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Faith with Inquiry

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January 21, 2010 Tags: Education

Today's entry was written by Shelley Emling. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Faith with Inquiry

A few years ago, my husband and I took our three children to Pompeii – the ruined and partially buried Roman city near Naples, Italy.

As one of the most spectacular sights one can see in a lifetime, I was sure my children would be forever affected by their firsthand encounter with the history of this special place, destroyed during an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. but rediscovered in 1738.

As I looked upon the children, my chest puffed out with the pride of a parent trying desperately hard to show her children the world, my suddenly very bored 6-year-old son turned to me and said: “Mommy, I wonder if anyone has ever made an M&M as big as a cookie. Could we try sometime? How could we do that?”

What? How could he say such a thing? Doesn’t he realize where he is?

I’m reminded of this story today as I struggle with a different and much more complex issue: how to elicit an interest in religion from my overtly cynical and science-minded children.

For years I’ve been a foreign correspondent and more recently became the author of a biography called The Fossil Hunter: about an English woman named Mary Anning who helped launch the debate over extinction, evolution, and the earth’s real age in the early 1800s.

As a result, I’ve found myself writing and speaking a great deal these days about the reconciliation of science and religion, often preaching to the choir in rooms filled with educated people who understand that the two are not incompatible.

But somehow I fear I’ve failed to make a connection with my own children as I’ve attempted to get this same message across.

Raised a Christian, I was always taught by my mother to go through life with the faith of a child, a wisdom spelled out in both the Gospels of Luke and Mark. Although I grew to become an endlessly curious reporter, I was never one of those children who asked a heap of searching questions like “Why can’t I see angels?”

But the mustard seed of faith planted during my childhood has never left me even at a time where in some circles it’s a badge of honor to skate over issues of religion.

Today we live in a world marked by one scientific discovery after another, an age when scientists are extracting DNA with the hopes of resurrecting the woolly mammoth while talking about human cloning as a very real possibility.

My children love this stuff. They make straight As in science and physics classes and when they search out information they like to find answers that make sense to them.

I’m thrilled about their pursuits but also have worked hard to try to force them to get excited over something they have a tougher time getting their young heads around – religion.

I’ve read them Bible stories and then cringed when they’ve begun to laugh. I’ve prayed with them for friends to get well only to get irritated with them a week later when they ask why the friends are still ill.

Most importantly I’ve emphasized the mysteries that science can’t explain. For example, despite centuries of astronomical observations it is thought that more than 90 percent of the mass in our universe is still undetected.

But I fear that I’ve been trying too hard and that I need to be sending them the same message I send when I speak to adults about my book: that both science and religion can give explanations that are not in any kind of competition with each other, but rather are complementary.

In other words, we can believe that the earth is close to 4.5 billion years old – and also look toward religion for answers about our ultimate purpose in life.

Many of the early scientists were themselves people who saw their faith as the key driver in exploring and understanding the natural world God had created.

According to Denis Alexander, director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Isaac Newton would have looked puzzled in the 18th century if asked what he thought about the relationship between science and religion.

“For so many centuries science and religion were so closely intertwined that I’m not sure that people would have thought about the ‘relationship’ between them with the implication that they represent two distinct bodies of knowledge,” he said.

In a recent study, Elaine Howard Ecklund, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University, found that 52 percent of scientists in the United States express no religious affiliation compared with just 14 percent of the general public.

But – interestingly -- she also found that younger scientists are more likely to express a religious affiliation than older scientists.

And so when my 11-year-old son tells me enthusiastically that according to new theories, the earth didn’t start with a big bang but actually with an endless series of expansions and rebirths, I will not immediately recoil and wonder why I can’t evoke the same sort of elation over Sunday School.

Certainly I will continue to encourage my children to see the big picture and not to be blind to the possibility that religious faith is hugely important.

But I will also emphasize and appreciate that they can have an interest in both religion and science and remind myself that belief and inquiry are not mutually exclusive.


Shelley Emling is a freelance writer for the International Herald Tribune and a former foreign correspondent based in London. Her new book The Fossil Hunter tells the real-life story of Mary Anning, a poor 19th century girl whose fossil discoveries helped change our view of the Earth's history.


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Mere_Christian - #3102

January 21st 2010

It is scientists and self-promoting humanist academics that have attacked the religious. It is not the religious that started this war.

ALL YOU NEED TO DO is read the Humanist Manifesto (s) and study history to date.

By using the Alinsky technique of inilftrating the power structure of academia (schools), and once in positions of influence start to insert YOUR ideology as the replacement of the old, you can see that the Secularist is the antagonist, NOT the Biblical believer.

My ten-year old knows more about Greek history (including its mythology), Egyptian religion, Buddhism and Taoism, than he does the Bible and the convoluted history of europeanized peoples. He has NEVER shaken his desire to be an archeaologist.

The bad guys in the science and religion WAR, are the camoflaged atheists in academia.

Let’s teach all children the truth.


Charlie - #3106

January 21st 2010

Shelley,

You said “Most importantly I’ve emphasized the mysteries that science can’t explain. For example, despite centuries of astronomical observations it is thought that more than 90 percent of the mass in our universe is still undetected.”

