The Language of Science and Faith | Notes & Review

Posted on April 1, 2011


Karl Giberson & Francis Collins. The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions. InterVarsity Press, 2011. (250 pages)

God has provided two distinct, complementary and reliable revelations–the Bible and the natural world. (8)


In the pages that follow we share this good news [that we do not have to make a choice between science explanations and belief in God]. We understand that this claim is challenging and that many significant questions arise from it. But we also believe that Christians should be liberated from this awkward tension between their faith and the scientific understanding of the world. (18)

BioLogos embraces theism, the belief in a God who cares for and interacts with creation. … BioLogos also embraces science as a reliable way to understand the world. … In embracing science we accept that the biological theory known as evolution is a reliable explanation for the development of the diversity of life on our planet. When we combine our theism with our acceptance of science, including evolution, we are embracing the concept of theistic evolution. (19)

There has been no scientific discovery since Darwin–not one–which has suggested that evolution is not the best explanation for the origin of species. (22) Contrary to widespread misunderstanding and confident assertions by the various anti-evolutionists, evolution is a scientific theory that makes not direct statements about religion. (22)

[Regarding the “god of the gaps,” where God is inferred as the explanation] If Newton had not created this god-of-the-gaps argument for the existence of God, there would have been no disappointment when science closed that gap. (23)

Darwin offered biology what Laplace offered physics–a natural explanation for some remarkable phenomena people were explaining by invoking God. Neither of these cases presents an argument against the existence of God.

More recently, advocates of creationism, intelligent design and even new atheism have claimed that accepting evolution (at least in some forms) is embracing atheism. They argue that evolution is incompatible with a theistic worldview. This argument is illogical and philosophically preposterous. It wold be like a girl inferring that because her mother, and not her father, bought her a bike, her father must not exist. (23)

BioLogos is thus not a strictly scientific theory but rather a holistic explanatory scheme promoting the belief that evolution is a correct science, and that it effectively describes the method by which God created the panorama of life forms that makes the earth so interesting. (24)

1 Do I Have to Believe in Evolution?

We view science as a gift from God requiring three things:

  1. An orderly, reliable and predictable creation with patterns to be discovered
  2. minds capable of a deep level of abstract thought
  3. a burning curiosity to understand the world around us

We don’t have to accept everything blindly, of course, just because scientists believe it, but we should demand compelling reasons for rejecting such a consensus. (29)

Evolution as a formal theory contains a set of simple, interlinked propositions:

  1. All current species have descended from common ancestors.
  2. Changes in species occur gradually over time as a consequence of mutations–small chemical changes in our DNA that are constantly occurring.
  3. Species change when beneficial mutations allow certain of them to have more offspring than others.

Note that it does not deal with the origin of life… It also does not say anything about whether the processes that drive it have purpose. (30)

The theory of evolution is a theory about how life has changed over time; it is not a theory about how life first appeared. (37)

Over the past half century, evolution has united the various subdisciplines within biology into a coordinated whole. Where once there were unrelated scientific investigations in specialized areas, including paleontology, comparative anatomy, genetics, ecology and cell biology, all these areas are now united under the broad explanatory umbrella of evolutionary biology. (41)

..macroevolution is simply microevolution writ large: add up enough small changes and we get a large change. (45)

Does the uncontroversial fact of microevolution provide evidence for the complex and controversial claims of macroevolution? We begin our response by noting that the distinction between micro and macro evolution is arbitrary. Every step along an evolutionary pathway is, in fact, a tiny, micro, evolutionary change. (45) …We have to distinguish between challenges to our imaginations, which have trouble conceptualizing slow processes that take millions of years, and challenges to nature, which have no such limitations. (46)

The evidence for macroevolution that has emerged in the past few years is now overwhelming. (49)

Did We Come from Monkeys? …we did not come from monkeys or any other presently existing species. Rather…humans share a common ancestor with them. …The popular quip “You may have come from a monkey, but I didn’t” misses the point: no human came from a monkey, and any pre-human ancestor on our family tree is buried so far back in time that we need not lament the existence of these ancient relatives or be insulted at the suggestion that we are related to them. (50)

2 Can We Really Know the Earth Is billions of Years Old?

A mountain of scientific data supports the idea that the earth is around 4.5 billion years old. …And once the age of the earth is accepted it is but a small step to understand that the universe is about three times older than the earth, or about fourteen billion years old. (53)

Young earth creationists often appear to be reading an anti-evolutionary agenda into the Bible and forcing it to fit assumptions they bring to the text. When the text admits of multiple interpretations they often insist on the one that maximizes the conflict with evolution. (54)

