Why I Chose This Book
A few weeks before I picked up this book, I taught a 6-week Sunday school class on Genesis 1:1 and the apologetics of cosmology. During the lessons, I tried to stress that over time our culture has somehow come to the conclusion that there are two separate and distinct spheres: one contains all things sacred and spiritual, while the other is all things secular and scientific. And because we have separated the two, the church has unwittingly and unconsciously developed a fear of science. They’ve concluded that anything scientific will destroy or pollute our faith because we think that faith and facts are mutually exclusive.
I went on to stress that science and faith have to overlap—there’s no other choice. If God created the world, then it’s impossible for those two spheres to contradict because God would have had to also created the science within creation. He would have had to create the biology, the physics, the chemistry, the cosmology, the metaphysics, and so on. For him to be the Creator of all things, he must also be the Master Scientist behind all things. Christians shouldn’t be afraid of science because science, if interpreted properly, ought to do nothing but point us to the One who created it.
So when I saw the title for this book, Why Science and Faith Need Each Other: Eight Shared Values That Move Us Beyond Fear by Elaine Howard Ecklund, it was a no-brianer. I didn’t even bother reading the description. Science and faith go hand-in-hand. They aren’t separate at all; they’re very much integrated.
If I would have read the description, I would have learned that this was the result of a sociological study and not a book on apologetics. Thankfully, I minored in sociology in college and loved my sociology classes. I enjoy learning about what people think and how they act as a result. As much as I loved my classes, the books that we read were garbage. In my final paper on one of the books, I called the book “atheist propaganda under the guise of sociology that used a ridiculously small sample group of people who told the author what he wanted to hear.”
That’s not the case with this book.
What This Book Is About
This book is the result of Ecklund’s sociological study surveying “nearly 41,000 religious believers and scientists (both believers and non-believers)” and “conducting 1,290 in depth, face-to-face interviews” over the course of a fifteen year period (emphasis mine). What she has accomplished is absolutely incredible. A sample group of that size during a time frame that long is unheard of. Ecklund has made herself the absolute authority on the relationship between science and faith, and I’m convinced that this book should be part of every single sociology program across the country. There is no other contender on the subject.
But there is another reason why Eckland is an authority on this topic: the relationship between science and faith is a very personal to her. Not only is she a Christian and a scientist, but she depends on the successes of science to physically make it through every day. At just 10 years old, she began suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, and at 13 she was diagnosed with scoliosis. Six surgeries and many years later, she still suffers. But the suffering is manageable thanks to science and the scientists who have devoted their lives to studying biology and medicine.
This book wouldn’t only benefit sociology students and scientists. This is a very valuable resource for everyone within Christendom, and it’s this group that she had in mind when she wrote the book: “I have designed this book especially for my own faith community: committed Christians—especially those who are part of a church—and the pastors who lead them.” This book will help Christians realize that science isn’t anti-faith and that all scientists aren’t repackaged versions of Richard Dawkins and the other “new atheists.” It will help the average person Christian realize that many scientists are really our brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ that we are connected to in the body of Christ. It will help Christians be more understanding of scientists and more willing to hear what scientists have to say about their work, their faith, and the connection between them.
As the title suggests, Eckland sees eight values that the scientific community and the faith community have in common: curiosity, doubt, humility, creativity, healing, awe, shalom, and gratitude. The author walks us through each of these values, step by step, and show us that each one is a positive quality that both communities share. And her belief is that since these are positive qualities that both communities share, then they are common grounds where both communities are able to come together. In other words, these values are a common door that can enable the scientist is welcomed in the house of faith, and where faith is enabled to enter the scientific arena.
What I Liked
This book brought up a number of subjects related to science that I had never thought about but should have because those topics impact members of the church. As someone with three children, I really don’t think of infertility much. But I should. Just because it isn’t a personal issue doesn’t mean I shouldn’t think about it it. I know of people, even within my church, who are unable to have children. But I never seriously considered the amount of suffering they may experience every single day. Even when they come to church, the place to find hope and healing, they’re reminded of their suffering as they see children running through the halls. Remembering them, and their plight, will help us become a better church.
What I Didn’t Like
Despite everything I liked about this book, it did seem a little one-sided on some issues. In the author’s defense, she was talking about some pretty controversial topics, and as much as even a scientist can try, it’s just not possible to be neutral and objective on everything. Everyone has a worldview, and I can’t expect someone to somehow abandon their worldview when they write a book. I wouldn’t go so far to say that she was writing propaganda because she wasn’t dogmatically or arrogantly defending her views. I’ll mention two topics in particular: evolution and climate change.
Eckland devotes an entire chapter to evolution and tilts the conversation in favor of it.
My survey of academic scientists…found that 92% believe that humans evolved…Yet when I asked scientists who work outside elite universities…evolution with no involvement from God or higher power was the least popular.
By using carefully chosen adjectives, the implication is that it’s irrational to disagree with the “best and the brightest.” There is a lot that I want to say about this, but since this is a book review, this isn’t the right place for it, so I’ll have to limit myself to a few things. First, evolution is plagued with problems, including the fossil record (which she asserts supports it). Second, evolution isn’t falsifiable, which, by definition, means it can’t be scientific. Third, I will recommend that the reader (and the author) takes an objective look at evolution by looking at the topic from the Intelligent Design standpoint (the Discovery Institute is a great resource for this information) and then come to their own conclusion. Finally, for the Christian: I don’t know of one widely-respected Christian apologist (who professionally defends the Christianity) who supports evolution.
In a chapter titled “Shalom,” the author talks about the scientific desire and the Christian responsibility for stewardship of creation. And in this chapter she talks about climate change. These days, the difference between “climate change” and “conservation” has become extremely fuzzy and muddled. Even so, I would argue that they’re distinct and it’s important to carefully define what someone means with the terminology. “Climate change” has become incredibly politicized term to the point that it could be defined as direct and forceful government involvement on certain conservation issues. Or it could be meant simply as “conservation.” I have yet to meet a person who argues against “individual conservation,” but I’ve meant many people who cringe at the mention of “climate change.” So a proper definition of the term could change the course of the conversation.
Despite writing a lot about what I didn’t like about the book, I still enjoyed it a lot (and generally, it’s often much easier to write about things you disagree with). Overall, I still rate it 4 out of 5 stars. It was, by far, the best sociological book that I’ve read on religion. I also am giving the benefit of the doubt as she addressed controversial and politicized topics. I am convinced that she tried to address these topics as objectively as possible. This book was well written, extremely well-researched, entertaining, and easy to understand. It wasn’t heady, overly-academic, or filled with scientific jargon. Her goal was to write a book for the every-day Christian like me, and I think that’s exactly what she did.
This book was given to me for the purpose of reviewing by NetGalley.com.