Learning from Young People about Science and Faith: An Interview with Andy Root

If faith is seen by youth as only for immature people, and we cannot show how a commitment to a personal God is not opposed to scientific findings and theories, then we’re in trouble.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/chris-stump-equipping-educators/learning-from-young-people-about-science-and-faith-an-interview-with-andy-root

I’m not sure what the “social practice of science” is. Also, I don’t see the universe as being personal or impersonal. God is personal, and he rules the universe, but I just don’t see the entire universe as being personal.

Hi Andy
Die bekennende Kirche Bonnhoeffers may be a beacon to shine into our commitment to Christ when it comes to science.
I believe the first thing you might want to address is the principle of faith as the fundamental theorem in science. Thanks to the publicity of the new atheists many have come to accept the definition of faith to be a belief without evidence. Invite your pupils int a lesson of critical thinking to demonstrate that those who lay claim to such definition disqualify themselves from the claim to be scientists - let alone critical thinking ones.
It is not advisable to show of a pupil in front of an audience for such logical incoherence but you can always introduce a fictional character - let us call him Charley. Ask the children in the classroom how they think Charley forms a belief, perhaps on an example based on a crime scene. This allows you to introduce the concept of evidence and the concept of testifying. The learning outcome should be to learn that a belief is a cognitive process and a cognitive process is always based on evidence as it is after all the evidence that leads you to belief. Thus to claim that you can form a belief without evidence show a certain lack of critical thinking.
You can then go to back to the crime scene and look at the concept of absence of evidence. The lack of expected evidence tends to be a good reason to investigate things in more detail thus you can teach the importance of the lack of evidence which oddly enough becomes evidence in itself.
Last but not least you can discuss how Charley gains knowledge, e.g. how proof dissolves belief and show that Charley would be daft to form a belief based on proof unless what he proves becomes evidence for something that it is not proof to, like the dead body being proof to the death of the person but not necessarily to how he died.
Once you introduced the concept of evidence and proof you can go into the realm of theology and science. Ask the audience what they think the fundamental beliefs of theology are. It should not be too difficult to arrive at the conclusion of an ultimate cause that we refer to as God and that this ultimate cause given rules to his creation to follow. To realize that science is founded on precisely those same two assumptions if a powerful tool to show the audience that there is no discrepancy between science and theology. you then only need to ask the audience how they think a scientific proof works and why one cannot prove ones theory. For that one can introduce Popper but it might be sufficient to mention how theories change by falsification as we are aware that our ability to toes the predictive power of our theory only to a limited degree and it is 1 experiment that shows our results to be wrong that forces us to revise our theory. Once you are aware that all your experimental data are not proof of your theory but only evidence for the plausibility of your theory you understand that science has to be based on faith, e.g. the belief in the truth of our theories to a level that justifies us to rely on their explanatory power.

My daughters are now in their 30s, but when in high school the youth pastor pushed YEC pretty hard. I have thought it would be Interesting to poll that cohort now, asking about their current beliefs, and the impact of their youth group experience. Are you aware of any studies of that nature? My interest in it relates to a question I ask myself at times,“what does it matter?”

I wonder if the Andy Root, doesn’t more or less explain what he means through the context of the next few sentences, as quoted below?

I think it is true that there is a real tension between faith and science. But I believe this tension is more around the social practice of “science” and the practice of faith than with scientific findings. I don’t think it is the youth worker’s job to deconstruct or show the philosophical error of the social practice of “science” and its reductive take on faith as immature.

In other words, (at least as I see it), at the level of their writing and speaking, scientists tend to overstate the philosophical ramifications of scientific findings and they belittle faith with very little understanding of the depth of Christian thinkers like Bonhoeffer, Lewis, or John Paul II. I think the majority of the recent books I have read on human evolution, neuroscience, cosmology, and natural history have statements that strongly imply that belief in God, is no longer tenable in this scientific age. It’s not just the strident new atheists by any means. Here’s a small set of examples:

“The conflict between scientific knowledge and the teachings of organized religions is irreconcilable. The chasm will continue to widen and cause no end of trouble as long as religious leaders go on making unsupportable claims about supernatural causes of reality.” E.O. Wilson, “The Social Conquest of the Earth”

