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Jennifer Wiseman on “Science as an Instrument of Worship”

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February 7, 2010 Tags: Science as Christian Calling

Today's entry was written by Kathryn Applegate. 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.

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.

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Gregory Arago - #4194

February 9th 2010

How do you deal with the post-Darwinian Lynn Margulis, and her ‘different mechanism,’ beaglelady? Are you educated enough in biology or genetics to contend with her?

beaglelady - #4197

February 9th 2010

I don’t have to know squat about Lynn Margulis to know that Eldredge accepts evolutionary theory.

Charlie - #4204

February 10th 2010

Gregory Arago,

What are the multiple scientific methods? I can only think of one.  I’d really be interested to know

Gregory Arago - #4213

February 10th 2010

You seem to think there is *only one* so-called ‘evolutionary theory,’ beaglelady. That is untrue.

Which science? Whose science?

RC Pope John Paul II: “And, to tell the truth, rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution.”

E. Mayr: “Evolution shows so many facets that it looks alike to no two persons.”

L. Margulis thinks there are *some* things wrong with *some* people’s views of ‘evolutionary theories’.

Even Wiki: “Eldredge is a critic of the gene-centric view of evolution.”

Why do you sometimes defend ‘evolution’ as if it were a universal theory?

You appear to support ‘evolution’ as a worldview, beaglelady. Yet you speak as religious, which makes it confusing.

Gregory Arago - #4214

February 10th 2010

What can I say, Charlie? Go do some reading. Google “multiple scientific methods”. Pick up some philosophy of science books at the library.

Same goes for the meaning of ‘scientism.’

There’s lots out there to discover! Which is why learning and living is, in Georg Simmel’s expression, an ‘adventure.’


Charlie - #4223

February 10th 2010

3 similar definitions from dictionary.com

Scientific method:

a method of research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data, and the hypothesis is empirically tested.

The principles and empirical processes of discovery and demonstration considered characteristic of or necessary for scientific investigation, generally involving the observation of phenomena, the formulation of a hypothesis concerning the phenomena, experimentation to demonstrate the truth or falseness of the hypothesis, and a conclusion that validates or modifies the hypothesis.

An orderly technique of investigation that is supposed to account for scientific progress. The method consists of the following steps: (1) Careful observations of nature. (2) Deduction of natural laws. (3) Formation of hypotheses — generalizations of those laws to previously unobserved phenomena. (4) Experimental or observational testing of the validity of the predictions thus made. Actually, scientific discoveries rarely occur in this idealized, wholly rational, and orderly fashion.

These are basically the same thing.  Can you give me a reliable source of where you found the “multiple scientific methods”?

Charlie - #4224

February 10th 2010

Is this your definition of scientism?

scientism from dictionary.com

“The belief that the investigative methods of the physical sciences are applicable or justifiable in all fields of inquiry.”

Of course science isn’t applicable in all fields of inquiry, not all fields are scientific.  Religion is one of them.

beaglelady - #4226

February 10th 2010


Mainstream scientists speak of evolutionary theory. They argue about different aspects of it but still speak of it as evolutionary theory.  For example, look at this book at amazon.com by Stephen Jay Gould.  He was one of the proponents of Punk Eek (along with Niles Eldredge) but he still speaks of evolutionary theory. 

There are, to be sure, other theories of evolution suck as Lamarck’s, but when scientists speak of plain evolutionary theory in normal usage they mean Darwinian evolutionary theory.

So that’s the key here, discerning and comprehending what people normally mean when they speak of something.

beaglelady - #4227

February 10th 2010

oops I mean “such as Lamarcks” above.

Gregory Arago - #4234

February 10th 2010

Kendalf wrote:
“The point that I was making was that Wiseman—and Applegate’s summary—uses too broad of a brush in painting the conflict as between the church and science. The combined areas of science that are “rejected” by even the most science-phobic Christians is far smaller than the full scope of science, and thus to say that the church in general is opposed to science in general does injustice to both the church and science.”

