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The Bog on the Mountaintop

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March 25, 2010 Tags: History of Life
The Bog on the Mountaintop

Today's entry was written by Kathryn Applegate. You can read more about what we believe here.

BioLogos is pleased to announce the addition of Kathryn Applegate as our director of Web site development. Applegate’s scientific background will bring a much-needed voice to the ongoing discussions at The BioLogos Forum, as she now begins blogging on a regular basis.

In 2004, I hiked 190 miles across England, from coast to coast, with three friends. We had many adventures along the way, but one of the most memorable occurred on our third day, when we ascended out of the valley pictured above on our way to the heavenly town of Grasmere. After several hours of steep uphill climbing, we come out on a high, flat place, where we rested to take in the enormity and grandeur of the view.

All in a moment, peace and amazement turned to panic when I stepped into a bog. What appeared to be solid, mossy ground gave way and I plunged up to my thigh in thick mud. I struggled vigorously, but to no avail—the suction was intense, and I could feel cold, wet mud creeping into my boot.

One of my friends came to the rescue, grabbing my pack to relieve me of the weight. It took every ounce of my strength to hoist myself out of the mud. The whole ordeal must have lasted less than two minutes, but it left me exhausted, and I spent the rest of the day carefully testing every step.

Now, having spent four years in Louisiana, I know a thing or two about swamps. But who would have guessed there would be a bog on a mountaintop? I thought mountains were supposed to be firm and unshakable!

In many ways, I think the Evangelical community’s approach to science is like a bog on a mountaintop. For the most part, Christian theology is solid and trustworthy. Our traditional interpretations of the Bible have been carefully worked out and refined by theologians over hundreds of years. Moreover, Christian doctrine has proved to be a practically and spiritually powerful framework for literally billions of people.

But there are weak spots in our understanding, and how many believers relate to evolutionary science is one of them. Some folks distort the science to fit their theological pre-commitments. Others accept evolution but trivialize Scripture by rejecting its divine inspiration. Still others experience cognitive dissonance when they learn the evidence for evolution, and end up leaving the church altogether.

As regular readers of this blog know, there is another way—the difficult path of reconciliation. The BioLogos website has existed for less than a year now, but it has already made important progress toward this end. Pete Enns and others have done a terrific job of outlining many of the hermeneutical issues we must consider, while Darrel Falk, Karl Giberson, and others have described much of the scientific evidence for evolution. I am so pleased to be joining them in the quest to achieve a coherent, decidedly biblical understanding of how God has created—and continues to create—life using natural processes.

My field is cell biology. Prior to joining BioLogos, I spent the last six years doing research at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. There I worked in the Laboratory for Computational Cell Biology (now at Harvard Medical School), studying the cell’s internal scaffold, the cytoskeleton. We normally think of skeletons as being rigid and static, but the cytoskeleton assembles and disassembles constantly, allowing the cell to move, divide, and quickly respond to the environment.

Biologists have traditionally studied cytoskeleton dynamics by making manual measurements from time-lapse photographs of living cells taken under the microscope. Using computational methods, I developed software to extract thousands of times more measurements than could be done by hand. My collaborators and I applied these software tools to study the cytoskeleton’s activity during blood vessel formation and also how it is regulated in tumor cells.

Since my background is in biophysics and math, with a particular focus on cell and molecular biology, I will be blogging regularly on questions like the following:

  • Can complex cellular phenomenon be understood from physical principles?

  • How can a random process produce order? Does randomness imply purposelessness?

  • Do irreducible complexity and complex specificity, those bedrock ideas of the Intelligent Design movement, provide adequate proof of a Designer? Is this even a scientific question? Why or why not?

  • What is emergence, and how does it relate to irreducible complexity?

  • Would a natural explanation for the origin of complex specified information in our DNA remove the need for God?

  • What is statistical significance, and what do scientists mean when they say something is true or has been proven?

If you have specific burning questions about these or related topics, I would love to hear them! We’ll have a lot to talk about in the coming weeks. Overall, I am encouraged by the level of dialogue between people of different theological persuasions on this site. This is certainly the way to begin repairing the rift that has developed within the church on these issues.

In Psalm 40, David remembers how the Lord rescued him: “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” I know I felt a similar sense of deliverance when I survived the literal bog in England. Regardless of your current convictions, pray with me that God would bring all his people out of the bog of fear and confusion about evolution and deliver them to solid ground. All the difficulties we encounter along the way will pale in comparison to the view from the top!

Kathryn Applegate is Program Director at The BioLogos Foundation. She received her PhD in computational cell biology at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. At Scripps, she developed computer vision software tools for analyzing the cell's infrastructure, the cytoskeleton.

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Mike Gene - #7825

March 26th 2010


You write, “I’m just saying they all have the same amount of evidence.”  Yet that is different from claiming that science claims something, which is a stronger position than expressing your own view.  Why did you originally use the word ‘science?’

