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Christians Care about Science and Theology

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October 3, 2011 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by Thomas Jay Oord. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Christians Care about Science and Theology

Today's post was reposted with permission from Thomas Jay Oord's website.

For some Christians, the science-and-theology dialogue is peripheral to their faith. The heat from disagreement, conflict, and unresolved questions repels them. By contrast, I think Christians should care deeply about science. And they should intentionally engage the theology-and-science dialogue.

Here are ten reasons Christians should care deeply about issues emerging from the science-and-theology interface. These reasons, together, comprise my argument for why engagement in the dialogue is fundamental, not peripheral, for Christians interested in an intellectually responsible faith.

1. Knowing God: We cannot know God as well as we otherwise might if we fail to study creation’s witness to its Creator. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “Since the creation of the world, God invisible attributes – God’s eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made” (Rm. 1:20).

Christians throughout history have appealed to two “books” as providing knowledge of God: the book of scripture and the book of nature. Neglecting either is detrimental. Deeper knowledge of God requires engagement with both theology and science.

2. Biblical Interpretation: Christians cherish the Bible. It provides the primary – but not only – resource for knowing God, knowing how humans ought to live, and knowing some things about the universe. But Christians also know biblical texts can be interpreted in diverse ways.

Discussion about scientific theories – e.g., evolution – should prompt Christians to ask about the Bible’s basic purpose. Christians should reflect together on how best to interpret biblical passages in light of established scientific theories, including theories opposed to biblical texts when such texts are interpreted literally.

3. The Human Person: Science strongly influences how Christians think about human anatomy and human nature. And yet few ponder what scientific views of sexual reproduction, circumcision, epilepsy, menstruation, neurology, health care, etc., mean for thinking about the human person today.

Developments in contemporary psychology and sociology are also important for Christians to consider when accounting well for what it means to be human. Both ancient Christian wisdom and contemporary science must be brought to bear on what it means to be human.

4. Creation Care: In the first two chapters of Genesis, God gives humans a special task: care for creation. Taking care takes many forms, depending on the contexts. At their best, Christians draw from science when considering how to be care-full toward all God’s creatures.

For instance, Christians should respond appropriately to the overwhelming evidence for global warming when considering how best to fulfill the call God has given them. They must also heed ecological research on species conservation, even when conservation means changing the way they play, farm, hunt, or develop the land.

While Christians may not agree on how best to proceed in response to difficult issues such as these, science should play a central role for finding better ways to care for the world God creates.

5. Cultural Engagement: Christians do not live in isolation. They exist in communities, societies, and cultures. In fact, a huge part of Christian theology emphasizes the relationship Christians have with broader culture.

Science has a loud voice in the public square today. The Christian ignorant about science is easily sidelined or even cut off from cultural conversations about the common good. To be loving citizens who care about God’s work in the world includes conversing with and learning from scientific communities.

6. Christian Scientists: Too often, Christians think scientists are people outside the church. But many scientists are active church members, and many feel ostracized. Too often, for instance, preachers make comments such as, “scientists say,” and then proceed to characterize science negatively. Too often, scientists are looked at suspiciously when it becomes known they affirm evolution, the big bang, the latest in neuroscience, or evidence for human contribution to global warming.  Too often, young scientists in the Church feel forced to choose between the best in science and Christian faith.

Although the old saying is simplistic, we need to revive the notion that scientists can “think God’s thoughts after Him.”

7. What Can We Know? A perennial issue for humans is the question, “What can we truly know?” Both theology and science wrestle with it. Unfortunately, both Christian theologians and scientists can sound as if they have obtained absolute certainty. And yet, both theology and science live by faith.

The theology-and-science discussion can help all involved avoid one extreme that says we can know with absolute certainty. And the discussion can help avoid the other extreme that says we know nothing or truth is only private. The goal is greater plausibility for theories in both theology and science.

8. Conflict and Reconciliation:  Nearly one hundred years ago, the great philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote in the Atlantic Monthly, “When we consider what religion is for mankind, and what science is, it is no exaggeration to say that the future course of history depends upon the decision of this generation as to the relations between them.”

In that same article, Whitehead talks about the conflicts – both apparent and real – nearly a century ago. Today, conflict remains. Dealing with this conflict in a responsible way can develop positively the character of those in the discussion. And it can provide insights for dealing with conflicts in other domains of human existence.

