As any high school student knows, Christianity and science have sniped at each other for 500 years, since at least the days of Copernicus. The battle is still going on, on both sides.
In 2009, when President Barack Obama chose geneticist Francis Collins as director of the National Institutes of Health, Collins' scientific colleagues were aghast.
Some charged that Collins was a "clown" or suffered from "dementia," to quote a recent profile of Collins in The New Yorker magazine.
No one argued with Collins' professional credentials. As the magazine reported, he "long ago secured his place in the first rank of international scientists."
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As head of the Human Genome Project, he'd also proved himself a world-class administrator. The New Yorker noted that he finished that landmark project 21/2 years early and $400 million under budget, while winning friends in Congress "with a genial manner and a gift of conveying complex scientific language in felicitous language."
No, what raised hackles is that Collins also manages to be, simultaneously, an evangelical Christian. His faith places him in a tiny minority among his peers in the prestigious National Academy of Science, only 7 percent of whom believe in God, The New Yorker reported.
While I find the intelligentsia's hostility toward and general ignorance of religion regrettable, I do partly understand it.
Christians need to accept a large share of the blame; often we're as hostile toward and ignorant of science as scientists are of Christianity.
Many Christians — specifically, many theologically conservative Christians — have capitalized on scientific breakthroughs while relentlessly castigating the people and methods that created those breakthroughs.
It's no surprise, then, that scientists would dislike and mistrust us.
The scientific method is a wondrous thing. It deals with facts as facts. Period.
At its best, it divorces itself from ideology (although, obviously, many scientists still might be in their private heads just as ideological and intolerant as anyone else).
But a scientist develops a hypothesis. He or she tests it and then publishes the results. Other scientists re-create that experiment and publish their findings.
They verify the hypothesis or dismantle it. The hypothesis works or it doesn't. The idea keeps getting refined. Over a period of years, it becomes ever more accurate.
Pardon my phrasing, but the end quite often is miraculous.
Twenty-four hours a day we enjoy the benefits of science.
While you're sleeping, your house stays a comfortable 70 degrees. Science.
Your alarm-clock radio starts broadcasting the latest updates from Washington, D.C., at precisely 6 a.m. Science.
You flip a switch and the lights come on. Science.
You give your little daughter her chewable vitamins. Science.
You pour uncontaminated, pasteurized milk on her cereal. Science.
Then there are your global positioning satellite, your cell phone, your MRI, your DNA test, your heart medicine. All science.
Thank God for scientists. We all rely on them in 10,000 different ways. Their rigorous, empirical systems rarely let us down.
But let them discover something we don't want to hear — the sun doesn't revolve around the Earth, the Earth doesn't have four corners, the Earth wasn't created in six 24-hour days — and we rip our clothes, gnash our teeth and scream that they're demonic minions of Satan.
I've never understood why Christians do that. It's so hypocritical.
Our message is this: We'll gleefully spread the Gospel on the Internet and satellite TV you invented, we'll take advantage of any tool you offer us — but don't dare bring us unwanted news.
It seems to me that Christians ought to be every bit as interested in the unvarnished facts as scientists are. If what we believe is true, we have nothing to fear. If it's not true, or if a few of the details are wrong, we ought to welcome corrections. Who needs to believe errors?
Besides, science isn't at all equipped to address, nor does it usually pretend to answer, the ultimate spiritual questions, such as whether God exists or what constitutes the larger meaning of our lives. Those issues are the domain of theologians, poets and philosophers.
Of course, some Christians do have open minds about science.
Collins, for instance, maintains that the evidence in favor of evolution is overwhelming. Rather than damaging his faith, this knowledge fills him with a sense of "awe and wonder," he told Christianity Today in a 2007 article.
"My heart goes out to sincere believers who feel threatened by evolution and who feel that they have to maintain their position against it in order to prove their allegiance to God," he said. "But if God used this process and gave us the chance to discover it, then it seems anachronistic, to say the least, that we would feel we have to defend him against our own scientific conclusions.
"God is the author of all truth. You can find him in the laboratory as well as in the cathedral. He's the God of the Bible; he's the God of the genome. He did it all."
God as the author of all truth? Hey, I like that hypothesis.