Is Your Church Still Picking a Fight with Science?

In recent years, Christianity has had several embarrassing conflicts with science. Literalists dictating public school curriculum, provocative but empty debates defending creationism, and the persistent refusal of some to acknowledge a growing scientific consensus on global warming; each reinforces a meme where the entire church gets painted again and again with the same backwards, anti-everything, brush.

In contrast, most of the Christians that I know are genuinely thankful for the fruit of scientific labors. These people aren’t threatened by evolutionary theory (many embrace it), care deeply for the environment (and have concerns about global warming), and actively seek to integrate new scientific learnings, from a myriad of disciplines, as they work to serve their communities. They even read their Bibles with methods that reflect an appreciation for scientific disciplines and a humility that we can never know anything in its entirety.

So, is it fair to blame all Christians or to lump together all religious folks?

I don’t believe that it is, but it happens, and we could certainly do more to communicate a positive alternative to the fundamentalists to whom it does apply, and to counter the popular caricatures of Christians in the press. The progressive church, in its efforts to remain polite and inclusive, often fails to actively and regularly denounce the anti-scientific rhetoric, and even bullying, that takes place in many churches – and even in some of our own.

Let me give you an example.

A couple years ago, I was at a leadership gathering for an extended learning session on adaptive leadership. This wasn’t publicized as a gathering of the laggards; these were people intentionally assembled to help lead this church into the future. Early on in her presentation, the keynote speaker made a quick, and fully appropriate, reference to evolutionary theory as she discussed the foundations of adaptive thought. I barely even noticed it.

After a short break, the speaker resumed her session with an apology. Apparently several people had approached her during the break, deeply offended by her casual mention of evolution. Being a graceful person she must have seen apology as the easiest way to move forward.

Of course, the speaker had no fault in this as she was our guest; but all the same, I really wish she hadn’t been so generous. Is it too much to expect that at a future-oriented leadership gathering a scientific theory might be mentioned without a Galileo-moment of aggressive defensiveness and forced recant?

I work for the church and I love it. I really do.

I like to think that continuing to care for a church that is so backwards at times is the best way to follow a God who still loves us despite our meandering hearts. My wife is a pastor. As a family, you might say that we are fully invested. Still, as things stand, I’d prefer that my daughters became scientists rather than evangelists. I want them to live in the future, and not in the past. I’m not convinced the church is willing to do the same.

Despite this, I know God wants the church to live into the future. The world is so greatly in need of transformation and what is the church’s purpose but to do this work?

Despite our many technological and scientific advances, we continue to wrestle with persistent problems that have been with us for as long as we can remember. Every spark of progress is accompanied by new moral complexities and equal opportunities to turn each toward advantage for the few or the many. To this world the Gospel still asks the provocative question, “Who is our neighbor?” and too often the question falls on deaf ears and hardened hearts.

To be the church that can minister in emerging contexts with integrity, we need to continue to wrestle with God’s calling upon us and not content ourselves with the simple peddling of nostalgia. We must step bravely out into the present, confident in the knowledge that God is the Lord of all, recognizing in each discovery the blessing of a universe so complex and interesting. We need to recover a corporate faith that doesn’t fear progress or demand our leaders to apologize for being educated and well informed.

The scientific community doesn’t need the denunciation of a church that is unwilling to live in the present. What many scientists deserve is our appreciation for the work they do to help us to understand the miracle that we profess as creation. And for those who remain people of faith, they deserve recognition for the ways they use their gifts to pursue God’s call upon their lives and for the great reservoirs of tolerance they must embody.

It is true that the caricatures in the media do not fairly represent the diversity of Christianity. But without our loud and consistent protest to the contrary, why would we be surprised when people don’t stop to mark a difference between our timidity and the loud voices of those who declare war on reason?

In a war against science, religion will lose. But it is really hard to be at war with those whose work we honor, or with persons we hold within our firm embrace. I am thankful to be a part of of a church that honors scientific achievement and education. I just wish more people knew about it.

Some questions to consider:
  1. What does your church do to proactively let people know that science, and scientists, aren’t the enemy?
  2. How do you help to raise up young people who don’t see a conflict between the pursuit of an education and the faithful following of Jesus?
  3. Does your church work to help members to recognize, and appreciate, different ways of reading the Bible?
  4. Maybe we need a special Sunday to recognize and honor our scientists and their achievements; a hug a scientist for Jesus day, if you will. Is this something your church could do?
Thanks for your comments and for your sharing!

Image Credit: Science and Religion are portrayed to be in harmony in the Tiffany window Education (1890) via Wikipedia.

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