SCIENCE AND RELIGION ARE NOT ENEMIES

16 11 2014

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including “Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths” and “Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church. He writes a blog called Uncommon God, Uncommon Good” from which this post is taken.  It is lengthy and requires careful reading but speaks to the premise in Bridgebuilders that we must stop making the debate “science versus religion” if we are to build redemptive relationships with the un-churched, especially younger generations. – STEVE

Brain PhotoMany religious people are suspicious of significant issues in science. Many people—religious and non-religious alike—reflect suspicions and indifference toward the church (especially among younger people); one of the reasons for many young people leaving the church is the perception that churches appear hostile to science, as a Barna study claims. Could it be that many if not all fears and suspicions of science as well as the church are in the head?

Regarding the suspicion of key considerations in science, specifically as it relates to Evangelical Christianity, it is worth noting the cultural, emotional and psychological damage caused by the aftermath of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925. It is still present in conscious or unconscious ways. The impact of that trial has led George Marsden to write, “It would be difficult to overestimate the impact” of the trial “in transforming fundamentalism.” George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism — 1870-1925 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 184. Given the damage done to the movement as a result of that trial, I wonder how many of Evangelical Christians’ suspicions of science are in the head.

It is important for churches and Christian educational institutions to work hard on the integration of faith and science. Further to what was stated above concerning many young people leaving church today, some Christians’ fears and/or disregard for science in the church can lead scientifically minded and vocationally oriented individuals to feel isolated and leave church. David Kinnaman addresses this concern and many others in You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith (Baker Books, 2011). Kinnaman quotes a young man named Mike, who says: “I knew from church that I couldn’t believe in both science and God, so that was it. I didn’t believe in God anymore” (p. 138). Christian leaders such as myself need to pursue the integration of faith and science in ways that foster and strengthen these respective domains (regarding this subject, see my recent post titled “Missing Links: On Faith and Science”).

With these points on the need for integration in mind, let’s turn to consider the relation of the brain, body, and beliefs. The hope is to show through such reflections as these that there is no necessary hostility between science and faith; perhaps the hostility and suspicion between science and religion is all in the mind. By overcoming the disconnect, we might be in a better position to connect people with church.

The brain, the body and beliefs are intimately connected. Take for example this PBS documentary titled “Faith and the Brain” that discusses how religious practices and beliefs influence the brain. So, too, there is a close connection between the rational and emotional dimensions of the brain, as discussed in the PBS documentary titled “The Adult Brain: to Think by Feeling”; their interaction is essential to one’s well-being.

One of the things that stand out to me from these studies is that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. As the Psalmist writes, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14; ESV). Religion should not fear science, but learn from scientific truth. I believe the more we learn from science, the more we will come to realize that we are truly fearfully and wonderfully made.

Greater consideration of scientific studies should demonstrate to Christians the profundity of biblical faith and its emphasis on the profound connection between the spiritual and physical dimensions. For example, orthodox Christianity prizes embodiment. We do not exist as disembodied spirits, but rather, as embodied souls. The eternal Word did not hover above the physical world, but became flesh and blood (John 1:14). Such theological considerations should help us to take seriously the scientific studies noted above that there is a close connection between the body, brain, and beliefs. Such theological considerations and scientific studies can also help churches foster greater inclusivity and connections with people who might otherwise leave church.

Let’s take two examples. First, let’s take technology. In view of the theological considerations and scientific studies noted above, churches should encourage parishioners to be mindful of how technology can impact them, often for the good, but also, often for the bad. Here is what one of my seminary students John Lussier writes,

My question(s) on embodied presence: When it comes to personhood and relationality, is there something important to our being bodied people? When we remove the body but leave communication, does this change how we relate? Christ came as an embodied human male, and not as a spirit or human soul without a body. Why is this important? Does the body matter or is it simply a tool for relationality? What happens when we use technology in place of our body to communicate? Is technology that removes the bodily presence an extension of the human, a dissection or something else entirely?

John is by no means antagonistic to technology; actually, he is quite adept at it. Still, he and I wonder why many people today often prefer texting to other forms of communication. What is the impact of texting on our relationships if it and other non-physically present means of communication do not complement but rather replace face-to-face communication? While technology can create venues for greater accessibility, virtual church gatherings through social media can never take the place of embodied church. Orthodox Christian faith requires that we come together as embodied souls, not disembodied spirits. Face-to-face interaction strengthens our faith; I believe this is what the writer of Hebrews has in mind: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25; ESV). I wonder if the decline in church attendance has something to do with the decline in face-to-face interaction in society in favor of virtual connections.

iStock_000019820735SmallHaving spoken briefly of technology, let’s take a second example—race. Greater understanding of the brain may impact our view of racial dynamics and the need for greater inclusivity in the church.

