Archives For faith

We recently finished up a sermon series on Faith & Science. It was one of the most well-attended, and highly invitational series in recent memory. Now that it’s over, I thought I’d offer a few reflections that come to mind.

#1: Congregants are more motivated about this topic than you think.

This was an easy topic to choose because we live in the backyard of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and as such, a large percentage of our congregants and neighbors have occupations that intersect the sciences (e.g., engineers, astronauts, scientists, medical personnel). But don’t let that fool you into thinking that the subject of faith and science is one in which you should pass because your demographic may differ. I discovered that just as many people from non scientifically-oriented backgrounds were also deeply drawn to this series. If philosopher Dr. Charles Taylor and his critically-acclaimed book A Secular Age‘s description of modernity is accurate, we live in time where atheistic materialism has come to full flower. It is the explanation for everything. Science is king and Christianity, by contrast, is harangued as a pale imitation for understanding our world. These are the waters in which all of your congregants swim. It’s the fight they deal with as they disciple their children who are indoctrinated into the secular age. It’s for reasons like these that your people thirst to know how the Christian faith actually engages science instead of tucks tail and runs.

#2: It’s a perfect opportunity to deconstruct the stereotypes the unchurched have about Christianity in general and the church in specific.

Throughout our series, I had the opportunity of conversing with scores of folk who identified as unbelievers. Most were from scientific backgrounds. For example, I spoke with an MIT-trained scientist who was not only impressed that a Christian church broached the topic of science and its relationship to faith but that, by and large, demonstrated how Christianity isn’t monolithic on secondary and tertiary issue (e.g., the interpretive stance of Genesis 1-2). Many skeptics, especially the scientifically-minded I’ve spoken with, tend to paint all churches as anti-intellectual, anti-critical thinking, anti-science communities that is generally evidenced in Christian fundamentalism. A series on faith and science however presents them with a different narrative that forces them to re-think their presupposed categories and biases. Indeed, it pushes them to employ their critical skills to re-evaluate not only the church but Jesus Christ himself. And that deconstruction can reboot the spiritual journeys of more people than you might think.

#3: You may save the faith of some.

I anticipated a lot of different responses to this series, but I was surprised to see how many tears came from it. They weren’t tears of anger but gratitude. One gentlemen found me in the lobby between services and soberly remarked, “You have no idea how this series has helped me.” I said thanks but he grabbed my arm and with tears forming in his eyes continued, “No. You don’t understand. I grew up in a church that told me science was evil and to ask questions was wrong and a lack of faith. Consequently, my whole life I’ve thought I’ve betrayed God because I wanted to know more about how the universe works. I thought I had to pick Jesus or science. And hearing from you that we, as Christians, don’t have to think in such binary terms has been oxygen to my soul. I’m sure this series has helped many people to work out their faith, but for me, it’s saved mine.” How many folk in your congregation have been given the same soul-crushing burden of thinking they must choose between their Savior and science? Rescue them!

#4: Pastors can help their people build better bridges between faith and science than the one they’ve likely been given.

Christians have been given too little discipleship that intersects with science, if anything at all. For many, their church’s unfortunate strategy concerning science was “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And those churches who did try to equip their people often did so using tired and outdated argumentation that tends to be peppered with ad hominems, red herrings, and straw men which won’t last three seconds into a college biology class. Don’t use that ineffective playbook! You might fool the majority of congregants who just accept those old arguments prima facie, but those with even the slightest level of advanced scientific education won’t. Far from winning the scientifically-minded, you’ll only confirm their bias that Christian pastors, like their flock, still have their collective heads in the sand when it comes to how the world really is. However, a series on faith and science can point out the shortcomings of a fortress mentality that retreats from scientific dialogue and reorients followers of Jesus on how a person of faith fairly and intelligently engages science. It can help them answer questions they were too afraid to ask in the past and free them up to pursue relationships with both the sciences and those who work in them. Simply put, it’s a series that helps them become better missionaries because it builds better bridges to cross.

#5: If not you, who?

The most popular question pastors have asked me concerning this series deals with how much more preparation did I have than a “regular” sermon series? While I’m sure my study might have taken a few more hours than potentially a different topic, don’t let that stop you. My question to you pastor is, if you don’t shepherd your congregation in the intersection of science and faith, who will? That’s your job. Don’t let secularists and materialists be the only voice they hear! In fact, I’d bet your congregation can deal with one less sermon series on marriage, family, or parenting this year (which, I’m sure, they’ve heard more than once) and have it replaced by a series on faith and science they’ve likely never heard before. Will it be challenging? Sure. But if part of the difficulty of that challenge is because you don’t know how to think about faith and science for yourself, then you know where you need to grow as a teacher and congregational leader. Whether you like it or not, your calling as a pastor is to be a Christian thinker as well as a Christian communicator. You aren’t called to think for your congregants (that’s their responsibility). You are called to equip them in their thinking. And it’s hard to train your people to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) if you aren’t working hard to get your own head around how to biblically engage the world, and that most definitely includes science which is the religion of the secular age. So if a series on faith and science for your congregants demands you first need to figure out what faith and science means for you, then get to it. If you don’t do it for your people, just know the world has been doing it for you.

