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Featuring guest Deborah Haarsma

Deb Haarsma | Caring for our Community in Crisis

Jim and Deb take a moment to talk about the cultural moment we find ourselves in.


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Jim and Deb take a moment to talk about the cultural moment we find ourselves in.

Description

We find ourselves three months into a global pandemic, one week into a movement of nationwide protests in response to the death of George Floyd and for this episode Jim Stump, vice president of BioLogos and host of the podcast and Deb Haarsma, president of BioLogos take a moment to talk about where we are, where the church and science can fit in and how the work of BioLogos might have a role in moving forward. 

  • Originally aired on June 04, 2020
  • With 
    Jim Stump

Before You Read

Dear reader,

We’ll get right to it: Young people today are departing the faith in historic numbers as the church is either unwilling or unable to address their questions on science and faith. BioLogos is hosting those tough conversations. Not with anger, but with grace. Not with a simplistic position to earn credibility on the left or the right, but a message that is informed, faithful, and hopeful.

Although voices on both sides are loud and extreme, we are breaking through. But as a nonprofit, we rely on the generosity of donors like you to continue this challenging work. Your tax deductible gift today will help us continue to counter the polarizing narratives of today with a message that is informed, hopeful, and faithful.

Transcript

Stump:

Welcome to Language of God. I’m Jim Stump. We originally had some other things planned for this week’s podcast episode, but decided they didn’t seem all that important or relevant given the events in our country right now. So instead, for this episode, I talked to BioLogos President Deb Haarsma about what a science and faith organization might have to offer in this moment.  

There are two major crises happening in the world today. There is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been going on for several months. It has killed more than 100,000 people in the US, put lots of people out of work, and radically changed the normal rhythms of life. And just this last week, the death of African American, George Floyd, at the hands of white policemen in Minneapolis sparked nationwide race protests and riots. We thought we’d talk about these a little bit from the perspective of science and faith.

Deb is an astrophysicist by training, so public health and race relations weren’t a part of her academic training. But she has been running a science and faith organization for seven years now, and has gained some wisdom that speaks into both of these topics. We’re not here to provide definitive answers to questions about what’s happening, but to honestly explore our shortcomings and the real problems our culture is facing, and at least to wonder how our Christian faith and the knowledge we gain from science might help us in this time. 

Let’s get to the conversation.

Interview Part 1

Stump:

Deb, these are not the circumstances we would have liked to have picked for us to record a conversation together. But thank you for coming on today.

Haarsma:

Certainly.

Stump:

Let’s start with race, acknowledging right up front that you and I are not the experts here. There is definitely such a thing as white privilege. And it’s fair to say that you and I are both beneficiaries of that, right? So you grew up in the Minneapolis area, which has become kind of the epicenter of the news of what’s going on. What experience did you have with race there growing up?

Haarsma:

I grew up in the northern suburbs of St. Paul, in a white suburban school district in which in my high school, I think there was one African American. So it was very monocultural and I had very little experience with people of other races. and was not aware at all of how privileged I was. I thought there was a level playing field out there and other people just hadn’t been fortunate to be born into the kind of family I was.

Stump:

And since then? So you went on and lived in some bigger cities and had experiences where there were people of other backgrounds.

Haarsma:

Yeah, grad school for me was a great multicultural opportunity, at least for understanding some of those things better. I still don’t think I’m very good at cross cultural stuff. But I have… I’m so much more aware of the importance of it and what I’m missing out on if I don’t make the effort to engage it. So it’s been quite a journey, I would say in the last decade. It’s becoming aware of the level of systemic racism in our culture, of how many ways I have benefited without even realizing it, and the amount of work that needs to be done to rectify these kinds of structures

Stump:

And what are some of the—we’ll get to the faith and science side of this in a bit—but some of the even more basic principles than that, as you see the news and have watched what’s been going on, how we as people of faith, we as Americans, ought to be responding to the things that we see?

