Even the greatest of scientists admit that they “stand on the shoulders of giants”. No one’s theories are free from correction or extension. Good theories (like Darwin’s theory of biological evolution) are constantly corrected, refined, and extended. Polkinghorne states it well:
Almost all scientists believe the progress of science to be a convergence onto an increasingly verisimilitudinous understanding of the nature of the physical world. We are its mapmakers and sometimes we have radically to revise our views (that patch of apparent Newtonian terra firma turns out to be a quantum swamp). Yet overall, accuracy improves with each major discovery. Scientific progress is not made either by denying the existence of phenomena that we currently cannot understand or by exaggerating the scope of what we have currently achieved. Persistence and openness in investigation, and a degree of realistically humble assessment of present attainment, are indispensable virtues in the pursuit of science.It is this combination of inquisitive openness, persistence, and realistic humility that has made modern science so successful.
Faith , Science, and Understanding (page 119)
I think there is a lesson here for Evangelicals and our theology. Polkinghorne continues:
This edifying conclusion is of wider application than just within science alone. It certainly bears extension to theology and to the interaction between theology and science. If we do not display a certain degree of intellectual daring, no progress will be made. If we do not display a certain degree of intellectual humility, misleading and untenable claims will be made. If we are not content to live with the acknowledgement that there are phenomena that are beyond our contemporary powers of explanation, we shall have a truncated and inadequate grasp of reality.I am not saying that we should replace our theology. Far from it. We too stand on the shoulders of Giants, in our case the Old Testament prophets, the apostles, the church fathers, and the reformers. Jumping off these shoulders would be catastrophic. But we should not confuse our theology with God’s Truth. Theology is simply our current, limited understanding of God, his creation, and the relationship between them. When required, we should not be afraid to rearticulate this understanding. Nor should we be afraid to admit that some things are beyond our understanding.
Scientists ultimately “trust” the rationality of God’s creation (as Einstein notes: “God does not play dice”), not the theories that approximate the truth about creation. As Christians the foundation of our trust must rest on our resurrected Lord, not the theologies we articulate about that Lord.
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