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Christianity and Science: Part 2 of 2

November 13, 2012

This picture pretty much says it all. In fact, why bother reading the blog post below it?

In my first post, I dealt with how atheists and/or anti-theists tend to view the issue of “science and religion.” In this one, I will deal with how Christians view the issue.

If the caricature promoted by the atheists is that of the wild-eyed religious fanatic just come down from the mountain with a prophecy telling us to maim semi-Pelagians, the caricature promoted by Christians is that of a coldly rational, unfeeling technocrat in a lab coat whose goal is to analyse man as if he is either machine or animal, and who is obsessed with finding a way to control man–a bit of Sigmund Freud and a hint of Julian Huxley mixed with a whole lot of Dr. Doom. The way some Christians talk makes it seem as if scientists are all in some smoke-filled room, plotting the impending demise of faith. The fact is that this room actually exists, but the only person in it is Richard Dawkins. The rest of the scientists are in the lab doing research. As far as I can tell, for most scientists, faith or lack of isn’t based on their science. If a scientist is a Christian, he’ll look at the atom and praise God. If a scientist is an atheist, he’ll look at an atom and hate God. The atom is the same no matter who looks at it. (Actually, my rather slapdash knowledge of quantum physics tells me this is not so, but bear with me.) Religion for scientists is the same as it is for everyone else–a personal matter. If a person comes to Christ, he’s going to do so by the work of the Holy Spirit, not by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. And being a scientist won’t make you an atheist any more than being a truck driver or a scuba-gear salesman will.

“Clearly, Ed, there is no God, as we can see from this little wooden model of a dinosaur that I hold in my hand.”

Unfortunately, this idea that science and religion, or at least the scientific and religious communities, are in conflict, has infected the church. The tendency becomes to view science as “fight,” as if the sole purpose of studying is to “beat” evolutionism or radical environmentalism or any other sort of -ism. The problem with this approach is that it is too reductive. God wants us to study science, but not for the express purpose of destroying Darwinism. God wants us to study science because it is part of glorifying him and enjoying him forever. I feel like some Christian scientists and science enthusiasts give off the impression that the sole focus of their research is bent on discrediting Darwinian evolution. While that may be a good aim, there is nothing wrong with studying, say, the habits of North American rabbits or quantum mechanics just for its own sake. We don’t need to be utilitarian in our approach to science. To say that the sole point of our research is to defeat Darwinism is to put ourselves into a very small box. It is like saying that the entire point of Christ’s incarnation was to beat the Devil.

What scientists really do in the lab

Even if the Church and the scientists therein succeeded in convincing everyone that Darwinism cannot adequately explain life, the universe and everything, there would still be problems. Sin would still exist. People would still hate each other. It matters little to most people whether their ancestry goes back to the Garden of Eden or the Precambrian shale. What is more important is how they behave in the here and now. Being good witnesses in the world of science does not require us to all become molecular biologists, join the Discovery Institute, and get a tattoo that says” I ❤ Stephen Myers.” If we want to shine a light in the scientific community, we should start talking with the scientists, be friendly, courteous and loving, show Christ’s compassion in our actions, and do some good research. No one is going to have a change of heart when they look at RNA. But they might have one when they look at us.

I was going to put a witty caption here until I realized that the scientist in this picture bears an uncanny resemblance to Richard Feynmann with a mustache on crack.

A final problem that the Church has is setting up false battles within itself. The battle over evolutionism is one of these, and I get tired of the chaff that is thrown around in this debate. Christians who believe in some form of evolution aren’t secularist’s in sheep’s clothing, and creationists aren’t all stupid. The debate is framed in such a way as if it were a life-and-death struggle between the “true believers” (whoever they may be), and the opposition who is trying to infiltrate the church. Creationism/Evolution/etc. should be a controversy like Pre-Millenial vs.Postmillenial–Important, but not something that’s going to damn you to hell if you believe the wrong thing. The Westminster Divines and Herman Bavink were fiat creationists, B.B. Warfield and J. Gresham Machen believed in some form of evolutionary theory (though they believed the process was guided by God), and Herman Dooyeweerd doubted the historicity of Adam and Eve. Clearly there is some room for different positions even within the Reformed Tradition. (We Reformed people have such a reputation for getting along with others.) The real battle isn’t “Creation versus Evolution” or “Christianity versus Darwinism.” The real battle is “Christianity versus Atheism.” Because atheism isn’t about science, biology or even evolutionary theory. Atheism is about rejecting God.

