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!