Breaking Free of the Enlightenment’s Shackles
Though some may believe that moving the science/faith dialogue forward is best left to scientists, scholars, and theologians, we at BioLogos recognize that our pastors play an invaluable role in the conversation. Across the globe, pastors are helping their congregations work through difficult issues of science and faith with honesty, insight, and a gentle spirit. To this end we present an ongoing series recognizing sermons (and the pastors who give them) that are helping to promote the harmony of science and faith.
Pete Shaw, who is the senior pastor of Crosswalk Community Church in Napa California, offers a brief history of the interactions between science and faith in the first segment of his sermon “The Flood. ” In this excerpt, he explains how the Church adopted Enlightenment thinking and advocated the scientific method as a way to verify God’s created order in nature. However, as science became more sophisticated, scientists began to question whether or not God intertwined with the natural world or even existed. In other words, they were asking the Church, ‘How can you prove God scientifically?’ Although the Church identified God as the first cause that led to all other causes in creation, scientists remained skeptical. At this, “the Church retreated, not recognizing that maybe they needed to change their perspective or widen their understanding of how we define what is true and what isn’t--beyond the scope of science.” Pastor Shaw appropriately concludes with this challenge: be willing to acknowledge the lens through which you see the world and be willing to be grown by God. The full sermon can be downloaded here. Finally, if you know a sermon or podcast related to science and faith that has especially spoken to you, please let us know.
One of the primary things that I am trying to bring to your attention is that in our present day, we have a certain proclivity toward how we approach the Bible, and it is a post-Enlightenment perspective, which means that when we look at just about anything in our world, when we read anything in our world, we read it as if it was literal historical fact: ‘it is true if it is verifiable.’ And we adopted that mindset—you didn’t vote on this—but our forefathers in the church adopted this mindset in the 17th century when Enlightenment started to come into play. The Church initially saw Enlightenment as a wonderful ‘brother in crime,’ so to speak, because Enlightenment was starting to come up with great scientific discoveries which were pointing to organization in the created world, and things developed in a very orderly way. Things could be proven that they turned out a certain way, and immediately, the Church Fathers looked at that and said, ‘that’s great news for the Church because science is proving that God exists.’ So, for 150 years, 125 years, we rode in that cart together, but science is indiscriminate in terms of how it approaches whatever its subject is—it doesn’t care about what subject it addresses.
So, when it came to God, science was starting to wonder if we need God at all, and was curious since they were figuring out so much about the created order and how things worked together and the explanation of so many things—they were taking mythology out of a lot of things, and so they were asking the Church: ‘how can you prove God?’ By this time, the Church had already adopted the scientific method saying, ‘It’s only true if you can prove it.’ And so, they were left with this question of how do you prove God scientifically? And the best thing that they could come up with was what is called the first cause, which simply means that science can identify that something happened to get this whole creation thing going, and the Church rallied and said ‘Yes! That something is God—God is the first cause that started all the other causes since, and he has been involved in the process.’ But science came back and said, ‘you know, just the fact that we don’t really know that doesn’t prove that you are right.’ So, the Church retreated, not recognizing that maybe they needed to change their perspective or widen their understanding of how we define what is true and what isn’t--beyond the scope of science. We held to our guns, and that has been the predominant voice in American Christian culture for the last 200 years or so—so strong, in fact, that a lot of what I have been sharing with you in last couple weeks seems incredibly new and disturbing. You may be wondering, ‘Where did this guy come up with this stuff?’ Well, the fact is that I am not really giving you anything new, I am giving you stuff that is very, very old. Because what I have recognized (because I have researched this stuff) is that the greats of our faith who lived centuries ago, when they looked at this book [the Bible], they looked at it very, very differently than we do, and they have something to say. So greats in the early Church like Origen, you know…names that you kind of remember from history class…St. Augustine, these kinds. Some of the Catholic greats that we know of through history, they had something to say, and all of what they said happened long before the Enlightenment when the Church decided to define what is true extremely narrowly.
So, my challenge to you is: can you, in a way, come to grips with the fact that your worldview, your vision, has been shaped significantly by the time you’ve grown up in and by the world in which we live? I am telling you it has, and I am also stating with great confidence that until we identify how the lens has been crafted through which we see everything, we are trapped and bound by it. In fact, we are shackled by it. Until we can see ourselves for who we are, understand our biases and how they shape everything we think about, those things keep us where we are, and we literally will not be able to hear anything new because it just won’t fit—that is a real problem when it comes to walking with God because God is continually wanting to grow us and stretch us in new directions, and if we don’t have room for that, we really don’t have room for God.”
Pete Shaw is Senior Pastor at Crosswalk Community Church.