What Should We Do When the Bible Seems to Disagree with Science?

Christians can agree that nature and Scripture each should be taken seriously, and that science and biblical interpretation are both fallible.

In the early 1600s, Galileo discovered that the earth moves in orbit around the sun, yet Psalm 93:1 says, “The world is established; it cannot be moved” (NET). This tension sparked a debate in Galileo’s day. Today, people ask similar questions of other verses that appear to disagree with scientific findings. Some skeptics use these “tension verses” to reject Christianity, while some Christians use them to reject science.

Yet both nature and Scripture are God’s revelation, giving unique insights into God. We can even think of nature as a second “book” of revelation, as described in Article 2 of the Belgic Confession:

We know God by two means:

First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God. … Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for God’s glory and for our salvation.

The Confession echoes the parallel in passages like Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God …” (vs. 1-6) and “The law of the Lord is perfect …” (vs. 7-11).

We trust that God doesn’t teach contradictory things in two different Bible passages. If it seems as if there is a contradiction, we assume we are misinterpreting one or both passages. We know from church history and our own experience that we misinterpret Scripture sometimes.

In the same way, we trust that God doesn’t teach contradictory things in nature and Scripture. God is the author of nature. Science is an interpretation of nature. At the cutting edges of science, scientific theories are often wrong or only partially correct. But as scientists gather more evidence and crosscheck each other’s work, a consensus forms. When scientists of many religions and worldviews have worked for years and come to agreement, it is worth taking their findings seriously.

When it looks as if there might be a contradiction, we should dig into science and biblical interpretation. We can ask about the strength of the scientific evidence and whether there is a consensus among scientists. Galileo’s initial discovery was preliminary and debatable, but today it is abundantly confirmed. We can ask about the context of the Bible verse and learn from biblical scholars about the original language and culture. In the case of Psalm 93:1, the context of the next line is a parallel statement that makes the meaning clear: “Your throne was established long ago” (Ps. 93:2). This parallel shows that the intended meaning of “fixed” is secure and enduring, not a lack of physical motion. Some modern translations even render verse 1 as “The world is established, firm and secure” (NIV).

This strategy doesn't resolve everything. Christians will still disagree about science and about biblical interpretation. But Christians can agree that nature and Scripture each should be taken seriously, and that science and biblical interpretation are both fallible. And Christians can point skeptics to a richer understanding of what Christianity teaches about God, nature, and science.

Don’t be discouraged by the tension. While some of these tension points are tough nuts to crack, our hope is in the God who created the natural world and inspired the Bible. The deep truth of God’s character underlies both. In fact, we can rejoice because these tension points are opportunities to correct and expand our understanding, to learn more truly and deeply all of who God is.

About the Author

Deborah B. Haarsma is President of BioLogos (biologos.org). She and her husband, Loren, are scientists who together wrote the book Origins (Faith Alive, 2011). They are members of the Christian Reformed Church.

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