I started with the question of when did Christians become so anti-science. But then I remembered stories about Galileo and the Inquisition and other great thinkers of history and realized, this has been going on for way too long.
I think Galileo said it best: “The Bible teaches men how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”
I’m not sure how we decided the Bible was our best science textbook. Of course, I’m also not sure how we reached our current culture where we claim every word of the Bible (naturally as translated to English) must be 100 percent literally accurate with no contradictions, and yet we try to apply every word to today’s context without regarding what the words would have meant to the people in the time they were written.
I highly recommend a podcast episode by Tim Mackie from his “Exploring My Strange Bible” series focused on Science & Faith. He believes that the tension between science and faith is more of a perceived tension than a real tension. I agree with that assessment, and I hope you’ll take an hour to listen to his lecture from 2011 at Blackhawk Church in Madison, Wisconsin.
The goal is to recalibrate ourselves to recognize that the text we read in the scriptures are products of their time. The most obvious consequence of that is they’re in a different language and must be translated. But beyond that, we also have to recognize what their purpose was when they were written.Here’s an example. We don’t read “A Christmas Carol” and assume Charles Dickens was writing a historical account of a real-life Ebenezer Scrooge. We recognize it as a piece of fiction that contains a moral lesson. Now before you freak out and think I’m going to say the Bible is a piece of fiction that contains a moral lesson, take a deep breath. I’m not going to say that.
The Bible is actually a series of 66 individual pieces, some poetry, some history, some allegory, some one side of correspondence, written over 3,000 years by numerous authors that contains many moral lessons (both positive and negative). And most importantly, each of these pieces was written to a specific audience within the context of its time.
Mackie references this in the linked podcast when he talks about assigning our own cultural references (his is a Napoleon Dynamite reference) to other cultures, with the example of going to France and making an obscure movie reference and assuming they should get it. As he goes on to say, this is exactly what we do with the Bible.
I could relate basically everything he says in the lecture, but again, I hope you’ll take the time to listen and consider his message. Then, let’s look at today and ask why we refuse to accept science?
I’m not suggesting every scientific hypothesis is 100 percent accurate. That’s why the scientific process exists and knowledge evolves over time. But if we look back to people like Galileo, we see that Christianity’s anti-science stance typically ends up on the wrong side of history.
Today, we see that with the wide array of anti-environment views espoused by a large percentage of Christians in our society. Our world is on the verge of (or maybe already past) a point of irreversible damage to the environment that raises legitimate questions about the viability (and quality) of future life.
According to Genesis 1, God created humanity in God’s own image (which inherently means we are called to love, create, and care for the things God created) and gave humanity dominion over it. While some like to use those words to profess a powerful dominance and no need to care for the earth, that completely contradicts the nature of God with God’s own creation. If we’re created in the image of God, then having dominion over something would more strongly correlate to feeling a deep sense of responsibility for its care and well-being.
In the next chapter, God places Adam in the Garden of Eden to take care of it. An old Q-and-A response on Billy Graham’s website offers this message: “…of all people, Christians should be the most concerned for the environment… When we see the world as a gift from God, we will do our best to take care of it and use it wisely, instead of poisoning or destroying it.” This seems like a natural response to the love of God and responsibility we’ve been given to care for the land, yet it’s the exact opposite so many who claim to follow Christ choose to believe and do.
When we look at the world around us, we see increases in extreme weather and struggle to deal with the impact. We have more hurricanes at a catastrophic level, more wildfires, extreme flooding, heat and cold, etc. We can physically see and experience that things are becoming more drastic in their impact. And we have overwhelming scientific consensus that we are playing the primary role in causing these issues.
Yet the white Evangelical leaders (who thankfully don’t represent anywhere close to all Christians in our country but often have the loudest voice) do not consider this a meaningful issue. And the primary political party of these Christians actively works to undermine efforts toward conservation. While conservation is expensive, forces us to reevaluate how we do things, and can be quite costly in the short run, if we are stewards of the land then we are supposed to have a longer frame of reference than just what’s cheapest and “best” for us at the moment.
Growing up, I remember one of the common apologetics approaches for sharing faith with someone basically being asking the question of what if you’re wrong. Maybe there is no God and no heaven and earth, but what if you’re wrong? Isn’t it worth weighing the possibility and considering what might be gained?
I wish we would apply that same thinking to this issue, especially since the scientific consensus is so overwhelming. Maybe you want to dismiss the science (although I can’t understand why). Maybe the world will be totally fine, and we don’t have anything to worry about.
If you’re right, and we put forth great efforts to better utilize the world with renewable resources, then the end result is a lot of investment in new technology that will be a near-term expense for long-term growth and more economical use of the world. That seems like a worthwhile investment anyway.
But what if you’re wrong? If you’re wrong, and we do nothing, the world as we know it will change so drastically within the next several decades that millions (or more) will perish due to unlivable conditions. We’ve already seen extreme weather events take the lives of thousands in recent years. Why are we so willing to dismiss something so widely acknowledged by experts, when the consequences of being wrong are so dire?
I hope we can strive to relieve this perceived tension behind science and our faith and recognize our role in either destroying the physical environment we live in or making it better. I hope we can someday look back and find ourselves on the right side of history.