Science and Faith: The Hows and the Whys

I spent my first year in college at Capital University, a small Lutheran school in Columbus, Ohio.  Despite its size, it had some very strong courses of study, among which were biology and pre-med.  Intro Biology was team-taught by the entire department, the members each lecturing on their own specialty.  It was one of the best courses I’ve ever had.  Halfway through the year, I learned that a new course was being planned for the following semester on evolution and the origin of species.  When word got out, some of the older, more religiously conservative alums went ballistic, as we now say.  In response, the department went ahead with their plans but changed the name of the course to “Biological Theory.”

Back then, in 1963, I remember how surprised I was to find these remnants of that anti-evolution crowd still around, assuming that it was a failed movement destined to die out with its aging advocates.  It never occurred to me that adherents of those same beliefs would still be around a half century later, in some cases stronger than others.  There are states that mandate the teaching of the pseudo-science known as “creationism” or “intelligent design”and support teachers who use outside sources to refute evolution.  There are also state and national office-holders and candidates who publicly who oppose what are generally recognized as established scientific principles. It is, therefore, not surprising at all that the old Broadway play, “Inherit the Wind,” a fictionalized account of the famed “Scopes Monkey Trial,” continues to find an audience today whenever it is revived.  It reflects a division still going on in parts of the United States today.  All of this is usually thought of as a debate between faith and science.  I disagree.  What is really at issue is the nature of Scripture.

Richard Hooker, the great Anglican theologian of the 16th Century Elizabethan Settlement affirmed that, like a stool, there are three legs on which the Anglican understand of truth stands.  They are Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.  All three are vital.  We find truth in Scripture when we see it, not as a scientific text or a legal code, but as the expression of God’s love for the world and Christ’s redemption.  It is the record of God’s continuing and ever-growing self-revelation over the course of history.  We cannot use it to answer questions that were never asked at the time, or take it out of the historical, cultural, and social contexts out of which it was written.  We need to interpret what it has to say with the help of the tradition of the Church that established the Bible in the first place and the use of human reason to discern the truth that lies within it.  If we believe that, at the heart of it all, God is truth, we have nothing to fear as we explore the many aspects of science, technology, and human insight.

The Christian faith is first and foremost about reality.  We believe in a God who made the world we see and feel in all of its physical, tangible, and corporeal reality.  We believe that God entered into this world in the form of flesh and blood, and through that incarnation brought us salvation.  One of the things that was drilled into our heads at Capital is that science can only tell us how things happen; why things happen is a matter of faith.  Yet, from our perspective as Christians, science cannot be divorced from faith, nor faith from science, because our very relationship with God begins in the world that both faith and science seeks to comprehend.  Both are inextricably involved in life and, therefore, connected at their very core to each other in God.  Indeed, the classic definition of theology is “the queen of sciences.”

The real connection between faith and science comes, not through debates about evolutionary theory, but in the vital partnership of both necessary to protect, care for, and nurture the world around us.  It is about the interrelationship between that world and us.  Today, the world that enables our being through the gift of life is in jeopardy on many fronts.  No matter how we parse the particulars of greenhouse effect and climate change, there can be no question that the world has become a deeply troubled place especially over the last two centuries because of human thoughtlessness, greed, and abuse.  We have endangered our planet and, with it, the future of our own children, grandchildren, and beyond.  And, as we’ve seen in the past few weeks, the creation is fragile and in flux.  God calls us to see Christ’s work in the world about us and to live out an active role as stewards of that world and co-creators of the world that Christ came to redeem.  That takes all the science we can muster, and all the faith we have in our hearts and souls.

We were intended to inherit much more than wind.  We are called to pass on to those who follow us a world and a life made better by our presence and being.  That is the God-given challenge made real in the lives you and I are living today.

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