Changing the Language of Science and Faith

The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions has several goals but a friend asked me what was the primary purpose. After thinking about this a bit, I would put it like this: the most desired outcome or effect of this book is a reduction of the tension and hostility between science and religion. There is a real sense in which I wish (perhaps unrealistically) that this book would be so successful that no more books on this topic would have to be written.

The most discouraging aspect of the discussion in this book is that it is, for the most part, between fellow Christians -- a sort of civil war pitting brother against brother, sister against sister. If Christians of all stripes were united against poverty or sickness, that would be a glorious war, as they set aside their differences to do battle with a genuine enemy. But there is something sad when Christians at Answers in Genesis, at Al Mohler's seminary, at the Discovery Institute and even at BioLogos attack each other over the topic of origins. And although nobody loses their lives in this war, there are real casualties, like Bruce Waltke, who lost his job last year for suggesting that evangelicals needed to take evolution seriously, or the faculty members at Calvin College on the hot seat for their publications about Adam.

Such intramural quarreling among "family members" is often incredibly heated. In the most literal sense, we are more likely to get into heated arguments with our brothers and sisters, or spouses, than we are with our friends. And we are less likely still to get into heated arguments with people we barely know. Anyone who has heard pre-school siblings engaged in a border dispute about their respective "sides" in the back seat of a car understands that there is something innate about our need to protect our point of view -- not matter how trivial -- against those closest to us.

In a 1917 paper, Sigmund Freud coined a phrase now in common usage ("the narcissism of small differences") to describe our tendency to react so strongly -- with aggression, vitriol, even hatred -- to those who resemble us the most. Freud argued that those with whom we have nothing in common cannot truly threaten us, for they are wholly "other." In contrast are those who share many but not all of our views. They threaten us because they embody the possibility that we might be wrong. Baptist Christians argue far more aggressively with other evangelicals than they do, for example, with Muslims. Wesleyans argue with Calvinists, not Buddhists.

Christians in the conversation about origins are invested in their positions and perceive that much is at stake for their faith. But there is much more that is not at stake for their faith. No belief about the actual teachings of Jesus is threatened, and certainly not his most important command that we should be known by our love. If that central Christian idea received the emphasis it deserves, perhaps the scientific ideas about origins would seem far less threatening.

In my teaching, I have the pleasure of engaging regularly with college-aged Christians. This rising generation of Christians approaches faith differently than previous generations and countless books are examining this difference. The most consistent message young people bring is that they are tired of squabbling among fellow Christians. Almost none of these young people are enthusiastic about their own denominational traditions. They want to be known simply as "followers of Jesus." They are far more concerned about the plight of Haitians than the age of the earth. They want to talk about social justice, not the parameters of biblical inspiration.

Rachel Held Evans is one of the rising voices of this new generation of Christians. Her book, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, reflects her frustrations as a young Christian growing up in Dayton, Tenn. (known as "Monkey Town" after the famous Scopes trial) and being taught everything about Christianity except the centrality of love and compassion. Like the students in my classes, Rachel is eager for Christians to put aside differences and celebrate what we share.

Francis and I were thus delighted when Rachel agreed to write the following blurb for our book. She shares our vision for the purpose of The Language of Science and Faith -- namely to bring Christians to the point where they can accept modern science and stop arguing over whether that science threatens their faith.

"For too long, followers of Jesus have been told they have to make a choice-between science and Christianity, reason and belief, their intellectual integrity and their faith. The Language of Science and Faith is a readable and comprehensive resource for the thoughtful Christian who refuses to choose. Giberson and Collins tackle difficult topics with charity, accessibility and integrity, moving the origins conversation forward in a way that honors God and builds up the church. This is a must-read for those who want to love the Lord with their heart, soul, mind and strength."

This post is adapted from a slightly longer one that appeared on the BioLogos.