Several people picked up on something I said on BBC Radio 2 last Friday in a Pause for Thought piece on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show. Picking up on reports last week that scientists had found why some blokes go bald, I remarked that “mine’s been falling out for years”. I then went on to say:
According to the scientists, the problem is not a lack of hair, but that the new hair growing out of heads like mine is (and I quote) “so small it appears invisible to the naked eye”. Right! Which basically means it’s invisible – or, as some of us would say, “not there at all”. It’s all to do with stem cells, apparently.
You know what? I don’t care. I remember someone once pointing out that hair growth is linked to virility – he said that if you blokes want to use your hormones for growing hair, that’s up to you… (He was completely bald.)
…we are made as human beings to grow and age and die. And it’s the fear of this process that lies at the root of some people’s attempts to roll back the clock or avoid the inevitable.
So, what do I, a Christian, think about science and scientists (of whom I have several in my family)?
Firstly, a Christian anthropology begins with God creating humanity in his own image and committing to us what is known as the ‘cultural mandate’ – to go forth and multiply and cultivate the earth (give shape to it, etc.). We are made to explore, investigate and seek to understand the world as well as live and thrive in it.
Second, scientists fulfil a serious element of the human vocation, helping the rest of us exploit (in a neutral sense) the world, investigate how and why it works in the way it does. Scientists have to find a way to enable the rest of us to understand, learn about and live with the ‘cosmos’ we are part of.
Third, matter matters. In Jesus, God opts into the material world and does not exempt himself from it (just in case we had missed the implications of the ‘creation narratives’ which keep depicting God as thinking what he had made was brilliant). The material world matters and we are made to respect it (although we usually live disrespectfully in it).
Fourth, however, is the tough bit for some people. Science deals in mechanics and explanations of causes and effects – it does not and cannot deal in meanings. The fundamental tenet of ethics is that ‘you can’t get an ought from an is’. That is to say, the mere fact that something ‘is’ does not imply or allow some ethical imperative to be derived from it. Which is to say, phenomena are distinct from inherent meanings.
This is why science and philosophy/religion belong together. Science can answer the questions about how things happen and what the causes and effects are; but these explanations (however provisional or otherwise) cannot imply value or meaning of themselves. We attribute meanings to phenomena according to other sets of criteria which we assume (or for which we argue) on other grounds that simply what ‘is’. The ‘why’ questions need different approaches and a different language.
So, a Christian anthropology welcomes the scientific task, encourages scientists to do their inexhaustible work, supports them in it and learns from it. If science deals in real material stuff, then there is nothing to fear. And those Christians who reject the bits of the scientific enterprise they find inconvenient to their ‘faith’ have perhaps missed the point several Christian apologists have emphasised: that if Christianity is true, it is true because it is true; it is not true because it is Christianity. In other words, lose your fear, love the truth and get out more.
Helmut Thielicke, the great (and dead) German theologian and preacher once wrote something about the world needing Christians who were passionately interested in the world: the arts, culture, science, and so on. What the world doesn’t need, he said (although I can’t locate the complete quote), is “stupid Christian Philistines”.
As God made clear in Jesus: get stuck in. And that’s what I think about science and scientists. And art and artists. And so on.