Are Christians Anti-Science? (You Lost Me 8)

In You Lost Me, David Kinnaman states that “Millions of young Christians perceive Christianity to be in opposition to modern science.”  The rest of this chapter goes on to analyze the data that says many young adults walk away from faith, or become disillusioned with faith, because it appears to be opposed to modern science.

One of my personal regrets when I think back to my own college days is that I did not take more science courses.  Along with that, I did not study as vigorously in the courses I did take as I should have.  I took the required nine credits in science and moved on to what I really wanted to study, things like history and religion.  Over the years I’ve found myself fascinated by aspects of science and on a regular basis I’ll read books (or watch videos like this)  in an attempt to learn more about everything from the theory of evolution to string theory.

I wish I had taken more science courses in college because I recall being rather arrogant.  My belief was that since I was a Christian and had the Bible, I knew how God had created and I knew evolution was not it.  I could laugh at those who thought humanity had evolved from monkeys (I don’t think I realized at the time that the theory is that we have evolved from a common ancestor we share with monkeys, so monkeys are our cousins according to the theory).

In the years since then I think I’ve learned humility.  It has been an important lesson to learn.

Now I work in campus ministry, leading a community of Christian students on campus.  What strikes me as interesting is that when I meet students who are Christians and science majors, they tend to think the theory of evolution holds strong explanatory power.  These students continue to have Christian faith, but they also cannot refuse to believe what the evidence appears to show.  On the other hand, it is often students who major in something else, those who have little knowledge of the science, (like me when I was in college) who reject evolution.  I have not taken a study on this, it is just my perception of the students over the years.

My advice to any sort of student I meet, regardless of their major,  is to encourage them to study.  God has blessed you with a brain, you’ve been commanded to love God with your mind, so apply all your intellectual faculties to the subject and learn as much as you can.  If you pursue a degree in science, become the best scientist you can be.

My advice to Christians who have been taught that evolution is an enemy of faith is humility.  Just because we have Christ does not make us experts on everything.  I usually refer them to the words of Augustine, writing 1000 years before the theory of evolution came along, are extremely helpful:

 “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous things for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show a vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but the people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books and matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learned from experience in the light of reason” (Augustine Genesis 19:39)

I think the best thing we can do for young people is help them avoid the two extremes, both of which say the same thing.  Some on the Christian side and some on the atheist side say that you cannot believe in evolution and be a Christian.  Such blanket statements, especially when made by Christians, are just wrong.  Instead we ought to encourage students to study and learn and help them integrate their faith with science, whether they believe in evolution or not.  More than that, my goal is for students to become disciples of Jesus which has a lot more to do with how you treat other people then how precisely you think God created the world.

Whatever individuals think about science and faith,  I think this quote from Kinnaman makes a vital point:

the very fact that science invites participation lends its authority more weight than areas of inquiry that don’t. Dialogue, creative problem solving, living with questions and with ambiguity, group brainstorming, the opportunity to contribute—these are highly valued by the next generation. To the extent that we in the Christian community insist that young adults should just accept our “right” answers, we perpetuate a needless schism between science and faith.” (Kinnaman, David (2011-04-01). You Lost Me (Kindle Locations 2223-2226). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.)

Science invites participation.  I was listening to a podcast (I forget which one) and the statement was made that scientists do not sit around talking about what they know, they sit around talking about what they do not know yet.  Science is a field that pushes young scientists to make their mark by discovery.

Faith, at least from the perception of young people, is more about authority: believe this book, believe this sermon and don’t ask questions.  The challenge, I think, is to help people see that Christian faith is not just about submitting to archaic rules and notions of the universe.  Instead, it is about entering into a beautiful and exciting relationship, one filled with mystery and discovery, with the Creator of the universe.

8 thoughts on “Are Christians Anti-Science? (You Lost Me 8)

  1. My husband has a PhD in biomedical research, and he is a Creationist. He was constantly asked to discuss the “evolutionary implications” of his research, and he had to walk a fine line in order to stick to his beliefs but still be taken seriously by his peers in the science world. You’re right – education is key. Christians often do more harm than good when we don’t study evolution. It is important to understand the theory – not in order to believe it, but to intelligently refute it. Nice post.

    1. Thanks for the comment. For the record though, I am not interested in whether people choose to believe the theory of evolution or not, I am not wanting them to learn it in order to “refute” it. I want people to love God with all their mind and pursue truth. If they conclude evolution fits the evidence, then like other accepted scientific theories, they ought to believe it. Lots of Christians believe in evolution and promote it as a true explanation of origins: Francis Collins, Alister McGrath, Pete Enns, Karl Giberson, John Polkinghorne.

      1. And thanks again for the comment 🙂

        I should have asked what kind of creationist: young-earth or old-earth? Lots of differences there. Then there is a movement to change “theistic evolution” to “evolutionary creation”.

  2. This was a point that I felt deeply when I read the book. As you know, Dave, I’ve had one of my disciples (at least one!) go through a deep crisis of faith when they faced the scientific evidence for the age of the earth, evolution, etc. Once cracks in their belief in Creationism surfaced, their faith in God was undermined. For most of my ministry I felt that Creationism was interesting and maybe helped some people, but I’ve become concerned more recently that it sets people up for trouble. It’s made me look at Genesis 1 much more closely. Beyond the Firmament (Gordon J. Glover) really helped me look at the text much more accurately and I am now reading The Language of Science and Faith (Gliberson & Collins), which is very good.

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