There are now no scientific arguments of any consequence that point to the earth being just a few thousand years old. Not one isolated piece of nontrivial data, in any form, points in this direction. (54)

How long would it take the light from distant objects to travel to the earth? (55)

The question for science in a Christin context is not “What might a supernatural creator be capable of doing?” Rather, we should ask, “What does the empirical evidence suggest that a supernatural creator actually did?” (57)

[Regarding speed of light and the time it takes for distant objects to travel to the earth, the expanding universe, the Doppler effect, the globular clusters, etc.] …What is significant about all these different approaches–and there are others we have not mentioned–is that they converge on essentially the same age for the universe. (60)

What About the Age of the Earth? …trees form yearly rings on their trunks (61) …lakebeds with layers as old as thirty-five thousand years (61) …seasonal ice rings in glaciers (61) …the earth’s magnetic field (62) …radio metric dating (63f.)

Doesn’t the Bible Teach That the Earth is Young? BioLogos respectfully proposes that YEC (Young Earth Creationism) has taken an unnecessarily narrow view of Scripture. …Many biblical scholars who have studied the biblical languages and cultures insist that the YEC interpretation of Genesis is not even close to what the text is saying. (69) Secondly, we do not believe that God would provide two contradictory revelations. (69-70)

In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture. – Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis (Hyde Park, N.Y.: New York Press, 2002), cited in Alister E. McGrath, The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), p. 119

3 How Do We Relate Science and Religion?

Science and theology have things to say to each other since both are concerned with the search for truth attained through motivated belief. – John Polkinghorne

The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. – Galileo

Many however are seduced by the success of science into assuming that science is capable of discovering all possible facts about the world. The great astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington developed a winsome analogy for this assumption, describing a “man who set out to study deep-sea life using a net that had a mesh-size of three inches. After catching many wild and wonderful creatures from the depths, the man concluded that there are no deep-sea fish that are smaller than three inches in length!” (86)

Many scholars would go even further, arguing that the Christian worldview played a significant role in nurturing the development of modern science:

Their belief in God gave them confidence that the physical world, in all its complexity and vast extent, could be understood…As a matter of historical fact, modern science has developed from an understanding of the world as God’s ordered Creation, with its own inherent rationality. – Roger Trigg, “Does Science Need Religion?” Faraday Papers, no. 2 (April 2007)

Galileo, who remained a loyal Catholic to the end of his life, makes his position clear in a letter to the Grad Duchess of Tuscany:

[In] St. Augustine we read: “If anyone shall set the authority of Holy Writ against clear and manifest reason, he who does this knows not what he has undertaken; for he opposes to the truth not the meaning of the Bible, which is beyond his comprehension, but rather his own interpretation, not what is in the Bible, but what he has found in himself and imagines to be there.” This granted, and it being true that two truths cannot contradict one another, it is the function of expositors to seek out the true senses of scriptural texts. These will unquestionably accord with the physical conclusions which manifest sense and necessary demonstrations have previously made certain to us. [bold emphases mine]

Although science and religion certainly overlap in some cases, neither is an exhaustive source of truth capable of swallowing up the other. (90)

So Christians confidently wedded their faith to their science only to have it experience a painful divorce when science moved on to new ideas. The faith of many Christians today is wedded to the pre-Darwinian and even pre-geologic science of the nineteenth century, and that marriage is now in serious trouble. (91)

The first demand any work of any art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. – C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

Ernest Lucas, with doctorates in biochemistry and theology, explains that [the standard methods of biblical interpretation] involve asking five questions:

  1. What kind of language is being used?
  2. What kind of literature is it?
  3. What is the expected audience?
  4. What is the purpose of the text?
  5. What relevant extra-textual knowledge is there?

We must understand that the Bible is a substantial and wide-ranging collection of writings an transcribed oral traditions. John Polkinghorne recommends viewing the Bible as a library rather than a single book. Such an approach would encourage more responsible reading and preclude, for example, the habit of “quote-mining” where isolated passages from different books are combined to draw a conclusion that the texts simply cannot justify. (94-95)

…the Genesis text emerges as a surprisingly vigorous, in-your-face challenge to the way the rest of the local tribes understood the world. (98)

Biblical interpretation falls short without an understanding of divine inspiration, of course, and we do not suggest that the Bible is simply another book to be interpreted. But we do a great disservice to the concept and power of inspiration when we reduce it to mere factual accuracy, as though God’s role were nothing more than a divine fact checker, preventing the biblical authors from making mistakes. A dead and lifeless text, like the phone book, can be factually accurate. The inspiration of the Bible is dynamic and emerges through engagement with readers. (102)

