Science is a gift from God. It has given us countless blessings, from the aspirin I take to the power that keeps the lights on, to the fact that medical science alone saves millions of lives every year. The same method of theorising, testing, validating and discovering stuff about the world we’re in hasn’t really changed, but the world around us has and still is. At a pace that can be unsettling.
New discoveries, new ideas, will feel uncomfortable for some Christians. As a result, there can be a misunderstanding that the wonders of science and the miracles of faith are incompatible. The truth of course, is that they’re not.
But for the sake of encouraging and strengthening believers everywhere in their faith, we need to demonstrate clearly why science and faith are not in conflict. And that means we must talk more about science in Church because the scientific revolution is all around us and impacting our lives every day.
Why don’t we talk more about science in Church?
The hesitancy around talking about science I suspect comes down to one difficult area of science for some Christians, evolutionary theory and the claims of scripture. This, of course, isn’t new, but add to that the recent outrageous campaigning by the new atheists and you can see why. What you read here is pretty typical:
“Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.” Richard Dawkins.
Dawkins claims to be an advocate for the public knowledge of science, but when we read something like this, it does the complete opposite, alienating the various faith communities he criticises and condemns.
He will also go the extra mile to disregard colleagues who are Christians or theists as themselves deluded when a more respectful and understanding approach would be appropriate. If all science is good science, regardless of the personal beliefs of those who do it, then believers at the very least, deserve better regard for who they are and the work they do.
I won’t go into the whole new atheist debate, which seems to have quietened down lately, other than to say ideas typical of Dawkins have been thoroughly refuted on many occasions elsewhere. Sadly, though, the effect has been to leave some believers deeply weary of science and scientists and would rather disregard it altogether.
The other side of the coin though is that many in the church would rather put the claims of science aside because it invariably ignites tensions around scriptural interpretation. Some Christians will reject evolution outright and read various accounts in the Bible in a way that others of equal conviction do not find plausible at all (including many Christian scientists and theologians). So clergy and leaders in churches unconsciously (or not) avoid the elephant in the room and certainly the controversy around it.
The churches by stepping back from some tricky topics are also partly responsible for not fully correcting this idea of science and faith in opposition or that they’re two different forms of knowledge. One way this problem can be addressed is by enabling churches to fully equip their leadership to answer science and faith questions. Recent initiatives in the Church of England are doing just this.
Science and faith are not opposed
History should teach us something we tend to forget. So many of the great scientists, past and present, were committed Christians, a few were Theists. Here’s an opening roll call to begin with; Galileo (we don’t have time to address the misreading of history around his conflict with the Catholic Church), Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday (pictured), Babbage, Mendel (founder of genetics), Pasteur, Kelvin and Clerk Maxwell. The new atheists would retort by saying that of course, they would be because everyone was religious back then. This is a red-herring because the scientists were not just religious culturally, they really were personally very devout. Their own personal writings indicate this clearly.
Not only that, there are many more modern scientists who are believers. Some of whom have come to faith later in life. Francis Collins, former director of National Human Genome Research Institute, are among them. In fact, the list is so long, I couldn’t fit them all in one blog!
You can find a pretty comprehensive list of eminent scientists who are Christians here
Some Christians say that Christianity actually gave birth to modern science itself. I wouldn’t go that far after all the ancient Greeks were developing a proto-science of their own before Christianity arrived. But it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to thank Christian culture for giving science the independent space to flourish.
One reason put forward by historians is that because scientists believed in a divine lawgiver, to begin with, they followed through to discover his laws of nature. This has been foundational to our science today. So where was the conflict then? There never was. And even post-Darwin in the 19th Century, there were many Christians who wondered what the fuss was all about. Many still do.
Doing science is an act of worship
You’ll know the word laboratory, a place where scientific work is done. Its Latin origins reveal something fascinating. The word laboratory combines labour, meaning to toil and oratory, meaning a chapel, praying or to speak. It’s wonderful that a word synonymous with science has its origins in the church. It goes to show that if you’re a believer and a scientist, your work is not separate from your worship.
But even if you’re not a scientist, scientific discovery should form an even greater part of our worship because science uncovers the immense glory, vastness and complexity of reality and the work of its creator.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20
To do science, as Kepler put it, is to ‘think God’s thoughts after him.’ It’s an amazing privilege to do and I know many Christian scientists who think just like this. Science is their calling and an act of worship.
