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Pastor John Ortberg: Does Science Disprove Faith?

( [email protected] ) Jan 20, 2014 05:55 PM EST
In a sermon entitled, "I Have a Friend Who...Believes Science Disproves Faith," Pastor John Ortberg of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC) encouraged believers to have a proper view of the scientific method and of modern-day discoveries in light of God's creation and the authenticity of the Bible. Ortberg's message was structured around a series of questions that a friend might ask a Christian about the way that science relates to the Bible, and he gave evidences and logical reasoning for the faith.
(Screen capture of MPPC sermon video)

In a sermon entitled, "I Have a Friend Who...Believes Science Disproves Faith," Pastor John Ortberg of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC) encouraged believers to have a proper view of the scientific method and of modern-day discoveries in light of God's creation and the authenticity of the Bible. Ortberg's message was structured around a series of questions that a friend might ask a Christian about the way that science relates to the Bible, and he gave evidences and logical reasoning for the faith.

Ortberg began his sermon by asking the question, "Has the rise of modern science shown that faith is irrational?" Though he readily admits that he is not a scientist, Pastor John made several rational points throughout his message which can help Christians to think rightly about God and science.

In light of technological and medicinal improvements that the scientific method has helped to bring about, many believe that knowledge can only be ascertained via scientific study. Such a view is known as "scientism," and it refutes any dimension or knowledge that cannot be explained scientifically. Scientism denies that knowledge can be derived from "person, purpose, and intention," which makes up moral and spiritual truth. According to this view, any dimension that cannot be scientifically explained either doesn't exist or doesn't matter.

"Science involves a method that is enormously useful to investigate large chunks of reality. But it is not the only way to know truth," Ortberg declares. Moral truths - like the fact that human life is valuable - and the innate human desire to understand our purpose and the meaning of life cannot be proven scientifically; yet they do exist. "A society that is unable to recognize the existence of moral truth is headed for serious problems," warns Ortberg.

Scientism ultimately devalues human life. Unfortunately, studying the vastness and wonder of God's creation has led some to the conclusion that human beings are insignificant because the universe is so immense. "Somehow science has shown us that little tiny human beings do not have unique dignity or value or worth," says Ortberg - "If significance were measured by size, whales would be the most important creatures on the planet ... I don't hear anybody arguing that."

Even the Psalmists marveled at the contrast between the brevity of human life and the immensity of nature, yet the Biblical account testifies of man's superior worth over creation. Psalm 8:3-4 says:

"When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?" (English Standard Version)

The book of Ecclesiastes says that God has put eternity in the hearts of men (see Ecclesiastes 3:11); our souls will only truly be satisfied by Him, yet we often try to fill the void in our lives with temporal things which quickly fade away. Only Christ can truly satisfy our yearning for meaning in life and purpose - C.S. Lewis once said it this way: "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. People feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

Ortberg dispelled the myth that Christianity and science have historically been at odds with one another. Most of the 17th century scientists who made major discoveries were "devout believers," he says, and the historical worldview that the universe is orderly has propelled scientific inquiry in the past.

Pastor John also dismissed the notion that a primitive people created "God" to explain things like thunder and lightning because they were not scientifically advanced. "Faith in God is not based on gaps that science yet has not filled in," Ortberg says - "Faith in God is based on observations of meaning and value and order that actually underlie the rise of science itself."

Still others might think that evolutionary theory "disproves" book of Genesis; while Pastor John did not comment much on the theory of evolution, he believes that the "big bang" theory only further exposes science's inability to explain creation apart from God as Creator. He also argues that Christians should examine the historical context of Genesis in order to rightly understand its meaning. The Biblical account of creation was written at a time when people did not ask questions about things like natural selection. Ortberg contends that the book of Genesis was written to address matters of human identity rather than answer modern-day scientific questions.

Pastor John calls the church to "thoughtful faith" regarding scientific claims and discoveries. "I have seen too many young people in too many churches exposed to bad science - shoddy thinking, false claims," he says. He regrets that many Christians who may have been taught a wrong interpretation of the Bible feel that they have to "choose between the Bible and truth" when confronted with scientific evidence.

Ortberg encourages Christians to study God's amazing creation scientifically, as it points to Him as Creator. Reading about scientific discoveries should create a "sense of wonder and awe about a God Who could do this," he says. Pastor John also lauds scientists for their pursuit of knowledge - "You are thinking God's thoughts after Him," he says - "You are obeying God's command given way back in Genesis to exercise dominion, to learn about, to be curious and discover and steward the earth ... we are grateful, and admiring, and humbled, and we cheer you on."

astor John cited Colossians 1:16 to highlight Christ's role in creation - "For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible ... all things were created through Him and for Him" (ESV). He prayed for Christians to be humble when learning about scientific evidences, and thanked Jesus for being the Author of all truth.