Is Science and Christianity reconcilable?

The media’s tendency toward conflict leaves the general public with the impression that all scientists are atheists and all Christian leaders are advocates of a faith that is blind to all evidence in the natural world.  This warfare mentality was triggered largely through the 19th century work of Andrew Dickson White, the first president of Cornell University, an outspoken champion of secularism and author of A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology Within Christendom.  Though his work is dismissed by most scholars today as pseudo-scholarly propaganda, it advanced the near-universal belief that science and Christianity can only quarrel.  Only when a giant in the dual fields of science and religion dies, as Ian Barbour who passed away over Christmas at 90 years of age, do the media ever seem to give serious patronage to the topic of reconciling the fields.   Even the so-called “Religion” sections of the mainstream media focus most often on stories that generate conflict between peoples of Faith, such as the two absurd articles I recently found in the Huffington Post: “Are Religious people less intelligent?” and “Are Protestants more creative than Catholics, Jews?”  Christian publications have done little to change the landscape of the conversation.  Generally they have ignored all discussion of scientific discoveries and theories, leaving the impression that they fear the natural implications as they relate to Holy Scripture.

 It seems that denominational and local churches have all dropped the ball on this, and have left the task of responding to the secular philosophies and the spiritual anemia rampant in the current culture, to para-church ministries.  Years ago when the local churches failed to meet their evangelistic mission,  Billy Graham stepped outside to launch the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  To reach college and university campuses, Bill Bright started Campus Crusade.  And men like Oral Roberts, Paul Crouch, Pat Robertson and others stepped away from the Church to harness the media to reach the world.  Stand to Reason, the Christian Research Institute, Living Waters and other “apologetic” ministries have been similarly launched to defend the Christian faith, including demonstrating that it and science are reconcilable – and in fact, provides the only rational explanation for the creation and continued functioning of the natural world.

To many in the church, it’s enough to quote Romans 1:19 and 20 “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,…” and then walk away from mankind, leaving each one to figure it out on their own.  But considering that our current culture is hammering the lies of atheism and evolution into our young people’s brains daily through the public school system and its textbooks, through liberal university professors who dominate higher education, through the broadcast media and through our government leaders and laws, they need to hear a strong voice from the Church.  Truth will always overcome lies, but truth must have a voice to do any good.

In point of fact, most scientific discoveries are a-religious and a-Biblical; that is, they stand alone as wonderful new information about the way our natural world functions, independent of any scriptural connation.  For example, the following are some of the most awesome discoveries of 2013.

  1. After 36 years of flight, NASA declared that their Voyager 1 spacecraft had gone interstellar.  Measurements from the probe revealed that it had slipped out from the area where the sun’s electromagnetic influence reigns and tasted the space between stars. This piece of vintage ’70s hardware has only enough memory onboard to hold an average-size JPEG file.
  2.  In January, two research teams announced a fast and precise new method for editing snippets of the genetic code. The so-called CRISPR system takes advantage of a defense strategy used by bacteria. The bacteria use RNA to identify foreign DNA and enzymes to chop it up. The scientists repurposed this system so that the RNA seeks out a specific sequence of DNA — a disease-causing gene mutation, for example — and the enzymes edit the genetic code to fix the mutation.
  3.  Data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which hunts for exoplanets, allowed astronomers to estimate the number of alien worlds that orbit sun-like stars at just the right distance for liquid water – and perhaps life — to exist. They calculate that about one in five of the 50 billion sun-like stars in our galaxy should have an exoplanet where the temperatures are balmy and nice.
  4.  In April, researchers at Stanford University described a series of chemical treatments that make brain tissue almost completely transparent. Scientists can then use any number of fluorescent labels to highlight neurotransmitters and other important chemicals, or trace the long skinny axons that send information from one part of the brain to another.  The technique works in human tissue too, which bodes well for using it to study what goes wrong in everything from autism to Alzheimer’s disease in unprecedented cellular detail. It’s just the kind of tool that the new federal BRAIN Initiative announced this year hopes will usher in a fresh round of discoveries about how the brain works.
  5. Scientists had wondered why a furry red creature didn’t seem to breed with others of its kind in the Andean cloud forests where it lives. This year they found out: Anatomical and DNA tests established that the olinguito is a distinct species.  It’s the first new such species of carnivorous mammal discovered in the Americas in 35 years.
  6.  This year scientists announced several big steps towards engineering functioning organs from stem cells.  (1) A mini brain was created from stem cells derived from reprogrammed human skin cells. By providing just the right chemical environment, European scientists coaxed the stem cells to become neurons and arrange themselves into different structures that crudely resemble the anatomy of a developing fetal brain.  The researchers are using these methods to study what goes wrong in developmental brain disorders like microcephaly, using stem cells from individual patients.  (2) Meanwhile, researchers in Japan developed functional human liver tissue from reprogrammed skin cells and several teams reported progress on developing kidney tissue. The road to creating transplantable tissues from stem cells is still long, but these are encouraging steps.
  7.  2013 was a banner year for electronics designed to work from inside the body. Scientists developed biodegradable circuits that could one day destroy microbes with heat to help heal a wound and dissolve after they’ve done their jobs.  They invented flexible electronic tattoos that could be loaded with enough sensors to make your FitBit seem like a clunky piece of junk.  And now we have tiny LED probes  and a stretchy foil made of gold nanoparticles that can measure and manipulate the brain.
  8.  A study published recently found that mice can pass a fearful memory down to their offspring — and even the next generation after that. Mice in these later generations froze in fear when they caught a whiff of a certain smell that their fathers (or grandfathers) had learned to associate with an electric shock. Additional experiments showed the same effect when Mom was the one with the scary experience.  The study has spurred an animated debate about how this could happen. The brains of fearful progeny contained more neurons with receptors for the scary smell, the scientists found. They suggest that chemical changes to DNA that alter the way genes work could account for the persistence of memory through the generations.

These advancements should excite every Christian – as we learn more and more about the wonderful universe God created to bless us and to have dominion over.  Unfortunately, some are bound to focus on the potential evil way that mankind might use some of these technologies.  It’s up to the mature Christian to make sure he and she gets involved and participates in the advancements of this technology, rather than censors and avoids them.  None are to be feared.  We need to exercise our vote in how these technologies will be utilized in the future.

Categorized as Science

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