Archive for the ‘science’ Tag

Bridging the Gap   Leave a comment

This is not an author interview. It’s an interview with my cousin Rick, who is a world-class research doctor and born-again Christian who has asked me not to publish his full name here because he still values his career and there’s plenty of persecution aimed at Christians within the biological sciences. Lela

 

Can the existence of God be proved?

Not with the same certainty we can say “the earth orbits the sun at a mean distance of 93 million miles, making a complete journey in 365.25 days,” or “genetic information is coded in long protein strands of DNA that, in cells of a particular individual, replicate during mitosis, and in reproduction unite with DNA from another individual to produce the hereditary similarity of offspring to their parents.” Modern science has been enormously successful in producing such facts, which have a strong ring of certainty. Such success cannot simply be ignored.

Proofs of the existence of God have always been of a different sort.. There are scientists who refuse any evidence for God that cannot be obtained via the scientific method and reject any concept of deity. You will never convince them and they would trip over God if He appeared before them in the flesh and still deny His existence. Science is like a narrow-focus lamp — it illuminates brightly, but only where it is focused. The rest of reality is outside of its scope.

The classical proofs of God by Anselm and by Aquinas via natural theology do not provide the same satisfaction as proofs derived by the scientific method. They seem contrived to the modern science-based mind. Still, the scientist Pascal found them sufficient to eventually convince him that God existed and would in fact be necessary to explain the world. He used those classical proofs to prepare his mind for an acceptance of God. He viewed it as a leap of faith across the abyss of reason. For those who experience God in this way, God’s existence has been proven to them beyond any doubt.

Must there necessarily be a conflict between science and religion?

Just my opinion … no, so long as it is understood that science and faith each deal with a different aspect of reality. The Bible is not a science book. You don’t study it to find the intensities and the wavelengths of the Balmer spectral lines of hydrogen … just to name something that cannot be derived without the scientific method.

On the other hand, science doesn’t (or shouldn’t) concern itself with the ultimate spiritual properties of the world, which are equally real.

Science studies the incredible natural order, the complex interconnections between the laws of physics and the chemical reactions in the biological processes of life, for example. Science can answer only a fixed type of question — the what, when and how. It does not, really cannot, answer why from within the scientific method. Despite what some scientists want to believe, the scientific method just cannot provide fact-based answers to the following exemplar questions:

  • Why is there something instead of nothing?
  • Why do all electrons have the same charge and mass?
  • Why is the design that we see everywhere so truly miraculous?
  • Why are so many processes so deeply interconnected?

 

Those scientists who are truly content to live as materialistic reductionalists — which is what we must do as scientists in the laboratory — will never admit to a mystery of the design they see. They will continue to put off those mysteries, waiting for a reductionalist explanation for the present unknown because they believe, as an act of faith, that science will some day know everything. This act of faith denies that there can be anything unknown to science, even in principle.

Of course things of the spirit are not things of science and a larger reality exists than science can address. To many of my colleagues, that statement is anathema .. a heresy worth ruining a life’s work, if not justification for burning at the stake.

To be completely honest, the Catholic Church asserted the same charges against scientists in past centuries — that they committed heresy for saying there were areas of reality where the Church was inadequate to the task of explaining.

There needn’t be conflict between science and faith if each appreciates its own boundaries and takes seriously the claims of the other. The proven success of science simply cannot be ignored by the churches. But neither can the church’s claim to explain the world at the very deepest level be dismissed. If God did not exist, science would have to invent the concept to explain what it is discovering at its core. In fact, it has done just that. In the 12th century, Abelard wrote:

“Truth cannot be contrary to truth. The findings of reason must agree with the truths of scripture, else the God who gave us both has deceived us with one or the other.”

That still rings true nearly a millennium later.

If there is no God, nothing makes sense — not even science. The atheists base their case on a deception they wish to play upon themselves that flows from their initial premise that there is no God. And if there is a God, he must be true both to science and religion — and then you get into which religion and which field of science. The scientist or the pastor who cannot force God to fit in all areas is therefore irredeemably wrong.

 

Can a person be a scientist and also be a Christian?

Yes. The world is too complicated in all its parts and interconnections to be due to chance alone. As you know, that is how I became convinced of the existence of God, which eventually led me to faith in God. The existence of life with all its order in each of its organisms is simply too well put together. Each part of a living thing depends on all its other parts to function. How does each part know? How is each part specified at conception? The more I learn of biochemistry the more unbelievable it becomes unless there is some type of organizing principle-a Designer.

