The ELCA believes in science. No, we do not believe in science the way we believe in God. We do not put all our trust and hope in science the way we do in God. But as Christians living in the 21st century, we affirm the importance of science in our understanding of life.
“The ELCA believes that this gracious God also endows human being with insight and reasoning and calls human being to help order and shape, nurture and promote the creation so that it may continue to flourish.” (from Genetics, Faith and Responsibility, p.2)
In the ELCA we see science as a gift from God, for us to use responsibly and to the benefit of our neighbors. Science and faith are not incompatible. On the contrary, science and faith together can enhance human understanding. They are different ways at looking at reality. Do Lutherans believe in Creation? Absolutely. Do we insist that the 7 day story in Genesis is literally true? No.
As a matter of fact, there are several creation stories in the Bible—Genesis 1, Genesis 2, Proverbs 8, John 1. They are not intended as news reports, but rather as poetic appreciation of God’s creation, each with a different perspective.
Lutherans value education. Our social statement on education affirms that education is part of our baptismal vocation. “Our particular calling in education is two-fold: to educate people in the Christian faith for their vocation and to strive with others to ensure that all have access to high-quality education that develops personal gifts and abilities and serves the common good.”
Lutherans support science—science education and scientific research, particularly as it serves the common good. We acknowledge the practical utility of science—in medical advances, agricultural promise, forestry, animal science, meteorology. And we acknowledge the sheer beauty and joy of more theoretical science—exploring the magnitude of the galaxies, and the intricacies of sub-atomic particles.
We are not threatened by science. We do not see a conflict between science and faith. We do not worship a “God of the gaps,” giving to the divine the responsibility for everything we don’t understand, until we understand it. Rather, we worship a God of infinite complexity, infinite love—a God who created the universe and everything in it, and who gave us the gift of nimble minds and opposable thumbs and expects us to use them for the good of our neighbor. We worship the God who gave us science.
Early in my ministry I had the opportunity to be part of a World Council of Churches Conference on Faith, Science and the Future, at MIT, where I was a campus pastor. I was able to be with Christians from across the globe, discussing scientific inquiry, appropriate technology, economic inequalities. The subtitle of the conference was “Towards a Just, Participatory and Sustainable Society.” It was a life-changing experience for me, that gave me deep insight on how to minister at MIT, where I encountered both fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists. (To say nothing of the Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’i’s, Sikhs and others.)
There was a time (think Galileo) when the church opposed science, seeing it as being in conflict with church doctrine. Many scientists have carried that suspicion of the church from those centuries of conflict. But we are not there anymore. We welcome scientific research, even when it challenges some of our assumptions.
As a church, we depend on the sciences for valuable assistance in addressing contemporary issues. One of our first social statements, “The Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective,” states:
“Transformed by faith, this church in its deliberation draws upon the God-given abilities of human being to will, to reason, and to feel. This church is open to learn from the experience, knowledge, and imagination of all people, in order to have the best possible information and understanding of today’s world.”
Jessica Crist, Bishop