In Western discourse, we often see both believers and non-believers opposing science and faith. However, in the Chinese context, studying science often prompts people to look to God for ultimate answers. Many of the faith testimonies from alumni of Peking and Tsinghua Universities we have published were written by people whose degrees were in scientific subjects and who came to faith because of, not in spite of, their studies. If we look historically, we see that science and technology have been two areas Christian evangelists have been able to use to share the faith. In July 2022, we republished an article from Christianity Today which does a deep dive into this very subject, beginning with Matteo Ricci.
This post is the preface to 《万有之上——基督教与科学的奇缘》基甸 小灶 著 (Above All Things: The Romance and War between Christianity and Science by Jidian and Xiao Zao), which was written in Chinese and has been recently published by ReFrame Ministries. The preface has been translated into English and is reprinted with permission.
Both a paperback version and an e-book version are available online.
Are Scientists Laying Off God?
When man thinks, God laughs. –Jewish proverb
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD….” Isaiah 1:18
According to the legend, a long time ago, in a faraway land, there was a Prince of Science and a Princess of Faith. They were in love with each other and had been discussing marriage, but they argued over who to invite to witness the wedding and finally broke up, and neither of them lived happily ever after.
Of course, this is a fictional story I made up to reflect the general public’s view of the relationship between science and faith. Many people believe that the two are in conflict and are incompatible. But in my opinion, echoing what everyone else is saying does not make it true knowledge. To have true knowledge we have to have discernment and insight. Therefore, to take the narrative of “science has denied belief in God” for granted without deliberate thinking is likely to be short-sighted, and the consequence of ignorance is that there will really be no happy life.
But what is the truth about the relationship between science and faith? Are they incompatible or harmonious with each other? If you read Above All Things: The Romance and War between Christianity and Science (hereinafter referred to as Above All Things), the subtitle already gives away what the book is all about. This book attempts to analyze the delicate relationship between science and faith. After reading it, I was deeply impressed by both authors’ insight into theology, science, and history, and I felt much enlightened. A theologian with a background in physics (Xiao Zao) and a Christian writer with a background in chemistry (Jidian) are a rare and precious combination to begin with. Over the years they both have engaged in theological translation, writing, and speaking, and have published many articles with influential insights through extensive reading and deep reflection on faith. So, what would be the result of having them co-author a book that explores the relationship between science and faith?
First, both of the authors are scholars with scientific backgrounds. They are objective and rigorous in their approach. I appreciate the spirit of scholarship in their citing the works of various authoritative scientific journals (e.g., Nature, Science, Cell, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nucleic Acids Research), scholars and experts (including non-Christians), with a total number of endnotes of more than 400 references on academic subjects including astronomy and life sciences (chapter 1), philosophy of science (chapter 4), theology (chapter 7), and genetic science (chapter 8), Secondly, although the book is full of academic quotations, the authors analyze them in an incisive and objective way, and then use layman’s language to explain the ideas in readable but in-depth writing. Thirdly, the authors present their views in an objective and unbiased manner, quoting other scholars with such familiarity and seemingly ease. But they do not just pass over them. They provide thought-provoking analysis without being judgmental. They critique different views with gentleness, respect, and humility, with a heart just as 1 Peter 3:15 teaches Christians to have.
Enemies or Roommates?
In his classic book, When Science Meets Religion, Ian G. Barbour discusses four models of interaction between science and religion: conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. As mentioned earlier, years of hearsay and misinformation can create a deep-rooted stereotype of viewing faith as superstition and an unquestioned assumption that science and faith are incompatible enemies. So, what is still there to say about the relationship between science and faith? In this age of science, who is interested in reading books that explore the relationship between the two? The answer is that the subject is worth reading and thinking about for everyone.
In the third chapter of Above All Things, “The Entanglement of Christianity and the History of Science,” the author opens the case of history and takes the reader back to the scene, presenting the reader with detailed and reliable historical information. The narration allows the reader to take the role of a jury to examine the historical evidence with an impartial perspective and to reconstruct the scene, and then make a verdict: Is it really true that the Christian religion persecuted science, as has been claimed in popular narratives? I visited a museum in Oxford University and saw the site of the debate between Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley, but I know very little about the debate. Reading the description of the incident in chapter 3, I think it is the best history of science I have ever read. It dispels many myths and makes me think: an intellectually mature, rational-minded person certainly needs to get rid of superstition; but it would be biased for a rational person to classify all beliefs as superstition without thinking deeply and discerningly. Of course, on the other hand, Christians should also learn from the historical mistakes and by God’s grace, not repeat them.
