A long time ago, in a time period far, far away… I grew up reading X-Men, The Fantastic Four, Thor, and The Avengers comics. Hollywood has repopulated these stories for a new generation.
In the imagination of today’s youth, nothing is out of the realm of possibility with popular fictional characters such as Wolverine, who can heal himself by regenerating cells, Professor Xavier’s telepathic powers, or Storm’s abilities to control and manipulate the weather. These popular science fiction tales can serve as eye-opening discoveries for both science and faith.
In recent decades there has been an explosion of interest in science fiction and superheroes. There are mutant/humans who can heal themselves and telepathic multiple interconnected realms of existence in the Marvel comic universe. Light speed, lightsabers, and human clones dominate the epic Star Wars industry, and the resurgence of Star Trek’s cloaking devices, faster-than-light travel, and dematerialized transport are back in the mainstream attention and imagination.
Are these far-fetched concepts or future discoveries that will shape tomorrow’s generations? In the imaginations of many youth, these days will come.
Many youth today believe we are right at the frontier of an amazing understanding of reality and the profound mystery and philosophical questions that accompanies it.
In the Hollywood blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, astrophysicist, cosmologist, and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson makes a cameo appearance in the film. As the general public grows concerned about the existence of Superman, deGrasse Tyson offers the following words in an interview:
We’re talking about a being whose very existence challenges our own sense of priority in the universe. And you go back to Copernicus where he restored the sun in the center of the known universe, displacing Earth, and you get to Darwinian evolution and you find out we’re not special on this earth; we’re just one among other life forms. And now we learn that we’re not even special in the entire universe because there is Superman. There he is, an alien among us. We’re not alone.
The recent sci-fi movie Interstellar seems to bring together many of these themes, ranging from the scientifically plausible to the theologically mysterious. It is set at some nebulous point in the not-too-distant future, when global crop failures threaten humanity with extinction. So a small band of explorers, led by a pilot-turned-farmer named Cooper, blasts off to search for an exoplanet that could serve as a new home for the human race. The astronauts are aided in their quest by a wormhole—a sort of tunnel that allows relatively ultra-fast travel between widely separated parts of the universe—which had mysteriously appeared near Saturn some years before.[i]
Now, throughout this desperate scientific inquiry, we hear talk of a mysterious “they.” We’re given to understand that “they” are fifth-dimensional beings trying to help us find a new home. They opened the wormhole.[ii] They may have sent cryptic messages to Coop and his daughter, Murphy. And when Coop and his scientists get their craft underway, “they” even seem to physically reach out and touch Amelia Brand.
Amelia talks about how people still love their relatives, long gone, suggesting the emotion goes beyond mere chemistry or biology. “Love is the one thing that transcends time and space,” she says. It is, the movie suggests, the most powerful force in the universe, able to bend even physics to its will. It is a postulation of what the Scriptures told us all nearly 2,000 years earlier: “Love never fails” and also “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Perhaps the movie Interstellar sheds light on the truth of a powerful, creative, all-encompassing and caring entity after all, referring once again to Scripture’s assertion,
“Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”[iii]
Could it be that as the human experience of love increases, so does our experience of the divine? In the truest sense, might this be the majestic spiritual longing humanity has always, and will always, be searching for?
As scientific theories turn to realities, we begin also to more fully understand the intrinsic complexities of our being created in the image of God … in, through, with, and for the great LOVE.
Enjoying the Tension
Many of today’s youth have been raised with an inherent tension between God and science. They believe that at some point in their early lives they must choose between faith and intellect, between miracles and logic, and between belief and reason. They are asking, sometimes publicly and often privately, whether or not a person can believe in things that violate all the laws of reason and logic while claiming to be a reasonable person.
It is my belief that this is a false tension and in fact, science and faith can not only be reconciled but can mutually encourage and inspire adolescents towards faith. After all, as exciting as new scientific possibilities are, they cannot help find meaning for an adolescent whose parents are getting divorced, who struggles with identity diffusion or whose recent breakup has left him or her traumatized and looking for meaning and acceptance. Simply put: science does not and cannot explain everything, especially as it relates to the soul.
