Why Science Matters for Ministry: An Interview with Deb Haarsma
In this interview, David S. Robinson interviews Dr. Deborah Haarsma, President of Biologos, about how a good grasp of science can help pastors be more effective.
Dr. Haarsma will be offering a series of talks from March 2–3 in partnership with Interface: Engaging Science with Ministry Education. To learn more about Dr. Haarsma's upcoming talks and about the Interface initiative, follow the link at the bottom of this article.
We’re looking forward to your virtual visit to Regent College for our upcoming Interface lectures in Science and Theology. To begin, why would you say it’s important to engage with the sciences in ministry education? How can science help to equip future Christian leaders?
Science may sound like no more than an interesting side topic for a minister–– the kind of thing you wish you had time to read about, but never do (right?). Actually, science can help leaders be more effective in their most fundamental tasks of ministry (see this article for ideas).
Consider the faith formation and discipleship of young people. Studies show that one of the top reasons young people leave the church is how they see Christians responding to science. By addressing science well in preaching and education, leaders can show the next generation the relevance of the gospel for their lives and their future in a science-dominated world.
Or consider evangelism. Many unchurched folks believe that all Christians are opposed to science, period. I’ve heard from many people who were drawn to God by their spiritual need, but then struggled to get past science issues. It wasn’t until they met a believing scientist or found groups like BioLogos that they could see their way to faith.
Or take material needs in the world. Medicine and technology are powerful tools for equipping ministries to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and reverse injustices, continuing the ministry of Jesus.
Regent is also committed to training the whole people of God, including those whose vocation lies in the sciences. You have considerable experience as both a research scientist and professor in the field of astrophysics. How has that work been an expression of your Christian faith?
For me, science is the investigation of God’s creation, a process of discovering the wonders God has made and how he went about making them. While I use the same scientific methods as scientists of other religions or no religion, my underlying motivation comes from my Christian faith. Even the assumptions that all scientists share––like that gravity works the same way in labs around the world, in galaxies across the universe, and throughout all time––for me are fundamentally based in my belief in God. Scripture teaches not only that God created in the beginning, but that God continues to sustain the regular functioning of the natural world, as evidence of his faithful character (e.g. Jeremiah 33:25). I believe that without God, gravity would cease to exist and even the very fabric of space-time would disintegrate! Thus, when I sit down to do science, I am not setting aside my faith or attempting to be neutral and objective. Rather, I am living out my convictions about God as the Creator and Sustainer.
You and your husband Loren, who’s also a physicist, have co-written Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design. What was your purpose in writing this book?
The book grew out of our own experiences of wrestling through issues of creation, evolution, and design, and then of helping students and church audiences with the same questions. Many books on creation and evolution simply make the case for the author’s favorite view. While readers can certainly detect our view in the book, we focused much more on helping Christians understand the range of views held in the church. Readers get the background they need to settle on their own position, and are equipped to have better conversations with Christians who hold other views.
Too often, conversations on origins have been deeply polarizing, filled with accusations like “idiot” and “heretic.” Instead, we must remember the fundamental points where Christians agree: God is the Creator and humans are made in his image. On matters not essential to the gospel, we need to learn to talk about our disagreements in a humble, grace-filled way. Christian unity does not require uniformity, but it does require us to love people with (we think) wrong ideas. The world will know we are Christians by our love, not our infighting (John 17:23).
You’re currently the President of BioLogos, an organization whose mission is to “invite the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith.” BioLogos has been very active this year, and I admire the many ways you’ve risen to the challenge of this pandemic. Could you give us a glimpse into your frontline work these days?
During 2020, science became not only headline news, but the center of every dinner conversation. What is this coronavirus? How can I protect myself? Should Christians wear masks? Are the new vaccines safe?
At BioLogos, we dove in, setting aside our previous publication schedule to address the new challenges. You can see links to several of our resources in this recent article. Thousands of Christians––from different denominations and different political parties––signed our Christian Statement on Science in Pandemic Times, committing to wear masks and get vaccinated as a way of loving our neighbors. We featured the work of Dr. Francis Collins, who is leading Covid-19 research and vaccine development as Director of the National Institutes of Health and has a powerful testimony of coming to faith in Christ from atheism.
Another aspect of 2020 was the increased awareness of ongoing racism in our culture. At BioLogos, we deepened our commitment to addressing scientific aspects of race, such as racial disparities in healthcare and the genetics of ancestry (see this podcast episode with Christian biologist Dr. Joseph Graves, the first African American to earn a PhD in evolutionary biology). On all of these issues, science is only part of the story. A correct understanding of the scientific evidence is essential, but it is not enough. To care for the needs of the world, we need the wisdom, love, and hope that come from following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
Interface: Engaging Science in Ministry Education is made possible through the support of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) program. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of AAAS DoSER.
On March 2–3, 2021, Dr. Haarsma will be offering a series of three live online talks about the interplay of science and theology:
- Christ and the Cosmos: The Universe Seen through the Eyes of Biblical Faith
- One Human Family: Christian Reflections on Racism and Science
- Christian Ministry in Pandemic Times
Learn more about Dr. Haarsma's upcoming series and about Interface: Engaging Science in Ministry Education:Interface Website