Science, Religion and the Rationality of God
The questions in this small group guide relate to the sermon from Jan. 3, 2021. If your group has not had a chance to listen to the full sermon related to this discussion guide, they can find it in our sermon library. Rev. Adam Hamilton preached this week’s sermon.
Lord Jesus, as we begin a new year, we focus this week on the Bible’s epic words, “In the beginning, God.” For some of us those words are a basic truth; for others they may seem more like an outdated belief. You’ve promised that your Spirit will guide our thinking and our study, and we welcome your presence with us as we take up this challenging study. Amen.
- Pastor Adam said, “At issue in much of the apparent conflict between science and Christian faith is how we read Genesis chapters 1 - 3 which tell two different creation stories….when we read them as a science and history lesson, and we’ll come up against plenty of conflicts between science and religion. Seven days of creation? The earth and its atmosphere and plants created before the sun?...In Genesis 1 and elsewhere we get hints at the cosmology of the ancient Israelites–the earth was flat with an underworld below, and a dome above. The sun travelled across the sky each day while the earth was stationary. Most ancient people held a similar view. But if we read these stories as a science and history lesson, I believe we miss the point.” Have you ever been told that Genesis 1-3 are more accurate in every detail than all science says about origins? What point might we be missing if we try to turn Genesis 1-3 mainly into a science lesson?
- Read Genesis 1:1 – 2:3. “The inspired author(s) of the primeval prologue drew on the manner of speaking about origins that was part of their culture and literary traditions. Ch. 1 needs to be read in light of creation accounts from Mesopotamia.” * Note, e.g., that they saw the sky as a dome with waters above and below it. Later Genesis 7:11 said it rained because “all the springs of the deep sea erupted, and the windows in the skies opened.” What are some ways in which the Biblical poetry echoed pre-scientific ideas about the world? Many ancient Mesopotamian cultures pictured violence between rival “gods,” with earth created from the body of the loser. How did Genesis 1’s poetic story (likely used in Hebrew worship at times) offer a striking contrast to those stories?
- Read Genesis 2:4-25. In Genesis 1:1-2:3, God created humans last. In this reading God made a human first, then put a garden and animal life around him. Two creation stories—two nearly opposite orders of creation. Yet both creation stories made vital spiritual claims (e.g, that humans were made in God’s image, that God made certain portions of time holy). Could the scientific method possibly prove or disprove claims like this? Many scientists (including those Pastor Hamilton spoke to for this week’s sermon) believe science and faith are not mutually exclusive. What part of creation brings you a sense of sacred wonder? What scientific truth causes you to marvel at its principles?
- Read Psalm 19:1-6, Romans 1:18-20. A basic question is, did nature’s beauty happen by accident or on purpose? The psalmist and the apostle Paul came down on the side of God’s purpose. Owen Gingerich, Emeritus Professor of Astronomy at Harvard, agreed: “Rather than believe that the universe is simply meaningless, a macabre joke, I would prefer to accept a universe created with intention and purpose by a loving God…. the elements are just right, the environment is fit for life, and slowly life forms have populated the earth.” * The tools of science, back to Copernicus and Galileo and forward to the Hubbell telescope and even more powerful instruments have expanded and altered the way we understand our universe (e.g., we no longer describe the sun’s movement like Psalm 19:6 did). Does our increased knowledge of the universe lessen or deepen your appreciation and reverence for the Creator’s work? We just saw a conjunction of planets in the night sky. Do you ever find that even the silent beauty of the heavens “speaks” to you as it did to the psalmist?
- Read Hebrews 11:1-6. Cosmologists and physicists today wrestle with ideas like “dark energy” and “dark matter”—unseen, largely unexplained forces that nevertheless leave unmistakable signs of their existence. Faith deals with unseen forces such as love, trust, and steadfast divine grace, forces that also leave definite signs of their existence in our lives. Faith and science are not enemies, but disciplines that speak to different realms of experience. What are some of the most beautiful sights you’ve seen, or deepest loving relationships you’ve had? Could you “prove” their beauty or love to another person? Scholar Leon Morris noted, “There are realities for which we have no material evidence, though they are not less real for that. Faith enables us to know that they exist.” ** What are one or two realities beyond physical explanation that make your life better?
- Pastor Adam said, “You don’t have to choose between science and faith. Many of the most important scientists in history were people of faith: Copernicus, Newton, Mendel, and Heisenberg to name just a few. And many have looked at the world around us, its beauty, its order, its complexity, its grandeur and, like the Psalmist, said, ‘How majestic is Your name in all the earth.’ The Genesis story isn’t teaching science, but it is teaching this truth, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’” Has this study strengthened your faith, or challenged you to think again about, whether you can have faith in God without “checking your brain at the church door”?
Creative God, we can all agree that, with all its flaws and struggles, our world is full of beauty and wonder. Thank you for the many insights and advances that scientists have made possible. We invite you to go with us as we leave this study, reflecting on how faith can work with science to give us a deeper, more transforming understanding or our life and our world. Amen.
* La Sor, W. S., Hubbard, D. A., & Bush, F. W. Old Testament survey: The message, form, and background of the Old Testament (2nd ed.) Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996, p. 19.
** Leon Morris, comment on Hebrews 11:1 in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Abridged: New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994, p. 993.