9. The Big Questions: Religion and philosophy are generally known for dealing with the biggest questions of life. Questions such as “Why is there anything rather than nothing?” and “What is the ultimate source of right and wrong?” have traditionally been given religious and/or philosophical answers.

But many today argue that science should also play a role in answering these questions. And this argument should carry weight for Christians, because they think the revelation God has given in Jesus Christ and all creation helps answer the biggest questions humans face. Science can help in understanding better the various ways God is revealed to us.

10. Creator and Co-creators: Christians insist that God is the creative source of all that exists: God is Creator. But the Bible also says creatures play a role in the creating process. Genesis says, “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air” (Gen 2:19). But Genesis also says God calls upon the ground to “put forth vegetation” (Gen 1:11), calls upon the waters to “bring forth swarms of living creatures” (Gen. 1:20), calls upon the earth to “bring forth living creatures of every kind” (1:25). Creatures are created co-creators.

The idea that God is the ultimate source of creation and creatures joining the creative process is present in other places in the Bible. And God desires that we join in God’s work in our becoming what the Apostle Paul called “new creation.”

Am I missing something?

These are ten reasons why Christians should engage in the science-and-theology dialogue. I doubt it’s an exhaustive list, however.

I’m interested in hearing others. If you have a suggestion, please post it…


Thomas Jay Oord, Ph.D. is professor of theology and philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University. He is the author and/or editor of about a dozen books, including Creation Made Free, Divine Grace and Emerging Creation, and Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement. He blogs frequently on issues of theology, science, and philosophy at http://thomasjayoord.com.


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beaglelady - #65354

October 3rd 2011

Too often, scientists are looked at suspiciously when it becomes known
they affirm evolution, the big bang, the latest in neuroscience, or
evidence for human contribution to global warming.  Too often, young
scientists in the Church feel forced to choose between the best in
science and Christian faith.



I would go farther and say that non-scientists are  often looked at suspiciously when it becomes known that they generally accept what science tells us about the big bang, evolution, etc. As for choosing between the best in science and Christian faith,  one can always find a non-evangelical yet orthodox mainstream church, and have the best in science and faith.  I couldn’t be happier in my current church.


Loren Haas - #65371

October 3rd 2011

Beaglelady,

       I attended a series of evangelical churches and got more & more depressed by the anti-intellectualism and denialism that was ingrained. Found a local American Baptist Church with a pastor that incorporates our discussions about ANE creation myths and evolution into his sermons. He is of course a pariah amongst the evangelical pastors in the community. Could not be happier. Vote with your feet!

 


Merv - #65374

October 3rd 2011

Dr. Haas, I’m curious if most attenders of that church are like-minded or at least receptive to the pastor’s willingness to preach on such things.  Have others already “voted with their feet” by leaving, so that the pastor now preaches to the like-minded faithful who are left?  Or is he taking a deep bite and preaching to those who don’t see it his way?

I’m curious because we tend to self-segregate into separate congregations over matters like this one.  Those of us who attend churches in urban university settings may be a bit spoiled by the high density of Christians who hold high views of science.  But even these settings (perhaps more than ever) people who differ will cluster for support.  

—Merv

Loren Haas - #65383

October 4th 2011

Merv, our congregation is very diverse and seem to appreciate that fact as a virtue. I participate in a bible study with mostly 80+ year olds where the pastor previews his Sunday message. While they do not always fully embrace his teaching, they have seen enough change in their time to be open to consider it. I think this reflects the congregation as a whole. The most dogmatic have filtered themselves out over time, but not to the extent that we have become monochromatic. The church is in Napa, CA, which is really a pretty blue collar town when the wine and food visitors go home. I think that we have become a church home for people who do not fit in other churches in town. Fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, theistic evolutionsists, etc.

    


paul.bruggink1 - #65387

October 4th 2011

Merv, 

Re your “we tend to self-segregate into separate congregations over matters like this one,” I have chosen the opposite path, that of staying in an independent Baptist church where at least 50% of the congregation and at least 50% of the pastoral staff are YEC. The pastors and the people within the congregation who know me know where I stand on the Big Bang and biological evolution because I speak out occasionally, without making too much of a nuisance of myself. On the subject of science and religion, I think of my church as a mission field, and am just biding my time.

beaglelady - #65376

October 3rd 2011

Hi Loren,

That’s exactly what I did—I left and found a new church, a non-evangelical one. Of course it was hard, since I had been a member of the old church for 25 years.  But I did it and have no regrets at all. Actually I wish I had left earlier!


