Catalyst Perspectives: Are Christianity and science opposed?
In the first blogpost in our new Catalyst Perspectives series, PhD student Albertine Bayompe Kabou from Senegal shares how her perspective on the relationship between Christianity and science has evolved.
Albert Einstein once said that “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind1.” But for me, I grew up with the idea that science and religion are opposites. My father is a retired teacher and I’m from a Catholic family so my studies were always on one side and going to church was on the other side.
This dichotomy was reinforced when I went to university. Academics there said that Christians didn’t like science, based on the trial of Galileo2. The Italian astronomer was tried and condemned by the Catholic Church for promoting the theory that the earth revolves around the sun. I later discovered that Galileo was a believer and his discoveries were not a contradiction between science and the bible but between science and interpretations of the bible.
Evidence was another issue that came up at university. People said: “Have you seen God? Do you have evidence?” Science is based on the observation of things. But those things did not appear by chance. They are created by God. And I have come to believe that God is the master of science.
“Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge?”
(Job 37: 16)
The Bible tells us that God is the one whose science is perfect. The book of Job says: “Stop and consider God’s wonders. Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge?” (Job 37: 14-16)
Should we say that the one who has perfect science (God) is also against it? No! On the contrary, the Word of God encourages us to seek understanding by relying on Him. Proverbs 8:10-11 says: “Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.”
I came to Christ as an undergraduate but everything changed for me during my PhD when I encountered Impact, the IFES group for researchers in Senegal. Here, I was finally told that I could glorify God by serving him with my studies. As an economist, I had always wanted to honour God with my research but I didn’t know how.
My perspective on faith and science changed even more when I joined the Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI) in 2021 as a “Catalyst.” It was a love affair right from the very first course we did, called “Engaging the University.” The course caused me to review my position vis-à-vis the university and life on campus.
It’s important to understand that in my context when a young person says they want to go to university the first thing they hear is “Be careful!”. University is a synonym for corruption and parents worry that their children will be corrupted by bad influences.
So when I started university, I had this attitude that I would just go to my classes and then go back home. And that’s it. I tried not to be in contact with anyone else.
When I read a John Stott book3 as part of my LCI studies and learned about his idea of “double listening” – listening to both scripture and the world around us – it was a huge change for me. I said to myself: “Albertine, you have to start listening to the university, you have to be in contact with the university and start making your contribution. You have something to give to the university.”
John Stott’s idea of double listening inspired the topic of my project for the LCI, which is about poverty.
In collaboration with my national student movement, GBU Senegal, I plan to conduct a study to help understand the root causes of poverty among students. There are a lot of struggles students face at my university – Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar (pictured left). These include poverty and delays in scholarship payments, and a recent report4 found that some poor students prostitute themselves to cope with poverty.
In the development of many poverty eradication strategies, the state does not involve the people concerned. So I want to consult the students themselves and then equip them to be agents of change in their own exit from poverty.
My study will include questions about students’ economic situation and also about their life and religious beliefs. In Senegal, Islam is the main religion and traditional Quranic schools called “Daaras” are known to encourage a culture of begging5 among their students.
I will also examine attitudes towards poverty that are part of the African ancestral tradition, in which people engage in rituals to worship their ancestors or other deities. For example, I will see if there are students who believe that their poverty is caused by a curse and that they can’t change their situation unless the curse is undone.
I believe we need to understand other people’s faith traditions: if we are called to be light, then first of all we have to understand the darkness around us.
After I have completed my study, next year I plan to organize a conference that will bring together students as well as experts on theology, economics, sociology and entrepreneurship, to discuss strategies to combat student poverty.
The bible talks about both economic and spiritual poverty. My project will aim to fight poverty while also sharing the light of the gospel. God says he is the refuge of the poor. I believe this reality will be a way of comfort for people who are poor, to know that someone – that a big God – is taking care of them.
1 Einstein, Albert (1950) “Out of My Later Years” Philosophical Library Inc. https://books.google.com/books?id=Q1UxYzuI2oQC&pg=PA26#v=onepage&q&f=false
2 Galileo’s trial:
3 Stott, John (1992) “The Contemporary Christian: Applying God’s Word to Today’s World” Chapter 6: The Listening Ear.
4 Maïmouna, Ndiaye (2021) “The sources of student prostitution” (Report at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal)
5 Human Rights Watch report (2010) “Off the backs of the Children: Forced Begging and Other Abuses against Talibés in Senegal”https://www.hrw.org/report/2010/04/15/backs-children/forced-begging-and-other-abuses-against-talibes-senegal#; Wikipedia article on “Daaras” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daara