So far we’ve looked at five of the scientists profiled in Tim Stafford’s book the adam quest. In this book Stafford found Christian scientists “who hold strong opinions but are not quick to condemn others.” His purpose is to let them tell their own story with little interference, to humanize the nature of the conflict with real people and to provoke thoughtful engagement in the church. This is a book that every interested person, especially pastors or other Christian leaders, can learn from. Whether you are searching for answers or hold strong opinions of your own, it is always helpful to understand where others are coming from. In fact, it is probably most important when holding strong opinions that we take the time to understand and view others as fellow humans, in this case fellow Christians, members of the same family.
The next three scientists profiled by Stafford take an old earth view, Mary Schweitzer is a paleontologist who has made some fascinating discoveries. Darrel Falk is a biologist, former president of BioLogos, who wrote an outstanding book contributing to the discussion of science and faith (Coming to Peace with Science). Ard Louis is a physicist, a professor of physics at Oxford University in England.
Mary Schweitzer, as a non-traditional older graduate student at Montana State University, rocked the scientific establishment with the identification (discovery) of what appear to be fossilized blood cells in dinosaur bones. This was followed by discoveries of blood vessels and osteocytes and more. She is now a professor of paleontology in the department of biological Sciences at North Carolina State University. Her work has been used as an argument for a young earth – but not by Schweitzer herself. The evidence for an old earth is persuasive and follows many varied lines of evidence. However, the discovery of the preservation of organic material in ancient fossils – millions of years old, is highly significant and opens up new lines of research. A fresh eye will often see things that experience over looks or dismisses as impossible.
Schweitzer is a Christian and her story is fascinating. On the conflict between science and faith she says
“It’s a false chasm. You don’t have to choose between science and faith.” She cites her experience when she first recognized the strength of the case for an ancient earth. “I could have gone away from my faith, but I knew God.” … She believes there is room in the Bible for an old earth once populated with dinosaurs. “Let God be God,” she likes to say. (p. 115)
But as a Christian and a paleontologist she does experience a sense of isolation at times. It is hard to form strong friendships when viewed with suspicion. Non-Christian scientist friends don’t really relate to much of what is important in her life and far too many Christians are wary of the science. Nonetheless, it is the friendship with fellow Christians that matters the most – even with the occasional tension over the questions of origins and the age of the earth.
Darrel Falk started his independent research career at the University of Syracuse, but came to realize that his true calling was not in the research university. Rather it was to teach in a smaller Christian college environment. Among other factors, a driving force was the need for Christian community. This is hard to come by at the research university. He found a church in Syracuse, where while they “certainly didn’t believe in evolution, the members never bothered about the fact that Falk did.” (p. 124) Darrel’s approach to the question of science and Christian faith is best seen in his book – Coming to Peace with Science – and in the course he charted at BioLogos. “We must be patient with each other and allow each other to follow truth as we see it in Scripture.” (p. 136) Much of Stafford’s profile of Falk is based on his book, with a few more recent additions.
Ard Louis’s scientific career followed a traditional path, but his upbringing certainly didn’t. Raised in Gabon in Africa with parents who taught in a Christian school, his experiences were multicultural. As well as a scientist, Ard Louis is a Christian – a charismatic Christian in all senses of the word. His experience with the miraculous in Africa and since helps to provide a foundation for his faith. He notes that methodological naturalism is the way that science is done – but isn’t the path of faith.
It would be odd if there were miracles in my lab or in my calculations. What I am studying are the regular ways God sustains the world. If there is a God who is faithful, then I expect his rules to be trustworthy and regular, and if God is intelligent, I might even need to understand his rules.
“I think Western cessationism comes from people acting like that all day long, and they think that’s the way it is. But I don’t think that’s the way it is. If you read the Bible, that’s not the way it was. It’s particularly important for me as a scientist to be involved in something like praying for the sick, because that does act on a different plane.”
Louis believes that pentecostal and charismatic Christians have a particular contribution to make to the discussion of evolution. “The evolution-creation debate gets tense because there is the a fear of knocking down the foundation of faith. This is the way cessationists argue, that the whole thing will collapse if you mess with your interpretation of Genesis. I don’t find that so worrying. Charismatics find it easier to explore different ideas. They take the Bible very seriously, but they know God is real. (p. 150)
Interesting views by three thoughtful Christians from very different faith and family backgrounds. I hope it wets the appetite to go to the book to read more. But one message is clear – we need Christian community. The church will make progress on these issues – but only by working together in community, with a range of voices in the conversation.
Is a mindset of cessationism responsible (at least in part) for the conflict between science and faith?
How do we know that God is real?
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