Traveling Side-by-side: Apologetics that seriously engage science

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I love long travel days.  Even when hours and days are lost in connecting flights, terminal gates, and shuttles.

Ok, love may be too strong a word. Especially the days that start or end in the wee hours of the morning.  But I do savor the chance those long days afford me to enjoy some music and focus on a book.

A few weeks ago, I had two such travel days, going to and from a Science for Seminaries retreat. The result was two good books and joining a group of seminary professors mixing with scientists. Those mixed in my brain with Greg’s entries on St. Clive (aka C.S. Lewis).

The result? Apologetics that seriously engage science are important if we are speaking to a culture of unbelievers. So today I want to unpack this idea – tying together the last several instalments where we looked at unbelief and the great apologist, C.S. Lewis.

Those Two Books

On the way to the retreat, I finished Mike McHargue’s Finding God in the Waves. On the way home, it was Stacey Trasancos’s Particles of Faith. The first is the story of a Southern Baptist lay leader losing his faith and, as he describes it, finding it again through science. The second is the story of a Ph.D. chemist (also raised Southern Baptist) owning faith for the first time through the Roman Catholic intellectual tradition.

Both authors went through a period of unbelief where God was implausible to their analytic, science-loving minds. Their journeys to faith differed in significant ways, but shared one important thing in common: Neither would assent to a belief that denied what they found via science to be true about the world. Faith became plausible only when they were given the intellectual tools to see science as a means of studying God’s creation, and when they discovered faith did not require them to give up any science. Not all the answers were simple or even complete, but smart and faithful Christians gave them permission to ask their questions and pursue answers without rejecting science.

Apologists abound, offering answers to the questions of skeptics and the faithful alike. They are key resources as we seek to understand our faith and help a culture of unbelievers find Jesus. They help us explain the consistency of belief in God, the relevance of Scripture, and the logic of the Cross. They are among the most brilliant and faithful Christians, using the gifts of their minds, to share faith with anyone who will listen.

But would the work of most apologists successfully reach McHargue or Trasancos?

Side-by-side Apologetics

I’ve said this before, and will say it again: Engaging science seriously is essential to mission work in our contemporary culture. There are people out there looking for churches that won’t make them check their brains at the door. We learned in the Scientists in Congregations program that there is a place for churches that take both science and Scripture seriously. New folks came to these churches for that very reason.

That is to say, McHargue and Trasancos are not unique. Whether or not it is the actual reason religious “Nones” are leaving our churches, a failure to engage science is often mentioned to justify their leaving. This needs to change.

I was struck during those Science for Seminaries meetings with the seriousness of the seminary faculty in trying to get the science right. It was as if they were reading my mind: We have do this and we have to do it well to prepare church leaders to meet the demands of ministry.

The task is also important in apologetics. Like C.S. Lewis, we have to engage faith and culture. And our culture is shaped not by faith but by science and technology. In fact, 35% of Americans have strong confidence in scientists, according to the latest Pew data. We need to assume a posture where science is not a threat, and communicate clearly that alternatives to mainstream science are not the only faithful options.

Those meetings with seminary professors and scientists are instructive in second way. Once the scientists, whether or not they are believers, see that these Christian thinkers want to engage in the best possible science, they open up. Relationships form. Very quickly they moved on to the tough issues, approaching them side-by-side.

Any minister of the gospel knows the power of relationships. Compelling ideas matter, but every bit as important are the relationships. My prayer for your ministry—in whatever way you seek to share the Good News—is that you build strong relationships with scientists. Together both our science and our faith are enriched. Together we give the world a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. And together, we may begin to make progress on the toughest issues of our day.

We may not be able to eliminate those lost days of travel, but at the very least, I’m confident it will make us more effective apologists to the many unbelievers who put their trust in science. 



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