Occasional blog and online home of Paul Wallace

  • Local Pages

  • Quote of the month

    And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around. Lucky me, lucky mud.

    -- Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle

  • Facebook

    Readers respond

    Dear Alert Readers,

    Below please find responses to the invitation given in this post. The invitation was for readers to send in their thoughts and stories about any science & religion topic.  If you have not yet contributed to psnt.net in this way, please do. Thanks to each of you for your responses!

    Yours,

    Paul

    1. The Creation Discussion, offered by Lee Cross, MD, Atlanta, GA

    My wife and I have debated this issue for 40 years. For me the two distinct creation stories in Genesis 1-3 with the dividing line being Gen 2:3 merely summarize the big bang and the creation specifically of man in a spiritually based short hand. When Gen 2:8 describes the anthropomorphic Father creating man out of the dust of the earth and breathing into him the breath of life, for me that’s just evolution from the beginning of life in the primordial soup through the incredible process we have partially recorded in the world around us. What could be more glorious than to have created mathematics and the laws of physics. One could argue that’s all God did and just sat back and watched. Personally I believe human consciousness is a direct gift to us from God.

    2. The following two short essays were submitted by Rhonda Fellows. Her credentials are BS & PhD in Chemistry (Furman  & Ga Tech), 18 years as a laboratory chemist doing applied research followed by 9 years as a scientific administrator. She holds that position today.

    ONE

    I grew up in the 60s in a Southern Baptist family.  My Dad was a doctor and my Mom a nurse who stopped working to raise the kids.  In first or second grade I decided I wanted to be a scientist.  I no longer remember why I had that aspiration but science is still a central part of my life. When I was young there was no conflict between being a Christian or being a scientist: it was perfectly acceptable to be both.

    I’ve experienced a few times when I have been deeply convinced of God’s presence and magnificence. The first was when I was 9 and realized what Jesus gave up on the cross. Another time was in biochemistry class at FU learning about enzymes. I am very impressed by an elegant solution or design and enzymes are just amazing machines that interact with other molecules to lower the energy of activation so that a reaction takes place easily and quickly. The beauty of how enzymes work is for me a marvelous example of God’s handiwork.  The idea that God could design a world that could go from nothing to what we know now and along the way evolve such wonderful things as enzymes greatly impresses me.

    Some time between when I was young and now, mainstream Christianity became mistrustful of science and organized science became mistrustful of Christianity. This is really hard for me because I am trying to stop compartmentalizing my life into Church, Work, and home/fun.  It is hard to integrate the religious aspect of my life with the work aspect when I feel as nervous about admitting to some church members that I am a scientist (and even worse one who believes in evolution) as I do about letting my co-workers know that I am an active Christian.

    I can only conclude that many Christians don’t realize how much more difficult it is to design a process that could evolve without interference than to design a process that needs tweaking on occasion to make it work out right.  I find a Creator who can put together something that falls into place as the millenia pass, to be much more powerful than one who populates a young world that comes with artifacts to mislead some people into thinking the world is much older.

    TWO

    I don’t understand the disconnect between religion and science.  To me they are similar in many ways. Practitioners of each begin with faith and ideally grow by studying, asking questions, and refining our understanding.  I expect that many scientists would disagree with this statement but when we learn first about atoms and molecules or the reactions of short chain hydrocarbons, we rarely understand the details of these things.  We may later fully grasp the concepts and mechanisms involved, but at first we just have to accept that this is how it is.  Same thing with religion, usually (but not always) faith comes before understanding.  Just as Christians sometimes become stuck when they stop studying the Bible and refining their understanding of God, scientists also can become stuck when they stop asking if new information should change their understanding of their field of study – when they stop disproving hypotheses and only design experiments to support their conclusions.

    I hope that I will always try to be open minded enough at church and work to be receptive to things that challenge my thinking, whether it is a new idea about what it means to love my neighbor or a new explanation for how certain chemicals alter DNA to cause cancer.  Similarly I hope that when my church or my work stop challenging me to think differently, I will move on to something that does.

    3. The following was contributed by Jeffrey Broadrick, a Mechanical Engineering student at Georgia Tech. He first considers what it means to be a student of science, then a follower of Christ, followed by his thoughts on being both of these simultaneously.

