Speaking to anyone about Jesus is always daunting, but if that person is a scientist that can feel especially true. Partly that’s because speaking to (some) scientists about anything can be a challenge; as a group we are not known for our social skills. One of the doctors in the radiotherapy department where I work likes to joke that you can tell the social physicists because they look at your shoes when they talk to you, rather then their own. But many scientists are very quick to dismiss Christianity as being non-scientific or irrational or as simply irrelevant now that we have science to explain the world. And that can make it very hard to know where to start or how to carry on a conversation about Jesus. This brief article aims to help provide a way in to these conversations. I’m not writing as an expert, I find speaking with scientists about Jesus a challenge, and a challenge I often avoid. But I have found that the ideas below help at least stop the conversation being shut off after the first sentence.
One method: ask questions
Have you noticed how often Jesus replies to a question with a question? Seven times in Matthew’s gospel Jesus replies to a hostile question with another question. ‘“Teacher, what good things must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?”’ (Matthew 19:16-17). Have you ever stopped and reflected on why Jesus asks these questions? The one who knows everything surely doesn’t need to ask questions, yet he does.
There are lots of reasons why asking questions is useful when talking to people about Jesus (there is a whole book on it, Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman). But I just want to highlight two here. Firstly, it is scientific. Science is all about asking questions. Scientists are naturally curious people, it’s part of why we are scientists. And in fact, pretty much all major scientific discoveries come from scientists asking an insightful question. And so asking questions shows we are not abandoning our scientific selves whenever we start thinking about Jesus.
Secondly, asking questions is humble. In many ways humility is self-forgetfulness, focusing so much on the other person and their perspective, and feelings and backstories, that we don’t really think about ourselves. And questions are a brilliant way of doing that. Asking questions shows we care about what they think and why they think it. It shows we are interested in them as people, rather then simply trying to get our own point across. It shows we want a conversation and not just to monologue at them.
So asking questions is a great way to have conversations about Jesus with scientists. But what sorts of questions should we be asking?
Two areas to ask about
Ask about underlying assumptions
Science rests on a set of underlying assumptions. They are not things that science can prove or disprove, but that it simply has to assume in order to do science.
For example, science assumes the world around us is ordered, that if you repeat an experiment exactly you should get the same result, that there are 'laws of nature'. This underpins my own job in radiotherapy. We make very precise measurements of the radiation coming out of our linear electron accelerators to make sure that the patients are not going to receive too much or too little radiation. We do this by making measurements in very carefully controlled conditions, assuming that if we do everything the same then we should get the same number. This is not something science proves happens, its something science has to assume.
But why is that case? Why should the world have this deep order? Einstein called the order in the world a miracle:
‘You find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world…as a miracle or as an eternal mystery. Well, a priori, one should expect a chaotic world, which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way…the kind of order created by Newton’s theory of gravitation, for example, is wholly different.’*
In the Christian story the deep order of the universe makes intrinsic sense. The Bible depicts the universe as having been lovingly designed by a faithful and consistent God. Right there in Genesis 1 we see God taking the formless, empty and dark earth and ordering it. Separating light from dark, sky from sea, water from dry land. Christians expect there to be laws of nature because we believe in a law-giver.
Science needs a bigger story which can explain why science even works at all in the first place. Asking questions about the underlying assumptions of science can really help scientists begin to think about that bigger story, and provides a way to show how the Christian story can do that.
Ask about underlying motivations
Science also depends on scientists wanting to do science. The whole scientific enterprise would come to a complete halt if no one wanted to do science. So why do you do it? This is another great area to ask scientists about, and again is an area that often scientists haven’t given much thought to.
For example, I think science depends on scientists having a wonder at the natural world. Scientists need to find it fascinating and awe-inspiring, something worth dedicating time to understanding a little bit better. But why is that the case? Does the bigger story we have that explains the world give us a reason to find the world wonderful?
Again, in the Christian story this just flows out. The world has been created by a God who is full of wonder and who has made creation to reflect His glory, to show us something of what He is like. So of course we find it wonderful, of course we find it fascinating. It’s showing us something of who God is.
Science needs a bigger story which can motivate us to do science. Asking questions about the underlying motives of scientists can really help show that science needs not just philosophical ideas but also to move people to become scientists, people with emotions and desires. And again, the Christian story just naturally provides us with a fantastic motivation to do science.
One person to point to
Ultimately science needs a bigger story that it can fit into, a story that explains its assumptions but also a story that gives reasons to do it. As Christian scientists, we have that bigger story. It’s a story given to us in the Bible, a story of a faithful God who delights in creating a world that is ordered, a story of a God who makes the world to reflect something of His own wonderful character and so fills it with breath-taking wonders. But most of all it is a story that is centred on a person, Jesus, for whom and by whom all things were made, the One who completely reveals what God is like, the One through whom all things will be reconciled. This bigger story makes sense of science, it explains why science works, and gives us reasons to do it. But we are not Christians because we are scientists, we are Christians because of Jesus. So when we are talking to our scientist friends, when we are asking our questions, what we should be hoping and praying for is that we can point them to Jesus.
* On the Rational Order of the World: a Letter to Maurice Solovine, March 30, 1952
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