Emerging Adults Want to Integrate Science and Faith
How does your congregation address the sciences? Do you support those who work in the scientific fields? Do you mention insights from biology, astronomy, or physics in sermonic discourse or in your teaching ministry that shed light on the wonders of God’s creative work in the natural world? Or are you antagonistic toward the sciences?
In his book Mere Science and Christian Faith, Professor Greg Cootsona (Fuller Theological Seminary; California State University, Chico) challenges the church to take a fresh look at bringing the sciences into conversation with Christian faith. Cootsona makes a strong case that this simply must be done effectively in order to invite the next generation into a relationship with God.
The state of affairs in the church at present, however, is not good. Cootsona cites a study from Barna researcher David Kinnaman which found “52 percent of youth group members will ultimately enter a science-related profession, but only 1 percent of youth groups talk about science even once a year.” Cootsona notes that this sends a strong message to emerging adults, either that science and faith are mutually exclusive (the culture war model) or that they are unrelated.
The consequences could be devastating in the years ahead. Not only could this result in emerging adults leaving the church, it could diminish the legacy of Christians who have made contributions to the natural sciences. Francis Bacon (the scientific method), Galileo (astronomy), Pascal (mathematics), Isaac Newton (physics) and many others have made a lasting mark on the sciences. There are strong historical and theological reasons for thoughtful Christian people to participate in scientific study. Scientific understanding gives insight into how God created the natural world, and can also be used to address human suffering and societal ills.
Bringing science and faith into conversation is possible, and, in fact, it is what emerging adults are seeking. Cootsona writes, “My experience, both in the public university and in congregations and emerging-adult ministry groups, is that many emerging adults see a profound correlation between science and faith.”
Cootsona has found that emerging adults are already doing the work of bringing scientific and theological insights together. Pastors and church leaders can assist in this work by identifying congregants in the sciences and asking them to explain how various insights from their field of study could be put into helpful dialogue with the biblical and theological commitments of the church. Then, church leaders can help young adults see how the two fields of inquiry can be brought together.
Pastors and church leaders can also give wisdom on where findings or trends in the natural sciences should be challenged. Cootsona cites nuclear technology as an example: science has found a way to engineer nuclear bombs. But just because they exist does not mean they should be used. Christian moral convictions can enrich and inform our ethics. This argument extends to other forms of technology, including the internet and social media.
Cootsona offers this bit of wisdom on how the relationship of faith and science: “Seek integration where possible. Address conflict when required. Allow for independence when necessary.” Emerging adults are aware of perceived conflicts between science and faith. But they want to bring the two together were possible.
Cootsona states, “Don’t teach the controversy; teach the collaboration--that’s what emerging adults want.”