Various studies suggest that exposure to the faces of people of different ethnicities activate the amygdala, which is associated with fear conditioning, far more than faces of the same racial background or ethnicity (personal note: it leads me to wonder if and how discussions about science might activate the amygdala in some religious people’s heads). It appears that greater exposure can reduce such increased activation. See Grit Herzmann, et al, “The neural correlates of memory encoding and recognition for own-race and other-race faces,” in Neuropsychologia 49 (11): 3103–3115. Intentionality in creating exposure through the diversification of churches may very well help churches decrease such fears and help people sense loving affirmation and experience inclusion.

Other studies suggest that people’s prejudices and beliefs impact facial processing and memory dimensions of the brain. See J. A. Richeson, et al, An fMRI investigation of the impact of interracial contact on executive function,” in Nature Neuroscience, 6 (12): 1323–1328. Based on such analyses, it has been claimed that beliefs can help control amygdala activation. In keeping with this point, it has been argued that racism decreases when we foster the convictions that there are racial differences as well as racial equality. Take for example the volume titled Are We Born Racist?: New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology (Beacon Press, 2010). The Judeo-Christian belief that we are all created in the image of God (See Genesis 1:16-27) and that God values diversity as revealed in all peoples of various cultures worshiping before the throne (Revelation 7:9-10) should lead church leaders to cultivate greater unity and inclusivity involving diversity in church bodies.

For these and other reasons, I ask: could it be that many if not all fears and suspicions of science as well as the church are somehow in the head?

Advertisements




22 05 2014

sharing-Bible

BY STEVE DUNN

One of my PTI students from western Pennsylvania, Heidi Mikulin,posted this on her Facebook page today:

“Two young men walked by my front porch today. It was not the first time I had seen them, and I knew the mission they were on. After pleasantries, they asked if I was used to the weather here in PA. These two boys were from out of town, and they were not accustomed to the changes in weather. I asked them what God was inviting them to do today. They began talking about their mission, how they were missionaries away from home to spread news. I asked them to sit and chat with me for a while. The three of us read the Bible. I questioned them, and they asked me questions. As we talked, I shared my Good News. They couldn’t understand the difference in our beliefs, so I asked them to share their testimony. When they had finished sharing with me, I told them my testimony. I got to introduce them to my Jesus, and how He changed my life because He is who He says He is, and He did what He said He did. I prayed with them before they left. Funny, I had expected to have a Bible study on my front porch today, but I could have never guessed who it would be with.”

1982045_4083129091984_313659436_nHeidi is practicing one of the  most important aspects  of The Bridgebuilders Principle by stepping into the zone of the unknown to build redemptive relationships.  And a key element of this starting spiritual conversations.  First of all we must be open to meeting the stranger, for he is also our neighbor,  We need to set aside fear.  We need to exercise courage to move beyond discussing the weather to start spiritual conversations.  And we will see what God will do.

I’d love to hear and share other stories like Heidi’s. Do you have one we could share?





CAN YOU ARGUE SOMEONE INTO THE KINGDOM?

1 11 2012

This is from a great blog by Luke Nix called FAITHFUL THINKERS which we have added to our blogroll (right hand box)

Can You Argue Someone Into the Kingdom?
Posted by Luke Nix at 6:00 AM

A while back I was listening to Greg Koukl’s radio show “Stand to Reason”, and a caller challenged the need for apologetics (1 Peter 3:15) at all. His main concern was that nobody could be “argued” into the Kingdom, and that apologists were wasting their time with “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (Colosians 2:8).

I have to agree that his first premise is valid, but I don’t agree with the second premise and thus, his conclusion. I don’t think that anyone can be “argued” into the Kingdom. For example, knowing that someone exists is different from wanting a loving relationship with them. Someone can believe that the Christian God exists, yet not want to have a personal relationship with Him. That person can recognize that the evidence points toward the Resurrection being a historical event, but not want to dedicate their life to that fact. A belief that is different from a belief in.

A belief that means you know that something is true. A belief in is a life-commitment to that truth (a conscious choice to change your actions to be consistent with that truth). See Psychology Class Series for more on this.

Having said that, a belief in something requires a belief that that something exists. If someone does not believe that something is true, why would they commit their life to it?

