Several discussions have led me to think about this question over the last few days. There is a significant group of scientists who think that the inevitable result of scientific knowledge is a loss of faith or a turn to atheism. On the other side of the line there is a significant group of fundamentalist Christians who feel much the same way. The major difference is in which they would give up. A recent MSNBC.com story gives the encouraging reminder that about 40% of scientists believe in God. Encouraging, indeed, but for which side?
There has been a great deal of discussion on just how compatible religion is with science. Obviously for myself I’ve decided that good science is compatible with my theology, though not without some adjustments to how I understand the theology. My theology today is not the same as what I grew up with in any number of ways. But let’s lay that one aside.
What does the church offer to the educated person? My education is related largely to theology, and I have spent a good deal of my church life being urged to ignore some things, greatly simplify others, and basically to leave my education behind at the doors to the church. This is by no means a universal attitude. At the same time as one person would be telling me not to bother people with things I knew, others would be inviting me to teach.
But consider the difference between my education and that of an evolutionary biologist for example. Since I’m trained in Biblical studies and most particularly in languages, there is always someone in church who wants some portion of my expertise. I have even been invited to programs where I’m pretty certain my primary role was to sit with the other speakers and be “the guy who knows Greek.” There’s a certain respect for that. But the hypothetical evolutionary biologist isn’t going to find much call for his knowledge in church.
Now that is the trial of the specialist. You have to gather with other specialists to talk about your specialty. But in church, other people frequently feel free to express uneducated opinions on just about any topic, and especially to talk about the great danger of education to faith, and the one way to be accepted in that society will be to claim that your education is not important to you.
I’m painting this rather negatively, more so than I actually feel, but I do believe there is a problem. It’s variable with churches. In the United Methodist Church, for example, I have found a great deal of appreciation for education in any area. At the same time, for many people in the pews the educated person, especially one who questions any of the standard explanations of life, the universe, and everything, can be looked on with suspicion.
In my view, faith and fellowship go together. Someone’s faith is not going to be nurtured when there are no other people to take that walk with them. While I think many churches do try, and I really appreciate the United Methodist congregations of which I’ve been a member, I think there will be a substantial problem for a scientist looking for a congregation where he or she can explore and examine faith freely and openly–in other words, to have constructive fellowship.
It may well be that a significant number of those scientists who have slipped away from faith did so not because they were philosophically convinced that God does not exist, but because they never found a place to explore faith in a vital and constructive way with other people who welcomed their questions, their doubts, and even their unbelief.
I do not mean in any way to question the intelligence or judgment of those who have made a conscious decision based on their view of the evidence to reject belief in God or to become agnostic. I even find many of their arguments quite reasonable myself in a certain context. But I suspect there are many who have slipped away from faith simply because they are not particularly trained to deal with spiritual issues, and those who should have helped them were unwilling, or perhaps unable, to deal with them doubts and all.
I don’t know what numbers would be involved, but I’m convinced that having fellowship is an essential part of one’s faith journey. I’m further convinced that many people don’t take the fellowship needs of the educated seriously. Education is simply another characteristic of the people God brings together into his church; their needs need to be served as well.