The SuperNature of Things
Chris and Kelly, fellow employees at a supermarket, are on a break. As is their habit, they use times like this to discuss the issues of life. With Chris already there, Kelly has just entered the breakroom with some interesting news...
Kelly: Hey, Chris! How are you?
Chris: Doing just fine, thanks. What’s up?
Kelly: [proudly] Well... did you hear that they’ve discovered a possible planet around another star out there in our galaxy. Now the way I see it, that must open up a whole can of worms for you, huh... I mean, maybe there’s intelligent life there. Who knows?
Chris: You’re right, who knows? But I’m not sure what you sound so smug about.
Kelly: Well...if there’s life out there besides our own, your whole human-centric Christian universe just explodes into the void.
Chris: In one big bang, I’ll bet.
Kelly: Touché. But you have to give me credit; I used simple, faultless logic to discredit your religion.
Chris: Well, it’s simple alright, but it’s about as faultless as Southern California. Can I take a shot at how you arrived at your conclusion?
Kelly: Fire away…
Chris: Alright...let's see. Possible life on another possible planet means we’re not the only physical life in the universe?
Chris: You believe Christianity teaches we are the only physical life in the universe…
Kelly: Right again.
Chris: Therefore, if that other life does exist, Christianity is false; my whole sincere but mistaken faith collapses into a black hole of lies and dishonesty. It’s time to throw my hands up in defeat and throw my Bible out into the trash. Something like that?
Kelly: Pretty much, yeah.
Chris: Well, Kelly, your syllogism sandwich is a little stale. There are several problems here: 1) Your planet only may exist, 2) given that it probably does, astrophysicists tell us it is extremely unlikely that another planet exists which is fit for physical life—any physical life, and 3) Christianity doesn’t teach we are the only ones in the universe; the Bible is pretty silent on the subject of extra-terrestrial life. That my faith claims that we are the only physical beings in this universe is a myth. We might be, but I don’t know.
Kelly: What? [then, slightly embarrassed] Great...well, I apologize then. I thought your religion was pretty dogmatic about humans being the only intelligent physical life anywhere. But now, what is this appeal to science you just made? I thought all of your people saw science as the Evil Enemy. Aren’t scientists "the tools of Satan"?
Chris: Science is as much a threat to the Truths of Christianity and my faith in God as is the editorial page of a newspaper.
Kelly: What, again! [shakes head in confusion] Wait. Maybe we should stop a moment and define terms.
Chris: Excellent idea!
Kelly: Thank you. Now, what do you mean by "science"?
Chris: You know, to observe physical phenomena, hypothesize about the how’s and why’s of the phenomena. Test the hypotheses, fail, hypothesize again. Test again, fail again, etc., etc. Hopefully, after testing ad nauseam, definite conclusions can be made; theories and laws about the workings of our universe can then be reached. Ultimately and concisely, though, science is just our attempt to explain the facts of nature.
Kelly: But that’s how I see it! Doesn’t a lot of science go contrary to your whole Christian world view, though?
Chris: More accurately, some scientific interpretations go contrary to the Bible; the facts that nature presents us with do not. That’s a big difference—the facts of nature vs our interpretations of them.
Let me put it another way: Interpretations are made by humans, right? Humans make mistakes. Therefore, I don’t expect science (human interpretation of nature’s facts) to always agree with my theology (my interpretation of Scriptures). Thus, for the same reasons, I don’t feel threatened by science; I would never expect total agreement. But!—and this is very important—if the facts of nature go contrary to what the Bible clearly and indisputably teaches—the facts of the Bible, so to speak—then I have a major dilemma.
Kelly: What do mean? Give me an example.
Chris: Alright...If tomorrow it was proved beyond doubt that there was a great teacher named Jesus of Nazareth but he was never crucified and he never rose from the dead—that, in fact, his body has been found—then, my friend, I would throw away my Bible and go look elsewhere for Truth.
Kelly: Then, Chris, if science is no threat to the Christian faith, why does it seem that every time I read or listen to your preachers, they are cursing science and scientists to the fires of Hell? In my experience it’s rare to find one from your faith willing to even sit down and discuss scientific issues. They’d as soon dine with the Devil. Why are most Christians so suspect of science?
Chris: I could easily ask back, why are most scientists so suspect of Christianity? To be fair Kelly, the scientific community to a large part is just as guilty of mud-slinging and irrational prejudice as those "preachers" you speak of. Nevertheless, what’s really going on here is a war of human emotions and wills and personal interpretation masquerading as absolute truth. One extreme clings tenaciously to what they believe is the only source of Truth—the Bible. The other extreme does the same with what they believe is the only source of Truth—Nature. They never sit down to sincerely compare notes. I think the extremists in both camps are completely missing the point.
Kelly: What’s that?
Chris: That Truth is Truth whatever the source; that both the Bible and nature reveal the meaning of our existence; they are both revelations of the Creator God.
Kelly: Huh? Both do? I thought the Bible was all there was for you people, that it was your so-called "Word of God."
