Sunday, August 1, 2010

Liking and Disliking Science

When discussions about my involvement with science arise, I am sometimes greeted with sentiments such as “I like science!” I am pleased when someone tells me he or she “likes science” and disappointed when the opposite sentiment is vocalized. It is apparent that many factors contribute to human likes and dislikes, whether we are talking about a leisure activity, preferences in friendships, church worship styles, or even a broad, inclusive topic like science.

Attitudes toward science among our fellow believers are not always positive. Sometimes they are even resistant, verging on the negative. Our dislikes relate to what we fear. We often fear what we do not understand. Science is an extremely broad-based and multifaceted field of knowledge. Therefore, many fear science simply because the quantity of knowledge seems overwhelming, among many other reasons. But there are important theological truths to be achieved from gaining knowledge of characteristics of the creation which originated in the mind of God. Scripture encourages this study.

Job 12:8-9 states “…or speak to the earth and it will teach you…” This phrase occurs in the context of animals, birds, and fish referenced in the surrounding verses. We may infer that the characteristics and laws of the natural world provide us with valuable lessons for living. The animals receive their wisdom from God, and the attributes of the earth itself reflect the orderly planning of the Creator.

“Speak to the earth and it will teach you” implies that our study of how the world operates informs us of operating principles in both the physical and spiritual realms. Scripture contains abundant references to events in the heavens, the world of weather, and the behavior of animals and plants. Many passages suggest scientific discoveries confirmed in our day, centuries after they were written. For example, the creation narrative speaks of the beginning of time, space, matter, and energy in a transcendent creation event initiated by God. Romans 8:22 could refer to the cosmos’s present governance by the law of entropy: “…creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay.” The many Old Testament references to the stretching out of the heavens describe our expanding universe. The methods of scientific inquiry and methodology which have flourished in the past 400 years of the scientific revolution were actually birthed in precepts outlined in scripture. The success of these methods has provided man with rich spiritual lessons.

Such topics may strike those who fear science as threatening and inaccessible. Perhaps school science instruction was approached in an overly pedantic fashion, without joy, enthusiasm, or humor. Now and then truly spectacular science demonstrations could help, such as the Sermons from Science programs at past World’s Fair pavilions or the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. But these hyper-fascinating demonstrations are not what most science educators hope their students embrace as “Science.” Instead, they wish their students could acquire a vision of science as a broader, more inclusive knowledge and understanding of the wonder of everyday life experiences.

This issue is not as simple as liking or disliking science. Over the centuries, the attitude of the Christian church with respect to science as a support structure for theological truths has varied considerably. One thing seems certain, however. There is a harmony between the world of science and the world of theology. God is the author of truth in both spheres