Chief science officer isn’t exactly a traditional role in most Christian denominations. Sure you have pastors, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers and others. Science officer, not so much. But having a science officer, or even a science council would make an awful lot of sense for churches in today’s society. Consider the following:
Christians want to make or interact with empirical claims relevant to their faith.
We live in a scientific age. Many of the biggest questions from a Christian perspective in modern society are either directly or indirectly related to science. That’s part of the reason I write this blog; to explore those new and interesting questions. Whether we’re talking about sex and gender, stem cell research, when life begins, birth control, if gun laws are effective, how to best help refugees, human origins, or if the physical world is any evidence for God existing, there’s a lot of science involved. These topics bring up deep faith questions, and folks expect their faith to help address those questions.
But unfortunately. . .
There are a ton of folks spreading misinformation about science for profit or from ignorance.
Lying about science is big business. The recent hype over “Fake News” is a pretty clear example. Science is a prime target for professional liars because people care about what science has to say, but most people don’t have the time or training to thoroughly investigate most topics. It’s painfully easy to be fooled by a good liar about a topic you have no training in. I’m currently working on a fairly large research project for a series of future posts, and after many hours of using my science research training to analyze dozens of primary sources, it’s still not absolutely clear who is right and/or being honest. Science literacy takes time. Without my research skills or the time to invest in the project, it would be a pretty hopeless endeavor.
Pastors are seldom trained to critically examine scientific claims.
To evaluate science well, you need science training. Period. Pastors are not required to be trained in science in most Christian traditions, though, there are quite a few pastors who are. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, nobody has to be an expert on everything, and an effective Bible scholar is what is reasonable to expect from a pastor. However, if a pastor isn’t trained in science, they should be pretty reluctant to form strong opinions on scientific subjects they don’t know much about. That’s just being honest, and I think that’s also a reasonable expectation to have for a pastor.
All too often, pastors seem to default to digging up the supporting opinions of folks who agree with their preconceived theological opinions rather than critically looking for what the scientific community actually thinks. Meanwhile, there are usually honest scientists in a congregation, or in a nearby congregation, or somewhere in the community who could easily tell you what scientists think. So why not ask them scientific questions?
We (should) care about what’s true.
Not too long ago I was chatting on and off with a local pastor about the Theory of Evolution, and in an effort to convince me of his young Earth opinion he lent me a book by a fairly prolific young Earth writer. This book contained many obvious factual inaccuracies to make its points, which I can only assume were written dishonestly rather than accidentally because the author had a PhD in a scientific field. Anyone with scientific training could spot these lies as obvious. Unfortunately, the pastor who lent me the book responded to this fact with a shoulder shrug rather than any kind of moral outrage. This was surprising to me, since I would expect a Bible teacher to care as much as me about dishonest or mistaken teaching:
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1 ESV).
That strictness is a weight I have always felt when talking about scripture, and a weight I also feel when making strong claims about science. A healthy fear of making a mistake should be there. As for outright liars, Jesus himself certainly had nothing nice to say about them:
“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 ESV).
Irresponsibility about science is morally offensive.
If we as Christians don’t give a proper care about what’s true and honest, what does that say about the moral quality of our faith? It looks pretty darn bad to any honest person, and honest people are noticing. As the Barna group reports as part of their study on why 3 out of 5 young people leave the church:
“Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that ‘churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in’ (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that ‘Christianity is anti-science’ (25%).”
Frankly, being irresponsible about how science is treated can only result in a drain in any church’s vitality and brain power. Folks should leave a church that doesn’t care about lying; dishonesty is wrong.
So why just accept this problem? There are scientists who are Christians around. Some of us are called to be pastors, some parents, some craftsmen, and some scientists. So why not get scientists to serve the church with their expertise as pastors do with theirs? Some denominations do this sort of thing. The Vatican has its own observatory and trained astronomers. In the scientific age we live in, surrounded by scientific questions important to our faith, it seems irresponsible not to be listening carefully to the scientific community.
So live long, and prosper, and go ask a scientist.