Question: Does the Bible support discovery of God’s creation through scientific method and inquiry, directly and/or indirectly?
This academic year,Â ESN isÂ creating a Faith/Science curriculum for young adult small groups.Â Weâ€™re partnering with InterVarsity graduate student discussion groups to identify faith/science questions that are important to emerging scholars, and thenÂ commissioning thoughtful Christians in science or theology/philosophy to explore those questions in a series at the ESN blog.Â We will publish these posts as a Â booklet curriculum for campus groups. You can findÂ previous posts in the series and related postsÂ here.Â
This project was made possible through the support of an award from the Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries project at Fuller Theological Seminary. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fuller or the STEAM project.
In April, we’re publishing two posts due to the nature of the question, one by a scientist and one by a theologian. Greg Cootsona, the theologian, is the director of STEAM, Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries, the grant project mentioned above that offers resources for college and post-college ministries to integrate Christian faith and mainstream science. Heâ€™s also on the faculty at Cal State Chico and his book on emerging adults, Christian faith, and science is set to be published by InterVarsity Press in 2018. We’re delighted to feature his work this month. Stay tuned for Post 2 on this question from the perspective of a scientist.
From the Glories of Creation Back to Our Glorious Creator
The Bible begins in an awe-inspiring description of Godâ€™s creating the universe. Science starts with wonder. And these two statements are one way to answer â€œYes!â€ to the question, â€œDoes the Bible support discovery of God’s creation through scientific method and inquiry?â€
First to Genesis 1, which repeatedly describes the creation of the world as â€œgood,â€ and takes it home with a â€œvery goodâ€ in verse 31 . . . In these first pages of Scripture, we hear that the natural world is reliable and beautifully intricate, and when we confess that God has created this world very good, we are in the proper starting place for the study of nature as Christians and as scientists. I would add that this connection between the beauty of the world and our desire to understand creation makes all Christians, in some sense, scientists . . . at least those Christians who find that observing the natural world draws them more deeply into Godâ€™s presence. Consider the psalmist (as paraphrased in The Message):
What a wildly wonderful world, God!
You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
made earth overflow with your wonderful creations. Psalm 104:24
In fact, this creation is so good that, whether or not scientists explicitly note Godâ€™s role in creation, they are drawn to natureâ€™s beauty, intricacy, and mystery. I remember an experience at a conference on science and theology where a biologist and atheist commented, â€œEvery scientist I know began with a profound experience with nature as a child.â€ This could be a fourth grade â€œoutdoor education,â€ a chemistry set for an eleventh birthday, or â€œjust being fascinated by the bugs in the cracks of the sidewalkâ€ as a doctoral study in natural science once told me he did as a kid.
Similarly, Paul tells us in the oft-cited passage, Romans 1:20, that â€œÂ Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and deity, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.â€ Godâ€™s general revelation in nature draws us. And as Christians, what all human beings know implicitly we know in fullness through Jesus Christ through whom all things were made (John 1:3). The message of the Bible is that we are created to relate to the world around us. The thrill of the scientist is that the natural world is exciting to discover. And that drives the processes of science.
Consider Eva, the nine year old daughter of my friend Brian. As we were all hiking together with a group in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Eva would find beautiful rocks and bring them to her father (who has a degree in geology) with these wordsâ€”â€œArenâ€™t these amazing, dad? Isnâ€™t this one pretty?â€ Brian affirmed her scientific impulses and dutifully collected each of these geological gems (as they gradually filled and weighed down his backpack.)Â Once a rock was deposited, Eva would run off and search for another in her implicit and exuberant celebration of the goodness of creation.
Eva essentially summarizes a key point: the love of the intricate beauty of nature is the beginning of science. The head of the National Institutes of Health and one of the top scientists in our countryâ€”and also a follower of Jesusâ€”Francis Collins commented, â€œI find that studying the natural world is an opportunity to observe the majesty, the elegance, the intricacy of God’s creation.â€
Or as Jeff Hardin, zoologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, summarized it so well at the recent BioLogos conference: â€œWhy be a scientist? Worship.â€
We can worship through the instruments, methods, and thus discoveries of science. We can worship simply by immersing ourselves in nature. C. S. Lewis phrased it well in Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer, â€œOne’s mind runs back up theÂ sunbeamÂ to the sun.â€ We follow the gift back to the Giver. Through glories of creation, we are drawn back to our glorious Creator. The Bible describes this move as an essential component of studying and enjoying the natural world. This indeed is an act of worship that scientists teach us to do so well.
Group Discussion Questions
- Where do you most see God’s glory in the scientific work you do? How do you talk about it with colleagues, or how might you talk about it with colleagues in the future?
- Are there biblical passages besides those mentioned here that you feel encourage discovery of God’s creation through the scientific method, either directly or indirectly? How do you think about them in relation to your scientific work?
- What do you find challenging or confusing when you think about whether Scripture supports (directly or indirectly) the use of scientific method to discover creation? Have you found ways of responding to these challenges that are helpful to you?
- What have you learned from other scientists that leads you to wonder at the created world? Do conversations about wonder and science ever lead to opportunities toÂ hear more about what your colleagues believe, and perhaps to share your own beliefs?
About the author:
Greg Cootsona is Lecturer in Religious Studies and Humanities at Cal State Chico. He also directs a three-year, $2 million grant project housed at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, which offers resources for leaders of emerging adult ministries on how to engage Christian faith with mainstream science. From 2002-2016, he served as associate pastor for adult discipleship at Bidwell Presbyterian Church in Chico and from 1996-2002 at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. Greg grew up in the Bay Area. He studied comparative literature at U.C. Berkeley; theology and biblical criticism at Princeton Theological Seminary (where he received his Master of Divinity degree); and the philosophy of religion, Christian doctrine, as well as science and religion at the Universities of TÃ¼bingen and Heidelberg and Berkeleyâ€™s Graduate Theological Union (the latter where he received his Ph.D.). Greg has written *Creation and Last Things: At the Intersection of Theology and Science* and *C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian*. He has just finished *Emerging Adults, Christian Faith, and Science* to be published in 2018. Greg blogs regularly for the Huffington Post, has written for several periodicals such as Theology and Science Journal, Zygon, the Wall Street Journal, and Christianity Today online; has been interviewed by CNN, the BBC, and The New York Times; and has appeared on the Today Show three times. He and his wife, Laura, live in Chico and have two college-age daughters (19 and 22). Besides hanging out with his family, he loves to bike, read, write, and drink good coffee.