Jesus, Beginnings, and Science: A New Guide for Group Conversation

A chemistry professor and a campus pastor share the motivations behind writing a guide for engaging common questions about the Bible and science.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Thank you, Jesus, for Bro David and Sis. Kate.

Christians need to discuss issues in light of the NT, not the OT.

Jesus Christ is the Logos.

“I wish I had been able to have good, healthy conversations about the integration of science and Christianity when I was in college.”

So do I. Perhaps Christian students at secular colleges and universities should rise up and demand that they be given opportunities to do this on their campuses. I understand why faculty and administrators at those schools are dead set against offering courses (for example) about this subject taught by Christian faculty, or why they often also deny campus access to evangelical and other Christian ministries: I get the fact that we have a different view of the world that does not buy into the extremely secular and (often) highly politcized view that prevails almost everywhere outside Christian higher education. Well, tough for them. If their language about “diversity” is to be taken seriously to its conclusion, then Christian students should be able to expect some cooperation, not pure opposition, on such things.

One possibility for some R1 institutions: a group of well healed Christian alumns can bypass the administration (after making repeated, respectful requests to address anti-religious bias within the curriculum and on campus), purchase property adjacent to or very close to campus, and open a Christian studies center. That’s precisely what some enterprising folk did at Dartmouth a few years ago: My hat’s off to them!

Similar things have happened at dozens of other research universities: However, for the most part (as far as I know, and I’m in this particular loop) science hasn’t yet occupied a big place in the conversations about faith. I have some ideas about moving that ball forward, but it takes multiple voices to make things happen.

This sounds like the “Best of All Worlds” in a society like America’s - - one in which to open the public door to one religion is like closing the door on all the other ones in this diverse country.

Let the devoted from any and all religions make their separate appeals to the youth of our country - - just not with school funds or assets.

Dartmouth (like all other “Ivy League” schools) is not a public university, so they aren’t restricted by the First Amendment, any more than a private Christian school or a church. Still, they refused to make any constructive response to that group of alums and students–who make it entirely clear that their preference was to cooperate with, not compete with or challenge, their university. So, they had no choice but to make an end run. The attitude displayed by Dartmouth (and many other “elite” academic institutions) toward ideas not regarded as “politically correct,” a category that usually includes traditional monotheistic views of God and humanity, is such that I continue to wonder why so many religious students still choose to attend such places, as if institutions more friendly to their faith were not worthy of their consideration. But, that’s another song and dance and I won’t take it further.

As for “opening the public door to one religion,” it would (IMO) be unconstitutional to open that door to only one religion. In practice, closing the door to all religion(s) in effect leaves it open for just one–namely, the religion of irreligion, the type of secularism that seeks religiously and (often) aggressively to make religion entirely a “private” matter, such that one should leave one’s faith behind when entering the public square. IMO that’s a very dangerous, as well as erroneous, view and absolutely against the intent of the First Amendment.


You may have quickly left this dance floor already, but I strongly resonate with your convictions in this. In fact, because of the entrenched “fear-of-religion” (or probably rather: “fear-of-being-embroiled-in-lawsuits-over-religion”) attitudes so prevalent in public universities now, I feel sorry for so many of those who teach there who must dance carefully around and steer clear of so much that needs so badly to be discussed. And even were they allowed to discuss it, they would have to do so mindful of a secularist inquisitor looking over their shoulder, ready to swoop down and punish should anybody stray from closely-prescribed secularist dogma. It probably is not much hyperbole any more to think that those wanting a truer freedom of academic exploration will probably fare better in some quality religious institutions. As I’ve heard it put by others in this forum: if you really want to get a robust education about evolution --go to a Catholic school. Maybe the same might be observed now about so many other academic fields as well?


Referring to my labeling above, Issue A is easy to agree upon.

Issue B is more speculative and arguable. This Denomination you call the Religion of Of religion is may have the same roots of motivation as what afflicts religious zealots of all stripes (psychologically speaking!) … but it still doesn’t meet the test of a religion in political terms. There are no Sunday services for Ir-religion . There is no baptism… no metaphysics… no afterlife. And to the extent that you propose to approximately describe one - - you are really just describing the contours of a distinctly American “virtue” … of KEEPING one’s own religion private.

Finally, Issue C… Un-Constitutional? I’m sure you can find some good scholarship on the underlying energy source for the American Revolution. Why would so many poor and blue collar Americans side with the Rebels:

The pulpits of churches throughout the colonies were in fits of horror at the idea that the Crown might “Establish Religion” (I.e., Anglicanism) in the colonies!!!

It was the one thing that United all the colonies.

Keeping the churches aloof from government was the best affirmation of the freedom of all American churches.


As you know, we encourage expressing alternative views here, and I’m glad you didn’t hesitate to respond with your alternative to mine, and I’m sure you’ll keep doing so even if I don’t take this thread any further.

Two comments on the quote above. (1) the confident denial of an afterlife is a metaphysical claim. It’s based on the deeper metaphysical belief in matter as the ultimate ontological entity–a highly contested view, needless to say. As a side point, it was almost taken for granted by many scientists and scholars from the post-war generation that the worldview sometimes called “scientific materialism” was self-evidently true and not metaphysical, and that “real” scientists (including historical figures like Galileo, Newton, and Darwin) were simply giving voice to obvious truths and that they didn’t really import metaphysical views into their science. In my own field (which goes by the haughty but accurate name of “intellectual history”), almost no one today believes such claims. I certainly don’t. The entire body of my scholarship from day one assumes (and, I believe, often demonstrates) its falsity. Many things I’ve written here testify to this.

