Science Tests Faith


Today I listened to an excellent podcast called Speak Life.  The episode I listened to was titled “Is Science The Enemy of Faith?”  It contained a short lecture delivered by a guy named Glen Scrivener.  The lecture was brilliant on several levels.

It started with a story  about a botanist named Betty who analyzed rather than appreciated a rose she had received for Valentine’s Day.  With this, Scrivener was showing that it is possible to understand the inner workings of the universe without understanding what the universe was for.  This is an idea that I’ve been mulling for about 20 years.  The idea first came to me when I saw a rainbow in the sky over Cincinnati during a snowstorm (yes, a snowstorm, not a rainstorm) and I realized that science could explain how that rainbow got there but could never explain why it was there or why it excited me so much.  I wrote a poem about this, in fact.  That poem is now lost, and probably for the better.  But Bettys (or is it Betties?) are still around, and every time I encounter them I feel like Ted Danson in this scene from Gulliver’s Travels:


Another great thing Scrivener said in the lecture was “scientism of the gaps”.  There was a question time following his lecture, and someone asked about Christians using “God of the gaps” arguments.  These arguments merely apply God to whatever is unknown, and for that reason they are not regarded very well.  Scrivener in reply said that some scientists are guilty of a similar poor argument he called “scientism of the gaps”.  As the name suggests, this is just applying some scientific principle, such as “natural selection”, or, even worse, some scientific fact which simply has not been discovered yet, to whatever is unknown.  I had never heard that phrase “scientism of the gaps” before, but I had encountered this type of thinking.  I particularly encountered it when I wrote a paper on the Cambrian Explosion in grad school.  At that time, I ran across this video:

Professor Valentine there states that there “must have been” the kind of biological build-up Darwinian evolution requires, and he admits that there is no evidence for that build-up, but still concludes that such a build-up is “probably right” and “must have been”.  I just don’t see the qualitative difference between saying something like that and saying something is because “God made it that way”.  It does seem like scientism in the gaps to me, and it seems as poor as God in the gaps.

More than anything, though, this podcast reminded me of a TV special that aired on Fox during my final year of Bible college.  The special was called Signs From God: Science Tests Faith and was hosted by Giselle Fernandez.

Image result for signs from god science tests faith

For some reason I thought this was called “Science Vs Faith” and was hosted by Soledad O’Brien, which is why it took me forever to find.

I remember the special being promoted less as “science tests faith” and more like “science versus faith”.  And I remember thinking at the time, “What science?”  I probably could have also asked, “What faith?” as the “signs from God” being tested were not signs I would have based any of my faith upon.  Indeed, while the general consensus seems to be that all science is against all faith, a quick survey of the many branches of science shows that this is not close to being true.

Image result for branches of science

Not even close to being exhaustive, but the best I could do in the space I had.

Does geology argue against faith in any degree?  Or forensics?  Physics?  What about math?  Computer science?  Political science?  None of them do.  In fact, no true scientific fact (that is, an observation of the natural world) can argue against faith, and no scientific field does, either.  Rather, as Scrivener says in the podcast, what really argues against the faith (or tries to argue against it) is a scientific philosophy, a worldview or even religion which uses science and looks like a science and influences science but is not itself a science.  You can also call it naturalism, materialism, philosophical materialism, etc.  But you really can’t call it science.  It isn’t.

Image result for faith naturalism where the battle really lies

That, as Alvin Plantiga says, is where the conflict really lies, what the conflict really is.  It is not science versus faith.  It is scientism versus faith.  It is not a conflict of “fact versus myth”, as some would like to present it.  It is a conflict of one worldview against another.

Scrivener ably defended my worldview in his lecture.  He left lots of room for true science (observation of nature) as well (indeed, based on his comments, there were lots of Christian scientists in the room with him).  He showed that science is not and really cannot be the enemy of The Faith and vice versa.  And I completely agree.

A Good Experience (One of Many)

Maybe this is apropos of nothing.  Maybe it isn’t.  In either case, I remembered something after I wrote yesterday’s post.  I remembered the one other time I missed a preaching engagement (the only other one I can remember).  It was Wild Card Weekend, just like this weekend.  In fact, I seem to often get sick on Wild Card Weekend.  I know I was sick the Wild Card Weekend before I married my wife (2005), but I think I toughed it out.  I did not tough it out this other Wild Card Weekend (2003, I believe); I was way too sick.  I can’t remember how the elders filled the pulpit for me (we had a fellow in the congregation who was a capable preacher, so he may have done it).  But I do remember the elders brought communion to me afterward.  I was still very sick at that point, and I hadn’t eaten anything.  I took communion and the elders left me with a couple football games I didn’t really care about.

