Resciencing faith/refaithing science

Next week I’m off to Galiano Island (one of the southern Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia) at the invitation of Regent College.  I’ll be a participant in the third cohort of Regent’s three year Pastoral Science program.  The purpose is to engage evangelical Protestant pastors with the world of science, to better integrate sound science with sound theology.  It’s a brilliant project and you can check out the Cosmos website here.

The backdrop for this project is the ongoing cultural conflict between faith and science, the polarized debate that has morphed into an exaggerated warfare model pitting scientific thought against belief in God and the bible.

While I think the conflict is more perceived, the warfare is real with actual casualties.  I’ve talked with too many people who have accepted the “either-or” notion that you cannot hold to a biblically shaped worldview and retain a rational, scientific mind.  I’ve had countless conversations with young adults who have grown up in cocooned Christian environments only to hit university and have the underpinnings of their faith taken out in the first two months on campus.  Just recently I sat down with a young couple, one graduated in biological sciences the other finishing off his university career – their faith either left behind or hanging by slim threads.  Why?  For one thing, their traditional six day creation understanding of the Genesis creation account taken apart and undone by a thorough challenge of evolutionary science (one of many challenges they weren’t prepared for). Even my 8 year old son has already felt the pinch of the issue, wondering about how the facts of science line up with the tenets of faith (we do live in a dinosaur cemetery here in Western Canada, so his imagination runs wild wondering about how dinosaurs fit within the creation story).

I find this tension irritating since the intellectual project that birthed science comes from the instincts and impulses of Christianity – the goodness, wonder, rationality and design of creation, the beauty of human intellect that can know and understand the created world.  These are the founding principles of science rooted in a biblical, Christian worldview.  So where has science lost a sense of humility and where has Christianity traded in its sense of wonder for theological rectitude?

Which makes me very glad to be part of a faith tradition that affirms both the revelatory nature of scripture and creation.  One of our confessions, Belgic Confession art. 2, says that we know God through two means: “First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20 … Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.”

Did you note which comes first?  Creation.  I don’t think we’ve honoured our scientists appropriately as men and women who help us know the majesty and wonder of our world and the Creator God.  And further, this confession tells us that there is no basis for a conflictual relationship between science and faith.  Any conflict between them is an antinomy, a perceived contradiction between the truth of science and the truth of scripture – but not a real one.  If there is a conflict, if truth from one source of revelation seems to contradict or refute something from the other source of revelation, then either our understanding of scripture is flawed and needs adjustment or our understanding of creation is flawed and needs further research and observation.

The Pastor Science project’s tagline is “refaithing science.”  Not bad but at times I think a more appropriate tagline would be “resciencing church,” because all too often branches of the church have been vigilant opponents to scientific discovery and thought (can anyone say Galileo).  I wonder if the Christian faith might regain its place as a warm environment for scientific discovery and thought, a place where scientists are led towards worship because of the sometimes indescribable mysteries they encounter and observe, and for the church to be led deeper into awestruck wonder at the Creator’s handiwork.

So I’m privileged to be part of this Pastor Science Cohort and pray for its good goals, and probably will do more blogging about it.  But I would love to hear your thoughts and stories.  What’s your understanding of the relationship between science and faith?  Does science threaten your faith or faith seem to stymie your curiosity or scientific knowledge?  Where are the pressure points you experience?  How do you understand the two working together?  How might we imagine a collaborative relationship?

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  1. #1 by Lisa Hoogenboom on May 12, 2011 - 10:52 am

    Hi Phil,
    I was excited to read this blog entry about Faith and Science. As a marine biologist the division between faith and science is something I deal with on a daily basis – not in my own life for I perceive the field of science as a way of understanding God better and learning about his creation – but as I see countless profs perpetuate the division and ridicule those that have faith. I’ve also been interested in bridging the gap between these two sides of the same coin, without burning any bridges. Its great to see that you are involved in this program, and it is encouraging to see that there are other people who are working towards the same goal.
    It often blows my mind that more scientists are not followers of Christ; sitting through my undergrad classes only helped to reconfirm my faith as I learned the intricate details of how the world fits together, not only on the large scale of ecosystems and global processes, but also on how well all of the systems in our body function together. Personally, the more I learn the stronger my faith in Intelligent Design becomes, and the weaker the argument for macro-evolution becomes.

