t f p g+ YouTube icon

The Weapon of Science, the Sword of the Spirit, and a Call to Prayer

Bookmark and Share

November 24, 2010 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by Kerry L. Bender. 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.

The Weapon of Science, the Sword of the Spirit, and a Call to Prayer

A Pastor’s Perspective on the Christian Conversation Concerning Science: Part 1

When my wife and I took our daughter and son (they are only a year apart in age) in for their four year and three year checkups, the doctor started to ask us a series of questions. Apparently these questions were to assess the safety of our children in our house. Unfortunately, when he asked if we had any guns in the house, I thought he was engaging in small talk, so I enthusiastically chimed in that I had several firearms (all for hunting and target shooting), and I asked him if he was a hunter as well. Before the doctor could respond, my wife in complete amazement turned to me and said, “You keep your weapons in the house!” It really wasn’t a question – more a statement of disbelief mixed with a bit of anger. After explaining to the doctor that the guns all had trigger locks on them and alleviating his concerns for the safety of our children, we set out on the long journey home. It was only about a mile and half, but with my wife’s eyebrows raised as we entered the car, I knew it was going to be a long journey home. As we drove, I told Stacy that I never considered the firearms with which I had grown up, and the ones that I owned, as weapons. Growing up on a farm in rural America, they were tools – not weapons.

The conversation that day was informative for both of us; we realized that we looked at firearms differently. In addition, I realized that I was often naïve about others’ perceptions of firearms and that even my own perception was a bit naïve at times. My wife realized that her perception of firearms was shaped more by the misuse of firearms rather than the proper – and majority – use of firearms in North America. We survived this discussion, and more than a decade later we are still married, but I am sure that somewhere in my children’s medical file is a note saying, “Keep an eye on the father – he may be dangerous.”

I tell this story because I think that my current perception of science is different than many in the conservative evangelical community of which I am a part. My perception is that science is a tool, but I fear that far too often we as evangelicals have perceived it as a weapon; a perception with which I grew up and fostered for a time. We perceive it as a weapon used by atheists or secular humanists to attack us, our faith, and worst of all our children. We become skeptical, therefore, of anyone that keeps this tool in their home or uses it at work assuming that they intend to use it as a weapon. We teach our children, either implicitly and at times explicitly, to be wary of anyone that uses science – especially those that would hold to the overwhelming majority view of evolution as the best theory to explain the origins of species.

We say our fears are confirmed when individuals, such as Richard Dawkins, attempt to use science not only as a weapon against us but argues that science has put God in the cross-hairs of reason, has pulled the trigger, and killed any last vestiges of belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent Creator. Like my wife’s perception of firearms, however, our perception of science is based not on the proper use of science, to which the majority in the scientific community holds, but rather it is based on the misuse of science by a small, but extremely vocal, minority. I do not want to be accused of being naïve; I realize that science has been used as a weapon against faith, but basing our perception of mistrust on this abuse of science would be a mistake and pushes evangelicalism to the edge of the bizarre.

As bizarre as this perception of others using science as a weapon against evangelicalism may seem, even more bizarre is the use of science by evangelicals as a weapon. This often is done under the banner of: “We need to take the fight to them!” or “Fight fire with fire!” Science, when not appropriately seen as a tool by Christians, becomes a strange weapon in the hands of Christians. Too often in the past Christianity has created a pseudo-science with which to attack the “evil Darwinians” and prove that the earth is a mere 6,000 years old. Some slightly more serious Christian scientists, who would accept the overwhelming majority view on the old age of the earth, continue to use science as a weapon against those in the scientific community that hold to the theory of evolution by arguing for the evidence of design that proves the existence of a divine creator.

In this debate, science is not a tool to discover truth but a weapon to attack, humiliate, and destroy not only the theories of scientists but the reputations and the scientists themselves. In the midst of the fray of this perceived battle, as the Christian apologist/scientist wields the weapon of science, the line between enemy and brother or sister becomes blurred. Those brothers and sisters in Christ that sincerely hold the faith, confess the Lordship of Christ, hold to the creed of the apostles, but who accept the evolutionary process of life are too often held in contempt, viewed as traitors, and attacked with the weapon of “apologetic science.” As a pastor, and as a Christian, I find this troubling, but unfortunately, not surprising. Regrettably, science is not the first tool to be misperceived as a weapon by evangelicals, and quite honestly, it is not even the first weapon of choice. These dishonors fall to that which evangelicals hold most dear – the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, the Sword of the Spirit.