    Thoughts on Science and Religion

    Science:  I studied physics under PW and company at Berry College and am now attending Georgia Tech in pursuit of a mechanical engineering undergraduate degree.  When I came out of high school I was a slacker (PW and my other Berry professors can attest to this).  I didn’t excel in any specific subject (I even repeated Algebra a couple of times), and I cruised into college with a strong B average and no honors classes or AP credits.  It might sound odd that I would have chosen to pursue degrees in Physics and Engineering which seem to be perceived as “tougher” or “smarter” majors than other, more popular, paths such as business or education.  Although I had never done any better in math and science classes than I had in other disciplines, I always seemed to be able to stay awake in these classes more often, and was able to get my B with less work (no long papers, no subjectivity); so in hindsight, I chose this path out of laziness.  I say all this to lead to the point that I was not a science minded person of any sort until my professors at Berry convinced me that I could be (an act for which I owe them a great deal).

    Christ:  This introduction is inclined to be lengthier than the science intro due to the nature of religious ramblings, so I apologize in advance and appreciate your audience.  I was exploring faith long before I began to explore science.  I was raised in the church in a small town outside of Athens, GA.  I was always very skeptical of organized religion.  I remember going to youth revivals as a young tween and feeling very uneasy.  I’m sure that if I had taken world history prior to these rallies, images of Hitler’s Youth would have popped into my mind at these events as everyone raised their arms in unison to Jars of Clay covers.  I do not mean to compare Christian youth revivals to Hitler’s Youth in any way other than that of a mindless obedience to possible deception (I’m more inclined to lean more towards actual deception in Hitler’s case, and less so for speakers/musicians at youth revivals).  I also do not mean to “diss” Jars of Clay or any of their remaining fan-base, I’m simply attempting to paint a picture of a 13 year old kid in an auditorium as 800 fellow juveniles share surprisingly synchronized religious experiences.   I remember the first time I tasted Pepto-Bismol as I faked sick in order to avoid attending one of these services/concerts (as a side note, I haven’t used Pepto-Bismol since…Freud’s thoughts on this?).  When at these retreats, I always tended to follow the advice of the popular 90’s Christian t-shirt/bumper-sticker slogan and “go against the flow” (accompanied with a picture of a Jesus fish swimming in the opposite direction of all of the damned fishes).  In this case, “going against the flow” meant either not attending or at least not becoming, quite literally, overcome with emotion.  I have never seen myself as a very stubborn person or one to avoid peer pressure, I have just always been quick to question and slow to adopt life changing beliefs and ideal sets, in this way I am abnormal I guess.  I had many negative experiences with organized Christianity growing up, such as those just described, and my childhood church being split by politics as I was entering adolescence.  There were however very positive things to come out of my young church life, such as an understanding of the importance and the structure of the Bible, and an odd reverence for tradition and its comforting qualities.  One thing that I could never shake about Christianity was the fact (and I use the word “fact” only as it pertains to my life, you may have a different experience) that all of the thoughts, ideas, and guidelines for joyful and abundant life expressed by Jesus and his followers seemed to yield a remarkable amount of fruit in my life.  This concept, several others that are not as relevant, and my association with many great Christians who did not pretend to know all of the answers, only that they were commanded to love each other as HE loved them, led me to following Christ in high school.  I made this decision not during an adrenaline rush one evening in the presence of powerful orators and inspiring rock music, but in the sobering light of day when my mind was feeling especially clear and my heart incredibly at ease.

    Science and Christ:  As I entered college a young Christian and budding scientist, my first inclination was naturally to try to reconcile the two.  For the sake of brevity, and to not spoil the process for those who haven’t begun it yet, I have decided through several years and much deliberation that using science to guide faith is as useless an endeavor as using faith to guide science.  I do not wish to be quoted on this, as I leave the possibility open for my opinion on this matter to one day change, however, currently, I do not see a need to try to rationalize my faith with scientific discoveries.  This isn’t to say that I would be upset if I tripped over the Ark of the Covenant on a morning jog, I just don’t find joy, in the biblical sense of the word, in trying to mesh Genesis with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  I enjoy spending my mental and spiritual energy marveling at the questions that Darwin, and more notably many others, could not and cannot answer with science, and perhaps only my faith can.  Why do I find more joy in giving than in receiving (this seems rather contrary to natural selection)?  Why do I find so many answers in prayer and meditation, not to mention its undeniable positive influence on my attitude and mental health?  And, perhaps the most clichéd and important of all seemingly unexplainable phenomena in creation, what is/why love?

    In conclusion, any strength in faith that I have comes from my natural inclination to question things before adopting them, which is also at the heart of good science… so maybe they’re not so different after all.