Charlie - #7826

March 26th 2010

Science is the process of developing theories based on evidence

Mike Gene - #7827

March 26th 2010

That’s your personal definition, Charlie.  Philosophers likewise develop theories based on evidence.  So do detectives.  So do journalists.  So do chefs.  So do parents.  So do theologians. It’s a human thing to do.  Now, you just admitted that you were “just saying they all have the same amount of evidence” so you never needed to use that word.  Yet from the paragraph I originally quoted, there are five sentences and 4/5 use the word ‘science’ or ‘scientifically.’  So let me get this clear - it turns out all you are talking about is the ability to come up with a theory based on evidence?

Charlie - #7831

March 26th 2010

yeah. call it what you want

Charlie - #7834

March 26th 2010

When I say science, I mean developing theories based on the scientific method.

Scientific Method from dictionary.com: The principles and empirical processes of discovery and demonstration considered characteristic of or necessary for scientific investigation, generally involving the observation of phenomena, the formulation of a hypothesis concerning the phenomena, experimentation to demonstrate the truth or falseness of the hypothesis, and a conclusion that validates or modifies the hypothesis.

Gregory Arago - #7848

March 26th 2010

And so now you’re back to defining ‘scientific method’ (from dictionary.com) *as if* it is a single entity and *as if* there are not multiple scientific methods available in a variety of fields? I’m not sure if you’ll go far as a scientist, Charlie, if you stick to such a rigid dogma of what ‘science’ is and isn’t. Your view seems to be based not on philosophy (i.e. love of wisdom) but rather on some definition picked up from a 3rd year bio-chem class from a professor who likely never considered the possibility that ‘faith’ can be something ‘real’ and significant in a person’s life too.

Mike Gene - #7861

March 27th 2010


From the Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics.

Epistemological scientism lays claim to an exclusive approach to knowledge. Human inquiry is reduced to matters of material reality. We can know only those things that are ascertained by experimentation through application of the scientific method. And since the method is emphasized with such great importance, the scientistic tendency is to privilege the expertise of a scientific elite who can properly implement the method. But science philosopher Susan Haack (2003) contends that the so-called scientific method is largely a myth propped up by scientistic culture. There is no single method of scientific inquiry. Instead, Haack explains that scientific inquiry is contiguous with everyday empirical inquiry (p. 94).

Mike Gene - #7862

March 27th 2010


Everyday knowledge is supplemented by evolving aids that emerge throughout the process of honest inquiry. These include the cognitive tools of analogy and metaphor that help to frame the object of inquiry into familiar terms. They include mathematical models that enable the possibility of prediction and simulation. Such aids include crude, impromptu instruments that develop increasing sophistication with each iteration of a problem-solving activity. And everyday aids include social and institutional helps that extend to lay practitioners the distributed knowledge of the larger community. According to Haack, these everyday modes of inquiry open the scientific process to ordinary people and they demystify the epistemological claims of the scientistic gate keepers.

Karl A - #7864

March 27th 2010

Nice quote, Mike!  That might seem worthy of getting posted somewhere on BioLogos as a reference.

So this would make Dawkins a scientistist?   Anybody else want to confess to such a label?

gingoro - #7869

March 27th 2010

Mike good comment on scientism…

Alister McGrath in “A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology”  has some helpful things to say about evidences from fine tuning and so on plus natural theology being consonant ie supportive of a Christian position.  Individual people also have personal events and life experiences which may help lead them to Christian belief or towards atheism.  Such events and experiences are grounded in reality but are not in general open to scientific exploration. 

But in the end we all make a leap of faith to some kind of thought system that provides ultimate meaning for each of us.  Some leaps appear to be at cross purposes with other beliefs and some in accord with other aspects of reality.  Each of us must accept by faith, some ultimate reality that does not appear to have a cause, either space-time or person-hood (God).  For me the choice is God’s Logos.

Dave W

Mike Gene - #7872

March 27th 2010

Hi Dave,

Individual people also have personal events and life experiences which may help lead them to Christian belief or towards atheism.  Such events and experiences are grounded in reality but are not in general open to scientific exploration.

Well stated!  Throughout the years, I have had some experiences with the Lord that are too deep and meaningful to communicate, let alone use as some form of “evidence” that might convince a skeptic.  The only way someone else would accept them as evidence would be for them to have become me and relive them in all their context and depth that only I can know.  Now, I know how to think critically and skeptically, so I know how to write them off by an act of sheer will.  But if I am to be honest with myself, I cannot.  That would be denying reality.  As subjective evidence, they are far more powerful than any figure, table, or analysis I have ever read in a journal.  If that makes sense.

Argon - #7901

March 27th 2010

I suspect that belief in God (especially a personal one) originates in personal, revealed knowledge, and not so much in objective experience. The ‘objective demonstrations’ of God’s will and existence seem more along the lines of apologetics to me—Convincing mostly to those already inclined to believe because of personal experience. Others have noted that the God of the philosophers is pretty sterile and nondescript.

Myself, I’m not a big fan of Natural Theology but I am of the useful child it help birth: Scientific Philosophy.

Mike Gene - #7911

March 27th 2010

I suspect that belief in God (especially a personal one) originates in personal, revealed knowledge, and not so much in objective experience. The ‘objective demonstrations’ of God’s will and existence seem more along the lines of apologetics to me—Convincing mostly to those already inclined to believe because of personal experience.