Of course some will object and say, the Word of God is a weapon – after all it is the “sword” of the Spirit according to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:17. A response to this objection will be taken up in the second installment of this blog when we explore Paul’s intentions and the nature of the Sword of the Spirit. Until then, let us recognize that among scientist, Christians and otherwise, there will always be disagreement concerning origins, but among brothers and sisters in Christ, let us commit to a civil discourse – not using science as a weapon against one another, but as a tool for discovering truth. Let us hold with confidence, therefore, that all truth is God’s truth. With these truths in mind, the tool of science can, and should, be used by Christians to discover the beauty of God’s world created by His Word, for our benefit, and for His glory!


Kerry L. Bender is the pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has been interested in the conversation between science and faith for some time, but his interest has intensified in the last few years with his own children entering middle-school and high school. Their questions were a catalyst for Pastor Kerry’s renewed interest in this topic, and he is currently working on a book project to provide solid exegetical and scientific information for young people within the church. Rev. Bender received his bachelor's degree in religion and history from Jamestown College, his Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and his Master of Theology from the University of Edinburgh.

Next post in series >


View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Loading...
Page 4 of 4   « 1 2 3 4
aclimacus - #42362

December 2nd 2010

R Hampton,
  To begin my attempt at your challenge, let me first admit that speciation was probably not the best word.  Since speciation is premised more on issues like interbreeding ability, it is probably too fine a word.  A better one might have been transition, but the basic notion I am trying to get across is one of changes in basic body structures.  In your example of the Fox’s ancestry (which I will assume is correct, though I am not well-acquainted with it), the basic progenitor is still a mammal with the basic body structure of a canine.  What is the precursor to this body plan?

  The reason I ask this is because changes like the ones you are proposing are not where the majority of criticisms lie.  Instead, the majority focus on the grander scheme.  Evolutionary theory purports to explain where all life originates.  Even if I grant your example as conclusive about foxes, where did mammals come from?  These transitions should be even more prevalent than those of the change from primitive canines to modern ones because most of evolutionary history should be transitional.  But the fossil record shows a great deal of stability within basic body plans.


aclimacus - #42363

December 2nd 2010

John,
  I think we are on different wavelengths.  The idea of slow, continuous change is fundamental to evolution.  Darwin said so in Origin (and yes, I know he never used the word “evolution” there).  Unless you hold to punctuated equilibrium, then you must admit this.  As for geology being responsible for the gaps in the fossil record, it seems rather convenient to me that what does exist in the record is body forms that are quite stable throughout their duration.  For example, the Cambrian explosion, for which there are fossil beds both just before and just after (in geological time) seems to need a great deal of explanation since those preceding beds do not show the basic body forms in an earlier stage of evolutionary development.

Also, if natural selection is not responsible for all biological mechanisms, then what is responsible for the ones it didn’t generate?  I don’t see what is “insanely wrong” about that statement.


John - #42366

December 2nd 2010

aclimacus:
“A better one might have been transition, but the basic notion I am trying to get across is one of changes in basic body structures.”

Do any such structures exist in a human but not a chimp, or vice versa?

“The reason I ask this is because changes like the ones you are proposing are not where the majority of criticisms lie.  Instead, the majority focus on the grander scheme.”

So you don’t object to the conclusion that you and a chimp share a common ancestor?

“Evolutionary theory purports to explain where all life originates.”

Again, you resort to gross misrepresentations of evolutionary theory.

“Even if I grant your example as conclusive about foxes, where did mammals come from?”

Reptiles, as the sequence evidence clearly shows, but you lack the faith to examine it for yourself.

“But the fossil record shows a great deal of stability within basic body plans.”

And developmental biology shows homologous and orthologous genes involved in the development of different structures.

How many genetic changes do you think are required to create a new vertebra in a human being?


John - #42368

December 2nd 2010

aclimacus:
“I think we are on different wavelengths.”

Yes, I inhabit a world in which evidence is most important.

“The idea of slow, continuous change is fundamental to evolution.”

No, it is not, particularly since we know that genetic changes are quantal and discontinuous.

“Darwin said so in Origin (and yes, I know he never used the word “evolution” there).”

What Darwin said is not evidence, and evolution involves non-Darwinian mechanisms too.

“Unless you hold to punctuated equilibrium, then you must admit this.”

You’re all about saying and admitting, with nothing about evidence.

“Also, if natural selection is not responsible for all biological mechanisms, then what is responsible for the ones it didn’t generate?  I don’t see what is “insanely wrong” about that statement.”

Natural selection does nothing without heritable variation. Non-Darwinian mechanisms that don’t include natural variation are responsible for much of evolution.

I’m beginning to think that you are incapable of writing three consecutive sentences about modern evolutionary theory without grossly misrepresenting it.


