The doorbell rings at my daughter’s, one morning the week of her wedding. I answer the door because I am nearest the door, it’s the week before a wedding, and no one stands on ceremony. Two women with pamphlets in their hands greet me, one on the step and one on the sidewalk just below her. I can tell right away why they are here, and, I know that, in about ten seconds, I will need to decide whether I will answer their question or send them away. I open my mouth and take a breath to send them away when I hear the question.
“Has science replaced the Bible? What can we do about science questioning the existence of God?”
That’s when I pause for second, and seize the opportunity to climb on my favorite soapbox.
”I’ve always seen science as a revelation of God,” I respond. ”In my view, God has endowed humanity with the gifts that have produced the discoveries and inventions of science. Look at how science has improved our life over the centuries, in health, communication, and transportation, just for starters. Why should God not work through scientists and other people to make His Kingdom come?”
The challenges that science has presented Christianity through the ages (see Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, reproductive technologies, for example) persist in our own (see Darwin, reproductive technologies). I write in the Christian context because that’s what I know, although I suspect that generalization to religion might not be out of line. Why is it that Christianity interprets advancement through science in our time as such a threat? Can religion not hold its own? For religion to tout human progress through science in our time as indicators of the ongoing revelation of God, though, it would first have to admit that divine revelation continues through people, exceptional and ordinary, well-known and obscure, embodied through Jesus two thousand and more years ago, and the prophets centuries more before that. It would have to curb a longing for the thought processes and standards of the Middle Ages and undo any moves already initiated in that direction. It would have to stop perceiving revelation as having stopped centuries ago. For me, that’s not such a leap. It seems perfectly natural.
Can scientific discoveries can have unforeseen and unwanted negative consequences? Of course. Examples abound: nuclear energy, the internal combustion engine, the technologies that support social media, pesticides, genetic engineering, to name only a few. Still, the nefarious effects don’t negate the benefits those same discoveries have brought the human race over time. The arrival of the internal combustion engine, for example, a contributor to greenhouse gases in our age, was perceived as a salvation by early twentieth century cities wondering what to do about the serious problem of disposal of accumulated horse manure (see Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner in SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance). Genetic engineering created wheat strains adapted to the rigors and growing season of the Canadian prairies. Benefits and challenges go hand in hand.
Art, it seems, hasn’t suffered the same stigma as religion. Although art, long perceived as a revelation of God (see for example, Bernini, Michaelangelo, da Vinci, Milton, Dante, Bach, Mozart, Handel), has challenged religious beliefs and practices as well (see The Last Temptation of Christ, Charlie Hebdo, The Simpsons, South Park, Da Vinci Code), individuals still look to song, music, and visual art to express their sense of God or to discover it. Why, then, stigmatize science?
It’s time for us to see God revealed in scientific expressions through the ages and in modern times as much as in artistic expressions. After all, scientific and artistic discoveries and creations are possible because of the gift with which God endowed the human person, created, as Christians believe, in His own image. Then, we can say with the lady at the bottom of the steps at my daughter’s that day, “I hadn’t look at it like that before,” and we can rejoice and be grateful for accomplishment of all kinds in our own time.