I recently attended a private symposium of Christian leaders—scientists, theologians, and pastors, along with other scholars. We were learning from each other and praising God for many corresponding revelations in God’s two books: the Bible and nature. The value of each of God’s books should come as no surprise to any Christian who has read Romans: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes, God’s eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (1:20).
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Why, then, have some postulated a war between the facts of science and the faith of our fathers and mothers? There was neither a war nor even an innate hostility expressed by many early church theologians and Christian scientists, including Irenaeus, Augustine, Aquinas, Copernicus, and Kepler. Why then are such conflicts being created by both militant atheists and militant fundamentalist Christians? Why do we rail against each other? Since there is money to be made and self-righteousness to be reinforced by living in disparate worlds, we may have our answer to that question.
The problem with these parallel perspectives is that their self-imposed limitations prevent their celebration of the full grandeur of God. Those of us who ponder only one of God’s books, either the Bible or nature, will miss some of the revelation God is giving us.
For example, I listened to a lecture by a renowned biologist tracing the general pattern of evolutionary steps. The steps progressed from autonomous organisms, transitioning to cooperative relationships and then to synergistic specialization, and finally to mandatory interdependence. Sound familiar? How amazing that God would allow us to glimpse the steps from our own state of being lost to the state of spiritual maturity: from strangers and aliens to reconciliation through the blood to partnership in the gospel and finally to an interdependent body of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-22)!
Remind me again: Why are we afraid of the facts of evolution, instead of drawn to the picture God paints with them?
Pastors can keep their congregations fired up by indulging a culture suspicious of science, but denying the consensus of science on evolution or climate change—or any social-science data that deals with evidence—does not glorify God. God made the world the way God wanted to make it. To avoid the discoveries of God’s process, to rail over ideology while dismissing facts, only fans the flames of fanaticism.
The culture wars are not about truth; they are about power. There is not only room for, but a need for, a healthy skepticism that sharpens both science and religion. But the goal must be to seek more precise information, not to manufacture suspicion to get more power.
The better alternative sees the variant ways that God chose to reveal Godself to us, culminating in a material flesh (John 1:14). Was God’s strategy of using protoplasm to reveal Godself a step down or a step out?
There are indeed many aspects of our faith that science cannot convey. Science measures material entities only. But to dismiss what it can convey, to not see the sermons in the sequences and the illustrations of both good and evil, is to close one eye.
I don’t presume to fathom all the intricacies of research, but neither do I presume its revelations should be ignored. Maybe we ought to get past the “Jesus fish versus Darwin fish” debate and instead strive for full pursuit of the truth in God’s two books.
Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Orlando, Florida, serves on the White House Advisory Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.