Haarsma:

Well, grief and outrage are normal and appropriate responses to so much of this. Just watching the video of George Floyd’s death, I was appalled. I still am. And that’s the right answer. It’s the right response. We need to stand with our African American brothers and sisters. They need to know that people of all cultures care about this deeply. And we need to listen to them. I think I was naive enough to think that death like that couldn’t possibly happen at the hands of police in America today. I really thought that we were beyond that. And I have a lot of listening to do to find out what it’s really like and to find out what kinds of changes need to be made to rectify this kind of systemic injustice.

Stump:

So what is it that an organization like BioLogos has to offer in a situation like this?

Haarsma:

Yeah, there’s so much of this that we just aren’t are not equipped to address. Police brutality is a huge issue, systemic issues in housing and in so many other areas. But there are issues in science that we can and should begin to address. And BioLogos has, for a couple of years now, begun to talk more about racial issues and how they intersect with the science and faith conversation.

Stump:

The typical issues that BioLogos has talked about over its history have not always been the issues that have been of primary concern to people of color, right? 

Haarsma:

And that was one of the first lessons, you know. Early on in the history of BioLogos, we were just getting started, we weren’t thinking about race at all. And then there was a few years where I could see what a big problem it was and spent quite a while gathering advisors to our advisory council, more voices. And then one of the first things I learned from them was, yeah, in black churches evolution is not that big a deal. And what’s the big deal is inequity in healthcare, inequity in science education and science careers, access to these things. Especially things like the Tuskegee experiments that were so horrible, I knew about them, but I thought that was in the distant past and when I started hearing the stories and experiences from African American pastors and Hispanic leaders, it’s like, oh, those are living memory for many people, it’s their grandparents, their parents, there’s an ongoing and sometimes justified reason to mistrust healthcare providers. So those are the kinds of issues that are of more concern. So at BioLogos, we have been broadening out the topics that we address for that and for many other reasons. So in addition to evolution, we’ve been talking about creation care, and we’ve been talking about medicine and bioethics, and here in the time of the pandemic and in the time of racial tension, medicine in bioethics have been really important to be addressing.

Stump:

So in talking about some of the connotations that science has for communities that are different than ours, you know, when you say “scientist,” to us it kind of conjures up the notion of somebody in a white lab coat that works in a laboratory somewhere and experiments on things, where for some of these communities, it conjures up, you know, images of what happened to my grandfather, where did they go? And so there’s a lot of sort of negative inertia that has to be overcome to even start having a conversation about science and faith. Because then we can go to the faith side and say, Christianity itself has not always been on the side of promoting peace among races. Right? So how do we account for the history of both of these disciplines that have such awful episodes within them at least, and get onto a better footing of having a positive conversation about science and faith in the context of communities that look different than ours do?

Haarsma:

Yeah. You know and even this language of “us” and “our,” we’re talking about you and I Jim, right? We’re white. But we want BioLogos to be a community that includes all of us. And we’re making inroads in that direction. When I think of the black pastors in our network, the kinds of inroads they talk about, and you know, what can overcome these historical inertia and challenges, they keep coming back to role models. Can we please put in front of young people of all races—but especially those who just have no other way to encounter it—role models of scientists who are pursuing these careers as a possible career you can have, scientists who are believers, scientists who look like me, look like them. So the black kid growing up the hispanic kid growing up. I remember my conversation with Elizabeth Conde-Frazier last year and her talking about how important that is. We hear it all the time from many others.

Stump:

Our friend, Elaine Ecklund, who does sociology of science and religion has told stories of interviewing people who said, I can’t give you my demographic information because there’s such a small pool of people like me that they’ll know exactly who this is. It won’t be anonymized.

