Ideas Matter

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Last week Greg noted that when it comes to conflicts between faith and science, for many of us, knowledge and ideas may not be as important as morals or values. Nonetheless, Greg’s point was not that the life of the mind doesn’t matter or that we can be lax with the details. In fact, this week I want to say a bit more about the value of knowledge and ideas for the interface between faith and science.

The intellectual life is incredibly important in order to do the work of Science for the Church. Our vision of a day when science is commonly engaged in church will require both knowledge of science and the theological frameworks for integrating it with faith. Our dream that science no longer be a barrier to faith will require the church to plant new ideas—and recapture some old ideas—in the minds of believers that suggest compatibility rather than conflict. In other words, knowledge and ideas are part of how we seek to strengthen the church through engagement with science.

My Story

Let me get personal here. A few years ago when I was a young Christian (ok, maybe a little more than a few years ago), I decided I would only accept the Christian faith if it jived with the science I was learning as a physics major at Northwestern University. I could not consider a faith that was incompatible with what I was learning about quantum mechanics, a 13 billion-year-old expanding universe (now we know it is closer to 13.8 billion years), and those fascinating infinitely dense singularities.

At that time, I felt alone. My Christian peers seemed less worried than I was about the intersection between faith and science. Now that I have spent several decades working in this space, I know I was not alone. Many folks seek to understand how the knowledge we obtain in science classrooms and laboratories intersects with ideas we learn from Scripture and in church. Or put differently then how does the truth revealed through science meet with the truth of our Christian faith? Reconciling that knowledge and truth is not always sufficient for belief, but for many like me it is necessary.

Fast forward to the newly minted M.Div. version of Drew. I earned my degree after 4 years of study and practice at Princeton Seminary where I worked closely with a theologian (thank you Wentzel!) who specialized in theology and science. I had gained some theological ideas that harmonized my faith with science. Some of these ideas were pretty simple: all truth is God’s truth and God is revealed to us in both scripture and nature. Others were more complex. I learned about the limits of science and tools like critical realism for how we might think about knowledge claims in both domains. I still had some questions (that has not changed), but my faith in God and my appreciation for the incarnation and resurrection were no longer at risk because of anything scientific.

I hope you hear what I’m saying: engaging science strengthened my faith. Those aspirations we have for Science for the Church are autobiographical. Science was not a barrier to my faith – instead of tearing it down, science actually built it up. It turned out that knowledge in science, theology, scripture and philosophy was essential in my story of faith. Because ideas matter.


  • BioLogos looks at the heritage of the two books approach to faith and science.
  • What is critical realism? Here is a short summary of the concept.
  • Pew reports “many respondents who mention ‘science’ as the reason they do not believe.”

  • There is wisdom in today’s youth ministry that would have helped my younger self.
  • I argued here that the right historical knowledge can lessen the tension we feel between faith and science.
  • Denis Alexander reviews four models for relating science and faith.

For the Church

When we evaluated Scientists in Congregations, a middle-sized church in the Midwest described new members that came and stayed as a result of their faith and science programming. In fact, we found that all 15 churches we interviewed had attracted some new members because of their faith and science activities. Interestingly, in this particular church, several young families came as a result of the grant despite their never once attending a specific faith and science event. What, then, did engaging science have to do with their joining? They joined because they wanted to be a part of a church that asked tough questions and wrestled with ideas. They wanted to be part of a church that sought knowledge and considered what it means to believe in a scientific age. They didn’t have to attend those programs; they simply felt compelled to join a Christian community that offered them.

I think this example illustrates one reason some churches are in decline. There are folks for whom the viability and vitality of their faith is linked, at least in part, to the life of the mind. These folks will only commit themselves to faith communities that engage with culture and the world of ideas.

Have you ever noticed that nearly every Pew report that details the rise of the religious “nones” includes at least one example of a respondent who uses science to justify their “noneness”? Whether or not science really is causal, a church that is silent, or worse, conflicted, when it comes to science, is a church that is irrelevant.

This is one of the reasons Greg and I truly believe that engaging science can strengthen the church. A church that engages science is a church that can be relevant for these audiences. It is a church that can proclaim the Gospel to the “nones” and “dones” that sleep in, exercise, or enjoy brunch while we lament why there aren’t more people with us on Sunday morning.

In the coming weeks, I will argue that knowledge and ideas aren’t the only important domains for Science for the Church. And if you stay with us long enough, you will also see that they do matter even in conflicted areas—they may not be as important as morality or values, but there usually are ideas that can reduce at least some of the tensions we feel between faith and science.

Our motivating purpose at Science for the Church is both biographical and missional. Biographical in that engaging science has been essential for our personal walks with God. Missional in that we are convinced it is necessary to wrestle honestly with challenging questions that arise at the interface of science and faith. Only then can the church have credibility with the rapidly increasing segments of our culture who left the church at least in part because of its posture regarding science. For the sake of the Body of Christ, we urge you to join us in this work.

Cheers,
Drew

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