The photo above was taken when I was about two years old. I never really gave it much attention when flipping through the family albums over the years. That is, until I realized its relevance to a pursuit that has become greatly important in my life: learning about God through His creation.
According to common stereotypes, my formative years should have bred a healthy antagonism towards mainstream science. I was raised in a charismatic church and received my education through a combination of homeschooling and a private Christian school. All of this took place against the backdrop of West Texas, an environment not known for exceptional plurality in matters of faith expression.
I’m happy to say that my family was never hostile towards science. I was encouraged from an early age to seek out and discover all that I could; to pursue all that fascinated me. I knew from my church that God created all that is, and I knew from school that we gave the study of his creation a name: science. At some point during childhood, I came across the notion of biological evolution. I don’t remember the specifics, but I know that I was soon informed that evolution was in direct conflict with what the Bible taught us about creation. I didn’t give the matter much more contemplation.
When I was 9 or 10, I decided that I was going to be a mathematician or a physicist. I began wearing a lab coat everywhere I went (thinking this was proper attire for an aspiring scientist). I read up on Albert Einstein, but was woefully short for understanding anything about his revolutionary work. On scraps of paper, I would write rudimentary mathematical equations, numbers and symbols that I thought would look impressive to my peers.
Gradually, I began to convince myself that I was thoroughly incompetent in math and science, woefully ill-suited for a future that was heavily immersed in either. I had placed such high intellectual demands on myself early on, and any time I fell short in understanding, I made the unwise choice of giving up or resigning myself to the bare minimum of effort. This sums up my attitude for the majority of my high school science courses. Yet even amidst this feeling of ineptitude, I never lost that love, that sense of overwhelming wonder upon learning a mathematical formula or a hidden reality revealed by chemistry or biology. That kid who dreamed of being a great scientist was in there somewhere. And anything that I could comprehend in those classes, I clung to with tight enthusiasm. I loved the very notion that with the proper calculations, one could make correct predictions, even to describe something like the motions of celestial bodies lightyears away from us. And I knew that God was behind it all. That was a soul confirmation.
In my private Christian high school, it was an oft unspoken but rather instinctive assumption that evolution was false—a flimsy theory invented by atheists as a competing account of the origin and development of life. I do recall a biology class where our teacher shared a video with us about recent physiological revelations that revealed intricate design. I assume the intended lesson was that these aspects of the human body evinced a design would be “difficult” to resolve through an accidental, evolutionary narrative. I never really questioned this, regarding myself as too intellectually feeble to try and understand the science involved, and I also felt pretty confident that I was on the right “side” of the battle.
In the late autumn of 2014, at the age of 23, I started to seriously wonder about the veracity of my understanding; could my convictions about these very important issues be rooted in false notions? For so long, my notions had remained unchallenged, as I was often surrounded by friends who shared my faith and who never talked about science in any inimical sense. In fact, some of them were ardently pursuing college degrees in the sciences, and we would share enthusiasm and amazements about new theoretical ideas in physics. Those friends that didn’t share my faith never implied that science was the source of their atheism.
But a cursory reading of some Isaac Asimov quotes that Fall sparked a nagging question: what if science actually explained everything there is? For all of my life, I had seen science, this study of creation, as an enterprise dedicated to studying what God had made. But what if it were all a cosmic accident? What if the appearance of design in the natural world was simply that: an appearance, with no further implications towards any divine intelligence? If modern day humans truly evolved from other organisms, devoid of a special creation, through a long process that included much struggle and suffering, how would that affect my view of human significance and the goodness of God? Was God’s miraculous power reserved only for the areas of life that we don’t yet understand?
I hadn’t ever ventured deeply into these questions, and they honestly frightened me when really gave them serious cogitation. I If these things were true, what did that mean for my faith? Would my entire worldview explode? Was atheism the only logical conclusion?
I remained in more or less a state of paranoia and agitation, yet resolute to stay firm to a faith that was intrinsically part of my identity. And yet I was curious about what scientific research actually said about these issues. I tried reaching out to friends with my questions, but I was afraid that asking these questions could tread into heretical territory.
Then I discovered Francis Collins. It shocked and excited me to find out that such a prominent scientist was also a devout Christian. I didn’t even know this was possible: a practicing Christian believer who both affirms the truth of Scripture and accepts mainstream science. It instantly became apparent to me that it was possible to exist beyond the culture wars, viewing science as a gift of God—something to be celebrated and not feared or manipulated to serve an agenda.
I read Tim Keller’s thoughts on science in his book The Reason for God and found that he also rejected the dichotomy between evolution and faith. He argued that evolution itself was no threat to Christian faith; rather, it was certain philosophical additions put on top of evolution that were opposed to faith.
In time, I discovered BioLogos. They showed me even more women and men in the sciences—past and present—who held deep Christian convictions alongside their acceptance of mainstream science about evolution and the age of the earth. A whole new world was opened up to me. I didn’t have to be afraid anymore that science took away the need for God. I didn’t have to make a false choice between God and science.
When the doubts spring up again, when I am again tempted to buy into the false dichotomy, I am continually reminded by this community of believers to always see science as the faithful outpouring of the God with whom I fell in love as a child; the God who shows us His awesome creativity in many different forms. May we never lose that sense of wonder when we see mathematics and organic chemistry, beautiful paintings and pink skies. The same God is behind it all.