August 24, 2019

Open Mic at the iMonk Cafe: Stories of Science/Faith Resolution

sciThis particular open thread is going to be a bit unusual.

I am limiting participation to only those readers who are either trained in some area of the sciences or currently work in a science related field (either teaching or practice.)

This thread is for this question: How have you resolved the tensions in your own life and thinking between science and your faith? What has been your journey? What was particularly significant in that journey?

I’m especially interested in those who were brought up in conservative Christian environments with typical conservative assumptions about the Bible.

Please keep “sideline comments” out of this thread.

Comments

  1. I’ve never had a conflict between science and my faith. The bible is a true book of faith but it is not a science or history book of facts. I have no qualms about the earth being millions or billions of years old or any discomfort when I read in National Geographic that (for example) Herod probably didn’t kill any first born children.

    What was particularly significant in my journey is that I more or less hated Christians after my conservative Christian upbringing. I thought all Christians took the Bible literally, from which sprang their hypocrisy and hate.

    It wasn’t until I was exposed to a Jesus-shaped Christianity that I opened my heart to God. Or a better way of saying it might be that he kicked down the door to my heart. I can remember sitting in my pastor’s office literally crying as they talked to me about reason, tradition and experience as lenses through which to see — that I didn’t need to check my brain at the door when I entered a church.

    But there have been drawbacks as well. I’ve been encouraged to go into the ministry (I ended up taking early retirement from my job because I felt called to something larger) but I can barely stand the study of theology and so an M.Div for me just isn’t in the cards.

    It seems so pointless; the way to God is not through one’s mind and following a book as if it were an instruction manual for assembling a BBQ grill, but through one’s heart and (trying) to walk the walk that Jesus showed us.

  2. IMonk – I fit your criteria to a tee. A geologist with more than a deceade of experience, brought up in a very conservative home, being exposed to AIG and all that from an early age.

    I would also have to say that at the stage where I am now, I do not experience tensions all that much. It wasn’t always the case. Being a Ken Ham creationist, studying at a secular university, at a highly rated geology department in particular, I was often wracked with tension. When I started out, I thought I’d only have to think and study carefully till I destroy the evolutionary arguments. Early on in my working life, to that end, I even got involved in a geochronology (age dating) laboratory for that very reason. But lets back-track…

    My other major in my undergraduate career was Mathematics. In my third year, we got a new, young, enthusiastic lecturer in the department, a Bulgarian. He got a weekly colloqium series started for the students, covering interesting topics. The very first lecture was by himself, on paradoxes. In the discussion we were arguing with him. In particular, I challenged a statement (which I can’t remember the details of) by pointing out that our regular practice was to discover the basic axioms, define the theorems, and buil on that, for any given mathematical system. Later on I came to realise this philosophy if you will is the Hilbert approach. But then he pulled the carpet from underneath me (and it has never been replaced 🙂 ), by telling how that very approach was invalidated by one of the most brillian mathematicians ever to trod this eart, Kurt Godel, a Hungarian and contemporary of Einstein. He formulated two theorems, called the Incompleteness theorems, which showed that that very basic approach to Maths (as used by Hilbert, and me..) is invalid. This shocked me – but I was still the Ken Ham creationist….

    But with time, and with experience in the workplace and laboratory, I came to realsie the full effect of what happened in that class. Essentially, Maths is the language of science. If we cannot prove the very basic assumptions of Mathematics (that is what Godel implied), then how the heck can we trust anything in science? Furthermore, I realised that the argument also extends to Creationism. And with time, as I read some philosophy, I also realised that the philosophical basis of trusting logic absolutely in either the Hilbert universe, or the Emperical universe, is just not there. I was nearly falling intom postmodernism by then…

    What saved my was Lewis, especially in the the Pilgrim’s Regress, where the feminine character of Reason tells him that she can only reveal to him what is already in his own mind. This brought me to the point where I was OK with saying – I don’t know, it is a paradox, it is a contradiction, AND I’M OK with that.

    Therefore I have come to treat science (and I enjoy being a geologist hugely, btw) as a little less than divine (this, btw is the argument of both sides of the evolution/creation debate. In my mind they are both sitting in a boat that is as full of holes as a collender). My faith is true. God’s word is truth.

    In a different world, science deals with fallible theories about a real world. The theories might “contradict” my faith – but so what, they contradict each other quite often too. And each generation has a new theory / new interpreatation of an old theory. I’m confortable working with these fallible theories. Even if they do say things that on a different level might look as if they should be making me uncomfartable.

    Of course, the flip side of this change, if you will, is what led me out of the evangelical (and eventually, Calvinistic) world of having to understand, explain and connect everything, and imagine that everything is knowable. It isn’t. This I also had to eventually reject some of the assumptions of that same conservative upbringing. Because its assumptions about Scripture fall into that same (lets call it by its real name) Modernist Enlightment camp that both the sides in the above mentioned boat fall into. Call me a pre-enlightment medievalist scientist and Christian then. I’m happy with the title.

  3. Like Joe, no conflict between science and religion, which doesn’t mean I never had to think about it, or that I just accepted religious truths as metaphors or poetic similes for universal human concepts, or the like.

    Trained as a laboratory technician (though working now in a completely different field), worked in the laboratories of dairy co-operatives, and in the commercial world as I experienced it, there really was no big “Science versus God!!!” struggle. When it comes to this time of the year (March – September) and milk production revs up, and the samples are flooding in, the only thing you’re concerned with is getting through testing hundreds of samples without confusing which sample comes from which cow and clearing enough floor space as the bulk tank drivers dump another batch on top of you 🙂

    Educated, like practically the entirety of Ireland, in a convent school. Science teacher was a nun. Learned about the theory of evolution (and Darwin’s theory versus Lamarck’s theory) without any warning that this was dangerous! heresy! against true religion! Probably helped that, when discussing genetics, it was pointed out that Mendel was an Augustinian monk, priest, and ultimately abbot of the Abbey of St. Thomas 🙂

    Definitely what helped was the Catholic position on free will (no side comments, you said, so I’m not taking any swipes at Calvinists here). That buttressed me against the current obession that *everything* from art to murder is determined by genetics. When I read an interview with a prominent British scientist investigating consciousness, and the interviewer asked her did she believe that she was an “I” and she said she did not (one of the competing models of explaining human consciousness is that no such beast exists; instead, we have the various areas of the brain which deal with processing the stimuli received, all firing off at the same time, all competing for attention, and what we like to think of as the conscious “I”, a person, an individual, is really only a kind of filter to prevent the organism from being overwhelmed by the noise) – that made me go “Huh. So you’re sitting there saying you don’t, for all practical purposes, exist. And *I’m* the crazy one for believing in God?”

    Again, not poking the Protestants with a sharp stick here, but like Belloc said, the Catholic position is easier because we don’t have the “solas”, so “Sola Scriptura” was not exaggerated into the dead weight of “Every single word in the Bible has to be literally, exactly true and if that conflicts with what can be demonstrably proved in the world, too bad for the world!”.

    And the first person who pipes up with “Galileo!” is recommended to go here 🙂

    http://m-francis.livejournal.com/57124.html

  4. Becoming a fan of GeoChristian.wordpress.com who has a lot to say on the issue.

  5. Kenny Johnson says

    If we’re passing on Faith and Science websites. There are two that launched recently:

    Theistic Evolution & Faith (Collins):
    http://www.biologos.org/

    Intelligent Design & Faith:
    http://www.faithandevolution.org/home.php

  6. Mike the Geologist says

    Greetings imonk, long time reader. I appreciate so much your writing and the comment discussion on this blog. My science creds: BS in Geology, Indiana Univ., 1975, MS in Geology, University of KY, 1977. Practicing groundwater hydrogeologist currently managing field investigations and sampling of contaminated industrial sites.

    I had a nominal church upbringing (non-fundamentalist)but moved into atheism as I began college. However, by the end of my undergraduate studies the materialist position seemed to logically lead to nihilism that was unlivable to me. I became a Christian in 1974 and began my long association with evangelical churches, and, of course, YEC-uber-alles. This was, at the time a very real conflict in my budding faith walk. I knew Jesus was real, that He was alive, and I believed the Gospels. But I could not reconcile my new found faith with the literal 6-day, 6,000 year-old earth with what I knew from my studies in geology. I earnestly prayed to the Lord to show me how to reconcile Genesis with Geology, but all He replied was; “Trust Me”.

