Saturday, November 1, 2008

Theology and the Physical World

One of the most challenging tasks of a science teacher, or even a parent or pastor, is to cultivate knowledge and a sense of wonder concerning the physical world. The science teacher seeks to nourish respect, excitement, and even joy at student discovery in the natural world. Parents and pastors could provide reinforcement of excitement for the world of God’s physical creation which surrounds us.

Let’s return to classroom science instruction. “My favorite subject!” is the cry of some young scholars. Sadly, other students sometimes arrive with a less than positive attitude toward the course frighteningly titled Science on their schedule card. Some students see science merely as a curriculum offering one would do well to master for the benefit of their GPA. Worse, science may be stereotyped as a special course particularly suited only for intense students devoted to a narrow range of interests, otherwise known as “geeks.” The understanding teacher surely must recognize this diversity of attitudes and must appeal to both extremes on the spectrum as well as to the middle.

The skilled instructor’s questions may be able to relate the events of daily life to the laws of science without becoming pedantic: What principles of science govern mundane activities? Can application of science make students better athletes? How do the simple devices in our kitchen drawers demonstrate force-multiplying, time-saving, or distance-reducing advantages, and how may we apply that knowledge to make simple tasks easier? In the realm of how and why, how can we relate amazing global positioning system technology to anything we have learned in other courses, and why do they provide such startling accuracy?

The Apostle Paul spoke indirectly of the wonder of living in a world where our awareness of God and the operating principles of our physical environment work in harmony. One of my favorite New Testament narrative passages is found in Acts 17. The idol-worshiping Athenians had an altar with an inscription “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” Paul explained the identity of their “unknown god” in verse 24: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” Later Paul said, concerning God, “In Him we live, and move and have our being” (verse 28, NIV).

Del Ratzsch, Calvin College philosophy professor, in Science and its Limits, states, “Yet concern with the natural and material does not characterize natural science alone. Theology is also deeply concerned with things and events in the physical world. In fact, God’s creation of and providential governance of that world are basic theological themes.” These posts will continue to stress that science and theology are closely related realms.