Science has a place in our faith

The two can coexist nicely

by Greg Cootsona | Presbyterians Today

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Go to Berkeley. Become a Christian. That might sound like a joke, but that’s my faith story. I became a follower of Christ during my first year at the University of California at Berkeley. It was then that I heard that one excellent reason not to believe in God was science. As a newly minted Christian sitting in the pews of First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, I also heard that “the Gospel is not fragile.” The Gospel’s strength to connect with culture, including science, was something I desperately needed to hear — and is something Presbyterians believe.

A paper presented to the 1982 PC(USA) General Assembly called “The Dialogue Between Theology and Science” said faith and science complement one another: “Faith gives us hope for survival and the motivation to achieve conditions for that kind of survival. Science provides the tools, intellectual and material, to get on with what we have to do.”

Science opens us to becoming “like little children,” as Jesus says in Matthew 18:3, and deepens our faith. “The Dialogue Between Theology and Science” affirms this, stating: “We cannot know the truth either finally or absolutely. Therefore, in science as in theology, we live by faith and not by sight.”

I’ve also found at Science for the Church — the organization I co-direct with a mission to cultivate a stronger church through meaningful dialogue with mainstream science — that when congregations engage science, they grow, not just in understanding science, but in their faith.

Science can also open us to new approaches to key issues, like racial healing and pastoral well-being. A seminar on race and Christian faith was recently held by the Synod of the Covenant. The response to learning how science helps us see that race is a powerful cultural category, but not a biological one, deepened the conversation and provided new tools for racial healing. As we emerge from Covid, we are finding that pastors are burned out and confused. The science of mental health is a key resource for this time. It demonstrates that a church community literally keeps us alive — and growing.

All my time as an ordained pastor, since 1996, has been spent with emerging adults, and I have argued that bringing science to church is good for our outreach to emerging adults. The Barna Group agrees, citing one of the six main reasons 18- to 30-year-olds leave the church is that they see it as “antagonistic to science.”

No, the Gospel isn’t fragile. It can withstand scientific discourse. I learned that years ago while sitting in an orange fabric pew at First Presbyterian Berkeley.

The Rev. Dr. Greg Cootsona is an ordained minister in the PC(USA) and lecturer in religious studies at California State University, Chico in Chico, California. He has been interviewed on faith and science by The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio and the BBC, to name a few. He is also co-director of Science for the Church.

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