Here is an area where Christians working in the sciences could work together.
The cost of doing certain kinds of science has far outstripped the resources of the academy or the private sector.
So how shall we fund "big science" in the years to come?
Steven Weinberg raised this question in a very thoughtful essay recently in The New York Review of Books. At both ends of the cosmic science scale - particle physics and cosmology/astronomy - the costs have become prohibitive, apart from more investment on the part of government.
Only government can provide the long-term funding to meet the long-range vision of scientists working in these and other fields.
But government funding typically flows toward some kind of economic payoff, and it's difficult to sell "big science" in terms of immediate material benefits. Mr. Weinberg cites the example of the Superconducting Super Collider, begun in Texas but abandoned by Congressional whim, and the potential scuttling of the Webb Telescope even before it gets off the ground as examples of short-sided - and self-serving - thinking on the part of legislators who believe they need to put money in their constituents' pockets to justify taking more from them in taxes.
But such projects are only possible by government sponsorship - at least at a very significant level. We may not be able to show any economic benefits flowing from colliding particles and photographing the frontiers of the cosmos - at least, not right away - but Mr. Weinberg thinks we need to be doing it, and to be willing to pay for doing such things.
I think he's right. Governments have always been involved in the work of science. Science is a good endeavor, we all agree, and governments are God's servants "for good" (Rom. 13:1-5). No one doubts the many benefits - most of them unforeseen - of the space program of the past generation. We can't possibly know what goods yet await our discovery at the far ends of the science spectrum. However, scientists working in these arenas are confident such benefits will certainly rise to the surface over time.
Making sure our own government plays a leading role in helping to fund scientific research only makes sense. But what is the best way to do this? Mr. Weinberg does not want to eliminate or reduce any existing social or infrastructure programs; he favors raising taxes. Legislators cringe at the idea.
I confess I don't know what the answer is here, except that government - for the good of all its people and the nation's future - should take a major role in furthering the work of the scientific community. Granted, that role needs careful oversight from within that community, and not just on the part of career bureaucrats. But it's a role we should expect our government to fill, and one we should be willing as tax payers to support.
Here is an area where Christians working in the sciences could come together, in spite of our differences, to discover some consensual approach to ensuring ongoing government funding for science. In the process, we would certainly gain credibility with members of the secular scientific community, who tend to think of Christians as being opposed to the work of science, and not always without good reason.
Let the leaders of the various Christian camps begin a dialog over the question of government funding in the sciences. Perhaps here, because we all agree that science is a good and government is God's servant for such goods, we might be able to overcome our differences and achieve some common ground.