Yes, we are on the same page here.

It would be different perhaps if Applegate &/or Wiseman were speaking from within the fold of Roman Catholic Christianity or Anglican Christianity, which have their fair share of scientists & scholars. To suggest that there is a ‘tension’ between ‘evangelical Christianity,’ as demonstrated by its American advocates & ‘science,’ is a different story.

Would it be inappropriate to suggest that ‘evangelicals’ are more ‘science-phobic’ than other Christians? If so, why?

Gregory Arago - #4239

February 10th 2010


it seems you don’t want to address my questions, so there is no dialogue between us.

You idealize “plain evolutionary theory in normal usage,” but this simply doesn’t exist.

Which evolutionary theory? Whose evolutionary theory?

You pretend that Eldridge doesn’t criticize some evolutionary theories. Evolution is ONE, not many, right?

Sometimes when you say ‘evolution’ you just mean ‘natural history’. When Daniel called you out that ‘mechanisms’ of eVo are disputed, you dodged an answer.

A few weeks ago when I asked you to ‘limit evolution’ you expressed confusion that such a question could even rationally be asked. beaglelady, it can and should be asked.

Can *universal evolutionism* be ‘an instrument of worship’? Is it churchable? Personally, I don’t think so.

beaglelady - #4352

February 12th 2010

So now BioLogos is going to remove my comments?  I did answer Daniel’s question.  Read this thread and you’ll see, unless you’ve had that removed also.  Your questions make no sense to me.  Now I have a question for you:

Is it larger than a breadbox?

Peter Hoffman - #4367

February 12th 2010

Instead of all this (lazy) general blather, if you guys want to argue about what is really bothering the evangelical opponents of evolutionary biological science, why not get down to something completely specific (and which I venture to guess that over 99% of tenured biology professors in research universities of North America and Europe would strongly agree with as being virtually certain):

There existed in the distant past an individual mammal
(1) whom no one would take to be even remotely human, and
(2) who is a direct ancestor of every human alive today.

To those with any serious doubt about this proposition, here is some recommended reading:

Seven million years: The story of human evolution—-Douglas Palmer (2005)

The Greatest Sow on Earth—-Richard Dawkins (2009)

Breaking the Spell—-Daniel C. Dennett (2006)

Read with an open mind, the latter should disabuse your correspondent
of his silly statement that “... not all fields are scientific. Religion is one of them.”


Peter Hoffman - #4368

February 12th 2010

Oops!  The Greatest Show,  not Sow,  but that makes a good joke.


John Mulholland - #4415

February 13th 2010

Is it possible that C.P.Snow’s Rede lectures of 1959 and subsequent little book,  The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution is relevant to this discussion?  Years ago, he argued in his lectures in the heart of academic England at Oxford University, that humanists knew almost nothing of the sciences, and scientists knew almost nothing of the humanities.  The original edition of his book can be read online and downloaded at the following website.

Is it possible that what we are wrestling with here is part of that larger problem?

Gregory Arago - #4481

February 14th 2010

Hi John,

That’s a good point imo. But I’m afraid this is not on most people’s radars today in ‘science and religion’ discourse.

Dr. K. Giberson is more in-tune with this than many others and it would be interesting for him to address this somewhere on the BioLogos site.

The Edge or ‘Third Culture’ movement is indeed part of the ‘culture war’ in America over the meanings of ‘science, philosophy and religion’. There, people are involving humanities and philosophy, in addition to the significantly more limited dichotomy of ‘science and religion.’

The point I made re: Wiseman being ‘safer’ because she is an astronomer speaks to what you say.

Imo, the topic BioLogos is raising *badly* needs humanitarian contributions, especially because it is dealing with ‘language,’ in the sense of “The Language of God.” Is there any more central text for BioLogos? How can people understand ‘language’ *without* the ‘science’ of ‘philology’ and also the love of wisdom, philosophy?

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