Science in Christian Perspective
From: PSCF 39 (September 1987):
People involved in both science and Christian theology often find themselves in a situation where they are called upon to respond to the scientific or theological views of others, these views being characterized by errors caused by the naive understanding of those advancing them. Such views are generally typical of a class of phenomena known as pseudo-science when the naive views are directed toward scientific descriptions, or as pseudo-theology when the naive views are directed toward theological descriptions. 1,2 Those advancing them are sure that they have discovered a new key to understanding and to integrating science and religion, and they represent in a real sense "heretics," advocates of heterodox positions in science, theology, or both.
Encounters of this type can usually be separated into three different categories. There is the mature Christian who has only a popular understanding of science, who is committed to defending the faith through pseudo-scientific arguments. There is the experienced scientist who has only a fourth-grade understanding of Christianity, who is committed to defending science through pseudo-theological arguments. Perhaps the most delicate case of all is encountered with people who have made a Christian commitment and show genuine devotion to the faith, but are attempting to put together, perhaps for the first time, their newlyaccepted faith and some cursory knowledge of scientif ic concepts, words and ideas. They could be nonpejoratively called "naive" both in understanding authentic science and in understanding authentic theology. In their zeal to achieve subjection of their entire lives to Christ, they oftentimes propose perspectives that they view as creative scientific solutions to the problem of how to relate science and theology in their
lives. I have in mind such propositions as: "If evolution by chance processes occurred, then this would mean that there was no God," or "The very existence of our world with properties that support human life proves that there must be a God who created it."
What does a person responding to them do, when it is realized that the proposed solution violates the very integrity of authentic science as well as many of the historically developed patterns of integrating science and theology while maintaining the authenticity of both? It is often argued that no overt criticism of their position should be directed toward them, since such criticism might be interpreted as a non-Christian, unloving reaction that could drive them away from the faith-a problem of particular significance if they happen to be recent converts. On the other hand, to make no critical comments often reinforces them in their conviction that they have a valid method of integrating their scientific and theological understanding, which they then attempt to pass on to others, often with evangelical fervor.
In order to obtain another perspective on this situation, consider the similar case of people with naive notions of what Christianity is all about, who have a strong, if not totally well informed, commitment to a naive scientific worldview. Such people will often propose religious perspectives that they consider to be consistent with their scientific understanding, in an effort to integrate their scientific and theological viewpoints. I have in mind such statements as: "If the Universe is all there is, then the Universe must be the same as God," or "If evolution has developed mankind with its present abilities, it will surely develop a fully spiritual and purely loving individual in the future."
How does one deal with these people, since a direct criticism of their religious perspective may be considered to be an unloving thing to do, and might drive them away from any further consideration of authentic Christian faith? If no such direct criticism is made known, however, they will also most likely continue to pursue the naive integration of science and religion that they have invented, and will be active in spreading this word to others with evangelical zeal.
I suspect that the Christian readers of these words are in general much more in favor of correcting the science-oriented person who is misinformed about Christianity, than they are in favor of correcting the Christian person who is misinformed about science. If people have faulty ideas about theology (and its connection with science), it is only for their own good that they be corrected. Otherwise they are likely to spread these ideas and mislead many others. I suggest that the correction of the Christian person with faulty ideas about science is no less urgent. If people have faulty ideas about science (and its connection with theology), it is only for their own good and the good of others that they be corrected. The commonly heard plea, "Do not criticize these Christian brothers, but rather affirm our commitment to Christ and their right to interpret science the way they think best-at least for the present," is no more defensible than the symmetric plea, "Do not criticize these scientific colleagues, but rather affirm our commitment to authentic science and their right to interpret theology the way they think best-at least for the present."
We must always be ready to respond to errors and misleading perspectives based on naivet6 whether that naivet6 is focussed primarily on science or on Christian theology. But we must respond in love. We must recognize that not to respond is not to really love; for love requires us to express the need for correction. Certainly it is preferable if this response can be made in private and in person. Unfortunately this option is not always available, as for example when the persons proposing naive heresies have already taken the public platform and through public addresses and published books are seeking to influence the Christian community. Under these conditions, our response must be set forth in such a form that our questioning of the naive heresies does not indicate a lack of love or concern for the individual advancing them.
Unity in Christ among Christians does not require us to tacitly accept fallacious perspectives in science or philosophy, any more than it requires us to tacitly accept fallacious perspectives in theology. Rather, we are called upon to exhort and help one another grow
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