(2) If MLK, Jr, and his friends had kept his religious views private, the civil rights movement would simply not have happened–let alone succeeded. His most famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” was effectively a sermon. As a side point, he fittingly delivered that sermon from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a building whose walls are adorned with a sermon delivered by Lincoln, namely his second inaugural address.

Religion is a huge part of American history–and I mean publicly expressed religion, not just privately held beliefs. This is the main reason why the National Museum of American History (Smithsonian) just opened an exhibit about precisely that theme. It’s their first such exhibit, with more certainly coming. In fact, in about three years they will open another exhibit devoted to religion and science in America. (I’m on the advisory board for the latter.)

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The pulpits in the colonies were up in arms about many things. The specifics depended very much on which pulpits in which colonies one has in mind. My colleague John Fea, an excellent historian, wrote a well researched book partly about this: The answer to his title question is, Yes and No. As historians often say (as if we were all on Facebook), it’s complicated. If you were a Baptist in Massachusetts, you might be much happier in Rhode Island; if you were a Quaker in South Carolina, you might be much happier in Pennsylvania. Some colonies had state churches, some didn’t. Some liked that, some didn’t. The First Amendment did not originally apply to individual states–it simply prevented the federal Congress from officially endorsing any one specific “religion” as the national church.

Fea’s current project is about the crucial role played specifically by Presbyterians in fomenting revolution against the English crown.

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At times, I think we fall into the trap of thinking that education and learning can only occur within the confines of schools and universities. What we should be cultivating is the idea that learning and education is part of living and should continue everyday and in all avenues. Universities can offer specific training in specific realms of knowledge, but that isn’t the be all, end all of education. Each of us is responsible for our own education, and this should be an aspirational and inspirational idea. In hindsight, one of the best things I gained from university was the ability to learn and the yearning to learn more.

If a university wants to steer away from controversy and complicated entanglements with religious education and belief, then I can’t really blame them. I tend to look at such things through the lens of “Bar Rules” where people agree that religion and politics are left out of polite conversation. If students want to learn more about religion and belief then there are always tons of options in every community, including churches, youth groups, student led groups, and local bible colleges.


I’m most interested in Fea’s current project! Not even many Freemasons understand the significance of the Paul Revere’s Lodge in Boston having it’s charter from the Grand Lodge of Scotland, rather than from the Grand Lodge of England!

I look forward to buying a copy!

In reference to this part of your posting:

“The First Amendment did not originally apply to individual states–it simply prevented the federal Congress from officially endorsing any one specific “religion” as the national church.”

Part of the reason for the “slippery slide” from the Federal realm to the state level was the growing awareness that it was just as painful to some if a state favored one denomination over another as it was when the National government did the same thing.

Post Script: Oh… I was supposed to comment on the book you linked to:

"Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction"
I’m not sure having a definite Yes to the title question even gets us to where you are trying to go.

America could have been intended as a Christian Nation, and then it evolved from there.
America could have been intended as a Christian Nation, but with no firm idea that
the Government should lead the way. By your own admission, the Federal Government was not supposed to lead the way. So that makes for an ironic twist, yes?
When you add the fact that Jesus isn’t mentioned at all in the Constitution… can we really make much of a case for the country being Founded as a Christian Nation?

What we know for sure is that Christians (plus some others) were overwhelmingly the Founders of the nation.

And based on the social studies curricula provided me as a child, what I see is a country that was intended to cultivate diversity. And that diversity of religion - - somthing that Englishmen had direct experience ever since the time of Cromwell - - was certainly part of the equation.

The book “The American Democracy” by Alexis de Tocqueville made some keen observations. One of them was that in America, it didn’t really seem to matter what church a person attended … as long as a person attended one. Naturally, at the time, the population was overwhelmingly Christian, but this American characteristic still rubbed off on Good Jewish Citizenry … who were regular visitors to Synagogue.

With respect to the book, a friend of mine, in discussion of frustrations with young earth creationists said that the path to convincing YECs (and proto-YECs) is theological rather than scientific. This book appears to pursue that approach. May the Lord bless those who read this and similar books.

I am very glad to hear that through their efforts young people have turned to Christ. May the Lord be praised!

I do have one concern though and that is that at some time or the other these new converts will have to face the question of why it is necessary for them to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour. What is the basis for that imperative? On what grounds does the bible make Jesus the one and only one thru whom mankind must be saved? Saved from what, exactly?
Why did He have to die and what exactly does His death mean in the context of the rest of scripture? Why is the Old Testament there and part of the bible at all? What is the connection with Jesus? Why can’t we just do away with it and just use the New Testament? - someone actually intimated this in one of the replies.

Does the book of Genesis not preach the Gospel at all? What Gospel? What is the bad news if there’s a supposedly “good news” part?
Just a thought. Use it, don’t use it, your choice.

Wouldn’t that consideration come before their conversion? Why would it be reconsidered after?

The book of Genesis is part of God’s good news story of how he has worked in human history from the beginning to bring about salvation and the hope of new creation. The gospel does not make sense apart from a doctrine of creation and an understanding of the covenant with Israel. You don’t need to believe Genesis 1-11 is literal history in order to have a biblical doctrine of creation and in order to understand the covenant promises.

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“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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