Apologetics is important because it helps people to take the first large step into the Kingdom. For many people, an apologetic approach is not necessary (they may not have philosophical, historical or scientific questions). They may simply have never understood the Gospel. In this case, no, we don’t need to waste our time with philosophy. We don’t want to create a stumbling block where one does not exist or is not realized by the person himself (1 Corithians 10:32-33).

I have to admit that I have focused so finely on the arguments that I fear I have created stumbling blocks where they weren’t before. When to use apologetics and when to simply present the Gospel (or both) is something that I have to learn. I believe the caller above had a good point in showing a possible extreme, but he must recognize, though, that his side is also an extreme. Greg Koukl’s book Tactics (My Review) is a great resource to start to help determine when to use which approach with a nonbeliever.

This reminds me of the value of the different parts of the Body of Christ. Granted, all Christians are called to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15), but there are some who have deeply studied specific challenges and their answers. Christians should never think of one “gift” as less valuable than another (1 Corinthians 12:24-26) because some day, they may need to swallow their pride and refer someone to a Christian whom God has given the answer to the question being asked of them.

As mentioned in the Psychology Class Series, emotions (the heart) is key to the acceptance or rejection of a belief. The Holy Spirit is who works on the heart of people to bring them to Christ. The Holy Spirit prepares the emotions (heart) to accept the evidence. Christ commanded his disciples to go make disciples. The Christian’s duty in evangelism is to provide the evidence to the person, so that the emotions (the heart that the Holy Spirit has been working on) will accept it- thus changing a life. Those whom the Holy Spirit has been working on are drawn to Christ, but may need an intellectual reason to accept Him. Apologists can provide that intellectual reason. We need to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”.

Near the beginning of this post, I stated that no one can be argued into the Kingdom. The reason for this lies in the above paragraph. If the Holy Spirit has not prepared the emotions (heart) to accept the evidence, no number of arguments will convince them. They are emotionally attached to a non-Christian idea, and will satisfy themselves with all sorts of rationalizations and absurd philosophies to avoid acceptance.

As the Church, we need to learn to recognize our role in the Great Commission. It is not to convert; it is be a witness- provide evidence from experience, nature, and philosophy. We also need to recognize the role of the Holy Spirit. It is to soften the heart to allow for the recognition of and commitment to The Truth.

I remember my frustration when in my “earlier” years as an “apologist”. I would always think that I’ve got the Truth and impenetrable arguments to support it. When one argument didn’t cause a conversion, I would arrogantly whip out another (unwittingly, this probably cause more stumbling blocks). When someone still didn’t accept it, it caused much frustration for me. I just didn’t understand how or why someone just couldn’t get it. When that happened, lots of ad-hominem attacks were having a party in the back of my head and were attempting to dance right out my mouth.

When I finally recognized this balance of duties with regard to The Great Commission, my frustration with people who “just don’t get it” went down considerably. I had to swallow my pride. I am not that great. The salvation another a non-believer is not because of me. It is because of the Holy Spirit who worked in the life of the non-believer and myself (which is a result of the Holy Spirit working on my heart, which is the result of the Holy Spirit working on the heart of another, etc…). There is no need for me to get so frustrated or be arrogant. If an argument that I present helps a person come to Christ, I thank God that He allowed me to be an instrument in His orchestra. I am still in the process of being sanctified by Him, and at times, I will be out of tune and hit wrong notes. Because my choice is to worship Him with all my heart, soul, and mind, He can still use me to be an ambassador, while He prepares me for eternity with Him.





GRACE OVER KARMA

3 11 2011

Bono, the lead singer of U2 is not a Christian by his statement. He is, however, a friendly critic of Christianity and an admirer of the best elements of our faith. Here is an excerpt from his recent book (written along with Michka Assayas:

Assayas: I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?

Bono: Yes, I think that’s normal. It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

Assayas: I haven’t heard you talk about that.

Bono: I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace.

Assayas: Well, that doesn’t make it clearer for me.

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.

TO READ MORE GO TO …





THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPAL

25 10 2011

Tuesday is for Apologetics. This video is a fascinating argument from science that supports the biblical worldview.





DOES GOD EXIST?

18 10 2011

In many ways, Apologetics is a lost art within the church.  Yet part of the process of building bridges to the Bridge requires us to help open closed minds and respond to important questions with intelligent answers.  Today we start a weekly feature which will be called TUESDAY IS FOR APOLOGETICS.  Here’s the first offering featuring Kenneth Boa being interviewed by The One Minute Apologist.