“In addition, had the earth not cooled substantially those many millions of years ago, the conditions that favored the beginnings of bipedalism among these apes might never have existed. Our being here is the result of many rolls of the dice.” “The Story of the Human Body” Daniel Lieberman

“Just as people were never created, neither, according to the science of biology, is there a ‘Creator’ who ‘endows’ them with anything. There is only a blind evolutionary process, devoid of any purpose, leading to the birth of individuals.” “Sapiens” Yuval Harrari

“True, plenty of mysteries are left, but science offers the only realistic hope of solving them. Those who present religion as a source of this kind of knowledge, and stick to age-old stories despite the avalanche of new information, deserve all the scorn they invite.” “The Bonobo and the Atheist” Franz de Waal

"This nicely fits my own thinking that morality predates religion, certainly the dominant religions of today. We humans were plenty moral when we still roamed the savanna in small bands. Only when the scale of society began to grow and rules of reciprocity and reputation began to falter did a moralizing God become necessary. In this view, it wasn’t God who introduced us to morality; rather, it was the other way around. God was put into place to help us live the way we felt we ought to, confirming Voltaire’s quip about our need to invent him.“The Bonobo and the Atheist” Franz de Waal

I could go on and on, of course. And I might add that for the most part, I really like these books. But it seems to me that I keep running into these statements, and I find myself saying over and over again–“You can’t say that. That’s not a viable conclusion from the data you’re discussing.”

Andy Root:

I don’t think it is the youth worker’s job to deconstruct or show the philosophical error of the social practice of “science” and its reductive take on faith as immature. But I do think it is the youth worker’s job to help young people see how scientific findings (particularly the one’s young people explore in school) can be affirmed and engaged within our commitment to the personal nature of the claims of faith.

I am not sure I agree with the first sentence in the above quote, although I strongly sympathize with it. It is true that youth workers cannot be expected to have expertise, but for that very reason it is most important for us in the sciences to provide them with simple, non-technical resource material. High school students need specific examples of where scientists overstep their bounds. It doesn’t have to be complex, but given the correct resources it ought not be difficult for them to “deconstruct and show the philosophical errors.” The earlier we can help young people see the agnostic/atheistic bias that is widespread in scientific writing, the lower the probability that they will be fooled by it, as they go to university. Again, it doesn’t have to be complex or time consuming. Just studying a few examples of the sort that I show in my response to Beaglelady (see above) would be very helpful. But again, the resources must be made available to help them.

somehow have the feeling the article is recycled, thus your comment 1 year+ later.

If you want to have a look at the problem of theology and science you should openly discuss the issue with young people by watching Neil deGrasse Tyson on religious people and then give constructive criticism of his incoherent thinking. The skill is however to apply critical thinking to the “critical thinkers”, thus explain how they fail by their own method. For that however one needs to understand how science works which is where most people lack the understanding of the philosophy of science, particularly those scientists who claim there to be a conflict between science and theology. Most modern scientists are materialists, but that is not a problem of science per se but of the way we reward scientific careers and idolise top scientists.
The problem is for Christian leaders to guide those who lack the intellectual understanding of a God that is not a vending machine for personal wishes about reality. To accept a God that is not your personal wish fulfiller as a sign that he loves you requires a change of thinking about love, to realise that it is not to be given what one wants, but what one needs. And in separating your wants from your needs - and the needs of other- is where you begin to understand love - and Christ.

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I love your suggested approach, Marvin, of using videos to prepare youth for the challenges they will face in the future. The importance of this cannot be over-emphasized. We need to remember, according to Barna, “nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.” Someone needs to identify a collection of them, with a discussion guide for leaders.

This deGrasse Tyson video is a fine place to start—although it’s not clear that he’s trying to develop an argument for atheism here. The chief point he makes for his atheist audience is that given that a significant number of (even elite) scientists believe in a personal God, religion is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Given that, his message is: Leave them alone; this religious belief (foolish as he thinks it is) is not going away anytime soon.

