Why Seminaries Should Step Up Their Game in 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–the idea that the empirical sciences are the only path to knowledge–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.  High profile science communicators, including 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 impression that religious belief is inversely proportional to scientific literacy, or that science has somehow undermined essential truth claims of Christianity. 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 allegations.

How did we get here? Some of the greatest scientific thinkers of ages past were devout Christians who saw their work as being a way to glorify God. Why are things so different today? I know the answer is quite complex, but I can’t help but suspect that the lack of science and faith education has played a part. Over the years, I’ve made a hobby of canvassing the degree programs offered by seminaries and Christian universities in the United States, and I’ve noticed that there are insufficient opportunities for aspiring church and ministry leaders to become well-equipped to 1) interact with believers and nonbelievers in the scientific community and 2) guide congregants toward an adequate understanding of science and faith issues. These abilities are important for fostering confident faith and for demonstrating the intellectual rigor of Christianity, both of which play a major role in evangelism and the retention of young adults in the congregation.

Typically, systematic theology courses very briefly touch on scientific issues related to creation and biblical anthropology. Students in some theology or biblical studies programs may be required to read material on the different interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2. This really isn’t enough, in my view. In recent decades, there has developed within the Christian community a widespread attitude of fear and/or deep distrust of various scientific disciplines, which has led to a withdrawal from a major (and highly revered) region of the public sphere. This has reinforced the stereotype of the “anti-science Christian Right.” Ultimately, the project of evangelism has been terribly 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.”

This state-of-affairs is disappointing and frustrating. I can’t figure out why many of our institutions 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 they be doing to rectify the situation? I have two suggestions:

  1. A required course in Science and Faith. Such a course would include the examination of the philosophy, science, and theology involved in the contemporary science and faith conversation. Students would engage with the various science-based objections to essential doctrine and learn why physics, cosmology, and biology are actually powerful footnotes to Romans 1:20. I’ve seen a few programs that offer an elective course or two in apologetics, but these courses typically only devote a week or two to scientific issues. Such electives are typically part of a concentration in general apologetics, so students in other concentrations may never even get this small amount of exposure to the science and faith dialogue. A dedicated, required course would fill this void.
  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 thus 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 yet 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.) In addition, laypersons could take advantage of a certificate program, regardless of their educational background.

Institutions offering both of these would be positioned to fully equip a broad range of ministry leaders and educators on science and faith issues. As a result of Option 1, graduate students would become far better prepared to engage contemporary culture and shepherd science-oriented believers, and option 2 would be wonderful for those who already have their degree. Moreover, 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, so a continuing education certificate program would be an attractive and viable solution.

 

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