BATTLESTAR GALACTICA AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF REBELLION

29 08 2011

I am a big science fiction fan and have enjoyed BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.  Several months ago I found a great post on THE POACHED EGG (which is becoming a highly useful tool for apologists) that is worth your reflection as you see to communicate the Gospel. – Steve

The Consequences of Rebellion

Imagine a time in the not too distant future. Trying to compensate for a declining population, scientists use advanced technology to build a “race” of robots, giving then not only human appearance and abilities, but also increasing amounts of “artificial intelligence.” Things work smoothly in the short run, as the robots’ nearly limitless energy for work transforms Earth into a near paradise. But the scientists, never satisfied with their product, and seeking to give them a chance at true relationship with their human masters, give the robots freedom of will, grafting it on to the ability to the think independently that they already have. Chaos soon ensues, as the robots rebel and rise up against the human population….

This is standard fare, of course, in science fiction circles. Shows like “Battlestar Galactica” explore the philosophic issue surrounding this scenario, and play out possible expected, and some unexpected, outcomes. Let’s do the same from an apologetic’s standpoint.

A major stumbling block for non-believers – and for many Christians as well – is the doctrine of Hell. How, they ask, can an “all-good” God consign his creation to a place of torment? Don’t we have a right to continued life, as we want it to be? Rights talk such as this flows readily from the American mind and temperament. As beneficiaries of a system of ordered liberty, with resort to the courts to settle our grievances, we seem to easily slip into thinking that man is autonomous, a force onto himself, with rights that spring from his desire for control.

But though we resist thinking about this notion, we are in fact created beings. We did nothing to bring ourselves into existence and the basic equipment with which we encounter the world was given to us at birth. However much we wish it to be otherwise, we cannot for long escape the realization – especially as our bodies age against our will and betray us – that we are on a journey in which this good Earth is simply a way-station. However much we assert our independence, utilize our intelligence, and demand our “rights” to do what we want, we must, if we are honest with ourselves, realize – perhaps with a bit of alarm – that whatever left us behind may intend to reckon with us for what we have done while here. He may, we must acknowledge, require an accounting.

Most people who think through the implications of our contingent nature eventually realize that whatever did create us and leave us here retains the right to do what he will with the fruit of his labor. After all, no one condemns the potter when he smashes the pot that does not meet his wishes, or the painter that slashes a painting if he so chooses. In the scenario painted above, we realize that the scientists would be within their rights when they “unplug” or otherwise disable their creation. Having made them, the scientists retain the right to do what they will – even by putting them to forced labor or by dismantling them for parts. There is no moral outcry when, for example, the Air Force cannibalizes broken planes for parts that keep other planes flying.

But when we move to the arena of man and his Creator, our bias leads us to a totally different conclusion. But we are different, aren’t we? We think, and reason, and have free will that allows us to plan, to dream, to set goals. We form relationships that are meaningful to us. And most importantly, we feel. Pain is a constant threat and common companion. Does this not give us the right to “do what we want?” Especially if we mean well and don’t want to “hurt” anyone? To be “good,” God must simply get out of our way and let us … what, be God?

Actually, He doesn’t. Nothing changes in this analysis when the creatures under consideration are us. Having formed us – and everything for that matter – from nothing, God can do what he wants with us. In fact, it appears that in the natural order of things, God has established rules that we violate at our peril, so that what He wants for us can be seen not only in his Revelation, but in the natural law. What changed is our perspective. Our bias in wanting our way is what leads us to cry foul when God’s created order bumps up against our plans and desires. As in the Garden of Eden, modern man insists on not serving God, but on replacing him… or displacing him, at the very least. Insistent on having our way, we see God as a nuisance, or for many of us, the enemy. We shake our fist at him, insisting that He move out of our way, and that he justify Himself to us.

Unlike the robot analogy, God does not fear us or where our freedom may take us. We present no threat to him. But that does not mean that He must accept us into His fellowship, for to do so would be inconsistent with His holy nature. So, He reveals Himself to us, in a way that is substantial but not overwhelming, so that He does not overcome our freedom to choose. And most importantly, He provides a way for us to reunite with Him, but on His terms. That many people will use this freedom to remain in rebellion is not something for which He must explain.

None of this is easy for us to fully comprehend or to accept. Set in our rebellion, without God taking the initiative, all would be lost. But when we insist that God must bend to our will, that our freedom to choose must be accepted by Him despite His contrary view, well, then we are living outside the order which God has created. And in the end, He can – and will – do what He, in His wisdom, deems right.

Better for us to begin to see that clearly than to persist in a notion that we can imagine God out of existence. He may seem largely hidden to us, but He is there.