Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults, by Greg Cootsona: Chapter 1- Creation, Beauty, and Science
We are going to look at the book, Mere Science and Christian Faith, by Greg Cootsona, subtitled Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults. Greg Cootsona (PhD, Graduate Theological Union) is a writer, researcher, and speaker. He directs Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries (or STEAM) at Fuller Theological Seminary, and teaches religious studies and humanities at California State University at Chico. He previously served as a pastor for eighteen years in Chico, California, and New York City. He has been interviewed by CNN, the BBC, the New York Times, and the Today Show. Greg is also the author of the 2014 book, C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian, that explored how Lewis dealt with the crises that he experienced to his faith.
RJS has reviewed parts of this book on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog as well as her own blog, Musings on Science and Theology. RJS recommended the book, and she is one of my most influential examples of science and faith blogging. By “emerging adults”, Cootsona means high school and college age men and women who are wrestling with the science and faith issues in American society. I have six grandchildren that fall into this category, so the subject matter is of great personal interest to me.
Greg begins the book with a story of a backpacking trip he took with his about-to-go-to-college daughter and the delight that the 7-year old child of the youth pastor had in finding beautiful rocks and bringing them to her father, who also had a geology degree. He notes what that child did—finding beauty in nature—is the beginning of science. Greg also recalled a discussion with a biologist at a conference who stated, “I find biological science fascinating and have ever since I was young. In fact, every scientist I know began with a profound experience with nature as a child”. I totally relate to this. I remember as a five-year old child being introduced to the “All About…” books by the famous geologist and explorer, Roy Chapman Andrews, and being so totally enchanted with the natural world he described that I decided then and there to become a geologist (very precocious I know, but true story nonetheless).
In Eastern Orthodoxy, it is said, that all theology begins with philokalia, the “love of beauty”, and when we grasp beauty in nature, we are drawn to the source of that beauty. That is why, with this book, Greg hopes to inspire more ministry leaders to point emerging adults toward studying nature as an act of worship. He calls the book a manifesto, he says, “…it’s designed to convince you that the church must embrace mainstream science for its future“.
Greg notes that many churches, especially evangelical churches, fail to treat the topic of science at all, even as their high schoolers are trying to put their faith as taught to them in church together with what they learn about the natural world in their classrooms. David Kinnaman, Barna president, noted in one survey that 52% of youth group members will ultimately enter a science related profession, but only 1% of youth groups talk about science even once a year. Kinnaman also noted that surveys indicate that a third of 18-30 year olds, when asked the question, “Which religion do you affiliate with?” answer, “None”. And one of the top reasons that “nones” state they leave the church is that it is “anti-science”. Greg says:
If Kinnaman is right, unless Christian congregations work to bring science back into the church, there may be millions fewer people in American pews in the coming years, and ultimately there may be a visibly diminished church left to engage science. I’m not arguing that we should integrate faith with mainstream science just to gain converts—though I think that will happen. Rather, I’m convinced that the church must do the work of integration because if we don’t, we throw away our legacy of Christian’s contribution to natural science… We have science as a birthright in the church and love science at its best because it discovers truth. And the Christian church is at its best when it seeks truth.
The interesting thing about Cootsona’s own story is that he grew up in Northern California with a happy secularism that, because of his upper middle class environment, simply didn’t see a need for God. That area, Oakland-San Francisco-San Jose, is found, by Barna, to be the number one “unchurched” area in the country. At age 17, he started at the University of California, Berkeley, and shortly thereafter became a follower of Christ. As he puts it:
Grow up in a secular home. Go to Berkeley. Become a Christian—it’s almost laughable. But that’s what happened.
Boy, talking about God working in mysterious ways. It wasn’t a necessarily intellectual conversion. He was not “argued” into the faith (is anybody?), but he became disenchanted with the smug, Randian- “virtue-of-selfishness”, self-sufficiency of his functional atheism, and began longing for “something more”. He became acquainted with intelligent, irenic Christians, and in the second quarter of his first year, committed his life to following Jesus.
This being Berkeley, he, of course was exposed to the arguments that there is no way to put faith and science together. As one of his professors put it to him, “What possible sense does faith make after modern science and the Enlightenment? How could you believe in God after Hume and Kant? True intellectuals have concluded that science presents decisive reasons for not believing in God.”
So Cootsona has worked through these issues in his own life, and has now made his career of engaging the dialogue between faith and science. He has discovered that for the Christian message to have any impact today with emerging adults, it must engage science. Otherwise, for the church to ignore science, or worse, engage in fraudulent science, is to make science, particularly evolution, the “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view” that philosopher Daniel Dennett claimed would happen in his 1995 book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.