4 Can Scientific and Scriptural Truth Be Reconciled?

We disrespect Moses, David, Paul and even Jesus when we assume they communicate by our rules today. We must allow them to be authentic members of their own time and then make the effort to understand what that means. (107)

Nowhere in the entire Bible do we read anything that even hints that the writer is trying to teach science. What we encounter instead is a consistent discussion of the purposes and reasons for why things are the way they are. (108)

Neither [science nor religion] attains exhaustive knowledge–for the exploration of nature continually reveals new and unexpected insights, and the infinite reality of God will always exceed the grasp of finite human beings–but both [science and religion] believe that they achieve verisimilitude, the making of maps of aspects of reality that are adequate for some, but not every, purpose. – John Polkinghorne, “The Science and Religion Debate: An Introduction,” Faraday papers, no 1 (April 2007)

Science will never fully answer the why questions of religion; science can tell us only how the world is–never the reasons or purposes for why it is that way. (108)

The historical record is abundantly clear that the scientific community does a good job of correcting its own errors and moving steadily forward toward a better understanding of reality. (111-112)

Francis Bacon, the great champion of the strength of scientific induction, observes:

To conclude, therefore, let no man upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation think or maintain that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or the book of God’s works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficiency in both; only let men beware that they apply both to charity, and not to swelling; to use, and not to ostentation; and again, that they do not unwisely mingle or confound these learnings together. – Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning; Colours of Good and Evil; The Essays (London: Adamant Media, 2005)

[There] is no doubt that part of God’s interaction with the world must be that of letting agents or circumstances take their course. Without that there would be no true freedom, and the gift of love in creation must be the gift of freedom, both to humankind and also to the Universe itself, as it explores its own inherent potential through its evolving process. – John Polkinghorne, Science and Providence: God’s Interaction with the World (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2005), p. 11

Chaos and quantum uncertainty make it impossible to see the world any longer as determined. (118)

Nature is reliable enough to reflect God’s faithfulness, yet flexible enough to permit God’s involvement, just as it is open to our involvement and the involvement of all creatures. (120)

[VIA: foreknowledge does not equal determination]

The Christian tradition has always affirmed that God loves, God knows and God acts, but we have no “theories” of how God does any of these things. Our goal should be to avoid narrowing down the range of possibilities by putting God in boxes of our own devising. (122-3)

5 Science and the Existence of God

Popular arguments for the existence of God, many of which predate Christianity, take a variety of forms:

  • cosmological argument–dating all the way back to Aristotle in the fourth century B.C.–argues that there must be a first cause (God) to start the global chain of causality.
  • teleological argument or argument from design argues that the universe has a high degree of complex order that could only have been created by God. …championed by William Paley shortly before Darwin.
  • ontological argument is based on a clever but obscure argument about a “being greater than which none can be conceived.” it starts simply with a concept of God. Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century and contemporary philosopher Alvin Plantinga formulate this argument to show that if it is logically possible for God (a necessary being) to exist, then God exists. Most people don’t find this argument convincing.
  • Arguments that nonphysical qualities observed in the universe are genuinely real and not illusory, such as morality, beauty, love or religious experience, are arguments against the possibility that everything can be explained in a purely materialistic ay and thus argue for a reality beyond the physical.
  • transcendental arguemtn suggests that logic, science, ethics,  and other things we take seriously do not make sense in the absence of God…

To ascribe the creation of anything in nature to Satan is to elevate Satan from a creature to a co-creator of the world with God. (133)

This view of nature is a traditional theological concept that understands that God works through secondary as well as primary causes. This picture gets even more interesting when we note that many processes in nature exhibit a genuine unpredictability that looks, for all the world, like freedom. (134)

The actual future is open and cannot be known simply as a predictable extension of present processes. On the other hand, natures’ freedom is constrained in ways that assure that the world will be stable. (136)

The key point here is that the gift of creativity that God bestowed on the creation is theologically analogous to the gift of freedom God bestowed on us. Both humans and all creation have freedom. Our freedom comes with a moral responsibility to use it properly. (136)

Evil is the price we pay for existing. Moral evil is the necessary accompaniment of free will. Physical evil is the necessary accompaniment of structured world. – Frederick Robert Tennant, quoted in Martin Gardner, The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (New York: William Morrow, 1999).

