On Science and Faith: Responsible Investigation and Charitable Debate, Not Whac-a-Mole

 

In honor of the new year, I considered posting a list of resources I would recommend for those seeking deeper and broader knowledge on the subject of science and faith. The more I thought about what I would include on the list, the more I realized how much more I have to say about the use of resources and the importance of one’s study strategy and over-arching attitude in the process. First, I’ll say a few words about a poor approach, then I’ll suggest a path forward, and end with some resource recommendations.

What Not to Do

The most egregious error Christians can make (and often do) when attempting to become well-informed about the relationship between science and faith is to limit their study to literature written by authors sharing one particular viewpoint. I speak from personal experience (and yes, embarrassment!). I grew up hearing only one specific perspective, and whenever I became a young adult, I went on to reinforce that view by reading (and practically memorizing) every resource I could get my hands on that was written by proponents of that view. These books, articles, and DVDs would roundly critique all of the opposing views, so I thought that I had a great handle on what “the other guys” thought and, more significantly, why they thought it. I was utterly convinced that only one viewpoint (mine) was harmonious with Christian orthodoxy. If a Christian brother or sister expressed disagreement or even hesitation about what I believed to be the truth of the matter, it absolutely horrified me. Didn’t they know how wrong-headed their position was?!! Didn’t they know that, in their disagreement with my view, they were compromising the gospel of Jesus Christ?!!

On one level, my heart was in the right place–wanting to know and disseminate truth, but it turns out I was wrong about about some crucial things. I’m not talking about scientific data, although I most certainly did misunderstand quite a bit of that. Rather, I’m referring to what I thought I knew about the motives and justification behind the views I opposed and my terrible attitude towards fellow believers holding those other views.

The purpose of this post is not to bombard you with all the reasons I believe my former view is false and my current view is correct. Instead, I want to offer you a game plan for responsible investigation with a godly attitude.

What to Do

1. Read a wide variety of material from authors of different persuasions.

I’ve already told you how I purposefully limited my reading and study material, which proved to be to my own detriment in exchanges with others. But don’t get me wrong; I understand the strong temptation to only read particular authors. Reading material written by people we vehemently disagree with is uncomfortable! Of course it is! But simply relying on the words of their opponents is a huge mistake. For one, it is a failure to utilize our God-given ability for critical thinking by letting others do your thinking for you. For another, you subject yourself to the dangers of rhetorical spin. While an author may not intentionally misrepresent an opposing viewpoint, they may totally misinterpret the words, justification, and intentions of those espousing the other view. The only way to know for certain is to get the information straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Discomfort is a small price to pay for accuracy, especially when it comes to how you perceive and talk about a fellow believer’s differing perspective. Read them in their own words, and give them the benefit of the doubt by not making assumptions about their motivations or their relationship with God. That leads me to my second rule…

2. Maintain respect, charity, and humility toward those you disagree with. 

I can name at least a dozen friends, colleagues, and family members who hold various theological views that I strongly disagree with. Some of these views pertain to salvation, and some do not.  However, I recognize that they may very well have come to their conclusions honestly, prayerfully, and with intellectual rigor. I acknowledge that they probably have my same deep desire to love and honor God in truth and in spirit. The fact of the matter is, there are issues on which Christians have disagreed from the very beginning of the church, and there will be disagreement until the end of the church age. Debate over these issues is not a bad thing. Quite the contrary. But fighting and negative emotions about them is never, ever an exercise in Christ-likeness. I get this mental image of the game, Whac-a-Mole, where you use a big club to bonk the heads of the toy moles, shoving them back down into their holes. Sadly, this is representative of the technique used by some believers. They lash out with aggression and little forethought. In these discussions we must show the utmost love, respect, and humility. Not to mention a willingness to learn from others. That is how we honor God in our relationships with our co-laborers. Graciously welcome believers of different persuasions to the table, don’t hit them over the head with statements such as “You’re compromising on the Gospel! You’re bowing your knee at the altar of intellectual credibility rather than the altar of God!” <–FAIL

3. Recognize where the true battle line lies.

In our charge to reach the world with the truth of Jesus Christ, matters of science and faith are often front and center. I’ve seen conversation after conversation spin out of control, going down rabbit trails that wasted a lot of time with little progress to show for it. We are, ultimately, fighting against the philosophy of naturalism, which says there has been no intelligent input in the formation of the natural world, that a Creator is unnecessary. This is where the line is, friends. This is where we must battle with shrewdness, knowledge, and compassion for all fellow men. You may oppose the theory of biological evolution, but in the grand scheme of things, what you need to demonstrate is the necessity of intelligence behind the material cosmos. At the end of the day, if a person is strongly convinced by the evidence that all animals have a common ancestor and you insist that the idea of common descent is diametrically opposed to Christianity, what have you really accomplished? You’ve alienated someone that may very well have been open to hearing the Gospel. Use scientific data to make good arguments for the existence of God and intelligent design of the cosmos and living things, but don’t get bogged down in lesser issues (note that I did not call them “unimportant” issues). Here’s a good rule of thumb. Before harping on a particular science-related point, ask yourself: “Can someone have a genuine saving faith in Christ while still holding scientific view X, even though I believe X to be false and difficult to square with the Bible?” If the answer is yes, don’t get fixated on issue X.

10 Recommended Resources

If you’ve never undertaken a personal investigation into the issues of science and faith, or if you have but your method left much to be desired, I hope you’ll find the following list helpful in beginning to resolve that situation. Some of these resources represent a specific view on science and faith, some contain multiple viewpoints, and some tackle the over-arching philosophy while remaining neutral on more specific science and faith issues. This list would make a wonderful year-long small-group study!

1. Review and book excerpt from Mark Noll’s Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind 

The book itself is worth a complete reading, but the excerpt in the essay is most pertinent to the topic at hand.

2. J.P. Moreland’s lecture, “Has Science Made Belief in God Obsolete?”

I will embed the video here for your convenience.

3. Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything by Gerald Rau

This is truly an excellent book that discusses the six main views of science and biblical origins. I wrote a review of it HERE. But don’t take my word for it, read it for yourself! 🙂

 4. Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science by John Lennox

In this short yet perceptive and gracious treatment of the debate, Lennox discusses the Genesis days and guides the reader toward a charitable and open-minded attitude on the subject. I’ve written a review of it HERE. You can also listen to Lennox himself lecture on the book HERE.

 5. Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation

I really like the scholars that were selected to contribute to this volume. Each essay is written from a different viewpoint about the proper approach to reading the first two chapters of Genesis.

 6. The BioLogos Website 

BioLogos is an organization that promotes theistic evolution. Their site features a wide variety of articles and other media that address different issues related to faith and evolution. www.biologos.org

7. The Reasons to Believe Website

Reasons to Believe is an organization that promotes the perspective of old-earth creationism, the view that embraces the standard dating of the universe and planet earth, but affirms a literal, historical Adam and rejects macro-evolution. www.reasons.org

8. The Creation Ministries International Website and Journal of Creation

Creation Ministries International is an organization that promotes young-earth creationism, the idea that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and that the cosmos and living things are not the product of secondary causation (evolutionary processes). www.creation.com You can access their journal HERE.

These last two are a bit more advanced, but don’t be afraid to tackle them. They are the two most important books I read on the topic of science and faith this past year!

9. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer

I really can’t say enough about the scope, depth, and value of this book. See my full review series HERE.

10. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism by Alvin Plantinga

 This book, from a renowned Christian philosopher, is key to the overall origins debate. It is a must-read.