Science or Faith? Don’t Make Them Choose. by Tim Stafford

These days, almost every young American believes they have a choice to make. They can choose faith, or they can choose science, but they can’t choose both.

It’s extremely hard to choose faith over science, though some do. After all, if you breathe the air around any academic institution you imbibe the belief that all the good jobs involve math and science. Watch the commercials that different colleges air for themselves during bowl or tournament games. Don’t they always—always—include a picture of clean-cut young people doing experiments in a science lab? That’s where the value is. Do you think cell phones and airplanes and computer algorithms get designed in philosophy labs?

We know from David Kinnaman’s research (You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…. and Rethinking Faith) that one of the six big negatives young people assign to church is “anti-science.” Good-bye God, I’m going to do my calculus homework.

But why do they think that faith and science can’t mix? That’s easy: they learn it from watching young-earth creationists and evolutionary scientists lob bombs at each other.

This faith-science divide has been growing for decades, and getting worse. Recently, the Pew Research Center released results showing that it’s now been politicized. Republicans have become significantly less likely than Democrats to believe in evolution (43% vs. 67%). Just what we need: the thoughtfulness and consideration of polarized partisan politics.

I’ve been talking to people on either side while publicizing a book, The Adam Quest: Eleven Scientists Who Held on to a Strong Faith While Wrestling with the Mystery of Human Origins I’m struck, in these conversations, that neither side can believe that any thinking person could possibly believe what the other claims to believe. Their ideas for or against evolution must therefore be a product of some form of hysteria, myopia or conspiracy to (choose one) maintain a medieval worldview or destroy religion.

I don’t mean to make light of the convictions on either side. Both sets of people are passionately dedicated to the truth, one through the truthfulness of the sacred Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity, the other through the truthfulness of the dedicated, ethical process we call science.

The result of their battle, though, is almost entirely bad for young people. Because they are left with that choice, faith or science. And it’s a bad choice.

The scientists I profiled for The Adam Quest are dedicated to holding faith and science together. They do it in very different ways, coming from every point of view in the debates about evolution and creation. They certainly don’t agree with each other. But they hold these things in common: they are serious, Bible-believing Christians, and they are well-qualified, practicing scientists.

A lot of people will be surprised to learn that such a combination exists. But it does, in people like Mary Schweitzer. She started studying science while looking for personal enrichment as a mother of three children. Last month she was featured in The Economist Magazine for her research into dinosaurs. She is one of the most famous students of dinosaurs in the world, yet she attends conservative churches that don’t believe in the ancient world she studies. She says she can’t survive without the Christian fellowship and the Bible teaching she gets there. It’s sometimes uncomfortable—many of her friends are praying for her enlightenment—but she hangs in there.

Or take Todd Wood, who grew up fascinated by living things, majored in biology in college, did his PhD in biochemistry at the University of Virginia, and then helped lead research into the rice genome at a lab at Clemson University. For the last ten years he’s been fulltime dedicated to research for young earth creationist biology. It’s not easy, pursuing serious research that is unfunded and unregarded by mainstream science, but he sticks to his convictions—his convictions about the Bible’s message in Genesis and his convictions about the importance and efficacy of science.

People like Mary and Todd exist, serious about science and faith both. Actually, lots of such people exist. There are many devout Christians in science. Most of them, though, keep a low profile. Among scientists, Christian faith has gained a bad reputation for anti-scientism and bombast. Among Christians, science has gained a bad reputation for leading people astray into godless materialism. So Christians in science don’t advertise their existence, either in the lab or in church.

I am under no illusions that the very serious differences between young earth creationists, intelligent design advocates, and evolutionary creationists will go away. I expect these debates will continue, fiercely, throughout my lifetime. No one is going to win. Young earth creationism shows no signs of withering and blowing away. Neither does evolutionary science.

In time, sometime, the truth will become clear about how God made the world. In the meantime, I hope for something smaller than total agreement, but also perhaps more significant. I hope that people of faith, whatever their convictions about the age of the earth and the creation of life, will speak of each other (and to each other) with a genuine effort at love and respect. After all, as Mary Schweitzer told me, “We don’t have to be on the same page if we have Jesus at the core of our friendship.”

I don’t mean that it’s easy. I never find it easy to deal lovingly with those who differ with me in areas of deep conviction. But first things first. Are we family? If we could do a better job of living that, I don’t think young people would face such a bad choice: faith or science, choose one.

Image sourced from Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.