Should Christians Study Science?

It has been my observation that much of the discourse on the incompatibilities between science and religion really comes from fundamentalist groups on diametrical sides of the religious spectrum. On one side you have fundamentalist naturalists, and on the other side you have fundamentalist Christians. The fundamentalist naturalist party might look at religion as being a dwindling method for understanding the world around us (modernization) and the fundamentalist Christian party might look at science as trying to undermine the truth of the scriptures. Unfortunately, much of the shouting has been over the subject of evolution (which itself is a bloated term that needs defining) and the issues surrounding the origins of the universe and the age of the earth. But it’s important to realize that on this spectrum between the fundamentalist naturalist and the fundamentalist Christian are dozens of moderate positions; which simply shows us the complexity of these issues and gives us hints that there are spaces in-between which allow for a simultaneous love for science and a love for religion or God.

Because of the coverage of these issues between the two groups (think Ken Ham vs Bill Nye), it’s a real concern that those who might desire to be religious may suppress the desire because they hold the belief that science and religion are incompatible. Likewise there are those who are Christians who probably suppress their love for science because they believe science to be incompatible with their own Christian convictions. So we’re faced with the question: can you be a Christian and also be a scientist? Here are a couple of things to consider:

Both science and religion are ultimately ways seeking certain kinds truth. Science seeks it through the natural world, whereas religion1 (typically) seeks it through the supernatural world. One seeks truth through the physical; another seeks it through the metaphysical. It is a well-known (trite, but true) phrase that the Bible does not intend to act as a science textbook. It is certainly not that God has his limits, but simply that he does not intend to produce scientific lectures in the Bible. Instead, he has given us rational minds to discover the mysteries of the rational universe—otherwise science would not be possible. Science, of course, has its own realm to which it is bound. To quote physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne, “A scientist, speaking as a scientist, can say no more about music than that it is vibrations in the air, but speaking as a person there would surely be much more to say about the mysterious way in which a temporal succession of sounds can give us access to a timeless realm of beauty.” Science can tell us the nature of sound vibrations, but it cannot tell us what makes a sound beautiful. Additionally, science can tell us the cause of death, but it cannot tell us whether or not murder is wrong. Now we may certainly all believe that murder is wrong and that objective moral values and duties do exist; but moral objectivity is not something that science, by its own nature, can prove. We all end up taking it on faith. Note the distinction between the physical and the metaphysical.

It’s worth understanding the complexity of Christian attitudes towards science. Some Christians believe in evolution, some do not. Some Christians are young earth creationists, some aren’t. I point this out to reinforce the idea that these issues are complex; they are not black and white. The vast array of positions should demonstrate this notion. There are a wide spectrum of attitudes that Christians take on scientific issues; and because of the nature of science and Christian belief in particular, there is no reason to believe that a Christian cannot be a scientist or that a scientist cannot be a Christian. Science is (more or less) our way of discovering what typically happens in the universe. There is no reason to believe that this rules out God in any way. If God has blessed you with a passion for science, you do not have to choose between science and faith; and you certainly do not need to fear science.

Psalm 111:2 “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”

“Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a law-giver.” –CS Lewis

1I recognize that defining the term religion is almost futile due to the vast differences between religious groups and their beliefs. Mostly when I speak about religion in this article, I am referring to Christianity.

Why Do You Want To Go To Heaven?

Many people when asked the question “why do you want to go to heaven?” will say things like:

“I don’t want to go to hell.”

“I want to be away from pain and suffering.”

“My spouse/parents/friend/child is there.”

I was recently re-watching a debate between atheist Sam Harris and Christian apologist William Lane Craig where Harris made the implication that the reason people become Christians is simply to escape hell1. “Honestly, this just shows you how little Sam Harris understands Christianity,” Dr. Craig responded. “You don’t become a Christian to simply escape hell.”

I can imagine the confused look on many people’s faces at that moment. Why do you become a Christian then?

One aspect that makes the gospel so beautiful is that Christ has taken our sin and shame to the grave, and his righteousness has been imputed on us. The punishment that we deserved from God was absorbed by Christ. This is wonderful news. For one reason it is wonderful because our wrong doings have been covered by Christ, for those that accept this gift. We’re saved from hell—but being saved from hell is just a benefit; it’s not the main reason why we’re become Christians.

Here’s an illustration I’m going to borrow from John Piper:

Imagine that I wake up one morning and trip over a pile of clothes that my wife has left in the middle of the bathroom floor. I get angry; and as my wife is waking up, I scold her for being messy and inconsiderate. As she leaves the room, I know that she’s upset with me. I walk into the living room and I’m met with a cold silence. At this point, I know the right thing to do—I need to ask for forgiveness.

