Friday, March 05, 2010

Irreconcilable Differences?

70 % of emerging adults ( age 18-23) think “The teachings of science and religion often ultimately conflict with each other.”

Only 32% of emerging adults agree or strongly agree with the statement, “The findings of science and the teachings of religion are entirely compatible with each other.”

Lest you thing this is not “our” problem,

Among emerging adults who identify themselves as mainline Protestants,

74% believe science and religion are “often ultimately in conflict with each other” and only 28% believe that “The findings of science and the teachings of religion are entirely compatible…”

Sigh. I find these statistics from Souls in Transition, by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell (page 139) quite disheartening.

What happened?
I think many things conspired to cause this. The fault isn't simply science's. Or education's. The fault isn't only the churches. No there is plenty of blame to go around. We can all own a piece of this. But I don't want to talk so much about how we failed (although we need to give it some thought) but rather I want to talk about what we can do to correct this.

My hunch is most of the folks reading this are involved in the church, in one way or the other. So what does the church need to do? What do we need to do? I'd like to suggest a couple of things.

First the easy one. The popular conception is that scientist who are Christians are few and far between, an anomaly, statistical outliers, figments of someone’s imagination. The people in our congregations need to know that they actually know real scientists who are Christians.

We scientists are in every congregation and we need to tell our story. Not all of us want to preach, but some of us can. Not all of us want to teach church school, but some of us do. But we all need to be able to tell our story- how my faith shapes my work as a scientist. (actually all of us need to be able to tell our story, regardless of occupation, but that's a different article). I'm not primarily thinking about formal presentations but rather being able to talk about this in casual conversation, at a church dinner, after a committee meeting, over a cup of coffee. We will need some help figuring out how to tell our story, we need some encouragement to do this. So Presbyteries and local churches, teach us how to tell our story of science and faith.

I bet some of you are doing this. Please use the comments to tell us what you are doing.

Now for the hard ones. In all honesty I think the “conflict” between science and religion is in large part a result of bad Bible reading skills and poor theology. Here is a quote from Souls in Transition,
“[E]plaining why so many people view religion and science as conflicting, one
respondent observed, “I mean there is proven fact and then there is what’s
written in the Bible- and they don’t match up. So it’s kind of whatever you
wanna believe: there’s fact and there’s a book, and some people just don’t wanna
believe the truth.” ( page 158)

Somehow “truth” has become reduced to “facts” and “facts” are the sole constituent of “truth”. Facts of course, belong to science. The Bible is just a book. Faith, aka “blind faith” has no relationship to facts or to truth.

At this point, having raised several big topics, this post must become much longer or it’s time to stop. But,I don’t want to leave us with such a bleak picture. Good conversations have started- scientists speaking about their faith. Conversations about what science can and can’t do. Conversations about a faith that is more than personal opinion. Conversations about how modern people can read the Bible in a way that is faithful and uses their brains.

Here are two places to begin:
BioLogos has lots of resources, both video and print. Much of its content is designed to be accessible to non scientists and non theologians. But there is also plenty here for scientists and scholars.

Test of Faith, is a project of the Faraday Institute of Science and Religion, funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Their material is created specifically for the non specialist and is a mixture of print and video materials.

Please add your own favorite resources to this list. How have you encouraged the conversation? What other sorts of help do you need? I'd like to know.


DSM35803 said...

I have two comments, I'll post them separately.

First, even science is suffering in the emerging culture. The idea of truth and fact is becoming more and more subjective. Hence the rise of pseudo science and popular science.

DSM35803 said...

Second here is an exchange I recently had with a younger church member on Facebook.

FBooker: I think scientists should be required to be agnostic.

Me:Ahh, but the more you learn, the more you learn how complex and wonderful creation is! Their must be an amazing creator. Science is then more like archeology; uncovering the tracks of the creator, and finding amazement and joy along the way!

FBooker: That makes sense, I have no problem with developing your viewpoints as you learn about the world. My problem is when people on either side use science to push an agenda. Evolution is a good example. The atheists want to believe in evolution because it's the best alternative they have to creationism, so they tend to overlook its flaws. On the other side the creationists dismiss the possibility of evolution based on their religious beliefs, so they exaggerate its flaws. I have seen many arguments against evolution based on bad logic. All I'm saying is that because we can't prove the existence or nonexistence of God, we should not let religious views hinder our understanding of the world. I really don't think that scientists should have to be agnostic, they should just look at the world from an unbiased perspective.

Me: I'm with you!

John Shuck said...

I am pleased that you are writing this column.

The Clergy Letter Project has some resources from a variety of places on evolution and faith as well as science and faith.

I also like the work of Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow.

I also really enjoyed this book by Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams, The View from the Center of the Universe

And... Evolutionary Religious Studies at SUNY Binghamton which is also connected with Templeton.

Thanks for this great column!

Nancy said...

DSM35803 You're right, science also suffers. Both science and religion are saddled with faulty expectations about their purpose and goals. Thanks for sharing your Facebook conversation.

John, thanks for linking to the Clergy Project, I meant to do that and then forgot. "Thank God for Evolution" and "The View from the Center of the Universe" are two interesting projects from a part of the church that usually doesn't spend much time thinking about science and religion.