Genesis 1: 1 – 5 Why We Need Both Faith and Science Sunday March 14, 2021

Why We Need Both Faith and Science

Genesis 1: 1 – 5

 (preached March 14, 2021)

             If you’re a fan of children’s television, or a fan of science, you may also be a fan of Bill Nye the Science Guy and his TV show from the 1990s.  Bill Nye was popular for the way he helped ordinary people understand scientific principles.  Some years ago, Nye took part in a debate.  The debate was with Ken Ham, the man who runs the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.  Ham is head of an organization called Answers in Genesis.  He and his colleagues take literally the account of creation we just heard from the first chapter of Genesis.  They accept the Genesis version of creation as fact.


The debate at the Creation Museum got a lot of media attention.  It was live streamed on You Tube and attracted half a million viewers.  I usually enjoy lively discussions like that, where different ideas are exchanged.  But I’m troubled by this debate at the Creation Museum.  I’m troubled by the way science and religious faith were set up as opponents in a debate.


I’m troubled that so much of our public discourse these days is set up like that.  Often different ideas are set up as opponents.  It seems to me that setting up different ideas as opponents makes our discourse combative, like a fight between two opposing sides, where the goal is for one side to defeat the other.


This troubles me because, for one thing, debating issues this way makes things too simple.  It presents things as very black and white, and life is more complex than that.  Especially when it comes to how we talk about faith and science, I find this way of debating troubling.  When we set faith and science in opposition like this, where one has to win and the other has to lose, we miss out on what each one can give us.  We lose the benefits we can receive from both.


This morning I’d like to reflect with you on science and faith, and how you and I as people of faith might think about science.  People have different views on this, and you may see faith and science differently from the way I do.


Speaking for myself, though, I’ve been thinking about the question of how we can be faithful to God, and open to what science might show us about the natural world.  It’s an important question, as we pass on our faith to our children and grandchildren.  Many young people today are hungering for a spiritual life.  But they’re put off by a faith that offers itself as the answer to questions about the natural world.  And many young people are looking for a faith that doesn’t shy away from scientific inquiry.


I’m not sure how faith and science got to be so sharply opposed.  When I was growing up, science and religion were both considered important.  In school I dissected frogs and discussed the big bang.  I also went to church and read the Bible.  So did most of the people I knew.


For me, it hasn’t been hard to appreciate both science and faith.  I enjoy the discoveries of science. I was fascinated to watch the Perseverance Rover land on Mars last month.  I also enjoy the results of scientific discoveries.  The computer I use to write sermons, send emails, and go online is a product of science.  The vaccines that are helping fight COVID 19 are products of science.  I value the benefits of science.  I also value the benefits of faith.

But valuing both science and faith seems to be on the decline in our country.  Maybe that’s not so surprising.  Things in our world are changing very fast.  Scientific discovery and technological innovation are moving so quickly that it’s hard for us to keep our bearings.  The economy is struggling.  Our sense of prosperity has declined.  Our sense of security has been shaken.


So maybe it’s not surprising that some want to make religious faith a bulwark against the rapid changes that are happening all around us.  It’s not surprising that some want to build a kind of scientific legitimacy into our biblical tradition.  It’s not surprising that some want the ancient truth of the Bible to be seen as scientific fact.


It seems to me, though, that if we try to make our faith into some form of science, we risk losing both the best of faith and the best of science.  Science and faith are both important.  They have different purposes.  They speak to different questions.  Science speaks to the questions how, where, when, and what.  Faith speaks to the questions who and why.  If we look to faith to answer the questions of science, our knowledge about the natural world will be diminished.  If we look to science to answer the questions of faith, questions of who and why, our faith will be diminished.


Science and faith address different questions.  Science speaks to how, where, when, and what.  Faith speaks to who and why.  Science helps us figure out the mysteries of the universe.  Faith tells us that the universe – and each of us – is shaped by a Creator of infinite love.


Science has given us great knowledge of the natural world around us, but science doesn’t help us answer some of the questions that arise as we navigate that world.  For example, we will be able, more and more, to change ourselves as human beings.  We will have the technology to enhance our brains, to make our bodies more youthful, to make our lives longer.  But how will we decide how best to use that new technology?  It’s our faith that will guide our decisions about how to use new technology for the benefit of all humankind.


When I was a little girl, my father and I would go outside on summer nights to look at the stars.  He would always point out one constellation in particular: Cassiopeia’s chair.  When I got older, I learned from astronomy that Cassiopeia’s chair includes the open clusters Messier 52 and Messier 103, and that it contains a star forming cloud with the popular nickname of the Pacman Nebula.  That was good information to have.


But I also learned from my father’s faith.  I heard in his voice the awe and wonder he felt at the beauty of the stars.  As we looked up together at the enormous universe, it felt overwhelming.  But faith assured me that I had a place in that wondrous creation.  Faith assured me that I was a child of God, the same God who created the stars.  Faith told me why I was there: to love God, my neighbor, and myself, and to enjoy God’s creation.  That sense of who I am and why I’m here guided me through the years, as I grew to adulthood and became a wife, a mother, a pastor.


My friends, as people of faith, may you and I not see science and faith in opposition, where one has to win and the other has to lose.  Instead, may we see them going hand in hand in curiosity and wonder.  May we grow in knowledge as we grow in faith.

Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Lent 4

“Ave Maria” Charles Gounod/J.S.Bach

Maria Ferrante, Soprano

Joyce Carpenter-Henderson, Pianist