Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Faith vs. Science: The Ongoing & Unnecessary Battle

Between two churches, a seminary, and just generally being interested in this kind of thing, I daresay its safe to say that I hear a lot of prayer requests. These range all over the spectrum, but one I heard recently left a particularly bad taste in my mouth.

On the surface, it's not the kind of thing that would raise most people's eyebrows. A mother who's child was attending a major institution known for its scientific excellence wanted us to pray for their child. The child has been having a rough time lately, and she sought God's guidance in that situation. No problem so far, but the mother also suggested that the child's faith was no longer where it ought to be, and implied that the child's exposure to science was a cause. This is where my red flags went up.

Of course, the idea that some people pit science and faith against each other is nothing new. Clearly, there are scientists out there who are hostile to Christian faith, and they try to argue against faith on the basis that all (or nearly all) "miracles" detailed in the Bible can be demonstrated to have scientific causes. I'm not really worried about them. My faith isn't based on whether or not miracles can be proven or disproven.*

Galileo facing the Roman InquisitionI'm far more bothered by Christians who feel that science is the enemy. This is a very old problem, of course. I remember hearing stories as a child of how Galileo was censured by the church for teaching that the earth revolves around the sun, and I'm sure that examples could be cited going even further back. Unfortunately, even if most Christians now recognize that the earth is not the center of the universe, the idea that we have to chose between faith and science remains with us to this day.

Of course, if a church is saying that the believer must choose the Bible over science in cases of apparent conflict, what they're really saying is that the believer must choose that church's existing interpretation of the Bible, which is a rather different thing than the Bible itself, but few churches already inclined to make an issue over such matters seem to grasp the nuance. This not only has the effect of discouraging believers from actively seeking knowledge of how the world works, but has potentially disastrous consequences. It creates less educated (if devout) Christians on one hand, and a tragic number of ex-Christians on the other (as people find that reality simply won't bend to their understanding of how Christianity—as they've understood it—says the world is supposed to be).

For some reason that I can't entirely explain, the recent prayer incident called to mind an episode of Legend called "The Gospel According to Legend." Folks unfamiliar with the show will probably be interested to know that this episode featured the original Freddy Krueger, Robert Englund, as the guest star. Englund portrayed a con artist who posed as "Mordechai," a traveling evangelist. "Mordechai's" goal was to rile up the devout Christians of Sheridan, Colorado—where our heroes, Ernest Pratt/Nicodemus Legend (played by Richard Dean Anderson) and Janos Bartok (played by John DeLancie), lived and worked—to oppose the efforts of the scientist Bartok to create rain in the drought-stricken region to help the poor farmers of the area. It turns out that "Mordechai" had been hired by a company seeking to profit off of those farmers by selling a new drought-resistant fertilizer. This highlights another potential negative effect of seeing faith and science as in conflict with one another: people who choose to mistrust scientific inquiry often prove easy to manipulate by those who have ulterior motives.

It is encouraging to recognize that not all churches force this kind of dichotomy. Increasingly, believers are invited to recognize that faith and science need not be in opposition to each other. Even so, there are far too many leaders with far too much influence wielded in Christ's name. I can't just sit idly by while that false choice is placed on still more people, and I intend to do what I can to demonstrate that faith and science can work together just fine.

*Of course, the resurrection itself is a miracle, and essential to the Christian faith, but I also believe that it's not in the realm of "falsifiable" science. It's the kind of thing that, even if a skeleton of a body claiming to be Christ's were somehow found (a long shot to say the least, even accepting the falsehood of the resurrection purely for the sake of argument), the burden of proof that it was the same person Christians have worshiped would be nearly insurmountable. I'm hardly worried.

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