Lesson 2 - Ministry of Reconciliation

Scripture and Science

What's the Bible for?

In the previous video clip, Praveen makes reference to the “tortured history of how the Bible has been used to create enmity with science.” The Roman Inquisition’s trial of Galileo Galilei in 1633 is a good example. At the same time, he also suggests that Christians ought to have a high view of Scripture, which is God’s word addressed to us, his people. What are we to make of this?

Well, for a start, having a high view of Scripture means having a good understanding of what Scripture actually is–and what it isn’t. In The Nature and Destiny of Man, Reinhold Niebuhr remarked that “nothing is so incredible as an answer to an unasked question.” To put it another way: if we come to the Bible with questions that the Bible does not itself ask, then we won’t get answers; or, worse yet, we’ll force the Bible to say things that it’s not really saying.

Can you think of any examples of this kind of mistake? How have Christians dishonored Scripture by demanding answers to questions that the Bible does not ask?

To treat the Bible as a scientific textbook is to miss the point. One technically can read Scripture in this way, but it’s like having a robot read Shakespeare, in Praveen’s memorable image. Here again, paying attention to the genres of Scripture may help us to alleviate some of the unnecessary tension between science and faith.

For example, in her book, In the Beginning, God, theologian Marva Dawn argues that Genesis 1 should be read as a hymn of praise to the Creator God, not as a scientific explanation of the origins of the universe. When viewed through this lens, in Dawn’s words, “science does not disprove praise, nor does the Bible’s beginning claim to be an explanation–rather than exultation.”

Reflect on the formation you received in your church or faith context. How did it teach you to read texts like Genesis 1-2?

How might a method of interpretation that is attentive to the diverse genres of Scripture offer a way forward through the “science vs. religion” impasse? What does it look like to read the Bible this way?

Exploration as Worship

Here, Praveen suggests that Christians working in the sciences are often regarded with suspicion by their peers. The reason? Christians, it is sometimes thought, only pursue a career in the sciences to gain a platform to evangelize.

Praveen proposes an alternative motive for scientific study: delight. He challenges us to remember something that Christians know in their bones but sometimes forget: creation is good for its own sake. One of the primary purposes of creation is pleasure–God’s own pleasure (expressed in the Genesis 1 refrain, “And God saw that it was good”) and the pleasure of the creatures whom he made in his own image and then tasked with exploring and keeping God’s good creation.

In fact, in a manner of speaking, Adam is the world’s first scientist. God blesses Adam, whose job is to then turn around and bless God’s creation. He does this, first of all, by naming things (Genesis 2:18-20). So, when scientists discover new genuses and species, name them, and situate them into taxonomies, they are actually fulfilling humanity’s most basic and highest vocation.

But there’s more to it than that. When human beings delight in God’s world by exploring it and naming things, they are performing the most important act a human can: they’re worshipping. The theologian Alexander Schmemann puts it like this:

To name a thing is to manifest the meaning and value God gave it, to know it as coming from God and to know its place and function within the cosmos created by God.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World

Exploration of God’s world actually makes us more worshipful, not less. How would it change your day-to-day work in your field to think of scientific study as an act of worship?

What are some specific practices you can implement to cultivate a sense of delight and joy in your work?

A Credible Professional Life

There is a common (and sadly, sometimes accurate) perception that Christian scientists are quacks. This can be true not just in the sciences, but across all disciplines and fields. A lack of competence in our vocations can contribute toward the mutual mistrust between science and religion which Praveen has been challenging. So where do we go from here?

The most powerful way to change this kind of misconception is by living out an example to the contrary.

Praveen Sethupathy

Doing good work is one of the ways that we can make Christian faith credible.

It may be helpful here to think of Daniel and his fellow exiles in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Daniel 1:8-20). These men were able to keep their faith while still growing an impressive reputation among non-believers: “And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.”

When you reflect on your own professional life, could the same be said of the quality of your work?

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