Faith

Earth Day: Christians United on Science, Divided on March for Science

AP Photo/The News & Observer, Chris Seward

On this Saturday, Earth Day, thousands across the country will “March for Science.” Many Christians and Christian groups intend to take part in the march, but their fellow believers have also attacked it as needlessly political and potentially a threat to science itself. The Christian support for science among both groups may surprise some, but it is very widespread, as is concern for the environment.

“We want to show that people of faith do take science seriously and that this perception that there is a deep divide is indeed not true,” Brian Sauder, executive director of the Chicago-based environmental group Faith in Placetold Science magazine.

Sauder’s group is by no means alone. Last month, the Clergy Letter Project, a group of about 14,400 ordained clergy who support the teaching of evolution and climate change, announced its support for the march.

But even among that group, there were concerns that the March for Science is too political. “The new slightly more political focus of the march might have turned some members off,” Michael Zimmerman, the Clergy Letter Project’s founder and executive director, told Science. He said some clergy members were afraid the march politicizes the pursuit of science.

This concern is widely held among Christians, and it’s a major reason why many have opposed the march. The March for Science seems to purposefully echo the “Women’s March,” which followed President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Many liberals accused Trump of launching a “war on science,” and the march’s original statement declared “certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives,” including “the Earth is becoming warmer due to human action,” and “the diversity of life arose by evolution.”

In other words, the march is promoting the “consensus” around climate change and evolution, two developing areas of science in which there is actually good evidence on both sides. The organization’s website has since minimized these hot-button issues, but there is still concern that the march will be more political than scientific.

Jay Richards, assistant research professor at the Catholic University of America (CUA), warned that the atmosphere of forced consensus and tying science to politics might inspire “a general skepticism of science in general,” a situation he described as “catastrophic.”

He presented a list of “warning signs” as to when a normal layperson should “doubt a scientific ‘consensus.'” Such claimed consensus can be based on solid evidence and logic or it can be based on groupthink, Richards warned.

Wesley J. Smith, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, and chair of the Center for Human Exceptionalism at the Discovery Institute, warned that March for Science activists and their liberal fellow travelers promote dangerous ideologies that are actually anti-human.

Among other things, Smith mentioned activists who organize to tear up genetically modified wheat and the recent efforts in New Zealand and India to declare rivers to be persons and give them human-type rights. He also drew attention to radical environmentalists who characterize human beings as “a cancer on the planet.” Such activists alienate the public from the good causes of science, he argued.

“We protected Yellowstone very well and we didn’t say that Old Faithful geyser is a person,” Smith quipped.

Stephen Meyer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and author of Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Designwarned that “the radical animal rights movement, the denial of human exceptionalism, is a logical consequence of a deeper view that there is no qualitative difference between humans and animals because both were produced by the same process of unguided, undirected, materialistic evolution.”

But Meyer presented evidence that the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution via natural selection acting on random mutations is falling apart. At the Royal Society meeting in London last November, biologists debated new theories to replace this increasingly untenable Darwinian position. If evolution loses its power, then the basis for the liberal “scientific” causes like animal rights falls away, and thinkers will have to return to the Judeo-Christian roots of Western morality.

But many Christians do believe in a limited form of evolution set in motion by God that does not deny the intelligent design behind the universe.

In any case, each of these Christians — while they might doubt the “consensus” of evolution and climate change — nevertheless championed science as a positive good in society.

Not only is the Christian faith fully compatible with science, but some congregations in the Church of England are integrating science into their worship in creative ways.

Last year, the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) launched projects to integrate science and faith in the Church of England. The first projects included eco-prayer walks, a play based on nature as described in the book of Job, scientific hymns for children, and experiments in church services that have a biblical application. TWCF also launched a course on science and Christian ethics that met throughout Lent at Exeter Cathedral and Exeter University.

“Sir John Templeton had a great respect for the many basic truths found in major world religions, as evidenced by his book Wisdom of World Religions,” David Potgieter, program and communications officer at TWCF, told PJ Media. “He saw the value of scientific discovery and knowledge creation working in tandem with ancient scriptures and religious practice in a way that is mutually instructive and beneficial.”

TWCF also has initiatives promoting the intersection of science with Orthodox Jewish faith and Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

This view of faith working hand in hand with science fits well with the history of scientific discovery and with Christianity’s belief in a rational creator God who made human beings in his image and with the ability to think his thoughts after him.

Furthermore, Christianity does encourage people to be good stewards of God’s creation. But this does not mean that Christians have to accept the climate alarmism being pushed by the political Left. Climate science is not “settled,” and many of the policies being pushed by environmentalists would stifle the development of poor countries, impeding their prosperity and harming the “least of these.”

That said, Christians are called to be good stewards of the environment, in their own personal capacities. “Environmental stewardship is a good example of the confluence between scientific investigation and theological reflection,” Potgieter argued.

This Earth Day, some Christians will march for science, and others will call for more debate on areas of science that are not truly settled. But the vast majority will celebrate science in one way or the other — and that trend might prove the most surprising.