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One of the tried and true ways to relate the Bible and the discoveries of science has been the Two Books model. There’s the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture, and God is their sole Author. Francis Bacon, one of the pioneers of modern science, phrased it this way,
"God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation." Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
So ultimately a contradiction between the Two Books is impossible.
But I often ask myself, “Are there times when I’m asking too much of science? Can it really answer more directly the questions that Christians have puzzled over for centuries by looking at Scripture, seeking discernment in prayer and community?”
Responding to those questions is what this blog post intends to do.
Like any association between two different entities—in this case, science and faith—resolving contradictions can be tricky. This makes it tempting to think that both parties are exactly the same. (I won’t go into the marriage analogies, but they’re there.) If we give the Two Books the same weight and voice, the Book of Nature can itself become sacred and direct the Christian community and its ethics.
Put another way, misreading the book of Nature leads us to make too much of science. And I hear that done in two different ways with a duo of contemporary issues: global climate change (this week) and sexuality (next week).
With climate change, many Americans are under-informed by the science and particularly the fact that many scientists and Christians today are calling for a response to global climate change. A large majority of scientists are convinced that climate change is occurring and that human activity is responsible.
“97% of the scientists surveyed agreed that global temperatures had increased during the past 100 years; 84% said they personally believed human-induced warming was occurring, and 74% agreed that ‘currently available scientific evidence’ substantiated its occurrence.”
They are joined by leading voices like Pope Francis and the National Association of Evangelicals, along with leading climate scientist and evangelical Katherine Hayhoe,
“Climate change is here and now, and not in some distant time or place. The choices we're making today will have a significant impact on our future.”
But why does Hayhoe think it’s human caused? As she points out, when we look at the rise of global temperatures since 1900—in other words, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and its release of carbon dioxide—the signs of human causes for climate change are fairly clear.
It strikes me that the consensus is clear enough. We resist (e.g., President Trump’s withdrawing from the Paris climate accords) not only for scientific reasons. Some certainly see the economic loss—and those motivated by greed need to be frankly resisted. Others truly fear a livelihood in industries that are threatened (like coal), and I believe that we need to be sensitive to these concerns. Others don’t believe government should enforce the solution.
But let's not ask science to tell us what our moral wills don’t want to do.Global climate change represents one pressing issue that we have to consider as stewards of the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). When the planet is threatened by our actions over which we are stewards, we have to re-evaluate all these calculations. Most of all, we need to concern ourselves for the poor who bear the brunt of climate change. We also need to think about the future. Yes, Jesus might return at any moment, but I want to be found caring for a world that our children will inherit.
What do you think? Why don’t we listen to scientists about climate change? And more generally, how do you relate the Book of nature to the Book of Scripture?