The pastoral burden for Christian students of science is to navigate relationships with fellow believers, some of whom are suspicious of science, and fellow scientists, some of whom are suspicious of faith. The virtual dialogue in this series addresses that tension in narrative form. Martin is fictional, but the struggles are real.
It is so good to hear from you! I am glad to hear about classes, research and your professor. Finding a major professor that you can work with is as important as the area of research. Finding a professor you like to work with in the area you want to work is ideal, and it sounds as if God has led you to the right advisor. I looked up some of Dr. McKenzie’s work and she is doing exciting and important science and makes solid conclusions without overreaching.
My short answer to your question is, “Yes, I would be honored to discuss the relationship between faith and science by email.” I would love to sit down over coffee to talk face-to-face, but email is better than nothing, which is what will happen if we wait to see each other. And you should not put off addressing the issue because ignoring it is dangerous and dishonest. If your experience is anything like mine—and your trouble with sleeping tells me it is—there is some urgency; the questions will not leave you alone and leaving them unanswered will hinder you in your faith, vocation and even your ability to function.
Having urged you to start thinking through these questions, I would hasten to add that you should not be impatient to finish the process. Nor should you expect to create a neat, tidy little system that exhaustively answers every question, removes every possible doubt and sweeps away all dissent. However, with a few weeks of reading and discussion, you should be able identify the critical questions, create a framework for study and reflection, and formulate satisfying answers. There is no need to panic, even though you may feel that way.
I remember vividly how teaching the evolution chapters of biology at an international school in the Middle East impacted me. I found the evidence compelling and the explanations clear, complete and coherent. The school gave me not just latitude but a mandate to entertain critiques of Darwinian evolution, but the critiques were short on science, sometimes flying in the face of evidence, sometimes trying to cook up new evidence to overturn evolution. Some were just plain dishonest. Other responses were better scientifically, but treated creation like a pie, giving part to the work of nature and the rest to the work of God; as science explained more and more from a purely natural point of view, God’s piece inevitably shrank.3 I, too, laid awake at night contemplating the prospect of a convincing, complete “theory of everything,” which gave a solely naturalistic explanation of all of life that contradicted the Bible’s account of creation and for which there was no effective Christian response. I had always believed (spoiler alert: and still do) that the Bible was inerrant and infallible, and that Christianity was true. I had even had the privilege of sharing my faith with Muslims while living in the Middle East; now I found my own faith shaken while the country I lived in was descending into war. It was a dark night of the soul.
The key for me to come to satisfying answers was a careful look at how we read Genesis in 21st Century North America. Reading Genesis as a journalistic record of material origins virtually forces the modern reader to choose between the Bible and a scientific approach. The result for a Christian can be a gnawing mistrust of the Bible. With that loss of trust, we as scientists tend to compartmentalize faith, are impoverished in our faith and become, at best, timid evangelists. Reading Genesis 1 through the worldview of the ancient Hebrews restores confidence in the Bible, affirms our calling as scientists and emboldens us to call others to faith in the Creator.
To answer your other question, I would never call you a heretic—you are struggling with something that has preoccupied some of the greatest minds of the last 150 years. And I would be honored to walk along this path with you. If my experience and thinking can help you formulate your own answers, I will thank God for preserving me to help others.
Here is my suggested roadmap. The main issues fall into three interrelated categories: 1) the relationship of the scientific and the Biblical accounts of creation, 2) philosophical issues and 3) theological application. I suggest addressing these in order with some reading to inform and structure our discussion. The order is important because most of the conflict circulates around the apparent divergence of the scientific and biblical accounts. As a start, read The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton and give me a summary with your evaluation.
Some advice for the process:
Draw near to God. The allure and vision of Naturalism is very powerful to a person with a bent for science. Draw near to God both corporately and personally. Especially draw near to God in worship. We affirm the work of God as Creator in our confession in the creeds and in preaching, and worship draws our hearts and imaginations and desires to him.4
Say “no” to fear. Hold to the truth of God’s Word above all. Then listen to all sides (from Richard Dawkins to Ken Ham), but especially voices between these extremes. Do not rush to conclusions. Do not fear evidence. Pray fervently.
Meditate on the death and resurrection of Jesus. We have, in the Gospels, reliable eyewitness testimony to the resurrection.5 The resurrection is an anchor in the storm of controversy. There are some things that we can know only by testimony6 and knowing the truth of the resurrection is a powerful antidote to exclusivist claims that only what we can sense, either directly or indirectly, is real and that the only way to know what is true is observation under the discipline of the scientific method.
Get back to me when you can. It will not take you long to read Walton.