    Comment Pages

    There are 9 Comments to "Readers respond"

    • G. Lee Cross, III, MD says:

      God created the laws of physics including quantum mechanics AND mathematics. Enough said.

         0 likes

      • Paul Paul says:

        Lee, what prompted your comment? It’s a very interesting one; Why point out quantum mechanics and mathematics in particular? Do say more.

        Paul

           0 likes

    • Lee, I’m sure you know that the success of science is largely based removing subjectivity from any inquiry. This goal of approximating a pure form of objectivity is validated by its success, and its opposite of subjective impression is clearly invalidated as a reliable road to truth by the many opposing and irreconcilable religious beliefs based on subjective “confirmation’. I’m not sure why, in light of this, you would invoke your subjective impression of your emotions to warrant your beliefs. What evidence is there that subjective impression correlates to truth? I not only find no correlation, but actually suggest that the diametrically opposed subjectivity-based belief systems point to the conclusion that subjective feelings are very commonly in error. I also suggest that it is the objectivity of science that will provided a truth that we can then more confidently live our subjective lives on since we will be armed with its predictive power to maximize our emotions.

         0 likes

      • G. Lee Cross, III, MD says:

        Phil – Life experiences influence all of us subjectively. There are serious difficulties rationalizing faith with science. In fact I don’t believe faith is “rational” in the traditional sense. When I was placed in a nearly impossible situation a little over 30 years ago as the only full time orthopaedic surgeon for the entire US military in Korea, working 80-100 hours a week and driving my wife nuts, I had to do something or lose my family. There was not a rational solution to that problem. I turned back to faith after many years of pious denial of faith. I must admit that the last 30 years of subjective relief by belief that I am saved by grace through faith has given my life balance and great satisfaction. Josh McDowell, a modern Christian apologist, helped me greatly by observing in Evidence that Demands a Verdict that everyone in Jerusalem was looking for Jesus’ body but couldn’t find it – because He had risen from the grave. Why would the disciples die for a lie? For me this approach has worked very well.

           0 likes

        • Lee, I’d like to suggest that there is a rational answer to every situation. Reason does not always eliminate pain, but it more frequently minimizes it than would an irrational response. Faith is never necessary. It may make us feel better, but to abandon reason and to turn to the unsubstantiated marginalizes life in a way that those steeped in faith never realize. Think about the way you feel about Muslims who waste their lives on their knees before their god. There is a lot of life you have to lose should you turn to faith to guide your life.

             0 likes

          • I also read many of Josh McDowells books when I was young. It was only after I honestly set aside my assumptions, learned the principles of probability, and applied critical thinking that I was able to see the fallacies in his assertions.

            I strongly suggest you may not want to employ the “die for a lie” line given the very large number of non-christian theists over the ages that have indeed died for a lie.

               0 likes

            • Joey says:

              One thing to remember about the “die for a lie” statement — the early disciples died for something they claimed they SAW (resurrected Jesus). This is different, historically, from folks who die for what they believe.

                 0 likes

    • Tom Harkins says:

      The discussion above regarding science “versus” religion prompts my comment that science and religion are not antithetical to each other, but “complimentary.” If we say that “science,” properly so called, is less than “understanding how things operate,” and limit it to “physical investigations,” or the like, then we have to acknowledge that at some point we “come up short” and have to refer to “something else” to “fill in the gaps.” I recognize that many people decry the “God of the gaps”; but, merely because something is frequently decried is not itself sufficient evidence that it is not so.

      Particularly, in “science,” limited as above, we come to the end of our explanations when we consider “how life began,” because the law of no spontaneous generation shows us that life could not have sprung from nonlife “on its own.” Similarly, if we consider the physical “heavens,” under the Second Law of Thermodynamics (among other things), we realize that the “heavens” must have “started” at some point, even were one to adopt a “Big Bang” cosmology. Again, something “outside nature” must be invoked, simply because, again, science in itself “comes short” of fully explaining all we see. This is beyond the further inquiry as to any “why” things are as they are, or “meaning and purpose,” which certainly are matters beyond the ken of “science” in the purely “physical” sense.

      Consequently, I conclude that at the “end” of “nature,” there must be “super” nature, as both a “cause” of physical existence, motion, and “life.” Indeed, this “super nature” must itself indeed be “super” in the more “slang” sense of “astonishing,” if it is capable of causing and explaining our literally “breathtaking” universe, diversity and complexity and codependent nature, and human life, “physique,” and, especially, thought (the very thing necessary for us to be having this “conversation). Enter religion; indeed, enter the Christian religion. Its posit of God (or, indeed, quite conversely its acceptance of God’s “revelation” of himself to us) is essentially the only “super” theory out there that can “foot the bill” for such a “fantastic” “cause” which undergirds and “explains” nature, in its “limited” sense.

