Everyone with internet access and a bit of curiosity about science and religion is already familiar with the arguments Christians have about science.
The most popular and fierce, perhaps, is the fight over evolution. Was Darwin right about the origins of the human species, or were humans crafted by heavenly hands a mere six thousand years ago? Few [credible, mainstream] scientists have many serious doubts these days about evolution, but many Christians certainly do.
But of course, evolution is just the tip of the iceberg. Science seems to take for granted that everything, from consciousness to history, can be explained by the interaction of physical particles alone. So how could an immaterial God actually do anything? Scientists look for strictly natural causes for every event, so what about miracles? If scientists can’t explain phenomenon by claiming “God did it,” then how could we?
A large swath of conservative Christians, some no doubt sporting mullets, predictably work themselves into a frenzy, [self-]righteously insisting that science isn’t all it’s cranked up to be. Good Christians, they say, should get their truth from the Bible and leave science to the godless heathens who study such things. Or maybe the protestors poke around the internet until they can find some self-proclaimed scientist with a PHD from MIT (nevermind that it was in an unrelated field) who claims to poke critical holes in the theory of evolution, proving once and for all that Holy Writ is true at face value and anyone who thinks otherwise is stupid (not to mention evil).
Bringing up the rear, the more progressive Christians, with their COEXIST bumper stickers and complete lack of mullets, begin their rehearsed lectures. Genesis actually contains two back-to-back, obviously contradictory accounts of Creation. This is not a new problem; handfuls of Christian across the centuries – including a certain Mr. Augustine (you may have heard of him) – have interpreted Genesis non-literally. Spectators near the front of the room may catch a progressive lecturer mutter under his breath, “besides, nearly all Bible stories are obvious fictions made up by our superstitious spiritual grandfathers.”
If you are in the market for more of that, please consult Google, which will be happy to match you to fresh (and not so fresh) suppliers.
But what if they’re all missing the point right underneath everybody’s noses?
For many, the question of science and faith seems to be this: Can (or should) Christians really trust modern scientists?
But what if that’s the wrong question? After all, who doesn’t already trust scientists?
Of course, many loyal conservative Christians are raising their hands right about now. Within seconds, they will be reminding us that science is speculative. No one was really “there” to see how human life first emerged. Perhaps they somberly instruct us that world is really very ambiguous, and all interpretations are really just the imposition of some already-formed opinion onto the great unknown. Why should we trust these “studies” when fallible humans are no doubt rigging the tests, fudging the executions, and reading too much into their resultant “findings”? In the light of such vast uncertainty, we would be foolish to put much stock in those scientists, regardless of what fancy acronyms they might affix to their names. And besides, the so-called “credible majority” of scientists a few centuries ago claimed that the Earth is flat – and look how that turned out! – so why should we trust scientists today?
But before the progressives stand up for a point-by-point rebuttal, consider this: What do parents do when their kids are sick?
Whether you’re a conservative, liberal, Christian, atheist, scientist, or professional mullet model, here’s my guess: If you or someone you loved became injured or very sick, you would immediately rush them to a doctor.
Think about that. What, if anything, is more precious to us than our lives and the lives of our loved ones? If, when survival is at stake, we turn to doctors and nurses (of all people), prescription medications and licensed surgeons – all gifts from modern science – what does that say about us?
Where are all the protests about science’s methodological shortcomings in the midst of a heart attack? Who demands that their doctor provide airtight, step-by-step proof that pill X will certainly resolve illness Y? Who even hesitates to put their life into the hands of mainstream science? If science were really so untrustworthy, surely we could find someone else to keep us alive.
The truth of the matter, as far as I can tell, is that just about everyone I know, regardless of their religious outlook or official theological convictions, already trusts science. This trust is not a secular equivalent of the “prosperity gospel,” by which obedient devotion consistently delivers desired outcomes; nobody presumes that a good doctor can amend every physical calamity. Yet if it ever came down to it, if the most precious gift (life) were at stake, we all rush without hesitation to the white-robed priests of science, and we beg them to intercede for us.
To argue, as many progressive Christians do, that the faithful should take the consensus of modern scientists seriously is to effectively preach to the choir, even if conservative Christians are in the audience. They deny science in word only. Conservative Christians may claim to not take the scientific community all that seriously, but when the time of tribulation comes like a thief in the night, their secret allegiances are revealed.
Despite all the rhetoric, the problem with Christians who deny science is not their commitment to their faith; the problem is their dishonesty about that faith. They don’t really need to tone down their convictions; what they need is to witness to those convictions in spirit and in truth. For all their talk of struggling against the waves of culture, they all succumbed to the siren song of science generations ago. What they need is courage to profess their faith from the rooftop, to invest their modern minds in the marketplace of ideas rather than burying them in the ground.
Those who embrace Christian faith and modern science face many challenging theological questions; that much is clear. A true act of faith given our situation, I think, is to honestly step out into the questions that are begging to be asked, trusting (or at least hoping, like Paul) that this need not be the end, that the God who is “ever ancient, ever new” (to use Augustine’s phrase) will meet us in the uncertainties ahead. Those who make this step of faith for the first time, however hesitant, might be surprised to see how many of us are wandering out here, too.