstein was one of the 86 percent of scientists who say there need not be a conflict between the science and faith.

How can that be?  Well, it’s simply because in most situations, science and faith are dealing with two different aspects of reality.  And they understand which territory to claim as theirs with little conflict at all.

In other words – science is great at explaining how things work.  But less great at explaining why.

Science can explain why – in 1995 – at the Darling Family Inn in Vermont – the wind blew through a field of the greenest grass on earth – it can explain why the grass is green and how the breeze blew that grass like waves of an ocean – but science will have a hard time satisfactorily explaining why – 25 years later – the memory of it can move Jody and I nearly to tears.

Science is great at explaining the natural.  But it doesn’t even try to explain the supernatural.  It cannot.  And God is supernatural.  Faith is supernatural.  Your soul is supernatural.  It cannot be weighed.  Or Measured.  Yet you know it’s there – in fact – the majority of you is invisible to the eye and cannot be scientifically proven to exist.

And most of the greatest things in life, for instance – love, or laughter – Check out this video of a kid laughing.

Why are we all laughing?  Why are some of us wiping tears?  Science:  Well the brain is firing electrodes through the cerebral cortex releasing dopamine into the central nervous system…  Okay.  All the funny has left the room.

The best things in life – like joy, like loyalty, like caring for orphans in Haiti- or even morality and ethics – these are the best things in life – and these are the things that science struggles make sense of in a way that is satisfying to a human being.

And that’s because we have a soul.  And it wants to be recognized as being there.  And it needs tending to.

Now on the other side – I grew up in a faith tradition that taught – if you were really really spiritual – you wouldn’t need to go to a doctor.  You could just pray and you would be made well.

And I heard about stories about how the founder of our denomination prayed for healing over his children and wouldn’t take them to the doctor.   And this would be a sad story of people of faith not understanding that God created the universe with order – and that medicine is part of God’s creation. And that when we thank God, well it’s not showing a lack of faith to thank God for Tamiflu.

People of faith – we celebrate science.  And the fact that even in this room we have doctors – pharmacists – scientists – who think highly enough of God- that they might trust them with their lives.

Now – there are times when what science teaches and what the Bible teach seem to clash – when specific claims we read about in the bible seem to be unsubstantiated by modern science?  What do we do then?

Who wins when there seems to be a conflict?  And what’s at stake?  I mean – for people of faith – the fear is that if Genesis 1 isn’t literally a six day creation, if that’s not literal – than maybe nothing in the bible is?  Maybe the resurrection didn’t happen?

The reliability of the Bible is not at stake in either of these questions.   We are overstepping our bounds to say to the scientist – it had to be six 24 hour periods.  Could it have been?  Sure – God can do anything.

But the Bible isn’t meant to be read as a science textbook.  It’s the story of God creating mankind – it’s the story of how humanity blew it – and became the way we are – and it’s the story of God’s plan to redeem us.

Conversely – for the scientist to say something could not have happened because we can’t recreate it in a controlled environment – robs the universe of the supernatural element.  If there is an all-powerful God – then certainly there must be room for that God to accomplish his will in whatever way suits him.  Whether it stretches beyond normal rules that now govern the universe.

So – now to your questions.  And for those who I might offend – I will say – feel free to disagree with me.  I have no qualms about being told I’m wrong.

  1. Must I believe in a literal six-day creation of the world in order to be a Bible believing Christian?

No.  You don’t HAVE to believe in a literal six day creation of the Universe in order to be a follower of Jesus.  It doesn’t display a lack of faith if you don’t.

That’s because, The first chapter of Genesis is utterly and clearly poetic in nature.  The point of it is to help us understand that God created everything we see.  It doesn’t require a literal six-day creation.

Could it have been?  Of course.  God can do whatever he wants.

Q:  Must I believe in a world-wide flood?

Interestingly – stories of a great ancient flood pervade the mythology of hundreds of cultures.  Of these 200 flood stories 95 percent of them talk about a global flood.  We’re talking about cultures that had no connection with one another – they all talk about a flood.

Clearly, there’s plenty of evidence all over the world for floods – so this question I think is asking – is it okay to think of Noah’s flood as a local flood – even thought he story says it was a global flood?

My answer is – I don’t think you must believe that the flood was worldwide in order to have faith in God.  It’s not a good litmus test to decide whether or not you are a believer in Jesus.

This is one of those areas where I tend to stand on the side of thinking it really was world wide – even if we have limited evidence.  It seems clear and I’m willing to be wrong.

And my reason is because Jesus seems to talk about Noah as if he knows the dude.  And so – evidence is scant – I agree – it’s not a litmus test for faith – but I don’t think from the scientific world – that belief in a world wide flood is a litmus test to whether or not I’m dumb.

At the end of the day – these things just belong in the drawer of mystery that we can look at but not get too worked up over.  They do not prove or disprove the Bible.  And it’s okay to say, “I’m not sure.”

There are lots of mysteries out there.  The greatest one is why does God love me.  But that he does.  And that one truth will never fit in a test tube.

Suffering:  Jan Thomson

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