Q Los Angeles 2013
Arts + Entertainment
Science + Tech
Science + Tech
Pseudo Salvation: When Science Can't Save Us
Matthew T. Dickerson
I have raised three sons. My oldest son is in college; my middle son just finished high school; and my youngest just finished middle school. All three went to public schools. As a father raising boys in a fallen world, I am very aware of how the philosophies and ideals of our culture are often antithetical to those central to our home. The teenage years especially are a very important time, and teenage minds are open to a host of influences.
Of course it doesn’t end in the teenage years. I have spent the past twenty-two years teaching at a secular college, active in ministry to the many Christian college students who pass through there. And I have also been active in ministry in our church to adults. We live in a society that does not honor God, and the values of that society press in on us from many directions.
That is, they do so unless we resist them. And to resist them, we need to know what they are. This is important to me as I try to follow Christ myself. It is doubly important as I tried to raise and equip my sons to serve Him faithfully.
Now in many cases, the secular influences of our culture are obvious. Sexual immorality is rampant in films, television, and music where it is often portrayed as the norm. Violence is glorified as well, not just in movies and certain genres of music, but even in the video games kids play. Not to mention the fabulous wealth of celebrities who become the default role models in our culture (for adults as well as youth). Even if we criticize these athletes, entertainers, and even corporate executives for their immorality, it is still tempting to aspire to their wealth and fame.
Other cultural philosophies, however, are more subtle and can often be seen within the church, even though they are both false and damaging. One such pervasive philosophy in American culture is that technology and engineering will solve our problems. From a spate of modern films to its unadulterated form as the defining philosophy of Disney’s Epcot center, we are led to believe that there is nothing humans cannot achieve through science and ingenuity.
Do we need a bridge constructed in a difficult place? Engineering and the science behind it has proven capable for the task. Do we need faster computers?
Engineers have given us that as well. They have not only given us powered flight, but taken us to the moon. A good friend recently had cancer removed from one of his organs; it was done by a doctor-guided robot.
And I’m thankful for these things—for the bridges that hold my car, computers that allow me to write and communicate, and the successful cancer surgery that may have saved my friend’s life. Unfortunately, it is far too easy now to trust that engineering will be able to solve all of our problems: war, poverty, hunger, soil erosion, oil spills, nuclear disasters, and the new diseases and viruses that seem to emerge faster than we can come up with cures for the old ones.
To the extent that sin is at the root of so many other human problems that we must overcome – either directly or indirectly – it should be easy to see that we will not find ultimate solutions even to these problems through engineering. And I know that sin itself will not be overcome by some high tech solution.
We can and should appreciate the minds God has given us, which are capable of the science, the creativity, and the design behind our engineering. But we must be very careful not to place our hopes there.
How do we use new technology without abdicating our responsibility to engage the world ourselves?
As followers of Jesus, how do we remember to place our hope in him and not in our own ability to solve problems?
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published on
The High Calling
and is posted here with permission. The image above is from
On the whole, I think most evangelicals resist science in many of its manifestations.
If Disney and the Hollywood gang lead culture to believe that there is nothing humans cannot achieve through science and ingenuity, where is the evidence that Christians have listened? I would posit that most evangelicals have yet to trust science and ingenuity in the first place (maybe going as far back as the Scopes trial). I still see people shouting about 7-Day Creationism and refusing to engage in meaningful conversation (on a grand scale) about stem cell research. The leading edge of neo-evangelicalism (Q Ideas) may be beyond that, but most of the the US Christian subculture is not.
The problem is still learning how to accept science; getting over the false dichotomy that it is science vs. religion. How do we teach people that science comes along side evangelicals' attempt to renew the earth? We have the capacity to trust and hope in many things. How do we teach people that we hope first in Christ, but hope second in science as a means of accomplishing God's call?
Nathan, a phrase you used jumped out at me. "US Christian subculture" is an amazing phrase. As a student of culture, I would suggest that "sub" means "under," and that in general it is less than optimal to think of a culture as "sub", and as a Christian, I definitely wouldn't want to put my day-to-day living relationship with God as "sub" to anything. The word I would prefer is "co-culture." "Culture-with" rather than "culture-under". To me, this distinction relates to David Chronic's recent blog about evangelism. We need to be in dialogue with the creative people and leaders in our culture. We need to have culture WITH, rather than culture under/over.
One thing that struck me a week ago was in our local (Phoenix) paper, along with many articles about government budget crises, another business-as-usual article stating that tablet computers will "help our kids learn better in school." It was an article about a local school district's project for purchasing several hundred of them. "No!" I shouted to the newspaper, who is very patient with me about these things, "We don't need to spend a bunch of money on tablet computers, we need to care enough so that EVERY child has a safe place to go after school and someone who will make sure their homework is done, and also check and see if they really understood it or not!" Technology is expensive, but the cost is CHEAP compared to real love and concern!
But I went no further to create this dialogue that I talked about in my first paragraph, because I don't live in that particular city. It's difficult to speak, and there are few forums for genuine dialogue. I'm not sure what I should be doing!
I think a right perspective is a matter of the heart. Jesus Christ is the way the truth and the light, no man comes to the father except through me said Jesus. If this life is but a vapor and the afterlife is forever then mathematically speaking I am going to put more faith in my heavenly father than into science. I love science and all it offers but forever is a long time and I'm looking to the future as well as life here on this interesting planet. Jesus made it clear that this earth is not our home and he admonished us to not store up for our selves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy but instead to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven. Where your heart is, there is where you'll find your treasure. Science is ordained by God but unfortunately science doesn't return the favor. Thankfulness to the creator of the cosmos is as foreign today as respect for our elders has become. Selfishness today seems more like a spirit of anti- Christian thinking that not only doesn't need God but is seeking to remove all evidence of him. Science has yet to figure out how to offer eternal life but I'm thankful that scientific advances are making life better here on this physical plane.
