Drew Rick-Miller: Summer Reading and Watching - Science for the Church

So many of us are exhausted, desperately awaiting the sabbath breaks that accompany summer. It’s been a hard 18 months and last summer was anything but normal. Our prayer for you is that over the next couple months you get the rest and relaxation that your body and spirit need. After all, even science agrees that a summertime chill pill is good for us.

We also know that few of us have the time week-to-week to read all the science-related books and films that we recommend at Science for the Church. So, in this newsletter, we intentionally share shorter, more accessible resources so you can digest key ideas quickly. But the summer months can provide more of an opportunity for long-form content. Here, we offer our 2021 recommendations for books and films with the hope that, like us, you have extra bandwidth in July and August to sit with them.

Please Partake in Some Polkinghorne

Greg wrote “In Praise of John Polkinghorne” earlier this year after we learned that one of our intellectual heroes had died. (I tell my treasured tale of interacting with Polkinghorne here). This summer, why not take the opportunity to spend time with one of the great saints of faith and science? He wrote over a dozen books, but a good start is Belief in God in an Age of Science, which is based on his Terry Lectures given at Yale University in 1996 and published in 1998.

The book covers classic Polkinghorne themes. In his own words, he offers “a revival of a cautiously revised form of natural theology; a methodological comparison of science and theology that exhibits their common concerns with the attainment of understanding through the search for motivated belief; and speculations concerning how physical processes might be sufficiently open to accommodate the acts of agents, both human and divine.” And at 125 pages, it will still leave time for that novel on your bedside table.

Alternates: While purchasing or borrowing Belief in God, you might also pick up Living with Hope, a collection of daily devotions Polkinghorne penned as a companion for the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. For those who prefer video, Closer to Truth has an archive of nearly 30 interview segments with Polkinghorne that highlight the full range of his intellectual capacity.

Connecting Creation Care and Theology

Last year, in our book suggestions, we included a biblical justification for why Christians should care for creation. This year, our recommendation is one of the classical theological justifications for the care of our Earth. Hope College’s Steven Bouma-Prediger offers “a Christian vision for creation care” in his 2010 (second edition) text, For the Beauty of the Earth.

Bouma-Prediger introduces the book with three anecdotes. First, one of his students asked, “What does ecology have to do with theology?” Second, another student agreed with Wendell Berry that the destruction of nature is bad stewardship (“or stupid economics, or a betrayal of family responsibility”), but disagreed with Berry’s assertion that “it is a most horrid blasphemy.” Third, when he asked students in an adult Sunday school class if they had heard a sermon on stewardship over the last year, he learned that only a few (out of 30) had and it was not a sermon about stewardship of the earth, but about tithing. This book, in sum, is his answer to the bigger question: Why do many people see little, if any, connection between ecology and theology?

Staff Film Suggestions

If your home is anything like ours, you have significantly increased your consumption of TV and movies since the start of the pandemic. Forgive us if we tempt you to watch those screens a little longer.

Drew Suggests Contact

This is the 1997 film adaption of Carl Sagan’s novel of the same name that stars Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey. It is mostly in the interaction between their two characters–Ellie Arroway and Palmer Joss—that many questions of faith and science are raised. You may not like the way it seems to answer those questions (given that it was based on Sagan’s novel), but it offers an entertaining way to get a good discussion going with family, friends, or even a church group.

Greg Suggests Hidden Figures

Academy Award-nominated Hidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical film based on the non-fiction book of the same name (by Margot Lee Shetterly). It depicts female Black mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race, expertly played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spence, and Janelle Monáe, along with one of my favorite actors, Mahershala Ali, in a supporting role. Against the backdrop of racism and misogyny, this film offers a captivating story of the power of science, for example, in this scene on Euler’s Method.

Heather Suggests Jane Goodall: The Hope

My kids and I always enjoy a good science documentary. We recently watched Jane Goodall: The Hope, which focuses on the continuing work of this year’s Templeton Prize laureate as an activist inviting people to care in new ways for both human and ecological communities. I was particularly moved by Dr. Goodall’s decisions to work with controversial figures, including oil companies.

With three young boys, we have a lot of conversations in our family about what it means to help “bad guys” become “good guys”—which is to say, we’re constantly trying to show our children that Christ came to call sinners and that participating in the coming kingdom of God means we get to invite others into the story of redemption of all creation that we have been brought into by our baptisms. And, as an added bonus, my seven-year-old now tries to greet everyone in chimpanzee as Jane sometimes does with her audiences.


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Strengthening the church through engaging with science​
We believe that churches are strengthened by engaging with science. Science for the Church looks to a day when science accompanies Scripture as a tool for discipleship, catalyzes expressions of worship, illustrates sermons, elucidates biblical teachings, and supplements theological wisdom for the life of the world. We even wonder if wrestling with science might draw some of the “nones” (those who affiliate with no religion) and the “dones” (those who have left the church) to Christian communities once again.