This situation of the complication and the order to function of an organism, where the sum is greater than its parts grows more astonishing as the scientific results become more detailed. I know many scientists driven to faith by their scientific work alone. In the final analysis it is a faith made stronger through the argument by design. The reductionist philosophy that is so necessary to pursue the scientific method simply cannot explain the whole of reality. You come to a point where you have to believe in order to understand what you see rather than understand in order to believe. That’s been described as a leap of faith. I felt like it was waking up from a nap. And then, from the side of faith, you look back at the arena of reason and find that everything makes so much more sense than it did before. Now you have a solid connection between the two sides of life that reason and faith inhabit. A scientist, like all people, becomes a Christian by faith and also remains a scientist in practice.

What is necessary, however, is for Christians and scientists to come to respect each other’s area of work and understanding. Far too often scientists approach Christians with the attitude in the bridge meme above and that is absolute nonsense and does nothing to strengthen any argument. Science really does a marvelous job of explaining the world’s physical aspects. We can’t ignore that and should respect it. It’s likewise necessary for scientists to understand that science is limited by the method of reason and therefore incapable of explaining everything about reality and that scientists ought to be rightfully circumspect about making pronouncements of certainty when they haven’t got evidence to support their claims. The material reductionalist view of the world really leaves us with a large part of reality unexplained and inexplicable.

Romans 1:19-21 explained that very well.

Because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened.

As a scientist delves deeper into whatever field he works in, that sense of wonder and the inability to fully comprehend reality becomes more profound.

Without that faith there is no purpose, and without purpose all the arguments for its need drive us once again to build Pascal’s bridge between faith and reason.

We Are Family   Leave a comment

The extended Markham clan is loosely based in Seattle. They’re a prolific lot. A bunch of us cousins were standing around on my aunt’s deck during a family reunion about 25 years ago. Two were brothers – David and Bailey, there was Rick, myself and a couple others who do not play roles in the rest of the story.

David was an atheist working toward becoming a paleontologist. Bai was a biochemist getting a second masters in theology. Rick was a research doctor whose team had recently made a huge discovery in neurobiology.

Bai and David had each had a couple of beers and were starting to get on each other’s nerves. Young men, brothers and beer – not surprising.

When the insults got deep enough, I appealed to Bai’s Christian ethics to cool him down. David appealed to Rick, as the “real” scientist didn’t he agree that faith hopelessly tainted science? The agnostic Rick did not want to take sides, so he proposed a research project. He told me later that he thought they’d be uninterested, but somehow we all threw questions into a bowl. I am not even sure how I ended up included in the group. I’m not a scientist. Rick said that if I could understand their arguments, then they would be making sense. I was their control.

The 25-year journey of this group has strengthened my faith immensely because what I’ve learned is that God uses the arguments against Him to reveal Himself.

I will explore this in future posts.

Intelligent Causation   Leave a comment

I believe in intelligent causation. The universe and all that is in it has been created and is being sustained by God (Colossians 1:16-17). I can’t call myself a follower of BioLogos because I do have some discomfort with modern mainstream science. I have a cousin who is a paleontologist and an atheist and even he says paleontologists ignore the evidence in their own field that evolution has not played out the way they present it in public discourse. However, I agree with quite a lot of the BioLogos belief statements.

BioLogos differs from the Intelligent Design movement in three respects:

  1. They are skeptical about the ability of biological science to prove the existence of an Intelligent Designer (whom they take to be the God of the Bible), while ID advocates are confident.
  2. They find unconvincing those attempts by ID theorists to scientifically confirm God’s activity in natural history, while ID theorists believe they have sufficiently demonstrated it.
  3. They see no biblical reason to view natural processes (including natural selection) as having removed God from the process of creation. It is all God’s and it is all intelligently designed. Those in the ID movement for the most part reject some or all of the major conclusions of evolutionary theory.

#1 – No problem there. Why would a metaphysical Being submit to human science? Again, it’s my dog trying to understand the creation of a human.

#2 – I agree we’re not going to scientifically confirm God’s activity in natural history. Again, we have limited understanding of an unlimited Being.