Merv - #65375

October 3rd 2011

...to continue my own thoughts in the last post…


I see this as one of the biggest problems for the whole project of “reaching out…” or “bridge building” which we must admit are no more than euphemisms for “convincing others to see things our way”—at least that is how I would take all this if I was a YEC; so I certainly understand why they feel that way.  I am impressed by the few YECs who do hang around this site to comment because they are mostly attacked here and understandably consider this “enemy territory”.  Which is why the bulk of them will hang out other places listening to Ham or Mohler.  How many Biologos folks go hang out at those sites with any regularity?  I’m guilty of not frequenting such sites at all, and while I could list what I think are good reasons for this, my habit will still be seen as selective entrenchment of certain ways of thinking.  It reminds me of a joke:  ______ (fill in your favorite denomination here) are a lot like manure.  When they are all in a pile, they stink; you have to spread them around before they do any good.

—Merv

Jon Garvey - #65380

October 4th 2011

Good points, Merv. Most of us are actually in a minority in most churches, which is probably as it should be. Evolution not being such a big issue in UK, nobody at my village Baptist church has thought much about it, and most listen with mild interest to the arguments. The pastor is sympathetic and broadly agrees with a theistic evolution approach.

But if they were strongly YEC (because it seemed important enough to argue about, though they didn’t read the same stuff as me), but the teaching was good, the prayer fervent, the fellowship warm and the evangelism loving, would I be better off at a laid-back Anglican Church where nobody disagreed with me because nobody cared much about anything?

There are plenty of other ways to be in a minority in church: a creative artist where most people are farmers or clerks; a committed politician where most were raised in the opposite persuasion; a sufferer from depression where “joy” is de rigeur, a rock musician where the guitar is considered Satanic, an organist where hymns are thought old-hat… even (very commonly) an enthusiast where zeal is considered undignified.

Whether to change clubs or stick with the family is an issue we all face. But in UK, at least, I’ve never had too much trouble finding intellectual openness in evangelical churches for over forty years. Probably a lot more than there is spiritual openness in the workplace.


Loren Haas - #65384

October 4th 2011

Merv, my personal problem with this is that I could not function as part of that body and express my views at the same time. I was seen as dangerously incompatable and I felt isolated. I want to be accepted as part of the body, not be attacked by anti-bodies. I understand your point though, and I am going to steal your joke!


defensedefumer - #65381

October 4th 2011

Well-written article. Many Christians in Singapore are too uncomfortable with the natural sciences (as they raised tough theological questions), so they tend to take subjects like engineering or medicine. I was trying to write an article like this, with little success.


penman - #65386

October 4th 2011

Jon Garvey #65380
“Evolution not being such a big issue in UK, nobody at my village
Baptist church has thought much about it, and most listen with mild
interest to the arguments.”

I think it’s true across the UK as a whole, & across UK Christianity. But in UK evangelical churches that are self-consciously conservative & Reformed, evolution very often is a big issue. YECism is usually assumed as the default position, & any acceptance of evolution (even just the general theory - descent with modification over deep time, without any commitment on mechanisms) is automatically equated with atheism. Some of us have to keep quiet for fear of causing offence - even though we believe in a historical Adam….

As Jon knows, & indeed he publicizes it superbly on his website (The Hump of the Camel), the above is actually an abandonment of an older Reformed position exemplified in someone like B.B.Warfield (one could add others - James Orr, A.A.Hodge). Even Francis Schaeffer thought it might be possible to hold a TE/EC position within the parameters of Reformed orthodoxy. Much of that openness has gone today. Which I think is a great pity. And to pick up on the Merv discussion, my concern would not be to convert YECs or OECs to evolution, but more humbly (!) to persuade them that some form of evolutionary view is compatible with Reformed orthodoxy.


paul.bruggink1 - #65389

October 4th 2011

Dr. Oord,

Re your 2. Biblical interpretation: “Discussion about scientific theories – e.g., evolution –
should prompt Christians to ask about the Bible’s basic purpose. Christians
should reflect together on how best to interpret biblical passages in light of
established scientific theories, including theories opposed to biblical texts
when such texts are interpreted literally
.


I frequently run into people who say that science should not be used to help interpret the Bible, because that would be putting science above the Bible, or words to that affect. Do you (or anyone else reading this) have a good response when something like this comes up?

beaglelady - #65390

October 4th 2011

Start a discussion of the firmament and ask if we should embrace Babylonian science.


