At the Church Library

Posted on May 13, 2011

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At church recently, one of the pastors asked the question “Do faith in God and science contradict?” Immediately I was jabbed in both sides. My wife on my right and my youngest sister on my left each felt the need to elbow me and tell me to calm down, even though I was sitting peacefully, minding my own business. I guess they both realize how interested I am in the subject.

The question was provided by the librarian to generate some interest in the new church library, so I decided to check it out after the service and see what book she might recommend. Although my sister suspected that I would be argumentative, and my wife predicted I would be disappointed, I was optimistic.

As I approached the room, I could see that it was full of eager people. I stepped in to find that the recommended reading was a single page printout of the question and subsequent answer from gotquestions.org.  It was a bit lighter than I expected for such a weighty topic.  I read through and found some statements I agreed with:

“Truth is nothing to fear, so there is no reason for a Christian to fear good science.”

Other parts did not resonate with me as well because the writer seemed to misunderstand the nature of science and made a few bad arguments. Here’s an example:

“Science throughout history has been wrong about many things, such as the shape of the earth, powered flight, vaccines, blood transfusions, and even reproduction. God is never wrong.”

They sure picked some strange examples to demonstrate their point.  All of these things were discovered and understood through science, and religious interpretations were on the wrong side of some of those debates. Nevertheless, this piece set up a “God versus science” scenario rather than the more complementary view the introduction seemed to suggest. It also declared that you can’t trust fallible, sinful scientists as if they are just spouting out unfounded opinions which depend on their personal credibility. This is a popular misunderstanding, and doesn’t help anyone understand the debate. Rather than shining some much needed light on the subject, they seemed to have muddied the waters a bit.

When I went to view the online version of the printout, I noticed that the page recommend a book: Surprised by Meaning: Science, Faith, and How We Make Sense of Things by Alister McGrath. As a microbiologist and theologian, McGrath is a knowledgable and qualified voice in this important discussion, and I feel that this is a great recommendation.  He is a well-known theistic evolutionist, so I was curious to see if gotquestions.org argued from that viewpoint.  I explored the site further and found that every article mentioning evolutionary theory condemned it and instead recommended Young Earth Creationist websites and books. One article explains:

“A key factor in the debate is that the majority of scientists who believe in evolution are also atheists or agnostics.”

I thought this was about science? The debate involves genomes and biogeography, in my opinion – not counting the ratios of Christians to atheists and deciding on that basis.  Besides, they know McGrath isn’t an atheist, and recommended his book which is sold by the Christian bookstore which runs the website.  So what about theistic evolutionists, particularly evangelical Christians?  Gotquestions has got an answer for that one, too:

“[God’s] description of how He created that universe is not compatible with the theory of evolution, even a ‘theistic’ understanding of evolution.”

Here’s what McGrath said in an interesting interview on the subject of Christian faith and science:

“There are many Christians who see evolution as illuminating the way in which we understand Genesis and as giving us an enhanced vision of how God brought the world and humankind into being.”

His view is common among Christians working in science such as Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project and current head of the National Institutes of Health and an evangelical Christian. Many Christian philosophers, apologists, theologians, authors, and the faculties of many Christian colleges and seminaries accept evolution. When some organizations such as gotquestions.org frame this debate to Christian audiences, whether online, in print, or over the airwaves, they often speak as though evolution equals atheism. They must know better, right?

A single printout or even a series of web articles may not be enough to fully address this important topic, but oversimplifying to the point of misrepresenting facts and the very nature of the debate is not helpful at all. I would rather the issue be left unaddressed than to be clouded with misinformation.  Those who have found themselves in a position to inform the Christian community have taken on a big responsibility, and I would love to see their level of scholarship rise to a height worthy of that task.

– – – – – UPDATE – – – – –

Since people seemed interested in the subject, and the printout did not recommend any further reader beyond the single page, I collected some information and recommendations to help. I wrote a sheet summarizing differing views among Christians and recommending books and websites from the various views. I emailed it to the pastor and asked if I could sit some copies out at the library the next week. He met with me and we talked about science and stuff, but he decided that the congregation wasn’t “ready for this” and turned down my offer. So the “Got Questions?” papers continued without clarification or more information. If you want to see the “banned” sheet, here it is: Faith and Science Followup

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