On Science and Faith: Responsible Investigation and Charitable Debate, Not Whac-a-Mole
by Melissa Cain Travis
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…