In this blog post we’re sharing an extract from Neil Laing’s new book for young people, Is God Really Legit? Making Sense of Faith and Science. Exploring literal approaches to the Bible and purely scientific views of the world, he reveals how each has misunderstood the nature of faith and their own limitations. Might it be that a correct understanding of one actually builds faith in the other?
“We are very used to seeing that everything has a purpose. But often we go too far. You may occasionally hear someone say something like, ‘Fishes developed lungs so that they could live on land.’ That is scientific rubbish! The truth is that some fishes (things like mudskippers) developed lungs and so they were able to live partly out of the water. But no fish thought, ‘I think I’ll develop lungs so I can live on land.’
Let’s try this. Concentrate hard and try to develop wings (just tiny ones to start with!). Are you concentrating hard enough? The evidence will be the start of wings. Nothing? Obviously you’re not trying hard enough. Try again. Close your eyes and push where you think the wings should emerge. Still nothing? Oh well, you know I’m just making a point.
As far as science is concerned, there is no purpose in existence. We are just here. As far as biology is concerned, the ultimate function of an organism (plant/animal) is to reproduce itself so that its genes continue. I have three grown-up children, so my function here is finished. I might as well die. The same would apply to your grandparents.
But science itself has a purpose! I am sure, when you write up a practical, you will start with the ‘Aim’ or a ‘Prediction’ or something, whatever your teacher has told you to do. You have a purpose in doing the practical – to find something out. Isn’t that a bit weird? We have a purpose, which is to find out about something that has no purpose!
But maybe there are different ways of looking at the same thing. You know – looking from different angles. I get up in the morning and, being the almost perfect husband I am, I put the kettle on to make my wife a cup of tea. My wife comes into the kitchen and asks, ‘Why is the kettle boiling?’ I can answer in two ways:
- It’s boiling because I switched the kettle on; that made an electrical connection and the flowing current caused the element to heat up; the heat has gone into the water which has in turn heated up and it has now reached 100oC which is the boiling point of water.
- It’s boiling because I want to make you a cup of tea.
Which one is true? They are so different that, surely, they can’t both be correct. Of course, you know they can both be correct. One is looking at cause; the other is looking at purpose. If my wife was interested in the science, then the first is the answer she was looking for; if she was wondering simply what I was trying to achieve, the second is correct. But if I give her the answer she is not looking for, it doesn’t make my answer wrong, just not appropriate.
It’s like that with science and faith. If I look at my function on earth scientifically, it is to reproduce my genes; if I look from most other angles, it could be all sorts of things – to pass on my knowledge or to glorify God, depending on what I mean by purpose.
As far as science is concerned, it is interested in function rather than purpose, but that doesn’t mean there is no purpose. It just means we shouldn’t include purpose in science. It’s not appropriate. Science is limited in what it can tell you about the universe. It will always be limited because it can’t tell why you are here. That doesn’t mean science is lacking – it’s just not supposed to investigate that sort of thing.”
Neil Laing is a secondary school science and IT teacher. He is supposed to be retired but is still teaching doing supply work. He’s also co-leading a church and, to keep himself out of trouble, does some work in a supermarket. When he is not doing any of the above, he tries to take some reasonable-looking photos, usually of wildlife because he loves anything to do with the wild, which is why he got into science in the first place. He also likes puzzles like Sudoku and trying to think through things like how science and faith can help each other.
The above extract comes from Chapter 8 of Neil’s book, which is published by Instant Apostle and available for pre-order on Waterstones and Amazon.