Any time an apologetic argument is framed and presented as an alternative to faith as a foundation for belief, there is a danger that further advances in knowledge will undermine this arguement. (142)

6 Why Is Darwin’s Theory So Controversial?

The first issue was the concern that Genesis seemed to describe a creation in decline instead of progress. (152)

Does Thermodynamics Disprove Evolution? The second law of thermodynamics states that any isolated system will increase its total entropy over time. The key phrase here is isolated system. (164) Almost every imaginable system in nature has outside input. (166)

7 What Is the Fine-Tuning of the Universe, and How Does It Serve as a Pointer to God?

One of the most well-established insights in physics is that there are just four different forces in nature, with gravity being the most familiar. …These four forces are:

  1. The strong nuclear force.
  2. The weak nuclear force.
  3. The electromagnetic force.
  4. The gravitational force.

The other constants of nature possess this same feature. change any of them and the universe will move, like Robert Frost’s traveler, along a different path. And remarkably, every one of these different paths leads to a universe without life in it. (183)

We submit that all Christian positions on origins share a commitment to a mysterious and transcendent divine action, and we might as well acknowledge that we are all in that boat together. The conversation needs to be about what is revealed in the details of the creation, not who can explain exactly how God works (for nobody can). (192)

God is the ultimate explanation for everything, not just the bits of nature that science cannot explain. (194)

The more I examine the universe, and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the Universe in some sense must have known we were coming. – Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe

8 Evolution and Human Beings

There may e trajectories of purpose within the universe that we can only dimly perceive or not perceive at all. (199)

Another way to think about God’s relationship to evolution is to view God guiding the evolutionary process, working within the randomness. (199) …we might also imagine, as a third possibility, that God intentionally integrated freedom in the evolutionary process and chose not to predetermine the detailed trajectory of its many winding pathways. (200)

How Does Convergence Relate to Humans? “Contrary to popular belief, the science of evolution does not belittle us. As I argue, something like ourselves is an evolutionary inevitability, and our existence also reaffirms our one-ness with the rest of Creation.” – Simon Conway Morris, Life’s Solution.

Based on what we know today about both science and the ancient world of the Hebrews, it is simply not reasonable to try to turn the brief comments in Genesis into a biologically accurate description of how humans originated. Our point is that the Genesis account does not tell us how God created–only that God did create and that human beings are a part o God’s plan and not an accident. (206)

9 The Grand Narrative of Creation

And God saw that it was good. (221)

— VIA —

It is refreshing to know that a world of science and Biblical study can be summed up and presented in an easily attainable form such as this without compromising integrity. True, fuller details and explanations are missing in this book, but that’s not the aim of the authors (for which they provide an extensive bibliography). In the wide diverse discussions I have had with many people regarding this topic, I have yearned to refer them to a reference that would provide a quick introduction and a clear explanation of the many variegated issues. This is it.

I would like to add a sentiment to the “god of the gaps” idea. I propose that God really is in those gaps, though not as the explanation for what we don’t understand, and not that God exists only in the gaps. God exists in the gaps just as much as God exists in the current scientific explanations that surround those gaps. Put in simple terms, In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and everything in-between.

I would also like to add the phrase that I have been using for a while that observation is not explanation, by which I mean that science is the “how” and “what” realm whereas faith, metaphysics, philosophy, and religion are the “why” realm. Science is an observation of everything around us, but it cannot “explain” in the fullest philosophical and religious sense; it cannot provide meaning and purpose. Conversely, just because religion/faith can provide “why,” does not mean that those are the same tools that we use to describe the “how,” or “what” of our natural world.

Perhaps it is helpful to think of science and faith as two sides of the same coin, and to only acknowledge one is to limit the dimensions of the universe in which we exist.

Lastly, a rabbi friend of mine once said, “Using Genesis as a science book is like using a 747 as a paperweight.”


The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Francis Collins
Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. Karl Giberson
Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology. Darrel Falk
Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? Denis Alexander
Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution. Denis Lamoureux
Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith. Daniel Harrel
Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design and Evolution. Deborah Haarsma and Loren Haarsma
Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? Michael Ruse
Species of Origins: America’s Search for a Creation Story. Karl Giberson and Donald Yerxa
Three Views on Creation and Evolution. J.P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds (eds.)
Scientific Creationism. Henry Morris
The Lie: Evolution. Ken Ham (
The Lost World of Genesis One. John Walton
Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. Peter Enns
How to Read Genesis. Tremper Longman III
The Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. Stephen Meyer
Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. Michael Behe
Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology. William Dembski
Darwin on Trial. Phillip Johnson
Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution. Kenneth Miller
Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul. Kenneth Miller
Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism. Robert Pennock
Evolution: History of an Idea. Ed Larson.
Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion. Ed Larson
The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design. Ronald Numbers
Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist. Adrian Desmond and James Moore
Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Evolution. Adrian Desmond and James Moore
Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution. Randal Keynes
A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology. Alister McGrath

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