    About that time “The Genesis Flood” by Whitcomb and Morris came out and I tried to embrace “flood geology” thinking that might be the reconciliation I was searching for. With all respect to those earnest Christian brothers, their geology just doesn’t stand up. So I began a long period of compartmentalizing. I was a bible-believing Christian at church and with my church friends. But at work and professionally, although I would talk about my faith in Jesus, I really couldn’t give a coherent answer to the faith/science disconnect. As J. Michael Jones talks about on his site “The Christian Monist” it is very difficult to be honest in evangelicalism without being labeled as a heretic by certain doctrine police.

    The writings of C.S. Lewis greatly helped me in this schism. As I began to mature in the faith and learned good principles of bible interpretation I began to see the great importance of placing the scriptures in their proper historical and cultural context. I realized the age of the earth was not something that was on the mind of Moses or the Israelites but was a controversy we were projecting back on to the narrative. Conrad Hyers (http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1984/JASA9-84Hyers.html) was a big help to me. Gregg Koukl’s “The Age of Starlight” reasoning convinced me that the so-called appearance of age would make God a deceiver. David Heddle at his blog http://helives.blogspot.com/, a nuclear physicist, had some great essays on the anthropic principle that really made me see that science is the study of God’s creation. Finally, Davis Young’s book; http://www.amazon.com/Bible-Rocks-Time-Geological-Evidence/dp/0830828761/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1243542007&sr=8-1 is the must-read for anyone who is a Christian and a geologist or for anyone who wants to know how you can be both.

  7. iMonk
    Cardiologist by trade. Raised in a Christmas/Easter Lutheran immigrant family. Started attending church faithfully at age 22, met my wife there. 🙂 No problems reconciling faith and science. I take the position that the Bible is a book of faith, as did the other commenter. On the other hand, one often sees rather plausible shorthand for observed phenomena in the Bible. Even when a little doubt creeps in, atheism seems so ludicrous that I’d rather work with some minor problems with the Bible. After all, the laws of physics represent an awesome bit of creation. I’m not big on modern miracles, but have come to the conclusion that those who believe in them and those who don’t are both correct.

  8. I will go by my personal life “epochs.”

    Agnostic living in the Bible Belt: No conflict. All Christians were wackos

    Evangelical: No conflict. All science (which appeared contradictory to the Bible) was wrong and the result of the great humanist’s conspiracy (eg. faking fossils, etc.)to destroy Christianity.

    Early Post-Evangelical and age of great doubts: Also time of confusion. Sought answers from ICR and the like, which left me very disappointed. Couldn’t resolve the conflicts.

    Late Evangelical: Discovered Hugh Ross and other old-earth Christians. Came to the place that I knew that God spoke truth in both scripture and in the real universe, which He has created (after I re-discovered Francis Schaeffer et al.). If two sources of truth appear in conflict, then the interpretation of at least one is wrong. Reason is very good . . . but not Aristotelian-perfect. Most conflicts resolved.

  9. I’m a student currently working toward a Ph.D. in physics. I have one brother who has a Ph.D in molecular biology, and another who works as a geophysicist. My dad has a masters in physics. Poor mom was an English major.

    My faith story really begins with my dad, who as an unbeliever and scientist in his late twenties was shocked to learn how closely the creation story in Genesis, written down thousands of years ago, agreed with modern big bang theory. It led him to conclude that the Bible must be the inspired word of God, and therefore worthy of study. He and my mother became Christians shortly after and they raised us all in the church. Ironically it was because of science, not in spite of it, that our whole family became Christian.

    I didn’t encounter much tension between my faith and science growing up. We went to a baptist church that occasionally taught on creationism and such, but they didn’t really shove it down our throats or make any “you must believe this or else..” sort of statements. My high school AP physics teacher was also the Bible club sponsor. I attended a Christian affiliated university (Baylor) and all my professors were Christian (or at least signed a statement of faith to get their job). So I breezed all the way through college with a masters in physics without ever having really been challenged in my faith as a scientist.

    Now I am at a state university working on my Ph.D. My thesis adviser and many people that I work with are openly hostile toward Christianity. It is certainly a more challenging environment, but having known so many Christian scientists (not those kind) has left me with a confidence that I’m not alone in my faith.

    Just one observation on the evolution debate. As an experimental physicist, I deal with exact equations and extraordinarily precise, repeatable measurements. All that is required of an evolutionary biologist is the ability to tell a good story (“the shape of the pig’s snout evolved over millions of years to be just the perfect tool to hunt out truffles”, or whatever.) I know they are doing their best with the facts they have available (and there is a bit more to it than just a story), but I find it humorous that it gets equal billing under the single term “science” along with physics or chemisty.

  10. iMonk, it may surprise you to learn that I have a strong science background and am published in the sciences. Obregon E, McKeever BG. Studies on offspring of pp mothers. Transfusion 1980;20:621-622.abstract. It was field genetic research.

    When I first returned to the Lord as a 19 year old, I was strongly taught that anything but one of the two options available in creationism were the only possible options for a Christian. In fact, if I did not believe in some type of strict creationism, then I obviously did not believe in the Bible, which simply made me a heretic.

    I can remember writing a paper at community college in which I used the various flood stories found around the world to prove that Noah’s flood was true. I can remember reading various articles by creationists that majored in the “holes” in creationist theory.

    But, the more science courses I took, the harder it was to maintain the conviction that so many things were wrong about science, at least when it came to evolution. As well, this meant that I had to make a choice to say that God created a universe in which things like “light” appeared to have been created more than mid-way on its journey from the star to us. I had to believe that geological layers were almost deliberately being misinterpreted by scientists. That is, I had to believe that the evidence in the universe was deceiving us and leading us away from creationism. It was, and sometimes still is, a logical quandary.

    There were two experiences that helped bring me to some sort of resolution. One was an Old Testament professor who was reliably evangelical at a reliably evangelical seminary. He pointed out that the days of creation parallel each other like a poem. So that light is created on the first day and the sun, moon stars on the fourth. On the second day water and sky appear and on the fifth day the sea creatures are created. On the third day the dry ground appears and vegetation and on the sixth day animals and man are created. He pointed out that one interpretation is that this was a poem with parallelism of the type found in Psalms and Proverbs. In that case, there were three creative movements: light/darkeness (sun/moon/stars), sky/water (sea creatures), earth/vegetation (animals/man). And those three movements followed the order in which evolution says that it happened. The vast lighted clouds of matter condense into stars and planets; they cool and bodies of water develop on this planet into which life is placed; finally that life makes it to dry ground and eventually humans are created.

    But, finally, for me, to find out that the Early Church Fathers had different opinions as to the historicity of those first chapters let me know that it was not really an issue of faith or of belief in the Bible to wonder how historical and exact those first few chapters were supposed to be.

    I am still not sure of my exact opinion. But, neither am I worried about it any longer. I admit to liking what that old evangelical teacher said, because of he is correct, then Genesis 1 is an accurate poetical description that tallies with the science that I was taught.

  11. Great discussion topic, iMonk! Long-time reader/admirer of your stuff (both here and at BHT) but haven’t commented much. Couldn’t resist on this one, though, given your description of who you’re looking for.

    My evangelical and scientific creds in a nutshell–I’m the son of a conservative evangelical pastor and missionary, a graduate of a well-know evangelical liberal arts college, and have a Ph.D. in neuroscience. I’m on faculty at a flagship state university where I teach and do research.

    How do I resolve the “tension” between science and my faith? I used to compartmentalize–sort of a “science is science and my theological beliefs are just that and never the twain shall meet” approach–which was a way to AVOID wrestling with the issue. Ultimately, though, that’s the formula for cognitive dissonance.

    Arthur Holmes wrote a book entitled “All truth is God’s truth.” Now, to my agnostic friends that’s silly fantasy and to (some of) my fundie friends, that’s tautological at best and, at worst, a cover for making man (that is, ME) the final arbiter over the validity of beliefs. But if it’s applied with fear and trembling and prayer, it’s useful for alleviating some of the tension that can exist between science and faith.

    I could go on at length as to how this has affected the way I read the Genesis account, how I reconcile dualism with a “materialistic” approach to studying brain function, and so on. But I think this is enough for one blog comment.

  12. SottoVoce says

    Graduate student in organic chemistry here, though in practice I’m more of a biochemist.