Larry Barber - #65392

October 4th 2011

It’s not really a question of elevating something above scripture; we read the Bible we “read” nature, neither of these readings is guaranteed to be infallible. It is merely a question of accepting truth wherever you find. When it comes to evolution and age of the earth type questions, there can be little doubt as to the truth of the standard scientific model, the evidence is overwhelming. If you read the Bible to say differently you are interpreting the Bible wrongly, the Bible is not wrong, you are. There is a difference.

Nor is it true that a scientific reading of nature always trumps the Bible, at one time the universe was scientifically thought to be infinite in space and time, Christians, and theists in general, said that this could not be true, and they were right.


JonPS - #65391

October 4th 2011

Currently I’m going through a time where I feel I have little to no one in the church I can rely on to discuss these are other topics, some regarding science and others ethics.

I honestly wonder if I will find a church home where I don’t feel so isolated. Like                         Loren Haas said, it’s almost like trying to be a part of the body but you feel like the body itself is attacking you out of self-preservation.

I have never felt stronger about my convictions and understand than I do now in my life and I feel much better about my renewed spirituality and faith, but now I find myself opposed to many of the dogmas and doctrines of most mainstream churches. It has come to the point where the place I feel less at home is in the church. It is sad, but I feel I would rather leave than stay and have to lie about or hide my true convictions.


beaglelady - #65393

October 4th 2011

But you’re always welcome here.


PNG - #65409

October 4th 2011

Doug Hayworth has blogged on his similar situation 


http://becomingcreation.org/

although he has not posted in over a year so I don’t know what resolution he and his family have come to.

beaglelady - #65414

October 5th 2011

Doug Hayworth’s account is very moving. Here’s another very orthodox Christian man who no longer feels welcome in his stifling fundamentalist church. 


Loren Haas - #65421

October 5th 2011

I “stumbled” upon Doug’s blog when I was struggling with and praying about leaving the church I had been in for five years. Seemed like an answer to prayer for me. At least I knew I was not alone. I did write more about my experience on his blog. I do wish he would update it. Can anyone out there pull his chain a little bit?


Merv - #65396

October 4th 2011

Penman wrote: ...” my concern would not be to convert YECs or OECs to evolution, but more humbly (!) to persuade them that some form of evolutionary view is compatible with Reformed orthodoxy.”

br>
Well-stated—and THAT is a softer gentler (humbler!) form of interacting with neighbors.  
br>
Dr. Haas, your point shows the other end of a balance between “engaging others” and “seeking nourishing fellowship”.  Neither one of these things is dispensable.  I suppose protective clusters who want to reject perceived threats to their fellowship would argue that to let such people in is for them to give up their hold on the latter.
br>
Paul, you ask how to respond to someone who argues that science is being held above the Bible.  What Beaglelady said about bringing up the firmament may seem potent, but it also raises well-worn defenses over an issue that has long been thrown in YEC faces.  I too have friends that are sensitive to this and to such phrases as “interpret the Bible in the light of established scientific theories”  —a definite red flag that one is as we note that science (and not the Bible) provides the light.   I would start instead with this:  If you didn’t know a word you read in the Bible and consulted a dictionary as a result, does that mean you have put the dictionary above the Bible?  Or if you consult a concordance, have you elevated that above the Bible?  Such rhetorical questions lead to the obvious answer:  no!  You are simply enlisting outside help in order to better understand Scripture.  I’m not sure why science can’t be just another category of this help.  I would challenge them with less loaded examples like this.
br>
—Merv

paul.bruggink1 - #65402

October 4th 2011

Merv,

Thanks for the suggestion. I like it and will give it a try next time this issue comes up.
Paul

beaglelady - #65406

October 4th 2011

That’s nice about the dictionary and the concordance, but there is no conflict between the Bible and a dictionary, or between the Bible and a concordance.   There is an apparent conflict between the Bible and modern science, however (depending upon how the Bible is read).   


