Imagine an atheist chemist in the 19th century using scientific methods to study water. After conducting his experiments, he concludes water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. In other words, he discovers water is H20. He used secular scientific principles to gain a piece of knowledge previously unknown to the world. Is his discovery anti-Christian? Does it violate biblical truth? Is this new piece of knowledge against God?
The answer to all those questions is a resounding “no.” The scientist discovered something true about the world we live in. Although he didn’t use a biblical or religious source, this does not detract from its credibility. If something is discovered to be true, it is true for you, it is true for me, and it’s true for God. A scientific discovery made by an atheist scientist is just as true as the biblical teaching that God is love or that Christ died for our sins. All truth is God’s truth, regardless of how one gains that knowledge.
That’s because scientific research is an epistemological method. That’s a fancy way of saying it’s a tool for discovering knowledge about the world we live in. It’s important to remember, though, it’s only one tool and not the only tool.
We can learn about ourselves, the world, and the universe through various methods. We can use testimony (reports from other people), logic (2+2=4), introspection (what am I experiencing inside me?) the scientific method (observation and experiments), historical investigation (studying written reports from the past), and divine revelation (the Bible). Knowledge gained from any of these methods is equally true. In fact, God has made these methods available to us. This entails the following three things.
#1: The scientific method should not be contrasted with biblical revelation. As mentioned above, a scientific discovery is not anti-God or unchristian. Knowledge gained from experiments and observation tell us true things about the world that even God believes are true. That’s why it’s frustrating when science is pitted against faith. There’s nothing anti-scientific about the Christian worldview.
In fact, we should expect that knowledge gained from observation of our world will conform with knowledge from divine revelation, whenever the two overlap. For example, modern cosmological evidence indicates that the universe began to exist at some point in the past. This fact, however, was taught in the first chapter of Genesis several thousand years ago.
This should not surprise us. God speaks through Scripture, which we refer to as special revelation. He also speaks through His created world, which we call general revelation. Both are from God and should validate one another as long as they are properly interpreted, which brings us to the second point.
#2: Both scientific results and biblical revelation need to be interpreted. I hear the phrase, “Science tells us that...” on a regular basis. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but science doesn’t tell us anything. It’s not a person and can’t speak. People perform experiments and make observations. Then they record the results. Those results, though, are interpreted in different ways by people with different worldviews.
That’s why it’s important to distinguish between scientific data and its interpretation. For example, scientific investigation has revealed that bats have two bones in their forearm, just like humans. That’s what the data reveals. Some interpret that data as evidence that both bats and humans have a common ancestor and that Darwinian evolution led to a similar forearm structure. Others interpret that as evidence that both bats and humans have a common Designer who used a similar structure in both creatures.
There’s also a need to interpret when reading Scripture. I often hear Christians claim, “God clearly says that...” about some theological dispute. It might be clear what words are in a biblical passage, but what the words mean (their interpretation) is another matter.
Please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that the Bible is cryptic or everyone’s interpretation is equally valid. That’s not my point. God is clear about His message in Scripture. Some verses that are disputed, though, require more careful interpretation.
#3: Christians should learn to embrace all methods of discovering truth. Most people aren’t Christian and don’t consider biblical claims to be true. If we want to be savvy ambassadors for Christ, we must learn to use knowledge gained from Scripture and secular methods like science. That way we can persuade people using whatever sources our audience considers authoritative.
Understanding the dual nature of God’s revelation—in Scripture and the created world—helps to avoid the mistake of pitting science against faith, builds our credibility with others, and leverages sources of authority that many non-believers consider credible. All that matters because our goal is the Gospel, to make it known to everyone.