Science & the gospel, vi

  • Sumo

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 sixth and final part of TWTL is:

The two ways to live

A. Our way:
Reject the ruler-God
Try to run life our own way
B. God’s new way:
Submit to Jesus as our ruler
Rely on Jesus’ death and resurrection
Condemned by God
Facing death and judgement
Forgiven by God
Given eternal life


Which of these represents the way you want to live? 

The gospel outline of Two Ways to Live finishes with a question. This is as it should be, for the gospel is a call and an invitation. The gospel declares God’s work. The declaration is serious, and rightly includes fearful aspects, but it is also loving. God desires to give life to sinners stuck on the path of death (Ezekiel 18:32).

To put this slightly differently, the gospel is the king’s authority proclaimed, but the king is not merely conservative. A conservative kingship faces rebellion by re-asserting power and retreating to a prior situation (‘the good old days’ when everything was rosy). Such a king does not aim for a new kingdom, but restoration of the old kingdom.

God, in contrast, does something new. God confronts sinners with their evil, demonstrates his justice, then invites sinners into his own family. God could simply wipe away all evil – punishment without forgiveness. Instead, through the cross and resurrection, God completes justice with forgiveness. The Bible does not end with a second Garden of Eden, but with a new heavens and earth and heavenly Jerusalem where righteousness dwells and countless multitudes rejoice eternally.

In short, the gospel calls for decision (trust Jesus) and the gospel effects change (you are forgiven & freed to serve).

Science cannot do this. Science describes, science does not prescribe. Science does not care about what to do next.

This gives a very important warning for the use of science. Scientific understanding of the world is never an ethical argument. Science has wonderful insight into what is. This does not, however, translate into what ought to be. Between is and ought there lies the changes we desire and the decisions we require.

In a simple example, consider research into infectious diseases. There are so many: some are well-known (AIDS, malaria, hepatitis, measles); some I can only name because I searched the internet (paragoniamiasis, anyone?). In light of limited research budgets, and a finite supply of skilled researchers, which diseases should have priority? Science cannot tell us – other criteria must come into play.

Science can tell us which infective agents are responsible for the diseases, or that the agent is unknown. Science can tell us which people groups are most affected by infection, and compare the population sizes of those affected directly and indirectly. Science can even estimate the financial burden of the disease (OK, I’m being generous in calling economics a science!). But science cannot tell us that ebola is more worthy than measles for grant funding.

For a more pointed example, think of research into sex. Science can note and seek to explain the reproductive benefits of monogamy in birds. It can also note the promiscuity of bonobos. But it’s not a scientific argument to follow up either set of observation with, ‘Therefore, humans should do the same.’ If you come across an argument like this – usually in favour of promiscuity or homosexuality, not monogamy – you know that the ethical decision was made well before any science came into view.

When people argue about environmental science, it is usually the case that the science is irrelevant. At the extreme ends of the spectrum of views, proponents cherry pick the most relevant factoids to support their case. The ‘science’ they use convinces no one, because the decisions made were not based on science.

‘What do we do next?’ is a good question. It looks for change and to make a good decision. The answer can be informed by good science, but should be understood as a decision made before the God who will one day call us to account.

It is no argument to say, ‘I was born this way – let me be.’ Or to say, ‘Environmental science insists on a target for atmospheric CO2.’ Or to say, ‘We should do the genetic manipulation because we can do the manipulation.’

It is an argument to say, ‘Created, fallen and redeemed from judgement, we are to practice repentance and faith in self identity/environmental care/experimental design. The gospel tells us so.’

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him
John 3:36