    I was brought up in a moderately conservative evangelical Christian home. It’s hard for me to say when I first became aware of the faith/science debate. It wasn’t until I got to high school and decided that I wanted to be a scientist that it became an issue. I was homeschooled at the time (because public school bored me to death, not because my parents wanted to isolate me), and we chose a curriculum that would allow me to get a high school diploma and turned out to have decidedly fundamentalist leanings. The science courses gave me the full “evolution is evil” treatment, which my parents didn’t really try to contradict because we take the Bible literally and that means Genesis 1, too, right? I also did plenty of reading on my own since I figured it was important to recognize all the lies put out by the conspiracy of evil scientists who have banded together to destroy Our Beloved Christian America.

    So by the time I got to college (small, Christian, liberal arts) I was an ardent young-earther. Which is why I was surprised to find that many of my science professors (and even theology professors) either accepted a disconnect between the Bible and science or told us flat out that it didn’t really matter to them how the earth was made. It blew my mind. And these were people who I trusted and respected immensely and were real scientists to boot, as opposed to many of the creationist authors I had read. I realized that in order to accept what I had been taught about a young earth, I would have to tell a great number of extremely intelligent and well-studied people that they didn’t know how to do their jobs. I’m a biochemist and I could spend my entire career studying the structure and function of a single enzyme without learning everything there is to know about it. How can I tell a geologist that everything he knows is wrong when I don’t know anything about his field?

    By the time I graduated, I couldn’t handle the disconnect between a literal interpretation of Genesis and the scientific position anymore and was on the verge of giving up my faith. I gave God an ultimatum. (Always a dangerous thing to do.) “There is one place left where I think I can find intellectually honest Christian people who can tell me how to resolve this. If I can’t find an answer there, it’s over.” And then I went to Switzerland. Swiss L’Abri, to be precise, where I had a wonderful tutor who gave me a number of excellent books on science and biblical interpretation. In the month I spent in the Alps, I came to view the first few chapters of Genesis as a poetic description of the literal event of God creating the world, which took care of the “Bible must be accurate/science contradicts it” paradox for me. I also learned a lot about the origins of the creationist movement (quite the eye-opener, if you’re interested).

    When I came back to the States for graduate school, I was still a Christian. And I mean to stay that way. I accept what science tells me about the age of the earth and the possible relationships between different species, but I believe in a personal God who was and is intimately involved with His creation and I can afford to be generous about the exact mechanism and time frame by which He created the earth. I don’t know for sure, and I can live with the uncertainty. I still occasionally catch myself having a mental knee-jerk reaction when people talk about evolution, but I can have a mature and polite conversation with an evolutionist without looking like an idiot and do my research without giving up on the trustworthiness of Scripture.

  13. Degree in physics, currently working as a high-school science teacher.

    I grew up in a conservative baptist household and church, which were generally on the YEC side, but not rabidly so. There was much made of the conflict between Christianity and Darwinism, but not so much about Christianity vs. Science – and I learned a lot about the scientific method in a homeschooling co-op. We just never touched evolution.

    In high school and college, I generally subscribed to an old-earth creationism that maintained Adam, Eve, and the fall as a historical event, but also a very long period of time between day 1 and day 6. Now I mostly think that the point of Genesis 1-2 is not so much to say how God created the earth as that he created the earth (God is sovereign and not contingent upon the universe), and to locate creation at the beginning of the creation-fall-redemption narrative.

    As for a conflict between Christianity and Science, I tend to believe that the relationship is not that problematic. However, we shouldn’t be too quick to say “Genesis is poetry” as if that ends the conversation. While I end up coming to very similar conclusions as one who makes that statement, it is easy to miss some of the subtlety of the narrative when we jump there too quickly.

    One last comment: I became interested in science largely because of AIG’s pictures of dinosaurs. My experience with YEC is that its rhetoric is very much pro-science, and for that reason it isn’t as harmful to science education as some of its opponents seem to think.

  14. I taught science for two years, though I don’t now, so I don’t know if I count.

    I blogged on it back in January: “How I taught science instead of ‘Christian’ science.” The gist of the post is that science in Christian textbooks tends to teach creationism rather than science, and about how the kingdoms of faith and science don’t overlap as much as some folks teach.

    I didn’t blog about my science/faith journey, but I’ll do so here.

    Grew up Fundamentalist, and included in that was young-earth creationism, a viewpoint I held tenaciously to, despite also going to public schools that taught otherwise. I read Henry Morris and Ken Ham’s books and everything.

    Subtly, these folks gave me the idea—which may not have been their intention, but there it was—that the sciences were corrupt. They were all the fruit of a poisonous tree, and that poisonous tree was evolution. So I didn’t trust any of it. But I still had to take science classes in high school.

    What turned me around was my high school biology teacher. One day, after I privately objected to him about how all this evolution stuff was nonsense, he said, “Don’t tell anyone I told you this… but I don’t believe it either.”

    “Then why do you teach it?” I said.

    “I teach what the state requires and no more,” he said. “Mr. C” (another biology teacher) “spends four months on evolution. I spend about a day on it. It’s maybe one test question in the first unit. Then I put it aside and talk about biology. That’s what I care about. That’s what you’re here to learn anyway.”

    Thus I realized I could pick and choose what parts of the science classes that I could accept as a young-earth creationist, and what parts I couldn’t. And since science was fascinating, I wound up dabbling in a lot of it.

    Just about anyone who dabbles in the sciences is going to of course come across the same questions the other commenters have mentioned—basically: If the universe is only thousands of years old, why doesn’t it look it? And at the same time, my theology was changing as I began to realize that logic, while great for science, is misused when we try to debate people into the Kingdom; that ultimately my faith is based on my growing relationship with the living God, and not on a literal six-day creation that may have happened 6,000 years ago—but is nigh-impossible to prove through experiments that indicate otherwise.

    I still believe the bible; I just think the creationists are interpreting it wrong. And I’m still skeptical of scientists who make speculations without hard data to back them up; too many do that and get away with it. But most of them don’t, and only report what they observe; and what am I to do with that? Deny reality, or seek greater understanding? I find it impossible to say God doesn’t want our minds to be challenged. Science is definitely His servant in that.

  15. I have a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in metallurgy, and have been practicing engineering ever since. I was raised in the “a capella Churches of Christ”.

    At 5 years old my [unusually progressive, for the denomination] parents gave me a 101-level textbook on astronomy. It went through the history of mankind’s observation of the universe an religion’s effects on those observations. Pretty heady stuff for a blooming geek who had only been taught young-earth creationism. I read and re-read that book countless times. Further, my dear parents gave me subscriptions to Astronomy magazine and National Geographic throughout my time at home. (It’s a wonder the church did not withdraw fellowship from us based on that NG subscription, alone.)

    I more or less lived with the disconnect between what church taught and what I had learned in the textbooks and magazines until Geology 101 in engineering school, where the professor stated up front and without revocation that he would not tolerate debate about the age of the earth or the universe other than that which was determined by the best science available… no religious or YEC hypotheses allowed. Discussion closed. I was more interested in passing the class than forcing the issue (as a matter of amusement rather than principle), so I let it go… and learned quite a bit.

    Again, I lived with the disconnect until a student bible study in grad school where we studied a book called Genesis and the Big Bang, by Gerald Schroeder (a Hebrew scholar, I believe, not a Christian). This book took the Laws of Thermodynamics and attempted to harmonize them with the description of Creation in Genesis 1. I don’t remember the whole of the book’s arguments, but it’s discussion of the ancient meanings of the Hebrew words for “day” and “water”–whether correcct or not–were enlightening, and demonstrated to me that there was another way to interpret the “plain meaning of scripture”–and that was okay. The kicker, however, was the discussion on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and how almost all theories of the origins of the universe involve, to some degree, certain steps requiring that Law to be bent, if not broken altogether. That was the out, in my mind, allowing me to believe the science whole hog, and believe the Genesis account, as well.

    My beliefs, now, have not resulted in any significant struggles for truth or debates with great minds on the subject, but it has left one cognitive dissonance issue on the ash-heap of my life. One less brain cramp to worry about. Even so, I believe the great age of the Earth and Universe has some implications to my eschatology, which I have not yet ironed out. Regardless, I still believe God created it, and I firmly believe the science does not contradict that. As to the literal 6-days in the text… my tongue-in-cheek retort is usually, “It’s hard to explain general relativity, quantum mechanics, and astrophysics to a 40th-Century-B.C. goat-herder.”