A couple hours later, though, a lady from the church came by.  This lady was one of what I call “the fringe members of the church”; she and her husband regularly attended but they were not significantly involved.  She told me she heard I was sick and asked me if I needed anything.  I said I hadn’t eaten all day and was thinking some Gatorade would help me.  I also said I could use an electric blanket.  She then went out to buy both those things for me.  She may have had to go out and come back twice; that seems to be right, but the memory is hazy.  She also brought me some homemade Sloppy Joes.  I wrapped up in the blanket, drank the Gatorade, tried to eat the Sloppy Joes (I don’t think I made it; the appetite wasn’t fully back yet), and watched the I Love The 80s marathon on VH1 (that might have been the beginning of the nostalgia bent I’ve been on ever since).  And for the first time that weekend I started to feel better.

It was a terrible weekend (did I mention I had just broken up with a girl a couple weeks before that weekend), but that night was a great night.  It was a great night because of this one “fringe” woman who took it upon herself to help a single, rather stupid kid with his sickness.

And that is just one of many great experiences I have had with church people.   Now I know many folks have had less-than-great experiences with church people, and I further know that those less-than-great experiences are for them a reason to dislike the entire church.  But if those peoples’ experiences are valid data for evaluating the church, why are my experiences not also valid data for evaluating the church?  If they have rejected the church because of these experiences (and proclaim themselves right to do so), then why can’t (or shouldn’t) I embrace the church because of my experiences?

Apropos of nothing?  Maybe.  But maybe not.

Feelings and Futures

Let me tell you one of my favorite stories from Bible college (don’t worry; it’s short): I ran into one of my best friends on campus one day.  I said, “Hi,” to this friend, then asked how he was doing.  I asked it automatically, not really in hopes of getting information but as a habit.  But he did not reply automatically, as almost everyone does.  He didn’t say, “Great,” or, “Fine,” or, “Okay.”  He said something more honest than that.  He said, “I’m not really doing good, but thanks for asking.”

Notice that my friend did not wallow in his “not-goodness”; he didn’t tell me how he wasn’t good and he thanked me for asking to move us to a different subject.  But he did admit that he was not good.

Many of us Christians (and non-Christians as well) are not nearly that honest when we are asked about our feelings.  Many of us answer that automatic question with an automatic and markedly untrue answer.  We are trying to save face, I guess, or not bother people.  Maybe we think it is wrong to feel (or admit to feeling) anything other than absolute ecstasy.  Whatever the reason, we do this, and I think it is one of our greatest weaknesses.  I think it does us one of our greatest disservices.

All that is a roundabout way of saying that I want to be honest in this first post of the New Year.  I’d love to say that I’m looking toward 2018 with nothing but optimism, that I see nothing but rainbows and sunbeams in my future and my family’s future and my church’s future and The Church’s future.  But I don’t.  Rather, as the clock strikes midnight and I go to bed alone (my wife and daughter are visiting family), I have a sense of severe dread.  I have an image I can’t get out of my mind, actually.  It is this image:

An empty, frozen field.  A field which Jude might call “twice dead”.  Lifeless, fruitless, barren and void.  That’s what all these futures look like to me.

Now that isn’t to say that there is no possibility of life and fruit.  I think there are.  I am optimistic about the future of The Church and The Faith.  I’m just not very optimistic about my ability to participate in or contribute to that life and fruit.  You see, there is a future for a field such as the one in my image.  In fact, the cold and dark time is probably an essential element of that future, a prerequisite to that future, something preparing the way for that future by putting nutrients back in the soil.  But that future is going to require a lot of labor: clearing the land, plowing the furrows, replanting the seed, tending, and ultimately harvesting.  Here, at the beginning of the year when my life and ministry resets to some degree, I’m just not sure I have the strength and energy to do that work.  I feel tired and drained.  I fear I don’t have enough in the tank.

Now I know the Scriptures which address these feelings.  I’m sure you do.  Some of you are even quoting them for me right now.  Thank you for that.  The problem though (and this, finally, is the real point of this post), is that just hearing or reading or knowing or even believing those Scriptures and the truths they contain doesn’t seem to change my feelings.  I believe intellectually in my future; the Lord has promised it, so I believe it with my mind (quite strongly, in fact).  I am having trouble believing emotionally in my future.   I am having trouble believing with my heart.  I just can’t seem to eliminate my negative feelings as easily as this lady does:

And I was wondering about that last night as I listened to the pastor of the Indonesian church which shares our building preach his (absolutely wonderful and encouraging) New Year’s Eve message.  As the pastor talked on Psalm 103 (which, among other things, promises the renewal of strength), I wondered if it was possible to eliminate such negative feelings.  I wondered if it was possible for even Christians who firmly believe in the promises of God to eliminate such negative feelings.  After all, a good deal of the biblical characters seemed to struggle with such feelings: Elijah wanted to die, Jeremiah wanted to quit, Zechariah came to hate his sheep, etc.  Even Jesus wondered how long He would have to put up with people of little faith, wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and cried out, “My God!” at the crucifixion (yes, I know there are alternative interpretations of some of these).  I wondered, then, if negative feelings are non-eliminable.  I wondered if negative feelings are just inevitable parts of the Faith story.

