Following Scientists

Some­times I feel gen­uine­ly guilty that the part of a ser­mon that sticks with me the most is one that I sim­ply find incom­pat­i­ble with what I feel to be right (and often, not even the gist of the ser­mon, as you’ll see here). Now, I am prob­a­bly towards the oppo­site end of the Pres­by­ter­ian (PCUSA) spec­trum from Dr. Good­loe and that’s fine; he being quite a bit more con­ser­v­a­tive where as I am fair­ly lib­er­al. I don’t expect every­one in our large denom­i­na­tion, nor even our con­gre­ga­tion, to agree with me let alone it’s lead­ers. To the con­trary, the diverse­ness of both Pres­by­te­ri­ans and GCPC are one of things I find most appeal­ing about them.

As Jim teach­es through var­i­ous books of the Bible (New Tes­ta­ment, in par­tic­u­lar), yes­ter­day brought us to John again. The par­tic­u­lar ser­mon cen­tered around the ver­sus where-in some of John’s fol­low­ers wor­ry about how many are going to fol­low Jesus instead (and why John is hap­py about that). How­ev­er, one thing about Jim’s ser­mon yes­ter­day, titled “All Are Going to Him!” [.pdf] stood out to me and I’ve not been able to get it out of my head since (empha­sis & foot­note mine):

[H]ow shall we respond to Jesus Christ? We shall be the dis­ci­ples of Jesus Christ or we shall fol­low anoth­er. There is no oth­er choice. Will it be Jesus, or will it be Moses, Mohammed, Bud­dha, Freud, Niet­zsche, Dar­win, Marx, Hitler, Sagan1, or Dawkins? Whom shall we fol­low? We shall receive the bap­tism of Jesus Christ or we shall refuse it. There is no half-way. We shall go to Jesus Christ or we shall run away and go to anoth­er. No one remains unaffiliated. 

Now, I don’t think that the men­tion­ing of a num­ber of sci­en­tists (in addi­tion to an econ­o­mist and bru­tal dic­ta­tor) along side a hand­ful of prophets was meant to both­er me or any­one, but it unfor­tu­nate­ly did. It both­ered me for a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent, although pos­si­bly relat­ed reasons.

First, it is unfair to char­ac­ter­ize sci­ence, phi­los­o­phy and pol­i­tics as some­thing to be fol­lowed as a dis­ci­ple, par­tic­u­lar­ly in this con­text. To be sure, many of the thinkers list­ed have been seen as con­tro­ver­sial to Chris­tians and, to vary­ing degrees, counter to its under­stood teach­ings (at least to some at the time). Freud, Niet­zsche, and for this point, Marx while not study­ing nature were attempt­ing to study and under­stand human­i­ty. The held rev­o­lu­tion­ary posi­tions, many of which are still debat­ed today. How­ev­er, they were nev­er wor­shiped (to my knowl­edge) and no one ever relied on them for redemp­tion. Fur­ther, they were thinkers with many ideas and accept­ing one of those notions does not require one to accept them all. One could agree that Freud was entire­ly cor­rect in approach to psy­chother­a­py and still reject his phi­los­o­phy or vice versa.

As for Hitler, sure­ly fol­low­ing his beliefs ran counter to the teach­ings of Christ and fur­ther the Nazi world cer­tain­ly bor­dered on being a cult if any polit­i­cal ide­ol­o­gy ever did2. How­ev­er, Hitler was not the head of any reli­gion but of a polit­i­cal par­ty. Hav­ing many fol­low­ers, no mat­ter how despi­ca­ble and evil it and it’s ethos was, did­n’t make it a reli­gion any­more than fol­low­ing Churchill, Kennedy, or Reagen were reli­gions. A cult of per­son­al­i­ty is sim­ply not a reli­gion, cer­tain­ly not when we are gen­uine­ly dis­cussing theology.

