Wednesday, September 30, 2015


As September comes to a close, two significant dates converge for me: September 26 marked the one-year anniversary of the publication of my book, C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian, and today (September 30) signifies the completion of the 16-month grant project I've been directing, SEYA (Science for Students and Emerging, Young Adults). In my previous post, I offered an overview of SEYA's findings, and here I'd like to ask one more time: What did I learn, and does "St. Clive" (aka C. S. Lewis) have anything to add?

With one long (perhaps even run-on) sentence, I'll summarize the strategy that emerged from this project: 
As a result of SEYA, I’ve discovered that there  is interest among emerging adults (ages 18-30) on how to integrate mere Christianity with mainstream science, and the strategy for this integration is to connect it with pressing life issues through a robust biblical hermeneutic, through relationships of trust, through skilled communicators, and through the use of high-quality and high-impact resources.
How do I evaluate the current "state of the question," as academics like to say? Is the integration of mere Christianity and mainstream science happening? Certainly, if we listen to Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins, it's all for naught. But they may not have the full story. As Elaine Ecklund has discovered in her research--some of the most comprehensive to date:
"76 percent of scientists in the general population identify with a religious tradition" and "85 percent of Americans and 84 percent of evangelicals say modern science is doing good in the world." 
Both the qualitative analysis of our SEYA surveys with target groups of approximately 100 emerging adults, as well as the two-dozen in-depth interviews I conducted, indicate that there is interest among 18-30 year olds and that high-quality resources makes a significant difference in emerging adults' attitudes toward integrating Christian faith and mainstream science. (For you statisticians out there, the p-value on this sample group was .001.)

I think we still need more skilled communicators who, first of all, employ a robust (and thus not literalistic) biblical hermeneutic. For one engaging example, see Dave Navarra (from the SEYA team) and Scott Farmer take on the topic, "Hasn't Science Disproved God?" 

Of course, we could simply go back to Augustine who insisted that Christians shouldn't ignorantly talk nonsense about astronomy and other fields in their exposition of the Bible. "Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn." (The longer quote is in the Endnote.

It's true--we can't be stuck in a biblical approach that ignores scientific insights. Though John Calvin could be about as hard-headed as they come, he never tired of learning from secular (i.e., non-Christian and non-biblical) writers, and he wrote quite pointedly on this all the way back in 1559,
“If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God."
We know that God created the world--and we properly worship our Creator as a result--but we can't be sure how God did it from Scripture, because, for one thing, the Bible doesn't address that issue.

In fact, the Bible is concerned with something else entirely: our transformation as followers of Christ. As Lewis phrased it in Reflections on the Psalms, God's revelation in Scripture is not "something we could have tabulated and memorised and relied on like the multiplication table," as convenient as that would seem. This approach, however, is misguided. Instead Lewis presented one central component of a more robust, biblical hermeneutic: 
Follow the intent of the text. Read what it says, not what you want it to say.  
Instead of imbedding a math table in our brains, Lewis wrote, we take Jesus seriously and discover something unexpected:

"He will always prove the most elusive of teachers. Systems cannot keep up with that darting illumination. No net less wide than a man's whole heart, nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred fish."
And so, with Lewis in mind, I arrive at two elements of the strategy SEYA identified that we are still lacking: skilled communicators who present a sound approach to science and Scripture. I realize, of course, that Lewis wasn't perfect nor was he a scientist, but he did grasp the effects of science on the wider culture and expertly articulated mere Christianity in that cultural context. And so we could certainly use more of his ilk. He called it "translating" and left us with a question that has not been satisfactorily answered: 
"People praise me for being a translator. But where are the others? I wanted to start a school of translation."
Where indeed are these translators who understand the glories, challenges, and intricacies of science and bring mere Christianity to a scientifically and technologically saturated age? Part of the work I've been about with SEYA is to identify these translators--and perhaps to become one myself--but there's much more left to do.

Endnote: Here's the full citation from Augustine's Literal Meaning of Genesis (Bk. 1, ch. 19): "Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field in which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although "they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion."

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