I wondered that.  I don’t have any solid answers about that, but I wondered that.  I also wondered if we adults are just like babies in the eyes of God, babies who get cranky when their tired, babies whose crankiness the adult (God) doesn’t take too seriously.  But that’s an idea for another time.  For now, my purpose is just to wonder.  It is to wonder and hope and believe.  I’ve not meant this post to be a downer, and I’m certainly not saying I’m giving up (I’m not; as Richard Gere so famously said, “I got nowhere else to go.”).  But I am being honestly.  My walk with God has included cold, dark, fearful times, and this new year, sadly, is one of those times.

The Morally Superior and the Intellectually Inferior

While checking Twitter last night (Christmas Eve), I found this tweet:

Now I don’t know what Tyson (or is it “deGrasse Tyson”?) meant with that tweet.  It looks like an insult to me, a verbal shot at people of faith (particularly people of my faith).  It seems to have that snark which is so popular in public discourse today, the sarcastic insinuation, the snide suggestion that something is wrong with the world’s 2.5 billion Christians.  I will admit it might not be that.  I’m not a mind reader.  I don’t know and can’t know what Tyson’s intent was in making this statement, so I won’t speculate on it.  But I will say (and I think it is fair to say) that it seems like a shot to me.  My initial reaction to this tweet, right or wrong, is that it is a shot at Christians and maybe even Christianity on Christmas Day.

Even if it isn’t a such a shot, though, there are plenty such shots out there.  There are quite a few people who have not only rejected The Faith but go one step further to attack The Faith.  The corruption of the Ichthus Fish, a millennia-old Christian symbol, is one shot/attack.  I see these corruptions on cars around my neighborhood quite frequently.   They have become so common they even have their own Wikipedia page.

Funny?  That’s debatable.  Classy?  Definitely not.  There is nothing classy about profaning what someone else regards as sacred.

Beyond this, Richard Dawkins told listeners as the 2012 Reason Rally that “Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt”, and then further challenged those leaders to “Mock [people of faith]! Ridicule them! In public!”  (You can find the full speech here.)

And beyond that, several non-believers have publicly referred to The Faith as “a fairy tale” or “make believe” or “the greatest story ever sold”.  I’ve also heard God called “an imaginary friend for adults”.  These non-believers have referred to The Faith and God in these ways not in a matter-of-fact way (which is one thing), but in that snarky, snide, sarcastic way I mentioned above (which is another thing altogether).

And I don’t suppose that these shots or attacks are all that bad.  “Sticks and stones”, right?  These are just words.  If having someone make a negative comment about me and/or my faith in either an academic or an aggressive manner is the worst thing that happens to me on this Christmas day, then I am doing pretty good.

But I am still left with one question about this matter.  There is still one question I have to ask before I can fully dismiss these words, a question which came immediately to mind as soon as I saw this tweet.  The question has to do with the fact that non-believers or anti-believers, particularly scientific ones like Tyson and Dawkins, are often presented as “more moral” or “morally superior” to believers like me.  I need go no further than the note I presented in the last post to give one example of this.  The young man in that note made this exact statement in no uncertain terms.  He said the people of the world are often “better” than the people of church.  Not only so, but they are often presented as intellectually superior as well.  In fact, those two things seem to me to be put together, i.e., these people are morally superior because they are intellectually superior, while people of faith are morally inferior because they are intellectually superior.

The question I have, then, is why are these morally superior individuals using such morally inferior tactics?  Why are these morally superior ones using tactics which I, the morally inferior one, have never used (I’ve never attacked a Jewish person on Hanukkah or a Muslim person on Ramadan; I’ve never attacked anyone for their faith or lack of it, period; I’ve merely tried to live my own life of faith)?  Why are these using tactics which my morally inferior faith forbids me from using (Paul tells us not to use the weapons of the world, Peter tells us to maintain gentleness and respect in such situations, and Jesus taught us to love our enemies, so my faith repeatedly forbids such tactics)?  Are snark, sarcasm, and snideness morally superior attitudes?  Is attacking someone, particularly someone intellectually inferior to you, for their faith on the high holiday of that faith a morally superior thing to do?

