“A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence,” David Hume wrote in “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.”
Since the Enlightenment, this idea has led to tension between science and faith, as both vie for the greater proportion of evidence. Which one do you choose?
If you choose faith, you reject science and are, therefore, ignorant. If you reject faith for science, you fight God, and are, therefore, damned. Which are you: ignorant Bible thumper, or godless intellectual?
But is this choice necessary? Must we in ELCA congregations prove either science or Christianity wrong in order for the other to be right? What does it even mean for Christianity or science to be right? Before considering these questions, we must first ask, What purpose does each serve?
Christianity asks: “How are we judged before God?” In contrast, science is concerned with how the world functions physically. It is when either religion or science proposes solutions to problems that tension arises.
When we expect Christianity to answer mechanistic questions about the world, we will be disillusioned — science, not Christianity, deals with that subject. This leads to a conflict between “what the Bible says” and “what science says,” most notably about the origin of humanity and the creation and lifespan of the Earth. In these cases, the proportion of “evidence” weighs against Christianity, driving many to atheism.
Likewise, when we solely look to science to address the question of God, we always come up empty-handed, since God is neither material nor reproducible. We are tempted then to make science our god. We try to reject everything that is neither material nor reproducible and thus try to sidestep the question of God’s judgment for us. Unfortunately, we still die, and death is the end as far as science is concerned.
However, when science and religion work at their appointed tasks, instead of conflict, we find mutual assistance. This has been my life’s experience. My father is a lifelong Lutheran who is an entomologist. I was encouraged to question underlying assumptions and to think critically about all aspects of the world, especially my faith life.
At the same time, my trust in Jesus Christ’s forgiveness gave me the amazement of seeing God when I looked down a microscope during an experiment and found purpose in choosing my life’s work. As a result, my faith drives me to use my scientific skills to love my neighbor, and my scientific training allows me to critically evaluate the multitude of religions offered today.
While there are many ways to examine the interplay of science and faith in our lives, three tools stand out. The most important is the Augsburg Confession, specifically Article IV.
This article outlines the foundation of our faith. It asserts that two conditions must be met for any proposition to be considered Christian: First, it must rely on the gospel, which purports that salvation is promised by God through Christ’s death and resurrection alone and only. And second, it spreads the merits of Christ such that devout consciences are comforted.
If a proposition does not come from the gospel, it may be a good idea, but it is not Christian. Likewise, if the proposition has no impact on anyone, it is not Christian.
A second tool is the very reason that tempts us to call it god. When reason itself is our core, we bend to its will, and so commit idolatry. This is why Martin Luther warned against reason. However, when the gospel is our core, reason becomes a powerful tool that helps discriminate between what is consistent with the gospel and what is not.
A third tool may be the “Crossings matrix,” described in detail at the Crossings website. This matrix frames the discussion so that the law, the gospel, death and life all fit with our article of faith.
Briefly, the matrix has three levels of law that diagnose our human problems: the surface problem, the internal problem that causes the surface problem, and the deepest, lethal problem we have with God, which causes the other problems.
Matching these three levels of law are three levels of gospel: Christ’s death and resurrection as the healing and life for our God-problem, how that healing restores our hearts, and how that restoration leads us to proclaim Christ’s healing to the world. This method allows full use of reason, while keeping Christ as our center.
With these tools, one can lead an adult study on those matters closest to your congregation’s heart, including matters relating to science. To learn more about science subjects, both the online Wikipedia and high school textbooks are good places to start, as well as a good Internet search engine to find more resources on topics of particular interest.
Another possibility is to examine the issues raised in the ELCA’s draft social statement on genetics using the tools above for discussion and education.