If You Think Science And Faith Are Opposed, Your God Is Too Small

We have seen a deliberate and sustained effort to undermine respect for science.

This weekend, thousands and thousands of people around the world participated in the #MarchforScience. As a Christian pastor and teacher, I was one of them.

Let me be clear. I believe in an infinite God, creator of heaven and earth. I think science is the way we better understand the physical universe, and faith always seeks understanding, as theologians have said for many centuries. That’s why we have brains and can think.

But in the last few decades, especially in the United States, we have seen a deliberate and sustained effort to undermine respect for science.

A crucial way scientific method has been disparaged and demeaned is theological. “God” and “evolution” have been relentlessly opposed in conservative Christianity, and evolution, and therefore science in general, has been labeled “godless.”

This isn’t a science problem, it’s a God-problem.

What is so anxiety-provoking for religious conservatives about evolution (as I have written in Dreaming of Eden: Religion and Politics in a Wired World) is that religious conservatives have been made to fear that scientific method means God is not “in control.” As a prime example, the idea that evolutionary changes are deemed to be “random” in their portrayals of the science and thus not under “God’s control, is felt to be an attack on Christian belief. As an alternative, Christian conservatives are told to put their trust in an “all powerful God” who will not let anything bad happen to the believer from the very structure of human DNA up to and including the catastrophic effects of accelerating and increasingly violent climate change.

An all-controlling God who is “in charge” permeates conservative Christian theologies. It is, one should note, a heavenly mirror for a politics of control (and the source of white Evangelicals preference for Donald Trump and his rhetoric.)

This is a big God problem on two levels. One, this God is really “too small.” If we believe as Christians that God is infinite, then there is no possible mutation that is not already in God. That’s what infinite means. Instead, this “controlling” God is made into a finite creature and that, as we know, is heresy.

The other God-problem arising from “God is in control” theologies is that scripture and tradition emphasize human responsibility, including care of the creation (Gen. 1:6) and the love and care of other human beings as Jesus teaches is the “greatest commandment” that goes hand-in-hand with the love of God (Mark 12:30-31).

Who is served by these “too small God” theologies? Actually, it is corporations and their endless drive to put profit ahead of the planet. And the linkage is no accident. When science is suspect as ‘godless,’ then the ‘bottom line’ becomes the alternative.

The importance of evidence-based policy decisions over catering to corporations and their profits was a constant theme of the marches this weekend, as was the human cost of failing to do evidence-based policy. The result of the latter is catastrophic, as Mona Hanna-Attish a pediatrician and public health advocate who first called attention to the high levels of lead in the drinking water of Flint, Michigan, emphasized at the DC march.

“Flint is what happens when we dismiss science,” she said, referring to the 2014 crisis.

The poisoning of children from lead, starvation, displacement and death from violent climate catastrophe, and the long-term health effects of polluting the atmosphere are by any theological measure a grave sin. So is the deception about why this is happening that is mislabeled ‘climate change denial.’ That too is a grave sin as I have written.

Christians who love God and neighbor need to be in these marches to respect science and protect the planet, and working all year long to carry this message to people of faith.

I consider that an altar call.