How do you talk to friends at church about science and evolution?

There is a lot of trusted testimony in science too though, especially in field studies, as opposed to the laboratory, and particularly for rare occurrences. We did not always have photography, let alone satellite photography.
 

This comes to mind (“Testimony” in the title is incidental to my point):

that might be a bit too much I think for pastors who are not keen in science. However, a required reading of a basic science text book and familiarity with the modern science and what is taught concerning evolution and what views are available out there such as biologos might help to broaden their minds from just YEC.

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That may be so, but maths and lab work are absolutely fundamental to what science is all about. They are essential elements of basic scientific literacy. They are things that you need to understand in order to appreciate not just what scientists know, but how they know what they know, and more importantly how they know what they don’t know. Because without that understanding you would just end up coming out with clueless nonsense such as “were you there?” or “scientists are always changing their minds” or magic shibboleths about “assumptions” and “interpretations.”

In any case, if they can’t handle a bit of maths and lab work, then what makes them think they’re qualified to address the subject in their churches?

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I think the purpose of introducing science and faith, so the pastors is exposed to many other available views and why that is the background of that view. It is not to convince them to hold evolution as such, but to make up their own mind.

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Well yes, but you need to provide them with the tools and understanding that they need in order to make up their minds. Lab work and mathematics aren’t about convincing anyone to hold evolution as such; they are about teaching the nuts and bolts of how science works and why it works the way that it does. Principles such as understanding how measurement works – what error bars are, how they are calculated, what they signify, and what you can and cannot legitimately claim from them. Or basic laboratory technique, such as keeping lab notes, how to design an experiment to test your hypothesis, blind studies, and so on and so forth. I wouldn’t want to even start talking about evolution until I was confident they understood things such as these.

Well, of course you can arrange that basic science understanding as complete as you like to. However, I am just trying to suggest an idea how to start something like a course of science in a seminary setting (what is the minimum I can get away with). While science might involve a lot of principles, I myself think of science as common sense (how things work). I never did any science work and yet I understand science mostly thru my reading. What I believe about science because it makes a lot of sense to me. As long as we have the integrity to follow hard after the facts, we are okay.

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While aviation might involve a lot of principles, I myself think of aviation as common sense (how to get an aeroplane from A to B). I never did any flying and yet I understand aviation mostly through my reading. What I believe about aviation because it makes a lot of sense to me. As long as we have the integrity to follow hard after the facts, we are okay.

Would you get on board a flight from London to New York if the pilot said something like that to you?

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you are equating apple to orange here. A pilot is a person who has mastered the art of flying an airplane. This pilot must be equated to a scientist who has mastered his field and know the knitty gritty of what the equation or the formula evolved, etc. To know about flying (without being able to fly an airplane), you don’t need to be a pilot. You can read about this. A pastor is not a scientist, but that does not mean that he could not understand what science is all about.

That may be so, but your knowledge will be very superficial and you will likely have a lot of misconceptions about it, and no inclination to fact-check what you are being told. Someone could tell you, for example, that ailerons are the secret code printed on your boarding pass to tell security what to do with you (spoiler alert: they’re not) and you would be none the wiser.

One misconception in particular that you’ve expressed is this:

The problem with that is that when you’re dealing with science, common sense doesn’t work. Science is constantly uncovering facts that seem, as Darwin put it, “absurd in the highest possible degree,” but that turn out to be rock solid when you take actual observations and measurements. Relativity and quantum mechanics are just two examples that come to mind off the top of my head. (Electrons are both waves and particles? C’mon!) For what it’s worth, so too is the entire aviation industry. Lord Kelvin said in 1895 that “heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible” – only to be proven wrong by the Wright brothers just eight years later.

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That is why we have trustworthy christians and individuals who are scientists who have the know how to fact checks these things. I think the scientific community themselves are pretty good in this matter. I can even say that most scientists are pretty honest with their sciences.