Some sci­en­tists do cer­tain­ly have their own cult of per­son­al­i­ty and cer­tain­ly Dar­win, Sagan and Dawkins made this list for that. But they are not a reli­gion to be fol­lowed, either, any more than a human phi­los­o­phy or a polit­i­cal ide­ol­o­gy is and per­haps even less so. Sci­ence does not hope to gov­ern or to dic­tate the acts of men. In gen­er­al, it only seeks to uncov­er that which human­i­ty does not gov­ern. Just because I agree that F = m·a does not make me a dis­ci­ple of New­ton, but rather a per­son who pre­scribes to a the­o­ry of phys­i­cal mechan­ics. Fur­ther, just because some oth­er sci­en­tist has a the­o­ry that seems con­trary to one’s faith does not make any­one who agrees with that con­tro­ver­sial the­o­ry a dis­ci­ple of that individual.

That being said, I come to my sec­ond issue. I sup­pose Dawkins more like­ly in this list for his pro-athe­ist, anti-orga­nized reli­gion rhetoric as much as his evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gy teach­ings. To that end, this is why I find Dr. Good­loe’s state­ment just as oppos­able as I do Dawkins’. Sci­ence and reli­gion are not in some sort of eter­nal con­flict strug­gling for our minds and will. We do not decide between them. Sci­ence is, at it’s core the study of the nat­ur­al world. If one believes in Christ and a God, then one believes that God made that world. The study of God’s cre­ation is, in essence, anal­o­gous to the study of God’s word, but not in oppo­si­tion to it. Of course, sci­en­tists may be wrong. So might the­olo­gians, cor­rect? How­ev­er, unlike the­olo­gians, empir­i­cal evi­dence will sup­port or deny the sci­en­tist. Fur­ther evi­dence for or against any the­olo­gian, pos­si­bly by def­i­n­i­tion, can­not be attained in this world.

Sci­ence does not deny Christ and I find it odd that any­one would argue that being a dis­ci­ple of Christ requires one to dis­avow sci­ence (or any sin­gle sci­en­tist). I don’t know that this was Jim’s intent, but cer­tain­ly his unfor­tu­nate choice of peo­ple struck a chord with me (a dis­so­nant one, any­way). I do see the the­o­log­i­cal val­ue in argu­ing that one must choose one, and only one, sav­ior. How­ev­er, it is impor­tant to not con­fuse things that can­not and are not sav­iors with those that to some would be. To a Chris­t­ian, by def­i­n­i­tion, there is no alter­na­tive but Christ. For oth­ers who do not know, still seek, or believe in anoth­er, they too can still under­stand the the­o­log­i­cal basis of the ulti­ma­tum. For the athe­ist, is a triv­ial choice as they believe in no sav­ior. How­ev­er, I can­not help but find it dis­hon­est of us to char­ac­ter­ize those who would study God’s nat­ur­al won­ders as being against Christ.

I don’t mean to be argu­men­ta­tive with Dr. Good­loe as first of all, this was not the main point of his ser­mon and sec­ond­ly, I think the point he was get­ting at is valid from a the­o­log­i­cal stand­point. I just sim­ply take issue with the cho­sen exam­ples as it fur­thers what is, to me any­way, a false choice. I do not wish to make some sort of exam­ple of my min­is­ter and per­son­al­ly, I find Dr. Dawkins’ state­ments to be much more egre­gious in this area and the corol­lary of this post holds true for the so-called New Athe­ists as well. It’s just that hear­ing this from some­one clos­er yes­ter­day made me moti­vat­ed enough to write on it.

  1. When I heard this, I actu­al­ly thought Jim said “Satan” which real­ly shocked me. Main­ly, because Satan isn’t real­ly some­thing Pres­by­te­ri­ans min­is­ters preach a great deal on and fur­ther it real­ly seemed odd on this list. Carl Sagan, no mat­ter how I feel that he does­n’t deserve to be on this list, either, makes more sense giv­en the con­text of Jim’s ser­mon. []
  2. This holds true for any cur­rent fas­cism as well. How­ev­er, as Hitler was the exam­ple I’ll stick to the Nazi par­ty of the 30’s and 40’s. []

By Jason Coleman

Structural engineer and technical content manager Bentley Systems by day. Geeky father and husband all the rest of time.

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