Experimental vs. Historical
One of the things I think to keep in mind is that there’s a difference between experimental science and what you might call historical science—or science that’s trying to reconstruct the far past. In experimental science, you can repeat the experiment. Most of the triumphs of science—if you think of the great theories of electricity, magnetism, of physics, of chemistry—are all experimental science. They really have no interest in trying to speculate about the far past.
In the end, we have to hold the three things together. They’re not in conflict. They’re enforcing the meaning of the events—the theology and the presentation of the events, which is what you might say is the story character of Genesis.
But when you try to speculate about the far past, you get into the problems of miracles. God can work exceptionally. We have science existing at all because God is faithful in his governance of the world. Miracles are exceptional events that aren’t going to be captured by the net of scientific regularities. So the experimental sciences repeat and repeat the experiment saying, “Now I know how the world works.” Or you could put it, “Now I know how God is regularly governing the world.”
But then you can’t go backward and say, “Therefore there can’t be any resurrection of the dead” just because we don’t see any now. People in the first century knew that people didn’t normally rise from the dead and that people were not normally born from virgins. They knew that just as well as we do, they didn’t have all the scientific detail but they understood that the regularities of God’s rule were different from the exceptional cases.
Exceptional Acts of God
Once you do that, it diffuses some of the feelings that I’ve just got to bow to the prestige of scientific claims. The biggest successes come from experimental science. When you’re dealing with these one-time events in the past—the origin of the first life, the origin of the first human beings, and that kind of thing—then you’re going to get in trouble if you don’t acknowledge God could work exceptionally. That is a big issue that is often ignored in the attempts to scientifically reconstruct the past.
If an ordinary believer bears in mind that we live in God’s world, under God’s governance, God—who is personal—can work exceptionally as well as in the ways that we enjoy regularly day-by-day. If we keep that in mind, it helps to decrease the feeling of pressure against the Christian faith. The real issues are often Is there a God? Does he govern the world rather than being some kind of impersonal mechanism? And if that question—that central question—is settled because you’ve come to know God in Christ, then that’s going to help steer you through the claims that are often based on the idea that there couldn’t be any exceptions.