Q & A : Evangelicalism vs. Science

    I put out a call for questions from readers regarding Evangelical worldview and lifestyle, and got a few really good ones. In this post, I’ll be exploring the following enquiry:

Why do they hate science? Or rather discount it? Didn't God give us brains to do science??

    This is a topic that I’m sure baffles just about everybody who didn’t have the personal experience of growing up in the Evangelical church. And, even those of us who did can’t always answer this question, exactly, because it takes a good amount of contextual historical knowledge, and historical contextual knowledge is itself something that Evangelicals tend to shy away from--for much the same reasons they shy away from hard science, in fact.

    In any case, to break it down to the essentials, the divide between science and Christianity goes back to the Scientific Revolution (and probably even before that), and becomes particularly stark when the theory of evolution starts gaining popular ground. I should also mention that not all of Christianity continues to perpetuate this schism. There are those denominations that have embraced and integrated scientific discovery into their metaphysics. Evangelicalism, however, for the most part, is stuck in an old--and quite embarrassing--defensiveness, because scientific exploration and experimentation ended up making clear that so much of the church’s ideas and traditions concerning the natural world simply could not be true. It became evident that there were other--and more demonstrable--non-divine reasons for things. What was the leadership to do?

    Well, when that revelation started happening, Christians were faced with a choice regarding their worldview: to accept that there might be some flawed and ignorant bits to their tradition and slough them off accordingly, or to dig their heels hard into Christian dogma as it had been known for centuries and reject science as blasphemy. Some have done the former, but many--if not most--did the latter, at least back in the day. They decided to see science as a threat, I think mostly because it had the very real potential to expose the church as flawed, and the church had so much political and economic control that its leaders’ interests went far beyond the spiritual. It was not just the security of faith that was at stake, but, even more so, power.

    Thus long ago the anti-science tradition began and, as we all know, it continues to this day. Looking around the national faith landscape, it seems to me that the anti-science contingent is losing relevancy at an exponential rate these days. This is great. It also means, given their M.O., that those folks are likely to become even more staunch in their closed-mindedness. But, their numbers are dwindling (perhaps because no one is joining and their children are laughing in their faces) so it is not that much of a problem...unless they become legislators.

    As for the “didn’t God give us brains” question--I find it equally complicated and contradictory. As a young Evangelical, I often heard about using our minds to honor God--that we can see he wants us to think because he gave us brains. However, the loophole they sneak through when facing a threat to the religion’s veracity is that humans are (thanks to Adam and Eve) sinful, and sin is kind of like a virus that affects every part of you. So, though yes you do have a God-given mind, that mind is tainted and oh so small, and when a Christian encounters, say, a scientific, completely natural theory that is in opposition to a church teaching, one must defer to the church’s tradition and chalk the other discovery up to our inability to understand God’s ways. Convenient, right?

    These explanations might not be logical in the strictest (or even loosest) sense of that word, but I think in a way they are not surprising when you factor in human nature and historical contexts/journeys. There’s a verse in the New Testament that--depending on what translation you’re reading--says something along the lines of ‘Christianity sounds like foolishness to those who don’t understand/aren’t saved'. Well, yes, we can certainly give them that. But the verse is used in kind of a cult-ish way, to keep people in the fold because ‘everyone else is an idiot’, or ‘they just don’t understand.’ I’m not sure there’s much those of us on the outside of it can do, though, except wait for the ignorance to die off. Funny how natural selection of all things will be the way to eradicate those who refuse to accept that it even exists at all.