Science and Faith as BFFs: a book review

When I was a teenager, in my fundy evangelical days, I was taught to be suspicious of science. Scientists were you using their big bang black magic, their carbon-dating-voodoo, and evolutionary processes to explain away the Creator.  My youth leaders would do role-playing exercises designed to help us take a brave Christian response to our godless philosophy or biology professors when we got to college (I’m convinced that the entire plot to God’s Not Dead was written in a youth group). I was told if Genesis 1 was not literally how God created the earth, that would mean you couldn’t trust anything in the Bible (there is a logical fallacy there, see if you can spot it).

8741I can’t say this is all entirely to blame for my undergrad, underachieving self, but it is pretty hard to make yourself try hard in class if you think your Geology professor is lying to you (I think this suspicion of sciences is also partly to blame for certain Christians’ ambivalence to global warming or evidence-based research).

Thankfully, there are a number of Christians today which are exploring the interconnection between science and faith. Among them is Greg Cootsona. Cootsona directs Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries (STEAM) at Fuller Theological Seminary and teaches religious studies and humanities at Chico State. He wrote Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults as a manifesto for pastors, emerging adult ministries leaders, and emerging adults themselves (18 to 30-year-olds). He discusses the disconnect between science and faith, places where they may be brought into greater integration and dialogue, and he provides various case studies of relevant issues to faith and science.

Mere Science and Faith unfolds in eight chapters. In chapter 1, Cootsona describes his own history of science and faith—his Christian conversion in college at UC Berkley, and subsequent antagonism toward faith he experienced from faculty and fellow students. He then introduces his thesis, an integrative approach to faith and science. In chapter 2, Cootsona cites psychological and social scientific research to discuss how to engage science and faith with emerging adults (18 to 30-year-olds). He concludes that the conversation between faith and science has shifted with the development of new technologies (e.g. artificial intelligence, transhumanism, screen time), new understandings of faith, and the eclectic “Spotify mix” style of engaging faith and science of emerging adult Christians today which breaks down some of the old dichotomies (28-29). A bricolage of mismatched ideas (Spotify) instead of an LP album, allows emerging adults to see connections between science and faith, or at least regard them as independent spheres without any felt antagonism. Cootsona extends this analysis in chapter 3 (“Emerging Adults: Are They None and Done?”).

Chapter 4 and 5 are a crash course on biblical hermeneutics. Chapter 4 has an eye to how best make sense of the creation passages in our Scientific age. Cootsona discusses creation narratives of Genesis 1-2, and other relevant passages.  Chapter 5, looks at  Adam and Eve and human history. Cootsona concludes this section on hermeneutics with 5 reflections on reading the Bible:

  1. We hold to the Bible because there we find our relationship to God through Jesus Christ.
  2. Although we seek integration, we need to  interpret Scripture with a sufficent dose of independence between science and faith when necessary
  3. The interests of the interpreter are critical to the task of interpretation [i.e. we bring ourselves to the text and engage it with critical realism]
  4. Science is not the sole arbitrator of truth.
  5. Our biblical interpretation is about learning to live with the narrative of Scripture (96-98).

These hermeneutical reflections help Christians navigate truth in science and Scripture while acknowledging that each has a peculiar lens for comprehending reality. Chapters 6 and 7 describe the gifts and limits of technology and chapter 8 concludes the book.

Interspersing these chapters are various case studies exploring: the New Atheism, Cognitive Science, the Big Bang and Fine Tuning, Intelligent Design and the problem of irreducible complexity, climate change, and human sexuality. If the chapters are more conceptual, these case studies explore the nature of the dialogue between faith and science as they relate to particular issues.

I didn’t have this book during my own emerging adulthood, but somehow I discovered that pressing into scientific questions (e.g. evolution, cosmology, geology) and adjusting how I understood particular passages, did not cause my faith in God to slide down a slippery slope toward secularism. For myself, it was exposure to Christians outside my narrow evangelical bubble that enabled me to make my peace with science, but certainly, a book like this would have been quite helpful. As an erstwhile and intermittent pastor, I appreciate the sound advice which Cootsona offers in guiding emerging adults to greater integration of science and faith. I particularly liked the emphasis on hermeneutics. I was reminded of one of my seminary professors saying, “When science and faith disagree, there is always a hermeneutical problem. Either we are misreading God’s Special Revelation (i.e., the Bible) or we are miss reading Creation. Or both.” Cootsona explores how to navigate the issues well (I did wish his chapters on technology probed the issues a little more, but this is a short book).

This is a book about science, but not really a science book. Cootsona mentions research and some important thinkers, but this is pretty accessible to us non-scientists. I give this four stars – ★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

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matichuk

I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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