When it comes to sins we commit en masse as Christians, pride is towards the top. Christians have painted an image of themselves as scientifically ignorant. We refuse to listen to anything that can’t be proved with our Bibles and we hold the observations of an ancient culture trying best to understand their surroundings as truer than actual science.
As you can see from our history, it’s hard to have a conversation about science with Christians. It’s like having “the dress” argument. As you might recall, in February of 2015 an image surfaced online of a dress and it immediately went viral. Some who looked at the picture saw it as black and blue, like I did—it couldn’t have been clearer. But others were entirely convinced that it was white and gold. It was fascinating and even a little aggravating. I worked radio at the time and my co-host and I spent the entire morning talking about it, having people call in to give their two cents. Some just wanted us and the rest of the world to shut up about it.
But here’s my point: the dress wasn’t black and blue and gold and white. Despite how all our eyes saw it, it could only be one of those combinations. The dress was found outside of the viral photo and it was very clearly documented as black and blue. Anyone who looked at it in real life outside of the viral photo would conclude this.
Now imagine someone coming up to you after this documentation had been made and still arguing with you that the dress is gold and white. Perhaps even imagine holding the dress up in front of their face as fact that outside of the picture, it is clearly black and blue, just to have them deny the obvious and continue to tell you that it’s gold and white!
That, right there is the Christianity VS science debacle. Theories are made and we call it heresy. Facts are established and we call them lies and conspiracy, as though scientists have nothing better to do than try to lead the world astray.
Christians are slow to catch on to progression in science. It often seems the only way we move forward in our thinking is as German physicist Max Planck saw it:
An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that the opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning.
Now that sounds like the church. Take for example the generation of the church that introduced the piano into worship music after a long tradition of singing a cappella. That sounds so lame to many of us today, but it was a bold move for people at the time. Then eventually we got to rock bands in our churches, which still to today makes some people mad. I even heard someone say in recent years that they thought the drums were engaging the demonic while we tried to worship.
The scientist is unlike the average church-goer, for they can make progress in their field because they are not afraid of new territory. But the church-goer remains decades, if not hundreds of years behind. And in 2017 the majority of us are behind again as music has moved out of the rock genre and into the dance genre. And by the time we all pick that up, mainstream music will already be somewhere else.
I’m not saying different forms of worship are bad, nor am I saying that traditional churches are worse than modern ones, nor am I saying that we should constantly try to be culturally relevant. I could speak to each one of these statements in great detail, but that’s not the point of our conversation here—the point here is that we are often behind and unable to ever move forward in our thinking until older generations die out.
In making that statement I have to stop and realize that I too, will not make headway into new territories as I should, simply because I like my generation’s way of Christianity. I try to remind myself of that so that any time I refuse to move forward, I do so out of spiritual conviction and not biased preference.
I am at least convinced now that science is not one of the areas I need to fear. Actually, the more open I am to science the more capable I am of being a witness to the world. In saying this, I think of the early Catholic theologian and bishop, Saint Augustine of Hippo, who harshly warned us to not be ignorant of science all the way back in the 5th century. He wrote the following in his commentary on Genesis:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion [1 Tim 1:7].
Ouch. That hurts a bit doesn’t it? It’s an incredibly prophetic statement even to the church some 1,500 years later. How can they trust us on spiritual matters when we deny reason and experience? How can they trust the Bible when we use it to defy scientific fact? How can they possibly listen to a person who still demands the dress is white and gold?
This is pride at its worst. And if we ever want to be taken seriously by a world looking for spiritual answers in science, then it’s time to repent. The 21st century is not going to easily trust people who insist that science is wrong.
While advertising Alien Theology in its writing stage, a woman read my flyer and asked, “So is there going to be research in this book?”
What was I supposed to say to that? “No ma’am. I don’t do research when I write about scientific topics.” I don’t know if this moment was a flop in smalltalk or a suspicion about a Christian writing on a science-related topic, but it seemed telling of people’s perception of Christianity. Too often we’ve bought into the enemy’s lie which C.S. Lewis stated so perfectly when writing as though he was an older demon instructing a younger demon how to lead a man to sin:
If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology…. But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is ‘the results of modern investigation.’
This is an excerpt from my book, Alien Theology.
Lewis, C.S. “The Screwtape Letters.” The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, p. 187.
Planck, Max. The Philosophy of Physics. W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1936, p. 97.
Augustinus, Aurelius. “Book One.” Genesi Ad Litteram, Books 1-6, edited by Johannes Quasten et al., Paulist Press, New York, NJ, 1982, p. 42-43.
Picture Credit: Joel Filipe