A scientist argues that science and Christianity are more compatible than we realize and argues for four shared values: curiosity, a comprehensible Nature, humility, and service.
“I am an astrophysicist. I am also a Christian.”
This is the title of a 2022 article by Deborah Haarsma, formerly a professor at a Christian university and now the president of BioLogos, a Christian advocacy group that says about itself, “BioLogos explores God’s Word and God’s World to inspire authentic faith for today.”
That’s not an encouraging start for the skeptics out there, but note that BioLogos was founded by Francis Collins, a firm Christian who led both the Human Genome Project and the National Institutes for Health and has been a vocal and valuable proponent of evolution within Christianity. For example, he has said, “If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.”
BioLogos has a doctrinal statement, but their mission is to find common ground between science and Christianity, and they have decent responses to typical Christian anti-science arguments.
Dark clouds on the horizon
While not exactly fighting the good fight, Dr. Haarsma seems to at least be fighting a decent fight, which is worth investigating and celebrating. She gives four values that she claims are common to science and Christianity, which we’ll get to shortly.
We begin to see a problem when Haarsma describes BioLogos as “an organization that shows how faith and science can work hand-in-hand” and declares that “science and faith fit together.”
How do we categorize this—naïve? wrong? dangerous? Where science and faith disagree, we must follow science. Science follows the evidence, and it has an incredible track record of results. The only way science and faith can coexist is if they don’t overlap.
Christians’ selective rejection of science
Haarsma understands the problem Christians have made for themselves and summarizes it nicely.
Aren’t White evangelical Christians the group with the lowest vaccination rates? The people most opposed to climate change? The ones who built a whole museum opposed to evolutionary biology? Sadly, this is all true. Even worse, anti-science views on COVID and climate are more than a difference of opinion; opposition is leading directly to increased illness, suffering, death, and harm to the planet.
She blames “cultural forces” and “social media” for this split in society but doesn’t mention politics.
This is surprising—even shocking. Is politics more of a third rail than religion? Can you disagree with a literal view of the Bible, but you can’t criticize Christians for mindlessly swallowing conservative Republican politics and QAnon?
What caused this split if not politics? Her thinking is hard to believe:
This conflict didn’t come out of nowhere. Debates over creation vs. evolution date back decades, driven by Christian commitment to the authority of the Bible. The writings of militant atheists didn’t help. When Richard Dawkins and others claim that science rules out God and religion, Christians have good reason to be skeptical of what scientists say.
What a shame! And we were getting along so well.
I don’t remember any popular arguments from atheists claiming that science proves no God. The closest Dawkins has come, in my memory, is to say, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” (The Blind Watchmaker, 1991), which is no attack on Christianity at all.
And the conclusion she draws is flawed. Atheists claim that science proves no God, so therefore “Christians have good reason to be skeptical of what scientists say”? Christians would be justifiably skeptical of scientists if they made bad arguments, but she’s talking about atheists attacking Christianity, which says nothing about what scientists say about science. Even if scientists were the ones making an argument and they were attacking Christianity, Christians would logically respond with either agreement or a rebuttal. None of this gives grounds for Christians to be skeptical about scientists’ arguments about covid, climate change, or evolution.
The same is true for atheist attacks on Christianity—Christians can be upset at how effective they are, but this is no reflection on the accuracy of science.
Science has Christian roots?
(Going forward, I’ll give Dr. Haarsma’s statements in italics.)
“The historical teachings of Christianity actually support the methods and values of science.”
If we’re generous, it’s not hard to imagine that the Bible and Christian tradition holds examples for us to follow that would make a good foundation for science. Knowing what you want ahead of time, you can pick out just the good bits.
But that’s hardly the predominant message of the Bible, and the reverse is also true. Geneticist Richard Lewontin illustrated what science would look like if God were active in our world. At any moment, God might override the natural laws for his own good purposes. But science can’t operate in an environment where every measurement is due to some (unknown) fraction from nature and the remainder from God. Science can only work by assuming that God never interacts with reality.
Another trait that Haarsma sees in Christians is, “a willingness to correct one’s ideas in the face of data.”
Wow—Haarsma needs to get out of her ivory tower. Following the evidence and correcting one’s conclusions is conservative Christians’ worst thing. Whatever the opposite of a superpower is, it’s that.
This is a tangent, but one problem she probably should have mentioned is the backfire effect, when people dig in their heels when shown a correction such that correcting their errors makes them double down on their original, false belief. With great care, we can avoid the backfire effect (see here and here).
Christianity produced many scientists
“In the earliest years of the Scientific Revolution, leaders like Galileo and Robert Boyle wrote extensively about their faith. They showed how the Bible and Christian virtues fit with their work as scientists.”
I guess we should’ve expected it—the “great scientists like Galileo and Newton were Christian!” argument. In Europe in their day, Christianity was the only game in town. Of course they were Christian centuries ago.
Modern science has steadily undercut any claim Christianity had to be a reliable worldview. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Indians, and more had their time in the spotlight, and they did just fine without Christianity. The Islamic Golden Age—five centuries of remarkable scientific progress in the Muslim world, during which time Europe was stumbling through the medieval period—is no proof of the rightness of Islam, and similarly, European science populated by Christians is no proof of the rightness of Christianity.
“Christians were leaders in bringing the benefits of science to the poor and marginalized as they founded schools and hospitals.”
Which sounds impressive until you look more closely.
See also: Yeah, but Christianity Built Universities!
See also: Yeah, but Christianity Built Hospitals!
Next, we’ll get into “Four values common to science and Christianity.” They certainly apply to science, but let’s see how well supported they are within Christianity.
Continue with part 2.
No theologians were consulted
in the search for the Higgs Boson.
— commenter ORAXX