sábado, novembro 18, 2006

Christian scientists: Ambassadors to two communities

Science and religion has become an emotive subject in both the scientific community and within Christendom in recent years. Misunderstandings abound over both the religious implications of scientific theories and the scientific implications of theology. Genuine and profitable interaction between these two different but complementary aspects of a Christian scientist’s life, are necessary and beneficial if beliefs are to be maintained with integrity. The threat felt by some Christians of the philosophical naturalism which is widely espoused by Dawkins et al has resulted in a characteristically negative interaction between science and religion, whereby Christianity must be defended against the advancing tide of atheism (assumed synonymous with evolution and the big bang). What has been almost erased from the popular consciousness is the idea that studying science might actually strengthen one’s faith and deepen one’s awe and sense of wonder at a creator who orchestrates a universe of such beautiful variety, complexity and ingenuity. Consider the words of Thomas Browne:

“The wisdom of God receives small honour from those vulgar heads that rudely stare about, and with a gross rusticity admire his works; those highly magnify him whose judicious enquiry into his acts, and deliberate research into his creatures return the duty of a devout and learned admiration.”

The challenge of the public perception of science is one found not just in relation to religion. Who once said “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”? The media, a few vocal individuals can tap into a public nerve which is suspicious of anything it doesn’t understand. The gift that these individuals have is to make someone believe they, the public, have a reasonable enough grasp of the “facts” to make an informed decision. Rhetoric is a powerful thing and if one reads fundamentalist writings (Christian or Naturalistic) one discovers that the presentation of information is often distorted and abused. Very few people reach an informed decision and perhaps one could argue that it is unreasonable given the complexity of the science for people to do so.

Widespread misunderstandings by scientists of Christianity and Christians of science will never be altered by attempting to bring every individual person to a rational consideration of the issues. Rather it requires a strategic assault on the intellectual foundations of our cultures. This can be seen in the different way in which my generation and the generation of my parents think. The transition from modernity (rationalism) to post-modernity began many years ago as an intellectual idea in universities but has now been absorbed into the popular psyche. Similarly if we are to win back hearts and minds for Christ it must begin with a serious intellectual engagement with theology and science by those placed to be ambassadors to both the scientific and Christian communities. A change of perception amongst the intelligentsia will gradually see a knock on effect amongst the public at large.

In my discussions with scientific colleagues a common perception of Christians is that they are anti-intellectual, not looking at the available evidence. My response must therefore model intellectual integrity both towards my work and faith, whilst pointing out that there perceived intellectual integrity often rests on a passively accepted worldview derived from their culture and not, as they would like to think, on deductive reasoning.

In talking with Christians, perhaps modelling a more positive appreciation of how my understanding of science has enriched my faith will lead to a more open minded view of the role of science.

Acting as an ambassador to two different worlds requires understanding of the concerns and difficulties of relating the two to each other. Christian scientists stand uniquely placed to tackle these issues head on having gained understanding from both communities.

Our culture is not lost and science and Christianity are not irreconcilable. What is required is the trickle down of understanding gained through intelligent engagement with the confidence that ultimately God’s wisdom will be displayed in both revelation and creation.

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

(Habakkuk 2:14)

Apologies to my Brazilian friends but my portuguese isn't good enough to do this post in anything other than English!

2 comentários:

Guilherme Carvalho disse...

Hi Mike!

You don't think that the work as "ambassador" can be runned in a more fruitful manner through a specialized ministry to christians - a "internal scientific educational mission" to grow up the openess to science?

Very Good. I will translate the post (this time I can...)!

*and sorry about the english


mike disse...

Thats a very good question! As I said in my post one of the difficulties is that the majority of people are simply not placed to make informed decisions. The creationist wing permeates its denouncements of modern science with the idea of it being purely the product of some atheistic agenda. To those unfamiliar with the science one is faced with two camps purportedly giving scientific evidence. One is ostensibly Christian and makes a big show of "orthodoxy" and "Biblical Fatihfulness" so it is unsurprising if mainstream science is rejected by large portions of the Christian community. Evangelical Christians can get very scared at the idea that someone might label them as biblically unorthodox or unfaithful.

I'm not sure what an internal scientific educational mission would achieve. It strikes me that there are already a large number of Christian science organisations in operation. The reason fundamentalists hold so much sway despite unbelievably simplistic science is that a largely secular media enjoys the battle between the two "fundamentalist fringes". One hears very little from atheistic scientists who think there might be something there or Christian scientists who believe science and their faith are compatible. In the last few years in Britain our television has shown numerous programs featuring Richard Dawkins spouting his dogma and other ardent atheists but none featuring the likes of Alister McGrath's critique.

I feel perhaps there is more of an onus on individual pastors and churches to not brush the issues under the carpet and perhaps look at alternative interpretations of the Genesis accounts. I've been at my Church 2 years and the only reference to the fact that the pastor might think it acceptable to hold an old earth view came in the last few weeks as a very minor reference to the fact that it has taken God millions of years to create the Universe....Perhaps that reflects the fear of what affect open expression of such a view would have on parts of his congregation. Maybe the education could come in the form of equipping pastors or supplying scientific speakers to churches to address such questions.

However, I don't think one can underestimate the detrimental affect on young Christians of being brought up in a climate where they are lead to believe the Bible demands that the earth is 6000 yrs old only to find that it is obviously not the case.

I think which ever way we look at this it is not going to be solved quickly.

You certainly don't need to apologise about your english!