How can we approach gracious dialogue to counter science cynicism?

I am the author of the recent blog, Distrusting Science?
Since that article posted last Friday, I have received emails from many friends telling me that, unfortunately, they have had experiences similar to mine. Thus, I have the impression that many Christians do not always feel able to dialogue openly about their convictions for fear of being ostracized within our Christian culture.

I would like to hear from the forum about:

  1. What do you think drives the culture of science cynicism (beyond healthy skepticism) in some churches?
  2. What actions could we as individuals within our church communities take to get people more open and excited about science?
  3. How do you approach gracious dialogue when you encounter people who are critical of your views of science?
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Good questions! Looking forward to reading others’ answers.

I think a lot of factors intertwine. There may be some “naturalistic fallacy” in play, where we internalize the idea that since God created nature, it is good, and deviating too far from it is basically thumbing our noses at God. This is not always practiced consistently though.

It may also be an issue of trust. Perhaps bolstered by fears of idolatry, we can get the idea that to trust anything or anyone “too much” can result in pushing God off the throne. And so trusting science or scientists, especially on issues of origins, can be seen as choosing to trust someone other than God (which also assumes that it’s very difficult or even impossible to trust both to different degrees).

One difficulty there is that many people believe they already are. In fact, by buying into the separation of “secular science” and “Christian” or “God-honoring” science, some people get even more excited about it than they otherwise would, because they see their enthusiasm about creation science (YEC) as a way to oppose secular thought.

I haven’t had many opportunities to do this, (and sometimes I just chicken out :wink: ) but going back to the previous question, getting excited about science is a great step – and getting excited about ALL science – seeing vaccines as exciting as butterfly metamorphosis or evolution or astronomy – things like that may help combat the idea that some science just isn’t “Christian.” We can model using science to pursue truth rather than to serve an agenda.

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Dear Michelle
I have spent most of my life oblivious to the underlying reasons how falsehoods are propagated and maintained in the world. After my 20-year old daughter’s stroke, I gained the courage to speak up about what I had learned and became an author. The Torn Between Two Worlds project examines the roots of the distrust between science and religion, back to the source - The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The recommendations from my work answers the three questions that you have posed.

  1. Newton’s third law of motion. It takes two to create conflict and newton’s third law describes what happens when science pushes against the church - an equal and opposite force is created.
  2. I suggest the most impactful actions that religion can make in the conflict with science is to use the scientific method on the doctrines of the church. Demonstrate humility to science by using their own tools to uncover and correct Christianity’s illogical doctrines. After doing this, ask them to do the same thing about their methods. Stop the arrogant righteousness!
  3. I return to the founders of Christianity and science and demonstrate that there was a time in history when science and religion existed in harmony. The result of this harmony created “the most favorable set of conditions ever encountered on earth. It was as if Nature had for centuries saved up all its resources to expend them at that time.” ( Burckhardt, Jacob, and Harry Zohn. “Antiquity.” Judgements on History and Historians.)

Best Wishes, Shawn

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Thank you for sharing your blog. We appreciate you sharing your experiences here on the forum, and these are questions I think many of us struggle with.
I too attend a Baptist church that is thankfully fairly diverse in opinion but has a strong and sometimes vocal group of science skeptics. Laura gave some excellent insights, but I might add that I think fear is a factor also regarding the culture of science skepticism. Many feel threatened by science as they have been taught that it threatens their worldview, and undermines their belief. Peer pressure also plays a role, in that certain positions must be held to be a part of the group.

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Now, cup of coffee in hand, will try to address your third question.

Recently, a friend at church was going down the path of a non-scientific treatment of a medical condition (as this is a public forum cannot be more specific) and as a friend and physician, but not the patient’s physician, felt obligated to address the issue. In this case, I expressed my heartfelt concern and just asked them to consider the evidence for and against the various courses of treatment and provided articles. Ultimately, they returned to legitimate treatment and progress is being made with the condition.
I think in this situation, they had some arrogance in that they felt they had special knowledge. By not telling them what to do but rather giving information and letting them reach their own conclusion, I feel things worked out. Of course, that does not always work, but you are planting seeds. (Reference appropriate parable…)
In other situations, I am probably a little chicken as Laura indicated, but try to address false statements in a non-confrontational tone when the opportunity arises. For example, if someone says carbon dating is unreliable, I might say something like, “You are right that carbon dating has its limits, but those limits are well defined and it is useful within those limits” but avoid direct confrontation.
It is interesting how direct face to face interaction differs from what takes place here on the forum. Here, assertions are made, and direct statements opposing those assertions are fine as there is a disconnect between the two side, but face to face with someone you care about, we have to be more circumspect as the division between person and statements made is not as defined.

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Implicit in this reaction is the fear that God doesn’t want you to get too smart or too independent. What kind of parent wants to lord it over their children and bully them into not achieving their potential. That doesn’t seem like a very reverential perspective when you look at it that way.

Indeed :wink:. In that situation you can’t help but realize how attempting to speak your truth will be perceived and what it will mean to them. That isn’t a message you want to convey. So if you’re not sure you can get them to really understand your POV and you do still care about the relationship, you’re not being chicken so much as diplomatic. I trust your winky means you don’t beat yourself up over this.

