Before I formed you in the womb I knew you (Jeremiah 1:5).
We often hear that the Bible is not a scientific text. And that’s fair enough, as far as it goes. But sometimes I wonder. Consider the Lord’s words to Jeremiah, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” What kind of statement is this?
How is a baby formed in his mother’s womb? We know that the sperm unites with an egg. But how does a baby come from that? We can see that it begins with the division of a single cell. But how does the cell divide? How does it know to divide? We can point to the information given in the DNA. But how does that information translate into action? We can observe the cell divide, we can describe it divide, but can we explain it?
To use another example, why does a pencil drop to the floor when I let it go? We say it is because of gravity. And we know much about gravity, and can make very precise calculations concerning the rate that certain objects fall. But in the end, what we call gravity is simply a description of what we observe, which in this case is that objects fall to the earth in predictable ways. We can describe it, but we can’t explain it.
Science is essentially a descriptive enterprise. We can describe, sometimes with great precision, the predictable ways in which things happen in the world. But when pushed to explain how things happen, science often hits a wall. In fact, scientific progress often shows us now much that we don’t know. When we confuse describing something with explaining something, we deceive ourselves into thinking we know much more than we really do. And we do know a lot. But there is much we don’t know.
How exactly does a pencil fall? How does a baby grow in utero? According to Colossians 1:17, “in him all things hold together.” According to Jeremiah 1:5, “I formed you in the womb.” Given that there is much in science that we cannot explain, even if we can observe and describe it, perhaps we would do well to refrain from confidently writing off such statements as simply religious. Such statements are not disproved by science, but rather stand over science, and are the reason that scientific discovery is even possible.