science & faith outreach

Loren Haarsma (
Mon, 24 May 1999 11:32:15 -0400 (EDT)

My wife, Debbie, and I had an opportunity to do science-and-faith
outreach this spring. A local Christian student group invited us
to give a series of ten lectures, intended for a non-Christian audience.
We had previously lead a six-week adult Sunday school class on
science and faith, but it was interesting and challenging to develop the
material for the wider audience. Here's some more information about the
series, for those of you looking for ideas for your own presentations.
We also welcome feedback on the material.


During January through April of this year, we team-taught ten lectures on science and Christian faith at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges. The lectures were sponsored by an organization called GreenTree. GreenTree works in parallel with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, with the goal of engaging the campus communities in conversations about worldviews and religion. GreenTree seeks to counter the trend of relativism, which often removes discussion of religion from the academic arena.

Here's an abreviated version of the advertising blurb distributed to all the students at those collegs:

Science and Spirituality: Is Harmony Possible? ------------------------------------------------- Who owns science? Some people claim that the truth of science exclusively supports the atheistic worldview and eliminates the need for God. Others say that the truth of divine revelation eliminates the need for science. And some argue that science and religion are merely social constructions which cannot claim to know any truth. We disagree with all of the above. We will examine the philosophical assumptions necessary to do science, and discuss a resolution of some apparent conflicts between science and the Christian worldview. Then we will discuss some real points of tension raised by cosmology, evolution, neuroscience, the environment, and bioethics.

About 60 students -- roughly half Christians and half non-Christians - - attended the first lecture. By the third week, the "curiousity factor" had diminished and the students' workload had increased, so attendance dropped. After the third week, we mostly had a core group of about 20 students (mostly Christians) who came every week, plus a few who came on particular weeks for particular topics. The students were bright and the discussions were good. Many of the students and faculty at these colleges (Christians and non-Christians alike) are probably used to thinking of science and Christian faith as being incompatible with each other (or at best, simply irrelevant to each other). So we suspect that much of what we said were new ideas to most of the audience. Simply by giving these talks on campus, combined with GreenTree's advertisements, probably had an impact beyond those who attended the talks. We heard several second-hand reports of students discussing these topics with each other and with faculty, both in the dorms and in classes. We praise God for whatever doors were opened.

We developed handouts to accompany each lecture which outline the content of our presentation. You can view all the handouts at the website we made for the series: In a few months, this page will be available through our web pages at Calvin College (see

Below is a brief description (taken from the advertising flyer) of the individual talks. If you would like even more details, beyond what is available on the web site, we can e-mail you our entire set of lecture notes (423 kilobytes) upon request.

Loren and Debbie Haarsma


Course outline:

Week 1 (January 29): Who owns science? You don't have to be a "practical atheist" to do science. In fact, the philosophical assumptions necessary to do science are compatible with multiple religious worldviews. We will introduce the concepts of Creation, Providence, and Stewardship, and demonstrate the harmony between science and the Christian worldview.

Week 2 (February 5): Are science and religion at war? The claim that science and religion are incompatible relies on a misunderstanding of science, of religion, or both. That doesn't mean there haven't been some nasty skirmishes in the past, and we will discuss some of those. Understanding past conflicts gives us a framework for resolving present and future disputes.

Week 3 (February 12): Is the Creator infinitely lazy? Some say God's activity in the universe is limited to performing a few miracles. If science can disprove the need for *any* miracles, there's no longer anything for God to do, right? Wrong. As we will discuss, whether something happens by "chance" or by deterministic "natural law," it falls within the realm of what theists call "providence" -- the Creator's ongoing interaction with creation.

Week 4 (February 26): Are humans insignificant in the vast cosmos? (and, Did God start the Big Bang?) Is human existence pointless in a huge universe apparently destined for gravitational annihilation or heat death? Good question. But if the universe was personally created, and if the Creator has acted -- and is acting -- in human lives and human history, the we are very significant indeed.

Week 5 (March 19): If science is right, is Genesis wrong? The original audience for Genesis lived in the Ancient Near East, and surely understood Genesis according to their picture of the cosmos -- a picture which was very different from the modern scientific picture. When we understand the context of Genesis, and the purpose for which it was written, we find that it is teaching truths considerably more important than scientific chronologies.

Week 6 (March 26): Can both creation and evolution be right? When the American press reports on origins, they usually cast it as a debate with two sides: atheistic evolution vs. young earth creationism. These are hardly the only choices. We will examine a whole spectrum of positions and consider, in light of the current scientific data, the theological and scientific merits and problems of several positions.

Week 7 (April 2): If evolution is messy, can creation be good? Evolution is often caricatured as being nasty, brutish, and selfish. The Christian view of human origins is often caricatured as a fall from a pain-free, work-free, problem-free Eden. We will look at what the Christian scriptures teach about human uniqueness, human behavior, and human suffering, and compare this with what science actually says about biological history.

Week 8 (April 9): Is sin just brain biochemistry? Is the soul just brain activity? Brain damage and chemical imbalances can negatively influence personality and behavior. Brain function studies are challenging the "dualist" picture of human nature -- that the soul/mind is a distinct metaphysical entity from the body/brain. However, concepts such as "sin" and "soul" are still relevant, and their essential truths can be clarified by the discoveries of neuroscience.

Week 9 (April 16): The environment and bioethics: does science or religion have the answers? Science, religion, morality, and public policy converge in the issues of the environment and bioethics. The theistic concepts of "stewardship" and "made in God's image" offer powerful and positive frameworks for wrestling with these issues, which science can illuminate with empirical knowledge. Much hard work -- both scientific and theological -- lies ahead on these issues.

Week 10 (April 23): Do you need a split personality to be a Christian and a scientist? Finally, we address the everyday issues of living as both a Christian and a scientist. The scientific meritocracy values impartiality, but also rewards workaholism; Christian values such as servanthood (valuing others before oneself) and grace (valuing others apart from merit) are essential counterbalances. On the other hand, fellow Christians share our love of the Creator, but often forget the importance of studying the creation. We will share our personal struggles and successes in living unified, joyful lives.