#3 – I think we’re all going to be surprised when God explains how the universe really works to us. We’re not as smart as we think we are. Even the scientists who accept BioLogos are not as smart as they think they are.

Despite these differences, all Christians agree that the God of the Bible is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. We agree on the authority of the Bible, even though we disagree on the best interpretation of particular passages. We agree that God is continually active in His sovereign governance of the universe, even though we disagree on how much God acts through natural law versus miracles. We are unified in our rejection of evolutionism, even though we use different strategies to counteract it. While Creationism and Intelligent Design reject the science of evolution and Biologos instead rejects the atheistic spin put on the science, the two movements agree on the fundamentals of Christian faith: that all people have sinned and that salvation comes only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All true Christians agree that the God of our salvation is the same God we see in the wonders of His creation and that creation extends from the vastness of the Milky Way down to the minutest detail of DNA.

Faith & Science Are Different, Not Incompatible   2 comments

I do so believe in dinosaurs and I do NOT believe the earth is 6000 years old. That, by the way, was one man’s interpretation of the Bible, which doesn’t claim the earth is 6000 years old. It follows the Hebrew people and their lineage, which goes back about 6000 years.

I believe that Bible was inspired by God and written by the hands of humans. Humans 4000 years ago had limited understanding of the natural world. As they wrote a book of history, I suspect some concepts just didn’t communicate very well between an eternal, all powerful, and spiritual Being to His limited creation.

Example?

Nobody knows how many “days” it actually took God to create the earth or how long He spent creating the universe. No, I am not saying I disbelieve the Bible. I believe it took six periods of time for God to create the universe. I suspect that Moses did not understood “day” in the same way that God experienced those periods of time.

What is a “day” to an eternal Being? Time must be a relative concept for Him, since He’s always existed. In fact, a thorough reading of the Bible would show the reader that God experiences time in a way that we do not. He knew what we would do before we existed, implying time applies to humans in a linear fashion, but God is outside of time. To Him, the moment of Creation may be like a second ago to us. So “day” means …? Well, there are those who insist it means a 24-hour period of planetary revolution, and God still loves them, but the Biblical account says God didn’t create the sun until the third “day”, so …? Yeah, not a scientific document. It’s a historical document, scribed by a time-limited human trying to understand a communication from an infinite and eternal Being. It might be a little like my dog trying to understand one of my blog posts. As dogs go my husky-mix is incredibly bright, but this blog post would be over her head. So, Christians who apply reason to the discussion of the earth’s age recognize that we really don’t know from the Bible how old the earth is and we’re okay with that.

It’s not denying science to have faith. It’s denying science has a right to define faith.They really are two completely separate subjects. Faith should not limit science because science deals with how the universe works, but neither should science seek to limit faith because faith deals with why the universe exists. That’s a middle ground that I think any Bible believing Christian can grow comfortable with if we allow ourselves to. Defending faith does not require that we discount science … only that we point out when scientism oversteps into areas that it is not qualified to comment upon.

I do consider myself a “creationist” in that I believe God created the world in the way described in the first chapters of Genesis, but I also think the first chapters of Genesis do not tell a complete picture. We have no idea how many generations separated Adam from Abraham. What is written about the time before Abraham is synopsis of millennia, most likely.

In my honest non-partisan way, I do not myself wholly agree with any one version of “creationism”. I find parts of the Creationist argument compelling (hence the acceptance of the first chapters of Genesis), but I also agree with Intelligent Design on some things. Science is a wonderful subject, but I think scientists sometimes draw wrong conclusions from their data because they want their worldview validated. I am also drawn to the BioLogos movement, what might be termed “theistic evolution”. My mind is not made up and I think that is a sign of intelligence, reason and faith.

All true Christians believe that God created the universe and all life. You can’t claim you’re a Biblical Christian and also say you think God wasn’t intimately involved. On the other hand, you can disagree with Young Earth Creationists who believe God created everything 6,000 to 10,000 years ago and dismiss much of modern mainstream science. I hold that Scripture and modern science both reveal God’s truth and that these truths are not in competition with one another. There is some disagreement in how to reconcile the truths of science and Scripture on particular issues. I’m not completely sold on evolution mainly because it is so often presented as evolutionism, which is a subset of scientism – the atheistic worldview that denies the existence of the supernatural even when it is so evident you’d have to be blind not to see it.

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