Faith v Science

Had Christians listened to the Bishop of Exeter in 1884, they would not feel the need to deny reality, and there might not be the anti-theist backlash of Richard Dawkins and others. In his Bampton lectures to the University of Oxford, he criticised the refinements of interpretation of the rabbis which “tended to encourage the hypocrisy which our Lord rebuked”, and saw “something of the same spirit in the attempt to maintain a verbal and even literal interpretation of the Bible, filling it not with the breath of a Divine spirit, but with minute details of doctrine and precept often questionable and, whenever separated from the principles of the eternal law, valueless or even mischievous.”

Frederick Temple had preached to the Royal Society at the time of the Wilberforce-Huxley debate in 1860, and later became Archbishop of Canterbury. The Church of England has not had difficulty accepting the revelations of science since.

In the time of Galileo there was no real conflict between the revelation of the Bible and astronomy, he said, and in 1884 none between evolution and the Bible, only with a particular biblical interpretation. Christians finding their interpretation was untenable sometimes rejected the Bible whole, and scientists knowing their science to be true and believing those lovers of the Bible to understand It, saw no alternative to rejecting the Bible; but this was unnecessary.

The bishop says that the heart of Christianity is not belief in specific doctrines, but relationship with the person Jesus Christ, whose tenderness cannot endure that a single soul should perish. Seeing the Lord’s character, let a man put before his will the Lord’s commands, the aims, the self-restraints, the aspiration the Lord required in his disciples. The voice of God speaks to all, but the ability to hear it depends on our spiritual faculty. Believers and unbelievers might prefer scientific evidence of God, to walk by sight and not by faith, and want indubitable miracles. It has not pleased God to furnish such proof.

Science should help us to interpret the message of God. Knowing the origins of the Earth gives us a clearer understanding of the meaning of the first chapters of Genesis. Knowing history helps us understand the historical books of the Bible. Science is the counterpart of religion and has its share to take in the conduct of life and the formation of opinion. And the believer is bound to recognise its value.

Science has value because of the uniformity of nature, but there are two classes of facts excepted from that uniformity: the miracles of God, and the actions of the human will. Science might seek to ignore these exceptions, as a schoolboy learning Newtonian mechanics might dislike friction, which mars its clarity. Yet we sense our responsibility for our actions, and feel our conscience’s promptings. And miracles are exceedingly rare, and the freedom of human will works within narrow limits only slowly affecting the mass of human conduct. Full human knowledge comes when in the physical and spiritual worlds are united.

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