How Should We Approach Science?

I apologize deeply for the sizable interlude between this post and my previous work introducing my intent to write on the subject of the intersection of faith and science. A combination of final exams and resultant exhaustion made writing in an extracurricular fashion a daunting task. But, enough excuses, let’s get started. There are two extremes that I think are dangerous when approaching the subject of science, one being the unrelenting science skeptic and the other being the scientific bludgeoner. I think both are intellectually dishonest, and I will attempt a balanced discussion of both and a remedy that aims at moderation.

First, I think that there is a contingent in spiritual circles that distrusts the entirety of the scientific community, labeling scientists as secular sellouts and science as a faulty endeavor. Before elaborating on this misconception, I want to be very clear that I do not buy the contemporary narrative that Christians throughout history have been the primary hindrance to scientific progress. From Newton, Galileo, Bacon, and Mendel to contemporary scientists such as Francis Collins, it is more than fair to say that right Christian belief and scientific thinking are at least compatible. But, the qualifier of right Christian belief is very important here. It is now that I must turn the critical eye to the overly skeptical view of science that is characteristic of some Christians. Usually this attitude is founded in academic laziness and is broadcast as a form of subtle self-righteousness. I have mentioned the concept of holy ignorance in a previous post, and it directly relates to this topic. Instead of taking the time to sort through the interpretations of science that are proposed throughout history and in our current context, Christians will often dismiss science as a project of secular hijacking and claim that time is more righteously spent reading the Bible than reading a science textbook.

This dichotomization of the world is a direct affront to the Biblical mandate that all work is sacred, not to mention the Christian assertion that all truth is God’s truth. To clarify, I am not claiming that every Christian needs to become completely knowledgeable about areas of scientific debate. But, I think the sentiment that unreasoned, sweeping denial of science produces positive Christian virtue is unfounded.

In addition to reinforcing a climate of pride in scientific unawareness that is unhealthy for the Christian who is instructed to be “all things to all people”, I think this attitude provides a concrete example of that which Paul warns against in 1 Corinthians 12. When a Christian denounces science as irredeemably secular, he or she is being a foot that claims that an eye has no usefulness. This shuns the eye from wanting to engage with the body, and discourages young members from training to be eyes (I may be stretching the metaphor to the point of convolution). Though this passage primarily talks about spiritual gifts, I would argue that professional scientists have a distinct gift of reaching the non-Christian members of academia, a skill that is indispensable in the contemporary discussion between science and faith. The church needs scientists in its ranks as another type of specialized task force, just like it needs business people, teachers, pastors, and members of every other professional field. We cannot marginalize this group if we wish to reach all people for the sake of Christ.

I think a significant concern among Christians with encouraging science in the church is that some Christian scientists have differing opinions on aspects of biblical interpretation regarding origins and age of the earth. I do not want to minimize the importance of these differences, but I must advocate for the importance of unity in the midst of diversity on this issue. As Christians, we foundationally believe that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”[1] The Bible does not say that belief in a literal interpretation of Genesis is a precursor to salvation, nor has this understanding dominated Christian thought through the centuries. It is important to have convictions on Biblical interpretation, from origins in Genesis 1 to God’s sovereignty in Romans 9, but the great thing about Christianity is that we have the freedom to disagree on issues and remain one body, united in the truth of the simplicity of the gospel. God is real, he loves us, and he sent his son to die for the forgiveness of our sins.

So, I encourage my Christian brothers and sisters, love the Lord with your mind in regards to science. Don’t be scared of disagreement; be bold and take the initiative in your search for knowledge. Be confident that if God is real, he will prove himself true. And, from a hopeful future scientist, I encourage you to dive deeply into the wonder and complexity of that which God has created. It is truly miraculous!

 

P. Christopher Parish

[1] Romans 10:9

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