Christians and science: We belong together

Msgr. Georges Lemaître was a Catholic priest, astronomer and university professor, widely remembered for being the first to propose the theory now known as the Big Bang. That's right: He was a believer, and a scientist, and no one thought it was weird. (public domain)

Charles J. Reid Jr., a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, published an interesting column on Huff Post a couple weeks ago about the need for Christians to confront scientific illiteracy.

I think those of who you follow this website know only too well how easy it is these days to paint the “Christians: Defenders of the Faith, Enemies of Science” picture. But as Reid correctly points out, it wasn’t always that way. There is a rich history of scientists who were devoutly religious; not just Christians, of course, but one doesn’t have to dig too deep to find that Christianity and science were once best buds.

And why not? It makes perfect sense for Christians to be interested in science. There’s even a biblical basis for it. Romans 1:20 says the physical world — the domain of science — showcases certain, “invisible” qualities of the God that created it. So really, by exploring the universe, we Christians are only demonstrating an eagerness to learn more about, draw closer to and more appropriately worship the one whom we believe made that universe. (You know how, like, when your significant other is telling you about something they did, and someone else may think the story is really boring and stupid, but you think it’s the coolest thing ever because you really love that person? It’s kind of like that.)

If you read too much from our friends over at AiG, ICR and CMI, you just might come away with the impression is scientific inquiry is a distinctly atheistic enterprise, unless one approaches it with highly selective and creationist-approved filters. But I think it’s silly for a believer to have any reservations about scientific inquiry. If you trust the Bible at all, then you know a thorough examination of the natural world is no more capable of disproving God than a study of “Romeo and Juliet” could disprove Shakespeare.

I agree with Charles Reid:

Science and religion are not opposites. Faith and reason can be reconciled in truth. And Christians, furthermore, must police their ranks. When someone like Congressman [Paul] Broun — who sits on the House Committee on Science and Technology — denounces scientific knowledge in the name of misguided fundamentalism, Christians should be the first to call him out.

In other words, the church and the scientific community should not be at war. We should be sitting in a circle around a campfire, awkwardly holding hands and halfheartedly singing “Kumbaya” because Grandma said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we sang campfire songs like we used to?” and Mom wanted to make Grandma happy. We should be going out on the town, eating lobster at a fancy restaurant, dancing the night away and drinking (almost!) enough to wind up doing something we might regret in the harsh light of morning. We need to be belting this out, but to smart people in lab coats instead of boys with blond Bieber hair.

Is there hope? Or is this destined to be a Jon & Kate kind of deal? I think the former, but first, we believers have to write a letter like this:

Dear Science,

We have been unfaithful to you, and we are sorry. Young-earth creationism could never measure up to you — what the heck were we thinking?

Please forgive us. Please take us back.

Forever yours (for reals this time),

PS: Please tell Georges, Gregor, G-Squared and all those other awesome peeps that we said “Wazzup.”

I’m no scientist myself, but I believe the way one earns respect within the scientific community is pretty simple: Do good science. If we Christians really want to make amends, I think that’s all it would take. And this is no new idea, mind you. Francis Collins didn’t abandon the world of science after converting to Christianity; in fact, he went on to head the Human Genome Project and now serves as director of the National Institutes of Health. Just last month, I read about Eric Agol, a University of Washington astronomer credited with discovering an earthlike planet 1,200 lightyears away, and also a Christian. There are entire organizations, like the American Scientific Affiliation, dedicated to supporting Christians in science.

I think we can safely presume even C.S. Lewis, who died before young-earth creationism had really begun to dig its claws into the American evangelical church, would be on board. Here’s what he had to say in 1945 (emphases mine):

While we are on the subject of science, let me digress for a moment. I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by an directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s lines of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects — with their Christianity latent… You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if wherever we read an elementary book on Geology, botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defense of materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian. The first step to the reconversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the Penguin and the Thinkers Library on their own ground. Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit: and of course its science perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interest of apologetics would be sin and folly.

So, what do you think? What place, if any, is there for Christians in science?

Tyler Francke

  • Zachary Lawson

    Christians should research in ALL the fields!

  • Well said! Christians need to write more books and articles on science. It is being done, but we need more!

  • archie

    if christians are going to write on all scientific fields they need to do it God’s way and exclude the lies of evolution. Your post above makes science out to be a god worthy of receiving worship and apologies from those who reject its false authority.

