Using Science

I have wondered before in this space, wondered why science and our faith seem always to be at such odds. I have lamented the idea that fear is driving the Christian’s response to science and therefore is driving many intelligent people away from our faith and our churches.
What I did not address in my previous musings is how it seems that every time there is a new scientific discovery, a new theory about our world and our universe, both sides seem to leap upon the premise as proof of their point of view.
Whether we speak of the observation that the earth revolves around the sun or the theory of big bang cosmology, every new discovery or theory is at the first seized upon to carry wide-reaching theological and philosophical consequences.
Those who do not believe in our God grasp at the new discovery to be used as a new attack against Christianity. Those who do believe either dismiss it out-of-hand as patently false, a conspiracy of scientists who twist the facts to suit their own purposes, or else (perhaps more embarrassingly) try to use it as the basis for a new defense for proving their beliefs to the world.
Yet each time this occurs, when “the popular hubbub has subsided and the novelty has been chewed over by real theologians, real scientists and real philosophers, both sides find themselves pretty much where they were before.” ~ C.S. Lewis
Two kinds of words
One would think that we, as humanity, would learn. I suppose, though, that what was true in the third century, BC, is still true today. There is nothing new under the sun.
We would do well, I think, to remember that the purpose of science is to try to figure out how things work.  Science does not give ultimate explanation for the origin and existence of the universe or answer questions concerning the purpose of the universe or of our existence.
Perhaps our role as believers is not, after all, to prove our faith beyond a shadow of a doubt. Perhaps this attempt is what leads us to seize upon science as either a hoax or a tool without really knowing the first thing about the particular theory or discovery we are discussing. This, I think, leads to the valid complaint among unbelievers that we tend to speak hotly about things we do not understand.
Perhaps, instead, we should remember that faith is something that can be pointed to, that can be supported by evidence and can be intelligently concluded to be true, but is not something that can be proved in a way that people cannot help but believe.
Sunlight Through a Crocus
When our faith can be proved in such a manner, that, I believe, is the day we will call Judgement.
What we believe always remains intellectually possible; it never becomes intellectually compulsive. I have an idea that when this ceases to be so, the world will be ending. We have been warned that all but conclusive evidence against Christianity, evidence that would deceive (if it were possible) the very elect, will appear with Antichrist. And after that there will be wholly conclusive evidence on the other side.
But not, I fancy, till then on either side. ~ C.S. Lewis

Art credits: DNA photo by Tomislav Alajbeg; Pulsar and Supernova photos from NASA

An Essay I Didn’t Want to Write

I’ve had a lot on my heart lately.  A lot of thoughts, issues, questions that are simmering deep inside me as I search for discernment and clarity.
Some of these you will probably read about in future essays.  Some may stay in my heart for a while yet.
Notebook and Book
This essay today, though, is one I did not want to write.  It makes me nervous and uncomfortable.  I was tempted to leave it alone.
I worry that people will think I am foolish.  I hate being foolish.
I worry that people will get angry with me. I hate having people mad at me.
I am trying, however, to value God’s opinion of me more than man’s, to desire God’s approval of my writing more than man’s.
I could come up with all sorts of worries and reasons why I shouldn’t write this, but one of the main reasons is that it is a topic about which most people don’t allow dissent. One can either agree with the speaker’s point of view or get lambasted over a fire of burning coals.  I think I just boiled together several metaphors.
Burning Coals
The topic?  Same-sex marriage.
Upset Baby
See?  You had an immediate visceral reaction one way or the other, didn’t you?  🙂
Could we agree to something within this space?
Could we agree to love each other, regardless of our opinions? Could we agree to listen to each other with open hearts and to trust that we are all trying to follow Christ the best that we can? Can we agree to value diversity of thought and to have a conversation in which we may find ourselves in disagreement?
Coffee and Conversation
I’m not sure why this topic causes so much emotion.
Even those who do not claim the name of Christ can see it:
Spiked logo
Brendan O’Neill, a self-proclaimed atheistic libertarian who is a columnist for spiked says:
But I have never encountered an issue like gay marriage, an issue in which the space for dissent has shrunk so rapidly, and in which the consensus is not only stifling but choking.  This is the only issue on which, for criticising it from a liberal, secular perspective, I’ve been booed during an after-dinner speech and received death threats.
I’m not sure why this is so, but that’s not really within the scope of this essay.  Suffice it to say, I feel nervous talking about this topic.
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Yet it is at the forefront of our American culture right now as we wait for our Supreme Court to rule on the Defense of Marriage Act and on California’s Proposition 8 (probably sometime this month), and so I feel that I need to speak.
Several popular Christian bloggers lately have spoken about this issue, both for and against, and I feel that I, too, should speak.  I am quite sure that I don’t have all the answers and I know for certain that I am probably wrong on several fronts.  Still, I have this space, this platform, for speaking and for conversation, and if enough of us can host a civil conversation, perhaps we all might get somewhere helpful.
Those bloggers who championed the gay/lesbian cause challenged the Church to stop treating homosexuals harshly, to quit excluding gays and lesbians from their congregations, to instead love them unconditionally.
With that, I agree wholeheartedly.  Sin is sin, and to heap shame and disgrace and hatred on the heads of some while extending grace, or worse a blind eye, to those who commit adultery or have sex outside of marriage or gossip about all those who do is simply wrong.  We are called to love each other and to look in the mirror at our own plank before picking at the dust in another’s eye.
And so I, for one, say to any who have been made to feel shame or to feel unloved or worthless by anyone in the Church: I’m sorry.  We all struggle with sin and with judgement.  Please look at Christ rather than at us for perfection and holiness.
Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
Yet inside the Church is different than outside the Church; the atmosphere of the Church is different than the laws of the land, and I’m not convinced that legalizing same-sex marriage is wise.  When it comes to the laws of our country, I try not to consider things solely from a Biblical viewpoint, because I also am not convinced that we should impose Biblical principles on a country that espouses freedom to practice any or no religion.
American Flag
Standards of morality for believers are much different than for those who do not claim the name of Jesus.
Yet even when I look at things from a philosophical or a natural law point of view, legalizing same-sex marriage doesn’t seem to make sense.
Laws should be about advancing the public interests of society.  In every culture, children are the future, so it would make sense to incentivize  a marriage contract that can bear children, that contributes to the success of society’s future.  It may or may not be true that legalizing same-sex marriage would advance the private interests of our society, but private interests do not justify the force of a law.  No liberty is being denied to anyone who wants to live together and call it marriage.  The issue seems to be whether the state should grant incentives to anyone who wants to live together and call it marriage.  This sort of proposed law does not advance the public interests.
As long as one side is angry with me, may I now pique the other side?
Making You Mad
Same-sex marriage is not the greatest threat to the traditional definition of marriage.
Inside and outside the Church, when our highest goal is our own self-satisfaction, when we choose self over a spouse and children, God’s version of marriage is threatened more than when a free country decides to legalize same-sex marriage.  I believe that the loss of keeping a covenant before God is the greater threat to the tradition of marriage.
 Wedding Photo
Yet in the end, for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, it doesn’t much matter whether we would have voted for or against Proposition 8.  It doesn’t much matter whether we enjoy debating the matter thoroughly or we’d rather hide under a bed then speak about such things.
What matters is how we love people.  What matters is that we treat all people as men and women who are loved by God and are therefore full of worth.
We must love as Jesus loved Zaccheus and the Samaritan woman.  We must love as Jesus loved the woman caught in adultery and the men who crucified Him.
We must love as Jesus loves us.
So let’s have the conversation, and let’s love each other at the same time.  What do you say?

