By Phillip Shelley
Can you reconcile science and the Christian faith? Perhaps you think you must choose between faith or science because there is no way to reconcile both them.
The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern Seminary recently hosted a conference concerning how Christianity has reacted to the discoveries of science in the past. We need to know what has happened in the past in order to better help us engage our culture in the present. The first day of the conference was about the history of Galileo and Aquinas in the afternoon followed by an evening session about how the modern scientific era started. The following day dealt with how we as Christians have reacted to the teaching of evolution both before and after the famous Scopes trial.
I gleaned a handful of lessons from this conference that can help us understand what has happened in history to further the conversation of how we can approach the subject of science and faith from a Christian perspective.
There would not be a modern science movement without Christianity.
1. Let’s remember our past.
Upon my reflection of the lectures, I realized how little I know about how Christianity and science have interacted in the past. If we do not take the time to know the history of science and faith, we can’t expect to further the conversation. Of course, this doesn’t mean we have to become historians, but neither should we neglect this topic and how it affected the culture. We learn about the history of faith and science for the same reason we should study other pieces of history: to respect where we have come from, to learn not to make the same mistakes and to enhance the conversation. When we do so, we realize there would not be a modern science movement without Christianity.
2. Modern science owes a debt of gratitude to Christianity.
Dr. Peter Harrison presented on how the Christian worldview played a significant role in how we do modern science today. Enlightenment thinkers tended to view Christianity as a religion which hindered science, but Dr. Harrison convincingly documented the opposite. If it were not for early scientists’ dedication to the Christian faith, they would not have been dedicated to the sciences either. Johannes Keppler, Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon were serious, faithful Christians, and they even saw their work as God’s work. Isaac Newton, for example, believed that to study nature was to study God’s glory. Regardless of the worldview perspectives of the majority of modern scientists today, we can’t deny that early scientists, which have shaped the way we both see the world and practice science today, were dedicated to their work and to Christianity at the same time.
3. The world needs more Christian scientists.
In light of this truth, I wonder how often we as pastors, laypeople or even parents encourage the pursuit of the studying of every discipline of science today. We often encourage people to study engineering, medicine and computer science, but what about other fields of science? These common careers are wonderful and needed, but we can also encourage someone who desires to study how God has made the world function — to see how “the heavens proclaim the glory of God” in physics, astronomy or biology. We can encourage members in our churches that all the sciences are worth pursuing, for it is our joy to marvel at God’s creation and be awestruck of his beautiful, complex, astounding creation.
In light of these observations, I encourage you to watch and study the historical events that were presented at this conference. The presentations will make you dig more, as I am doing, into the history of all of these events for yourself. They also might even encourage you to pursue the sciences deeper than you have previously.
God is the one who has created all things and is sovereign over all things. When engaging culture it is important to know how we as Christians have been involved in the academy of Science. Also, it is important to encourage the people in our churches to pursue the sciences, so we can further understand how the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1).
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