How do we help adolescents in this ever-changing world to have a dynamic and open faith? A faith that is open to all discovered truth and yet, a faith that brings clarity to their deep questions and hope in their lives. Youth today need to be affirmed that, as the cosmos continues to open up to us and realms and possibilities that we previously thought impossible happen, God is still present.
How do we embrace scientific ideas and language in our ministries?
We should understand both the limits and possibilities of language.
Perhaps the language we use will differ, but what was believed by the ancients will be only confirmed through the advancements of science. We must be willing to reinterpret Scripture towards a posture of openness, grandeur, and mystery. If our very universe is not fixed, then why should the language we use to comprehend and articulate the God who created the universe be so fixed?
Youth today are living literally in an ever-expanding universe, created and sustained by a limitless, open, and majestic God. This is the good news that we can proclaim, and each and every scientific discovery and advancement will only help make this case stronger!
We should not be afraid of the questions or of the mystery of new discoveries.
Perhaps the real majesty lies in the mystery that this great divine being, the creator of the grand cosmos. knows and cares about us. There has never been a scientific explanation to help make sense of the universal human propensity towards the spiritual.
As human beings, we desire to learn and advance because we were designed to do so. Our very existence is a search for purpose, meaning, connection, and intimacy. As English novelist and theologian C.S Lewis once wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
We should embrace the mystery of both faith and science.
Science allows room for mystery; will our faith allow the same? Often faith is static and consequently limits our perspective. Equipping and encouraging youth towards a dynamic faith can help open the Scriptures while also allowing discovery of the vastness, complexity, and mysteries of the universe.
If we confess God to be timeless, omnipotent, and omnipresent Spirit, creator, and sustainer of all things seen and unseen, then any and all groundbreaking scientific discoveries will truly lead to greater awe of God in our common search for meaning.
Not only so, but future findings may just corroborate ancient religious beliefs such as miracles, supernatural realms of existence, spiritual beings, and the mysterious dimensional reality of Jesus. We may discover parallels between the paranormal and what religion calls the supernatural. As scientific discoveries open up the transcendent realm of reality, so too can the realm of divine reality spark to life in one’s imagination and heart.
Bridging Between Faith and Science
Here are just a few practical suggestions for youth workers to help bridge the gap between faith and science with your students.
- Plan a movie event around a recent science or science fiction film like a Star Trek or Marvel movie, etc. After the movie, gather around a pizza and ask teens a few debriefing questions like, “What scientific theory or discovery was featured? Do you think this technology will become a reality in your lifetime? What are the fun implications for life if this happens? What could be religious implications? Did the movie imply anything that would help or hinder your faith?”
- Invite a local science teacher to come to youth group to speak from his or her experience and understanding, and allow for a thoughtful and respectful Q & A session. If a teacher is unavailable, find a video on YouTube or a TED Talk relating to the intersection of faith and science, and assign your group into two debate teams discussing the content and tension. Afterward, regroup to share thoughts, opinions and questions for further discovery and conversation.[iv] Additionally, acclaimed Christian authors such as Francis Collins and John Polkinghorne offer wonderful books from both a theological and scientific perspective, and specific chapters or excerpts could be used to spark dialogue with teenagers.
- Encourage your students to bring their science studies and homework to youth group for a special “study session” where the textbook and Bible are compared and contrasted, and students can enter meaningful dialogue about what they are learning in church and in school.
As those tasked with the spiritual formation and development of youth, we need not fear what we cannot control or may not be able to fully comprehend now. This is the lesson learned from the past. So let us boldly go where few theologians and youth workers have gone before!
[ii]In Einstein’s theory of general relativity, wormholes are possible, but no sign of them has ever been spotted. We now know that approximately 96 percent of the universe is made up of black holes, dark matter, and dark energy, which leaves us with around four percent of the universe that we can actually know … for now.
[iii] 1 John 4:8 New Revised Standard
iv One particular video of note would be: youtube.com/watch?v=JPxGnN7RV1Y