I recently had the opportunity to take Reasons to Believe’s latest course on Evangelism in a Scientific Context, which seems to be be somewhat of a capstone, or practical application course to the other courses offered. It is my understanding that this course will be required for the intermediate&advanced apologetics certificates.
The objective of this course was to bridge the gap in Christian worldview and evangelism between the seemingly irreconcilable chasm of the scientific community, and to help us as apologists speak reverently about scientific truths to those who are scientists or those who are analytically minded, without compromising on Christian truth.
Given how many new apologists tend to speak presumptuously about scientific enterprises which they know little about, it does seem to be appropriate we be equipped with a better understanding of the language, methodology and the world of the scientist than we have been taught at a lay level. I have noticed that many pastors and church members speak dismissively of science when trying to escape the implications of scientific truth which they unnecessarily fear undermines their faith. What happens when we denigrate the world in which the scientist lives and operates in, is we present a false dichotomy to them, “accept the Christian Faith at the expense of your life’s work and what you have very good reason to believe is true and reasonable, or perish!” This is an unfortunate attitude which has done tremendous damage to the gospel, and even Hugh Ross has been accused of being a deist by Christians who fear his ministry and works.
Throughout this course, one will be equipped to better appreciate the world of the scientist, and as I have come to notice many volunteer apologists with RTB who are doctors, physicists and engineers, will appreciate how this course seeks to liaise these two worlds which have somehow managed to drift apart. Furthermore, it will be discussed how we discredit ourselves when we use long ago refuted arguments in an evangelistic setting. What we can get away with saying to general audiences is not what we can get away with in teaching to educated audiences, but we should treat every audience as though they were educated and critical thinkers.
Science works in paradigms, as Thomas Kuhn noted, and each member of the scientific community brings their own set of presuppositions to the table and this is inescapable. These presuppositions inevitably cascade into their methodology. Generally, the physical scientist operates under the presupposition of methodological naturalism, which is perfectly fine. The object of their study is generally that of the material world and how matter behaves and interacts with other matter. But where do the laws that the scientist studies come from? Who is to say that nature should behave in any kind of orderly, or predictable fashion at all, especially that we should be able to study it? In the first 3 weeks this is the type of discussion that will be had.
This course further responds to overcoming some of the anti-intellectualism which has somehow crept into the church and exploring other methods of evangelism, such as Bible tracts and Crusades. Are these methods really suitable for all people, especially for those within the scientific community? While there are some scientists who are religious and fully appreciate the mystical aspect of Christianity, whether it be through certain rituals and sacraments, and they can operate fully rationally in their domain of science, there are others who are more analytic, if not more analytic about their faith. One can use scientific methodology and principles, not just in the physical sciences, but also in studying their theology. Just as there are laws of nature, so too are there principles which can be derived from scripture, discoverable by means of patterns and regularities in scripture. This course discusses how the methods of science are not exclusively given to use by scientists, but come from the Bible, and how theology, namely Christian theology, best provides the necessary preconditions in which science operates not as a pragmatic tool, but as one which is for discovering truth in the world, as well as metaphysical truths.
Week 1 – Missionary Vision
This week develops the idea that we are missionaries stepping into the jungles of the scientific community. Instead of learning a foreign language, we must realize we are bridging the world of theism to the community of thoughtful scientists and skeptics.
Week 2 – Evidence Based Approach to Faith
Here, one is introduced to the notion that one ought to use the methods used in science in our faith as well, since they are not exclusive to science. If the Bible contains events which actually took place in history, it is not divorced from the reality we live in. Therefore, our methodology for examining both data sets should not be that different.
Week 3 – Thinking Like a Scientist
Perhaps the most important week, here is is discussed how science heavily relies on presuppositions provided uniquely by a theistic worldview, and how other scientists have used their faith to inform their methodology in doing science, and how science can even challenge how we think about our faith. The relationship between these two is a dialogue, not a monologue.
Week 4 – Reaching Physicists
Here, the subject of physicists is presented, and how to make disciples of them without requiring them to abandon their methodology or their legitimate practice as scientists.
Week 5 – Reaching Biochemists and Life Scientists
My biggest takeaway from this week was how we use discredited arguments too often in our apologetics. Are we trying to throw anything at the wall to see what sticks, in hopes of generating belief, or are we trying to instil sound reasoning in the minds of unbelievers? Our reaching the scientific community with sound arguments, on their terms, will gain credibility in their minds and credibility in apologetics is everything.