Now, we are dealing probably with what you called as quantum world where there is uncertainty principle at work, things barely understood like quarks. These things are probably beyond basic science and even scientists themselves have no ideas how this thing happen. They just happen that way. How the light has such unique property? No idea. it’s given. why the universe is expanding faster instead of slowing down? dark energy? what is it? no idea, but it’s there. And many more as science itself progress beyond newton and einstein. However, the basic question is still the same. What is science? it is dealing with the how question.

We also have people such as Answers in Genesis, climate change deniers and covid conspiracy theorists who are peddling straight-up misinformation, often dressed up to make it look like prophecy or Christian apologetics. Misinformation that can often be seen to be false by anyone who has spent enough time in the lab to understand the basic rules and principles of how measurement works, but that sounds compelling to anyone who hasn’t.

No, science is not just “dealing with the how question.” It is about understanding how we know what we know, how we know what we don’t know, and how we know where the boundary between the two lies. And we do that by observation and measurement. Which is why you need to know how observation and measurement work before you can make any pronouncements about evolution, or climate change, or anything else. Which is my whole point.

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Then I guess your understanding about science is much different from me. In that case, we really have no common ground to talk from and it has become a meaningless discussion for me and you as well. Then we agree to disagree.

God bless.

It’s a tempting thought. Yes, some grounding in science might be useful. But it would be largely a distraction, a diversion.

While the result of the problem looks a science/faith conflict, that is not actually the cause of the problem.

Rather the root cause is a poor grasp of scripture itself: either that the student ministers haven’t paid attention in class or (worse) that it has been badly taught to them. (There’s a sad irony here: the more loud’n’proud “biblical” a seminary claims to be, the more likely it may be that the Bible teaching is poor.)

The problem is that absolute basics have not been grasped by the student ministers. In our case, basics such as how scripture came about (documentary hypothesis and its variants); cultural setting (Ancient Near East, ANE); how literature both builds from and reacts against prevailing cultures; inspiration as distinct from scribal dictation; the gathering together of disparate documents into what eventually became scripture. (Recall how these have all been major components in this thread’s discussion.)

It is there that the real problem lies. And this has nothing to do with modern science at all. The symptoms may outwardly appear in the guise of a science/faith conflict, but the root disease lies way outside science. Using a medical analogy, good medicine may address the symptoms (in our cause science/faith conflict) but will spend more effort of the underlying disease itself (in our case, poor teaching of how the Bible came to be).

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Do you know what the difference is called? Hands-on experience.

Have you ever had lab equipment blow up in your face? Have you ever had servers crash because you forgot to take the speed of light into account? Have you ever had to face the consequences of getting science wrong, clean up the mess that resulted, and put something in place to stop it from happening again?

Because that is an understanding about science that you can’t get just by reading about it.

I hear you, and I agree. But for one thing.

Pastors have to minister to people who work with science. Evangelists and apologists have to preach to people who work with science. These subjects are our jobs, and our pastors, Bible teachers, study group leaders, evangelists and so on need to make sure they’re not undermining us in our ability to do them.

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Seminaries are graduate schools which require bachelor’s degree to enter, usually with a bunch of humanities and language requirements but otherwise open as to the field of study. I agree that math and hands on science training is desirable. That is best delivered during undergraduate studies. and should be stipulated as an entrance requirement to a graduate theology program.

Actually, such a stipulation shouldn’t even be necessary, because obtaining a degree in humanities anywhere ought to require exposure to at least a basic science and applied math. For some reason, universities require science undergrads to write essays on Chaucer, but confer arts degrees to graduates who couldn’t interpret a graph, or understand the relationship of speed, velocity, and acceleration, but will go on to take their seat at the table of influence over society.

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I think that must be a US thing.

Here in the UK I didn’t have to look at English Literature after giving it up at the first possible opportunity at age sixteen. (Thankfully – it was my worst subject.) For my A levels and then when I went up to Cambridge it was 100% science and maths.

