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Opinion | How Covid Raised the Stakes of the War Between Faith and Science

Haarsma told me that the rise of the creationism movement in the 1960s, led by the engineer Henry Morris, increased the skepticism between some evangelical churches and scientists. The rift continued to grow because of bioethical conflicts around issues like stem cell research and euthanasia, but more so because of a latent cultural assumption that faith and fact oppose each other. When President Barack Obama appointed Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian (and the founder of BioLogos), as head of the National Institutes of Health in 2009, some questioned whether Collins’s religious faith should disqualify him from the position.

A 2018 study by Barna, a Christian research and polling firm, showed that “significantly fewer teens and young adults (28 percent and 25 percent) than Gen X and Boomers (36 percent and 45 percent)” view science and faith as complementary. Young people increasingly see an essential conflict between faith and science.

I asked Haarsma who is to blame. Is it the fault of religious communities for denigrating science or the scientific community for denigrating faith? She laughed and said there’s plenty of blame to go around.

At times, a vocal minority of prominent scientists have marginalized religious communities. Haarsma cited a tweet by Neil deGrasse Tyson, a prominent astrophysicist, from Christmas morning 2014: “On this day long ago, a child was born who, by age 30, would transform the world. Happy Birthday Isaac Newton.” That’s clever, but it appeared to mock Christians on one of our most sacred holidays. These sorts of messages spur needless animosity. If the cultural conversation requires people to choose between their faith and science, most will choose faith, but we don’t have to ask people to choose. This is a false choice.

At the same time, Haarsma said, there are some Christians who present faith as opposed to evidence, instead of “faith as a lived-out commitment in response” to evidence. She also said that heated anti-science rhetoric from a minority of Christians online encourages scientists to dismiss people of faith as a whole.

So, I asked Haarsma, what is the path to reconciliation? If this dichotomy between faith and science is truly a false dichotomy, how do we purge it from our broader cultural discourse and imagination?

I heard her voice rise with passion. This is her life’s work and the work of her organization. She offered practical steps: The message to religious communities needs to be, “Don’t trust science instead of God, trust science as a gift from God.” Church leaders can praise God for creation and the unique ability to be able to study and understand it. Churches can also spotlight scientists, especially people of faith who are leaders in their fields. (BioLogos has a bureau of scientists and other scholars who speak to faith groups.)

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