    Pretty boring, I guess. And I find the typical YEC debates quite mindless. I have to also give a shout-out to John Clayton, too, whose tracts, pamphlets, and films allowed me “religious permission” to not take the Genesis 1 account completely literally.

  16. Mike the Geologist says

    imonk, Have you seen any of these videos by Gordon J. Glover on Science and Christian Education – http://www.blog.beyondthefirmament.com/video-presentations/science-and-christian-education/science-and-christian-education-page-1/
    I’m interested in your opinion of them as a Christian and an educator. They would be a delightful conversation starter in a class of teenagers.
    I also found his explanation of Genesis 1-2 as reflecting the ancient near cosmology of the time very insightful. I had often noticed the stuff about the upper firmament and wondered what it meant. It makes sense that God would accommodate to his audience and yet give universal truth that is reliable to all generations.

  17. Hmm. Currently I admin computer systems. But way back when, while in high school and college I was big into physics and chemistry. In high school a small group of us discovered digital circuits (1971 or so) and starting trying to build out own computer out of TTL logic circuits. We formed an astronomy club in my neighborhood when I was in the 4th or 5th grade. I owned a reflector telescope at the time, mid 60s. In college I majored in Electrical Engineering (or as we called it Calculus 8, 9, 10, 11, ….) My circle of friends in college and later would debate the latest SciAm or other article/topic at the drop of a hat. And typically we would take either side of the debate, usually against anyone who would drive a stake in the ground with little support. And we were all big time SciFi fans. Not trekies, but fans of Niven and Pournelle. Star Trek is fun. but the others make you think. I started reading Analog magazine in the 5th grade.

    My family was a bit mixed. My father wasn’t trained in science but he wasn’t stupid and understood a science debate better than 80% of the population. My mother, on the other hand, seemed to stop her science learning mid to late grade school. As my brother says now, most of her knowledge of the world comes form blue haired TV preachers.

    Growing up in a generally fundamentalist Baptist congregation but with a very smart, open to discussion pastor who was a person friend of the family, gave me a few 1000 mixed signals. Periodically I’d say something in church that would elicite some hard stares until I learned to keep my mouth shut. At times.

    I was never in much conflict with science and the Bible. But as my kids moved up through the church I discovered more and more than I was in serous conflice with some folks. Even before I ever heard of AIG. But having drifted into a small group of like minded folks I didn’t run into many issues until my kids ran into the middle and high school church AIG/creation curriculum. Then I discovered that most of my church would consider me and the others in my small group heretics. My thoughts on Genesis 1 or Joshua 10 do not fit well with the majority of evangelicals. Issues raised around this time led to the comments of our some of our pastors that basically said something like “maybe we need to ignore the folks to pursue science this way”. This was a part of why our small group / class at this church broke up.

    Our small group is still functioning somewhat but we lost about 1/2 of it over the end result of this. We’re now spread across 4 or 5 churches. This groups includes some of the most dedicated Christians I’ve ever known. They contribute time and money to missions near and far. They include a cardiologist, an RN, a PHD mathematician, a computer programmer who could teach college level physics and astronomy, several engineers, etc… and some just plain folks. It’s nice to be able to have a conversation about cosmic red shift or how to detect planets around other stars with a Christian group. And we all feel saddened by the existing anti-science stand of most Evangelicals.

  18. Physician by trade, geologist at heart, living in a very geologically explicit part of the world. I have never seen any conflict between my faith and science – just between me and other Christians.

    I love rocks and sediments and bones, and except for the experience of wonderment at the size of the Universe gained through astronomy, there is no better way for me to perceive the age of the world than by looking at layers of rocks- with increasing fossil complexity.

    For a while I was leaning toward intelligent design, but the experience of geological time made me rethink that. Francis Collins’ book “the Language of God” was very helpful to read also. The genome of earth’s creatures point away from a “God of the gaps”. The other point Collins makes is that YE Christians are discrediting the Gospel, by not adequately dealing with the science. And I must admit that the YE people I have met, who have given radio spots, and YouTube lectures, don’t have the background to teaching this material.

    The other field of study that has influenced me has been statistics. There are statistical probabilities for leaves falling, and storms and diseases and healing. Somehow God can hide within the statistical world. We cannot prove His work in the world. There is no good study on the effects of religion or faith or prayer that proves it works independent of placebo. (I know some will disagree and quote studies – but…)

    The bottom line is that God is in the world but we will not prove His existence with a study or test, or scanner, or fossil, or rock, or quantum theory or special experience. We will still need faith. We will always have doubts – just like the Apostles had doubts during the Passion, despite everything they had seen Jesus do. Science will never define or or prove God. He will always allow us to disbelieve.

    Finally, I would agree with those whose point is that God is not a deceiver. He did not create these scientific findings to test our faith but to expand our view of His greatness.

  19. Chemist here, with her Master’s degree and working in industry most of the time. I fell in love with chemistry in high school, and avoided physics there by taking a second year of it.

    I was raised in a conservative Southern Baptist family.

    My first conflict between faith and science came in high school, when I first was taught about evolution. My stepmother couldn’t help me resolve the issue, nor could my Sunday School teachers. So, I did like some many of us and compartmentalize. My walls were very thick and weren’t breached until grad school. I was working with some other Baptists, and they opened my eyes to Creationism. I fell head long into that, and was even a member of the Society for Creation Research for a while. I quit because I couldn’t judge the quality of the science, knowing little about biology and even less about geology.

    I lost interest in that kind of discussion, but was sometimes bothered by the push of evolution on children in zoos, etc. (The St. Louis zoo is probably one of the worst.)

    Working as a polymer chemist,there is no conflict. Ironically, my knowledge of scientific creationism and some of the theories about dinosaurs proved helpful in talking to one of my bosses. (I was the first person who could give some reasonable answers to his questions about evangelical thinking and he was my first adult Catholic with whom I had serious discussions.)

    When I converted, I was relieved to find out that there isn’t one standard Catholic answer to how was the world made. Not to mention reading and believing that it is a philosophy question, not a science question.

    As far as my current work, it keeps me humble before God. I am constantly aware of my lack of knowledge, while confident that I can formulate good products. I’m still fascinated by this world, and most everything that is in it.

    I think one thing that helped me in my journey is that I was/am creative. As a child, I read science fiction and even wrote some. Being more of an outsider makes it easier to stretch and even reject what the insiders make mandatory.

  20. ProdigalSarah says

    Botany, plus a passion for natural history.

    Grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist church.

    Walked away.

    Many years later God’s Spirit intervened.

    Questions about science and faith created a huge dilemma for me. At first I believed that following Christ meant I must accept everything I learned as a child. I knew that was not going to be possible. This dilemma forced me to spend a great deal more time reading a variety of theological views, plus much more time in prayer. Looking back, I am grateful for the questions. They eventually led me to a place where faith became much more important in my life.

    I finally came to realize that God, whatever God may be, is vastly more than my human brain can comprehend. If I spent every remaining second of my life studying natural history I would be no closer to explaining all that is God. This realization is profoundly humbling.

    Jesus frequently used observations from the natural world in his parables. We should be observers of our magnificent planet as well. Honest observations are not possible if we contort them to validate an interpretation of scripture.

  21. I have a B.S. in Anthropology; I have believed in some form of evolution since I started high school. I was raised Catholic and in fact had my first Anthropology class in the Catholic high school I attended. I now attend a Southern Baptist church; I don’t agree with the rest of the congregation on evolution. I believe that God created the earth and that it has evolved within His plan the last 14 billion years or so. His plan contains the physical laws of the universe. Some folks have a magical or superstitious belief that God can suspend certain physical realities at times to fool us or test our faith. My argument has been that God certainly can change physical reality, but that if he did, the universe would no longer exist as we know it. I think the Bible is spiritually true but sometimes is not literally true.

  22. BS Ceramic Engineering 1983 from Alfred University. I mention the school because one of my Profs was the guy who brought me to faith. One of the things that I learned from him was that the Bible properly understood is a moral compass. On several occasions he told his students that college is not about making people smarter, but about making them more efficient.

    Most of the people that he discipled came to see the Christian walk as a long term scientific experiment.

