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The Conversation


Dissonance and Harmony

By Deborah Haarsma, New President of BioLogos

Dissonance and Harmony
Image credit: j__st/Flickr

As soon as my older brother began piano lessons, I begged to play the piano too. My parents decided to let me try, which led to cute pictures of a 4-year-old climbing up onto the piano bench at her first recital. Like all young students, I started with scales and simple pieces, but over the years, my love for music deepened and matured. My piano teachers showed me that a beautiful concluding chord was often preceded by a dissonant clash. Dissonances sound harsh by themselves, but without them, music would sound boring and trite. If I rushed past the dissonance, the final resolution was not as beautiful. Instead, I learned to pause on the dissonant notes, to carefully place them in the context of the surrounding harmonious chords. The dissonance and harmony together formed more beautiful music than either alone.

Conversations about science and faith can be like that. People hold clearly discordant points of view, and it would be dishonest to ignore the conflict. Yet some voices emphasize the dissonance without any note of harmony to put it in context. Too often, science and faith becomes a hostile battle of worldviews, sounding angry, dissonant chords even among fellow Christians. But civil, gracious dialogue is possible. On the BioLogos Forum, we invite authors from a range of positions, including some that don't agree with all our beliefs, but we strive to set these dialogues in a context of respect and civility. When authors are fellow Christians, we don’t shy away from disagreements, but remember the broader context of our unity as fellow believers, the harmony that binds us together.

My own story is more harmonious than dissonant. My interest in music was paralleled by my interest in math and science and my involvement in church. My family and teachers encouraged my interests in science, and I remember how fun it was to play math games with my dad and brother. And every week we were in church: twice on Sunday, plus Wednesday night club, youth group activities, and Bible quizzing. While my church accepted the young earth position, they didn’t emphasize it, and I was never told that a particular science view was essential to being a Christian. When I encountered the evidence for the age of the universe and the evolution of life, I also found Christian authors who showed me how this scientific evidence could fit with Christian beliefs.

But others have experienced more dissonance. Nearly four years ago, Dr. Francis Collins launched this website with the story of a young university student in the midst of a profound personal crisis, what Dr. Collins called “a wrenching crisis of worldviews shaking her deepest foundations.” Without a context of harmony, too many people – young and old – feel they have to choose between two incompatible positions, either Christian faith or the findings of science. BioLogos exists to show another way. We hold fast to the authority of the Bible and the core beliefs of Christianity, and at the same time, accept the rigorous conclusions of mainstream science.

It is with these chords of dissonance and resolution in mind that I come to this opportunity to lead BioLogos. I have long sensed God’s calling to serve the church as part of this dialogue. Some of you know of me from a book I wrote in 2007 with my husband Loren, called Origins. I’ve been speaking and writing on science and faith for many years, but I did this around the edges of my primary career of teaching and research in astronomy. While I thoroughly enjoy teaching students and doing research, over the last year I have recognized God’s hand in leading me to shift my fulltime work to the science and faith dialogue. Now I’m looking forward to using and developing my gifts in service of BioLogos.

Joining me as a new member of the leadership team is Dr. Jeff Schloss, who will serve as our Senior Scholar. Many of you are already familiar with his work, and know he brings not only a strong track record of scholarship in evolution and philosophy, but tremendous skill in communicating to lay audiences. Jeff and I share a deep commitment to the unity of the body of Christ and a desire to remove barriers for people to come to Christ. I am delighted to have him on board.

Jeff and I inherit a strong and vibrant organization from our outgoing President, Dr. Darrel Falk. Darrel brought his deep love and concern for the church, along with his considerable creativity and hard work, to this effort. We plan to continue and build on the excellent programs he established.

One of the pleasures of my first few weeks on the job has been getting to know the BioLogos staff. Kathryn, Lisa, Stephen, Mike, Laura J, and LeAnne each bring key skills to the organization, as well as energy and a passion for the mission of BioLogos. The team keeps BioLogos functioning behind the scenes, from finances to computer programming to event planning. Two team members, Mark Sprinkle and Tom Burnett, have decided to move on to other opportunities after a year of dedicated service to BioLogos. As web editors, Mark and Tom revamped the blog, making it a forum for rich scholarly dialogue and vibrant testimonies, and drawing in new authors to write on a great mix of topics. They also organized the archived material, so that the best of BioLogos is readily accessible. We wish them well in their new endeavors. Joining the BioLogos team is Emily Ruppel as Interim Web Editor. You may know Emily from her work to develop and edit the e-zine God & Nature for the American Scientific Affiliation; she will join us part time at BioLogos while she continues to work with ASA.

We believe God has great things in store for BioLogos. We will continue to focus on connecting with scholars, pastors, teachers, and lay people, but in the months ahead, we will also be sharpening our vision and engaging afresh in strategic planning. We’ll be considering new audiences, new programs, and new priorities. I invite your comments below on directions you’d like to see BioLogos take.

In just a few years, this organization has impacted the lives of thousands of Christians and brought an important voice to discussions taking place within the church. Thanks to the strong support from The John Templeton Foundation and many other generous donors, the vision of Francis Collins is thriving. BioLogos is on the cusp of enormous opportunities and huge potential. While transitions are times of risk and vulnerability, they are also times of great opportunity. My prayer is that God will give us wisdom and guidance to be good stewards of this opportunity. May God continue to use BioLogos to bring harmony to a conversation that has emphasized dissonance for far too long.

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