      So how do science and religion “fit together” or “compliment” each other, according to my “hypothesis”? More directly and extensively than most “secular scientists” would acknowledge (or agree). Essentially, a proper and rigorous analysis of scientific claims as to various “origins” theories shows them to be inadequate at multiple points, in my humble estimation (and as I have argued more extensively in other comments as to various “posts” by Paul). Enter the biblical account of “creation,” wherein God states how he brought what is into being. This account only “infringes” on science if one believes (without adequate foundation, I would contend) that science must explain all “existence” in purely physical terms or “causes.” In fact, science would be much better served in applying itself to understanding how things “are” or “how they work,” as opposed to speculating on “how they came to be” in some “historical” sense. For, in fact, we cannot “go back and see” in any literal sense–we have to depend basically on “retro-deduction” from what we actually see now. For the “history,” we do well to rely on those who left us the “histories.” And the Bible proclaims itself to give us such a “history,” one which claims to come from this God “of the gaps.” Therefore, I suggest that the problem “complement” of science and religion is to use “science” to investigate the nature of what is, and let religion tell us “how it got to be here”; if, indeed, it can–and we find that it both can and does, if we truly embrace the orthodox Christian faith consistent with giving the Bible the credit we would otherwise give any such “history” were we not plagued with modern “skepticism.”

      In short, this is my “resolution” of the supposed “conflict” between science and religion–let each operate in its proper sphere. However, clearly my view of where one sphere ends and the other begins is obviously quite different from that of most who comment on these pages. I submit, nonetheless, that my view is rather consistent with that of various “early” scientists such as perhaps the greatest (or, perhaps, second greatest) scientist of them all, Isaac Newton. That said, I find myself comfortable with such “company” as he.

      Tom Harkins 01/04/2011

         0 likes

    • Tom Harkins says:

      This comment is in response to Rhonda’s first essay above. Rhonda, you say: “I can only conclude that many Christians don’t realize how much more difficult it is to design a process that could evolve without interference than to design a process that needs tweaking on occasion to make it work out right. I find a Creator who can put together something that falls into place as the millennia pass, to be much more powerful than one who populates a young world that comes with artifacts to mislead some people into thinking the world is much older.” Three points.

      First, what God COULD do, or what is “more difficult,” isn’t really the issue. The question is what DID he do. As to that, your “balancing act” between science and religion does become somewhat problematic. If you take scripture “literally” (except when the context shows it is intended some other way, in which case it still should be construed in that precise “other way,” not “set aside”), then the Bible has God creating the world in six days and “resting” (i.e., “stopping” from creating) on the seventh day (as a pattern for us to follow). Genesis 1:1-2:3; Exodus 20:8-11. Consequently, to the extent that you believe in evolution in the sense of “Big Bang” to the present over billions of years and life from, what?, then, though someone who so believes may be a Christian (if she attributes all these steps to a PERSONAL God who “acts” in a creative fashion), clearly that belief is not “orthodox” Christianity–which might explain why you might be somewhat “uncomfortable” in letting your Church friends realize you believe in evolution.

      Second, you seemingly object as being, in essence, “unflattering” to God to suppose that he “intervenes” in the history of the universe, or this earth, or mankind. Again, the “flattery” is somewhat beside the point–God is as he is, and does as he does, without much regard for what we may think about it. But I don’t find such “intervention” (i.e., in significant part by way of “miracles”), to be “unflattering.” For one thing, how you choose to act with respect to something you “build” depends on what you built it for. If I build a house, it is hardly “unflattering” if I choose to live in it, and in the process change things from time to time to “suit my fancy.” I think I gave this example in another comment long ago, but if I designed my house to have the lights come on at a certain point and the coffee pot start to brew, if I happen to have company coming, I very well might “override” that “standard procedure” for the “special occasion.” This hardly proves I was a “bad builder”; it just means I designed it to “perfectly” operate under “standard circumstances,” but I occasionally want to proceed in an “unstandard” fashion to suit some particular purpose. The “rules” are how things happen “normally,” but this cannot stop God from sometimes wanting to act to show that something “unusual” was afoot. For example, what about the fact that some people deduce from the “standard order” that such things “merely happened that way” as opposed to being “designed” by God, and therefore became atheists (a real life example). Would it be inappropriate if God were to “step in” to show such people that, in fact, he really did exist? And how better to do that than to personally “override” the “natural” rules in some “awe-inspiring” fashion? If you believe the Bible, then you see that God in fact did this very thing. And on more than one occasion, lest someone think the matter a “fluke.”

