Beckett: Can I be a Christian AND a Scientist?

I will start off first by saying: You absolutely can be a Christian as you enter into a field of science! If you’re a Christian who’s ever wondered if you can be a Christian and work in a field of science, I assure you, you do not have to sacrifice either your faith nor the premises science has to offer in our understanding of the world.

Scientism vs. Science

A distinction needs to be made between scientism and science. Today, the common belief is that science can answer all questions. This is actually scientism, not science. Scientism is making science into an idol; it is a dogma more than it is a system of facts based on empirical evidence. Science, on the other hand, properly understood, is merely observations we make about the world in order to fathom how the world functions and how we are to live in the world.

For example, through science—specifically the scientific method—we have made observations on the processes of death. Organs begin to break down and cells die, causing death. But as Christians, we believe in the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ being the firstborn of the resurrection (Colossians 1:18). Science cannot explain this—that is what makes it a miracle, i.e. an event that occurs via supernatural (extraordinary) means as opposed to natural (ordinary) means.

To be purely scientific about the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection is to say honestly, “We cannot explain this within the laws of science; therefore, there must be some other explanation science cannot explain,” especially because the resurrection, by its very (super)nature, ignores the laws of science.

Scientism, on the other hand, says, “Based on our scientific understanding of death, resurrection from the dead is impossible. We immediately dismiss any supernatural explanation because there is no such thing as the supernatural and such a concept is absurd and archaic.” In other words, if science cannot explain it, the object that cannot be explained did not happen and/or is utterly impossible. Scientism refuses to account for human error and fallibility; indeed, it cannot accept it.

As you venture into a scientific field—whether you’re Christian or not—I believe the first question you have to ask yourself is, “Can science and human rationality nail everything down with empirical certainty? Can science truly account for everything?” I believe the only honest answer, whether you’re Christian or not, is “no.” Also, if you’re Christian, you should remember to say this, “I believe the Bible is inerrant not because it can be proven; I believe it because of Jesus. Why does science have to prove it?”

Let’s consider Luke 24:13-27In this pericope, Jesus, after His resurrection, encountered two men on the road to Emmaus. They were talking about the recent event of Jesus’ crucifixion when Jesus began walking with them, although they did not recognise who He was. Jesus pretended not to know what they were talking about, and the men expressed their sorrow that they thought Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel. They also told Jesus that some women found Jesus’ tomb empty, to which Jesus responds, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” Then, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (vv. 25-27).

I bring up this passage to make the following point: We do not believe in Jesus because the Bible is true (biblical fundamentalism) or even because science says it is true (scientific fundamentalism/scientism); we believe the Bible is true because of Jesus (theology of the cross). The Scriptures do not vindicate Jesus’ death and resurrection, and neither does science; rather, His death and resurrection vindicate the Scriptures.

If you’re thinking about venturing into a field of science or if you simply have scientific curiosity, such a thing is a blessing, and it is fine that you are seeking understanding in this regard. However, remember this: Faith seeks understanding, but faith does not depend on understanding. Faith trusts Christ to keep His promises, which is warranted by His resurrection from the dead.

Navigating between Faith and Science

Whenever you’re talking about science, remember first and foremost that science is merely human reason. Science, and human reason, are nothing special. Furthermore, remember human reason is contrary to God’s Word (FC SD II.8). The Lutheran Confessions similarly say, “[Reason] cannot consider Christ or faith” (SA III.III.18). In other words, human reason is naturally set against Christ; it is blind to all spiritual matters (see FC Ep II.2). Science, therefore, is naturally predisposed to opposing Christ, unless faith navigates it. The Confessions also say:

…even though human reason or natural intellect may still have a dim spark of knowledge that a god exists [natural knowledge]… or of the teaching of the law, nevertheless it is ignorant, blind, and perverted so that even when the most skillful and learned people on earth read or hear the gospel of God’s Son and the promise of eternal salvation, they still cannot comprehend, grasp, understand, or believe it on the basis of their own powers; they cannot regard it as the truth. Instead, the more assiduously and diligently they exert themselves and want to comprehend these spiritual matters with their reason, the less they understand or believe. They regard all these matters as simply foolishness and fables, until the Holy Spirit enlightens and teaches them. (FC SD II.9-10)

This accentuates what I said earlier: Science (i.e. human reason) is naturally predisposed to opposing Christ, God’s Word, and faith. I say all this not to discourage anyone’s scientific interest by any means, or to discredit science, but to remind you of the natural predisposition of science and human reason.

So, as you navigate between faith and science, remember science is incapable of understanding matters pertaining to God, but it is fully capable of understanding matters pertaining to creation, especially fallen creation. Therefore, if you come across a scientific thing that appears to contradict God and/or Scripture, remember science and human reason are incapable of understanding and explaining matters pertaining to God. Matters pertaining to God are to be left to faith, even things faith itself cannot understand but nevertheless confesses (e.g. the Holy Trinity, the true presence of Christ in the bread and wine, etc.; also, remember faith seeks to understand but does not depend on understanding).

As a Christian, then, you absolutely can venture into a field of science. Science merely seeks to understand creation, and you, as a creature of God, are part of this creation. As a human being, God has given you dominion over creation (Genesis 1:27-28). This does not mean creation belongs to us, or that we own creation. Creation still belongs to God, including all human beings whether they believe or don’t believe. We are merely stewards, which a steward is one who manages what belongs to another.

As stewards, therefore, we are held accountable to God in our care of creation. Science is merely part of our stewardship over creation. Anytime we try to apply it to something to which it cannot apply (i.e. God/spiritual matters), it will fail every time. Science was not only designed to fathom matters only pertaining to creation, but it is also fundamentally incapable of fathoming spiritual matters and is fundamentally opposed to such matters. Besides, science has a hard enough time making sense of things pertaining to creation (e.g. the human brain), so how can we expect it to make sense of things pertaining to God, which it cannot observe?

Anytime science seeks to explain matters pertaining to God, it is trying to supersede its original design. When this happens, then, and only then, do faith and science come into conflict. But so long as science stays in its realm of explaining the natural, faith and science do not conflict, for it is by faith in which the Christian steward cares for God’s creation.

As a Christian who is a steward of God’s creation, therefore, you can certainly venture into a field of science to both understand how creation works and how we are to live in this world in relation with all God’s creatures.

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