There are several reasons why I could ask for forgiveness. 1) I want a clear conscience while we’re apart. 2) I want her to make my favorite breakfast. 3) I don’t want her to withhold intimacy from me. 4) I don’t want people to think that our relationship is a mess. All of these are reasons why I could ask for her forgiveness. They are benefits to having a good marriage. But this isn’t the main reason why I should do this.

The main reason why I should ask for her forgiveness is so that the wall of separation between us, because of my wrong against her, is torn down. The greatest benefit of forgiveness is a restored relationship.

The same is true with God. You don’t become a Christian to merely escape hell—you become a Christian so that the relationship between you and God is made right. The wall has been torn down. You can now “enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21) and experience the beauty of a new relationship.

1Hell, as proposed by Sam Harris, is equated to a lake of fire and torture. Not the eternal separation from God that I’ve discussed in this blog. Otherwise escaping hell for the sake of one’s relationship with God might better parallel with the topic of this blog.

3 Problems with Tolerance

Tolerance is a buzzword in Western culture. Ironically, it frequently assumes the form of deadly arrows, aimed at shooting down all intolerant views which stand in opposition. Those who might view themselves as progressive tuck the arrows away in their quiver, and stand armed and ready to put an end to bigotry and primitive social segregation. However, how often do we really consider the implications of the word tolerance?

First of all, who wants to be simply tolerated?

It’s always helpful to think of synonyms when attempting to exposit the full-range and implications of a word. When we think of tolerance, we tend to think of putting up with, bearing with, or waiting out something. I tolerate the pain in my wrist because I have to at the moment. We may tolerate certain people because it would be inappropriate to do otherwise. Tolerance itself is a word that we tend to associate with an annoyance or a pain. So given the typical context of the word, who wants to be tolerated?

Secondly, tolerance often evokes intolerance

Many people who parade for tolerance end up being just as intolerant as the people they march against. The one thing they cannot tolerate is intolerance; so war is waged to pave the way for peace. Someone might say, for instance: your views or wrong, and your opposition to such-and-such a cause shows just how intolerant you really are. Someone might say that, but they could never call themselves tolerant. The whole system caves in on itself.

Thirdly, true tolerance can be permissive

Imagine if the Nazi’s had continued to be tolerated in Europe. Imagine if a wife tolerated her husband’s sexual abuse towards their children. Imagine if you tolerated a loved one’s destructive drug abuse. Tolerance is typically guised in the form of love; but ask yourself just how loving tolerance is in the three cases I mentioned above. Tolerance is capable of permitting great evils to persist—contrary to the popular belief that all intolerance is evil.

So how do we live?

To start, we need to realize that the word tolerance is not a noble word (and neither is intolerance). These words carry no intrinsic moral value, because they rely on particular circumstances to merit any kind of virtue.

What makes a person humane is not that they are tolerant. What makes a person honorable is how they treat people despite the fact that they disagree with them. Love assumes different actions according the corresponding circumstance. It is flexible, yet uncompromising. To love someone, and to respond to them accordingly, is far more powerful than to tolerate someone—which may only conceal or produce hatred. Be aware of the possibilities of tolerance.

My Biggest Struggle With Christianity

One of the beautiful challenges of attending a secular university has been being forced to look at Christianity through a different lens from what I had been used to in the past. Growing up in the church, I had inherited Christianity from my family. However, I was eager to give it away as I concluded my high school years and started a new chapter of life in the university setting. During this time, I felt my belief system being deconstructed (not because of professors; it was my own doing), and could no longer look at religion as anything other than wishful thinking. I had embarked on my journey as an agnostic. Incredulous and skeptical, I eventually wondered into the thick fog of nihilism. When God became unapproachable, life became meaningless; and a person can only live so long like that.

Years later, I would again encounter the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for the first time, really begin to understand the implications of the good news. This is revolutionary for the soul. It’s as if the blinds have been lifted up, and we can now gaze out of the window to behold and wonder at the depth and beauty of an ocean before us. After discovering the beauty of the gospel, I plunged headfirst into the depths of Christian theology, desperate to understand who God was, and how I could relate to him. But it wouldn’t be much longer before new doubts would begin to surface.