Chris: "It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him." C. S. Lewis wrote that once. And the Bible itself says that nature herself also points to Him. The writer of the Psalms writes—let me think—"When I consider your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?" Again in Psalms it says, "The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory." Job, who had no written Scriptures, says, "But ask the animals and they will teach you, or the birds of the air and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you." Even more pointed, the Psalmist again writes,"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." There are even more references, but you can see that, clearly, the Bible itself teaches that we can learn a lot about God by looking at and studying His creation. Now I understand why some refer to nature as the 67th book of the Bible—it can reveal so much of the Creator. The bottom line, then, is that Christianity teaches that God wants us to know Him; He reveals the Truths of Himself 1) through the special revelation of the Bible, and 2) through the more general revelation of nature. If that’s true and if it’s also true that He never contradicts Himself, it follows then that the facts of the Bible and the facts of nature should be in perfect harmony. And this is exactly what I observe.
Kelly: I hate to ask, but can you give me examples of your "perfect harmony?"
Chris: I would love to.
Kelly: I was afraid of that.
Chris: Afraid of what? Ignorance and foolishness are the things to be afraid of, Kelly; the Truth can set you free. Now let me just touch on some examples of how the two, science and the Bible, can complement each other. Alright, for one thing, science teaches us as fact that the universe had a Creation Event (and thus a Creator); so does the Bible. Science gives us the fact that the universe is very old; so does the Bible, although some Christians might disagree here. Science tells us it’s a fact that the first atmosphere was opaque then became translucent; so does the Bible. Science assures us that the first major life was plant life, so does the Bible. Science states as fact that the tranlucent atmosphere then went transparent; so does the Bible. Science informs us of the fact that man is the most recent major addition to life on earth; so does the Bible. Science shows us as fact that although in the past there have been times of great propagation of new species, now there is none; so does the Bible.
Kelly: OK, OK, I see your point.
Chris: But we’ve just barely scratched the surface of only the first chapter of the first book in the Bible. There are hours more of discussion we could have on the harmony of the facts of nature and the facts of the Bible. And, Kelly, by the way, the Bible is the only "Holy Book" to teach all these things. I see all this as more than coincidence.
Kelly: I see all this as overwhelming. Tell me then, Chris, if this is all true why aren’t more scientists Christians and more Christians scientists?
Chris: Well, first of all, there’s a good number of scientists who are Christians, Kelly. But, to answer your question, what’s to blame here is the stuff of human nature: pride, stubbornness, fear of the unknown, deeply ingrained tradition and a history of misunderstandings on both sides. Too often, though, it comes down to the fact that my Christian brothers and sisters simply don’t know the facts of nature, and my friends in the scientific community don’t know the facts of the Bible. So, tragically, rarely the twain meet. Kelly, all the disciplines—Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Anthropology, Archaeology, Astronomy, Paleontology, etc.—all unearth and reveal the complexity and the beauty of our existence and our home, this universe of ours. They point not to the gods and goddesses of other faiths, nor do they point to the designer gods of today’s culture. They all point instead to the God Who Designs, Who is complex, Who is in control, Who gives life and love and care and protec- tion and meaning—namely, they all reveal the God of the Bible.
Kelly: If nature is such a fantastic revealer, why have a Bible, then?
Chris: Good point. I think because although nature paints a glorious picture of the Truths of the Almighty, people, as usual, want more. So God provides them with more—a written revelation. The Bible shows us in wondrous detail our past, present, and future as the Human Race. It shows us in no uncertain terms why we are the way we are, how we should live, and how we can be rescued from our plight. It gives the specifics of our uniqueness in this world, of our relationship with the Creator God, and how that relationship can be restored. The Bible makes it clear that His love and forgiveness are Gifts through the finished work of the God-man, Jesus Christ.
Kelly: So it’s like no one really has an excuse.
Chris: Your honest conclusion hits the nail on the head. Both the Bible and nature reveal. Both make appeals to reason and logic and emotions. The messages of both can be understood by the simplest minds and the superintellects. Together, nature and the Bible are like a violin and its bow—they play the beautiful symphony of the Deep Heavens for those who have ears to hear. It’s really as you said and as Paul writes in the first chapters of Romans—everyone is without excuse.
Kelly: [sighs] You know, you and your religion have this tendency to make my life very uncomfortable.
Chris: It’s the nature of the subject, Kelly. Contemplating why we are here and coming to conclusions about it all isn’t easy and it’s a little scary. But the alternative to finding the Truth and following It is to lose It forever.
Kelly: [lost in thought for a moment, then looks at watch] Alright, let’s continue this next time we work together. That’ll give me time to think about all this.
Chris: There, my friend, is one more bit of evidence supporting the existence of the God of the Bible and His love for you.
Kelly: What’s that?
Chris: Your curiosity and ability to reason about the existence of the God of the Bible and His love for you. You are not a pre-programmed automaton; the mindless result of a random, meaningless universe.
Kelly: [shaking head] It seems I cannot escape this God of yours. But to be honest, I’ve got to—really I’d like to—hear more evidence.
Chris: Your wish is my command. I am at your disposal day and night.
Kelly: Thanks, Chris, that means a lot to me—more than you know. I’ll see you later.
Chris: Good-bye, Kelly.
References: 1. Letters of C. S. Lewis (8 November 1952) p.247 2. Psalm 8:3,4 (NIV) 3. Psalm 97:6 (NIV) 4. Job 12:7,8 (NIV) 5. Psalm 19:1-4 (NIV)
Special thanks to: Dr Hugh Ross & Reasons To Believe