And if it is not, as I clearly don’t think it is and imagine you don’t, either, then why are those who do such things presented as morally superior?  If this tactic is not morally superior, how can these individuals be considered morally superior?  For that matter, how can they be considered intellectually superior?

Ever O’er Its Babel Sounds

Our spirits need food just as our bodies do, and I’m always looking for such spiritual food.  I usually find it in the Bible.  I sometimes find it through the Spirit (I think there are times when the Spirit applies the Bible to my situations, and other times when the Spirit just helps me see a truth from God apart from the Bible in my situations).  And I occasionally find it in spiritual songs as well.

I found some spiritual food in the old Christmas carol “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear” this morning.  I was putting the overhead slides for this song into the PowerPoint presentation for Sunday’s worship.  As I did, I noticed that the music the band planned to use had a few verses I didn’t know.  There were some lyrics to this song I had never heard before.  Oh, I knew the first verse by heart.  I have known it by heart since I was a child.  I knew the tune as well.  But I had somehow missed these verses.  The first of them said this:

Still through the cloven skies they [the angels announcing the birth of Jesus] come,
With peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world:
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

What really caught my attention (and that’s usually how spiritual food comes to me; something in a Scripture or a song or a situation just catches my attention, probably through the agency of the Spirit) was the second to last line (which, by chance, just happened to be the thumbnail YouTube used for the above version).  That line says the angels sing over the “Babel sounds” of the earth’s sad and lowly plains and continue to sing over them.  In other words, the angels deliver the message of the birth of Jesus despite whatever mean and meaningless things the world says.

This was a great encouragement to me.  It was a great encouragement to me because I am quite affected by the world’s mean and meaningless sayings.  I have what some people call “a prophetic nature”.  I am very distraught by false statements and often want to engage them in battle.  I see them as threats to the Gospel and want to neutralize them.  What I have come to realize lately is that there are far too many such statements out there.  These threats to the Gospel are never going to be neutralized, not as completely and permanently as I desire.

What this song is telling me, though, and what I believe the Spirit was telling me, is that it doesn’t matter if they are neutralized or not.  The Gospel is proclaimed despite those statements, and it continues to bear fruit despite those statements as well.  The angels’ song and the birth of Christ happened and continues to progress not by neutralizing all contrary songs and deeds but by riding over them unhindered and oblivious.

To a prophet and Jesus-lover like me, that is a great encouragement.  I hope it encourages you as well.

Losers Like Us

I’ve been down with a cold the past two days.  Unable to work, I decided to catch up on some books I have purchased but not read.  One of those was Losers Like Us by Daniel Hochhalter.


This book was on my Amazon wish list for quite awhile (like so many books, it spent a lot of time on my wish list because I was too cheap to buy it outright).  When I was given a $7 Barnes & Noble credit from some class action suit I was wholly unaware of being in, I finally bought it from them, then converted it through Calibre and put it on my Kindle.

I was attracted to this book for one simple reason: I regard myself as a loser.  I know I’m a loser but I want to do ministry, so a book about losers doing ministry was a no-brainer for me.

I was not disappointed when I finally got around to reading it yesterday.  The book is basically a run-down of Jesus twelve disciples (The Twelve, not counting Matthias or Paul), all of who were losers or at least lacking in one way or another.  Hockhalter not only reveals what these men were lacking, but he also shows how he is lacking that thing as well.  As he puts it, he holds these men in the mirror and sees how he is similar to them.  Along the way, he talks about some of the other ways he has lost in life, including a failure to acquire a PhD.

I liked the book so well I read it in one day (almost one sitting, to be exact).  I thought the author was very brave to share his loser-ness the way he did, and I thought his principle that we are all losers/God uses losers was sound.  I was both convicted and encouraged, and that’s about the best you can ask for.

One particular insight I had as I was reading concerned Jesus’ praying for the twelve on the night before He chose them (Luke 6:12).  I had always figured that Jesus was praying for the ability to chose “the right guys” and that by God’s power He did so.  I see now that there is nothing “right” about these guys, that they weren’t chosen because they were right but right because they were chosen.  I wondered, in fact, if what Jesus was praying for was not the ability to chose correctly but the ability to put up with those who were chosen.  That’s speculation, of course, but the key insight is correct.  There is nothing “right” about these men (except maybe a willingness to follow or a teachable spirit).  And there is nothing “right” about me, either.  I’m not right.  I am a loser.  But I’ve been chosen and can do the work.

I highly recommend this book.  You can get it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  There is also a hard copy for you luddites who don’t use ereaders.

The Pastor and The Pappy – Episode 8

Kevin and I are back.  Kevin’s picking the cultural artifact this week, so it’s hard to tell where this one is going.  Listen, click and download, or subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.