    Science is not God nor has the authority of God and placing it on the same level as you do with God is idolatry. Please find in the Bible where both God and Jesus give permission for their followers to accept science over their words.

    I will wait.

    • Hey Archie, thanks for reading! I agree: Science is not God. I don’t think there’s anything in this article that would possibly indicate that I believe otherwise. I was merely arguing that we Christians should have no reservations honestly exploring the world God created.

      I don’t hold science or anything else to be above God or even on the same level as him. But I do rank science more highly than what I believe to be young-earth creationists’ flawed interpretations of the Bible.

  • Sam Haylor

    I wholeheartedly agree all fields of science need Christians! For me the problem is the assertion that evolution is science and young earth creationism is not. Fact is, NEITHER is science. They are both presuppositions that direct our scientific inquiries, but one cannot define either as being or not being science.

    • Nick Gotts

      Rubbish. The reality of biological evolution is an empirical conclusion supported by overwhelming evidence. Young earth creationism is a pack of lies.

  • O.R. Pagan

    (:-); simply (:-)

  • Nick Gotts

    Of course Christians can do good science – no-one that I know of disputes that: when I read a scientific book or paper, I don’t even ask whether the authors are religious, unless they insist on pushing that information on me. But the epistemological approaches of religion and science are in direct conflict. Science depends on testing your theories empirically, and being ready to give them up if the evidence is against them. Religion depends on holding to your faith whatever the evidence against it – as, for example, the Abrahamic response to the problem of evil demonstrates – and often even if it is logically incoherent, like the doctrine of the hypostatic union. Religious scientists who are good at their science deal with this by compartmentalization – something human beings are pretty good at.

    Incidentally, Lewis’s recommended course of action seems to me intellectually dishonest. If you are writing a popular work about science, you should be honest about why you are doing it – whether that’s because the science is interesting, or to promote religion (or atheism, as with Krauss’s A Universe From Nothing), or any other cause (e.g. to persuade people of the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions).

  • Nick Gotts

    Dear Christians,

    Sorry, but no. It was nice while it lasted, but I’ve grown up, and I need a more intellectually and morally mature partner – not someone who clings to me in the forlorn hope that they can borrow my credibility.

    All the best,

    • Hey Nick,

      I really do appreciate your sense of humor, but I’d respectfully suggest that you’re not being entirely fair here. You seem to think that what I and C.S. Lewis are advocating is for Christians to get more involved in science as some back-door method to evangelism. That’s not what I was saying, and I don’t think it was Lewis’ point, either.

      I was calling for Christians to engage in science in a real, honest way. To, (if they’re qualified, of course) strive to add to the process of scientific discovery. And I think Lewis was just saying that a Christian scientist would do more good by working to be the best in his chosen field, rather than by writing “little books about Christianity.”

      • Nick Gotts

        You seem to think that what I and C.S. Lewis are advocating is for
        Christians to get more involved in science as some back-door method to

        I’m not saying you are, but unless the larger context gives a different impression, that’s very clearly what Lewis is advocating – and he’s talking about works of popular science, not research at the frontiers of knowledge:

        The first step to the reconversion of this country is a series, produced
        by Christians, which can beat the Penguin and the Thinkers Library on
        their own ground. Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit: and of course its science perfectly honest.

        There’s nothing inherently dishonest about using popular science to advance a religious (or political) viewpoint, but it should be explicit that that is what is being done, so the reader can take it into account. Krauss did that in A Universe from Nothing, and although I haven’t read any of his books since The Crucible of Creation, I think Simon Conway Morris does so from a Christian viewpoint.

        I don’t think Lewis’s proposal would have made any significant difference to the decline of Christianity in Britain, which the 2011 census shows to be proceeding apace (I don’t know if Lewis’s idea for a Christian-produced popular science series ever got off the ground, but if it did, it clearly didn’t make much of a splash). Destroying the welfare state would be a more promising re-Christianisation strategy, although I don’t think that’s why it’s being attempted.

        Incidentally, I’m always amused by the Christian reverence for C.S. Lewis. If he’s really one of your top 20th century thinkers, you might as well give up now.

  • Dylan Cook

    I know that Pope Francis accepts evolution AND the Big Bang, and possibly every follower in the Catholic Church. I wish Protestants were more like Francis.