What in the WORLD: Distrusting Science?


I fill my long daily commute between my suburban family home to my Boston-area workplace by listening to podcasts. This past year, I have been particularly enjoying The World and Everything in it, which is produced by Christian news organization, World News Group. The podcast offers in-depth analysis of Supreme Court rulings, politics, culture; uplifting stories about Christian service organizations; and eye-opening stories about persecution of Christians around the world. Although I greatly appreciate their news coverage, I have been less impressed with some of their science reporting.

For example, the opinion piece Almighty Science? We’ve given it far too much reverence by Joel Belz bothered me. It aired on their Wednesday, July 10 podcast, and was published in the July 19 issue of WORLD Magazine. It was difficult for me to follow the logic within the commentary. I think Belz’s goal was to criticize scientism, but he did so without defining it. Instead, using a condescending tone towards scientists, he promoted a cynical view of science. Belz seemed to claim that we should not trust the findings of science because scientists constantly revise their calculations and adjust their theories. Such criticism shows a lack of understanding of the process of science. Scientific integrity requires openness to revision while building on the foundation of past discoveries.

Belz’s commentary fits the larger trend within the evangelical subculture, which propagates the idea that there is a conflict between science and faith. This false narrative does not draw people towards faith, but instead pushes them away. Recently, worship music writer Marty Sampson from Hillsong listed many reasons for losing his faith, including science: “I want genuine truth. Not the ‘I just believe it’ kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion.” Both my brother and my brother-in-law also cite science as an excuse for unbelief. While there are many reasons for unbelief, we should not set up false stumbling blocks.

When I was young, I did not think that I could believe in God, because I wanted to become a scientist.  Growing up in the spiritual desert of New England, I was unchurched, but learned about the Scopes trial and watched the movie Inherit the Wind in science class. I bought into the false narrative that there was a conflict between science and faith. Learning that my undergraduate chemistry professor was the worship leader at a local church brought me one step closer to believing. A year later I was baptized. That was 21 years ago. I have since earned my PhD and served as a youth group leader, women’s small group leader, homeless ministry volunteer, deacon, and short-term missionary. I share my faith with family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, and have been blessed to see some come to Christ. I have had conversations in which people tell me that I am the first person they have met who has been born again. The fact that I am a scientist and a Christian intrigues some enough to ask me more about why I believe in Jesus. I do not intend to boast, but rather to highlight how dramatically God has worked in my life. God has clearly given me a calling, which includes my work as a scientist.

Although my convictions draw me to doctrinally conservative churches, I do not always feel welcome in them. About a year ago I told a church member that I do not hold to a six-day view of creation. He responded that as I mature in my faith, my views would change. I disagreed. On another occasion, I mentioned my regard for pastor and author Tim Keller and learned that the church leadership shuns him for his views on theistic evolution. Those types of comments make me feel unable to fully serve in that particular church.

I fear that skepticism about science within the church limits our children’s excitement for learning and discourages them from pursuing scientific careers. But this world desperately needs more believers in science! Science helps expand our faith and our worship, as we more deeply understand God’s creation. Science can be a noble vocation, a platform to improve lives with new technology and medical advances. But with those advances we need faith-driven moral perspectives to promote the ethical use of new technology.

Christians with different views on creation should be able to come together in dialogue and agree to disagree on the particulars. We should focus on what we do agree on: the core of the gospel message. As scientists of faith, we all agree that we were created by a loving God who sacrificed himself as the only way to redeem us from our sin and who draws us into a relationship with himself.

landscape photo of the fjord cliffs in New Zealand

Those theological points are non-negotiable. Scientists can hold a high view of the Bible because science does not change those truths. Science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of such a loving God. No one will be banished from heaven because they had the wrong view on creation. But “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). So we should be humble about what we know and what we do not know about how God created. And we should hold fast to what God has revealed to us, both through his creation and in his word.

With these passionate beliefs, in response to the “Almighty Science?” piece, I wrote a letter to the editor of WORLD magazine and called the listener comment line for the podcast. I was greatly encouraged that they were willing to broadcast my comments (beginning at 25:54):

Why should it surprise us that scientists might need to revise their estimates of the size of a galaxy, which must be very difficult to measure?

The process of science is one of constant exploration, learning, and revising of theories based on newer data. Such revisions are required for the integrity of science. Any claims that science provides all knowledge, wisdom, and understanding is not science, but is rather scientism, and should be rejected.

Science and faith enhance our understanding of the world in complementary ways. Our scientific study of the universe should draw us to worship, increasing our awe of God and all He created. Our study of the Bible teaches us the depth of God’s love for us in the face of our sin.

May we all approach both science and faith with humility, to be genuinely truth-seeking and not be biased by what we want to be true.

I am thankful that World News Group is open to hearing such feedback. I appreciate that they acknowledge more than one view of creation. For example, Marvin Olasky has interviewed Ann Gauger, from the Biologic Institute, who holds an Old Earth Creationist perspective. However, I pray that they would one day become open to fairly presenting, rather than overtly criticizing, even broader perspectives on origins, such as that of Evolutionary Creation.

I recognize that there are some challenges in biblical interpretation with respect to the origin of sin and the historical lives of Adam and Eve. There is a risk of mishandling those biblical texts to conform to modern scientific theories. However, we should not be afraid of wrestling with those hard questions or look down upon Christians who do. The Lord blesses people who wrestle with Him, such as Jacob, Thomas, and many Psalmists. One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 1:18, “Come let us reason together, says the LORD…” Some opponents think that people accept views such as Evolutionary Creation simply to be accepted by their peers or to be more effective at evangelism.  But in actuality, scientists who are genuine believers are trying their best to live out their faith while having intellectual integrity.  Genuine truth-seeking must take both biblical truths and scientific observations into full consideration.

Spreading the message that scientists with many different views on origins can all hold a high view of Scripture could reduce the fear and cynicism that some believers seem to have towards science. Let us try to stay optimistic and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15), engage with people who disagree with us. Let us pray for opportunities to speak and for wisdom about what to say. It can seem overwhelming at times, but I believe we can each do our small part to open the minds of individuals in our circles of family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers to realize that science and faith can complement one another. Such small steps could make a big difference in the long run, so let us try not to get discouraged, but continue to persevere.


Michelle Ols
About the Author

Michelle Ols

Michelle Ols is an immunologist who has been working in the fields of autoimmune disease and immuno oncology research at biotechnology and small start-up companies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, since 2011. Dr. Ols holds a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Medicine from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University.  Before graduate school, Michelle was a Fulbright Scholar in Heidelberg, Germany. She is married with two young children.