Thursday, January 17, 2013

Questions for the Handmaiden and Queen

Science/Faith conferences are highlighted on church and college calendars. The subject of science as it relates to faith has proven to be instructive for many in the church and on Christian college campuses. Pastors, Christians working in science careers, science majors, and laypersons with a special interest in science are pleased when these conferences are held on their campus. The subjects of science and faith, interesting when studied alone, are often more appealing when studied together. The pairing of these topics has an interesting history.

Science has been called the handmaiden to theology. Theology has been characterized as the queen of the sciences. Both expressions have their roots in centuries past. Both expressions are used to highlight our discussions of the relationship of science and theology. This relationship is of significantly greater importance in our day than most realize.

If we view our science and theological beliefs as human productions, each informs the other in significant ways. Natural science is knowledge of the physical world and its operation. Theology is knowledge of God and his actions in the physical world. The meaning of each term has been defined and expanded upon at great length by experts in science and theology. (For our discussion purposes, we hope our brief definitions will suffice.) Beyond these simple definitions, over the centuries thousands of scholars and authors have offered their contributions to the formation of knowledge in each discipline.

Alister McGrath, noted theologian and Christian apologist, has described a “long tradition within Christian theology of drawing on intellectual resources outside the Christian tradition as a means of developing a theological vision.” Mathematicians, philosophers, and musicians, for example, contribute intellectual resources to the reality of theology. God, the Creator, receives “feedback” from his created beings according to their gifts. In this way, McGrath describes science as a handmaiden, or servant, helping our understanding of theology.

Metaphorically, how is theology the queen of the sciences? Theology, the study of God and his actions on earth, has “regal” power to inform us about God and his creation, including how the Creator acted and still acts within his created universe. In this expression the “sciences” include broad understandings of human knowledge.

In our day, science and theology still have an interface. Science today principally deals with physical and life sciences. In modern terminology, the interface refers to the association of science and faith. The relationship of science and faith has a storied history and remains a popular discussion issue. A search of popular topics for instructional gatherings includes a generous sprinkling of “science/faith” conferences. As a former science instructor and as a Christian, I support these conferences. With interest, I peruse the programs looking for topics of interest to me. With concern, however, I note a serious problem in these “science/faith” conferences.

To oversimplify, some leaders exhibit a tendency to overstress science or in some cases, to overstress theology. Does science inform theology? Does theology inform science? To both questions, the answer is, “Yes.”

Theistic creationists may overstress theology by misinterpreting scientific data or ignoring it altogether in their zeal to interpret scripture according to their private interpretation of what scripture says, particularly when they judge that scripture presents a strict scientific chronicle of events on earth in just a few verses. Our blog has stated that science and scripture will not disagree if both are interpreted correctly.

Evolutionists may overstress science in a somewhat different manner. Discussions with theistic evolutionary Christians reveal a surprising tendency to “join themselves at the hip” to secularists who captured much of our cultural mindset at the close of the Civil War. During that period ambitious secularist scientists claimed much of the authority formerly granted to theistic scientists. The secularizers of science followed the lead of militant secularists who had impacted culture in general. Theology became less influential as a shaper of society. The vision of science and religion as “a single, self-consistent whole” crumbled. Many theistic evolutionists given voice at science/faith seminars possess a strong allegiance to the findings of science. Their allegiance pleases the overwhelming majority of secular bio-scientists whose mindset is governed by the naturalistic paradigm of “molecules to man” evolution.

Many science/faith seminars accord an inconspicuous voice to creationists, either old earth or young earth advocates. With virtually unified voice, they decry the intelligent design movement, energetically dismissing it along with evidence for supernatural creation. Design and creation proposals are dismissed as unscientific notwithstanding that their discovery methods are used across the science profession. The problem goes much deeper. Secular science spokesmen have made their pronouncement: The activity of a supernatural God is off limits to scientific discovery.

The methods of science discovery are wonderful, God-given gifts to man. I am thankful for science as a God-enabled discipline of enormous benefit to man across the timeline of human history. On a lesser plane of grandeur, I am also thankful for the professional skill of committed scientists and theologians who present their findings at science/faith conferences. As with any human endeavor, we may effect changes by offering our contributions of active participation and meaningful input when the conference concludes. In this way scientists, theologians, and laypeople alike may learn and profit, and come ever closer to discovering powerful scientific and theological truths.