Haarsma:

I think her example was an African American particle physicist. And there was like three. It’s, yeah…it’s bad. I’m this week also watching, listening in on, the National Conference of the American Astronomical Society, which is making progress in this but had a big plenary on it. And the barriers are hard. It is challenging for us to change. And I think things where we think we have we have changed, one of these speakers, she’s been a leader and African American woman in thinking about the demographics and astronomy, and she described a program 15 years ago that was the model of any program you would expect for astronomy—a big, exciting research project in which there were all these great ties to historically black colleges to various minorities were encouraged to participate from the faculty level to students. And it all seemed good, but then you look ten, fifteen years later, and where are those people? And they ended up kind of fading away and not actually becoming part of the leadership of the astronomical community, the ongoing scientific research at the level you would have expected. So I…things are challenging in ways that we don’t even fully understand. But I try to not get discouraged by that. It’s tempting to say, oh, well, I guess there’s nothing we can do. And we cannot do that. Christ calls us to unity, to unity across our different people groups, Jew and Gentile, we are called to unity. And we are all God’s children. And we all have something to contribute to science, we all have a role to play in the church. So we cannot stop. And we have to keep trying and keep listening. There’s a lot of listening that needs to keep happening. And so we can let our African American brothers and sisters tell us okay, here’s where the barrier is. When you say it that way, do you realize how that sounds to my ears? And, you know, do you realize how challenging this aspect is over here? And the more we do that, I hope and pray the more progress will make

Stump:

You not too long ago spoke down in Houston at a prominent African American church. What was the reception like there to talking about science and faith? And are there any things you glean from that experience that might help point us in the direction of maybe the way churches can help to address this and not just the scientific community itself of encouraging science.

Haarsma:

Yes. Oh, I thought this was great. This was an inner city church in Houston pastored by Harvey Clemens. And he is one of our advisors at BioLogos. And he invited me to speak at his church. And this was the first time I had spoken at an African American church. And I was so warmly welcomed. He brought me on stage and interviewed me sitting side by side first. And I was like, what a brilliant idea. Rather than just, you know, introducing me and having me start to speak, he interviewed me and made sure his congregation understood why I was there, who I was, what we were talking about. And then I spoke, and I learned where the amens were supposed to come. And, but what really floored me was, ahead of time, I asked pastor Harvey, “so you know what kinds of views are there on evolution and creation in your congregation.” I always ask this before I go speak somewhere just to understand where people are at. And he said, “you know, in our congregation, we might not all be equally educated, but we all love to learn, people will want to learn.” And I was just floored. Like how many churches I’ve been a part of where you could even say that. Like there was just a joy of learning. And then when I was there, that was how it was. I got some of the most substantial questions about astronomy, people were like, now, you mentioned dark matter and you said there isn’t an explanation, but like, couldn’t it be something like this? And like, what about that? And they were asking me questions about the science. And so it…I found it to be a model for other churches and I’ve used that example now often in the years since, to tell people this is, this would be a great model for churches to pursue and sort of what they’re emphasizing as an engaging science. You know, but we said at the beginning of this conversation about white privilege, and now when I re… Like, I hope that what I’ve just said does not come across as patronizing or demeaning. Like I still worry that the phrases I use might be sound damaging to others. And that is not my intent, if anything comes across that way.

Stump:

So I lived in Africa for a year, right after college. My wife and I went to Sierra Leone, West Africa and lived way out in the middle of the bush, as they call it. And had a, you know, almost the exact opposite experience of what you might think because we were there as part of a mission group where there was such a clear divide between the rich white people who came from somewhere else and the people who live there all the time. And I couldn’t handle it. I mean, we were seriously considering being missionaries for a career. And I came back and said, I cannot live, where it looks like I’m a king in this society. And then that distinction was so palpable. But then I had another experience later, after being here, where I was invited to go to Jamaica, to Kingston. There’s a school called Jamaica Theological Seminary where I was invited to come and give their commencement address. And I took my son with me who was then Junior High age, and we flew into Kingston and after the airport, we were not in the touristy parts of Jamaica at all. This was inner city Kingston and I don’t think we saw another white person. And we remarked, my son and I were talking about this, of the palpable sense of being a minority, of feeling what it’s like. But they’re in a place where it wasn’t like there was this immediate suspicion against us. It’s not like people were following us in department stores the way people of color feel here all the time. And yet there was just this constant pressure to feel like, am I doing everything right? You know, how do I respond in this situation? What’s the food going to be like here? How? And I came back with a, you know, a fresh set of eyes. Because, like you, I grew up in a very white monoculture, small towns, small farming kinds of towns. But to see an experience that, kind of, firsthand, to see how the, you know, it must feel to not see yourself in everybody that’s around you there. And to understand what some of those difficulties are. And it’s certainly one of the sad commentaries on race that our places of worship are so segregated like that. I mean, it’s fantastic to be able to go to a church like that, that you did, and yet it’s still kind of a cultural experience as opposed to us being part of that.

