The following is in response to Philip Mella’s three-part series titled, in part, “On science and spirituality,” which published in the Nov. 28, Dec. 5 and 12 issues of the Courier.
Why so many people within Christianity seem to think the primary threat to their faith is science, most specifically evolutionary science, seems completely unnecessary. The real threat to Christianity, as we see it, is the lack of those who authentically live the love and grace teachings of Jesus, while dismissing the findings of science.
Empirical evidence is a requirement for science. Faith is often belief without concern for evidence. The biblical definition of faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” — or as Greek scholar Clarence Jordan translated it, “faith is the turning of dreams into deeds; it is betting your life on the unseen realities.” Neither speak of evidence or of certainty. Philip Mella mentions a “transition to certainty whether in science or religion.” Yet certainty is not the essential focus for faith, because faith cannot be faith if it is certain. Certainty is not the essential focus for science either, because science concepts stay open to further research, newer conclusions, and new not yet proposed conceptualizations. For faith to say it has achieved certainty is to limit the possibility of some new revelation believed from God, or from persons of faith with insightful wisdom. Scientists are rarely certain of anything, which is why they use statistics. They often say that they are 95-99 percent sure of a statement. It is only with the benefit of overwhelming evidence, such as in the exceptionally substantial confidence of evolution, do they start treating something as factual.
We do not agree with Mella that both science and religion are rooted in the same limits. The fundamental question of where life began is a classic example. Genesis describes how God made the heavens and the earth with all questions seemingly “answered” — but that’s a faith statement not a scientific statement, and it was never meant to be scientific. Science posits the “big bang” with many questions remaining, though scientists are working diligently to discover all possible answers. We often answer questions regarding these subjects with, “I don’t know, no one does,” then add the word “yet.” The best theologians often speak of the questions being every bit as important as any answers given.
Mella demonstrates he does not understand evolutionary theory. He uses the “intelligent design” (formerly called “creation science”) argument that evolution is completely random. Scientists consider evolution a process — defined as changes in the gene pool over time. Evolution demonstrates mutations (some random, some adapting, changes in genes) as the fuel for the direction for natural selection. Imagine you are walking in a field with Jesse Owens and a tiger takes after you. We can run about 10 mph (downhill with the wind at our backs). Jesse could hit nearly 30 mph. Guess who the tiger catches, guess who fails to deliver their genes into the next generation? That is natural selection, far from random. You can say the same for disease resistance, strength, eye sight, hearing, intelligence, and much more.
There is a major difference between religion and science. These are distinct worldviews, though some intertwine these systems for their own belief system. Most of Charles Darwin’s work first published in the “Origin of Species” has been substantiated by many thousands of papers published in peer-reviewed scientific literature. All support though refine the theory. Not one paper has been published in peer-reviewed scientific literature that refutes the theory, and every scientist knows that if she or he could disprove evolution her or his name would go down in history as even greater than Darwin’s. Faith concerns itself with what is believed and how one authentically lives those beliefs in compassionate relationship with others; and science can help if it is allowed to do so on its own terms, but that does not mean faith and science have to, need to, or ever will converge.
Rodney Noel Saunders, M.Div. and Michael Stewart, Ph.D., come from different backgrounds, one with a career in ministry, the other with a career in science. They have come to the same conclusion about treating people with dignity and respect, while caring for the Earth. Send your guest columns for print consideration to email@example.com.