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By 
Josh Owens
 on January 30, 2024

A Scientist’s Search for An Intellectually Strong Faith

A professor once told him: Christianity is only for the intellectually weak. He’s a witness that you can be an intellectually strong Christian and scientist.

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Young student studying in the library, intensely reading books

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My parents cultivated my faith from a young age. I was encouraged to attend church essentially every time the doors were open. In retrospect, it is no surprise the formative impact the church had on my life, including my views on science.

One memory from church particularly stands out to me. When I was in the fourth grade I attended a weekend-long retreat. The crux of this retreat was teaching evidence for young-earth creationism and disproving evolution. The speaker took us through several convincing arguments and information. I remember her saying that intense water pressure or intense heat could change the radioactive decay rate of carbon thereby causing all carbon dating to be wrong and causing scientists to suggest unfathomable dates for how old the earth was. I also remember thinking to myself how silly scientists were. For all their intelligence and rational thinking, they had made a small but costly mistake. This retreat established my views on evolution and origins for the next 12 years, and made me resistant to considering anything else.

For context, I grew up in the Deep South, specifically Alabama. Faith is ingrained in the culture of the Southeast. Despite going to a public school, my faith was never challenged by my friends, peers, or teachers. In fact, everything was viewed through the lens of a Christian worldview, even science. Junior year of high school I took AP Biology, and for the first time in my life, I was forced to study and seriously consider evolution. At least in the South, evolution is often seen as a dirty word. For myself and the rest of my peers, it was considered foolish and potentially even demonic.

I remember my teacher (who held a doctorate degree) being extremely intentional in how he phrased evolution so as not to upset us. Indeed, both myself and my wife (who I started dating in that class) can still remember the definition that he gave us. He said, “evolution is simply the change in the frequency of alleles in a population over time.” He said nothing about the creation of new species. At the time, I thought it was a pretty harmless definition. However, this definition began to slowly gnaw at me, especially when I started my undergraduate degree at a Christian university.

I grew up in the Deep South, specifically Alabama…At least in the South, evolution is often seen as a dirty word. For myself and the rest of my peers, it was considered foolish and potentially even demonic.

The more I learned about Biology and especially Chemistry, I realized the fallacy that I had been carrying with me since the fourth grade. Suddenly, carbon dating and other radioactive dating were true. I was forced to reassess and rethink my opinions on the age of the Earth. Once my brain wrapped around the billions of years that Earth has existed, the definition from my AP Biology teacher began to fester in my sugar-rich juvenile mind. Now with the help of billions of years, evolution began to make sense. Indeed, by the end of college, I was fully convinced that humans had arose through the mechanism of evolution.

As a Christian, especially one growing up in the South, this required a heavy amount of rethinking and reformatting how I interpreted the Bible. However, I personally found it quite refreshing to discover alternative ways to approach reading the Bible. Ultimately, I changed from a hyper-literal interpretation to a more poetic interpretation of Genesis 1-11. Both Christian Biology faculty and Bible professors helped me come to this realization. I found it particularly helpful to consider the original audience and purpose of the biblical text. Indeed, 2 Timothy 3: 16 states, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” As a Christian, I should not be using Scripture as a scientific textbook. I should be using it to train myself in righteousness, and ultimately be transformed by it, becoming more like the image of Christ. I ultimately came to the conclusion that there is absolutely no conflict between faith and science.

Open textbooks stacked on a desk in a classroom near blackboard and color pencils

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As a Christian, I should not be using Scripture as a scientific textbook. I should be using it to train myself in righteousness, and ultimately be transformed by it, becoming more like the image of Christ. I ultimately came to the conclusion that there is absolutely no conflict between faith and science.

Josh Owens

I naively thought that by resolving my own tension between faith and science that I wouldn’t encounter conflict again, but sadly I was wrong. After college, I started graduate school where I pursued a PhD in Immunology. It was exhilarating to be surrounded by some of the best minds and research labs in the country. During graduate school, it is common for you to rotate through at least three different labs to determine which lab fits you best. Excited for this new journey, I scheduled interviews to discuss a potential rotation with several faculty members. In one such meeting, a professor started making small talk with me. During our conversation he made an off putting remark about the Christian faith. He made a statement that I will never forget: “Christianity is only followed by those who are intellectually weak.” As far back as I can remember, I have always desired to pursue knowledge and to understand concepts at a higher level. Now, here I was at a major university interviewing for my thesis lab, and my faith was being compared to academic bankruptcy.

This was the second time I was experiencing tension between my faith and science. The first time it seemed to come from the Church and from personal convictions and interpretations of Scripture. This time, it was coming from within the field of science, and from someone who was in a position of authority. I could have coiled, but instead I mustered the courage to say. “I’m a Christian.” He seemed to mumble a simple “Oh,” and a farewell, abruptly ending the meeting.

At times, I am still haunted by the words of that professor to this day. I’m saddened to know that some people, even within the scientific community believe you cannot be a scientist or even an intellectual and a follower of Jesus. I admit that I can at times get discouraged about this. Especially living in the South which retains a conservative, Christian worldview, it can feel like there has been little to no movement in reconciling faith with science.

However, I have hope. I believe that steps are being made in the right direction to better understand and teach evolution to religious-sensitive students. Thankfully there are people doing this important work. I also believe that work is being done to encourage people to reconsider hyper-literal interpretations of the Bible. I do feel that these steps are only being taken by a few Christian universities and institutions in the South, which can be disheartening, but I know that it will take time. It is my hope that we can do more in the South, in schools, and churches to work towards a more robust reconciliation of faith and science.

I’ve discovered for myself that one can be both a faithful Christian and a good scientist. One does not impede or negate the other—being a follower of Christ and his teachings doesn’t weaken my science or intellect, just like being a scientist doesn’t threaten or reduce my Faith.

I’ve discovered for myself that one can be both a faithful Christian and a good scientist. One does not impede or negate the other—being a follower of Christ and his teachings doesn’t weaken my science or intellect, just like being a scientist doesn’t threaten or reduce my Faith. I want to help others see this as well. Being a Christian doesn’t make you intellectually weak. I fully believe that you can be a Christian and intellectually strong!