Haarsma:

I know. I know. It just, yeah, it feels wrong, that that’s somehow separate. And we should say, before we go any further, that we both realize how odd it is for white, two white people to be talking about race. And at BioLogos, we were… Like we right now have invitations out to three different African American leaders in our network to bring them onto the podcast to talk more about this. And we hope that some of those conversations will work out. But we also know that it’s important for white…this is not just a black issue, it’s important for white people to be talking about it too, doing our part. So.

Stump:

I think there’s probably a role for us to talk to each other, to encourage each other to say we need to listen to our friends that have different experiences.

Haarsma:

And and you know, one of the most telling things I learned from a book called Waking Up White a year or two ago was that white people have the privilege of ignoring racial issues, of just not talking about it. And since reading that I’ve tried to make an effort to drive into conversation on a regular basis just to, you know, that’s part of the reality of our world.

Stump:

Let’s say something more here about the science of race. 

Haarsma:

Oh, yes. 

Stump:

There’s something wrong with simply saying, “science has shown that there are no races so we need to     just acknowledge the fact that there isn’t any races so we can’t be racist,” right?

Haarsma:

I know, and this has been challenging because people came out with a narrative, there’s no genetic basis for race. And as a scientist and a human being, I’m like, that doesn’t make sense. I can tell that white people have white kids, black people have black kids. You know, like, they clearly, there’s something genetic going on here. But what’s actually going on is that there’s no genetic basis for the way we’ve defined races culturally. So there is a genetic basis for different ancestry groups, dozens of them across Africa, dozens across Asia, hundreds around the world. And those ancestry groups do have genetic signatures. And if you go to ancestry.com or one of these other sites, they can test your DNA and tell you what mix you are. And that is a scientific…has scientific basis. But you can have, what was it, a group of three scientists tested themselves early on and they found that the two Koreans on the team had more differences in their genetics than the Koreans did with the one white guy on team, you know? So the way we think of race does not match up at all with what the genetics are saying.

Stump:

One of the articles I read about this said the best way that we have to try to assign a genetic basis of race is to say that there’s at least as much genetic differences between two groups as there is between what scientists classify as subspecies. So for example, chimpanzees in Africa, there are five different subspecies of them. Well, there’s not remotely the amount of genetic difference among humans as there is between those two different subspecies of chimpanzees there. So then it becomes this very arbitrary line to say here is exactly how much genetic difference there must be in order to call it something different. And so what it does instead is it shows us that this is a social construct, at least, what philosophers like to call a social reality. There is a social reality to race though, right? 

Haarsma:

There’s a big social reality. 

Stump:

So even if we can’t say there’s this definitive genetic basis, it’s real. It’s real.

Haarsma:

It is so real. And it needs to be addressed as such. But what the science is actually saying is that the human race is incredibly unified, all of humanity, we share so much of our genes across all of these different ancestry groups, and we are way more unified than we are different from each other.

