Preaching the Gospel in a Scientific Culture
by James T. Bradford
The cover article of Time, February 2011, featured a fascinating concept known as “Singularity.”1 It is not a mathematical singularity or a black hole, but a moment in human history when futurists predict that machines will have exceeded human intelligence by such a margin that human existence, as we know it, will change forever.
“Imagine,” the article posits, “a computer scientist that was itself a super-intelligent computer. It would work incredibly quickly. It could draw on huge amounts of data effortlessly. It wouldn’t even take breaks to play Farmville.” Machines creating machines … technological capacity growing exponentially . . . human life being extended by decades, even centuries … artificial superhuman intelligence that can “write books, make ethical decisions, and appreciate fancy paintings.”
The time line? Just under 35 years from now. Futurists are predicting that by the year 2045, Singularity could be upon us. Quoting again from the article, “In that year … given the vast increases in computing power and the vast reductions in the cost of the same, the quantity of artificial intelligence created will be about a billion times the sum of all the human intelligence that exists today.” Sound far-fetched? Even NASA hosts what is now a 4-year-old Singularity University for graduate students and high-level executives.
The fruit of science, in the form of advanced technology, is just one of many reasons why future congregations and students will not be content for us to either put our heads in the sand or resort to simplistic preaching against science. There are better ways to engage scientifically impacted people with the gospel.
First, let me challenge you to avoid either demonizing or deifying science. Instead of demonizing science, I encourage you to respect it for what it is and be in awe of the wonders of our created world revealed in science. Part of that respect also involves being fair with the data, remaining a learner yourself, giving voice to those who are integrating science and faith in their own vocations, and avoiding the temptation to quote fringe, antireligion scientists who may not always represent the mainstream of scientific thought.
All the while, be careful of being dogmatic about subjects that you know little about. Augustine warned us 16 centuries ago: “Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these [scientific] topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”2
On the other hand, while not demonizing science, neither should we deify it. Science cannot and will not replace God. To do so it would have to be omniscient. Science would need to analyze all of reality from at least one dimension outside of that in which God could potentially exist if it is to conclusively disprove His existence.
Two of the most groundbreaking scientific theories in the history of science emerged during the 20th century — Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Quantum Theory. Einstein based his theory of relativity on the observation made over a century ago that the speed of light always measures the same no matter what reference frame you measure it from. The implications of that led to Einstein’s space-time curvature and the realization that the closer to the speed of light an object travels the more time slows and space contracts, until at the speed of light time stops and three-dimensional space disappears.
There seems to be a cosmic speed limit to the universe beyond which we cannot see from our reference point.
Quantum theory predicts its own limitations as well. It describes a world in which subatomic particles behave like both compact points and diffuse waves, a world in which you cannot know both a particle’s position and momentum at the same time. In fact, the very act of observation changes what you see. In the words of physicist Roger Jones, “Quantum theory claims that science can provide no pictures of the inner workings of nature. … Not only are we blind to the workings of nature, but even our brief glimpses are of no objective, independent reality but of a subjective, observer-determined world.”3
It would seem that the laws of nature themselves limit what we can know of nature. Science cannot be omniscient. There are no grounds upon which we should be tempted to deify it.
To the contrary, while some scientists are rejecting faith, others are coming to faith because of what they are discovering. I was fascinated to find an article in USA Today nearly 2 years ago entitled, “Science and Faith, the British Way.” The writer made this statement: “While impossible to quantify, a surprising number of prominent British researchers at the pinnacle of their fields, with worldwide reputations in the physical and biological sciences, proclaim their evangelical Christian faith. … First, they say that the likelihood that intelligent, carbon-based life originated in the universe by chance is infinitesimally minute. And second, they proclaim their belief in what they accept as the first-hand biblical accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and physical resurrection.”4
Second, let me challenge you to be increasingly focused on the pure gospel and all of its unprecedented implications. This is the ultimate story that science cannot disprove. Jesus, God’s Son, entered the confines of time and three-dimensional space to reach us. If I could summarize the entire Bible in one sentence, it would be this: “The God who created us has acted to rescue us.” The death and resurrection of Jesus and the subsequent powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which is continuing to this day, is the tangibly real story that must always define our lives.
Science has not changed the fact “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Neither can science remedy the pathology of the human heart and its separateness from God. Only something “other,” something “supernatural,” something “beyond nature” can do that — the death of Jesus in our place, paying for our sin; and His resurrection from the dead, securing victory over death and evil. The God of the cosmos can become the Lord and Savior of our lives.
We do not need to be deferring when it comes to the gospel or defensive when it comes to science. May the Lord bless you as you courageously and thoughtfully engage the perplexing issues of our times while convincingly and unapologetically pointing people to the One who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
1. Lev Grossman, “2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal,” Time, February 21, 2011. Available from: http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,2048299,00.html. Accessed 12/6/2011.
2. Saint Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 2 vols., trans. J.H. Taylor (New York: Newman, 1982).
3. Roger S. Jones, Physics for the Rest of Us: Ten Basic Ideas of Twentieth-Century Physics That Everyone Should Know … and How They Shaped Our Culture and Consciousness (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992).
4. Mark Pinsky, “Science and Faith, the British Way,” USA Today, September 29, 2008. Available from: http://www.templeton-cambridge.org/fellows/showarticle.php?article=116. Accessed 12/6/2011 .