Well, this was true in my case.  If not for my personal experience I would probably still be an atheist.  Apologetics and philosophy certainly did not lead me to become a Christian and certainly play no role in remaining a Christian.  And looking back, it all makes sense to me.  A god that can be described/detected by human reason, whether by philosophy or science, sounds more like an abstract, human construct to me.  But experience?  That’s a different ball game.

As for objective experience, I like to think of it in biological terms.  Objective experience simply occurs when the photoreceptors or mechanoreceptors trigger a flow of action potentials down the optic and cochlear nerve, respectively.  A necessary thing for navigating our space-time reality, yes.  But God has no need for this middle man.

Charlie - #7981

March 29th 2010


So you determine truth through analogies/metaphors and social/institutional helps?  I don’t really get this.  There are many institutions with conflicting ideas.  What makes one more true than the other in your eyes?  And I have no clue how you can determine what is fact through analogies and metaphors.  Please explain.

Also, give me an example of something you consider to be fact that is not supported by the scientific method and tell me why it is fact.  Wording the scientific method to sound bad does not change the fact that it is the only unbiased way of determining truth.

Gregory - #8020

March 29th 2010

When one defines ‘more true’ or ‘truer’ as ‘more scientific’ then the pallor of scientism is rearing its face against humanity once again.

Something came across my eyes today that reminded me it is not too far-fetched to believe in scientism as those who equate ‘reality’ with the merely physical or ‘visible’ do. This comes from one of the most impressionable films of the 90’s, which no doubt many of our colleagues and friends posting here will have watched:

“If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” – Morpheus (The Matrix)

There are many ways to discover truths, e.g. the power of parables. Opening one’s spiritual eyes, ears and heart, even if one doesn’t presently think they are ‘real,’ may lead to new beginnings that otherwise were unimaginable. Particularly at this time of the year we are beckoned to do so.

“Hard to know what it is if you’ve never had one” - U2 (“Walk On”)

Drew - #8087

March 30th 2010

Hey Charlie, you said “give me an example of something you consider to be fact that is not supported by the scientific method and tell me why it is fact.” I will try and offer a few answers that seem to meet your criteria for knowing.

1. The PRESUPPOSITIONS that the universe is orderly and not chaotic as well ontologically real and not illusory. Without these important metaphysical assumptions, the scientific method could not be “about” anything. The scientific enterprise cannot get off the ground without these crucial (yet unscientific) assumptions. The scientific method alone cannot explain why it SHOULD work other than for pragmatic reasons (at least as I see it). These assumptions are presumably “facts” that we both share that is not explained by the scientific method. Which METAPHYSICAL assumption provides better explanatory power given what we know from science is a totally different issue, one that can be discussed maybe in the future.

Drew - #8088

March 30th 2010

2. The belief in other minds. Most of us believe that it is a “fact” that other people have minds. How does the scientific method speak to let alone support the metaphysical assumption of the existence of other minds? My point is that “the scientific method” cannot exhaustively speak to every area of our lives. There are different ways of knowing. These are just two examples that I think speak to your question. I hope I have understood it correctly. If not, please let me know.

Also a good book that could possibly speak to some of your questions is called Rationality and Science: Can Science Explain Everything? by Roger Trigg. You might find it somewhat helpful. One cannot avoid metaphysics which is most decidedly outside the realm of the empirical/physical.

Charlie - #8128

March 31st 2010


Remember that we scientists don’t acknowledge that we understand everything.  We know there is A TON we have no clue about.  We just don’t claim to understand it.  How else can one determine truth besides the scientific method.  Please give me one specific example of a truth discovered outside of science validating that truth.


If we see other evidence to alter our theories, then we alter our theories.  Our observations, thus far are an ordered universe.  Also, if the assumptions science makes are supported by a sufficient amount of evidence, it is a safe assumption, if not, it’s a weaker assumption.  Try not to look at it like science answers all of life’s questions, but rather science is the only unbiased process by which we can find the answers.

Drew - #8761

April 5th 2010

I do not see how anyone can extol the scientific method without first acknowledging they have committed themselves to a particular metaphysical/philosophical position. I believe theism provides a much better context in which to utilize the scientific method because there is a world to be “discovered” rather than being created from a naturalistic worldview. The late pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty (who was no friend to Christianity) seemed to acknowledge the logical conclusion from embracing a naturalized epistemology which was this: Our language does not represent reality, but is used to get our desired results, pragmatically speaking. He realized logically that “science” was no exception to this rule. In other words, he took evolution devoid from God very seriously. Just because we get more people to agree with us, does not mean we are any closer to “objective” truth. We are simply inventing more clever ways of talking about what we see. He acknowledged that naturalism did not ground scientific realism, hence he became a pragmatist. We can discuss this issue further if you would like.

Drew - #8762

April 5th 2010

The above is a comment to Charlie. I had another paragraph written that was supposed to be posted before the above one, but when i hit submit, it didn’t show up on the screen.

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