This website is a work in progress. When finished, it will be an interactive, multimedia e-book. Its aim is to give an accessible introduction to some of the most significant theories and discoveries of modern physics, chemistry, astronomy, cosmology, and biology, while also promoting a clear understanding of the relationship between science and the Christian faith. It is intended primarily for a Christian audience, though non-religious readers may also find it useful.
Joshua Hershey is an Assistant Professor of Science and Philosophy at The King’s College, New York City, and holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. His research has focused primarily on the philosophy of physics and philosophy of science, with additional interests in epistemology and the philosophy of religion. He enjoys amateur astronomy in his back yard, going on nature hikes and fossil hunting adventures with his children, and other outdoorsy, sciency things.
A famous Christian pastor once noticed that some members of his church were promoting simplistic interpretations of the Bible and subjecting themselves to ridicule from the scientific community. Concerned that their behavior might hinder the church’s evangelistic mission, the pastor wrote a lengthy commentary on the biblical account of creation, explaining several ways to understand its meaning. He urged Christians to avoid simple-minded views of scripture and to educate themselves about the latest scientific discoveries. “Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for [a non-Christian] to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics,” he wrote. “If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learned from experience and the light of reason?” Though he admonished Christians to study important scientific theories, this pastor never heard of evolution or the Big Bang. He penned those words in the fifth century AD, more than a thousand years before the scientific revolution. The pastor I’ve quoted was Aurelius Augustinus, better known today as Saint Augustine.St. Augustine, On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, book V, chapter 2, trans. John Hammond Taylor (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 42-43.
Many Christians heeded Augustine’s advice.Augustine’s perspective influenced later Christian thinkers who laid the intellectual foundations for the development of modern science, as we’ll see in chapter 1 of this book. Augustine’s commentary on Genesis, in particular, was a direct inspiration to Galileo Galilei, as indicated in Galileo’s famous letter to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany. During the scientific revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries, when ancient dogmas about the natural world suddenly gave way to modern science, nearly all of the most influential scientists were Christians—including Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, and many others. They saw scientific research as a natural expression of faith in God. As Galileo wrote, “the glory and greatness of Almighty God are marvelously discerned in all his works.”Galileo, “Letter to Madame Christina of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany,” 1615.
Much has changed. According to recent surveys, a minority of scientists today believe in God; still fewer are Christians.See, for example, this 2009 survey by The Pew Research Center (page 36 of the report). Why aren’t more scientists Christians? Numerous explanations could be given. A minority of the global population practices Christianity, so perhaps the smaller proportion of Christians in scientific careers merely reflects the fact that the gospel of science has spread more quickly than the gospel of Christ. (“Repent!” isn’t an attractive message compared to the tantalizing fruits of modern science.) That cannot be the full explanation, however, because a disproportionally large percentage of scientists today are non-religious, compared to the populations in which they reside. Could it be that scientific evidence tells against religious faith, so that anyone who understands the discoveries of science comes to reject her faith? Is that why so many scientists are non-religious? This explanation is the presumption of many non-religious people in our society today.
As Christians, how should we respond? A friend of mine (Aron Wall, who is both a Christian and a brilliant astrophysicist) remarked during a recent conversation that perhaps the question we ought to ask ourselves is not why aren’t more scientists Christians? but rather why aren’t more Christians scientists? One reason, I suspect, is that many Christians have accepted the idea that modern science is in conflict—or, at best, in tension—with Christianity. We’re in a “culture war,” as it were, and nobody wants to play for the opposing team! That’s a terrible mistake. Even if there is a culture war between mainstream science and biblical Christianity, ignoring science is not a winning strategy. We have a responsibility to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), and we would be remiss in our duty as disciple-makers if we ignored the cultural challenges posed by the widespread but mistaken idea that the gospel somehow conflicts with scientific knowledge. In order to confront that misapprehension, intelligent Christians must be equipped with a clear understanding of the relationship between our faith and the contemporary scientific views. Moreover, if we truly believe that the Bible is divinely inspired, then we should take seriously what it says about the value of studying God’s creation. By studying the created world, we can learn about our Creator (Romans 1:20), about ourselves (Psalm 8:3-4), and about our relationship with God (Isaiah 40:26-31).
I’m not suggesting that Christians should all become scientists by trade. We have different gifts and callings. However, I believe the church could be strengthened and made more effective in its mission if a greater number of Christians would express their faithfulness to Christ by pursuing knowledge of God’s creation: seeking a career in science, perhaps, or simply reading books about science. That is why I am writing this book and making it freely available on the World Wide Web. It will provide an accessible introduction to some of the most significant theories and discoveries that have shaped the dominant scientific view of reality, while carefully examining how these theories and discoveries relate to biblical Christian faith. I hope that this will serve as a valuable resource to pastors, apologists, theologians, Christians in higher education, and other members of the Christian community who wish to obtain a deeper understanding of science and its relation to our faith.