By Cheri Lynn Cowell
As my neighbor and I walked around the neighborhood, she shared how her fourth grader was struggling with his teacher over the creation/evolution debate. Her son started strong, but as the weeks passed she’d watched helplessly as his faith in what he believed was challenged.
“How can I encourage my son to have good dialogue with those who see the issue differently when all this science teacher wants to do is shut down dialogue?” she asked. Her question is one the science and faith communities have struggled with for years.
At the Heart of the Struggle
Science and religion are independent disciplines, each with its own language, methods, and tools of analysis. While scientists tend to see the relationship between the two disciplines as one of either conflict or independence, theologians tend to desire dialogue, that is until their beliefs are threatened or dismissed. Sadly, efforts at dialogue from either side are often met with suspicion or hostility. To bridge this gulf each side must begin from a place of respect and understanding.
Although it goes against everything they are taught, for the sake of open dialogue scientists must agree to value reason, even if not grounded in science, and experience on the same level as scientific and objective research. On the other hand, theologians must understand scientists’ need to base arguments in objective and measurable methods—therefore they would do well to learn how to express their faith in terms that don’t erect walls.
In this ongoing debate, language is the key to understanding and respect. Both sides must learn to listen in new ways about concepts and ideas that are foreign to their positions if real dialogue is to occur. In our current culture of bitter partisanship, fostering dialogue between science and religion is a much-needed exercise that can also become a welcome tool in learning to listen in other areas of life.
Engaged in Dialogue
Given the differences in science and religion, it is difficult to see how this important dialogue can go forward. Thankfully this ground has already seen some serious plowing, as a number of groups have made dialogue their focus. You may not agree with the details of each position, but it is interesting to look at the various approaches. The following list contains organizations engaged in this important ministry of dialogue:
• The Center for Theology and Natural Science (ctns.org) promotes the creative mutual interaction between theology and the natural sciences, including ethics and spirituality.
• The Institute for Creation Research (icr.org) equips believers with evidence of the Bible’s accuracy and authority through scientific research, educational programs, and media presentations, all conducted within a thoroughly biblical framework.
• Creation Today (creationtoday.org) seeks to help individuals know and defend their faith in Creator God and share him through the foundations of Scripture.
• Answers in Genesis (answersingenesis.org) takes the approach that we don’t have to abandon all the work of secular scientists; we can often co-opt their work into a biblical worldview.
• BioLogos (biologos.org) is a community of evangelical Christians committed to exploring the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith.
• Reasons to Believe (reasons.org) demonstrates that sound reason and scientific research consistently support rather than erode confidence in the truth of the Bible.
• Creation Science Movement (csm.org.uk) is the oldest creationist movement in the world, founded in 1932 as the Evolution Protest Movement with the aim of restoring faith in the Bible and science.
• Associates for Biblical Research (biblearchaeology.org) demonstrates the historical reliability of the Bible through archeological research and related apologetic material.
Dialogue Is for Every One of Us
As my neighbor and I talked, she began to hear in her own words a defensiveness. She was justified in her concern about a teacher with position and authority pressuring her son to abandon his faith. But she also recognized that her defensiveness affected how her son approached his teacher. We agreed that placing ourselves in an opposing position, in which we see others as wrong, makes healthy dialogue almost impossible. My neighbor determined to change the way she discussed this issue with her son and to show him how he might change too.
I sent my neighbor links to some of these organizations that are discussing science and religion with mutual respect. Over the next several weeks our conversation continued. We examined the words we used and how certain words triggered antagonism and how others fostered respect. We talked about the limits of our faith to scientifically prove what we believed and how faith answered questions that science failed to answer. We also discussed how faith, story, and spiritual experience are frightening to some who base their whole understanding of the world in what can be measured and proven.
Finally we acknowledged that her son was involved in a multi-faceted debate. This struggle placed her son in a position where evangelism is often messy and difficult and where we are all confronted with the limitations of our human understanding. We agreed that sometimes this is the cost of faith, and she and her son needed to be prepared for what could be a spiritual battle. Her son’s teacher could be only a short step from a huge leap of faith. We needed to support her son through our prayers.
Learning the Language of Healthy Dialogue
The following list of articles and blogs makes a great resource for those who want to learn the language of healthy dialogue. They also provide an opportunity to begin this dialogue with your children and grandchildren to prepare them for the day when someone attempts to put them on the defensive:
• Musings on Science and Theology (musingsonscience.wordpress.com)—A blog written by a professor of chemistry. Of special interest is the list of books and articles and the extensive archives of blog posts divided by category.
• Faith Interface (faithinterface.com.au)—Devoted to the discussion of Christian faith with science, philosophy, and culture.
• An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution (www.scribd.com/doc/14157160/An-Evangelical-Dialogue-on-Evolution)—A list of 23 articles promoting a positive relationship between Evangelical Christianity and evolutionary science. This is a great resource for children doing a research paper or for adults wanting to expand their views.
Cheri Lynn Cowell is a freelance writer in Oviedo, Florida.