Where Seminaries Need to Step Up Their Game: Science and Faith Education

It should come as no surprise to anyone not living under a rock that “scientific
evidence” is the most frequently cited reason for denying the rationality of the Christian faith. Scientism has basically become the surrogate religion of secular humanism; advocates make grand philosophical pronouncements against Christianity religion-science-perspectivesin the guise of “incontrovertible scientific conclusions” about reality.  Several of the “New Atheists,” those writing the screechy New York Times bestsellers intended to persuade the masses, have degrees in the hard sciences, which gives many the [egregiously mistaken] impression that religious belief must be inversely proportional to scientific literacy.  As Christians, we are called to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Yet, only a tiny minority of believers know how to respond to these kinds of arguments.

I think the root of the problem has many threads, but a major one is related to the usual scope of seminary education. In my own online canvassing of the degree programs offered by the better-known seminaries in the United States, I’ve noticed that there are insufficient opportunities for aspiring church and ministry leaders to become well-equipped to 1) interact with the scientific community and 2) guide congregants toward an adequate understanding of science and faith issues. Both of these are important for fostering confident faith and for demonstrating the intellectual rigor of Christianity.

Typically, systematic theology courses touch on scientific issues related to creation or maybe anthropology. Students in some theology or divinity programs may be required to read a book or two on the different interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2. This really isn’t enough, in my view. In recent decades there has developed a widespread attitude, within the evangelical Christian community, of fear and/or deep distrust of various scientific disciplines, which has led to a withdrawal from a major (and highly revered) portion of the public sphere. This has reinforced the stereotype of the “anti-science Christian Right.” Ultimately, the project of evangelism has been handicapped, as many believers are unable to make a basic case for the compatibility of science and faith when they encounter a skeptic who has bought into the fallacious rhetoric of “science, therefore no God.”

I find this state-of-affairs frustrating for obvious reasons. I can’t figure out why many of our seminaries aren’t more concerned with turning out graduates prepared to confidently and competently take on one of the leading challenges leveled at Christianity today.

What could seminaries be doing to rectify the situation? I have two suggestions:

  1. A required course in Science and Faith. The course would include examination of the philosophy, science, and theology involved in the contemporary conversation. Students would engage with the various science-based objections to essential doctrine and learn how physics, cosmology, and biology are powerful footnotes to Romans 1:20. I’ve seen a couple of seminary programs that offer an elective course along these lines (hooray!), but it appears that the importance is emphasized only when students are taking a particular concentration in apologetics.
  2. A continuing education certificate in Science and Faith. This would be an outstanding option for anyone (not just seminarians) seeking to understand science and faith issues and become better-equipped for church ministry and evangelism.  It would provide an opportunity for seminary graduates to further their formal education in this area, at a credible institution (important for the CV), without enrolling in another degree program. I’ve only seen one seminary offering this kind of certificate,  although I’ve seen a couple of general apologetics certificate programs that include an element of science. Christian educators and ministry workers of all kinds could take advantage of a certificate program, regardless of their own educational background.

Option 2 stands out to me as possibly having the highest impact potential. I earned my master’s in the discipline of Science and Religion, and it encouraged me to find that many of my fellow students were seminary-trained pastors and other ministry leaders who had recognized the great need for the additional knowledge. However, I think men and women working in full-time ministry, especially those who are also raising families, often lack the time and/or financial resources to do another full-blown academic degree. That’s why I think a continuing education certificate program in science and faith would be an attractive and viable solution that every seminary could execute.

Just my two cents.

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