Nowhere is the illusion of the existence of the “secular” more vivid than among those Christians who don’t understand Genesis and those scientists who don’t understand the scientific method. Both feed on the misconceptions of the other to produce a lively, if false, dichotomy that has been around for long enough to seem like real fact.
These two groups have convinced many people of their myths to the point of serious distraction from the Christian message. Both those Christians who misuse the Book of Genesis to refute scientific observations of our planet’s history and those scientists who misread Genesis to make salvation history into “alternate facts” without any reality, promote stereotypes portraying a divide between a “religious” and a “secular” worldview. The problem is serious enough that many schools perpetuate the illusions by establishing a “religious” teaching of our origins alongside or instead of a “scientific” explanation.
There is no question that Genesis has much to say about science, and science has much that is relevant, not only to the process of creation, but also the profound patterns of its underlying structure. What is crucial, if you care about really understanding our world, is to ask the right questions of the right authorities.
For example, my car’s owner’s manual fails to tell me about what Lutherans believe. Luther’s Small Catechism is no help in operating and maintaining my car. Used correctly, the two documents together can help me get to a Lutheran church in my car to find what Lutherans believe. Used inappropriately, the owner’s manual can cause me to conclude that Lutherans do not exist, since they are mentioned nowhere. The Catechism can cause me to think cars do not exist, since it fails to notice them or is perhaps too outdated to have relevant contemporary information.
Thus, to obtain correct and relevant information, it is important to understand the purpose of the authority being consulted. For science, the relevant methodology can be summarized as “intelligently observing and/or replicating the creation around us”. What is learned can be used to serve various human purposes to manage and improve existence. That something is not observed, even is not observable given current scientific abilities, means science cannot comment on it. And all scientific truth always stands with the caveat that newer, more complete knowledge may alter or refute what was thought to be truth. It understands that there is a body of knowledge that is unknown, or yet unknown. When someone states any scientific fact, no matter how accepted, as absolute unchanging truth, that person ceases to be a scientist. The scientific method always foresees the possibility of further discovery which will amend scientific knowledge.
The statement: “God cannot be proven by science, and therefore does not exist,” is thus a scientifically false assertion. To say, “God cannot be proven by science, and therefore we can neither prove nor refute his existence with the present tools available to science” is a correct statement.
Those who would refute God’s existence by false science are matched by those Christians who would use Genesis to refute genuine scientific observations, not about God, but about the process of creation over time. The question most central to the first chapters of Genesis is “Who created all this?” and its supplementary, “What is the role of humans to be in creation?” The mechanics of how the pieces fall into place is of secondary interest, most obvious in the compiler/ author’s lack of interest in harmonizing the distinct differences in sequence between Chapter One and Chapter Two.
For the comfort of those who would feel better if the current scientific theory of evolution and the Genesis account were compatible, note that the sequence of creation described in Chapter One is roughly the same as evolutionary theory. Given that there is no concept of our 24-hour day meant here, the time allotted for these creative activities is not incompatible with scientific estimates. (For those unable to rise above their clocks, see for instance, 2 Peter 3:8, “With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day,” or Psalm 90:4, “A thousand years in your sight are like a day,” or the concept of the “day of the Lord,” or the “eighth day”).
What is crucial here is not harmonizing Genesis with evolution. Rather, it is the compatibility of the Biblical proclamation of God’s creation and sovereignty with scientific inquiry. For the Christian, there need be no territory off-limits to science, as long as it is genuine science that does not make assumptions beyond what can be accurately ascertained. For the Christian scientist, there need be no apology needed for seeing the hand of God in the events of the created world, even as the scientific method gradually unveils the details.
It also must be clear that there is nothing secular about true science, as if it operated in some realm outside of God’s creation. Science is no more nor less than the exploration of the mechanism of God’s creation, carried out by imperfect humans whose minds are too small to grasp the whole picture. As such, the Christian can rejoice in welcoming science’s enquiries while, when necessary, reminding it of its limitations, and the fallible condition of its practitioners. In doing so, Christians always must remember that we, too, are fallible and are called to guide, not to judge. Honest and unbiased Christians and scientists have nothing to fear from each other, and may in fact be the same person.
The earth is the Lord’s. As such, “secular” is an illusion. There is only sacred space, sacred time, sacred creatures, sacred knowledge, because all of it is the Lord’s. The scientific endeavor is a romp in the wonderful garden of the Lord’s creation. It is a sacred calling, and if it is used for perverted purposes, that is not simply a matter of questionable ethics but also a sinful distortion of God’s will. The use of science for violent purposes is to blaspheme the sacred creation. Its use in the service of greed to exploit creation in destructive, toxic ways is not simply hurting our grandchildren’s future. Rather, it is the same rebellion as described in Genesis, where Adam and Eve try to wrest creation from God’s balanced purposes to make it serve their maniacal desires to run it for their own self-serving egoistical devices.
Science in the hands of those who would use it to become gods, to cause death and extinction, to exploit into oblivion, is being used according to the diabolical advice the serpent gave Eve. Christian stewardship of the Lord’s earth means doing our prophecy against this kind of science, and working to replace it with true science, the investigation of the sacred earth’s bounty to help us, as humans, nurture the creation as it in turn nourishes us.