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From Hubris to Humility: My Journey of Science and Faith

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July 2, 2010 Tags: Lives of Faith
From Hubris to Humility: My Journey of Science and Faith

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

Ten years ago I knelt at the side of my bed and prayed, “Dear Jesus, please help Nana not to believe in evolution anymore.” Today, I can imagine my eight-year-old sister praying the same prayer for me: “Dear God, please help Jon not to believe in evolution.” I fondly remember how simple life was as a child.

I grew up in the Bible Belt South where to believe in evolution was to isolate yourself from the community. My parents homeschooled their children in order that we would receive a classical, Christian education. Indeed, I was blessed with a superior education – tutors in math; college professors for history; endless stacks of classics for literature; and even more papers for writing. In every field of study, we were surrounded by the best – except in science.

Science “class” was more of an apologetics class meant to prepare students for the day when evolution would attempt to seduce us. It was so simple back then: evolution is the result of atheism. Since we believe in God, evolution is wrong. From there we memorized arguments – philosophies against atheism and gaps in evolutionary theory. We were always encouraged to stand for truth, especially on this issue. In this respect, I was a model student – aggressive and zealous for the defense of our beliefs.

This was how I lived from my early childhood until I was seventeen. I pursued evolution as if it had a bounty on its head. As a child, I’d pick a fight with other children who were being taught evolution, aiming to “re-educate” them properly. When I was sixteen I enrolled in a community college as a dual-enrolled high school student. That fall semester I studied biology. After all those years of preparation, this was my moment to publicly stand for truth. And stand I did. Today I am ashamed for my behavior when my professor began the unit on evolution.

I was methodical about it – pointing out gaps in the geological record and the lack of transition states to more complex organisms; then connecting evolution to atheism. I isolated the professor from my classmates with appeals to emotion and religious background. My intent was to destroy the evolutionary theory but I ended up targeting her instead. Needless to say, evolution was not brought up in that class again. In addition, my professor remained frustrated with us the rest of the semester because of the wedge I had driven in. I thought I had won a great victory in shutting the mouth of the “serpent.” I was so conceited in my own knowledge and gleeful about how calculated and exact I had been in destroying her in argument. But I was entirely void of love and humility in the way I treated her.

There was something terribly wrong with how I was living. I claimed to practice love as a Christian yet I was far from it. After years of the striving with no end in sight, I became sick of this constant struggle –always debating, always destroying, always condemning, all in the name of truth; and for what? I hadn’t changed a single person, nor had I seen anyone been changed. The sides were only becoming more polarized and alienated. I became disenchanted, and so I stopped fighting and avoided the topic like the plague.

It was in this context that I came to Wheaton College. My experience at this institution has been a breath of fresh air in a world thick with the smoke of hostility and discord. I was amazed to discover that my science professors loved Jesus and believed that God created the universe, yet also accepted evolution. Even more astounding was the way they treated others despite the criticism they received from fellow scientists and Christians. In addition, they loved me regardless of what I believed. They didn’t try to shove their beliefs down my throat. They weren’t afraid to admit that they didn’t have it all figured out and that there are still issues with which they are wrestling. Slowly I opened up to the gentleness with which they approached issues of conflict.

In contrast to their humility, I was convicted of my arrogance and pride in how I expressed my beliefs. In contrast to their love and gentleness, I was convicted of my domineering nature and belligerence. In humility, they embraced the finiteness of their humanity, yet continued whole-heartedly in their pursuit of truth. “All truth is God’s truth,” they said and invited me to pursue with them, holding fast to the confidence that creation will and does glorify its Creator. Why should I fear if nature points me towards evolution? Is evolution too great for my God, that He should not be able to wield it in His hand? My God is mighty – and His creation will reveal His splendor.

I write this now as a junior in college. After spending the majority of my life feigning the image that I have all the answers concerning origins, I will be first to admit now that I don’t have these answers. While I firmly believe that there is absolute truth to be discovered on this issue, I realize that I will never completely know it and that I am severely limited by my own finiteness. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).

What matters immensely more than my beliefs about origins is how I live today. If I sacrifice love for the sake of truth, then I’ve lost Him who is the only Truth – Christ. This does not mean that I do not pursue truth. As a research scientist, it is essential that I believe that there is an objective reality that I can observe and understand. But as I search for truth, I must be tempered with love and humility. I must look to others in my need.

We are all together in this pursuit. Our humanity ought to bind us together; the finiteness of our minds and experiences ought to produce meekness, driving us to one another. As we struggle with the issues, tension and doubt will be commonplace. The internal struggle intrinsic to this journey towards truth has led many to fear and to domination of others. But we cannot allow hubris to rule us. Embracing our own limitations is never easy, but it is nevertheless of great importance. Only through humility and love can we hope to live a life that reflects the beauty and goodness of truth.

