I thought I’d review the relationship between science and the Christian faith for the past year. This is strictly from my own perspective as chronicler of things science-y and faith-y for Internet Monk and I don’t purport to be exhaustive or even statistically significant (hah, hah, see what I did there). Commentators are always welcome to weigh in with their opinions.
Let’s review the bad news first, so we can end this review on a high note. First and maybe worst is the ignoring or outright opposition to scientific thinking by the Trump administration. From climate-change denialism to meeting with a vaccine critic while planning a commission on autism (Trump himself has tweeted that there are “many cases” of children who become autistic after receiving vaccinations) to rollbacks on environmental protections; it seems some of this anti-scientific attitude reflects accommodating Trump’s so-called “evangelical” supporters.
Perhaps the most potentially devastating proposal came last November where the administration is preparing to significantly limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policy making including invalidating studies that have been used for decades to show, for example, that mercury from power plants impairs brain development, or that lead in paint dust is tied to behavioral disorders in children — might be inadmissible when existing regulations come up for renewal.
Next up would be the rise in flat-earthism. As I wrote here in Part 6 of the review of Wallace’s book, Love and Quasars:
What does this trend signify? I shudder to think. It simply amazes and dismays me to realize this has become a thing. Although there appears to be a religious component to this; some proponents assert flat earth is what the bible says, flat earthism seems mostly to be a psychological phenomenon associated with “conspiracy theory” thinking.
In July, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) passed a resolution at their convention affirming the belief that God created the Earth “in six natural days”. I posted on the topic here. The LCMS is the eleventh largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., with about 2.3 million members. I have to admit I don’t really know why they did it. LCMS member and Imonk commentator, Miguel Ruiz, seems to think it was more a theological issue than a scientific one. To be fair, the vote was 662 in favor and 309 against, so there was quite a bit of dissent about the resolution. Dissenting members decried the lack of clarity in that what the heck is a “natural” day before there was any sun in the sky. How do you have an “evening and a morning” without a sun, because, remember, the Genesis account says the sun wasn’t created until the FOURTH DAY? My rant was probably uncharitable, nevertheless, it was disappointing to see a major Protestant denomination take such an obvious unscientific stance.
According the Friendly Atheist ticket sales for the Ark Encounter were up in July but down slightly in October. I couldn’t find comparable numbers for the Creation Museum, but it looks like Ken Ham’s odes to pseudoscience are still humming along (for now anyway).
And now, for the good news. A recent Gallup poll regarding American views on creation and evolution showed the acceptance of Creationism, the belief that God made humans as they are today and did so roughly 10,000 years ago, has hit its lowest point since Gallup began asking the question 35 years ago .
According to this 2015 Slate article, the people responsible for this shift are the young. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, 73 percent of American adults younger than 30 expressed some sort of belief in evolution, a jump from 61 percent in 2009, the first year in which the question was asked.
I believe this trend is due to the number of Christian scientists speaking out on the issue. This began in earnest with Francis Collins. He led the Human Genome Project and now directs the National Institutes of Health. In 2006, he wrote the best-selling book The Language of God in which he tells his journey from atheism to Christian belief, showing that science is not in conflict with the Bible, but actually enhances faith. In 2009, he launched the Biologos Forum and Biologos sponsors a number of conferences across the country that address science-faith issues.
There have been a number of books by believing scientists, several of which I’ve reviewed here, that support orthodox Christianity along with acceptance of modern science. These include Adam and the Genome, Purpose in Biology, Faith Across the Multiverse , Mere Science and Christian Faith , A World From Dust, Minds, Brains, Souls, and Gods, Finding God in the Waves, The Grand Canyon and the Flood, and our current review of “Love and Quasars: An Astrophysicist Reconciles Faith and Science” by Paul Wallace that began here.
There are also a number of science and faith blogs by believing scientists that also cover the science/faith issue. These include RJS at Jesus Creed, Science and Religion: A View from an Evolutionary Creationist by Jim Kidder, NATURALIS HISTORIA by Joel Duff, and regular podcasts by “Science Mike” McHargue. Finally, there is the venerable American Scientific Affiliation, or ASA, that was founded in 1941 as an international network of Christians in the sciences, who publish the quarterly Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith journal.
My overall perspective is that slowly acceptance of science by American evangelicals is gaining ground. Sure, there is some doubling down by fundamentalists, and some of the acceptance of science is due to the overall increasing trend of secularization in American society at the expense of Christian belief. Nevertheless, the young people who continue to follow Christ seem to be more receptive to scientific reality than ever before. I remain cautiously optimistic.