“What do you do?” queried the guy in the window seat.
I explain my work as a scholar and pastor and how much of it focuses on what I like to call mainstream science and mere Christianity.
The guy replies, “You study science and faith? Cool.” And then he described some pathway from reading Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons that somehow opened him up to “the God particle” (aka the Higgs boson), and that eventually affirmed his worldview as a Hindu.
Hi, I’m Greg Cootsona, friend and colleague of Drew Rick-Miller, and that’s the occupation hazard we face working on science and faith. You’ll usually hear from Drew in this newsletter, but I’ll be writing them on occasion too.
We’ve spent a good part of the past two decades—mostly recently on the STEAM project, which gave birth to this newsletter—answering questions of why and how we work to bring together mainstream science with mere Christianity.
Here then is a parable I sometimes offer as to why I do what I do. It seemed worthwhile as a way of introducing myself.
The Parable of the Greek New Testament
At Berkeley as an undergrad, I first started studying the history of ideas and the great questions that literature and philosophy present. In my first year at Cal, through talking with friends and reading Mere Christianity, I put aside the functional atheism I had learned at home and confessed my faith in Jesus Christ.
As a result of those two facts (and a few more I’ll leave aside for now), I decided to learn ancient Greek, and more specifically Attic Greek (which flourished around the 4th century BC), the language spoken in Athens around the time of Aristotle and Plato. As a bonus, Attic Greek encompassed Koine Greek, the language of the 1st century AD and thus of the New Testament.
You see, I wanted to read the sacred Scripture of Christianity in its original language. And I can tell you that by my senior year at Cal, I found myself in an independent study with two other students and a professor of comparative literature (who at one time lived in a Hindu ashram, by the way), sitting together in a dusty room in Dwinelle Hall on Cal’s campus, reading the Gospels in the original. It was profound. It was intellectually challenging. And it was an almost overwhelming gift.
The next four years I owned and managed a small business (and tried to keep my Greek active). At the end of that life chapter, my wife Laura and I sensed that it was time for me to pursue a dream of studying theology, the Bible, and a host of other things. I headed across country to Princeton Theological Seminary in a 45-foot U-Haul, along with two friends. I found myself almost immediately in biblical studies.
And here’s the thing: When I started investigating the New Testament at Princeton, the Greek I learned at UC Berkeley—this glorious cathedral to liberal secular thought—the Greek (its grammar, vocabulary, syntax, et al.) was exactly the same. In fact, I carried the same Nestle-Aland Greek Bible that I used at Cal. There were no concerns that now I had to learn some new “heavenly” Greek in my divinity studies. Princeton trusted the education at Cal in a critical tool for understanding our most sacred writings.
- Francis Collins bridges mainstream science and mere Christianity at my alma mater.
- Princeton took faith and science seriously, especially theologian Wentzel van Huysteen
- You might also check out one of my intellectual heroes, John Polkinghorne.
- This video is a brief version of how I put together faith and science.
- You can find the longer version in my book, Mere Science and Christian Faith.
- Bridgetown Church in Portland blends Scripture and mainstream science very well.
If Science Were Like Greek…
In seminary, I began to consider not just Greek but mainstream science. I would ask myself, If Cal Bear Greek works for the seminary, why not mainstream science?
Why don’t our theological voices trust the sciences to offer an accurate picture of the world when we trust the science of classical Greek studies to offer us the tools to study the most sacred texts, the words that bring us to the knowledge of Jesus Christ?
And in my 20 years in ministry, as a preacher, I use Greek to prepare a sermon, so why not science?
But I hope you won’t stop at just pondering these questions. Instead, I hope you’ll be able to respond, engaging science in your ministry.
You see, some of the same rules apply. Better not to say, “The verb in the 8th chapter of the Johannine record that describes Jesus’s drawing in the sand is a 3rd person singular imperfect ….” Say instead, “The grammar in this passage leads us to this payoff for our Christian life—that Christ definitely takes time with a repetitive action to slow down and restrain violence.”
Likewise, replace, “Recent scientific inquiry into the M-theory indicates that the metaphysics arising from quantum theory …” with “Recent research demonstrates that our world is open and that we have freedom to love and live as a result.”
It takes some work, but it is not impossible. Especially as you begin to find trusted translations of the science, what Drew and I will do in this newsletter each and every week.