Stump:

So one of the very real effects of the social reality of race, though is found in health outcomes for people of color, which has become all too apparent during this pandemic, which has disproportionately affected people of color. And it’s not like there’s some biological reason for this the way there is for sickle cell disease, which affects people of African descent. This is completely an effect of the systems that have been built up within society and socio-economic lines that have been shown right. So what do we make of the social reality of race insofar as it has these real effects in our society,

Haarsma:

Yeah this has been, there’s so much to grieve about the pandemic and this one just cuts me to the heart. The way it has revealed these disparities in our healthcare system, and in just the way that people experience their health. So, a friend of mine in my Bible Study said, “you know, people have been saying, we’re all on the same boat, but it’s more like we’re all on the same storm that we have very different boats.” And it’s really the case. So if you’ve been in the boat where you couldn’t afford health care, where there wasn’t a doctor or clinic that you felt you could trust with your health, and where you were living with the constant poverty and stress caused by systemic racism, you’re going to have worse health outcomes. And there’s this higher incidence of diabetes and heart disease and so many others things. And then those things end up making you more susceptible to the Coronavirus and to dying from it. And it’s, I hope and pray that this inspires public policy changes to address this in a much more wholehearted way and effective way.

[musical interlude]

BioLogos:

Hi Language of God listeners. Here at BioLogos we think that asking questions is a worthwhile part of any faith journey. We hope this podcast helps you to think through long held questions and consider new ones but you probably have other questions we haven’t covered yet. That’s why we want to take this quick break to tell you about the common questions page on our website. You’ll find questions like “How could humans have evolved and still be in the image of god,” “how should we interpret the Genesis flood account?” and “What created God?” Each with thoughtful and in depth answers written in collaboration by scientists, biblical scholars and other experts. Just go to biologos.org and click the common questions tab at the top of the page. Back to the show!

Interview Part 2

Stump:

So it’s hard to imagine that the pandemic would take a backseat in the news after it’s been months and months where that’s been the only story but let’s remind ourselves of the reality of this situation. When I just looked up to see the latest count we’re at 107,000 people in the United States who have died from COVID-19 now. This brings to mind a famous adage that’s usually attributed to Joseph Stalin, I did a little research to see if he really said it and couldn’t track it down, but it’s often attributed to him, saying “when one person dies it’s a tragedy, when thousands of people die it’s a statistic.” I fear that we’re in danger of treating this as just a statistic, that we’re becoming numb to the statistics. Let’s talk a little bit here about the reality of this, the tragedy of this, that every one of those 107,000 people are people who, you know, are loved who have communities who have value. Yeah.

Haarsma:

Yeah, people that were loved and are mourned and were lost too soon, that did not have to die if this disease didn’t come upon us. Some of the news outlets have been good at doing regular profiles of the individuals who died so you get a little of that flavor, like, oh, that person, that mother, that retired engineer, that nurse, that artist, you know, they are no longer with us. I don’t know personally, anyone who’s died. I know a few people personally who have been ill with the disease. And so I think that’s part of it. You know, in this time of social isolation, you’re a little less likely to know, perhaps people who died. But I think it’s been just so easy to have all the stories be about like, oh, well, how are we managing being stuck in our homes and about the real economic problems. But there are people dying. 107,000. It’s as many as die from our leading disease causes of death. So I’m not sure how we appropriately grieve that. The National Association of Evangelicals has called for a day of prayer in our churches on June 14, and so I encourage everybody to participate in that, and I’m sure part of that will be a time of lament and grief for all those who have been lost.

Stump:

BioLogos has had a bit more of a role in this crisis than the racial crisis that we were just talking about. We’ve been attempting to produce some resources that can be of help to the church. The science religion dialogue that goes on in our country often has some suspicion of science, given that science has sometimes been used in ways that have not always been fair, have not always been legitimate, have not always been consonant with our faith. But let’s talk here a little bit about the reliability or the trustworthiness of science. I think early on In this pandemic, I rather optimistically thought this might be a turning point for bigger numbers of people coming to trust science. Now I’m not so sure, again. Science, at least the communication of science, has been sucked into political and culture war lines that are very clearly drawn. How else do we address this?