Merv - #65407

October 4th 2011

Your parenthetical caveat (depending upon how the Bible is read) helps to answer the prior objection about the “apparent” conflict.  A lot gets packed into that disclaimer -indeed that contains nearly the whole issue as I see it.  Most everybody agrees today that it would be a wrong reading of the Bible to insist that it teaches the earth is stationary (another well-worn example that YECs have heard many times and yet don’t seem to take to heart or seem to find a way to dismiss it.)  I was just thinking the dictionary example might be a way to show how something “aids in the understanding or interpretation of” the Bible without then being seen as competing with its authority.  Why can’t science be enlisted in the same way?  Granted your point that science makes assertions that dictionaries generally don’t.  In general, though, everybody reads through multiple filters to finally comprehend a Biblical passage.  So the YEC objection that we shouldn’t have “science glasses” filtering what we see in the Bible contains a false presumption that wearing glasses of some kind (indeed many of them) is somehow avoidable.  YECs have them on just like we all do.  Trying to get them to admit that may be like pulling teeth.

All that said, Penman’s point still stands:  I’m not so interested in getting others to see things my way as in hoping they can accept me as a brother in Christ even if I don’t totally agree with them.

—Merv


Loren Haas - #65420

October 5th 2011

Merv, Just to be clear. I do not hold a Doctorate. I don’t know where that assumption came from, but thanks, I will take it as a complement.


Merv - #65425

October 5th 2011

Sorry—I confused you with another name—Loren Haarsma perhaps.  Please do take it as a complement.   

Oh—and that manure joke; steal away!  I wish I could say it was mine, but I can’t remember who I stole it from, but it was spoken of Mennonites (my own affiliation) when I heard it.

—Merv



Merv - #65426

October 5th 2011

... or take that as a *compliment* rather.   We school teachers are supposed to know the difference. 
—Merv


glsi - #65408

October 4th 2011

Over the years I have visited or been part of many churches in the Northwest, the Midwest and the South.  These have included American Baptist, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, Methodist, Mennonite, Lutheran, Unitarian, Quaker, UCC, Church of the Brethren, Catholic, Episcopalian and I’m sure others.  In all that time I don’t think there was a single sermon which dealt with the topic of evolution.  If there were any slights against science they were very, very few and unmemorable.  I haven’t seen them all, but in my experience the contemporary church in America is quite tolerant of and leans toward embracing science.  Mostly I think they avoid the topic for fear of offending some part of the congregation.


mjblyth - #65423

October 5th 2011

It seems that there is a lot more to these “ten reasons Christians should care deeply about issues emerging from the science-and-theology interface” than evolution, Genesis, and creation, though naturally on Biologos that’s what we tend to discuss. This topic is perhaps a chance to widen our horizons a bit. What about non-evolution-related thoughts on the ten topics? Does a Christian genetics researcher really know God better, or more about God, than a factory worker does? How is lack of scientific expertise in the church affecting our (lack of) response to trends in reproductive technology and other emerging biotech-bioethics areas? Other ideas?


smel - #65431

October 6th 2011

i definitely think it’s important that we learn/care about God’s creation. it does teach us about Him - orderly, diverse, colorful, strong, detailed… and i believe that nowdays, especially, when the world likes to think they are ‘too smarspan class=“text_exposed_show” style=“display: inline; “>t for God’, it is our job as Christians to bring knowledge to our conversations. we need Christians in every sphere of life, including ‘scholarly’ circles where the prevalent belief is that God is an archaic and useless figment of our imagination! 
oh, and one last thing: creation always gives us the perfect examples to use when trying to describe spiritual truths. it’s amazing how God created everything from anatomy to weather patterns so that they illustrate spirituality so well! i span class=“text_exposed_show” style=“display: inline; “>have taken a lesson from Biblical authors and used science on SO many occasions as understandable analogies for abstract Christian truths. people’s eyes light up when God suddenly makes sense to them in a physical way like that.


Merv - #65434

October 6th 2011

My knee-jerk reaction to that, Smel, was to think:  “Of course creation is used as the pattern to teach abstract truths!—what else is universally available in a concrete sense?”  It’s called accommodation. 

But your observation still rides above that.  What could be more biblical than to know that creation is patterned after Heavenly realities?  It’s the glimpse we get right now.  Thanks for sharing that.

—Merv


Naomi - #67003

January 9th 2012

The Creator and co-creator theory was one that I never really gave good thought to until now.  I guess I had always believed that God was the creator who allows us (living things) to create.  I had never thought that people thought that only God could create.  I do however think that God has his “hand” in all creation.  He knows the story before it is told.  So as I think about it more… maybe God is the only Creator.  The versus in Genesis can be interpreted both ways.  This would be a great discussion to have in my bible study class.


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