Will a shift in the way we approach science change how we approach God?
God’s Not Dead, Rationalism is
“God is dead . . . and we have killed him.” This famous quote from Nietzsche would prove to be the rallying cry of higher learning for decades. It was long believed that science would prove to be the bane of believers in God, and that any spiritual or religious belief was nothing but a fanciful resistance to the seemingly omnipotent will of objective, empirical truth. Those who still believed in a loving, creator God were hold-outs of an old era, and would soon be fully rendered obsolete as the Age of Rationalism progressed. Essentially, secular intellectuals believed Christianity would die out.
However, the Church, and the believers therein, are still here and growing, and as science advances, we are beginning to see how much of the universe is impossible to comprehend or explain – even by the most intelligent, rational people. The sheer magnitude of the universe baffles scientists universally, and yet it is infinitely detailed and intricate. In all areas of study, our learning is not destroying the idea of a Creator God, but rather is supporting it. We argue over who or what created the universe, but more and more people admit that there is some form of existing mystical entity which transcends even the best of our thoughts. According to data from pewforum.org, the number of people who claim to be religious has actually increased over the past ten years. The Age of Rationalism is coming to an end.
The Age of Transcendence is upon us. But is it a Good Thing?
Now people are acknowledging that there is something beyond the purely physical, rational realm. But is this innately a change for the better? I fear it could do more harm than good in the long run; to know that
spirits exist is a deadly thing if the spirits are not tested. Manasseh believed that gods existed, and he sacrificed his own children to those gods – was his belief automatically healthier than an atheistic, rationalistic outlook on life? Though the number of people believing in a spirit or something beyond themselves is increasing, the number of people who claim to be Christians of some sort has unfortunately decreased in the same period. Rather, individuals claiming their religious beliefs as “unaffiliated” or “nothing in particular” has increased from 28.2 to 38.6 percent.
Acknowledgement of a creative deity does nothing if this deity we speak of is not the God of the Bible, who manifested himself as Jesus Christ. There is a narrow road, and it must run through the Cross. A thousand different twisted half-truths claim there is a creator God (or gods, or mystical spirit, or sacred presence), yet see no need for the Gospel. As members of a Christian institution of higher learning, it is dangerous to allow these ideas to flow out into the culture without challenging them in some way. But what is the proper response?
One Scholarly Opinion on the Issue
I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Pevarnik, a professor at Regent University who received his Ph.D. in Physics from University of California, Irvine. Though he began his studies at UCI as an atheist, he converted to Christianity two years into his undergrad. When I asked if studying physics at a high level had ever run contrary to his faith in Christ and the Bible, he was confident in stating that he has never had a problem between scripture and science, adding, “as I look at creation, it has profoundly moved me to worship God. If these ideas are properly communicated, it leads others to believe in him as well.”
But are these ideas being properly communicated? I asked Dr. Pevarnik. His response was convicting: “It almost seems that progress is a dirty word in Christian circles,” he lamented, going on to explain that every time there is a new scientific discovery, idea, or result, it is “swept under the rug.” Dr. Pevarnik argued that new encounters with truth should be celebrated, rather than being rejected. “[Science] is an extremely useful tool for discovering who God is,” Dr. Pevarnik noted, “and people don’t have to be afraid of it.”
When Dr. Pevarnik first became a Christian, he seriously considered getting his undergrad degree and foregoing his plans for achieving a Ph.D. “I was immediately concerned with the well-being of people’s souls,” he said, and he did not see science as playing an important role in anything spiritual. But a significant attitude-shift affected him. “I started to pray for my research,” he recalled. “I started to see how I had been unfaithful in what I had been given to steward. I was not doing it excellently.” After this realization, he began to pray for his research, applied himself more intentionally to his studies, and persevered until he achieved his doctorate.
A Christian Response to this Paradigm Shift
I’m not implying that all Christians should be pursuing a doctorate in physics? I myself am an English major, and poorly versed in higher science. I do believe that it is of value to gain a basic knowledge of scientific truth, but that is not the argument I am trying to make today. As Dr. Pevarnik pointed aim out, science can be a useful tool for growing as Disciples.
Though we could spend time arguing about whether this shift in ages is for better or for worse, in the
end, we may never know the outcome or result of it. However, we do know is that none of this is taking God by surprise. Throughout history, He has been in the business of raising up an army of men and women who will follow His calling and live excellently here on earth. I do not know if the Age of Transcendence will prove to be healthy soil for the growth of God’s people, but I believe that I am where I am for a reason, and therefore I will apply myself to my learning, always seeking new ways to discover more about the God who spoke truth into every facet of His creation.
Here is my challenge to all Christians who are engaged in higher education: have virtue in your studies. Let’s stop scraping by, stop doing assignments half-heartedly and at the last moment, stop glorifying procrastination. How much of a difference could we make if we did everything as unto the Lord? I am not saying that every Christian ought to get a college degree. But while we are in college, we should carry a since of stewardship. Let’s view ourselves not as going into various fields of study, but rather as going into various fields of mission, fields of battle. Dr. Pevarnik admitted that he once did not see his classwork as having anything to do with his Christian life, and was, therefore, unfaithful in his stewardship. Somehow, we have relegated our “Christian life” to the thing we do on Sundays, and the only work which we see as innately spiritual is pastoral ministry. Yes, we need godly pastors in this country, and we also need godly physicists, godly teachers, godly mechanics, godly chemists, godly CEO’s, etc. As we study, and as we go forth into our various mission fields, we must always be ready to represent our King, and always be ready to give a reason for the hope that lies within us.
We are here for a reason; as ages shift around us and a thousand twisted half-truths rise, we find ourselves in a place where hundreds of Christians are gathered together to examine the world from a biblical and scholarly perspective. If we were to truly engage the progression of all areas of science and study, I believe that we could positively impact the higher learning community at large, speaking a Christ-centered truth into the midst of all the ever-changing tides around us.
Trevor Smith is a Contributor to the Daily Runner.