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Sunday, January 19, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Aaron Putzke: The dangers of rejecting science

Aaron Putzke

Whether you are looking at technology or climate science, it is clear the world has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous 100. Change can be good, but it is rarely welcome – especially for people who have a long history of avoiding adaptation.

As a lifelong Christian who has spent more than 20 years in scientific research and 10 in university teaching, I have witnessed people use their Christian faith to refuse change and reject the evidence produced by our data-driven world. I have observed the unnerving erosion of trust in science coming from the Christian church. I have seen how this doubling down against science has caused young people to leave the church out of frustration at seeing the institutions of their childhood fiddling while the world burns.

And I have worried.

Although Scripture does not address modern technological issues like climate change and genome editing, we cannot ignore the evidence that God has placed before us. Jesus may never have preached on arctic melting or genome editing, but that does not mean the scientific evidence being generated today is any less convincing regarding issues like climate change, evolution and human health. Instead of hiding behind beliefs to deny the existence of these well-documented challenges, we must allow the intersection of faith and reason to expand to get us on the path to solutions.

Christians need to accept that science at its best is about uncovering how life happens and how the universe functions, not proving or disproving the existence of God. We do a great disservice on both sides of the religion fence when we use science as a weapon against each other. Science is not a weapon; it is a tool to help us understand and improve the world around us.

Every day we learn more about disappearing plant and animal species critical to the global ecosystem. Advances in medicine have gotten us closer than ever to cures for genetic diseases and cancer, as well as extending the human lifespan. The future of humans on Earth depends on our willingness to embrace that exploration and the evidence it generates, trusting our fellow human beings who are scientists to not lead us astray. Currently, the largest barrier to our capacity to meaningfully adapt over time is our inability to accept evidence in a data driven world.

We must recognize a hypocrisy that has been part of Christian society for so long, allowing us to reject scientific evidence that does not sit well with our beliefs while we happily embrace the technology that makes our lives healthier and more convenient.

We can no longer take for granted agricultural technologies that feed the world while rejecting evidence that humans are accelerating the rate at which Earth’s atmosphere is warming. We cannot use IVF technology at levels indistinguishable from the non-Christian population but reject evidence that sex and gender are not binary. We cannot stand for erroneous scientific assertions by Christian influencers, such as Ken Ham, who claims there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark, while rejecting years of data demonstrating that vaccines are safe and effective.

The simple truth is that we cannot pick and choose when we are going to honor the reality of evidence-based science depending on how comfortable it makes us or how neatly it fits into our worldview.

In an increasingly polarized social climate, we must encourage inclusive dialogue, not destructive diatribe. We must face the challenges that confront our beliefs, realizing that within the juxtaposition between science and faith, we find beauty and complexity. We need to trust that by embracing evidence, we can see God’s world in a better light.

Globally, we stand at a precipice looking out into the vast, foggy unknown, knowing that one step could lead us toward enlightenment, while also sensing the danger of what may lie thousands of feet below with a misstep. As Christians, we must be brave and take the path that explores life steeped in both faith and evidence. We must be optimistic at the prospect that making the world a better place for the next generation is not only possible, but our duty as stewards of the planet. We must educate generously, love equally and act ethically.

A rich life of faith includes curiosity and discovery, not isolationism. Now more than ever it is true that if we do not choose the path of a life well examined, using faith, reason and evidence, we risk losing everything.

Aaron Putzke is a professor of biology and Honors Faculty Fellow at Whitworth University.

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