The Ideal Starting Point (Faith and Science 2)

I begin this discussion of faith and science with a caveat. While I work at a faith-based health science university, I am not an expert in the specific, scientific issues related to the origins of life on this planet. So I think it would be wise for me to confine myself to some general principles that I find helpful in making sense of the debate over the origins of life.

Where is the center in this debate? It seems to me that scientists of faith come to this debate from one of three standpoints. At the risk of oversimplification, let me identify those standpoints as follows. 1) There are those who find the evidence for evolution (in the grand, macro sense) and long ages of life on this earth overwhelming. As a result they seek other than traditional ways of reading the Bible with regard to origins. 2) There are those who find traditional ways of reading the Bible perfectly clear and compelling and therefore put all of their energies into finding flaws in the contemporary scientific consensus. 3) There are scientists of faith who have a high and respectful view of both the Bible and the evidence of science. Such scientists recognize that at this moment there is no easy resolution of the differences that exist between the two bodies of evidence, so they bend all their energies to resolve the issues while maintaining a strong awareness of the limitations of evidence and of human understanding of the evidence.

As a biblical scholar who operates from the standpoint of faith I have all the more reason for humility. While I find the Bible an invaluable revelation of the will of God, I am painfully aware of the huge gap between my understanding of the universe and God’s (Isa 55:8-9). Let me share an analogy. Being a scholar is like a farmer digging a post hole at the edge of a field. I know everything there is to know about that contents of that post hole. But the deeper I go into my limited field of knowledge, the more I am aware of how deep the field is and how much I do not know. When all I knew was the surface of the field, I could imagine that I knew a whole lot about the field. But now that I have gone deep in a tiny portion of the field (writing a dissertation, for example), I realize how deep the entire field goes. So the mark of a true scholar is not how much he or she knows but to know how little one in fact knows. The more a scholar learns, the more aware he or she becomes of how much there is yet to learn. With great knowledge comes great humility. And I believe the reverse is also true. With great humility comes great knowledge. Most of us learn to the degree that we are open to learning.

That brings me to what I call the Ladder of Humility (appreciation to Fritz Guy, who first introduced me to the concept). As a biblical scholar who dabbles in many other issues, I have learned quite a bit in this life. Step one in my ladder of humility is how much I know. But step two is what everyone on earth knows. That is an almost infinite advance on what I know. Go into any university library and you will see that my knowledge is a minuscule fraction of what the human race as a whole knows. But step three on the ladder of humility is what everyone on earth could know, given an infinite amount of time and opportunity. Another infinite advance. Step four in the ladder of humility is what everyone in the universe knows. If, as most people suspect, there are lots of inhabited planets out there, all possible human knowledge is but a minuscule fraction of what everyone in the universe knows. And of course, step five is what God knows, truly another leap of infinity. Looked at from this perspective, everything I could possibly know about God and His ways are like the musings of a two-year old in comparison with what I don’t know. Even the knowledge of the prophets was limited (1 Cor 13:9, 12). So it behooves everyone interested in the issue of faith and science to demonstrate a strong element of humility in everything that is said and written on the subject.

4 thoughts on “The Ideal Starting Point (Faith and Science 2)

  1. Matthew F McMearty

    Wonderful expansion on the Bible verse, “If anyone thinks they know anything, they do not know it as they ought to know it.”

  2. Mike

    I picture what we know especially about the Bible, as a beam of light on the floor of a dark room coming from a cracked door to another room.

    And the beam of light leads us toward the door, and is everything we need in this life to learn of God, grow in him, and dive deeper and ever deeper into his word that never fails.

    But, true knowledge true depth and infinite understanding happen when we finally get to the door, and open it, then we see eternity and truly discovery an infinite God.

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