I wish we could return to a time before The Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Before that well-meaning, but ill fated decision in Dayton, Tennessee it was different. Bible believing, born-again, evangelical, Spirit-led Christians held to at least three positions on the interactions between The Bible and science as evidenced by the famed Fundamentals of The Faith:
- Science contradicts the Bible.
- Science harmonizes with the Bible.
- Science informs the Bible.
Yes. As early as 1917 many Fundamentalist Christians believed that Science and the Bible were helpmates in the pursuit of truth. Now, to be sure, there was a pocket of Christianity that believed in a Bible-only approach to truth and raised a skeptical eye towards science, especially early theories of evolution. And with good cause. Evolution in some circles was equated with naturalism, the belief that the universe is unguided. Naturalism is certainly intellectually incompatible with Providence. But evolution does not necessarily have to be naturalistic. To suggest as much is to demonstrate a lack of understanding of science. But I digress…
Here is the history to keep in mind. And these are facts that many non-Science Christians and many non-Christian Scientists exclude from conversation in order to continue the myth that science and Christianity are mutually exclusive:
- Some scientists are open to the possibility of Christianity, but find many Christian arguments unpersuasive.
- Some Christians are open to science informing their worldview, but find many scientific arguments unpersuasive.
- Some scientists are Christians. Yep, born-again, evangelical, Bible believing, Spirit-led Christians.
- Some non-Christian scientists are opposed to Christianity out of bias, and yet couch their objections in terms of science.
- Some non-Science Christians are opposed to science out of bias, and yet couch their objections in terms of faith.
Consider the upcoming debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye. Both men seek to popularize particular positions within their communities (Ham within Christianity and Nye within Science). Both men wield considerable influence among their respective followers. And, both men share the conviction that the Bible and Science are irreconcilable.
This last aspect marks the Nye-Ham debate as “odd” in my estimation. Doesn’t a debate between two opponents who are utterly convinced that the other is absolutely wrong eliminate any possibility of discovering truth? What stands to be gained from such a debate, besides publicity? And, for Ham and other Christians, I wonder aloud if this kind of debate really puts the best foot forward for the Church?
Why not have a debate between a scientist who is open to the Bible and a Christian who is open to science? Or, why not have a debate between the three historical Christian positions? Wouldn’t such debates expose the common ground in the pursuit of truth? Wouldn’t those debates stand to be more charitable? Wouldn’t those debates also reveal the areas of reticence among the camps as a way to inform future apologetic ministry?
The Church needs more Christians who are charitable and open to honest debate that informs followship of Jesus. [1. I used to a big fan of Ken Ham’s ministry when I was in college. It was not until he came to speak to my church that I began to see the blind spots of his ministry. Ham was unprepared to speak outside of the privileged framework of non-science informed Creationism and I, as a supporter of his ministry, found it difficult and cumbersome to have conversations with him. Wanting to know more about this debate, I began to research how Christians have interacted with science throughout American History. And I came to discover that Christians have held varying views for at least 100 years. It was at this point that I decided to love Ham as a brother, but change my position on creationism to be more open to the ways in which science can inform my view. I am still not an evolution supporter, but I want to be open to all conversations.
During this shift in my position that God brought be into contact with some great friends who are amazing Christians and who are also scientists. These folks have helped encourage my walk in following Christ in discipleship. My friend Walter, for example, is a retired professor of mechanical engineering and has lectured at tier-one universities on the topic of faith and science. When people from all walks of life learn that there are several historical positions on faith and science, they open up to the possibility of the Bible speaking truth and to the possibility of Jesus Christ. I have watched as Walter leads skeptic scientists to Christ and am convinced that he is on to something.
My friend Math Matt used to be as far away from God as one can possibly be and turned to the field of mathematics as a way to explore truth. Then one day he came to the God question and began learning about Christianity from other scientists. He prayed to receive Christ and is now a solid believer who is using his platform as a professor to minister to academics.
My friend Physics Matt grew up atheist and came to faith in Jesus Christ during college, where he was a triple major in Math, Physics, and Biology (He eventually earned his PhD in String Theory Physics). Instead of becoming more hardened in his position on Bible-only Creationism, he has become open to the idea of God using process, like some form of evolution, to create the universe. The kicker — he points to his deep study of scripture (He reads the Bible for 1 hour each day and has memorized most of it) as the very thing that informs his position as as a Christian and as a scientist.] And furthermore, the Church could stand to be a bit more honest about the possible options and stop forcing people to choose from false alternatives. False alternatives stunt spiritual growth. False alternatives are not in line with Truth. False alternatives grieve the Holy Spirit. And most importantly, false alternatives are opposed to the Great Commission movement.