    I especially like your tagline “resciencing church” – we are naive to think that the division of faith and science is solely from the scientists’ camp; church-goers are just as guilty when they turn their ears from the advancements that scientists had made and they would learn a great deal more about our heavenly Father if they opened their minds to the things that He is trying to show His people.

    I look forward to hearing about the conference when you return. I’ll be praying that this gathering would have a large impact on the participants, and that it would be a successful step towards bridging the large gap between the church and the laboratory.

  2. #3 by Angela Elliott on May 12, 2011 - 12:07 pm

    Hi Phil,

    As a non-scientist, I had the opportunity to watch a DVD that was about astronomy and how the heaven’s declare the glory of God. I was amazed and humbled as I began to realize how big God is and how small I am. Perhaps, for me, a taste of true humility. I hope that there is more “resciencing” of church because I’m sure that as I learn more about God’s creation, I will learn more about God and grow stronger in my faith.

    I look forward to further blogs on this issue and will check out those websites also. Enjoy your time away at Galiano.

  3. #4 by geoff on May 16, 2011 - 9:31 am

    dude – how do you get invited to all this cool stuff – and why in the the world haven’t you given them my name too!!!

    • #5 by phil on May 20, 2011 - 7:30 pm

      I’ll pass your name, if they’re still looking. This was the third and final year of the grant.

  4. #6 by airtightnoodle on July 27, 2011 - 4:12 pm

    I take some slight issues with some of Lisa’s statements, in the first reply to your post:

    “It often blows my mind that more scientists are not followers of Christ”

    Depending on which poll you follow or who you ask, many scientists actually ARE religious (even Christian). They are not often the majority, but I think many people have a mistaken idea that the vast majority of scientists are atheists.

    “Personally, the more I learn the stronger my faith in Intelligent Design becomes, and the weaker the argument for macro-evolution becomes.”

    You can always find anecdotal evidence that points to the contrary.

    In any case, I really enjoyed the actual blog post. My heart aches knowing that many young Christians are unprepared to face opposing worldviews, especially in relation to science. Both “sides”, science and Christianity, have helped foster this false dichotomy. I’ve personally known several Christians that turned away from the faith after being confronted with the overwhelming evidence for evolution, for example. It doesn’t occur to them, or there is no one to show them, that you can accept evolution as good science while still being Christian.

    • #7 by phil on July 27, 2011 - 5:12 pm

      Thanks for the input. I’d say all scientists hold to some faith (we can’t function on a purely empirical basis – we all place our trust in something) and many scientists hold to a sturdy belief in a creating God.

  5. #8 by Gerald van Belle on August 14, 2011 - 6:51 pm

    Here is my take on science and religion. If you accept an old universe and the existence of dinosaurs millions of years ago, we should should talk theology. If you don’t accept that, we should talk science.

    • #9 by phil on August 14, 2011 - 10:17 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Gerald – I like your take (and yet I hope we can talk science and theology within the understanding of an old universe.)

  6. #10 by Gerald van Belle on August 16, 2011 - 4:15 pm

    Absolutely. I just read the book by J.C. Lennox, God’s Undertaker; Has Science Buried God? This is a great book. Lennox talks about “good gaps” and “bad gaps” to forestall the “god of the gaps argument.” I think terminology is important and would recommend “gaps” versus “discontinuities.” The latter are situations where science acknowledges a new level of being that cannot have simply evolved from an existing stratum. Such discontinuities are more common than realized. One of the more famous ones is the result of Godel’s theorem which should caution rash presuppositions about continuity from big bang to behavior and thinking.

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