Tom Shefchunas

Science vs. Faith: How We are Failing Kids

by on in Leadership.
science-faith

I used to be a swimmer, and I clearly remember all those early morning practices. Especially the part where I was standing at the edge of a very cold swimming pool… knowing I needed to jump in. I didn’t want to jump. But I knew I had to.

That’s how I feel with this post.

Today’s post is something near and dear to my heart, but I have a feeling it is going to land a bit unpleasantly for some of us. Sure, some of you will think it’s not big deal. But some of you might start to feel a little uncomfortable. If that’s you, I just ask you read it through.

Ok. Here we go. One… two… three.

We, as youth pastors, have got to do a better job of handling the debate between science and faith.

When this topic comes up, here’s what I usually see: Youth pastors, many of us are angry. And, at the same time, many of us are really ignorant – we might know a lot about faith, but we don’t always know a lot about science. Anger and ignorance is not a good combination.

So you know what’s happened?

We have failed our kids. We have set them up for failure. We have set them up as easy targets that easily get knocked down by peers and professors once they head to college. Don’t make me get out the stats to prove it! Those stats will make you want to quit your job.

Please hear me out on this.

Now, like many youth pastors, my college degree doesn’t quite match what I do for a living. I don’t normally share this but, for this post, I think it’s important. I finished college with a degree in Physics and spent 10 years teaching Physics and Calculus. All of that to say, please hear me out on this.

I am one of those students who the church has failed.

I am one of those students who has struggled with science and faith all my life, only to finally realize…

There should not be a struggle between science and faith at all.

They are not opposites. They are not enemies. So… let’s start with the basics.

1. SCIENCE IS AMORAL.

Science is not inherently good or bad. It is neutral. It is simply an ongoing, self-correcting search for truth about our natural world. It’s always changing and always evolving (whoa… dangerous word!), as we learn more and more about how this world works.

2. SCIENTISTS ARE PEOPLE.

Sure, some scientists are idiots. But most are not. Many are believers. And yes, some have a thing against religion and maybe even go to great lengths to make us look like simple fools for believing something that a majority of the people in the world believe. (To those people, I have to ask why they put such energy behind disproving something they see as a fairytale. But, that’s a rabbit trail. Maybe we can talk about that someday.) But that is not every scientist.

Now… back to science and faith.

3. SCIENCE CAN INFORM OUR FAITH.

We get ourselves in trouble when we attach our faith and theology to something that is moving and changing. Like science.

Let’s use an example that is not as full of conflict as the current debate about faith and evolution.

Before 1543, many Christians attached their faith and theology to a model of the universe in which the Sun revolved around the Earth, because that’s what they believed the Bible taught. Then Copernicus published a book.

Was it an attack of faith? Not at all! Copernicus believed in God. He knew there would be an issue. But, the problem with Copernicus’ idea wasn’t that there was new idea of how God had created the natural world. The problem was that Christians had anchored their faith on an old scientific theory… the idea that the sun revolved around the Earth.

The faith of Christians was challenged, not because science didn’t mesh with scripture, but because they had interpreted scripture through the lens of their current understanding of science.

We can’t do that. And, with the acceleration of what we are learning in Science these days, we need to be more cautious then ever. Please be careful!

I have a lot more to say on this. A lot more than can be covered in one post. But for now, let me leave you with the words of St. Augustine. Now, as you read these, remember, these words were written by a man intensely interested in the words and meaning of Genesis. He also wrote these at a time when he was not responding to Darwin… or even Copernicus, for that matter.

In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different Interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture.

Wow!

So, what do you think? How are you tackling this topic with your students?

  • Great article. As a Canadian, this debate is def not as prominent up here in the north. But the subtle effects of faith vs. science is still def prevalent. I would whole heartedly agree that this divide between the natural and spiritual, science and faith is not healthy and not even reality.

    A good book I would recommend that immensely helped me and would be a good read for anyone looking to reconcile this and find a more balanced view is Harold Eberle’s book “Christianity Unshackled”. He spends a lot of time bringing the reader through Church history and the slow and gradual move towards an ever increasing divide between the natural and spiritual and helps us come back to a more biblical perspective while also showing faith isn’t at odds with science today. The tension is def possible.

    Here is the link to his book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Christianity-Unshackled-Are-Truth-Seeker/dp/0768431417

  • Love it, Tom! Love it so much.

  • JC

    Great post.

    For us we don’t shy away but we also clearly talk about theories. We have to stake our claim and our life that Jesus is God, come to earth to take on the punishment that we deserve. He traded his good for our “not good” and offers for us to join him in the mission to change the world.

    Science is one more factor to help you decide to stake your claim on what is above.

    Science is flexible and is ok to change when more information is present. I hope that my life is the same, the older I become and the more information that I gain about myself I am able to decide differently than before.

    Great post again and definitely some food for thought on issues that aren’t worth standing on.

  • Now’s a great time to bring this up, as NPR has their “Creationism vs Evolution” debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham tonight.

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/02/04/271383099/creationism-vs-evolution-the-debate-is-live-tonight

    I have a lot of “logical” students in my youth ministry… I’ve even had the privilege to carry on long, thoughtful conversations with them on Facebook, and even led two of them to Christ.

    Questions are good – it means they’re hungry to learn. Our job is to turn them to the right sources to get the information they need.

    Great post.

  • Nikomas

    Amen! If God is true, there is no need to fear that scientific discoveries will disprove God. It can only lead to a fuller truth of who God is! I’m all for scientists (theists or atheists!) searching for the truth’s of science outside of our theological constructs…their discoveries will lead us into a deeper understanding of our theological constructs as well as a deeper view of an awe-inspiring God.

  • Ken

    add me to the list of people who like this post! Great thoughts. My friend is the chief scientist for Discovery Channel, LOVES Jesus like few do AND believes in evolution. I really love that quote by Augustine.

    So…how does this translate to ministry? Do you teach on this? Do you do a series on science? How do we do a better job preparing students for this? How do we help them know it’s not an either/or?

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  • JacobNelson

    what a fantastic post! Love, love, love this!