Remember science does not say it holds all of the answers but rather it only makes conclusions it can base off of evidence.  That said, one could believe what science has discovered and leave the undiscovered to religion.  But by taking this approach, one’s methods of seeking out answers about the world is in harsh contrast.  There is no room for faith in science because faith is the direct opposite of what the scientific method is.  One must have evidence to support a theory for it to be considered true.  If faith were taken into consideration, evidence would not be needed and I could say Elmo created the universe and I would accept that statement on faith.  This is why there is conflict between science and religion, the approach to truth is conflicting between science and religion.  Do you disagree?


Mere_Christian - #3109

January 21st 2010

Charlie,

The writers of the Gospels show Jesus talking to and with Pontius Pilate.

Faith is better thought of as “trust.”

If Elmo created the universe, it would actually be the puppeteer (who has a real name)  that was manipulating the Elmo figure. You don’t need faith when actual history is attainable.


RBH - #3111

January 21st 2010

Two points in that essay bother me.  The first:

I’m thrilled about their pursuits but also have worked hard to try to force them to get excited over something they have a tougher time getting their young heads around – religion.

I added the bolding.

The second is this:

Most importantly I’ve emphasized the mysteries that science can’t explain. For example, despite centuries of astronomical observations it is thought that more than 90 percent of the mass in our universe is still undetected.

Classic God of the gaps.  And dark matter and dark energy have been “detected”—that’s how we know they’re out there!  They have not (yet) been explained, but we know dark matter and dark energy are ‘there’ via their interactions with matter we can (more or less) directly observe.


Glen Davidson - #3113

January 21st 2010

I’m not sure what Newton would have thought, but in Galileo’s time the relationship of religion and science (or “natural philosophy”) was already being considered not only by scientists but also by clerics:

For example, Galileo said, “The Book of Nature is written in (clearly-understood) mathematics.”[20] Galileo cited Cardinal Baronius (1598) for the statement, “The Bible was written to show us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/galileo.html

Galileo often is credited with the latter, but I think it’s interesting that he was quoting a Cardinal there.

It is said that Galileo was pushing “the Book of Nature” as equal to the Bible, while earlier the “Book of Nature” was considered God’s word, but clearly second to the Bible.

No, invoking Newton doesn’t fix things.  Compatibilist and combative religious responses to science go far back.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Knockgoats - #3142

January 21st 2010

Good for your children Shelley! They’ve seen through the nonsense you’ve tried to force on them!

By the way, the earth was not formed in the Big Bang - that was the universe. But your kids are wrong on that point too: at present, multiple expansions and contractions are just among the highly speculative ideas cosmologists like to throw around.


Knockgoats - #3143

January 21st 2010

But – interestingly—she also found that younger scientists are more likely to express a religious affiliation than older scientists. - Shelley

The most likely reason for this is that, as their youngest age-group is 18-34, they must be counting students doing science degrees, who are not “scientists” in the same sense as those employed as such. Many of the former - the less committed and/or successful) will drop out of science; and since religious belief correlates negatively with eminence among scientists (members of the NAS are far less likely to be believers than run-of-the-mill scientists, for example), those dropping out will include a higher proportion of believers. So don’t get your hopes for a revival of religion in the scientific community up too high, Shelley!


Charlie - #3171

January 22nd 2010

Mere Christian,

You stated “The writers of the Gospels show Jesus talking to and with Pontius Pilate.”  I never claimed all of the Bible was false.  I’m sure much of the Bible accurately reflects history, but there are also areas of the Bible that have no evidence to support it, the biggest being God’s existance.  The truth is, it is impossible to tell which parts are history, which parts are symbols for lessons, and which parts are supernatural.  Trust or faith, whatever you want to call it, the simple fact is, the belief exists without evidence to support the belief (that is what makes it religion, not science).

As far as the Elmo example, i think you missed the point.  I’m merely saying one could pick anything as the creator and it would have the same amount of evidence as does the belief that God created the universe, no evidence.  Maybe I shouldn’t have used a puppet as an example.  One must have evidence to support a theory for it to be considered true.  If faith were taken into consideration, evidence would not be needed and I could say a cow created the universe and one would accept that statement on faith.


montes - #3172

January 22nd 2010

Response to RBH,
I don’t see how Shelley’s comment is in any way a ‘Classic God of the Gaps’.  The classic God of the Gaps argument, in my understanding, is when someone sees something in nature that is unexplainable with current science and decides to credit the phenomenon to God’s miraculous ‘tinkering’.  However, Shelley has done no such thing.  Rather she has merely pointed out that science has yet to explain a number of things.  Sure, I’ll concede that she shouldn’t have used the term ‘detected’ in relation to the matter that has been largely seen as a mystery.  But to throw this in to the realm of a ‘God of the Gaps’ argument is misplaced as she has done nothing to make us think dark matter/energy will remain a mystery forever, it merely remains a mystery for the time being.


Knockgoats - #3230

January 23rd 2010

Shelley said, in the context of trying to convince her children of the importance of religion: “Most importantly I’ve emphasized the mysteries that science can’t explain.” Why was that so important? Anyone with any knowledge of science knows that it has not explained everything. If that wasn’t a “God of the Gaps” argument, what was it? Maybe Shelley would like to tell us?


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