Thoughts on the relationship of science and faith
No one told me in 1965, when I chose to walk with Jesus Christ as my Savior, that I could not study mathematics and science.
No one told me a year later, when I declared chemistry as my major area of study, that I would have to give up my faith.
Over the years, as I grew in my understanding of my faith and my vocation, no one told me that they were mutually exclusive.
I do remember someone telling me that the earth was only 6000 years old because of the work Bishop Ussher had done in 1650 to pinpoint the beginning of creation at nightfall on 23 October 4004 BC. But I remember that Jesus told the people to look around to see if he was the Messiah, so when I looked at the evidence for the beginning of Creation, I knew there was something wrong with that date (among other things, it is far too specific for the data that was used). And all I could think was that God would not lie about the evidence before us and I should not accept false evidence as a matter of faith.
In 1980, the Missouri state legislature was preparing to pass a bill that would have told biology teachers how to teach biology, by including creationism in the discussion of evolution. I suppose I could have ignored this because I only taught chemistry, but one must be careful when individuals who do not have any knowledge of the processes of science (“The Processes of Science”) try to tell science teachers what to teach and how to teach it. I was prepared to resign if the law passed and was surprised to find that my department chairman, a devout Southern Baptist layman and biologist, was also going to resign.
Galileo was tried and convicted by the Catholic church for refusing to accept the prevailing idea of the time and dictates of the church (that the earth was the center of the universe). He was told not to push the issue, but he did and the church, with the support of the academic establishment whose reputation was based on the geocentric universe, took their revenge.
I was not told, in part because it was not part of the curriculum, that Newton was an alchemist and, had people known what he wrote, a heretic. Newton, along with Robert Boyle (considered the father of modern chemistry), wrote extensively on the topic of religion. Newton went so far as to predict of the end of times to begin in 2060.
I was not told that Joseph Priestley, one of the discoverers of oxygen, was a founder of Unitarianism and that he fled England for America when members of the church establishment burned down his home and church.
And yet their work in science was directed towards better understanding God.
There are others who share a life of faith and science. John Polkinghorne, a noted nuclear physicist, became a minister in the Church of England in 1982. Georges Lemaître, a Roman Catholic priest and mathematician, looked at the theory of relativity equations prepared by Albert Einstein and developed the mathematical idea for the “Big Bang”. I knew of the “Big Bang” but only recently discovered that a noted theoretical physicist and an atheist, Fred Hoyle, coined the term because he feared the discovery would support the idea of creation expressed in Genesis 1.
We are told that there is a conflict between science and faith but the only ones who suggest this are the ones whose power lies in telling others what to do.
We are reminded that Adam was tasked with the care of the Garden of Eden and that, as his descendants, we are tasked with caring for this world. And yet there are those, especially secular and sectarian fundamentalists, who say that climate change is false.
Faith and science both share the same characteristics – we see things and ask why; we ask why and seek answers.
Despite the claims of some, science cannot answer all the questions we might have about this world. Science has no way to answer the question of the matter of good and evil or why we are here. Science cannot tell us “Why”, only “how”. The Bible does tell us why and who we are, but it cannot, nor should it ever be a science textbook.
Over the years, there have been many who have tried to tell me how to believe and what to believe but the ones who speak the truth are the ones who do not tell you what to believe but show you the path so you can find the answers that vex and bewilder you.
I think about Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. Raised as an atheist (or better stated, a non-believer), he was faced with a series of questions about faith. It was a United Methodist minister who offered the guidance that allowed Dr. Collins to come to Christ.
I will never, I hope, tell you what to believe or say that your belief system does not work. I am still learning about my faith, so I am not able to tell you how to find yours. But I will help you find the way to the answers.