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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Science and the Pew

By Christina Powell
Sept. 25, 2011

From cell phones that function as mobile offices to robots that speed manufacturing, we live in a world of technological sophistication. Medical advances raise bioethical issues that deserve input from thinking citizens. Popular authors claim that science can provide moral guidance, displacing the role for faith. Our friends who work in technical fields wonder how to integrate scientific knowledge and Christian beliefs. We need positive conversations about science and faith, but where do we start?

The key to worshipping in unity in a science-minded culture is to consider the needs of others along with our own. We need to avoid approaches that derail productive dialogue about faith and science, while pursuing creative ways to communicate our faith to those with scientific backgrounds.

Avoid promoting unnecessary conflict.

Generations of American schoolchildren have been taught that Christopher Columbus stood before a council of hooded theologians who warned him that he might fall off the edge of a flat earth if he set sail on his voyage. Yet the theologians who met with Columbus did not believe that the earth was flat. They only warned Columbus that the distance across the ocean to the Indies was too far to travel.

American author Washington Irving (1783-1859) constructed this myth in his 1828 book, A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. Beginning in the 1860s, the flat earth myth became a prime example of the conflict between science and religion. Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the first president of Cornell University and a historian, included the Columbus story in his two-volume History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom, published in 1896.

While controversy can generate interest in a topic, promoting conflict between faith and science in the church can be harmful. The perceived conflict can cause believers who work in scientific fields to compartmentalize their faith instead of letting their faith permeate every aspect of their lives. In the worst case, scientists can feel unwelcome at church, falsely concluding that they must choose between their faith and scientific truth.

Avoid painting a caricature of scientists.

Another way to prevent conflict is to avoid painting caricatures of scientists in your conversations, especially if you teach Sunday School or lead a small group. Fictional scientists like Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll conform to the Hollywood image of a lone mad scientist who plays God without regard to consequences. These scientists solve problems with a flash of insight, usually without the input of other colleagues. Often these characters are brilliant, but flawed, individuals.

Of course, real-life scientists work within a community of other scientists. The practice of science is similar to other human endeavors, and scientists are no more or less flawed than other people. After a long workday in the laboratory, most scientists go home to their families or socialize with their friends. Many scientists can be found worshipping in churches on Sunday morning, looking for spiritual meaning and direction along with everyone else in attendance.

Avoid simplistic answers to difficult questions.

People with technical backgrounds have been trained to expect complex answers and live with ambiguity. When they ask difficult questions about the Bible or the relationship of science and faith, they do not expect you to have a quick answer to their questions. They will respect someone who understands his limits and needs to research a matter further before answering. On the other hand, they will be suspicious of easy answers to challenging questions.

A great approach to counseling a friend with doubts about his faith is to give him some research to do on his own. Recommend a good book to read, give him some references, or point him in the direction of another science-minded member of your church. Walk alongside your friend in his faith journey, but let him take his own steps and make his own discoveries.

Use accurate information.

The number one rule for reaching a science-minded listener is to use accurate information. Just as sour notes jar the ears of a musician, outdated and inaccurate data make a harsh noise to a scientist.

In science, information quickly becomes outdated. Scientific thinking more than 10 years old may no longer be relevant. Be careful when quoting from scientific sources published more than a few years ago. If you are unsure if a certain illustration would be good to share with your friend, ask another person with a technical background.

Let scientific truths function as parables.

Jesus taught the crowds using parables, many based on the farming culture of the day. Current scientific discoveries can inspire many great illustrations for imparting spiritual truth. A good illustration must relate the scientific material to the spiritual truth in a natural, unforced way.

The best approach to discovering scientific truths that can function as parables is by interacting with the members of your church with technical backgrounds. When you ask questions about their professions, they will appreciate your interest in their world. In return, you will walk away from the conversation with a better understanding of how science can strengthen a person’s faith.

Respect the limits of science and theology.

When science and faith appear to be in conflict, the reason is often that a scholar failed to respect the limitations of either science or theology. While the scientific method is a powerful tool for understanding the natural world, spiritual truth transcends technical analysis. Similarly, while the Bible is accurate, the Scriptures were never intended to serve as a scientific textbook. Together, science and theology give us a more complete view of life.

Use science wisely without dismissing the supernatural. Respect the contributions of science while striving to deepen your faith. Become comfortable living with unanswered questions as you journey through this life. Remember that you see “but a poor reflection as in a mirror” until you see Christ face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV). Extend grace to fellow believers living with the same unanswered questions as you worship the Savior together in unity.

Dr. CHRISTINA POWELL, a Harvard-trained medical research scientist, ordained Assemblies of God minister, and mother of Allison and Melissa, attends Calvary Christian Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Lynnfield, Mass.

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