Did we Christians have it coming?

Well, did we? Is the current status, that of barely disguised contempt and cold animosity between Christianity and science our fault? Surely it is time to be brutally honest, and look in the mirror before setting off on another round of finger-pointing and blowing raspberries at secular scientism.

There is no doubt that there is a huge chasm between especially academic scientists, and evangelical Christianity. How on earth did that happen, when 100 years ago most scientists were Christians, and their work was seen as exploring and getting know know more about creation, while also in the process extracting some benefits for mankind.

Following the enlightenment, in the face of modernism and post-modernism, some scientists did come to see science as having invalidated religious beliefs, and as a validation for a materialist worldview. Explicit Christian beliefs were and are not welcome in the halls of science.

But….contemporary science is often just as unwelcome in the modern church. Science is viewed with a range of responses, mainly suspicion, but often also outright combativeness. There are many conversations among Christians about whether to use secular scientific texts or use those explicitly written for Christians, always wary that secular texts may contain something dangerous to our faith.

Christians seem to have this vague feeling that science must be complementary to Christianity, but that it is not living up to it’s end of the bargain. That leads to the afore-mentioned anger and resentment towards the scientific community. Maybe it stems from the fact that contemporary science is perceived to be more of an ally to atheism than to Christianity, and may lead many Christians to believe that there is a vast conspiracy within the scientific community to undermine Christianity. Outspoken atheistic scientists and discrimination against professed Christians at academic institutions can reinforce such a feeling.

The bottom line is that there is a lack of trust, agreement and even goodwill between the Christian and scientific communities.

Although there are many more dimensions to the history, modernism is largely responsible for this mess. In the 19th century, science was seen as a totally objective, non-partisan activity that had no bearing whatsoever on personal beliefs. Believer and non-believer could happily work together and relate their work independently to whatever personal beliefs they held. The science culture of the day was seen as a two tiered structure, with science in the bottom (natural) storey, while religion, philosophy and other non-materialistic topics were separated in an upper story. For Christians, this was not a problem, since Christianity is the truth and any true scientific discovery would inevitably lead to that truth also. Thus began the secularization of science without much resistance from Christians.

Over the course of the 19th century, the need to reconcile the top and bottom storeys of the two tiered structure slowly began to disappear, and Christian beliefs were increasingly marginalized. With the advent of Darwinism, the need for design in biology was seen to have been rendered superfluous, and with it the need for a God. It lead to a rapid realignment of academic scientific thought, aided by liberal scientists and theologians, and thus created the animosity we still see today, almost 100 years later.

The conflict today is still caused by the trauma that Christians suffer when the supposedly objective practice of science can lead to atheistic conclusions, and be used extensively to support those conclusions. As a result, Christians have taken and continue to take various stances regarding science. Those stances include own Christian scientific research, denial of public funding, keeping quiet about their Christian beliefs and working in the atheistic environment etc.

The outrage, the shrill combativeness expressed by early 20th century Christians against science has served to widen the chasm between science and Christianity. It resulted on one side as religion being seen as curious and a little crazy, a message enthusiastically carried forth in the majority of academic institutions today. But on the other hand Christians relentlessly denied secular scientists the God-given right to freedom of expression entrenched in  our Constitution. Continued sparring between Christians and the proponents of atheistic science does nothing to resolve this conflict.

What then, should we as Christians do? Continue to separate ourselves in our own research and institutions? Continue to wage a war in the cultural sphere which has been going back and forth for a hundred years?

I think that it is time for a fresh approach. Yes, it will be hard to do away with the skirmishes and reactionary impulses, but if we as Christians are to move forward in a positive fashion, and once again establish science as a valued and God-honoring profession, then we have to take the positive steps necessary to do so.

Abraham Kuyper wrote, almost a hundred years ago:“Formerly we (the Christians) showed them (atheistic scientists) the door, and now this sinful assault on their liberty is by God’s righteous judgment avenged by their turning us out into the street, and so it becomes the question, if the courage, the perseverance, the energy, which enabled them to win their suit at last, will be found now in a higher degree with Christian scholars. May God grant it! You cannot, nay, you may not even think of it, deprive him, whose consciousness differs from yours, of freedom of thought, of speech and of the press. That they from their standpoint pull down everything that is holy in your estimation, is unavoidable.

Instead of seeking relief for your scientific conscience in downhearted complaints, or in mystic feeling, or in unconfessional work, the energy and thoroughness of our antagonists must be felt by every Christian scholar as a sharp incentive himself to go back to his own principles in his thinking, to renew all scientific investigation on the lines of these principles and to glut the press with the burden of his cogent studies.” (Lectures on Calvinism, 1994)

That assessment is still valid for the position we find ourselves in today, and we will be well served to heed Kuypers advice.


2 responses to “Did we Christians have it coming?

  1. Very good blog. I see this all the time teaching science in the Christian community. Thanks for your wisdom!

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