I feel a lecture coming on… Run away while you still can.
Recently, I was browsing a debate on Facebook about the place of Darwin’s theory of evolution within the Christian paradigm. One final thought on the matter (and I’m paraphrasing) was by a colleague named Rod White, who said “Well, Christianity has been around for 2000 years. Let’s see how science stands up 2000 years from now.”
It immediately struck me as an odd proposition, that Christianity and Science are like those Rock’em Sock’em boxers I played with as children.
Remember these? No? Well good. You shouldn’t have been playing with violent toys like these, and cap pistols and GI Joes. I played with them all, and look how I turned out.
At any rate, the idea that Christianity and Science are mutually incompatible ideas really, really bothered me. I’m not saying Rod meant this, by the way. He probably didn’t. But that’s the thought that stayed with me after reading, and something I feel I can contribute a thousand words about. I’ll spend the rest of this blog trying to explain why.
As usual, I’ll admit at the outset that I’m no scientist. I work for a science agency, and work among geologists. I’ve seen such tee shirts as “Geologists don’t have to take schist from anyone, but they do.” and “Petrologists do it gneiss.” So, nerds like me. What I know about science, a squirrel could carry around in a thimble. Thank God– I couldn’t afford to wear those lame tee shirts.
But, that said, I understand how scientists think, or how a person does science. It’s quite easy, and we do it every day. It’s a constant flow of predicting, testing, and reporting. My son is a good example of this. He likes to bake bread. One day, he thought “If I get a large loaf of bread with two teaspoons of yeast, what if i put SIX teaspoons of yeast in this bread? The bread should be ENORMOUS then!” (Predicting) So he did. (We’re rather lax about kitchen experiments). If you’ve cooked bread, you know what happens if you measure out too much yeast. It looks great until it comes time to actually cook. It rises and rises and rises and… falls flat, stonelike in texture (and flavor), and has a big dent in the middle, like a giant’s footprint. It happened to him, just like that (Testing). Next thing I know, he’s abashedly walking up to me, and says, “Dad! My bread SUCKS!” (Reporting) Then I made him clean the kitchen and eat his nasty bread himself. That’s the fourth step in the Scientific Method I guess–living with the consequences…
The point I’m getting across is: science isn’t some monolithic red beast out to get Christianity and knock its blue plastic head into the sky. It’s just a systematic way of thinking about questions of the known universe. Scientists are quite happy to admit they’re wrong; in fact, some see each failure as a small victory–one more thing to cross off the list. So, science is predictive, not prescriptive. Everything is up for grabs, and nothing is to sacred to test.
Christianity, or religion in general, approaches the world with postulates, but assumes some may be inviolable. Usually they touch entirely different parts of the universe. Religion governs the soul, while science visualizes the earth. Where they come into conflict is when Holy Writ disagrees with the observable universe. The biggie for the last 180 years is the idea of evolution, and the 6-day Christian narrative of creation (Genesis chapters 1-3, in the Judeo-Christian Bible, in case you wanted to read about it). Cosmologists put the birth of the universe at–just heard this somewhere–5.7 billion years ago, maybe? Going by the genealogies provided in the Bible elsewhere, and birth dates, the world was created roughly 6,000 years ago. Thus, we occasionally hear Doomsday folk using their scriptures to predict The End (in all-caps). Or debating the existence of dinosaurs, or… You’ve all heard the arguments.
But Scientific Method is just thinking and predicting, which, in my not-very-informed opinion, is a perfectly acceptable way to use our minds. Religious minds as well. I wouldn’t be so stupid as to say you don’t use your mind if you don’t agree with me; in fact, it takes considerably MORE brain power (and far more struggling) to find justification, if you have a religious foundation upon which you build your science. It’s easy to build a straw man, and attack it. It’s much harder to confront the real issues, which are usually why the straw man had to be built in the first place.
Yet, the two can and should coexist in a friendly tension. It doesn’t ultimately affect your life if the world is 6,000 or 6,000,000,000 years old. It doesn’t matter if the dinosaurs existed. It is more painful to be called wrong than to be wrong. I blogged recently about the “Wrongologist,” Kathryn Schulz. She notes that a huge problem with the world is when we’re wrong, we feel exactly the same way as when we’re right. Finding out you’re wrong, on the other hand, is obnoxious, embarrassing, and perhaps even debilitating. But we all do it. We all get something wrong. Nobody–neither scientists, nor theologians–like to admit wrongness, although scientists should be better at it, seeing as it’s their stock in trade.
I’m going off track here. My point is this: don’t count science as a coordinated beast to destroy Christianity. If Christianity is supposed to stand (as I believe it is), then it shouldn’t have any problem weathering “attacks” by science. Shouldn’t it? The pieces that don’t–well, maybe they weren’t all that important to the Faith to begin with. Just my opinions.
Oh. I also had an Evel Knievel action figure, motorcycle and launch stand, and the accompanying Snake River Jump lunch pail.