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Probably the stereotype view that science could lead one to a materialistic-atheist point of view which is not true. Though some people have unfortunately became atheist due to them taking this view, that is “since science cannot prove the existence of God, there is no God.” We need to show people within the church that science isn’t a “gateway drug” to atheism.

Show them the beauty and wisdom of God in science and how it shows that God is far more complex with His creation then we can fathom or understand.

Try and see it from their point of view and see what certain issue they are dealing with and help them out with it and show them you’re point of view.

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Yeah, I’m not too worried about it right now. I have to watch my motivations because so much of what I’ve known of the origins debate has been about “winning” arguments and “defending” the Bible, and that’s not the sort of attitude I want to convey, especially to loved ones. But learning a different approach takes time.

It’s funny, above Phil mentioned the difference between face-to-face interactions and forum ones, and that’s true. A common bit of advice on the internet is to focus on the idea, not the person. But it seems to be more the opposite in interpersonal interactions – I really have to focus more on the person – what I know of them and how to best keep a relationship with them – and bringing ideas into that when appropriate rather than focusing on the idea to the detriment of good communication. Some people like debating, while others see it as you saying you don’t like them.

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Absolutely, Mark. That’s one thing that is so ironic (and destructive) about this attitude. By limiting one’s knowledge, one actually fails to completely realize the majesty of God.

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Maybe admitting that we all doubt helps put others at ease.

In going through Eric Metaxas’ 8 part video series on Lewis’ book “Mere Christianity” in our adult Sunday School this month, I was struck with an undercurrent (from me, the class, or the video, I’m not sure) that seems to be evangelical–that it doesn’t really matter to reason all this stuff out–that the belief itself, even against all evidence to the contrary, is virtuous. The second video emphasized, however, that we need to come to all discussion with admission that none of us is morally superior to the others. In doing so, it helps to admit, I think ,that we all struggle with doubts; this puts at ease those (including me) who feel cowed at the “moral superiority” of those who seem to be able to believe without question.

Of course, that’s not even Biblical, to believe against evidence–it’s probably a misconstruing of Hebrews, where “Abraham believed God, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

George Macdonald pointed out that an atheist, in following truth, is closer to God’s call than the so-called believer who clings to faith for selfish or short-sighted reasons.

Addendum: , I’m quite certain on reflection that is not the Sunday school class that is implying The importance of believing as a virtue. They’re actually quite receptive to CS Lewis. I suspect it is I that is reading that into the story.

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I think it is largely reactionary and the biggest factors are extremist non-believers, who frankly have gone to genocidal extremes (a good example being Mao Tse Tung). There are atheists who are just as eager to jump on evolution as a “proof” God does not exists as there are theists eager to jump on the fact that the universe had a beginning as a “proof” God does exist. The hostile approach of such as Dawkins and Carl Sagan co-opting science as something “on their side,” has only inflamed the irrationality on both sides. Before them it was others like the social darwinists who created this anti-science reaction.

Begin by defusing the reactionary tendencies by making it clear that there is a big difference between science and naturalism. It is probably a good idea to acknowledge that some of what science discovers is likely to make some changes in our beliefs about God and the universe, but while we may have to rethink a few things, this is no reason to throw out everything.

I also think it is likely to help to broach science topics in sermons or bring in visiting speakers who make connections between the findings of science and issues of faith (correctly).

Not very well. My patience is definitely a little bit frayed in that area.

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I think most Christians do not view scientists as part of their in-group (even when they are talking to a scientist they go to church with.) So, I think part of the task of BioLogos and their network is to try to raise awareness about the idea that science can be a Christian vocation and there are currently Christian role models who are scientists. When people in my Christian circles say, “I think climate change is a hoax,” I ask, “Oh, have you ever heard of Katharine Hayhoe? She is a missionary kid and a pastor’s wife and one of the world’s leading climatologists. She has some great videos about why climate change should matter to Christians. I’ll send you some links.” That switches the narrative from “us against them” to something different, because I have included a scientist in my “we.” It’s easier to ignore what people say when you have made them an “other.” One of the things I like about the BioLogos podcasts is how they often ask the scientist or theologian they are interviewing personal questions about their faith and the listeners get to hear very familiar sounding testimonies and affirmations of core tenets of faith. It’s not all arguments and new information.

I think the most obvious area to get people involved is with creation care. You don’t need special expertise to get involved in hands-on ways and make a tangible difference. Plus, I think creation care is maybe less freighted with baggage and easier to tie in with biblical values than evolution and age of the earth, so it’s a good on-ramp for a lot of people to get them listening to and taking seriously Christian scientists in their communities.

I have found that the average person is less committed to ideas than to people. So if I have a relationship with the person, and the person trusts me as a Christian they like and respect, I can push back on anti-science ideas and just say, “I’ve done some looking into that topic, and I’ve found that the Christians I know personally who have a PhD in geology/paleontology/biology/whatever assure me that … Don’t you think we should listen to the members of the body of Christ who have deeply studied these things?” Usually then people just admit they don’t really know much and back off. I don’t know if it does anything to change their mind, but I feel like at least I’ve communicated not all Christians share their view and their horizons have been broadened slightly.

