Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why are Christians scared of the sciences?

There is a common perception that Christianity and the sciences are mortal enemies, that faith and reason are mutually exclusive, that following Christ requires the rejection of a host of well-established scientific understandings (and vice versa).

I don't get it.

My theological convictions invite me to see scientific research as an expression of common grace rather than a threat to cultural identity. Having a self rooted and established in Christ can mean that we are liberated from the pursuit of identity in a community of like-minded opposition to perceived cultural opponents (those god-hating egg-heads!). Praise God for the sciences and for those amongst us who serve the common good through careful attention to the world that lies in front of our eyes!

Of course like all good gifts, scientific endeavour can be abused, scientific communities can express hostility to the grace of God, scientific insights be applied to destructive and enslaving technologies and the heady power of empirical observation can tempt those who taste it to reductive philosophies of scientism that (ironically) overstep the reach of empirical oberservation. The ubiquitous presence of sin and relative absence of wisdom undermines but does not erase or invalidate the dignity of scientific research. Abuse does not rule out proper use.

Indeed, the church itself can be a place of abuse, closed to divine grace and trapped in patterns that diminish life. Let us focus on the extraction of woody fibres of great magnitude protruding from our own ocular organs before presuming to conduct moral surgery on the vision of others, or pronounce others blind when we are the ones falling into a pit.

Scientists are not enemies; that label belongs on fear, greed, ignorance, folly and self-deception.

8 comments:

Kairos Uniting Church said...

Check out Peter Harrison's Gifford Lectures on You Tube on science and theology. Great stuff!

Martin Kemp said...

Your title makes it sound as if such a notion comes from within Christianity. My experience tells me that this idea is more likely assumed by the unbelieving world. Even creationists look to science to back up their worldview, ironically.

byron smith said...

KUC - Thanks for the recommendation. I have been taking more interest in the Giffords now that I'm in Edinburgh.

Marty - I admit my title was intended to be provocative and may not reflect the emphasis of the post (I was thinking about this just before reading your comment). However, I'm not sure I'd call what creationists look to in order to justify their position science.

Martin Kemp said...

No, but they would. And despite the weaknesses of their approach, they never just leave things with a look to Genesis. While they may be bad scientists, they'd never say they were 'afraid' of science.

byron smith said...

they'd never say they were 'afraid' of science
Perhaps not the professional apologists, but plenty of lay Christians find many scientific topics to be quite intimidating, and adopt a variety of defense mechanisms to handle the cognitive dissonance created by having widely-recognised experts contradict cherished notions.

Particularly in the US, but it is not absent either here in the UK or in Oz, if you listen to the discourse within certain Christian circles, you will find plenty of antipathy and suspicion directed to various fields within the sciences. I would argue that at least some of this is motived by (often unacknowledged) fears.

Your title makes it sound as if such a notion comes from within Christianity. My experience tells me that this idea is more likely assumed by the unbelieving world.
That may be true in the circles with which you are most familiar (and insofar as I share at least some of them with you, I agree). I'm not saying that all (or even most) Christians share these feelings; simply that if you look at political and social groupings often labelled "anti-science", you'll find plenty of Christians among them.

byron smith said...

Karl Gilberson: Why evangelicals are fooled into accepting pseudoscience.

byron smith said...

The New Republic: The Trouble with Scientism

byron smith said...

Guardian: On scientific fraud.