Haarsma:

Oh my goodness. Yeah. And as a scientist myself, it’s particularly odd to watch the way the word science just gets tossed around as this weapon in the culture wars. Yeah, like you, I thought early on, like, okay, people are going to see. The epidemiologists, public health experts are coming out and saying okay, this disease is coming, tens of thousands of people are going to die if we are not careful, these are the kinds of things that would slow the spread. And they were right. The death toll has been large. And they were also right that if we all stay in our homes and stop interacting with each other, that the deaths will go down and it will stop spreading. I think people get a little distracted by seeing that the scientists…oh, well, their predictions were all over the place. You know, that number didn’t turn out to be the actual number. And that’s where some science education comes in just to understand a little bit more about how scientists do these things. What gets reported in the news or quoted by a government leader is usually just, you know, that little final summary. But when the scientist reports on it, what they said is assuming X, Y and Z, and based on the data we have now, this is what would happen. But if you make these assumptions instead, then this will happen. And by the way, they don’t just say this will happen, you know, 90,000 people will die, they say 90,000 people plus or minus 10,000 or something. They’ll put an uncertainty measure on that. And I suppose for non-scientists that all sounds a little bit confusing, but for scientists that is incredibly important. For us, it’s hardly even doing science to just say, oh, I predict X. You have to say, based on these things, I predict X with this level of uncertainty and these qualifiers, and here’s how this data should be used and the implications, and here’s where it needs to be checked by others. All of that is so bound into how we are trained to do the actual practice of science.

Stump:

But that level of nuance is what doesn’t make it into the bullet points.

Haarsma:

You betcha. Or the colored graphs. And then it’s really hard than because what you end up with is leaders, like I’ve heard soundbites where it’s just like, we’re going to follow the science. That’s it. We’re going to follow the science, that’s all there is to it. And I think the people speaking, I think well, first of all, what they mean is they are going to take the scientific evidence and predictions very seriously and factored into their decision making. But it’s always about more than just science. And what they don’t realize is that for people who have reason to mistrust science, this is not a selling point to just say science said so. People like are like, “yeah well science, scientists said that there’s no God, or some of those scientists said we should do eugenics, or those scientists over there said we should gene edit our babies,” you know, like scientists don’t always get it right. So it’s…there’s always more going on. And so that’s how it sounds on that side. But then you get the extreme on the other side, where they just blow it up even further to say, well, I don’t have to take science seriously, because, you know, I’m just going to live my life and I have a right to live it the way I want. And then I’m thinking, oh, my goodness, you’re just closing your eyes to the truth. Scientists are just trying to tell you as best can, what’s really going on in our bodies and in our, you know, the way the disease spreads, that’s what we’re trying to do here. And if you’re not listening to that, you’re just, like, don’t want to hear what the truth is? And so I, we need something in between.

Stump:

So you’ve just described these two polar extremes that we too often find ourselves confronting. BioLogos has tried to carve out this niche of finding harmony between these two things. Can we even maybe talk about how that might practically work in something like this? So thankfully, several of the pretty important and influential people in the country with regard to biomedical research are Christians. What does that look like for a Christian who also works in the laboratory? I mean, we obviously think there’s a place for prayer and for asking God to help, for God to do something in this. But those people aren’t saying “okay, I’m just going to stay home today and pray,” instead of actually going to the laboratory and trying to find a vaccine for this thing right?

Haarsma:

There’s a cartoon that shows a bunch of scientists gathered around some test tubes. And then there’s a priest standing there, you know, with the priest collar. This is a Sidney Harris cartoon. And the scientists point at one test tube, and they say, “this one, we want you to pray for this one.” But it’s tempting sometimes. Like so you know, I’ve done research and sometimes it is so frustrating, things are not going the way you think they’re supposed to. You can figure out where the issue is in the equipment. But we don’t… We can pray as scientific researchers the way Kepler prayed. Kepler prayed, Lord—and I don’t remember the exact words but the sense of it was that—Lord if I’m on the right track, if it really is the case, that the planets go around the sun, then bless my efforts, guide me into a true understanding and help me make progress. That’s the kind of way we pray for our research, we acknowledge that it is God’s creation, that we are seeking his truth. And we pray for help in understanding that truth as well as possible. 