    O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. O fear the LORD, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him.
    (Psa 34:8-9 KJV)

  23. I am “The GeoChristian” that Michael Bell referred to earlier. I have an M.S. and B.S. in geology, a minor in biology, and a bunch of chemistry and geochemistry on top of that. My professional experience is primarily in imagery interpretation and topographic map creation. I have six years of experience as a missionary in Eastern Europe, where I worked as a high school science teacher at an international Christian school. I am presently unemployed.

    My early Christian training included a good amount of young-Earth creationist material, and I brought that background with me when I went to college. As a geology undergraduate student, I made a gradual transition from young-Earth to old-Earth, with no loss of confidence in the Scriptures. I had no crisis of faith like some have as they struggle through these things. A key book for me was “Evolution: Nature and Scripture in Conflict?” by Pattle Pun, which introduced me to the day-age interpretation of Genesis 1.

    I know there are a lot of people here who have a problem with the word “inerrancy” but I suspect that could be because they have been in settings where the concept of inerrancy has been abused. The authors of “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” purposefully left out any mention of the age of the Earth. They did this because they knew it was something they could not be dogmatic about, and the vote was almost unanimous. I myself have no problem with the concept of inerrancy. I believe in a real God creating the heavens and the Earth in the beginning, in a real Adam in a real garden, in a real fall into sin with real consequences, and in Jesus Christ as the only solution for that sin.

    I view the young-Earth creationists such as those at AiG and ICR as my brothers and sisters in Christ. I also view them as in error in regards to science and the Bible. There are two serious consequences of this: 1. Young-Earth creationism is an obstacle to the evangelism of scientists. 2. Young-Earth creationism lays a poor foundation in apologetics for our young people. Some of them, when they learn more science, will discard their Christian faith along with their AiG books and DVDs.

    Someone else has mentioned the idea that “all truth is God’s truth.” I wholeheartedly agree. At this point, I don’t understand everything about the relationship between science and the Bible. For example, I don’t know when and where Noah’s Flood occurred, but I’m not two worried about it. I do believe it was local rather than global and that there is no Biblical problem with this interpretation. If there seems to be a conflict between science and the Bible, either we don’t understand the Bible correctly, or we don’t understand nature correctly. In the end, there will be no contradiction.

    I view evolution as primarily a scientific issue on which the Bible has little to say. I have made no commitment on the day-age vs. analogical days vs. framework hypothesis interpretations of the opening chapters of Genesis. One of these is likely to be correct, but I am pretty confident that the young-Earth interpretation is not Biblically necessary.

  24. Éric Wingender says

    I earned a Bachelor degree in Soil and plant sciences and taught science in a public junior high for several years. I now teach theology in Montreal.

    What first got me to move away from the so-called “literal” reading of Genesis that was the standard position of the very conservative church I joined after my conversion at 15, was Henri Blocher’s book “In the beginning”. I used his bibliography (contained in the original french version) to track down and read other authors. I discovered the marvellous world of OT studies and its constellation of german, italian, french, dutch, and english scholars (in their french version, naturellement…). That totally reconciled me with the idea that these texts inhabit their world and that they were not written to give answers to our scientific questions.

    Later on, I started to read about the historical, cultural and philosophical trends that gave north-american evangelicalism its present shape. It made me realize Creationism is a child of its history and its context. In particular, what fascinates me is the typical impulse to get involve in the public sphere and to use the political process to try to give creationism a sort of public legitimacy. It’s a manifestation of a christendom-like approach to society that seems typical of american evangelical protestantism.

    Another set of conceptual tools was provided by reading about epistemology and the nature of the scientific enterprise. That lead me to a somewhat harsher stance toward creation science because, basically, it is really not what it claims to be.

  25. I, on the other hand, am errant. I should have said “I don’t know when and where Noah’s Flood occurred, but I’m not too worried about it” rather than “two worried.”

  26. Long time reader, first time commentator. I have a PhD in Biochemistry, currently working as a senior researcher, outside of the US. I come from a Catholic family, and am a practicing Catholic. Despite the fact that there are marked tensions between the biological sciences and religion, I can honestly say it has never been a major issue for me. This may be due in part to my living in a country where there has never been a large evangelical community, despite the fact that it is a very religious country. My work has previously required focusing on protein structures, and the beauty of these, and the intricacy of the human cell has only strengthened my belief and faith. I have never felt that there was a requirement for me to accept every word of the Bible as completely exact – ie my faith does not need to depend on a belief that the world was created in exactly seven days 6000 years ago. I also have no problems in accepting the fact that God could use evolution to create Man. I have not really encountered many tensions between my faith and my science; the one has strengthened the other. As a scientist, there have been moments of questioning; why do I believe what I believe, what are the facts, what happened and why. I feel that it is important to ask these questions, and to have knowledge about the answers.

  27. I haven’t time to read through all the comments yet, but just wanted to thank you A LOT for this excellent question. For several years now I’ve been thinking of putting together a seminar with ‘normal’ Christians with scientific background, to discuss how they *live* with the science/religion ‘thing’ (and not how they pontificate about it).

    I love the answers I’ve read here, and once I’ve got to the end of them, I’ll come back to write my own comment.

  28. B.S. in Exercise Physiology and currently a 4th year medical student. I’ll start with some brief conclusions I’ve drawn.

    1) No one can wound its own soldiers like the church. (that applies in all areas of ministry, and in this case “lay” ministry–the wounded being those people who are trying hard to live in the world as honest healthcare practitioners/scientists and at the same time witnesses to Jesus Christ, the Living God).

    2) I find it amazing how it is perfectly non-heretical, and has been for a long time, to hold a semi-symbolic/allegorical view of many characters/mentionings in the book of Revelations, but Genesis is treated in quite a different manner. Christians non-versed in science must be taught better what it means to describe the “mechanism” of natural occurrences. Genesis actually does very little of that (describing mechanisms of creation). You are not “weakening God” by mentioning that idea. The Bible doesn’t intend to mechanistically describe God’s works. You can believe the Bible is perfect for all that it intends to say, and yet proclaim clearly that there are many topics/grey areas it does not touch. These untouched areas that we know a little bit about through science are gifts from God, not errors or perceived weaknesses in God’s book. Of course a small subset of the 60% of scientists that claim not to have any religious leanings might use grey areas/areas where God appears silent to maliciously attack the Bible/Christian thought– but don’t tremble due to that. Do not become timid. Do not fear. Work through it. Continue to educate yourself. Step up to the plate instead of running out of fear that your faith will be proven wrong.

    3) No one will ever be able to muster science to disprove faith. However, science will never prove faith either. Apologetics and the like are useful, but don’t expect that they will lead to more than providing a “plausability platform” that states that logic/reason/true science provide a reasonable launching pad for our faith. Logic will not provide more than a reaonable launching pad for an even bigger faith jump in my/and many opinions, which is the atheistic jump. And encourage agnostics who stand on the platform looking for where to jump. . . .don’t write-off their career’s worth of science.

    4) This faith science conflict was less prominent in the early church than it is now. . .it’s a real complication of evangelical anxieties if you ask me iMonk. The world is culpable as well, but “the world” is not an organized group of believers trying to seek out the most loving way to go about such discussions– that’s our job, the church. We’ve gotta be the big girls and big boys and continue to have open minds.

    5) Many pastors will make an flippant remark like “those people who say we came from monkeys,” thinking there are no soldiers from statement #1 that such a statement wounds. However, none of said pastors refuse to go under the knife for a life-saving surgery although evolutionary biology along with the other natural sciences inform close to everything that occurs on that operating table in some direct/indirect way. Eat all the donuts you want pastor– gluttonize away– then turn to science, pray along the way, use some Christianese when people come to visit you in the hospital, then return to your pulpit and make your next flippant comment.

    6) Until unecessary enmity between science and religion is combated, all of you masses of believer out there who wish there doctor would have more time with you, not be afraid to mention faith to you, not be afraid to pray with you are going to be sorely dissapointed. Why? Because until Christians infiltrate/are raised to infiltrate the medical establishment instead of conditioned intentionally or unintentionally to boycott it, your doctor who prays is going to be few and far between. We have so many bad movies because we boycott movies instead of infiltrating/engaging the film industry (once again both science and us are culpable, but we on the believing side are the only ones who care about our culpability in the situation, so we must act maturely).

