Missing Links: On Faith and Science

Missing Links: On Faith and Science October 20, 2014

iStock_000011953517_FullIt is well known that Evangelical Christianity has often experienced a difficult relationship with science. The Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925 left an indelible mark on the psyche of many segments of the movement. As George Marsden wrote, “It would be difficult to overestimate the impact” of the trial “in transforming fundamentalism.” George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism — 1870-1925 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 184.

Ironically, the Evangelical movement has benefited greatly over the decades in various ways from implementing scientific and technological advances in communication and media for gospel proclamation and archeology for apologetics. Given the widespread Evangelical conviction that all truth is God’s truth as centered in Christ and Christian scripture, it is incumbent upon Evangelicals, including their universities and seminaries, to extend the interface of faith and science to other spheres.

At its home in the Pacific Northwest, Multnomah Biblical Seminary serves numerous thriving Evangelical churches that draw people from diverse backgrounds and vocations, including science, medicine, and technology. Still, one wonders how well the pastoral leaders in these Evangelical congregations integrate faith and science in service to their parishioners and their vocations. All too often, these parishioners feel like they live in two universes—one of faith and one of science. Links are missing that will help us make these two universes one. If church leaders are not able or prepared to help young people make constructive connections, what will happen to the next generation of Evangelical Christians and beyond?

David Kinnaman addresses this concern and many others in You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith (Baker Books, 2011). Kinnaman quotes a young man named Mike, who says: “I knew from church that I couldn’t believe in both science and God, so that was it. I didn’t believe in God anymore” (p. 138; italics added). While Mike’s statement may seem to some a bit rash, still, it points to a growing sense of need among many for pastoral leaders to help equip their congregations to engage in serious discussion and the integration of faith and science. Such equipping will also include vocational preparation for people in their congregations entering scientific fields.

Seminaries have important roles to play in equipping pastoral graduates for effective ministry in a scientific age. But are they seizing the opportunity? It makes sense for pastoral and missional reasons that institutions become more intentional in preparing its pastoral candidates and alumni to engage science in constructive ways. Just look around. The scientific realm is expanding. Take for example my region, the Greater Portland Area in Oregon. Intel, Tektronix, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), as well as other organizations dedicated to scientific progress, are located nearby. Portland prides itself on its attentiveness to scientific concerns and progress. For all the talk of alternative forms of spirituality in addition to Christianity that flourish in the region, there is also a great deal of antagonism on the part of certain sectors in the scientific community to faith of any kind. Secularism, including the New Atheism, is very robust in Portland and in other places in the Pacific Northwest. Given Multnomah Biblical Seminary’s commitment to preparing our graduates for effective ministry in a very diverse culture, we have a responsibility to assist the churches we serve in cultivating a thoughtful, irenic and comprehensive approach to the integration of faith and science.

For these various reasons, I am delighted to report that Multnomah University’s seminary was awarded a National “Science for Seminaries” grant. Multnomah Biblical Seminary is one of 10 seminaries nationwide selected by The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for a combined $1.5 million in grants to incorporate science into core theological curricula. The grant will provide resources to integrate science into select core courses, such as systematic theology, biblical studies, church history and pastoral theology. It should be noted that the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion does not advise on theological content, but only provides support for science through resources and mentor recommendations. The courses will be developed and implemented over the next two years and provide seminarians with solid, science-focused instruction. “Many people look to their religious leaders for guidance on issues relating to science and technology, even though clergy members may get little exposure to science in their training,” said Jennifer Wiseman, director of the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER). The Science for Seminaries grant for “Integrating Science into Core Theological Education” through AAAS in collaboration with our accrediting body, the Association of Theological Schools, will make it possible for MBS to focus energies on equipping pastors and pastoral candidates for more effective ministry in our scientific age.

Through Multnomah University’s Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins’ oversight and coordination, Multnomah Biblical Seminary faculty will integrate subject matter pertaining to astrophysics, human cognition, and macro-biology in select seminary courses. A New Wine conference and Cultural Encounters journal issue will help make the findings available to the community at large. The aim is to help our seminary graduates increase their scientific awareness of pressing issues and integrate faith and science in constructive ways as they equip their congregations for truthful and meaningful witness in the twenty-first century. This scientific pursuit will assist us in discerning more clearly how the whole creation is the theater of God’s glory.

In closing, I should add that my seminary colleagues have joked (perhaps half-joked!) about their ulterior motives in their research for this grant: the grant will provide them the opportunity to prove their long-standing hypothesis that I am the “missing link” in the evolution of species. So much for the age old tension in Evangelical circles between faith and science!

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Multnomah University Press Release, Multnomah Biblical Seminary Awarded National ‘Science for Seminaries’ Grant

Washington Post article, Seminaries awarded $1.5 million to include science in coursework

Oregonian article, Can religious leaders be a source for science education? Portland seminary gets money to try

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