My article for the July Crossways newsletter for St Paul’s Church Spennymoor and Whitworth Church.
Some readers will know that I used to be an astronomer. I spent most of my 20s counting galaxies – with the help of a computer! So, in the midst of this terrible pandemic, I’ve been pleased to see science reaching the headlines so often. But what should we make of it?
Most of the founders of modern science were devout Christians. They took seriously what it says in Psalm 111 verse 2: ‘Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them.’ If creation is God’s handiwork, then to study it scientifically is an act of worship. This is why so many Christians – myself included – have found great joy and fulfilment in being scientists. And science has given us so many good things, not least modern medicine.
So we should give thanks for science. It is a gift from God.
But science is also a human activity. Scientists don’t always get things right. If you follow the news headlines, you only really hear about science when something has been ‘discovered’. This does happen from time to time, but normally science progresses painfully slowly, bit by bit. And most of the time, all that scientists can really say is ‘probably’. When it comes to the really important questions, science cannot give us absolute certainty. It can tell us what is likely to happen, if we take a particular course of action. But it can’t give us rock-solid answers.
And it’s particularly difficult to pin down exactly how confident we should be in the findings of science. Should we stand one metre apart or two metres apart? Is it safe to use public transport? Can we be sure that this vaccine will be effective? These are important questions, but science cannot answer them definitively.
In fact, there are many questions that science can’t answer at all (and most scientists are fully aware of this). Is it worth taking the risk? Science can tell us what the risks are, but it can’t tell us whether we ought to take the risk. This is because there is no such thing as ‘ought’ or ‘worth’ in science. You can’t do an experiment to discover what you ought to do, or to measure how much something is worth. Once we know what the risks are, we have to weigh things up for ourselves, and decide whether we think it’s worth it.
This means that ‘following the science’ is a bit of a myth. It’s important to be informed by the science, but we need something else – a moral compass, if you like – to tell us what we ought to do, and how much things are worth. And, for Christians, we find that in Jesus Christ, and in the Bible.
Science is a wonderful gift from God. But it can’t give us rock-solid answers, and it can’t tell us what we ought to do.
Science isn’t the kind of thing we should build our lives on, nor is it something we can ‘follow’. But if we build our lives on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ and on the Bible, then science is an excellent companion on the journey. Following the science? Better: following Jesus, with the help of science.