This is a an article based on a talk I gave at Moms on a Mission. A condensed version was published in the December issue of MOMS magazine.
My 3 year old was helping me decorate the house for Christmas and I pulled a Christmas countdown someone had given us, out of the box. I work hard to make sure that Santa Claus, often known as St. Nicholas at our house, has his proper place, worshipping at the feet of Jesus. I want my kids to get the gospel message of Christmas. So my little one asks, “What is it?” I said that it is a calendar to help us remember how many days until Jesus birthday. She points to the list Santa is checking and says, “Aww, and look, Santa Claus is reading his devotions!” That is a YES! moment as a parent. Most of all we want our kids to know Jesus.
I teach Logic in my co-op. I love reason and science. But I have one major question when people say they believe primarily in “science” as if it is an alternative to God. What kind of people do you want to live with? Do you wish your neighbors to be good people? Do you wish to be good? Because reason cannot teach you to be good.
How will science teach you to behave? Will science instruct you to share? To be kind? We all love to be around virtuous people. Reason and science cannot teach virtue.
It may be comforting to realize that this is not a new conflict. St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the church’s greatest theologians, addressed this issue in the 1200’s. He didn’t call it science, he called it reason or philosophy, but it was the same thing – an attempt to explain the world you see, and when used wrongly, explain it without God.
Aquinas says that philosophy makes determinations by reason and evidence. So we don’t appeal to the Bible to support a philosophical idea. That is building upside down. Theology is based on God’s word, revealing God’s truth, in light of faith. Faith and reason are distinct, but not separate. Reason without grace is harsh and inhuman; faith is a gift that enhances knowledge and gives it meaning. So if reason and faith appear to be in conflict, then either the interpretation of Scripture or the scientific theory created from the evidence (the scientific interpretation) are wrong, or perhaps both.
God created us in His image, as rational creatures. We do not fully comprehend God, but this is because we are finite and God is infinite. Faith and reason, rightly understood, cannot be and are not in any real conflict.
Theology and science or philosophy are different modes of inquiry, not unrelated sources of truth. Keith Mathison puts it this way: People are understood through love and trust. On the flip side, you don’t use love to understand math. The method of inquiry has to fit the subject matter. Science is critical; it only accepts what is proved. But we treat people innocent until proven guilty. We trust and love people in order to understand them. God is a person and is understood through love and faith. You trust a person by testing them out. Faith is testable in the same way. The Bible tells us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8
Belief in reason puts your faith in your own intellectual power. That is saying that there can’t be anything beyond my own understanding. St. Augustine of Hippo is famous for saying that Reason and Faith are both created by God, so they cannot be in contradiction. Reason brings us to the door of faith. But coming to Christ requires us to then humble ourselves. The Holy Spirit invites us in. Ultimately, we live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Then what happens when it looks like there is a contradiction between the Bible and science? If there is an apparent contradiction between God’s word and the empirical sciences at some point, you teach your children to rely on the unchanging God over changing science. Science is constantly changing.
Just look the the model of an atom. We started with the plum pudding model by J. J. Thompson. Ernest Rutherford, his student tested it, and found it invalid. He decided electrons orbited protons in a single orbit. Neils Bohr discovered multiple orbits. Today’s quantum mechanical model is further refined. And yet we have never seen an atom, they are so much smaller that light particles. Talk about faith!
This is what we want science to do – change with each new discovery. But what a shaky thing to place our faith in. Do I want to walk across a wobbly bridge where stones and planks fall out each month or so and new ones are quickly shoved in? Or do I want to walk across a bridge with unshakeable foundations from the beginning of time? The stability of where we put our faith matters.
The best thing we can do is create a safe place for kids to bring their doubts. God is not afraid of their doubts, or of yours. As parents we hate it when our kids don’t come to us with an issue that seems so big to them, when we could have fixed it.
When my daughter was little she had this fear of gorillas. She thought one was going to climb into her bedroom window when she was sleeping. So I said, “Your bedroom is on the second story! How could a gorilla get up there?” She thinks for a second and says, “Suction cups!”
Years later, she tells me this irrational fear of gorillas climbing into her bedroom came from that adorable picture book “Goodnight Gorilla”. A friendly little gorilla lifts the zookeeper’s keys and lets himself and all his animal buddies out of the cages, follows the zookeeper into the house and he and all the animals snuggle in the Mr. and Mrs. Zookeeper’s bedroom until Mrs. Zookeeper hears them all say goodnight and marches them back across the street to the zoo.
My child asked me to read this book to her every night. I thought it was her favorite book. I had no idea she was studying the enemy and strategizing! If only she would have come to me with the whole problem! God feels the same way about us. He wants our doubts. He is big enough to handle them.
And finally, help your children understand that there are times in which it may be wise to trust God even though it may seem to us unreasonable. C.S. Lewis says, “In getting a dog out of a trap, in extracting a thorn from a child’s finger, in teaching a boy to swim or rescuing one who can’t, in getting a frightened beginner over a nasty place on the mountain, the one fatal obstacle may be their distrust…. We ask them to believe that what is painful will relieve their pain, and that which looks dangerous is their only safety, to get them to accept apparent impossibilities: that moving the paw farther back into the trap is the way to get it out—that hurting the finger very much more will stop the finger from hurting, that water which is obviously permeable will resist and support the body… that to go higher and onto an exposed ledge is the way not to fall.”
We have all had times when we’ve asked children to trust us even though it was going to hurt – getting stitches, blood tests, vaccinations, confronting people, coming clean with they’ve lied. And this is the Christmas message: a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. “Sometimes, the only way to relieve the pain is to trust the One who is offering help.” – C. S. Lewis.
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