Jennifer Wiseman on “Science as an Instrument of Worship”
Beginning today and each Sunday hereafter, BioLogos will have a worship-oriented blog. Today's post summarizes a just-posted BioLogos paper by astronomer Dr. Jennifer Wiseman.
In most evangelical churches today, God receives regular praise for his work in Creation. We ascribe the grandeur of the night sky or the majesty of mountains to God’s handiwork, and rightly so. But how often are recent scientific discoveries used to stir us up to worship, and to what extent do they inform our theology and stewardship? In her recent white paper, “Science as an Instrument of Worship,” Jennifer Wiseman makes a powerful case that modern science can and should be a means to these valuable ends.
First, Wiseman points out that the Church has largely failed to stay informed and make use of modern scientific knowledge. She points to four impediments the Church faces in incorporating science into worship: ignorance, distraction, controversy, and uncertainty. The first, ignorance, is not specific to believers; scientific comprehension is not a high priority in American culture today, and this gets reflected in the kinds of things we do or don’t talk about in church. Distraction is also endemic in modern culture. Packed schedules, information overload, and an entertainment-driven society do not lend themselves to quiet contemplation and learning. Controversy over science, as readers of this blog well know, arises from the many opposing voices in the public square and from the pervasive belief that accepting science means compromising one’s belief in the Bible.
Wiseman doesn’t leave us with the problems, though: she commends four specific ways in which science can magnify our worship and equip the Church in practical ways. First, from a perspective of faith, studying the details and mechanisms of nature can reveal the character of God more clearly. We can see God’s faithfulness, for instance, in considering the regularity of natural processes and the fine tuning of our universe. Second, science informs how we can be better stewards of our world and one another. Not only does scientific comprehension shape the way we live, work, and serve, but it guides our decisions about how new technologies should be used. Third, understanding the natural world gives us a profoundly expanded view of Jesus Christ as Lord, when we consider that he is Lord of all space and time—over billions of galaxies and billions of years. He is quite a King indeed! Finally, science can instruct us about what it means to be human and how we are to relate to all other living things. Research has revealed many fascinating similarities between humans and other species, and rather than threatening our uniqueness or status before God, these discoveries tell us how much God loves and cares for everything he has made. That God has entrusted us to do the same should fill us with a deep and humble sense of responsibility.
It was thrilling to hear Wiseman present this white paper last November at the BioLogos Workshop in New York City. There was a palpable sense of worshipful wonder in the room as Wiseman described star formation, the unfathomable scope of the universe, and her own research in searching for planets like ours in other solar systems. I hope you too will be driven to worship and contemplation as you read this paper. For discussion, how can we combat the ignorance, distraction, controversy, and uncertainty that impede the Church from fully embracing science? What are some practical ways the Church can make use of science as an instrument of worship?
Kathryn Applegate is Program Director at The BioLogos Foundation. She received her PhD in computational cell biology at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. At Scripps, she developed computer vision software tools for analyzing the cell's infrastructure, the cytoskeleton.