There are some who believe that faith and science are competing schools, that they do not intertwine. But there are others, including United Church of Christ pastors past and present, who believe the notion that faith and science can coexist and complement each other.
The Rev. Jeff Spencer, pastor at Niles Discovery Church in Fremont, Calif., is a believer of the latter.
“For me, the issue is that somewhere along the way, people started to think one can’t embrace both knowledge and science from discoveries and be a person of faith,” he said. “I find that I can and that the two aren’t and shouldn’t be seen as antagonistic.”
This weekend, people of faith will embrace evolution and creation as the denomination celebrates Science, Tech and Faith Sunday. This is the second year the church designated the weekend to continue encouraging its members to connect spirituality and science.
“It is significant, as well as exciting, that we are preparing to celebrate our second UCC Science, Faith, and Technology Sunday on Feb. 16,” said Kim Whitney, executive associate to the officers of the church. “We are delighted many churches have celebrated Evolution Weekend events and science forums for years and that more are beginning to add events like having study groups or adult study forum. We hope this Sunday will inspire more exploration.”
Spencer recently preached on Evolution Sunday, Feb. 9, about the evolution vs. creationism debate – or more to the point, that it should be evolution and creationism – and said he plans to preach this Sunday on climate care.
“One of the things I appreciate about science that I bring to my faith is that constant questioning and constant understanding that I don’t know everything,” Spencer said. “I don’t know all that God is.”
But just as science challenges hypothesis for validity, Spencer said he can “challenge the hypothesis to faith to see that they ring true.”
“Science describes the physical world, and faith is that ‘something more’ that exists, that science can’t describe, something that is more personal,” Spencer said. “God isn’t just what science can’t explain. God is at least that which is personal and relational.”
So what is a good, tangible example in today’s world how faith and science complement each other?
Spencer offered the following: “Science says that given the action of burning fossil fuels in changing the chemistry of the atmosphere, that change in climate means a change in water and ability of earth to sustain food are going to shift, that means there is going to be starvation, famine, weather-related disaster. Where faith comes in relation to that is, ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’ If the person down the street or around the globe is starving, that person is my brother or sister. I care about climate change because I am a Christian.”
Science, Faith and Technology Sunday was inspired by a 2008 Science Recognition Sunday initiated by former General Minister and President, John H. Thomas in conjunction with the denomination's Pastoral Letter on Science. That letter was the product of a UCC Science and Technology working group, which first began discussing ways to marry science and religion in the 1980's.
Whitney said the Rev. Sue Blain continues to develop additional resources for use by UCC congregations and members for Science Sunday.
“We formally designated Feb. 16 as Science, Faith and Technology Sunday,” said Whitney, who has a Ph.D. from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. “We’re aware some congregations have celebrated science and faith earlier, some on this date, and some perhaps later in the spring when the new Cosmos series with Neil deGrasse Tyson is aired. We want to encourage as many congregations as possible to explore this.”