Deciding to study religion from the perspective of a scholar was one of the best decisions I had ever made. I was constantly confronted with views contrary (or even hostile) towards my own. Being a relatively new Christian at this point, I found myself unable to answer many (if not most) of the objections to my Christian worldview that my fellow university students and my professors had thrown in my direction. This inevitably began an obsession with Christian apologetics that continues to this day. It wasn’t that I needed to hold on to some shallow or nostalgic Christian worldview for ‘old time’s sake;’ I needed truth. My precious nihilism had failed me in the past, and atheism I knew would only collapse in on itself. Certainly there must be a greater truth in the universe. Through my experience as a new Christian, I knew I had encountered God, and that this God that I had encountered had changed something fundamental in the deepest parts of who I was as a human. I approached Christianity mostly agnostic—though not completely ready to trash my personal experiences with Christianity. But what I began to notice, as I listened to dozens of debates between Christians, atheists, and apologists from other religious, is that that Christianity held up remarkably well… In fact, despite the best attempts of the opposition to drown out the Christian worldview, Christianity kept its head well above the water, while other worldviews had long funneled down to the abyss. This breathed new life into my soul. It wasn’t just personal experience I needed to rely on in order to justify my beliefs, there was remarkable evidence out there to support my beliefs.

But fast-forwarding to the present, I must admit that the biggest struggle I have with Christianity has nothing to do with personal experience or evidence. I’m confident that I have experienced the life-changing power of Jesus Christ, and I don’t worry much about having my legs kicked out from under me while I’m defending my faith (though I’m an elementary apologist, I’ll be the first to admit). Nearly all my questions about the validity of Christianity have been answered with precision and excellence. These things aren’t my issue.

My issue with Christianity is that I do not understand God’s love for me. I cannot even begin to fathom it. This is what I simply have the hardest time grasping. My mind stretches and tears trying to wrap itself around God’s love. Lately, when my doubts arise, this is the form that they choose to take. How can God love me? How can this truly be? The moment I begin to understand it just a little, I cannot help but feel the desire to fall onto my knees and weep. It is a nakedness that goes beyond the flesh. It is as if I was a criminal who, not only had been cleared of my charges, but has been embraced by an indescribable love that transcends the total sum of all the worldly love in it’s fullest capacity, despite what I’ve done. I wish I could grasp it–but I simply cant. Every time I reach for it, I am knocked to my knees the moment I touch it. The hardest question for me was never “how could a good God send people to hell,” but “why would a perfect God let anyone into heaven?” It goes beyond words. It goes beyond understanding. God’s love is my greatest struggle. It is the aspect of Christianity that I simply do not understand.

Why Did Jesus Have To Die? (Couldn’t God forgive us without sacrificing his son?)

“Wouldn’t it be unjust for one man to pay for the sins of all? After all, the penalty is theirs to pay. How could the death of a poor Jewish man take on the sins of the world?”

These questions understandably demand a response from the Christian paradigm. After all, certainly it would be unjust for God to allow all the sins of mankind to be paid for by a single, ordinary death, and for all the guilty to go free. That’s certainly how it seems before we begin to uproot our assumptions.

First, we have the issue of sin (which I’ve addressed here). If sin resulted in a sort of debt to be paid (an impossible debt, mind you) then we must ask ourselves this question: to whom do we owe the debt?

Remember in Matthew 9:1-3 that the scribes are astounded that Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic prior to healing him. Why are they astonished? Because only God has the power to forgive sins. Now this is important for understanding who sin is ultimately against. Take a look at Psalm 51:4:

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.”

David is saying that against God, and God alone, has he sinned. Now remember that David is saying this after he has committed adultery and has essentially murdered the woman’s husband in order to cover up her pregnancy. Now certainly we can sin against each other, but sin is first and foremost a sin against God because it is choosing separation from him. Therefore, it is in his choice to allow us back to him. For example, if I did something to seriously harm my relationship with you, and I beg you to forgive me, and I hope for a restored relationship with you—who possesses the final decision on whether or not that relationship will be restored? You do.

Now since all sin is ultimately first and foremost against God, only he can forgive this debt. If God so wished to forgive the sins of mankind, he would be the only one with the power to do the forgiving. Similarly, if I borrowed $20 from you and couldn’t pay you back, only you could forgive that debt; not your friend, brother, or spouse.

But now we ask the question: why death? Isn’t that a little too serious? Couldn’t God just blink an eye and forgive us? Well, there’s a couple things we need to understand first.

Crime is costly. If a crime is committed against a person, it is a cost to that person the crime was committed against. Think about the illustration I gave earlier about me having wronged you in some way. It would cost you to still be my friend. Generally speaking, when it comes to personal relationships, love always has a cost. Why? If wrong my wife in some way, she can choose to continue to love me, but she will pay a price for it. Forgiveness is not cheap. And again, to point back to an earlier example, if I borrowed $20 from you, and didn’t pay it back, who would bear the cost? You would, because you are now $20 short after doing business with me! Crime is always costly. Since sin is ultimately a crime against God, and ultimately results in death (separation), then in order for God to pay for the debt that we owed him, he would have to take in on himself, through Christ. Nothing short of that would have paid the cost that would reconcile us back to him.

But, there’s something else worth noting.