I am resonating with Nathen here.
In his book, "The Discarded Image", CS Lewis writes how the old image of the earth being the center and called the centric model is now discarded. Additionally he writes that the medieval and ancient notion of the structure of the cosmos consisting of beings in Heaven, beings on the earth, and beings under the earth is also discarded. In its place is the new standard cosmological model. However, Lewis loved the old romantic model, so did Saint Paul who used it to write epistles, so did Cervantes who wrote Don Quixote, and so did Dante. It was a great basis of our best literature, but as Lewis says on page 216, "Fewer constructions [of the old model] of the imagination seem to me to have combined splendor, sobriety, and coherence in the same degree [for literature]. It is possible that some readers have long been itching to remind me that it has one serious defect; it was not true".
While Christianity is exploding in the rest the world, it is not exploding in our world. A reason? A Lack of a common cosmology, science, or bridge between evangelicalism and the secular world. In the ancient world and in our 2nd and 3rd world, the cosmos is viewed as something magical. In this view, events are caused, and importantly caused by persons; either super human persons above the earth, or humans on the earth, or super human persons below the earth. However, in the secular culture, events are known to be caused by natural processes. Events including biological events are explained by the laws of physics. Under the earth, there are no super human persons causing events on the earth, instead there is the earth's core consisting of Iron mostly.
In his "Letters and Papers from Prison" Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a letter to Eberhard Bethge in 30 April 1944 he writes; "... What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today ... We are moving towards a completely religion-less time; ... How this religion-less Christianity looks, what form it will take, is something that I am thinking about a great deal ... ". Then in June 8 1944 in a letter to Eberhard Bethge he writes, "... Man has learnt to deal with himself in all questions of importance without recourse to the 'working hypothesis' called God. In questions of science, art, and ethics this has become an understood thing at which one now hardly dares to tilt. But for the last 100 years or so it has also become increasingly true of religious questions; it is becoming evident that everything gets along without 'God' - and, in fact, just as well as before. As in the scientific field, so in human affairs generally, 'God' is being pushed more and more out of life, losing more and more ground. ... Christ and the world that has come of age". According to Bonhoeffer, mankind through science and knowledge increase has matured into adulthood; the adults are religion-less and adolescents are religious. In Dietrich Bonhoeffer's view religion could be called the explanation for making magic happen, if there is no magic, there is no religion. So he coined the phrase 'Religion-less Christianity" to explain the type of Christianity of the modern future.
The Evangelical Magazine, Christianity Today published an article about finding the historical Adam, another topic could be the historicity of Noah’s Flood. Studies now show that mankind originated in East Africa.
The properties of Mitochondrial DNA (inherited from our mothers) and Y-Chromosomes (inherited from our fathers) are used as biological clocks that point back in time and to geography to a group of only 10,000 individuals in located Africa, the original starting point of humans. They left Africa and radiated throughout the world from there.
Regarding global flood that wiped out all mankind, there is no genetic evidence from mDNA or Y-Chromosome that shows a biological trail of man starting out from Mount Ararat and radiating out from there, and then populating the world. And even if a local flood occurred around Mt Ararat, then it did not wipe out all of mankind, since by the time of that local flood, the forebears of the American Indians were already in the Americas.
For me, this does not negate the story of either the creation or of the flood, nor does it impugn the ministry of Jesus. He like Paul were men of their times and the inspired scripture accommodated the ancient worldview and cosmology.
I believe that for evangelism to occur there must be a common ground, a common story of cosmology and human origins. This was true in the Greco Roman times. It needs to be true now. To the “Blue States” and to first world countries in the 21st century, Evangelicalism appears to be an irrelevant cultural backwater. This view is in great part to the general low regard that Evangelicalism has for science.
Jerry, I enjoyed reading your well thought out comment, you have some real talent. But if we are to be of one accord lets be united around the Savior of the world not around politics or science. The body of Christ may be influenced by the culture but is not empowered or defined by it. The diverse nature and creative complexity of God allows for uncommon differences, yet the commonality of the bible funnels us directly to Jesus Christ as the narrow way, the only way to God. Unity need not proliferate into the periphery issues to bind the body of Christ together. Rednecks and Intellectuals, children and elderly, disabled and genius, all of us may have very little in common with each other but Jesus Christ unifies us, not by acquired knowledge but by faith.
When I read the article by Matt Dickerson, I found myself thinking about his questions. How do we use the tools of engineering without falling into the trap of worshipping them. I'm thinking about this tool right here: a web site with comments from various readers. I think this tool won't solve the problem of information and wisdom in our culture, but it does allow us to connect as humans in a new way.
The comments are thoughtful. The commenters respectful of each other when they disagree. Hopefully, the author will show up here to engage in the discussion he helped start (if he can find the time to do so).
I'm with the people who are troubled by the anti-science spirit of the American Church. I'd say the anti-science leanings are really just an extension of the anti-intellectual leanings. Although I have a lot of problems with Bultmann's work, his idea of demythologization was helpful to me in thinking through the ways we lock people out of Christianity by requiring them to believe certain bizarre things first.
I think it is easy to forget that earthly scientific advances are a direct product of the gifts God bestows in us. We are charged with the care and protection of the environment, animals, and especially each other. Science has given us some amazing tools to accomplish this. Unfortunately, once an advance is made, we tend to try to take the credit ourselves instead of attributing it to God's goodness. This happens in all fields of work, not just technology. Like Nathan said, this "taking credit" issue pits religion against science. Why should I credit God on MY discoveries?
What is unfortunate about this is that it is God Himself who provided us with the tools to make advances that help His people. Science should be treated as a glorified gift from the Lord, not a testament to human prowess.
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