Here's a second and final post on Collins and Giberson's The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions (Intervarsity Press, 2011). I'll again pull a few examples from their question and answer discussion, here from the second half of the book.
What do we do when science seems to conflict with scripture?
The Bible is not a scientific text and should not be read that way. ... We must allow [biblical authors] to be authentic members of their own time and then make the effort to understand what that means. Making biblical authors into modern, scientifically literate thinkers and writers immediately produces inconsistencies between the Bible and the scientifically determined history of the world. However, when Scripture is read in context, these inconsistencies disappear.
I think the faith and science problem is less of a problem for Latter-day Saints than for Evangelicals. BYU teaches real science, not the truths of science mingled with scripture, the formula that seems to appeal to many Evangelicals, which is why Evagelical youth have a hard time when they get to a secular university and take real science classes. Just last week I heard an Evangelical minister explaining to his audience that the dinosaurs shouldn't trouble their faith — he had studied the issue, read all about it, and it wasn't a problem. If dinosaurs are a problem for you, then your faith is going to have a long list of "problems" to deal with. There are, of course, LDS who are troubled by faith and science conflicts — if that's you, read this book!
Science and the existence of God
Neither proofs nor disproofs of God's existence seem terribly compelling to modern readers. The authors list the following five classical proofs of God:
- The cosmological argument - ... argues that there must be a first cause (God) to start the global chain of causality.
- The 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.
- The ontological argument - is based on a clever but obscure argument about a "being greater than which none can be conceived." ... Most people don't find this argument convincing.
- [The argument with no name] - 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 way and thus argue for a reality beyond the physical.
- The transcendental argument - suggests that logic, science, ethics and other things we take seriously do not make sense in the absence of God ....
The authors conclude that "the grand project of proving or disproving the existence of God in any final sense is a project from the past, an exercise for a generation with more confidence in human reason than most of us have today." That sounds correct: few Christians cite one of these classical proofs when asked to explain the basis of their faith in God. Albert Camus, just after noting that suicide is the one truly serious philosophical problem, observed:
I have never seen anyone die for the ontological argument. Galileo, who held a scientific truth of great importance, abjured it with the greatest ease as soon as it endangered his life. In a certain sense, he did right. That truth was not worth the stake.
The finely-tuned universe argument
The authors devote a full chapter to what they call "the fine-tuning of the universe," sometimes termed "the anthropic principle." The fortuitous values of a variety of arbitrary physical constants of the universe seem fine-tuned to allow the emergence of life. They are arbitrary in the sense that they do not follow from theoretical considerations: they must be carefully measured, then plugged in to physical and cosmological models. Only small variations in many of them would prevent life as we know it from occurring, and theory offers little guidance for why these rather than some other arbitrary set of values are present in our universe. This empirical argument seems like a stronger argument than any of the classical arguments cited above. The authors quote Freeman Dyson:
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.
The final chapter considers the controversial topic of human evolution. The authors argue for nonliteral interpretations of Genesis 1, and specifically recommend John Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One in their annotated bibliography (I posted on this book at this site here, here, and here). Being created "in the image of God," for example, is open to a variety of interpretations. I will give the authors the final word, quoting from the conclusion to the final chapter:
The appeal of any of these scenarios for reconciling Genesis with the scientific account of our origins will depend on factors that are larger than our view of science or the Bible. The hermeneutically complex stories in Genesis do not explain themselves, nor do they offer any hints as to what approaches are most legitimate in dealing with science. We also emphasize that Christianity is centered on Christ, not on Adam and certainly not on any particular scientific theory.