The Urgency of Science and Race

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I don’t have a catchy story or profound quote to start this extra edition of Science for the Church’s newsletter. I’ve spent most of the past 10 days with emotions that transcend language. I’m a white male, and I believe God’s calling on my life is to listen right now, especially to my black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ. I am only beginning to understand the soul-searching I need to do to learn what changes are needed in me and the work and relationships I steward to ensure I am not making things worse in our broken and divided society.

I do now realize the ways both my race and my class are connected to privilege, which have allowed me, among other things, to pursue a niche vocation—helping the Christian church to engage science.

One of my convictions, learned over decades of working in this niche, is that both Christian faith and modern science have much to contribute to most pressing issues of our day, including race.

Science for the Church is developing a resource section on our website dealing with race, science, and faith. This week I want to introduce you to some of the materials we are collating. So the remainder of this edition will point to work I hope can be helpful to our churches and our society.

  • First and foremost, scientists tell us race is not a scientific category. Specifically, it is not genetic. Here Agustin Fuentes introduces the basic biological and anthropological science. As he points out here, people of every complexion and physical stature share 99.9% of the same genetic material. And that 0.1% does not map on to biological races. There is no genetic sequence that aligns with what is commonly understood as race.
  • Second, and as important, race is a powerful social construct. And here we have to avoid falling into a kind of scientism—that only what biology tells us is real. Race as a cultural category is very real with powerful social effects… like racism.
  • Population geneticist Rick Kittles unpacks the concepts of race (social) and ancestry (biological) in this TEDx talk.  Ancestry is a more accurate biological concept and, as Dr. Kittles explains, is important for understanding things like health disparities.
  • This 9-minute video on human origins, genetics, and identity created by Science for Seminaries paints a more holistic picture of what it means to be human and how science informs the way we think about ourselves.
  • The history around terms like Caucasian has no scientific basis. It is an example of bad science and even worse theology.
  • Constructs of race and the reality of racism have clear negative impacts on black and brown persons. A medical researcher summarizes some of the relevant studies here.
  • We know something about race and wealth inequality in America (graphs like these are striking).
  • It is pretty intuitive the ways poverty can impact physical and mental health, but less obvious is that poverty also influences our genetics, as described in this research.
  • The history of race in our country has led to significant generational trauma and that generational trauma negatively influences the health and well-being of persons of color. Generational trauma is described here and a range of relevant research is summarized here.
  • Cognitive bias—a topic we have addressed previously—is a significant factor in racism. We are usually unaware of these biases and therefore they can be particularly pernicious. Read a summary of implicit bias here, including one study that gives insight into police shootings.
  • Claims of racial differences in intelligence and athletic performance persist without support from science.
  • Any discussion of race and science must include the many historical ways science has been used against non-white Americans. Even today, science is misused for racially motivated oppression. As such, science (more accurately scientists misusing the authority of science) is very much part of the problem. Some of that history is described here.
  • Not surprisingly, this misuse of science leads to a mistrust in science, especially a mistrust of medical science, which is only made worse by the under-representation of people of color in the sciences (92% of science PhDs are held by whites and Asian Americans, but only 7% by Latinx and African Americans).
  • That 7% includes Dr. Fuentes and Dr, Kittles who I have already mentioned, as well as:
    • Evolutionary biologist, Dr. Joseph Graves, Jr. discusses many of the themes mentioned above in this excellent interview with PBS. His article on race and ancestry may also be helpful.
    • Anthropologist Yolanda Moses also offers much to help us think about race.
    • Georgia Dunston’s story is told here including her involvement in the Human Genome Project and her work at the intersection of genetics and human identity.
  • Have you wondered how the intersection of science and faith plays out in black churches? That is the subject of Cleve Tinsley IV’s research and he discussed it with Christianity Today.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. famously noted that Sunday mornings at 11am were the most segregated hour of the week in America. Recent research suggests that this has not changed.
  • COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting black and brown populations in the United States.
  • Finally, BioLogos has some excellent articles on science, racism, and Christian faith.

Science for the Church believes that the church can be strengthened by engaging science.  We try every week to give you, leaders in our churches, the resources you need to engage science, even when those resources paint an ugly picture of the present realities of race in our churches and our society. As you can see by so many links, the connections between race and science are many. If you identified as “non-Hispanic” and “white” on the most recent census, as I did, I expect an hour or two working through these links will result in more than a few pleas, Lord have mercy.

We pray that the resources here, and those we will be collecting in the coming weeks, will strengthen your ministry by helping you better proclaim God’s love for all humanity.

And in the same way that we always encourage churches to create relationships with scientists, we would also benefit from more relationships with people who checked a different box for race or ethnicity on the census. We need to listen to them and invite God’s spirit to be at work in us so that we can make the changes that are needed to honor all people as image bearers of God.



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