    7) Say only that which you can say from scripture and no more. I don’t care if you consider yourself the most literal of interpreter of Genesis, we do not know the mechanistic/scientific origin of evil– so don’t say we do. The Bible simply does not cover it. All we know from scripture is that we are all complicit in evil, God is not in any way able to be held to blame for the origin of evil, and that there is a being called Satan who chose pride over obedience and fell in the original sin. We DO NOT know the scientific mechanism of the origin of Satan.. . .how molecularly he came about. We don’t need to know. How about that. . . .the phrase “I don’t know.” That beautiful phrase we should use more often.

    8) 1% of the population of the world is schizophrenic, and well, we don’t KNOW that all of these people are demon-possessed. No. We don’t. Chew that up for a second. It really shook me up in my first trip to the psych ward. 1/100 people? Why? I tried to explain it too. One thing I do know is that many things we did/do imagine are “demon-possession” have an organic basis as an illness, which does not threaten God’s existence. In third world countries today, this human-proclaimed “she’s demon-posessed” phenomenon is alive and well in West Africa where if a woman has labor trouble and develops a vesico-vaginal fistula (abnormal hole between the bladder and the pee hole) which causes her to constantly dribble urine out of her private area, she is a social pariah– demon posessed. Oh really? Well, a simple surgery can correct that “demon possession” on a Mercy Ship. It wasn’t ever a “demon possession” after all, but a physical ailment, explainable by natural laws/treatable by natural laws. That is not to say that her ailment/many illnesses do not have a connection to evil as being a manifestation of broken flesh that started with the original sin. My only point here is once again, say that which you can say, not that which you can’t from scripture.

    So I got kind’ve heated. I apologize if I offend anyone. I simply think it’s important that Christians not stay in denial about needing to integrate true truths from the intelligencia with what we can say from Scripture. Notice I didn’t say false truths from the intelligencia. There are plenty of those, and true scientific truths versus false “scientific truths” do not come with labels, but ultimately whatever is true and discovered via scientific method is a gift of God whether the researcher knows that or not, and it will most certainly square with the ultimate and ABSOLUTE truths expressed in the infallible word of God that is infallible in what it intended to say, not what we intend for it to say.

    I grew up southern baptist, and have since gone to several multi-denominational churches that have a moderately conservative view of things and hold the Bible in the highest of esteem. My first two years of medical school– after many years as a christian, leading all kinds of groups and doing all the things we do, were rough, because I finally opened up to the apparent contradictions, that really are ending up to be just apparent contradictions, not real ones the more I learn.

    Christians, I beg of you to say only that which you can say from scripture and no more along your journey. It will help witness God’s presence to the scientific community, and it will provide the next generation with a greater number of physicians who not only believe in God, but make that support asset known to their patients in dire need of more than statistical prognoses about their cancer/illness. Help set us doctors free to speak up in this “patient autonomy” atmosphere. We are being stripped of the blessing to share our moral compass with willing patients by a world that knows not what they do and has patient autonomy and political correctness as its highest of values.

  29. By the way, I believe there is such a thing as “demon-possession.” Never seen it, don’t particularly desire to see it. I think many things categorized as that have been proven to have an organic illness basis and thus are probably not– demon possession (but still could be, I don’t know). Then there are straight up demon possessions without a preceding component I believe. They could have organically observable changes in brain imaging or something, but they might well be demon possessed. My point is to be careful in “boxing” things that you can’t box. I’ll shut up now.

  30. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullion says

    Not a scientist, but many of the same issues come up in studies of the humanities–especially biblical history and the like. I hope you will cover this in some future column. (Easy to reconcile Christianity with evolution, not so easy to reconcile it with the suspicion that its basic doctrines and scriptures were created by people whose reliability is open to question.)

    I notice that the scientists are focusing on the 7-day creation story from Genesis, but have not mentioned the resurrection or the virgin birth–doctrines which seem more basic to Christianity, and less amenable to interpreting them in such a way as to reconcile them with natural law. Do you accept such things?

  31. Well, well. I certainly don’t fit most of the mold here in this discussion. I am a deacon, a formerly full-time preaching minister, a worship leader, a Dad, a Papaw (Grand-Dad for the uninitiated), a Bible discussion list moderator, a husband, a friend, and…oh yes, a working chemist employed by an environmental lab!

    Raised in the more conservative wing of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement churches, I have pretty much defied pigeon-holing since before I had ever heard the term. I am a questioner. If I have a question, I ask it. Always have. Make of that what you will, for people always seem disposed to do that.

    Early in life I was schooled in YE theology with less-than-adequate attempts at explanations most of the time. And I had lots of questions. Still do – though the questions seem to change over time. I think the first time I felt any tension between science and faith was with my 7th grade Science teacher. She was obnoxious and reminded me a lot of some people at church. She faulted anyone who had a question (what kind of science is that?) and ridiculed anyone with even a modicum of religious faith mercilessly. (Later I realized that the tension wasn’t between science and faith, but between my and that science teacher.)

    My Dad was a pilot, so physics were a large part of his work and of his life and I learned from him and some of my better teachers that true science honors the questions we have with investigation and discovery. Somewhere along the way I learned the same about my faith. Truth, if you can accept my use of the word, has nothing to fear from questions. This is true whether we speak with a view towards the scientific approach or if we employ a more theological approach. Somehow, though, it seems a lot of people forget that – on BOTH sides of the many encounters between dogmatic scientists and dogmatic religionists.

    What helped me most was to realize some things about exploring the truth and the origins of mankind…and of our universe.

    1 – We hardly ever know as much as we think we do and it is best to realize this sooner, rather than later.

    2 – Critical thinking demands that we strive for at least an adequate grasp of things before we try to prove or disprove them. And we need to be able to recognize it when the error we think we have encountered is in our methods and NOT in the resources we are researching – whether academic or in ‘the real world.’ A man’s got to know his limitations. (Thanks, Preacher-Clint) Neither science nor theology are immune to this pothole.

    3 – Objectivity is almost always a subjective standard.

    And 4 – Understanding the Bible takes a lot more effort and humility than just learning to read English…or Greek or Hebrew. Both ancient Jewish documents (BC)and those we might call the New Testament contain figures of speech and subtle shades of meaning that most people have no idea even exist…including most preachers, if you listen to them carefully. If more of us took as many pains to scientifically investigate the linguistics and milieu of the Bible as we do to look into our microscopes and various instruments to unlock the secrets of genetics, both theologians and scientists would find themselves doing the same thing with no little frequency…enjoying the WOW moments and thanking God for the honor.

    I have only been working as a chemist for about a year and have found no real issues with either the science or the scientists with which and with whom I work. Most of my co-workers are also believers, but YE and AE have yet to creep into our conversations, though we discuss theology every once in a while along the way.

    I find some agreement with most of the comments here, and find some to be much more qualified to speak to science issues than theological ones, but try to remember that I was a preacher longer than and long before I began work as a chemist. And, frankly, I am more at home in theology – more because of familiarity than anything else.

    I’ve read some of the books mentioned and intend to read some of the others, Lord-willing, as time and priorities allow. Mostly, though, I regard most of the controversies we invent to be just that: invented. We have not discovered everything yet that science might teach us, and neither have I met anyone who is fully versed on every verse of the word of God – if we can admit to what that phrase (word of God) really means.

    Thanks for the opportunity to shed some light on this journey with science and theology. I am finding it to be an adventure that I would heartily recommend to both believer and skeptic alike.

  32. Memphis Aggie says

    I’m a professional research scientist in Bioinformatics (support staff rather than PI). I have a Ph.D. in Plant Physiology with emphasis on molecular biology. Although these days (last 5 years) I support the research of pediatric cancer (mostly neural cancers) and influenza as a number cruncher.
    I’m not exactly what your looking for in this thread because I grew up secular in a family that has great respect for science and almost zero interest in religion and God. We celebrated religious holidays only a few times here and there as kids and really just because my sister had a cultural interest in Judaism. There was no conflict initially because religion was just not taken seriously at all. Sad to say, contempt for and outright dismal of a religious viewpoint around say evolution was the norm, self included.

  33. Does a scientist turned theologian get to contribute?

    I had originally planned on going into a career in biochemistry but due to various reasons I changed career path to become a theologian. I’m really passionate about seeing an end to this war that doesn’t need to be fought. To that end I actually went for a job on a project run by Cambridge university seeking to reconcile this whole area…

    My understanding of creation has slowly evolved from being a staunch 7 day old earth creationist (I simply couldn’t accept young earth theory), to being confused, to being undecided to swaying towards theistic evolution.