I did consider the possibility of studying in the States at one point. An American friend sent me a prospectus for MIT, and it surprised me just how many extra subjects they expected you to take in addition to your major. Apparently I would even have had to learn to swim.

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Most universities here in the U.S. have what is called variously General Studies, Core Curriculum or Gen Ed (General Education), and usually require a class in almost every department. Included might be a Speech class, English Composition (“Freshman Comp”), basic Algebra, History or Geography, and a science class. If you had a decent background in whatever you could usually request a higher class in the same discipline. My involvement in U.S. academia pretty much ended four decades ago though, so things may have changed.

I taught Algebra 101 & 102 as a GA (graduate assistant), and I believe that the 101 or equivalent was required for all students. I had a couple of girls that had obviously had it in high school and had aced it and were just looking for an easy ‘A’ to pad their GPA with, while in the same class there were a couple of jocks that should not have been in university in the first place. (I also taught an applied calculus class as an intern that was a joy because all of the students were in pre-professional curricula and very highly motivated to actually understand.)

James, I say this with the deepest respect for you: No. Like you with Lit, few pastors will have interest or time in studying science in addition to what really interests them and overwhelms their schedules already. Maybe as undergrads (those first 4 years) but not every college or university requires a liberal education that includes lit, sciences, languages, arts, social sciences and math. AND EVEN IF THEY DID, James, I can tell you a little science training (even a lot) in the hands of someone who approaches it from the theological/philosophical/fearful end first, can be mislead easily and disastrously.

Some of the worst, speculative, bizzarro non-sense/non-science tainted by AIG and ID beliefs I have heard expressed came from scientists at church who ought to know better. They began with the conclusion first and had to make everything else work to support it. When the Gospel is tied to certain theological conclusions about science, everything is tainted. And these folks talk to the pastor, and the pastor feels he (maybe also she) can and should trust them. (For example, when we talked to our assistant pastor about our concerns over the Sunday school curriculum coming from AIG, he mentioned a scientist from the elder board who supported it. Granted that degree was a PhD in agronomy, but the pastor felt like the endorsement, given in good faith by a good man (honestly), was right. We disagreed, but what science credentials do we have? I’m a librarian with degrees in two languages and literature, and advanced degrees in education and librarianship, and my husband is a PhDed economist.)

While we need a strategy to help pastors navigate the claims of scientists and non-scientists posing as the real deal, and maybe also news sources, I think we need to go back to the drawing board and think some more. Whatever it is, and I think it is needed, it’s got to fit with pastors’ interests, crushing study load, goals in ministering and evangelizing and the like. But this will also address matters of hermeneutics and interpretation ultimately. And THAT is going to be a really high hurdle.

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Yes, indeed. Even as I was typing that, my “inner scientist” recoiled at my own actions! My whole career (following science degrees) has been IT support of high-end scientific research: Durham University; ECMWF (European weather research), Diamond Light Source (UK national synchrotron). Yes, pastors should have an interest in their people’s work. Definitely.

My point is merely that science-education of pastors is peripheral to countering supposedly “biblical” creationism. Probably over 90% of the problem lies in failure to treat the Bible with respect, as an ANE document, written both within and against the prevailing cultures. The irony is that creationism, in seeking (laudably) to defend “lively oracles of God” they throw away that “lively oracles of God” aspect of its original writing. (“Scripture was written for us, not to us”, etc.)

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Ultimately, in both science and theology, the application of critical thinking skills is important. That is something we seem to have lost in many areas. Even in medicine, we see reliance on cookbook approaches, which are not all bad for routine problems, especially by undertrained providers, to a drifting towards trusting anecdotal and emotional approaches rather than evidence based medicine. Even major medical centers succumb to pressure to provide worthless alternative therapies or at least provide them as side treatments, just because that’s what bring in the bucks.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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