art credit: Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Henryk Siemiradzki

Slinging Mashed Potatoes

My eldest has had trouble loving her sister lately.

When she gets angry, even if it is with herself, her first instinct is to lash out and hurt Little Sister. We’ve been working on this, trying to teach her other ways of expressing her anger, but it is a long and difficult road. She seems to lose all common sense when her emotions run high.

Sadly, this reminds me all too much of the adults in our country this time of year.

Ah, election season.

Time for everyone to lose logic and common sense and to begin slinging hateful words around like mashed potatoes in a junior high camp cafeteria.

I have been wondering how we got to this place. How did we get to the place where it seems impossible to have a compassionate discussion of ideas?

In my most recent Mars Hill Audio Journal, it was suggested that this has become part of our culture because of the direction that our public schools have taken.  When we emphasize math and science to the exclusion of teaching ethics and civics and philosophy, our citizens grow up without knowing about logic, without knowing how to follow an idea through to its logical conclusion.

Here is a clip of one of my favorite authors, N.T. Wright, speaking about the problem that we don’t even have the debate but rather have bits and pieces of a shouting match (if you are viewing this via email/in a reader, click here to view this video):


I can see, having been a teacher myself, how cutting logic and philosophy out of schools would appeal. It is much easier to control the flow of ideas than to teach people to think for themselves. (I am not proposing that this has been a deliberate conspiracy against free thinking in our country, rather that this has been the unintended consequence of placing a higher value on sciences than humanities. It simply helps the cause that the things that are cut out are subjects that tend to make governing more difficult.)

As I thought about how we got to this place, though, and as I listened to respected leaders speak about this issue, I realized that this is not a new problem, this problem of not teaching young people to think for themselves, of not teaching children how to think logically about an idea and spot the fallacies contained within.

In the 14th century, John Wycliffe was one of the first advocates for translating the Bible from Latin, a language that only priests and rulers could read, into the common language, accessible to all. The leaders of his day violently opposed him, wanting to keep the power of ideas to themselves. Wycliffe’s opponents cried out, “The jewel of the clergy has become the toy of the laity”. In the end, Wycliffe was declared to be a heretic and his body was exhumed and burned, and the ashes were scattered.

As much as I would like to swell with indignation at the thought of trying to control ideas, if I am honest with myself, I can relate. It is difficult for me to trust my own children. I want to control the flow of ideas, to control what they know and understand. This would be much easier than teaching them to think critically and then dealing with the inevitable hard questions that will come.

Thankfully, I know better. God has instructed me to trust. Not other people, but Him. I must trust His Spirit inside my children.

So I will continually ask for help in relinquishing control. I will trust my girls to the care of God’s Spirit and trust that He will show them what is good.

As for our country, our election season, let us be the first to use logic and common sense, to show compassion to those with whom we disagree, and trust in God’s plan and His Spirit working rather than taking the easier route of slinging mashed potatoes all over their faces.

Art Credits: Vote photo by woodsy; photos of N.T. Wright and Wycliffe stained glass from Wikipedia images