Telescope and Microscope
Hui Shi (惠施), a statesman of the Warring States period (about 370 to 310 BC), who had devoted himself to delving into the origin of everything in the universe, had a famous saying about the nature recorded in The Book of Chuang Tzu: The Land Under the Heaven (《庄子：天下篇》), “That which is so great that there is nothing outside is called the Greatest One, and that which is so small that there is nothing inside is called the Smallest One.” It means that the whole space is so large that there is no external boundary, and the smallest unit of matter is so small that it no longer has an internal boundary. This was recorded nearly 2300 years ago. Today the Hubble telescope can be used to probe the vastness of the universe, and electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction can be used to determine the structure of proteins and nucleic acids. One of the most crucial discoveries in the development of a vaccine against the new coronavirus was made by using ultra-low temperature microscopy to study the structure of the virus‘s spike protein. As a result of advances in observational instruments, the authors present many significant developments in astronomy and life sciences from a scientific perspective (chapter 1).
The amazement of scientists at the precision, beauty, and depth of the mysteries of the universe and living things is in fact a religious sentiment of worship and praise. The belief that the universe was created by God was also the driving force behind the tireless and diligent research of the early scientists (chapter 5). The mind that flows from the design of the universe is the mind of a personal God who transcends all things, creates them, cares for them, and intervenes in the history of mankind to bring us salvation. In the face of unimpeachable evidence, scientists should be open-minded in their study and interpretation, showing a spirit of truthfulness, acknowledging that modern science does not falsify God, and thus confirming that science and faith in God are not in conflict. As Einstein famously said, “I trace the lines that flow from God.”
The Word of God and the Work of God
One of the two books that God has given to mankind is the Bible, which is a record of God’s word because of his revelation. And the other is the world, which comes from God’s creation, that is, the work that God has done. Since these two books are from the same author, the contents should certainly be in harmony and not in conflict. God is an all-wise God who created a world that is well organized and rational in every way, so that scientific research and observation could discover the laws of nature. Charles Townes, winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics, believed that science and religion are quite parallel, more similar than is commonly thought, and will eventually converge.
God is also a God who speaks—“For he spoke, and it came to be” (Psalm 33:9). He is pleased to reveal Jesus Christ in our hearts (cf. Galatians 1:16), for all things were made through Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:3). Thus, religion and science need not be mutually exclusive, but can complement each other. The rise of modern science in the 16th century had much to do with Christianity. The masters of mechanics, chemistry, electricity, and mathematics, such as Newton, Boyle, Faraday, and Pascal, were all Christians. Their Christian faith became the driving force behind the study of the laws of the world, and they saw scientific research as fulfilling the stewardship role of managing and governing the world. Therefore, I believe that the Christian worldview and cultural soil have nurtured the development of modern science and technology. As Albert Einstein famously said, “Science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind.”
The Great Question from a Wanderer
The 1996 book You Zi Yin (Song of a Wanderer) by Pastor Bingcheng Feng deeply influenced the Chinese intellectuals born between 1960 and 1980. In Bible studies, gospel camps, sermons, and Sunday school seekers’ classes, overseas students often raised science related questions about the Christian faith, which were indeed good questions. The Song of a Wanderer was our most used apologetical book at that time on North American campuses. I believe that book will go down in history as a classic work of apologetics in the Chinese language.
In the famous “A Short Song Ballad” written by Cao Cao in the Three Kingdoms era (1800 years ago), the poet and statesman expresses his desire to seek, honor, learn from, and consult with the wise and talented among the intellectuals of his time to help him unify the country: “Scholars, scholars, where are you? Years I have chanted the song of yearning.” The “Song of a Wanderer” in response to the eternal call of God, viewed from the perspective of the Christian faith, is “a song of yearning” for eternity. God calls today’s Chinese intellectuals to seek him, to know the true Triune God and the true gospel, and to return to the kingdom of God. I sincerely hope that Above All Things will become the second classical apologetics book for the Chinese intellectuals and continue to influence the new generation of Chinese scholars by pointing out that Jesus Christ is the only way to the highest good and eternal life, and encourage Christians to reflect on who we really believe. The new book is a pertinent and informative original work in Chinese. I felt honored to be invited by Pastor Jerry An of ReFrame Ministries to write the preface for this book and I gladly wrote it.
This article is translated from the preface of the Chinese book 《万有之上——基督教与科学的奇缘》基甸 小灶 著 (Above All Things: The Romance and War between Christianity and Science by Jidian and Xiao Zao), ©2022. Used by permission of ReFrame Ministries.
Image credit: Greg Rakozy via UnSplash.
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