      Space and time don’t allow any full treatment, but I give two examples from the Old Testament. First, when Elijah made his challenge to the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, he was “proving” to the Israelites that Jehovah, not Baal, was the “true” God, so that they might quit worshipping the worthless Baal and turn to God. So, he called down fire from heaven and it came. Second, as to “flukes,” when Gideon asked God for a demonstration that it was really God who was calling him to undertake a seemingly impossible task and could help him prevail, he asked for dew to fall on the fleece alone. It did. Then he got nervous (after all, conceivably someone could have come out and poured water just on the fleece), so he asked God to make the dew fall everywhere else except on the fleece. So God did. As a result, Gideon was encouraged enough to fulfill the task God had set before him. The point being, God “perfectly” arranged matters to proceed as they should under all “normal” circumstances, but from time to time he has some reason to “show himself” to us, and “miracles” may well occur in such settings.

      Continuing with this point, we might ask ourselves, what was really the purpose of God’s creating what he did in the first place? Just to have some magnificent edifice in his honor? Certainly not that alone. One very substantial reason, as again shown in scripture, is that he wanted to “fellowship” with man. He wanted us to be friends! Thus, he walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden (that’s at the beginning of scripture). In Revelation (at the end of scripture), he says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20. In other words, God created what he did as he did because he WANTED to “interact” with it. It is hardly some failure, then, when he chooses to so “interact.”

      Finally, you appear to accuse God of trying to “fool” people by putting “artifacts” in the ground so as to “mislead” them into believing that evolution is the true explanation for how things came to be as they are, instead of the biblical account. I think there are at least two answers to this. First, God created things in a “full grown” state. Thus, he did not create Adam as a sperm swimming around in, what?, seeking for an egg from, what? Instead, he created an “adult male” (which makes sense, because that would be what would be capable of “surviving” on its own). In the same fashion, he created the earth so that it would be able to “sustain” this adult male (and female). This requires a “full grown” planet. Now, what we want to do, having “abandoned’ the biblical account, is “go backwards” ad infinitum to some “ultimate” origin. Is that God’s fault? He tells us what he actually did. And that makes perfect sense, what he did. So we can hardly “paint God black” for creating things “in progress,” so to speak.

      But what about the fossils? This always seems to be the “ultimate fallback” of anyone who wants to challenge the biblical account of creation. Well, you probably won’t be very happy with this as a possible explanation (and I am not insisting I must be correct on this point–possibly other explanations may exist), but God also says that he not only created the original order, but later “destroyed” it (to some degree) with a wordwide flood (Noah). Once again, God isn’t “fooling us”; he tells us what he did. Peter tells us that we (Christians) must understand that there will be “scoffers” of the biblical message because they deny the biblical accounts of both the creation and the flood, saying that “everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 2 Peter 3:3-7. It seems to me that this is very close to the position that there was a “beginning” (the “Big Bang”), and everything simply follows the “natural order” from then until now without any “intervention” by God–that is, the “standard” evolutionary stance. To me, the episode of the Flood and its “aftermath” is fully equally as plausible an explanation for the “fossil record” as any evolutionary account–particularly since there is a virtual dearth of any “intermediate” fossils as would be needed for the evolutionary explanation.

      Well, that is quite long, but I feel it is very important not to “abandon the Bible” as a Christian so as to cater to a supposedly “scientific” explanation for things which simply fails or refuses to take into account the prospect that there was a “designing” God who has “intervened” in history. I don’t think the Bible is inconsistent with “true” science which does not engage in “speculation” as to “origins” but instead looks at the majesty of the created order and does its best to understand how that created order operates, and under what “standard rules,” thereby not only increasing the store of “knowledge” but also application of that knowledge for our benefit through technology. Thus understood, the Bible and science can actually operate “hand in hand.”

      Tom Harkins 01/05/2011

      P.S. My “pedigree,” if it can be called that, is that my parents were Southern Baptist missionaries in South Korea, I “abandoned my faith,” so to speak, while at Furman (as Paul did), subsequently I graduated from Duke University School of Law, then “regained” my faith some years later, studied briefly in a couple of seminaries, and now practice law fulltime.

         0 likes

    Write a Comment

    XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

    Search

    Latest posts