When we discover more things about the universe, it also inspires (in me certainly) an even greater praise of God and his works.
It also puts me in my place. Knowing the vastness of the universe humbles me and fills me with awe at the God who got the whole thing going. The problems I have, sometimes important for a time, are really insignificant in comparison to the enormity of the universe I belong to and the one who put me here, to begin with. That very knowledge and insight has been given to me by science and it inspires my worship back to Him.
We need to talk more science in church, to support those with a calling in it
So another reason why we need to talk about more science in the church is to encourage those people who have this very calling. After all, it doesn’t matter what we do so long as we dedicate it to God:
‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,’ Colossians 3:23
Sadly I know of instances where some from a very strict religious culture forbid their children or congregation from pursuing science if it conflicts with their faith. It boils down to a choice, science or the Bible, and of course, the Bible has to come first. Again, this is based on a completely false understanding of the Bible and science being in conflict. It’s a group of Christians enforcing one interpretation of scripture over another or not even tolerating differences of viewpoints. I don’t have time to summarise these differences (perhaps that’s for another blog) but we need to acknowledge that some forms of interpretation are damaging and denying what is a God-given calling on someone’s life.
Scientists who are Christian are an encouragement
I’ve met many Christian scientists who have certainly had their faith tested by the things they study or the opinions they receive from other scientists. Many of them have worked through whatever questions or doubts that arise in their particular field, with what the Bible may say. These Christians are a gift to the church. Hearing them speak, share how they’ve worked through difficult issues and coming through it with an even stronger faith is a tremendous encouragement for other Christians who aren’t scientists. Churches would do well to hear them speak more often. These individuals are often thoughtful, wise and also a very effective witness in their workplace.
We need to talk science in church, to be aware of false philosophies such as Scientism
If we Christians are not aware of some of the ideas surrounding our culture and aren’t wise or discerning to their truth claims, then we are next to useless in the effectiveness of our witness. We should be aware of the impact that these ideas may have in altering the true nature of our faith:
‘See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy,’ Colossians 2:8
There’s a philosophy that’s common in Western Europe (among a number) that we need to be aware of; the philosophy of Scientism.
Scientism runs all the way through new atheist thinking and is indeed common in the scientific community, though by no means universally accepted. The irony is funny if not tragic, that those who are committed to it sound very religious in propagating their worldview. Again, a comment from Dawkins illustrates the quasi-religious effects of Scientism on its adherents:
“Far from being demeaning to human spiritual values, scientific rationalism is the crowning glory of the human spirit.’
In a nutshell, Scientism claims that it is the only worldview that makes sense of all reality, including the humanities, philosophy or religion. Scientism, so the argument goes, is the only effective way to find out what is really true. Other philosophy, theology or worldviews are therefore ineffective hangovers from a time of scientific ignorance.
You might describe it as like having the philosophy of a Vulcan, if you get the Star Trek analogy. Reason and rationality must triumph over everything because it is the only path to real knowledge and truth.
Philosophers themselves don’t think very highly of the idea, let alone theologians or those who study the arts and humanities. A pretty good refutation of this hollow idea can be read here
But the point still stands that we need to talk more about this in church so that believers in their everyday workplaces and families are better equipped to give reasonable answers to the worldviews that others have adopted.
‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,’ 1 Peter 3:15.
Science is here to stay and so is the Church
Science is here to stay. We can’t unlearn or un-discover what we know to be verified and true. We can no longer assert that the earth is the centre of the solar system or any other idea that has been thoroughly disproved.
But I believe, far from undermining faith, ironically science and its discoveries in the future will support it and give religion and Christianity it’s fair space in our understanding of the purpose of the universe and our short lives within it.
Like a pair of binoculars, we see more clearly the beauty and depth of the world looking through both lenses. Looking with only one eye shifts and distorts our perception. God has given us two eyes and he’s given us two ways to understand the truth; reason and revelation. Neglecting either of these is to take away the grandeur and glory of who He is and the universe we live in.
© Not Only Sundays, February 2017.
Images sourced on www.pixabay.com image under a creative commons licence CC. Scripture quoted from the NIV translation.