Living in the Tension of the Faith and Science Discussion

What do we need to know to live in the tension between science and religion? Here are four important things we should know for sure in the religion and science discussion.

By John Mark Reynolds

faith and science

I am a product of a Christian church that was never afraid of any idea. My church taught me church history and that it was okay to ask questions. My church taught me that skepticism was a useful tool in the epistemological toolkit of a Christian. It also taught me that we didn’t have to embrace an idea simply because the majority of people had decided it was true. We were free to wonder about the consensus, both in theology and in science. No one told us that the Holy Spirit of God had to be limited to what a majority of people in any given culture or place in time thought He could do. Instead, we served a God so big that He was bigger than all of our categories.

God calls Christians to love Him and to love others. But to love someone means you must know him or her. I could love my wife, Hope, without knowing the color of her eyes, but I would not want to do so. All lovers by nature desire to know the one they love.

As a result, none can say he or she loves God without desiring to know Him and to know about His works. Christians know that God is Creator, so they naturally want to know about His works. Some of God’s works are so particular — so singular — to His nature that He must reveal them to us. Others are part of the regular order of creation that He sustains. As a result, both theology and science will be of interest to those who love God, since theology tells of God’s particular acts and science His general actions.

A person’s heart can grow cold. When true love cools, married couples might try to substitute emotional hype for the deep conversations of their courtship. This anti-intellectualism is a subtle attack on the knowledge on which love feeds.

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Anti-intellectualism in the church is unnatural, because it refuses to love the Lord God with the whole person, including the mind. The solution, of course, is not to embrace intellectualism — the error that every problem has a mental solution — but to find wholeness in the love of Jesus.

Today’s culture, including some Christians, embraces anti-intellectualism. We see this in a disdain for experts as feelings trump facts. In reaction, some people worship experts and confuse their interpretation of facts with the facts themselves. Intellectuals and anti-intellectuals justify their existence by pointing to the sins of the other group.

The anti-intellectual sees the sterility of the intellectualist and the intellectualist the madness of the anti-intellectual. The pathway of love refuses either extreme, because love will always demand the whole person. The mind is part of love, but only a part, because it is not the whole person.

Much of the debate that occurs around tensions between religion and science takes place within this cultural problem. “Intellectualists” support “science” while “anti-intellectuals” argue for a role for “religion.” In fact, both end up abusing the nature of religion and science.

As those with the most cultural power, intellectualists are best at marginalizing their academic opponents, but often anti-intellectuals seize power in our churches. This presents the Christian community, particularly those following the Spirit, with a chance to model something better. We can love God with our minds and our hearts. We know, like all those in love, that this journey will always be full of errors and misunderstandings. These “trials” help the relationship grow strong and mature.

The Bible contains information, but getting that information is not always easy. The plan of salvation is plain, but some historical, philosophical, and scientific implications of the message are not so plain.

Why would they be?

The Bible is without error in the autographs when it speaks of history, philosophy, and science, but because that is not the central purpose of the Book, the Bible does not always plainly state those truths. Any literate man or woman can discern the good news, but understanding every nuance of a Bible book requires more training…


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