Every year I go home to the South – warm apple pie, ham, cold ice tea, and mosquitoes. While sitting around the table with family and friends, issues like origins inevitably come up in conversation. And so every year I am faced with people who do not understand why I believe in evolution. There is fear; there is anger; there is defensiveness; there is aggression. How am I to respond? As a scientist, should I inform them of their ignorance and attempt to educate them? As a Christian, should I condemn them? No. I am but man, and so are they. Thus, I must walk in the humility of my humanity. I must walk in the love of my Savior. I must walk with them. For we are all family, all human, all longing, all searching, and all in need.

Jonathan Kooiman is a native of Virginia Beach, Virginia. However, he currently resides in Wheaton, Illinois where he is studying biochemistry at Wheaton College. He hopes to continue his studies at medical school. Jon is passionate about making God's name great among the nations and plans on serving as a medical missionary.

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Martin Rizley - #21567

July 13th 2010

It appears to me, however, that strict Darwinism (belief in ‘molecule to man evolution’) does not allow for faith to inform science, however, since it rests on an assumption about the natural world—the assumption of strict naturalism—that can by no means be demonstrated empirically, but must be assumed to be true “by faith.”  Darwinism can be regarded as a “fact” only if one first assumes that the regularity we observe in nature is absolutely invariable and that there have been no ‘interruptions’ in the seamless flow of natural processes that we observe in nature from the first moment of time until the present.    My question would be, is that assumption a Christian assumption?  Is it an assumption that is informed by or harmonious with a distinctively Christian worldview?  I would say that it is not.  And if it is not, to buy into a scientific theory which rests entirely on that assumption is to refuse to let one’s faith inform and guide one’s science.

Greg Myers - #22051

July 15th 2010

Martin, just how should “faith inform science?”  Should we stop at “God did it?”  Will faith lead us to try different approaches to problem solving or construct better tests?  Will God give us the answers to really hard questions, so we don’t have to do the sums or look in the microscope or review the lab results?  When faith informed science, dissection was illegal, since the body was a temple.  Life-saving interventions were suspect, since God numbered our days.  When faith informs science, it seems we only end up with arbitrary limitations, based on someone’s feeling of what God opposes or where we must not look.  Though faith may motivate a scientist, it is hard to see exactly how faith might inform science.

Evolution is a fact because there is overwhelming evidence that supports it, and no evidence that disproves it.  The notion that God has intervened in the past, in undetectable ways, can’t be ruled out entirely - but since everywhere we can see, we see natural processes, we have no reason to suspect that such a thing has happened, and no reason to assume that God would need to intervene in such specific and invisible ways.

Martin Rizley - #22056

July 16th 2010

Greg Myers,  I don’t think we should stop at “God did it,”  But the fact that “God said it”—that is, the fact that He has clearly affirmed in the Bible that something took place in the past—should proscribe the limits of what conclusions we are willing to accept as true when undertake scientific and/or historical investigation.  For example, a Christian student of history knows before he ever begins his graduate studies that there are certain conclusions about what took place in the past which are “off limits” because they would contradict what God has revealed to be true in Scripture.  For example, He knows by faith that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb on the third day because that is what the Bible clearly teaches.  So if in some archaeological dig he or another researcher ran uncovered a tomb labelled “Jesus of Nazareth” and found old bones inside it, he would know before any further investigation that these most definitely are not the bones of Jesus of Nazareth.  They could not be, because such a conclusion would contradict the principle of faith in what God has said in the Bible.  (continued)

Martin Rizley - #22057

July 16th 2010

Before ever examining these bones under a microscope, he would know that there is some explanation for them other than their being the actual bones of Jesus (perhaps they were planted as a hoax by some first century enemy of Christianity); the believing archaeologist would know with full assurance that these are the bones of some other man—not Jesus.  This certain knowledge, based on God’s own testimony in Scripture, would “inform” his research into the origin of these bones, by ELIMINATING one possible interpretation of the evidence.  That’s what I mean about a distinctively Christian approach to investigative research that allows faith to inform one’s thinking.  If we are believers, we know that certain things about past history are true on the basis of God’s “say so.”  One of those things is that Jesus rose from the dead.  Another, I would add, is the fact that all human beings alive today are descendants of Adam, the first man whom God created.  Any interpretation of the scientific data that would suggest otherwise only shows that we are misinterpreting the data, based on our limited knowledge of God’s ways and works.

