Science & the gospel, v

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This series is to consider how faith in Christ transforms our view of science.

I’m using Two Ways To Live (TWTL) to shape the series: six TWTL points – six posts on science. Each point has an image in addition to short summary statements.

The fifth part of TWTL is:

 

God raised Jesus to life again as ruler of the world.

Jesus has conquered death, now gives new life, and will return to judge.

Well, where does that leave us?

 

Jesus’ death was an astounding sacrifice. It is unique in all history. Yet the uniqueness of Jesus’ death is not in its death, for death afflicts all people. Historically, many others also have died unjustly, bravely, with love for friend and foe alike. The uniqueness of Jesus’ death is not historical, it is theological – that God was active through the cross. (God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sin against them, 2 Corinthians 5:19).

Jesus’ resurrection, on the other hand, is unique historically and theologically. No one else – yet – has been given new life by God after death, never to die again (that’s historically unique). And no one else can be the firstborn from the dead, appointed as judge and ruler (theological uniqueness).

This history touches a Christian view of science.

Christians know Jesus is alive, not dead. The tomb is empty because tombs are for corpses. Jesus is fully alive – if he’s not alive, Christians are wasting our time and pitiable (1 Corinthians 15:14-20). Amongst other things, the resurrection of Jesus was an event of the natural world. A corpse, duly readied for entombment and entering the phase of putrefaction, returned to life. The moment of resurrection was potentially observable. There were witnesses who saw Jesus in his post-resurrection life.

For science, this means there are natural events beyond the investigation of science.

Please don’t summarise that statement as ‘miracles are beyond science’, for that’s not my claim. There are wonders of the Bible given an explanation simultaneously natural/scientific and theological. Notably, God sending the strong east wind to clear a path though the Red Sea (Exodus 14). Presumably a team of meteorologists and hydrologists in the right place could have determined that the dry water-course was caused by hot easterly wind. It was a miracle in the natural world, and open to science. It’s no big deal that God can use nature – he made it! My point here is simply that some truly ‘natural’ events are impenetrable to science. Perhaps the resurrection is the only example, who knows?

In an earlier post I made the point that science cannot explain everything. There are matters outside of the realm of science (I mentioned justice, both human and divine). Now I am saying more, that there are matters inside the realm of science that science cannot explain. I reach this conclusion by the gospel, specifically the gospel-proclaimed resurrection of Jesus.

This leads to another gospel-driven reflection on science: history is bigger than science. This may sound  unconnected, but that’s not so. For just as science cannot tell us about Jesus’ resurrection, history can and does tell us. The empty tomb of Easter is a message with witnesses, not an experiment with technicians. It is possible to test the message of Jesus as we test any claim: we ask historical questions. (Who said this? Do we have a good record of their claims? What did they mean? What is their agenda? What corroborating evidence is there? etc.)

(Let me throw in a speculative, but related, idea: I think that science may be best seen as a subset of history. Experimental observations are what happened (‘the pressure was 745 mmHg’). Scientists interpret the data to make sense of what happened. Theoretical scientists, I think, work hard on teasing out the implications of the history of ideas. Historians and scientists both make predictions of the future, and do so on the basis of the past.)

Back to the main point … If history is bigger then science, and the gospel tells us this, I expect the biggest challenges to Christian faith to be from historians rather than scientists. When science attacks Christianity it gets more attention, I believe, but we should listen more closely to historians.

The theology of the resurrection also touches science.

In the resurrection, Jesus is declared to be in complete dominion and rule (Acts 17:30-31). At creation, dominion was granted to people. After years of sin’s rule, dominion was declared to reside in The Person – Jesus Christ is the true man who rules. Humanity is restored to its place in God’s order, in the person of Jesus. All authority is his, meaning that all rule in this world is a gift of Jesus. All who exercise any kind of rule are answerable to Jesus for their use of authority.

What is this to do with science? To state the obvious – as I love to do – the ruler is a person. Dominion is personal, not impersonal. Thus, science is not dominion.

We frequently use language that suggests otherwise. ‘Technology tames the wilderness.’ ‘Bio-medical science defeats disease.’ Effectively we hear the message, ‘Science rules the world.’ This is not true. On the largest scale, Jesus rules the world. In local situations, people exercise dominion. We must never be compliant with claims that science means we must … For science never claims anything, people do. The resurrection of Jesus allows us to step back from such claims and enquire who really is ruling.

I’ve written plenty already on the resurrection and science. And could say more. When I started the series, this was the one point where I wondered if I had anything to say! It appears I had nothing to fear about content. My remaining fear is that this longer post lacks clarity. Please help me in this – I love any feedback, comments or questions. Jump right in to the comments section below.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead
1 Peter 1:3

 

  • David McKay

    Chris, you say “No one else – yet – has been given new life by God after death, never to die again.” Are you sure this applies to the resurrected saints in Matthew?

    • http://www.littlepeople.id.au Chris Little

      As I think about it, David, I am not completely sure. Partly because I am not sure what happened with those risen saints.

      However, Matthew 27:52-53 tells that these bodies were raised before Jesus’ resurrection (though appearing publicly after it). The tombs were opened at the death of Jesus. So I am largely confident that their rising was not in the same way Jesus’ rose – it would be odd if their resurrection bodies came before Jesus’ own resurrection body.

      What do you think?

  • David McKay

    Hi Chris.
    I am not sure.
    Have you seen the controversy over Mike Licona‘s comments on this passage? Mike has done some fine work on the resurrection, including a 2 DVD set, of which this set is a taster. He has a book which he co-wrote with Gary Habermas, called The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, which also looks promising.

    But in his magnum opus, The Resurrection of Jesus: a new historiographical apporach, he argued that ” the story of the raised saints in Matthew 27:52-53 should probably be
    interpreted as apocalyptic imagery rather than literal history.” [I'm quoting his own comment on his book: I don't have access to the book itself.]

    He has an interesting paper on this issue which he delivered at a meeting of The Evangelical Theological Society, written to address the storm of controversy which blew up over this tiny passage in his gigantic tome.

    It makes me wonder, in the words of Robert Plant, but I’m not sure what to think.

    I find the idea of the resurrected saints turning up rather hard to understand, though I suppose it may not be any different from Moses and Elijah appearing when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain. They didn’t hang around, so maybe these folk didn’t either.

    • http://www.littlepeople.id.au Chris Little

      I’ve never heard of this controversy at all. I can imagine a storm, though!

      It doesn’t sound as though anyone is arguing that a resurrection like that of Jesus has happened to other people. Or have I missed something?

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  • David McKay

    Norm Geisler and others have argued that Licona’s suggestion that the resurrected saints may be apocalyptic imagery calls into question his belief in inerrancy.

    • http://www.littlepeople.id.au Chris

      I’m not surprised to hear that is the accusation. I’m more interested in the argument(s) leading to that accusation, personally. Perhaps the book on resurrection is worth a read.

    • http://www.littlepeople.id.au Chris Little

      I’m not surprised the accusations went where you’ve described it. I hope that this accusation was not the first reaction, though! Engaging with the argument and plenty of to and fro is important to understand. At least, it’s the arguments put forward that interest me – and all I know of them is what you’ve posted in these comments.

      So I’d better not start accusing …