Now, our faith can also affect some of the things surrounding just the doing of science itself. It can affect our choice of what we study. So I know quite a few scientists, they chose their field because of a deep passion and calling to serve the church by studying their field in depth. So it can affect your choice of what research area, and then it affects what you do with the findings, how you interpret them. So I study the universe and cosmology, and when I study the big bang, I don’t study it as an alternative to God. Instead I study it as a way of understanding how God was governing the early universe, how God got it started, which we don’t understand yet scientifically, and then how it developed from there on. I’m studying God’s handiwork. And so I understand my work in that larger context. And then there’s the moral choices we make about the science and the technology and how we use it. And that’s where the really rich conversation is to be had. There are many people who are not of faith, who care very much about how the ethics of our technologies are used, so this is a great conversation starter between Christians and non-Christians. How should we use the different technologies? How do we invest our resources best? And it’s also such an important place for Christians to have an impact on our culture. Science can tell you, well if you take really draconian measures, you don’t let anybody work or walk outside of their house, yeah, we’ll stop the virus in its tracks. But that’s not quite what we did. We allowed for essential workers and going to the grocery store, etc, etc. And we did those for reasons besides just how the Coronavirus would propagate. We did it for all the other reasons, all the other things that we care about. And Christians come with this robust set of values and theological principles that are wonderful for informing how we make these ethical choices and how we decide to go forward. How do we value each life? Life matters. Because Christians we care about every single individual, no matter how vulnerable, whether they be old or young, we care. And bringing that ethic into the conversation is so important. And I long to see even more Christians at the highest levels of leadership in medicine, in policymaking, in government leadership, to be able to draw on those values in how they make their choices, taking into account both what science is telling us about God’s creation, and what the Scripture teaches us about how we should care for one another and how to love one another.

Stump:

One more point on this interplay between science and faith with regard to things like this and the work of scientists, so maybe it seems a little funny to pray and ask God to do something in this one particular test tube like your cartoon was saying, but I think many people will hear that of but don’t we pray for miracles? If somebody’s sick with COVID don’t we pray for them in the belief that God really does heal people sometimes? How does that factor into all of this? Solve the problem of miracles and divine action for us here.

Haarsma:

Oh, sure. In 30 seconds or less. Oh, no. So, no, I think scripture is quite clear that we are supposed to pray for the sick and the ill and we are supposed to practically care for them. Both. I do not see in scripture, “do one and not the other.” And so scripture itself holds these together. I know physicians who, many physicians, people in the Christian Medical and Dental Association, they feel they are continuing the healing ministry of Jesus. It’s one of the major things Jesus did on Earth. Jesus did it through miracles. Today we can do it through medicine and surgery and prayer. And so we do both. I know a lot of doctors who bring these both together, who pray with their patients. We had a doctor here in Grand Rapids speak at one of our events a little while ago and he talked about a situation where a young man had badly injured his leg in a skiing accident. And the father of this young man, or this family, was part of a church that emphasized faith healing. And I believe God can heal through prayer and miracles. But these were to the point of actually refusing to follow what the doctor was advising, that this leg was going to have to be amputated. And they…it got so tense between the family and the medical professionals, but this doctor was a believer himself, he was able to walk in and say, okay, let’s pray. And he prayed with that father, with a patient, and he built a relationship with them, and eventually they agreed to the necessary surgery. So I think doctors are—Christian physicians and nurses and aides—are in this wonderful position of being able to bring together prayer and the best medical practices we know of, together in a united way to meet the needs of patients. And it’s a great way they can be loving God and loving others with not just their mind, but also their heart and their hands and continuing that healing ministry of Jesus.

Stump:

We had an interesting episode on the podcast back oh, around Episode 10 or so on prayer specifically and talking even about some of the studies, the supposedly scientific studies on the efficacy of prayer and things like that, and I think it’s worth listening to. One more question on this religious life in the United States. There’s been a fair bit of discussion, debate on opening up churches, how soon should we do that? What is the…how should this controversy or this crisis be affecting our regular practices of worship right now?

