A gripe of many atheists is the strange ability of believers to affirm science in some areas (they believe in the principles that led to combustion engines) but to blindly deny it in others (notably: evolutionary theory). This has to stop. If Christians are ever to convince the thoughtful scientific atheists out there, they will need to start treating science with the respect it deserves. Two things have recently underscored this for me.
The first notable thing was the book “The Language of God” by Francis Collins. A number of things need to be understood from this
- The evidence for evolution is more than just compelling, it’s pretty much up there with the theory of gravity
- “Theory” does not mean unconfirmed speculation in the world of science: it refers to a model that has been tested and found reliable
- There are very many Christian scientists, and they would not take issue with the evolutionary view
- It is possible to reconcile Biblical readings with evolution if you do not insist on taking everything literally (for instance Genesis 1)
The second thing was a talk I attended at a Church in my neighbourhood. The well-meaning pastor argued that science and faith could be “friends”. He even quoted Francis Collins’s excellent book. But I wonder if he had read it, because he then went on to say that perhaps Christians should be a little more open-minded about evolution, not the idea of species evolving into other species (which is patently absurd), but micro-evolution. The missing link, he said, would never be found. FYI, Wikipedia, I see, has a list of “missing links”, aka “transitional fossils” for many species, including humans.
He had annihilated his argument. It is a testament to the uncritical nature of most believers that he did not lose any credibility. If you want religion and science to be friends, you have to accept science for what it is, not make for yourself a stunted, convenient science that does not challenge your worldview. Trying to stick only to micro-evolution, seems to me like trying to argue that, yes, of course the world revolves around the sun, but it is still flat.
Christians need to accept the authority of science as regards the natural world (as scientists need to accept the authority of religion as regards the spiritual realm). A seeming clash between religion and science probably means one is using some Bible passage for an ill-suited purpose. For instance: the idea that the Earth was literally created in six days (the Genesis account of creation is probably allegorical: it’s purpose is to explain who created the Earth and why, not how). God does not need us to defend his word against science – he created the Earth, science can only truly confirm what he has put in place himself.
Of course science is not infallible: it takes time for theories to be tested and refined and our knowledge is continually updated. Claims should be treated with scepticism initially, but once they are confirmed, they are highly unlikely to change and we should make our peace.
It is important for churches to engage with the ideas of science and its intersection with religion. I am glad there are churches addressing this topic and at least for this the pastor I referred to scores points. However, even though I understand people’s minds often change by degrees, I do no think a compromise can be made: one should not just accept a little bit of science or a little bit of faith, the little bit that’s comfortable to us. To truly engage with God and the world this just is not enough.
[Disclaimer: I am not an expert on evolution or theology and I am not a scientist (my background is mathematical)]