Thursday, July 31, 2008

People of Faith Studying Science

Last weekend, we took our youngest son to Chicago to visit campuses to help him prepare to make a decision about college during his upcoming senior year. One issue with which Christian-based liberal arts colleges and universities must deal is how devout people approach the study of the natural sciences. Friends of ours, who are practicing scientists and people of faith, are in the college-search process too and in a recent email they lamented the poor quality and lack of emphasis on science in the Christian schools they have inquired about. This may be because Christ-followers are confused and conflicted about how to think about this subject.

While at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, I picked up a booklet that contains a thoughtful and well-stated summary of the foundations of their approach. You can find it online on the Wheaton College website here: Perspective on Natural Sciences.

Here are some excerpts from the statement:
In the contemporary academy, science represents a theoretical discipline that addresses natural phenomena; by its accepted standards and procedures, it does not go beyond the natural realm for explanations. The hypotheses and theories generated in scientific study are based upon empirically measured phenomena. Like all endeavors of disclosing truth, including theology, the practice of science is dynamic and the theories it generates are always in a state of self-correction as new data are evaluated. Although science uses a naturalistic methodology, the use of that methodology does not necessarily imply a metaphysical naturalism (a philosophical commitment to the idea that the material world is all there is), nor does it imply that the scientist who is a Christian believes that naturalistic factors can fully explain all phenomena.

At Wheaton, special emphasis is given to integration of the Christian faith with all areas of learning and applied practice. This emphasis is, in turn, rooted in our deep commitment to the complete truthfulness and authority of the Scriptures. Nevertheless, we encourage the careful examination of all worthwhile ideas in our curriculum, including those that may seem to contradict our own institutional commitments. When we confront seeming contradictions between the "findings of science" and our understanding of the teaching of Scripture, for instance, we reaffirm our belief in an inerrant Bible. However, we also humbly realize that neither our interpretations of Scripture nor the "findings of science" are without error. Hence, we carefully examine all relevant evidence to seek resolution of the seeming contradiction, but we also are willing to accept uncertainty in matters where we have insufficient certainty, either regarding the teaching of Scripture, the findings of science, or both. We approach such matters in the confidence that our God will lead us into a deeper understanding of His Truth, and that the practice of critical inquiry - grounded in trust in the truthfulness of Scripture - will prepare our students to respond wisely to the challenges they will face. In all endeavors, Wheaton College remains firmly committed to structuring its programs in service "For Christ and His Kingdom."

Aspects of our institution's confessional stance are disconcerting to many nonreligious scientists, including our confidence that Christ designed and created the physical world, that this world bears the imprint of its rational Creator, that He is the author of all life, and, especially, that He directly created the first human pair. Yet our institution's confessional stance leaves certain issues open, issues which some in the Christian community regard as properly closed. The most notable of these issues are the age of the Earth, the age of the cosmos, and the methods by which God did His work of creation. Indeed, among our faculty there are a variety of interpretations of the age of the Earth and the age of the cosmos, as well as the means used by God to create the variegated array of life on our planet. The faculty are firm in their conviction that Christ created all of humankind through the direct creation of an historical Adam and Eve. As stated earlier in this document, and of such great significance that it bears repeating here, is that we hold fast to the truth that through one man (Adam) humankind fell, and through one man (Christ) humankind is saved. While all faculty believe in the complete truthfulness and authority of Scripture, some embrace or lean toward a creationism, of the Young Earth variety, others a punctuated or progressive creationism. Nonetheless, our faculty embrace Christ's creative design and action in the created order. They strive to treat all views charitably, respectfully, and intelligently as they lead campus discussion regarding these controversial matters. We believe that we honor Christ by taking precisely this approach, and we think that this is an academically honest way to impart knowledge to our students.

Charitable. Respectful. Intelligent. Deep commitment to the truthfulness and authority of the Scriptures.

Well said.

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