Haarsma:

Oh, it….this is the big question churches are wrestling with and churches are making decisions right now, every Sunday, what are we going to do? I disagree with the way some people are saying, oh, the government is out to take away our religious liberty. I don’t think any of the restrictions have been targeted at churches per se any more than they’ve been targeted at movie theaters or restaurants or hair salons. The restrictions are about places where people come together in an enclosed room, lots of people and they’re all breathing and talking and…

Stump:

Singing. 

Haarsma:

And singing. There was that incident early on at that choir rehearsal at a church out in Washington State and the virus spread to like half of that choir. And I love singing in church and just the thought of being back in church, ah, I long to be with all my friends again and to run up to them and give them a hug and sing together. And it’s really hard not to. But even more than that, I don’t want to share, to spread the disease to them, especially the elderly in my congregation. And none of us knows if we have it. We don’t know if we have it until, even if we have it, we don’t always have symptoms. 

So this is the challenge all of our churches are wrestling with right now. And I want to point readers to a site called reopeningthechurch.com. And this comes from the National Association of Evangelicals and the Humanitarian Disaster Institute out of Wheaton College. And I’ve been very impressed with what they’ve put together. It’s a short booklet that has step by step, it has checklists, and it is biblically based. It starts from biblical principles. It talks about prayer points, things we can be praying for at each step of the way. But it also draws on physicians and researchers to have to be relying on the best science so that you can know what are the high risk things of your church, what are the low risk things. It gives a template for here’s some things you can start with sooner and here’s things you should wait with till later. All of the different things you need to think about, what you have to do with your building. So, I recommend that resource for churches that are wrestling with these questions. It’s going to depend where you are in the country, what the virus looks like in your community. But please, please, please take the scientific research, what the data is showing us about God’s world, the medical advice, take it seriously. And don’t just brush it aside. Look for ways that you can best love one another in the context of this pandemic.

Stump:

Good. Feels a little bit like we’re in exile right now and waiting for the promised land, waiting to come back, wandering in the desert waiting to come back into the promised land and it’s… The change in society has been so rapid and so comprehensive that it’s hard to remember back what it was like when you could just go out and go to the store or what it was like when you could just go to church, what it was like when we’d go to the office and wouldn’t have to look at each other in little squares on the on the computer screen, right? Well, thanks so much for talking. We unfortunately don’t have all the answers. But it’s, I think, worthwhile trying to talk through some of these things and appreciate so much the leadership that you’ve given to BioLogos and we look for better days ahead.

Haarsma:

Yes, we do. And we’ll be here at BioLogos. We’re doing our best to bring together biblical faith, rigorous science and humble dialogue and active caring for our community and we will keep putting out resources to help everyone out there wrestle through these questions.

Stump:

Good. Thanks, Deb.

Haarsma:

Thank you.

Credits

BioLogos:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation and more than 300 individuals who donated to our crowdfunding campaign. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. That’s me. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. We are produced out of the remote workspaces and homes of BioLogos staff in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum. Find more episodes of Language of God on your favorite podcast app or at our website, biologos.org, where you will also find tons of great articles and resources on faith and science. Finally, if you’re enjoying the show and want to help us out, leave a review on iTunes, we love hearing from and it helps other people find the show. Thanks. 


Featured guest

Deb Haarsma

Deborah Haarsma

Deborah Haarsma is President of BioLogos. She is an astronomer and frequent speaker on modern science and Christian faith at research universities, churches, and public venues like the National Press Club. Her work appears in several recent books, including Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Design and Christ and the Created Order.  She wrote the book Origins with her husband and fellow physicist, Loren Haarsma, presenting the agreements and disagreements among Christians regarding the history of life and the universe.  She edited the anthology Delight in Creation: Scientists Share Their Work with the Church with Rev. Scott Hoezee. Previously, Haarsma served as professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin University. She is an experienced research scientist, with several publications in the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal on extragalactic astronomy and cosmology. She has studied large galaxies, galaxy clusters, the curvature of space, and the expansion of the universe using telescopes around the world and in orbit.  Haarsma completed her doctoral work in astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her undergraduate work in physics and music at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She and Loren enjoy science fiction and classical music, and live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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