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7 posts were split to a new topic: Compelling scientific evidence that creationists have the best arguments

thanks for this great advice. I appreciate it!

Also very helpful advice: to always put the person foremost, genuinely love and care for their needs, and help them find the truth rather than feeling the need to provide definitive answers right away.

Hello Michelle,

I quite enjoyed reading your blog post; and “Almighty science?”. I think they’re both reasonably balanced and I didn’t think Belz was condescending or promoting a cynical view of science.

This is a loaded question. It suggests people are skeptical, or not, of science as a whole; if you’re skeptical about one scientific theory then you’re skeptical about science. But science is field composed of many parts and people can be skeptical about parts, and to different degrees, while being quite confident in other parts of science. You don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water.

I have lived through several changes in dietary advice from scientists and while when younger I eagerly embraced the latest advice I now am somewhat skeptical to the latest pronouncements. I won’t be in the least surprised if dietary advice changes again in the near future.

One distinction that is sometimes made is between operational and historical science. Darwin introduced historicity into science. Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science—the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.

Operational science gives us air travel, computers, colour television, safe bridges (mostly) and many other benefits. Laws and experiments are appropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes.

Indeed it is scientifically healthy to be skeptical. Any scientific theory should in principal be open to questioning, review, and if found wanting, discarded. The history of science is littered with discarded theories.

Now if you’re really looking for science skeptics go to the post modern SJW’s. Objectivity is “cultural discrimination” (or sexist), Newtonian physics is exploitative, mathematics is a “dehumanizing tool” (if not white privilege), and algebra creates hurdles for disadvantaged groups. And mavericks in science are a problem because they tend to be wealthy, white, and male.

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Isn’t that the truth! If one doesn’t like this week’s advice about coffee or chocolate or wine, then just wait another week for the next frenetic news feed declaring that “a little of this actually helps your heart!” or if you don’t like that then wait a week for the next oscillation toward “stay away from this stuff.”

But here’s the thing: have you ever lived through any flip-flopping of “the earth moves / doesn’t move” or “germs and bacteria can spread disease / or it doesn’t” or “the earth is billions of years old / it isn’t.” Sure you can find fringe groups to argue about some of those, but among mainstream science, the flip-flopping on every one of these stopped many years ago (centuries ago in some cases).

So there is a difference between popular cultural “science” of the day, and settled science of the mainstream scientific community. Sure that all exists on a continuum, and there will be many things found in a “middle world” between these two. But the existence of that middle world does not negate the settled status of some things.

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One obvious thing that may not have been mentioned yet above is this: that there are scientists even still today that are happy to fuel this animosity by making anti-religious declarations (far beyond the needed, yet ultimately friendly critique that organized religion always needs - but of the more draconian “there is no legitimate place for religion in this world” sort of declaration.) Granted, there is nothing we can do about that - one can’t just make such people go away - or shouldn’t do that even if they could. But people can provide counter-examples showing that there are many religious believers and Christians who are not dismissive of these settled sciences. And that goes a long way to addressing your question #2.

[…though having said this, is it my imagination? or are the strident anti-religious voices fading ever so slightly in recent years - at least in volume and persistence? Not that there wouldn’t be many people who still think this, of course, but I have to hopefully think that the existence of cultural challenge to it (which includes Biologos!) might be affecting the stridency of some of those voices who may be softening a bit. Not that strong anti-religious convictions aren’t still maintained or even growing among young people, but I do have to wonder if they are failing to inherit or take up the un-nuanced, blanket anti-religious dogmatism of some of their more elderly standard-bearers.]

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I am completely skeptical of the area of all the life sciences. Here is the issue. The most valuable advice, healing that I have received has come from people who cannot make enough money to earn a living healing people. Dr. Robert Pastore, for example, has helped countless people live happy lives through proper nutrition, avoiding foods that cause inflammation, allergies, etc. Without his own food line, he cannot earn a living doing this live-changing work. If he just wrote perceptions for statins, insulin, etc, he could. So what do the majority of doctors do? They prescribe treatments covered by insurance, which is lobbied by the drug companies, which funds many scientists. I could go on for days with many other examples, but will stop here.

Regarding dietary advice, @aarceng, @Mervin_Bitikofer, and @Shawn_Murphy, I would argue that the science has not changed so much as has the pseudoscience driven by book sales and commercial ventures. If you look at university trained dietitians rather than internet creditialed “nutritionalists” you find good science that has avoided the latest fad of the week. Dietary science is hard to do because it is the messiness of biology combined with the messiness of humanity. When combined with commercialism, what with book sales, advertising and industry propaganda, it is tough to sort out. Not a lot unlike the origins debate.
Interestingly, we see church people seemingly more susceptible to the dubious claims in both cases. No where do you see the sales of whatever supplement of the day more than in church groups. Are we just more trusting? More gullible? Do we as a group tend to respect and honor authority and thus are more easily led astray by false teaching no matter the genre?

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