Week 6 – Reaching Geologists and Geophysicists
This is a field of science which is very legitimate and highly verified. Do we really want to try using arguments for global catastrophism and young earth with this crowd? Here, we are well advised to learn from these individuals and to seek ways to reconcile our faith with their findings, not to discredit it.
Week 7 – WorkPlace Evangelism
This week pulls it all together. Why are we doing this? How do we apply this stuff to our particular environment as missiologists to the scientific community?
Week 8 – Reaching The Unchurched
A common frustration with apologists is that their pastor runs from apologetics, while a common concern with pastors is that apologetics is unloving or divisive. Problem is, in churches, the pastor decides who/what gets on the stage. How do we introduce apologetics to a pastor, and how might a pastor prepare a congregation for apologetics, especially of the Old Earth persuasion? Furthermore, how do we deploy apologetics to the community of unbelievers?
As far as other RTB courses which I have taken, this course has the most assignments. These assignments are not overly difficult, but do require time and they do certainly challenge one to think. I came to the course as one with a modest background in the philosophy of science and religion, and found some of the assignments impossible to do, as I am not plugged into the secular scientific community. I do hope future runs of this course modify the assignments accordingly, but it does seem these assignments were more geared for those who are at least acquainted with the academic community. Although, the instructor did acknowledge my individual need and allowed me to modify the assignments to reflect this.
The assigned reading material was very appropriate for the course, and will serve anyone well as a future reference tool.
This course does seem to be designed around the spirit of Hugh Ross’s latest book, “Always Be Ready” which exhorts us individually to be equipped to give an answer. It does not matter if one is a pastor, if they wish to responsibly convey the Christian message to any audience, they should be acquainted with their audience. There is a message, a messenger and a community to which the message must be relayed. One would not step into a foreign country as a missionary without being familiar with their customs, language and beliefs, so why should we step into the scientific community as illiterate apologists, unable to speak meaningfully to our audience? This would be reckless and irresponsible. While this course begins to equip us to do just this, it does only give us the basics. One, such as myself, may not a scientist, and after having taken this course may only feel equipped to ask the right questions of the scientists who are experts in their field. I would not presume to be an authority on any of their subject matter, but having been given a preview of their world I can begin to ask them thought provoking and meaningful questions. The beginning of this course seems to touch on intellectual humility, we should step into this world like children asking questions and respecting the intellects of our audience.
As an aside, this seems to be what apologetics is. While apologists should seek to dismantle false ideas, apologists also are not out to make people choose between Charles Darwin and Jesus, for instance. As an apologist, I am by no means an expert in any academic field, but seek to show the truths of Christianity are not in conflict with other truths which are more universally available to us all, and not that the Christian world is somehow in isolation from what is right in front of us all.
One does not necessarily need to have an audience of lab coat wearing intellects for this course to be useful. For me, my audience will be those who might be engineers, or those who have equipped themselves to appreciate science at a “discovery channel” level, without becoming experts. Often this audience can present more challenges than those who are science experts, as many misconceptions about science can be had by those whose only scientific training is from watching Youtube, or reading Popular Science magazines. This course may help one to connect with these individuals in order to show them that science is as a methodological pursuit of truth, while better understanding the implications of recent scientific discoveries.
This course will demonstrate the importance of learning from our audience, the ones who are experts in the field which we seek to reconcile with our biblical worldview.
I, for one, was delighted to see RTB offer another course, not based strictly on science, but getting one into the philosophy of science, which to me as a non-scientist is perhaps more valuable, as I may not understand the advancements of this sophisticated enterprise, but can appreciate both its methodology and the implications it has on both my worldview and faith, and in connecting it with those who see a divorce between the two worlds.
One book I would have liked to have seen used in this book is JP Moreland’s “Christianity and the Nature of Science” as it is one which often came to mind while reading the study questions, or Plantinga’s “Science and Religion: Where the conflict really lies” and I would highly suggest these to anyone as a follow up to this course if they wished to follow up on any of the concepts introduced, such as “scientism” or “metaphysical naturalism” as a worldview.
I was enrolled into this course for free, and was not required to write anything particular about it.