Christ’s payment for our sins wasn’t a cold transaction. God was not rolling his eyes at the bill we accumulated: he paid for it while demonstrating the truest posture of love.

John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

That is the glorious picture of the gospel. It pleased God to reconcile us to himself (Isa. 53:10, John 10:18), even at the cost of his son. That is why when we look at the cross, we see no greater love than God’s sacrifice for humanity, which he alone was fit to pay.

Sin is costly; it costs us our intimacy with God. Only God can pay the price to have the intimacy restored. God paid it through the highest posture of love through death. Because the cost of our separation has been paid, we can now experience intimacy with him. This is why Jesus died.

Why Is Sin So Serious, And Why Does it Separate Us From God?

I issued forth a challenge here for Christians to try to explain important Christian doctrine in the simplest way possible. There are few doctrines more serious (and empirically verifiable!) than the doctrine of sin. Below, I’m going to attempt to explain a bit about the nature of sin, and why it is so important, as if I were explaining it to someone who knew nothing about Christianity.

That being said, why is sin so serious, and why does it separate us from God?

When we sin, what we’re actually doing is we’re choosing to depart from God. We’re departing from what is holy and righteous—we’re literally departing from God himself. Christ called himself the way, truth and life (John 14:6); to depart from that is to turn off of the path (the way), to forsake truth for the empty promises of sin, and to ultimately be cut off from life. Death is a natural consequence of sin, because sin separates us from God himself, who is eternal life.

To sin, is very similar to saying “I think I’ll go my own way, thank you;” in which case God says, “Your will be done.” So it really makes little sense to complain about the severity of sin, because actually what every person truly wants is what only God can give in himself (eternal life, joy, peace, love, etc.), yet we want to detach these things from God and keep them for ourselves. This, of course, is impossible! No person can attempt to steal what is of God (eternal life, joy, peace, love, etc.) without stealing pieces of who God is. Yet we try. So to think that God punishes sin too harshly is like saying, “I want to separate myself from God, but I think it’s unjust that he lets me do it.” Ultimately we get what we ask for.

When the Bible says in Ephesians 2:1 that the “wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus,” it is essentially saying that “the pay of departing from God is separation (death), whereas eternal life is God’s gift for those who receive the Son (life).” God allows those who wish to seek life outside of him to attempt to do so. However, there can be no life outside of God, because life is one of God’s attributes—so it makes no sense to ask for life apart from God when He is life.

I’ve mentioned before that hell is the ultimate separation from God. This is freely chosen and awarded to people who wish to be away from God’s presence. In God’s final act of love, he allows us freedom apart from himself—which is death.

(What are your thoughts on sin and how it separates us from God? Try expressing them as simply as possible, as if the person you are talking to is completely new to the concept. Try to keep it to a couple of short paragraphs; there’s no need for a dissertation in a conversation!)

The Gospel Challenge

Many of us enjoy studying theology, but when it comes to explaining the gospel—which is the bedrock of Christianity—we tend to have a difficult time explaining it. I’m speaking of myself here, because I started to realize that when I attempted to explain the gospel to a non-believer, I ended up either speaking “Christian lingo” that they didn’t understand (why would they?), or I realized that I had so many presuppositions in my mind that needed explaining, that when these presuppositions where brought to my attention, I didn’t have answers for them.

Here is my challenge for you, as a reader/writer: I want you to attempt to explain the gospel as thoroughly and as simply as you can, without over using “Christian words” that we often take for granted. So what does this imply? Well, a couple of things.

First: If you use words like grace or atonement, explain what they mean as simply as you possibly can.

Second: Question the gospel inside and out. What is sin? Why is it so bad? How does the death of Christ save people from hell? Why would God send people to hell to begin with? Raise these questions and attempt to answer them as simply as you can. In other words if you say that Christ died for the sins of man, explain why any of that would be necessary.

I realize this is a challenging task, but I feel that we can reasonably answer these questions. Here are just 5 questions that I would like to challenge you to answer.

Q: Why is sin so serious? (And why does it separate us from God?)

Q: If God is a God of love, why does he send people to hell? (Especially moral people)

Q: How does simply believing that Jesus is God grant you the right to enter heaven?

Q: Why did Jesus have to die? (Couldn’t God forgive us without sacrificing his son?)

Q: How does the death of one man atone for the sins of all?

If you blog, try answering them one at a time (and link them to me in the comments section or email them to me so that I can read them!). I will be answering them as well, and I am certainly open to constructive criticism on my answers.

The beauty of the gospel is that it is simple enough for a child to understand, while deep and complex enough for the most philosophical mind to marvel at. I look forward to hearing your responses, and I hope you find this challenge to be beneficial.

Are you up for the challenge?