In the supposed conflict between faith and science, it’s generally assumed that the battle lines are sharply drawn between the church on the one side and secular elites on the other.

That assumption, however, can be mistaken. Whether due to cultural pressure, misinformation or other factors, parties within the church will at times align with the secularists, and against those who are seeking to promote the truth.

Witness a recent decision by the United Methodist Church, a mainline denomination in the United States. The UMC banned the Discovery Institute, a leading voice for Intelligent Design, from hosting an information table at the church’s General Conference. In part, the ruling from the UMC reads as follows:

WHEREAS, The United Methodist Church has for many years supported the separation of church and State . . . Therefore, be it resolved, that the General Conference of The United Methodist Church go on record as opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools.

This unfortunate resolution is made all the worse by the fact that it rests on a number of false premises. These premises have been appropriated – wholly and uncritically – from the worldview of popular secularism.

A false appeal to separation of church and state

First comes the appeal to the separation of church and state. Historically, this was a safeguard to prevent any faith group from becoming a state religion, to the exclusion and persecution of other faith groups. However, modern secularists have turned it into a trump card against any expressions of faith in the public arena whatsoever. The notable exception, of course, is faith in atheistic materialism, which its adherents have successfully pushed as the “default truth” of a secular state.

Conflating Creationism with Intelligent Design

Next there’s the careless lumping of Creationism and Intelligent Design as “faith-based theories” to be dismissed from public discourse. In reality, these disciplines represent a broad spectrum of approaches regarding science and its relationship to religion. Generally speaking, Creationism seeks to integrate the two, taking Scripture as its springboard for understanding the natural world.

Intelligent Design, on the other hand, makes no direct claims about theology. It merely studies the evidence that life and the universe are the result of purposeful design rather than unguided processes. Although it has theological implications (as do all theories of origins, including Darwinism), it offers no opinions about the identity of the Designer. It is no more “faith-based” than a dogmatic insistence on unguided processes as the only admissible explanation for life and the universe. To suggest otherwise is misguided at best, dishonest at worst.

Equating science with belief in evolution

And that brings us to the final faulty premise, the one underlying most of the secular rhetoric seeking to pit religion against science. It’s the implicit assumption – indeed, the vehement assertion – that good science must accept the Darwinian model as established fact. This is made explicit in a paragraph from the UMC’s “Social Principles: The Natural World,” taken from its Book of Discipline, offered as further rationale for banning the Discovery Institute:

We recognize science as a legitimate interpretation of God’s natural world. We affirm the validity of the claims of science in describing the natural world and in determining what is scientific. We preclude science from making authoritative claims about theological issues and theology from making authoritative claims about scientific issues. We find that science's descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology.

It all sounds fair-minded and even-handed at the start: science and theology, happily coexisting as complementary avenues for discovering truth. But then comes the bait and switch, the assertion that theology is in harmony not only with science in general, but with “cosmological, geological, and biological evolution” in particular.

In other words, science equals belief in evolution. To believe otherwise is unacceptable, at least according to official UMC policy. This is despite the fact that contrary to empirical science, Darwinian theory cannot be directly observed or tested. It’s essentially a metaphysical philosophy of origins, one whose purposeless materialism is incompatible with the Scriptural doctrine of creation.

According to the Apostle Paul, it’s expected that a fallen world will suppress the truth of God that’s clearly reflected in the created order (Romans 1:18-20).

But it’s far more disturbing when a part of the church does the same, trying to gag a group of scientists just for saying that nature shows evidence of design rather than random chance.

As David Klinghoffer at the Discovery Institute has summed up, “. . . the irony [is] that a world-class atheist philosopher like Tom Nagel can praise ID as a credible challenge to Darwinian theory, even as Dr. Nagel resists it for his own reasons – but liberal Christians won’t even allow the idea to be discussed at their conference. More than just ‘close-minded,’ that strikes me as almost surreal.”

More than just close-minded or surreal, it’s rather quite tragic.

Sources and further reading

The Discovery Institute has published a number of recent articles on this unfolding story. Interested readers are directed to the Institute’s blog, Evolution News and Views, for further commentary and analysis. The views expressed on the blog do not necessarily reflect those of Focus on the Family Canada, and are offered for information purposes only.

Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2016 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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