This is a modest list of resources for further study into issues of faith and science. This is by no means exhaustive but hopefully a fair representation of the different interpretive views within orthodox Christianity. As previously stated in our ‘Faith & Science’ series, CCCC doesn’t hold to a specific interpretive position. With that said, the listing of resources here is not an endorsement (indeed, these works disagree with each other). On the contrary, we encourage you do the work both personally and in community in order to discover which of these resources makes best sense of the two books of God: his Word and his World. It should also be noted that descriptions were taken from other sources such as the publishers.

Faith & Science in General

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis Collins is for believers, agnostics, and atheists alike. The Language of God provides a testament to the power of faith in the midst of suffering without faltering from its logical stride. Readers will be inspired by Collin’s personal story of struggling with doubt and faith and as well as his experiences as a genetics researcher with discussions of science and spirituality, especially centering around evolution.

Quarks, Chaos & Christianity: Questions to Science and Religion by Sir John Polkinghorne draws on discoveries made in atomic physics to make credible the claims of Christianity, and helps refine Christian perceptions through the knowledge that the new science brings. He discusses belief in God, chaos, evolution, miracles, and prayer, and gives an answer to the question: Can a scientist believe?

Science and Religion: A New Introduction by Alister McGrath. This popular textbook introduces readers to the central questions in the field of science and religion. Ideally suited to those who have little or no prior knowledge in either area, it examines the historical, theological, philosophical and scientific aspects of the interaction between religion and science. Takes a topic-based approach which fits into the existing structure of most courses, and includes explanatory material not found in other works of this kind, making it highly accessible for those with little scientific or religious background knowledge.

Interpretive Views of Creation

Literal View (Young Earth Creationism)

Gap View

Day/Age View

Literary Framework / Ancient Near East View

CCCC’s “Understanding Creation” Presentations

Other Faith and Science Resources

Conversations Between Different Viewpoints

Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design by Ken Ham, Hugh Ross, Deborah B. Haarsma, and Stephen Meyer. Presents the current “state of the conversation” about origins among evangelicals representing four key positions: 1) Young Earth Creationism – Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis), 2) Old Earth (Progressive) Creationism – Hugh Ross (Reasons to Believe), 3) Evolutionary Creation – Deborah B. Haarsma (BioLogos), 4) Intelligent Design – Stephen C. Meyer (The Discovery Institute). The contributors offer their best defense of their position addressing questions such as: What is your position on origins – understood broadly to include the physical universe, life, and human beings in particular? What do you take to be the most persuasive arguments in defense of your position? How do you demarcate and correlate evidence about origins from current science and from divine revelation? What hinges on answering these questions correctly?

Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation?: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos by Kenneth Keathley (Editor). Christians confess that God created the heavens and the earth, but they are divided over how God created and whether the Bible gives us a scientifically accurate account of the process of creation. Representatives of two prominent positions – old earth creation (Reasons to Believe) and evolutionary creation (BioLogos) – have been in dialogue over the past decade to understand where they agree and disagree on key issues in science and theology. This book is the result of those meetings that touches on many of the pressing debates in science and faith, including biblical authority, the historicity of Adam and Eve, human genetics and common descent, the problem of natural evil, and methodological naturalism. Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation? invites readers to listen in as Christian scholars weigh the evidence, explore the options, and challenge each other on the questions of creation and evolution. In a culture of increasing polarization, this is a model for charitable Christian dialogue.

Intelligent Design

Discovery Institute website

Darwin’s Black Box by Michael J. Behe helped to launch the intelligent design movement: the argument that nature exhibits evidence of design, beyond Darwinian randomness. It sparked a national debate on evolution, which continues to intensify across the country. From one end of the spectrum to the other, Darwin’s Black Box has established itself as the key intelligent design text — the one argument that must be addressed in order to determine whether Darwinian evolution is sufficient to explain life as we know it.

The Signature in the Cell by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer. Meyer presents a convincing new case for intelligent design (ID), based on revolutionary discoveries in science and DNA. Along the way, Meyer argues that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as expounded in The Origin of Species did not, in fact, refute ID.


Evolutionary Creation

Biologos website

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science by Applegate and Stump (Editors). Many evangelicals have come to accept the conclusions of science while still holding to a vigorous belief in God and the Bible. How did they make this journey? Here are the stories of 25 people who have come to embrace evolution and faith, including Francis Collins, Scot McKnight, John Ortberg, James K.A. Smith, Jennifer Wiseman, and N.T. Wright.

Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science by Dennis Venema and Scott McKnight. Genomic science indicates that humans descend not from an individual pair but from a large population. What does this mean for the basic claim of many Christians: that humans descend from Adam and Eve? Leading evangelical geneticist Dennis Venema and popular New Testament scholar Scot McKnight combine their expertise to offer informed guidance and answers to questions pertaining to evolution, genomic science, and the historical Adam. The authors address up-to-date genomics data with expert commentary from both genetic and theological perspectives, showing that genome research and Scripture are not irreconcilable. It should be noted that some readers found Venema’s first half of the book sounder than McKnight’s conclusions in the second half.