    That said I still struggle with some of the questions raised, such as ‘what about the fall’ (by the way I can highly recommend a talk on this subject by Mike Lloyd which can be found here – http://www.sph.org/Portals/0/MP3s/Other/GGBC-Session3-MichaelLloyd.mp3)and ‘when exactly does Genesis switch to history’ etc. I wonder how you guys have reconciled these or what your questions are?

    I found Frances Collins’ work to be especially helpful on this subject, as well as that of Christians in Science and the Faraday Institute.

  34. Memphis Aggie says

    Oops sent that too quick – my conflict with science rose out of my growing faith. When I moved to Texas I found myself captivated by the great preachers on TV. I was impressed by their very real speaking skills, practical wisdom and confidence, I envied their faith. At the same time I was put off by the money grubbing, absurd hair styles and “END TIMES” scare sermons. I had to willfully suspend that reflexive dismal of the supposedly ignorant to see the real value in the word. What really helped was the arrogance, pretense, politics and rank careerism in Science. What is supposed to be understood and discussed in pure terms was really prone to petty in fighting, fashion and group think. Science as a career was a horrific academic Ponzi scheme that relies on the indentured servitude of grad students. Further it’s morally untethered. So I became predisposed to distrust it.

    When I finally was gifted with faith I found that the basic Catholic teaching that reason and truth do not conflict because they must come from the same source as very reassuring. I’m fully aware of the weakness in the evolution story (the beginning) but greatly respect it’s real strength (explaining many current processes and the diversity yet unity of life). I have my own unique synthesis of Genesis bounded by the precepts of the Church of course. I struggled a bit but not that much, because I know science is written in pencil. The real struggle comes when people want to push scientific research beyond moral limits (embryonic stem cell research).

  35. I was raised in a evangelical home to parents that were YECers (but it wasn’t really that important to them) and from a young age had always wondered about the creation. I bounced between a lot of different theories throughout my youth, but by the time I headed off to college didn’t really know what I thought.

    I studied physics (with a special interest in astronomy) and like earlier commenters had done a pretty good job of compartmentalizing my religious life and my ‘physics life’. Fortunately, I chose a christian college with a rich science tradition that actively tried to engage those two worldviews and I found myself slowly drifting into the Theistic Evolution camp. I looked at my life, and found that I had done such a good job compartmentalizing, that perhaps the only reason I was able to do that was if there really was no conflict at all.

    To me, with a background in astronomy, the proof for a universe 14 billion years old seemed quite strong, and that realization drove me into the TE camp. Significant factors in my journey was getting to interact regularly with some semi prominent TEers such as Howard Van Till and Davis A Young. Van Till has had an interesting faith journey himself, and while he may no longer consider himself an evangelical or even christian, he is still one of the people that really got me thinking about this stuff.

  36. Mechanical engineer for 23 years, fundamentalist Southern Baptist upbringing and christian since the age of 11.

    Science to me is a lot like Christianity; I’m fine with its principals, but I often have a problem with it’s adherents.

    Science in the pursuit of knowledge is fine with me, no matter what it uncovers. I finally (after many years of struggling) decided that if I was going to have faith in an all powerful God, then perhaps I should allow him a little more latitude in how he choose(s) to accomplish his work.

    Glen is right, “We hardly ever know as much as we think we do”. How many times do we hear the phrase “scientists are rethinking (insert favorite theory here)”. Arrogance on both sides of the divide only increase the friction.

  37. Here are some comments on comments. (I ask forgiveness for not mentioning authors.)

    About protein structures. That and photomicrographs of crystals are some of the prettiest things that I have seen. I just marvel at the beauty in this world.

    About the disconnect between Genesis and Revelation. In some of the groups that I have hung around with, they treat both very literally. Like identifying large helicopters with the descending locusts etc. One of my good friends is still in that branch of Christianity, and I both feel sorry for her and frustrated. It seems like she is looking at the world through a very narrow, and distorting lens.

    To Teenage Mutant Turtle. The reason that most of us have more problems with the theories of creation, rather than the details of Christ is that is what is stressed by the young earth believers etc. They tend to think that if you get creation right, then the rest will fall into place.

    Virgin birth, I believe that a Komodo dragon gave birth and she was a virgin. It’s a very small step from her to Mary.

    Resurrection- There’s enough historical evidence that makes it harder to disprove.

    Besides, if we rejected those items, it would be hard to call ourselves Christian.

  38. I work in software, but got a BS in Physics & Math, and a M.S. in Applied Physics (semiconductor microelectronics).

    A key point for me is getting this straight: It’s not about conflicts between the Bible and science. (“Science and faith” is potentially vague & ambiguous.) It’s about conflicts between exegesis & hermeneutics and science.

    Science is to the physical world as exegesis is to the Bible.

    Both science and exegesis are fallible human attempts to understand the way things are–either by examining physical data, or by examining revelation. (Assuming you are an inerrantist believe the Bible is true in what it affirms.)

    So when you hit an apparent conflict between the Bible and the physical data, the job is to re-examine your interpretation of both. Changing your understanding of the Bible won’t necessarily be a matter of “believing atheistic science instead of God’s Word.” Though it very easily can be, depending on how you go about it, and why, and what your standards are.

    If you keep that straight in your mind, then it’s going to take the stress out of most of your efforts to figure these things out.

    But it doesn’t answer this question: What do you do when you’re really confident in your interpretation of both, but you still have a contradiction? When you can’t see any other reasonable way to interpret Scripture, but the physical data seems crystal-clear, too?

    Part of the answer is, “Keep studying. Trust God that it will work out.” But what do you do in the meantime? What do you think/believe?

  39. “About protein structures. That and photomicrographs of crystals are some of the prettiest things that I have seen.”

    RNA/protein folding keeps me from thinking random mutations which go from simple organic chemicals to people has any possibility of being the way it happened. We can’t even explain how to get from basic chemicals to simple organics, much less the billions or trillions or more steps to get to us.

    “But what do you do in the meantime? What do you think/believe?”

    You give the answer that was discussed earlier that pastors should give at times; “I don’t know. But I plan to work on it.” And be prepared to never get to an answer before you die.

  40. Ben, you were talking about gathering Christians with a scientific background, and Nick mentioned Christians in Science and the Faraday Institute.

    This is not triumphalism or pimping my tradition, but I’d just like to mention the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:
    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdscien/own/index_10121999.htm

    “The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is an independent entity within the Holy See. Although its rebirth was the result of papal initiative, and though it is placed under the direct protection of the reigning Supreme Pontiff, the Academy defines its own goals with regard to its statuted aim:

    “…to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences and the study of epistemological problems relating thereto” (Statutes 1:2).”

    I also think that someone should make up a list of prominent scientists who had no problem with being believers; just from my side of the fence, we have Copernicus (yeah, that same Copernicus that Galileo followed his astronomy) – his uncle was a bishop, he was an Augustinian canon, his brother was a canon, and one of his two sisters was a nun; Galileo was himself the father of a daughter who was a nun; Fr. Mendel, the first student of what would become genetics; Fr. Lemaître, proponent of the ‘Big Bang’ theory; Louis Pasteur, devout Catholic – and I’m sure many more 🙂
    ,

  41. And on the Lutheran side, may I suggest Kepler. He actually had similar problems that Galileo did with the religious authorities. His mother was actually tried for witchcraft. You might enjoy the biography, “Kepler’s Witch”

  42. As a zoologist, the biggest issue that I can think of is not evolution but the idea that humans qualitatively differ from nonhuman animals, for example by having souls. (John Paul II said as much–Catholic scientists are allowed to believe evolution, but required to believe in souls.)

    You might suppose that “souls” are unverifiable and therefore do not impact my profession, but working with gorillas and chimpanzees, for example, it’s hard for me to feel that we are really all that different, beyond what ten million years of evolution (give or take) will do. In other words, we are cousins. They obviously have their own personalities, and while “free will” is hard to judge, they often surprise me. (Perhaps you remember Binti Jua, the Western Lowland Gorilla from Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo who rescued a human toddler that fell into the gorilla enclosure.)

    Meanwhile, another aspect of my job is interacting with members of H. sapiens who, while generally a pleasure to be around, occasionally (okay, regularly) indulge in acts of extreme stupidity and / or cruelty that make me wonder which side of the barrier we belong on.