Martin Rizley - #22094

July 16th 2010

Kurt Wise has published a chapter in his book Faith, Form and Time explaining how, prior to the Enlightenment, the various disciplines were all intertwined, with theology regarded as the “Queen of the Sciences”—the one discipline that tied all the others together.  All disciplines were considered with reference to God.  That led to the concept of a place the “uni-versity” as a place where diverse fields of knowledge were all united or brought together as branches of one overarching field of study—God and His world.  The influence of the Enlightenment—and the denial of any inerrant standard of truth external to man’s own reason and logic— led to the break-up of this unity, bringing about the ‘divorce’ of the disciplines and the transformation of the uni-versity into a multi-versity, where disciplines are studied in isolation from each other.  Wise writes about the need in our day to “heal this breach” between the disciplines in his chapter entitled the “Great Synthesis.”  He explains in detail what I mean about faith informing science.

Greg Myers - #22382

July 19th 2010

Martin, when you write “...the fact that He has clearly affirmed in the Bible that something took place in the past—should proscribe the limits of what conclusions we are willing to accept as true…” I find I can’t disagree strongly enough.  To put on the willful blinders of your understanding of theology (what God means, so what can and cannot be thought) is of course, the seed of many abuses of the church.  A better path is the humility to take truth wherever it leads, confidant that a creator of the universe would not be threatened by a microscope or computer. 

Even more, your religious text is just one among many, with no way of knowing which, if any, are right.  To have the priests leaning over the shoulders of the scientists, scrubbing their results to accord with doctrinal accuracy, is a horror I hope we’ve escaped.  Even if you propose only a more modest self-censorship - this is no way to honor truth or god.

Finally, given that the history of religion, and the foundational texts themselves contain error, a secular state, in which people are free to pursue truth, seems a much better way to go.

Martin Rizley - #22431

July 19th 2010

Greg,  You seem to be saying that we are on an endless search for truth without ever being able to arrive at truth in an absolute or final sense.  But that denial of our ability to know absolute truth rests on the ASSUMPTION rests that all knowledge is a construction of the finite human mind, and that we can never know reality ‘the way it is;’ we can only know reality “the way we are,” so our knowledge is always relative, subjective, and lacking in finality.  You are simply assuming that God (if He exists) would be incapable of giving us a well-grounded assurance of absolute truth—say, for example, the absolute truth that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb on Easter Sunday, and that He is the Son of God.  We cannot know that for sure, you say, because of the inherent limitations in our knowledge, arising from our finitude.  But on what basis can you make that assertion?  On what basis can you say, “I KNOW with certainty that we can know nothing with certainty?”  That is a self-contradictory position.  You are simply leaving God out of the picture— declaring that it is impossible for Him to give us an absolute knowledge of things (continued)

Martin Rizley - #22432

July 19th 2010

—then saying we cannot know God’s perspective on things, since He has not revealed His mind to us, and we couldn’t know it, even if He did.  In other words, you are simply assuming, without argument, that the old Kantian distinction between the “phenomenal” and “neumenal” realms is true, and that we can only ‘know‘ the former, not the ‘latter.’  But that is a self-contradictory position, for to define ABSOLUTELY the limits of human knowledge is to make a statement about ABSOLUTE truth, which at the same time, you are saying we cannot know.  That position defeats itself, so I do not even need to argue against it; to do so, would be folly.  The only rational foundation for making any statement about ABSOLUTE reality (including an absolute statement about the limitations of human knowledge) is to presuppose that we have access to an infinite reference point—that is, God’s own perspective on things.  That is the very claim the Bible makes when it says that God has revealed His mind to us through general and special revelation.  By faith in God’s own testimony, we can know the truth about things, because faith gives us access to God’s divine perspective on reality.  (continued)

Martin Rizley - #22433

July 19th 2010

“BY FAITH we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).  Moreover, we can know that the things revealed in Scripture are true though the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.  His “anointing” gives us the assurance that the words of men recorded in the Bible have God as their divine Author, and are therefore true in an ABSOLUTE sense.  Consider what John says about the Spirit’s anointing:  “You have an anointing from the Holy One, and you KNOW all things.  I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because YOU DO KNOW IT, and that no lie is of the truth. . . The anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you; but as the same anointing TEACHES you concerning all things, AND IS TRUE and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him” (1 John 1:20-21, 27).  Consider what he says about God giving us His own testimony in Scripture:  (continued)

Martin Rizley - #22434

July 19th 2010

“If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son.  He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself (that is., the Holy Spirit’s internal witness); he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because He has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son.  And this is the testimony; that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.“  (1 John 5:9-11).  I refuse to call God a liar; that is why I accept His testimony in Scripture as true and believe that Chistian historians, scientists, archaeologists, etc., should receive that testimony “by faith” as the starting point (the presuppositional framework) for all of their investigations into God’s world and works.
The “Great Synthesis” destroyed by the Enlightenment needs to be restored!

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