Reason #3- the Church often seems antagonistic towards science.
We can’t really deny the fact that the relationship between the Church and science has at times been strained, and at other times downright hostile. From the work of Galileo to the creationist-evolutionist debates, the Church has struggled to deal with the implications of scientific discovery, and has, sometimes, in turn, lashed out against the scientific community. It is no wonder that a significant number of young people view the Church as anti-science!
Here’s the data from the Barna Group:
One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.”
One of the biggest issues that the Church at large has is the ability to engage the scientific world in a healthy and constructive way. This has always been a challenge for the Church because many perceive science as being threatening to the Christian worldview. Maybe you, yourself, feel that way. Maybe you feel like scientific advancement and discovery are at odds with the Bible or with the Christian faith. I can understand that sense of fear. When anything challenges our worldview or asks us to consider something different or beyond what we perceive, it can be a scary thing. For many, there is a fear that their faith will be eroded, and that if science is given one inch, that it will take a mile and lead one down a path that destroys faith. If you feel that way, here is a question for you. Do you have faith that God is bigger than any of the questions or challenges you face? If you believe that, then you have nothing to fear from scientific engagement.
For those in the Church who do fear what science uncovers, in regards to human biology, how the earth came into existence, or anything else, please understand a few things (and science here is a very, very broad term encompassing a plethora of sciences):
- Science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. Science examines, uncovers, and hypothesizes about the “how” questions of life, but they cannot answer, nor do they seek to answer the “why” questions of life.
- The Bible is a unique book, but it is not a science book or a history book by modern standards. It is an ancient text that was not meant to be read through modern categories/understanding. It reveals truth in many ways, but not always or exclusively in a literal, face-value sense.
- Advances in physics, astronomy, and other sciences are actually uncovering mystery. Science is showing us that there are things in the universe that we cannot explain or understand. Science is actually showing us in some ways that there are some things greater than we can comprehend, allowing space for God.
Science is not the enemy of God or of the Church. While science can certainly become an idol, it is not inherently bad. God has given us reason. He has given us minds that ask questions and seek truth. He has given some people exceptional critical and rational skills to learn and understand more about ourselves and the universe around us. The Church needs to learn to more faithfully engage with the scientific world. I think that if we make room for conversation, rather than debate, we will find that what we continue to uncover can actually help the Church grow in awe of all that God has created. If you are interested in reading more about this topic, check out this book that my favorite college professor, Jeffrey Pugh, wrote a few years back: Entertaining the Triune Mystery: God, Science, and the Space Between.
So what does all this mean for us regarding the judgment against us as being “anti-science?” First, it means that if you, yourself, do feel like science is threatening to Christianity, take some time to consider why you feel threatened and to reflect on this post. Second, it means that we need to be more intentional about keeping up with the conversation in the scientific community and continue to reflect on theological implications of those discoveries, rather than simply ignore them. Third, it means that we need to openly talk with our youth about things that they are learning in their science classes without just dismissing them or telling them to dismiss what they are learning. Fourth, it means that we need to support our youth who do plan on going into one of the sciences. We need to affirm their goals and interests and do theological reflection with them, helping them understand how God might be calling them or wanting to use them in a scientific profession.
God isn’t afraid of science, after all, God created the whole universe and everything in it, the very subject of all scientific inquiry! We, therefore, do not need to be afraid of it or hostile toward it either.