Our culture loves debates. Coke or Pepsi? Twizzlers or Red Vines? LeBron or MJ? Cats or dogs? Is a hot dog a sandwich? What color is the dress? While these debates may be harmless, some of the ones we engage in have larger implications. Recently, my favorite podcast, Rethinking Youth Ministry, tackled one of the ones that I’ve come to care a lot about. It was about the tension that we create between faith and science. I say “we create” because I don’t think there needs to be any tension there, and we do our youth a disservice by manufacturing it.
Before I started pursuing youth ministry, I had dreams of becoming a physics teacher. Of all the scientific disciplines, physics had the most appeal to me. I loved the way that physics explained how the world works. Every new concept that we learned helped me to understand the physical interactions that I just took for granted- how friction allowed me to walk without slipping, the way gravity produced that perfect arc on a basketball shot, and even the way that my eyes were able to see. I became a physics major entering college to continue growing in my fascination of physics. Turns out, you need more than interest to be good at college physics- you need calculus, and I wasn’t too good at that part. I ended up switching majors after a year.
One of my biggest takeaways from my time in the physics department was that when it comes to faith and science, there is no need to make them opposites. Learning about the systems and processes that the universe operates by gives us a glimpse into the mind of the creator of the universe. How cool is it that the God who created black holes has given us the ability to take pictures of them? Or that the one who placed the stars and the planets in the sky would give us the understanding to observe and calculate the patterns with which God put them into motion? Science isn’t a threat to our faith- it can enhance our understanding of God and gives us ground to praise him for our ability to reason.
Where this gets dangerous is when we try to make faith and science and “either-or” debate. Our youth get into the awkward position of feeling like they have to choose between what they read in the Bible and what they hear in school. I don’t think they should have to choose. Science, for all of its marvelous advancements, can never fully answer the question “Why are we here?” Faith, for all of the ways that it gives our lives purpose and meaning, should not seek to answer “How does the world work?”
There are many useful ways to learn about God, and the world he created is one of them. Let’s not hinder our children and youth by continuing to put faith and science in tension with each other.
“Science tells us how the heavens go. Religion tells us how to go to heaven.”
– Galileo Galilei