If you ask anyone about the relationship between science and faith, you will likely find that they view the two as polar opposites. If one believes in science, it necessarily presupposes that the unprovable aspects of faith must be rejected. On the other hand, if one believes in faith, one must reject the research of science that would seem to disprove one’s convictions. What is a conscientious Christian to do? In his talk at the Carolina Institute for Faith and Culture, Dr. Steven Dilday (a religion professor at Southern Wesleyan University) argues that the Christian’s ultimate task is to take charge of their own thoughts. Rather than being beholden to current scientific mores, the Christian must be responsible for their own convictions instead of letting others do their thinking for them.
Dr. Dilday opened his talk with the assertion that the best thing he felt he could do for the audience was to go some way towards setting their thinking free. To illustrate his point, he told his own story. Many years ago, he had been a physical trainer, and as such had some insight into how the scientific world worked. While he had been under the impression (like many other people) that science was the crusader in an entirely non-biased search for truth, what he discovered was rather different. Arthur Jones, a man who had been prominent in the physical science field for years, told Dilday about a scientific study he had had the dubious privilege of interacting with. Jones had developed a machine for measuring the stress levels of certain hard-to-measure muscles in the human body with the explicit intention of being the first and only person in the world to be able to accurately measure such stress. However, when he offered his services to a study about that muscle stress, he discovered that the individuals conducting the study were satisfied with their own methodology – estimation. Instead of unbiasedly pursuing truth, these scientists were more concerned with taking the easy way out. This concerned the young Dr. Dilday and began the reformation of his thinking.
This emphasis on forming his own opinions instead of relying purely on science was only further confirmed later during a conversation with another friend. Still in his physical training career, Dr. Dilday had contacted a friend in the field to ask him what he thought was the best diet for Dilday’s athletes. Over the course of the conversation, the two of them discussed the varied changes in the scientific understanding of dieting over the past several years. Certain foods will be absolutely healthy one day, and Of the Devil just a few years later. Dilday and his friend came to the conclusion that science needs to get a sense of perspective. While it is indisputable that science has come a very long way, it must also be acknowledged that it has a long way to go – especially in ways that scientists haven’t even thought about yet. Dr. Dilday says that science tends to get above itself, claiming that its newest discoveries are the indisputable facts of life while forgetting that science itself is in its infancy in the grand scheme of things. Science has much left to learn, and should not make absolute claims of knowledge without the historical backup to prove it true.
This interpretation of science means that Dr. Dilday is free to think what he wants. He encourages everyone to listen to the discoveries of science without feeling that they must trust it alone. Dr. Dilday finds this perhaps most prescient in the area of evolution, asking how the Darwinist theory could match with the creation account in Genesis. Dr. Dilday sees this as a prime example of science getting ahead of itself and claiming things that it does not truly understand. The theory of evolution, he says, has changed multiple times over the years. While scientists always proclaim that they know how man descended from apes, the precise manner of evolution has changed several times since Charles Darwin first promoted the idea in the 19th century. For Dr. Dilday, this makes the theory untenable, especially as it is not explicitly mentioned in Genesis. In the history of Biblical interpretation, reading the Seven Days of Creation as literal days was the norm until the rise of the idea that the Earth was millions of years old, and therefore needed longer gaps in time during creation. This lack of historic debate is another factor leading Dr. Dilday to believe that this is another passing scientific fad passing itself off as genuine fact, and is therefore inherently questionable.
Dr. Dilday’s approach to science can be best summed up as cautious but understanding. He has made quite clear that he sees the benefits of science and the scientific method, but that one need not bow to those in charge that see themselves as not just the Discoverers of Fact but the Arbiters of Truth. Science is excellent, and should be listened to, but one should always feel free and responsible to ask for an explanation as to why certain things are seen the way that they are. It is a tool, and should be used as such.
The facts of science should always be separated from the opinions of the scientists, something that is becoming unfortunately harder and harder in the modern age. Still, this is a message of optimism, not hopelessness. While many in the Christian church and many in the scientific community seem to argue that science and faith are inherently incompatible, that is simply not true. Faith need not fear true science, and science need not fear faith. Rather, Christians should be interested in and seek to further the expanse of science and exploring the universe God has created, while at the same time refusing to fall into the trap of unthinkingly agreeing with all of the conclusions science may prematurely make. If one can walk the tightrope between the two, one will find oneself a far more rounded individual.