R Hampton - #42375

December 2nd 2010

In your example of the Fox’s ancestry (which I will assume is correct, though I am not well-acquainted with it), the basic progenitor is still a mammal with the basic body structure of a canine.  What is the precursor to this body plan?

aclimacus,
Going further back in time/down the phylogenetic tree, we find the Miacid family from which all carnivores descended (these tree-climbers resembled a combination dog/cat/weasel). Since its body plan is essentially the same as that of the first true mammals, like 200+ million year old Morganucodon (image - http://www.flickr.com/photos/nmnh/2553913600/), then by your definition all of these animals are of the same kind.

Then again, the four legged body plan is at least 360 million years old, as evidenced by the Ichthyostega—so I’m having a hard time understanding how you differentiate between variations within a body plan versus something new.


aclimacus - #42427

December 3rd 2010

John,
  I’m afraid that I am making no progress responding to your posts.  You ask me to present evidence and yet you don’t give counter evidence.  Quoting my lines and then making some gross overstatement about how they are wrong is not good rhetoric.  And ad hominem attacks like “I’m beginning to think that you are incapable of writing three consecutive sentences about modern evolutionary theory without grossly misrepresenting it” simply fall to by a retort like “I am rubber; you are glue.”  Both statements have about the same force.  If you truly believe that I am misrepresenting it, give me a substantial explanation that properly represents it.  Otherwise there is nothing to be discussed.

As far as hereditary variation goes, I could respond in turn by saying that no variation matters unless it is selected for.  Otherwise the variation would vanish into the abyss of evolutionary dead ends.  Thus, natural selection is again needed for all biological mechanisms we see today except maybe those that are newly arisen in a current generation of a species.


aclimacus - #42431

December 3rd 2010

R Hampton,
  I appreciate what you are saying, but I do have some issues.  First, the record to which you refer is not a complete record.  By that, I mean that there are gaps between what are claimed to be evolutionary ancestors and decedents.  Certainly it is too much to expect that every gap would be filled with nice fossil evidence because of the relatively scant chance of an animal being fossilized. 

However, I am referring to something more basic that four-legged body plans.  I referred earlier to the Cambrian explosion.  This is a relatively short geological time in which most major phyla (I believe 29 of 36) appeared suddenly and practically without precursors.  Phyla are often described as the categorization of “basic body plans.”  What this creates is something of a reversal where instead of a bottom-up approach to the evolution of species, you get the major phyla appearing and then small changes refining them over time.  The problem this causes for me is that there is no mechanism in place that can explain why such an event would have occurred.


aclimacus - #42434

December 3rd 2010

(cont. from above)

To go back to your example, I am not so much worried about where foxes came from, as by your own line they appear to be a refinement on a vertebrate body plan (phylum Chordata).  What I am concerned with is where the vertebrates came from.  Even Darwin admitted that the Cambrian explosion was an issue when he wrote Origin, and as far as I know there has not been a great deal of progress in explaining it.  If there is a good explanation, it has not reached a wide audience yet and so I don’t wonder that so many people have issues with evolutionary theory.

And this is ultimately my greatest issue with evolution.  Natural selection is experimentally verifiable on a small scale within say a genus or family.  The origin stories in the grand scheme are missing though.  If the story cannot make sense of the beginning, then the middle and end are not nearly as concerning to me.


John - #42435

December 3rd 2010

aclimacus wrote:
“I’m afraid that I am making no progress responding to your posts.  You ask me to present evidence and yet you don’t give counter evidence.”

That’s completely false. I am presenting and challenging you to examine the freely-available sequence evidence for yourself, but you lack the faith to do so. Your position is based entirely on hearsay.

“If you truly believe that I am misrepresenting it, give me a substantial explanation that properly represents it.  Otherwise there is nothing to be discussed.”

I have in each case. You have changed the subject in each case or ignored my explanation.

“As far as hereditary variation goes, I could respond in turn by saying that no variation matters unless it is selected for.”

And you’d be dead wrong, because you are denying the existence of drift.

“Otherwise the variation would vanish into the abyss of evolutionary dead ends.”

Yet drift is sufficient to produce speciation.

“Thus, natural selection is again needed for all biological mechanisms we see today except maybe those that are newly arisen in a current generation of a species.”

Again, NS does nada without heritable variation.


Larry - #42442

December 3rd 2010

“Even Darwin admitted that the Cambrian explosion was an issue when he wrote Origin, and as far as I know there has not been a great deal of progress in explaining it.”

Umm… exactly how hard have you looked? Perhaps you could start here.


R Hampton - #42443

December 3rd 2010

aclimacus,
You used the terms micro- & macro- evolution - “Taking micro-evolutionary changes that are observable and moving then to the grander scheme of macro-evolution is more than the empirical evidence supports.” - yet claim the four legged animal body plan is a sufficient space within which evolution to occur - “I am not so much worried about where foxes came from, as by your own line they appear to be a refinement on a vertebrate body plan (phylum Chordata).

That’s a contradiction I can’t not excuse.


Page 4 of 4   « 1 2 3 4