What the Governor-General Got Right

governor-general-20170713
Photo courtesy of CBC

I was a bit hard on Her Majesty’s representative last week as I encouraged her to stick to what she knows and what her office allows…instead of taking swipes at people’s religious beliefs in the name of science.

My main concern was her dismissal of anyone who believes in “divine intervention” regarding the origins of the universe or of life on earth. Lots of people, I averred, are well qualified in the appropriate sciences and still believe in God the Creator.

Still, a lot of us Christians share her exasperation about how science is treated by many of our co-religionists.

The flat denial of all forms of evolution, for instance, on the specious ground that evolution is supposedly incompatible with Genesis 1-3 persists across North America despite more than a century of Bible-believing Christians showing how at least some forms of biological evolution square nicely with reverent understandings of Scripture.

Faith-healing extremists continue risk their own lives and those of their children despite the teaching of mainstream Christianity that God heals primarily through the body’s own devices aided by medical science, and only rarely through prayer-fueled miracles.

And so-called Biblical or Christian or spiritual counselors offer psychotherapy according to principles they have derived from Scripture with no attention to decades of careful psychological research, thus imperiling their clients’ mental health and the welfare of their significant others as they offer spiritual band-aids when much deeper psychiatric rehabilitation is needed.

The Scientific Revolution itself was led by Bible-believing Christians. Some of them, to be sure, had odd views of the Bible: Isaac Newton himself, who energetically pursued eccentric views of Biblical prophecy, was perhaps foremost among them in both respects. But the roster of scientific luminaries identifying seriously as Christians includes many in the Science Hall of Fame up to our own era, from Galileo, Kepler, and Pascal to Faraday, Kelvin, and Planck.

These Christians would share the Governor-General’s dismay at the pious stubbornness that continues to cripple the minds of many Christians today: the misguided idea that faithful believers must choose between loyalty to the Bible and appreciation for science.

Historian Mark Noll exposed the mentality of his own religious tribe, evangelical Christians, showing that many of them preferred to search the Bible for scientific truths (and historical and political and other sorts of information) instead of putting down their Bibles and looking hard at…history, politics, and the rest.

Yes, a worldview shaped deeply by the Bible is requisite for any Christian investigation of any subject. But that investigation needs to be directed to the right sort of evidence and pursued in the right sort of way. And when it comes to the natural world, that evidence is scientific data analyzed by scientific disciplines.

Scientists have made mistakes, sometimes big ones. We should never simply accept whatever currently is the consensus of scientists as timeless, infallible truth. (And scientists should never talk, although many do, as if they have figured everything out and the rest of us should just shut up and agree.)

The correction of those mistakes, however, has not come from Bible study, or a spiritual vision, or a latter-day prophecy. It has come from one source: more and better science.

So the anti-vaxxers are wrong, and dangerously so, by any reasonable definition of “knowledge.” So are the flat-earthers and the young-earthers, too. The science—that is, the carefully investigated and extensively argued-through knowledge—in those fields is past question as much as just about anything is regarding anything we think we know.

Yes, the Right Honorable Julie Payette needs to recognize that there are people who are both scientists and Christians. But some fervent believers need to recognize that those people are both Christians and scientists.

It does not honour God to believe only one or the other of God’s two great books, the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. Jesus commands us to love God “with all our minds” (Mark 12:30).

And to pit one against the other is to be, quite literally, half-witted.

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 700 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book is scheduled for release later this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).