Saturday, September 03, 2016

The creation/ evolution debate and ministering to Christians who are scientists

Many Christians who work in the various fields of science find themselves in treacherous waters. If they are bold in making their faith known in the workplace, they can be easily marginalized by their colleagues and bosses because of the supposed ways in which faith is thought to undermine one's ability to function in a scientifically oriented world. They may find themselves not taken seriously, and their careers might suffer because of their faith commitments.

When these people come to the church expecting to find support and encouragement as they face the struggles of their workplace, too often they find that the church is suspicious of them. And worse, if they have come to accept some of the tenets of the scientific consensus that the church has traditionally disparaged, they are also marginalized in the church. The message is loud and clear: leave your scientific conclusions at the door.

We are not doing a good job of ministering to these brothers and sisters. We have communicated that their commitment to Christ is subverted, their service to the church is unwanted and their very salvation is suspect. ... it would be appropriate for the church to help them work through these difficult issues — not by making them choose (Bible or science) but by charting a path of convergence and compatibility. (John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, 207-8)

The impetus among many ministers and theologians in moving towards an embrace of evolution and the varying beliefs of the "scientific consensus" has to do with practical pastoral concerns, and that is laudable. Even though I disagree with Walton and people like him, I agree that the last thing we want to do is to make it seem as if scientists are unwelcome in the church, or that they ought to check in their brains at church. Telling scientists they have to "choose" between science and faith is a terrible thing to do, especially since there is absolutely no need for that kind of choice, although not for the reasons Walton would have us believe.

The first thing that must be mentioned is that for most scientists and in most of science, evolution has little to no tangential value for their research. As someone trained in the life sciences for my undergraduate degree, and with experience in research lab work, I can say that evolution is mostly assumed and evolutionary terminologies are used, like "convergent evolution" or "divergent evolution" but they are mostly verbiage. I use the terms myself, but I know they are just code words, jargon, that indicate you are in the "in" group. Of course those words have a certain specific evolutionary meaning, but one does not have to subscribe to the Neo-Darwinian paradigm and word meanings for the science to make sense. Thus, the value of evolution is seriously over-rated in the biological sciences, much less the other scientific disciplines. What value after all does the theory of evolution have for fluid mechanics? None! And that is the point: much of the concern over any non endorsement of evolution sounds more like hysteria once one actually knows something about science. I might add that both those who are hostile to science and those moving towards endorsing evolution and the "scientific consensus" have a deficient view of science, which is why they react to science the way they do, just from two opposite angles.

Secondly, the supposed conflict between faith and science is probably the greatest hoax instigated by militant atheists, and perpetuated even unconsciously by Christians, against the church, and it is wildly successful. This false narrative will be present regardless of what the Christian scientist does or does not do. Hostility towards the Christian faith will be present regardless of whether he embraces or do not embrace evolution. Concern over how his bosses and colleagues may possibly discriminate against him because of his faith is a valid concern, but we must realize that embracing evolution will not suddenly coat the Christian faith with an aura of respectability. In fact, if his boss was someone like Richard Dawkins, he would probably be despised even more as someone who is intellectually dim and dishonest. Why would we think that embracing evolution would stop people from seeing Christians as Luddites?

Third, the church that rejects evolution based upon sound arguments (not those rejecting evolution because of being anti-science), does not ask the scientist to check his brain at the door of the church, or live a double life, in order to be a Christian. Rather, they are asking the scientist to reject false and invalid theories masquerading as science, which is what evolution is. They are calling for even more science, not less science. Creation science, no matter how much it has been demonized by its opponents, is a valid scientific program superior to the Neo-Darwinian synthesis. The "conflict," if we want to label it as such, is not between faith and science, but between a philosophy masquerading as science (Neo-Darwinism) and a scientific paradigm informed by Scripture (Creationism). In this light, we are asking the scientist not to believe in the dismissive rhetoric of the world and to actually do science, which is to say actually do an honest inquiry into the issues instead of taking Neo-Darwinism and Neo-Darwinian rhetoric on the basis of faith.

The church ought be calling everyone to submit their minds to the lordship of Christ in all things (Rom. 12:2). Therefore, the church's ministry to scientists, among other aspects of ministry, ought to be one of calling them to be biblical even in their science. To say that we ought to let scientists bring in their "scientific conclusions" as they are without question is precisely the way not to minister to them. Is it ministry to allow scientists to conform their science according to the world, and not to be transformed according to the truth of Scripture? I would suggest not! In a field which aims to discover "truths," the Truth of God in Scripture ought to be very important for the scientific enterprise, and thus for scientists.

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