    I don’t have any easy answers to this question, so I can’t claim to have “resolved” anything. The best I can do is say that the meaning of “soul” or “spirit” is NOT some kind of invisible substance or energy unknown to science, a “ghost” that hovers in some “machines” but not others, but…anyway, something else. However we interpret it, I think religion is going to have to adjust its thinking to recognize our basic kinship with other animals, just as they did with Copernicus.

    By the way, a philosopher recently sent around questionaires asking primatologists whether they had noticed any behavior among apes that could be interpreted as religious. Surprisingly, most answered yes. (Although this basically amounts to a personal judgement.)

  43. FollowerOfHim says

    I’m a newly-minted PhD in Mathematics (Probability Theory), with MS and BS degrees in the same. (As such, I share the technical academic background, if not the ID philosophy, of William Dembski. I don’t share his general brilliance, unfortunately.)

    Both of my parents are now Pentecostal ministers, joining the AG in the early 1980s. They hold teaching degrees in English and mathematics, respectively, and formerly taught at the small Midwestern church school I attended through high school.

    Q: How was evolution viewed in my home? A: my mother took a D in her college biology class (not even knowing she could drop classes at all!) rather than acknowledge the theory of evolution as valid. My father would have done the same.

    As a precocious youngster, I was chased into science by a herd of dinosaurs. My parents never censored my scientific reading as a child; I read whatever I could devour between weekly forays to the public library. But I can still remember precisely where I was standing, when as an eight-year-old boy, I showed my mother an artist’s depiction of the Big Bang in one my books, and she said in a perfectly bemused way, “You don’t really believe that do you?”

    Thus began a young-person’s quest to try to square the circle, one which I hadn’t known needed to be squared. Life was made somewhat easier by my father’s rather non-dogmatic attachment to one of Mr. Dake’s pet ideas, that of a “re-creation” between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 1, thereby allowing for a truly old earth.

    (If you squinted just right, and never actually SAID that the earth looks old, like those PBS programs always did, to inevitable parental derision.)

    Like any number of the previous commentators, it was the likes of CS Lewis who showed me, in an off-hand, casual way, that THERE WERE CHRISTIANS WHO DIDN’T HAVE TROUBLE WITH DARWIN.

    So I was able to make peace with the science-religion debate in early adulthood, and without too much fuss really, so I am more fortunate in that regard than are others. I still wonder, however, whether all of the hullabaloo over evolution and Deep Time steered me towards the non-controversial if at-times esoteric field of mathematics. Would I have been a good evolutionary biologist? I’ll never know now.

    And on this theme of young people choosing their career paths, I proffer the following questions:

    1) Parents and church leaders, is your rhetoric towards the hard sciences pushing your young people away from those fields? (My father has often lamented the poor state of the general education of his church’s young people; I have to think that science-bashing from the pulpit, if present, isn’t helping matters.)

    2) If so, why are your surprised that people having your world-view are under-represented in those fields?

    3) In the same breath, why are you surprised that few of these scientists are in your midst?

    Of the approximately 100 graduates from my small Christian school over the years, I think I’m the ONLY one to study anything remotely scientific at the tertiary level, and, like I said, I’m a math guy. This doesn’t make me better or happier than any of them, but it does sadden me that so many are turned off, unwittingly, to the wonders of science because of some misguided, if sincere, Christian leadership.

    Finally, lest you think we math types have no practical insights to offer, I offer you this: if you think that there is even a SLIGHT possibility of your having touched poison ivy, wash your hands BEFORE you use the restroom. Entire areas of your personal life will be grateful.

  44. “1) Parents and church leaders, is your rhetoric towards the hard sciences pushing your young people away from those fields? (My father has often lamented the poor state of the general education of his church’s young people; I have to think that science-bashing from the pulpit, if present, isn’t helping matters.)”

    “Of the approximately 100 graduates from my small Christian school over the years, I think I’m the ONLY one to study anything remotely scientific at the tertiary level, and, like I said, I’m a math guy.”

    My take is they (these types of Christians) want the fruits of science but don’t want to take part in their developement. Sort of a bizarre version of the Amish. And they are not even thinking of what this will mean for the society that the US will have in 20 years. Christians will only exists in the fields of bookkeeping, auto repair, sales, etc… while almost totally absent in medicine, engineering, research, etc… If this happens then the nonsense being spouted by the left now will have come true.

    Christians are too stupid to exist in the “smart” fields. Willingly so.

  45. ATChaffee says

    PhD in biochemical toxicology, teaching basic sciences in a health professional school run by a denomination that endorses a literal 6-day creation but also ironically pioneered a baboon to human heart transplant . Professionally, evolution doesn’t really relate to what I do; molecular mechanisms and possible therapeutic applications don’t require theorizing.

    Both Christianity and scientific training say I’m supposed to seek truth and reconciliation. In reviewing scientific literature, I am supposed to assume that contradictory journal articles were written by honest people and and that beneath the apparent differences are some basic principles in common, with good reasons for the differences; many contradictions can be reconciled or will be eventually if not now. In thinking about evolution, I would like to believe there is also a lot to agree on, with different views having perspectives that bring important emphases to the table.

    Evolution isn’t necessarily shorthand for “I hate God and would like to go murder and pillage now.” A popular Christian biology colleague told me that evolution was the foundation of biology. I asked him what he meant by that and he said that evolution was a shorthand story for the close relationships between organisms across species lines, across different environments, and across time. If instead of evolution we call it adaptation to the environment, interconnectedness, and speciation, then there is much to agree about.

    An example: evolutionary biologists will compare genomic sequences and say something is “evolutionarily conserved”. I don’t have to believe that but I can agree that if all organisms have that sequence it must be pretty important, and maybe it can tell us something about how cells function, what a good drug target will be, etc. Apes and humans might be similar; I can agree that they face similar environmental needs and so have similar genes , and can even approve cross-species transplants without inovking evolution.

  46. FollowerOfHim says

    “My take is they (these types of Christians) want the fruits of science but don’t want to take part in their developement. Sort of a bizarre version of the Amish. ….”

    Ross: I’d agree that it’s broadly the case that many Christians want the fruits but not to tend the orchard. I’d also say, however, that it’s not unique to Christians — science requires heavy lifting as a career, religious attitudes aside, so that many in the West don’t go that route, including the non-religious. Controlling for the latter phenomenon, I’m not sure what the effect of fundamentalism here in the US is — it may not be as much as all that.

    But it still can’t be good.

  47. “I’d also say, however, that it’s not unique to Christians — science requires heavy lifting as a career, religious attitudes aside, so that many in the West don’t go that route, including the non-religious.”

    True. But once I started paying attention, (my kids got to high school), I found an out in the open bias against hard (concrete) science careers. More and more kids are being steered by evangelical church youth leaders into Liberty University as the best possible type of higher ed.

  48. I’m a science/liberal arts hybrid–I’m a medical writer at a biotechnology company. My background is mostly in literary criticism, but I fell into the medical field shortly after graduating from college. I’ve been in the field since 2004. And, pertinent to this discussion, I’ve been a Christian the entire time (Baptist then Catholic then emerging then Episcopalian).

    I think I’ve had an unusual experience, in that a secular great books course that began with Genesis and included Mark’s Gospel strengthened my faith. The professors who taught the Scriptures in this course all assumed that the historical-political reading had merit, and they were keen to point out the 2 (not 1) creation myths in Genesis. I had grown up with kneejerk beliefs about the inerrancy of Scripture, but the plain text showed me that view was unsustainable. Shortly thereafter, I abandoned any belief in creationism as contrived and unbiblical.

    I think this view of Scripture has been a major asset in my professional and spiritual life. Evolution is key to every field of scientific research. We can’t understand biological processes without accounting for change over time, and no treatments are possible without this understanding. And think of the benefit we derive from these treatments–diseases that were once thought death sentences (diabetes, epilepsy) are now manageable as chronic diseases. Other formerly-death-sentence diseases (some forms of hepatitis) are even curable. People are living longer, fuller lives because of medical research, and evolution helps us get to that point. In this way, medical research becomes a mission field–we are helping others to live life and live it abundantly. I have chosen to integrate faith and science, therefore, by appropriating a personal mission in my work. Not by just evangelizing coworkers, not by treating my workplace like a den of heathens that needs to be converted–but by understanding the importance of my work to bringing health, happiness, and further opportunities to experience God through the treatments that my company offers.