Editor’s note: Yesterday, Katelin reviewed Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods: A Conversation on Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience. Today she shares a few reflections stimulated by Minds, Brains, Souls and God:
- Science and Faith
- A God That is Bigger Than Our Own Understanding
- Our Dual Mission Field.
As always, please do not hesitate to share your questions, insights, and musings with us. To God be the glory! ~ Thomas B. Grosh IV
Science and Faith
Too often scholars of faith find themselves caught between two misunderstood worlds, trying to navigate a divide that in reality is entirely unwarranted. We need not fear of our own cognitive capacity.
The apprehension that some Christians show toward scientific advancement is discouraging. If God is who we claim He is, then we do not have to protect Him from Truth (nor would we have the capacity to do so, of course). Christian reticence to engage on a scientific level hurts our witness to a thinking world. How many of our academic colleagues have been reluctant to explore Christianity, fearing they will have to give up the habits of critical thinking? Is Christ not for them as well? Perhaps many more academicians would believe if they felt such rich examination was allowed, even welcomed.
Scientific thought is a celebration of the blessings God has given. What kind of God would give the gift of analytical thought and then tell us not to use it? The miracle of God’s relationship with creation is that His Truth is large and beyond explanation, yet also intimately involved with from who we inherently are. This reality is at once humbling and inspiring. It is, in essence, what Christians commonly refer to as ‘the Gospel.’ To dissolve it down to simplistic one-liners is an affront to the truth, and surely invites critique in its incompleteness.
Along these lines, Christians should encourage acts of worship through scientific investigation. The richness of God’s creation can only really be appreciated through careful and methodical attention to His efforts. How pleasing it must be to God when someone’s dissertation pushes at the edge of our understanding of His work on earth. How delightful when one of His own takes the time to notice even the tiniest detail of His creation. The result of such an encounter is a deeper faith, and a deeper love our Elohim.
We must expand from ‘safe’ conversations that ultimately create strawman faith. We don’t have to turn off my mind in order to walk through a church door. If we only engage in the easy-win debates, we will always fear the inability of God to withstand true examination.
A God That is Bigger Than Our Own Understanding
There are aspects of God that we are not capable of observing or understanding (or even knowing that we don’t know) based on our limited hardware. As science suggests, the Truth produces evidence of itself that must be discernible and comprehensible–but not necessarily by our human minds as they are now. We are limited in our ability to determine what does not exist at all, versus what is merely beyond out observation.
The biggest stumbling block to my faith has always been the pervasive presence of Christians with ‘unexamined faith’ that seem to have all the answers. I fear that my faith is also overly simplistic and short-sighted, that I simply enjoy the benefits of religious opiates. It may well be that some kinds of faith function in this manner, but it is also important to remember that there are richer aspects that require a willingness to engage intellectually. This mindset only came in my life only after a long period of intellectual fear, being easily shaken by paradox. I eventually realized that my faith was in my own capacity to comprehend, rather than in a God that was so much bigger than my ability to defend or explain Him.
There is a holy space in the incomprehension of God. To get there, we will need to relinquish our need to shield God from our minds. After all, why would we worship a God that we fully understand? This would be a very small God indeed. Rather than a stagnant arrival at a boxed-in faith, we can instead participate in an active journey toward the mysteries of the Cross.
Our Dual Mission Field
Science and religion help us to understand our universe. Science is useful for those aspects that can be proven experimentally. Extrapolating those findings into metaphysical meaning goes beyond the scope of the discipline into the realm of philosophy. Conversely, using theological passages as textbooks to inform cellular and molecular function is also narrow-sighted.
God is not being made smaller through scientific inquiry. God will always be bigger than our intellectual capacity, and so as our knowledge grows, so too does our understanding of how big God can be. Scientists know there will always be more to the unknown universe than to the one we have already explained. As we answer each question, twenty new ones replace it. Comprehension does not render God unnecessary–it expands who He is.
On some level, scientific communication with the lay public is embarrassingly lacking, leading to poor public scientific literacy and the fear that stems from ignorance. As Christians in academia, not only can we bear witness for Christ in our research, but we must also be ambassadors for our disciplines within our churches as well. Perhaps we can help bring our sisters and brothers in Christ into that holy mess of complicated, examined faith that offers the full richness of the Divine.
I’m honest with fellow believers. Do I believe in evolution? Yes. And I believe that there is a creator God that lovingly surveys the big bang, natural selection, positrons, dark matter, and all the other miracles of His creation. I also believe in a God that created the mind, with its ability to react to the divine, both spiritually and physically. Are there serious things to reconcile and kinks to work out? Undoubtedly. But why should that fact shake my faith? Again, the God I worship is complicated enough that we certainly should have to work hard to understand any part of Him. Otherwise He is a God unworthy of our awe and reverence.
My hope is for Christians to stop seeing science as a threat, or trying to deny its findings on religious grounds. Instead, embrace the more intimate knowledge of the Creator that we receive every day in the scientific journals. We need not worry that science might experimentally explain away metaphysical existence. Science and religion are elegant examinations of our universe, and neither detracts from the other’s beauty. They enhance each other—that is what is magnificent about science and God. Increasing our knowledge of the universe will only bring our closer to its creator.
We must be careful not to perpetuate the appearance of a false divide between science and faith. Rich debate should be welcomed, but reductionist separation in unwarranted. Both institutions have had their share of major abuses of trust in the name of advancing their own ideas, which further widens the chasm of communication between them. Books like Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods are necessary to begin mending those wounds and restoring interdisciplinary trust.
Katelin Hansen (@BTSFblog) is pursuing a doctorate degree in neuroscience at Ohio State University (OSU). At OSU she is active in InterVarsity’s Christian Graduate Student Alliance and the Emerging Scholars Network. In addition, Katelin edits By Their Strange Fruit (BTSF), an online ministry facilitating justice and understanding across racial divides for the sake of the Gospel. BTSF explores how Christianity’s often-bungled relationship with race and racism affects modern ministry and justice. Recognizing that racial brokenness hinders our witness to the world, BTSF strives to increase the visibly of healthy and holy racial discussion by approaching justice and reconciliation from a Christ-minded perspective. Katelin also serves as the Minister of Music at UM Church For All People, a multi-class, multi-racial church in an underprivileged neighborhood of Columbus, OH. To learn more about her academic journey read A Full Education (The Well). You can find her on Twitter at @BTSFblog