The cops did not buy Dr. Heidengrin’s story that he was using this elaborate set-up simply to make caramel lattes at home.

Current Listening: “Key Entity Extraction I: Domino The Destitute,” “The Afterman,” from The Afterman: Ascension by Coheed and Cambria.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2012 4:21 pm

    Good stuff. I’d like to point out that belief in evolution inevitably leads to rejection of God, and thus is still a strong battlefront. Though, for this same reason Im far more concerned about Christians who’ve been duped.

    • November 13, 2012 6:05 pm

      I think you would need to clarify what you mean by belief in evolution means. If you mean something like “Theistic Evolution,” which I would define as the idea that 1.) All of life was created by completely unguided processes without any express direction 2.) and God exists, then I would definitely oppose it. But I would not say that believing in any sort of evolutionary process being part of creation necessarily leads to rejection of God. I think it more likely that rejection of God leads to thinking of life in a purely naturalistic/Darwinian context. Atheism was already on the rise in Victorian England before Darwin came along.

      • December 1, 2012 5:43 pm

        I’m primarily referring to the theory that one organism can give rise to a completely different organism through natural processes (whether this is guided by God or not). This is not expressly Darwinian (many Greek theologians believed in similar processes). You’re correct in saying that rejection of God leads to pure naturalism.

        The point I’m trying to make (which I’m increasingly convinced of after reading Bolton Davidheiser) is that since naturalistic processes come about through rejection of God, it is impossible to reconcile those theories with the existence and continued belief in God. I didn’t make this clear in my above comment, sorry. By the nature of these two beliefs, they cannot both be true without compromising the God of the Bible.

        I won’t say that Christians who believe in evolution are going to inevitably reject God down the road, but the very fact that they’ve begun to think in machinistic and naturalistic paradigms is frightening to me, and threatens their faith in God (whether they know it or not). If you say “the Bible is true, except for the parts I don’t think are true,” you’ve already thrown God by the wayside; He becomes a community clinic guidance counselor you visit on weekends instead of the Lord and Redeemer of all creation.

        Thoughts?

  2. December 1, 2012 7:47 pm

    1. I think a lot of this hinges on what you mean by natural processes and what you think the distinction between supernatural and natural processes means. I don’t think that there is always a necessary break between natural and supernatural. For example, when Jesus turned water into wine, it was clearly supernatural, and yet it was also natural in a way–the wine was real wine, with all the physical properties of wine. We don’t want to fall into the trap of a sharp Nature/Grace divide.
    2. I do think you are right that Christians are beginning to think too much in naturalistic paradigms. Just because God acts through natural processes doesn’t mean that he is limited to them.
    3. “If you say “the Bible is true, except for the parts I don’t think are true,” you’ve already thrown God by the wayside; He becomes a community clinic guidance counselor you visit on weekends instead of the Lord and Redeemer of all creation.’–Very true, and I think this is a lesson that more people need to learn. On the other hand, we need to remember that just because the Bible is true does not mean that our particular interpretations of it are true. This is why I think that the issue of what the first chapters of Genesis are saying is more of a hermaneutic or linguistic issue than a scientific one. We need to know what it is saying before we make a judgment on it.
    4. When you talk about naturalistic processes being “guided by God,” what exactly do you mean? Would it mean that God had all the movements of the atoms in the universe arranged beforehand so that animals happened to spontaneously mutate at the same time? Or would it mean that God had a direct hand in the change from one “species” to another, in some sort of miraculous way?

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