To the religious, who obviously do not happen to be in his audience, his chief point is: Leave science alone, don’t insert your religious beliefs into our science classrooms.

There is a sense in which he’s right on both counts, although I happen to think he inserts his religion into his scientific discussions all the time.

We need to show why almost ten percent of elite scientists do have a vital faith. Presumably they have really fine intellects and have good strong reasons for the “hope that is in them” (I Peter 3:15). Those reasons need to be summarized clearly and concisely.

We also need to clearly demonstrate the philosophical biases of the leading scientific spokespersons with clearcut examples. Videos like the deGrasse Tyson one to which you refer would be a great approach—a very straightforward one—that could be a accompanied by a leader’s discussion guide. However, it can’t stop there since he doesn’t engage in any specific scientific issues in this video. We also need to identify a set of videos or book excerpts that do show how scientists over-interpret scientific data. This doesn’t have to be complicated!! Good scientific communicators can do this in a leaders’ guide quickly in a manner that is readily understood by high school students and their leaders.

I can see all of this happening in a twelve week series—60 engaging minutes each week.

If you have 60 minutes it might be powerful to shower them with 40 minutes of Tyson explaining intelligent design. I just give you his last 10 minutes but you should cook your audience for the whole length. Have a coffee at 32:47 left with the certainty that mankind will face a collision with andromeda with the promise that the earth will go with a big bang. On that cheerful note - let’s have a drink :slight_smile:

After coffee watch the rest. Make sure you stop the video at 40:44 so you leave on the screen the point that drives all his thinking and the problem of those illustrious (or is it idolised) scientists to enter the kingdom of God. Their ego has just become too big to fit through the eye of the needle and they do not worry about the future of humanity but about the future of the economy. That is materialism at its best.

Then, to put the nail in his presentation you can comment that he is only a famous astronomist, the same way that Dawkins is just a famous evolutionary biologist. Their capacity of reason clearly comes to its end when it comes to the design of nature and their inflated ego making them believe they would come up with better design than creation provided. They look at either creation, or evolution, as a failure of a process that came up with nothing better than themselves. What a start :slight_smile:

His comment that religious people stop him from discovering something sounds like he plays at embryo research, so he wants ethics out of the science class. To a materialist, clearly, no cost can be too high for making gains. And to him, what is life anyhow but failed design. Indeed, no engineer would put the entertainment complex between the sewage works, but then an engineer would question the purpose of what he finds in place to determine it’s functionality and conclude that this device was not put there for entertainment but for functional reasons. So who turned it into an entertainment complex? The same for the design of the eye that Dawkins gets so obsessed about, who clearly wants the eye of a squid for its “superior design” instead of the eye that works far better when living above water. It is exactly his failure to understand the basic law of design, that form has to follow function, that made him a biologist and not a designer. His “perfect eye” might fit someone squid like, no offense to the squids but works best when being under water. To an unreasonable person it might be difficult to see that things are done for a reason, but how dare you ask “why” :slight_smile:

Perhaps Tysons best line is to invoke Santa to ask for being able to swallow and speak out of an orifice that is not used for breathing, like dolphins do it. Most atheists fail to maintain faith in God as they think God ought to be like Santa fulfilling their wishes upon prayer and are not prepared to accept a God that does logic and not magic, to claim that their systematic and logic is better than God’s erratic magic. Tyson fails as a scientist by failing to investigate the ingenuity of this design. It stops stop us from drying to death, as not being able to recycle the flow of mucus, filtering out dust and bugs from the air we breathe on land, washed up from the lung and disinfected by the stomach acid, we would dehydrate. Mankind can survive the odd death from suffocation but without that functionality we could not survive in the dry living conditions outside the water.

Thus, like he does not want people in his science class that consider ethics as part of how to conduct science, for God stopping them to do certain things, others would like to exclude people who stop investigating because they think they know better. But then I would not, as I have justified hope that albeit some might be granted their wish to talk out of an orifice other than the one they use to breathe and swallow that I can teach them that there is a good reason why not to do so. Wanting to exclude them from my class would be a declaration of intellectual bankruptcy :slight_smile: