Breaking Down Faith Barriers With Science
How can Christians reach out to scientists who cannot believe what their minds cannot understand and who question the validity of the Christian faith? How can Christians give satisfying answers to those who ask difficult questions? Here are three ways to break down faith/science barriers.
by Patti Townley-Covert and Joe Aguirre
Suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Rick lay in a hospital bed surrounded by family and friends. Knowing he would soon die, Rick declared: “I believe Jesus is the Son of God and that He’s risen from the dead.” Two days later Rick died.
The man on his deathbed was Nobel prize-winner, Dr. Richard Smalley, a pioneer in nanotechnology — the promising field of science that has the potential to cure everything from cancer to the world’s energy crisis. A Christian for about a year, Rick wanted everyone present to hear his confession. Like many scientists and other highly educated people who cannot believe what their minds cannot understand, Rick had long questioned the validity of the Christian faith and wrestled with the science/faith dilemma. His wife, Debbie, says Rick was a passionate learner who simply wanted answers.
How can Christians reach out to scientists who struggle with such issues? Recognizing the barriers to faith, helping to remove them, and replacing them with appropriate resources can supply powerful reasons to believe in the God of the Bible.
Recognize the Obstacles
Too often skeptics have difficulty finding a Christian who can provide intelligent answers to their questions. Richard Dawkins — Oxford biologist, best-selling author of The God Delusion, and one of the world’s best-known atheists — trumpets this perceived barrier on his website: “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.”
Yet that intellectual barrier reveals other problems, perhaps even more challenging for average Christians. Most believers — busy raising kids, working to pay the mortgage, and trying to keep up with church activities — do not have time to think through intelligent responses, especially for scientists who almost seem to speak a foreign language. Besides, many Christians have questions of their own. Do faith and science share any common ground? Can the average person relate to a scientist in a meaningful way? Is there really any way to be prepared to give satisfying answers to those who ask difficult questions?
Remove the Obstacles
Simply caring about a person can begin breaking down walls. Over time Debbie shared Jesus with Rick in many ways, especially using God’s Word. A colleague, Dr. James (Jim) M. Tour, director of the Carbon Nanotechnologies Laboratory at Rice University, also spoke with Rick over a period of 7 years about a wide range of topics — including spiritual issues. Rick acknowledged his relief, “Finally I can talk to someone with a brain about these things.”
Only in the last 18 months of Rick’s life did he begin asking probing questions, and that is when substantial spiritual dialogue began and the barrier between Christianity and good science began to crumble in Rick’s mind.
The Belgic Confession, a Protestant doctrinal statement written over 400 years ago, describes the harmony between faith and science:
“We know him [God] by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: His eternal power and His divinity. …
“Second, He makes himself known to us more openly by His holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for His glory and for the salvation of His own.”
The traditional Christian position has been that the study of creation (God’s works) and the study of Scripture (God’s Word) are natural allies.
Still, trying to answer questions outside of one’s area of expertise can seem impossible, especially for a person without scientific knowledge.
Replace the Obstacles
No one person can be an expert in everything — not even Jim. When questions arose that he could not answer, Jim pointed Rick in the right direction. One direction was Reasons To Believe, the science/faith think tank founded by Hugh Ross, a former Caltech astrophysicist. Ross along with Dr. Fazale Rana, a biochemist formerly with Procter and Gamble, have written extensively on the Bible being the only accurate description for the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the reasons for existence that match with the fossil and astrophysical records.
Discover and use appropriate resources. Reasons To Believe regularly post new discoveries and release podcasts on their website (www.reasons.org). Lay-friendly books such as Origins of Life, Who Was Adam? and Creation as Science document much of the cutting-edge research that answered many of Rick’s questions. After reading these books, this world-renowned scientist exclaimed, “Evolution has been dealt a death blow.”
A variety of resources are necessary to reconcile struggles over how God could be the Creator, especially when many well-publicized scientists indicate otherwise.
Toward the end of his life, Rick longed for scientists to understand the truths that had set him free. Many credible Christian scientists who work in education, business, and government have the same desire. Their personal understanding of the science/faith struggle makes them well-suited to help others overcome perceived barriers.
Ask science-minded people for help. Getting to know Christians who understand the science/faith issues can make a tremendous difference. Dr. Leslie Wickman or Dr. Michael Strauss would go anywhere to explain the reasons they believe in the God of the Bible.
Wickman (director of the Center for Research in Science at Azusa Pacific University) has not only been an astronaut-in-training and a deep-sea diver, but is also an active member of her church. With a master’s degree in aero/astro engineering and a Ph.D. in human factors and biomechanics from Stanford University, Wickman finds ample evidence for God’s existence: “The more I study any area of science, the more obvious God’s fingerprints are.”
She suggests that apparent conflicts between science and faith stem from “incomplete knowledge, imperfect understanding, or misinterpretation of the evidence.” Wickman advises that further investigation into both realms often resolves seeming conflict: “Our studies of both God and nature should inform and enlighten each other, contributing to a clearer and more complete picture of ultimate truth.”
As an educator, Wickman attempts to break down the perceived barriers between science and theology in the classroom so students can hold an integrated worldview. She hopes her efforts will encourage more Christian young people to choose careers in the sciences.
Another scientist, Dr. Michael Strauss, studies high-speed collisions using particle accelerators. By doing research on subatomic particles, Strauss and other particle physicists hope to understand more about the cosmos at its most fundamental level.
“Everywhere you look in the universe,” says Strauss, “from the smallest details to the large-scale structure, you see evidence of design — a universe precisely made so life-forms like humans can exist.” A professor of physics at the University of Oklahoma, Strauss says his research allows him to probe deeply into the structure of matter to recreate conditions that existed only a fraction of a second after the cosmos began.
“As we understand more about the origin of the universe, we get a clearer view of its originator. If our faith and the universe both have the same author, then that author should speak with a unified voice,” says Strauss. “Rather than there being any barrier between science and faith, there is a great connection.”
Modern science makes that connection easier than ever to discuss. (See the Conversation Starters sidebar.) And many Christian scientists welcome the chance to help resolve apparent conflicts, whether it’s at a formal speaking engagement or an informal dinner party.
Ask for help from on high. Regardless of how much a person might know about either science or faith, only God can prepare and open an intellectual skeptic’s heart to trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Both Debbie and Jim are quick to give God the glory for Rick’s conversion.
Debbie explains how God used many people in her husband’s journey to faith: “Even though at some point Rick had to have his scientific concerns addressed, one person who had a significant impact on my husband was a woman without any college education or scientific knowledge. But she had a great understanding of the Scriptures and was led by the Holy Spirit. Rick was very impressed with her. No one should ever hesitate to share his or her faith with a scientist.” The results can bring life out of death.
Patti Townley-Covert is a writer and editor, and former executive editor, Reasons To Believe.
Joe Aguirre is editorial director, Reasons To Believe.