There’s little doubt that I confuse a lot of people. It isn’t that I do it on purpose, but is because of who I am. While on campus yesterday, I was asked a question by a traditional student about how I reconcile science and faith. The term traditional student refers to students who are 18 to 25 years old. During the conversation, this student did share she had a belief in God but wanted to pursue a career in science. She asked me about how I balance my love of academics with my Christian faith. I consider it a fair question and worthy of an answer.
Science AND faith are not at odds
I make no apologies about who I am. Within the scope of my college duties, I do not share my faith during lectures. As I have done in the past, if a student asks a question about my faith, I offer to share my faith after class. Over the thirteen years I’ve taught at the college level, I have had a handful of students who have taken up my offer. Many of these students, as was the one yesterday, come from Christian homes. The problem is within the field they study, they encounter those who demand them to leave their faith behind.
It is my understanding that science must be objective and approached with an open mind. The demand that faith must be abandoned in order to pursue science objectively is closed-minded and biased. By definition, an atheist is someone who does not believe in God or in any form of religion. How is their lack of faith unbiased considering their personal views affect and shape their thoughts and inquiry? How can that be any more unbiased than someone who does have faith? In the purest, unbiased nature of scientific inquiry, both are equal in the way they influence the pursuit of knowledge. It is up to the person conducting research to be aware of what influences them.
Understanding real bias…
During graduate school I was faced by those who believed those who held on to their faith could not be objective historians. On my committee was a professor who took numerous opportunities to tell me how my belief in God was “tainting” my research. I struggled with my “bias” as I was working on my dissertation. Effort was made to avoid mentioning God, my faith, or even the Bible in any research project I did. I was equally diligent in assuring I was careful in various course assignments and discussions not to include elements of my faith. I began understanding my faith did have a profound impact on my world view. It shapes what I see as right and wrong; they become absolutes. But this is no different from an atheist; their lack of faith affects their world view.
The way I came to understand it is best demonstrated through math. If the goal is to produce 4, then we must be ready for all the possibilities of how “4” is produced. By claiming that faith must be abandoned in order to be unbiased would be equal to forbidding someone to use subtraction to produce the desired number. By removing subtraction, a perfectly equal alternative to addition, multiplication, or division has been removed from consideration – for no other reason than because of personal preference. At that point, trying to find a solution to producing “4” is not objective, but has become subjective. Much is the same when the demand is made that faith be left out of research – especially science.
A short history of faith and science…
There is actually a history of real science and faith being complementary. One of my favorite eras to study is that of the Enlightenment. During this era, great men of science such as Giovanni Cassini, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Edmond Halley, and others built upon the foundation of the scientists of the Renaissance. Together, these great minds were minds of science and of faith. Unlike today, where those in science demand a denouncement of faith, the leaders of faith required a denouncement of science. While the Enlightenment era scientists were not as persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church as was the scientists of the Renaissance, pure science was still held in contempt. Scientists were subject to public and spiritual ridicule even though their discoveries often magnified the depth of detain within creation.
The men of science of both eras firmly had a belief in God and were intrigued by nature, organisms, and the nighttime sky. They set forth on a path of inquiry that not only coexisted with their faith but allowed for scientific inquiry. Nearly all of the research, theories, and observations of these same men are regarded as scientific fact. But under the guidelines of modern-day scientific peer review, not even the works of Galileo Galilei, Nicholas Copernicus, or even Johan Kepler would be considered as reliable or unbiased. In their time, they were pursued by the church. In today’s time, they’d be pursued by their peers. And for the same reason – they pursued science not to question the existence of God, but to better understand the creation and function of the universe.
The dictates of one’s own heart
At the center of the American Revolution was a concept the ruling elite of Europe were unfamiliar with – the right to follow the dictates of one’s own heart. This is the central element to personal liberty and is very much a product of the Enlightenment and Biblical at the same time. Under true Christianity, God’s plan is for each individual has the right to either accept God or reject God. This concept of such personal liberty is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. There is no state religion or national church. The reasoning for this is explained in the Federalist Papers. The founders wanted each person to have the right to determine what religion, if any, they followed. In times past, Europe had been the battleground for numerous religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. This would not be repeated in the new American nation.
Live and let live…
There’s an old saying I learned which has become a part of my life’s philosophy: live and let live. During my 8th grade year, Mr. Eldridge not only had this in wooden letters above his desk, but made sure to invoke this saying anytime two students had a disagreement in class. It took me years to understand exactly what his saying meant. It now defines how I approach others. But the problem is today’s society is not content in allowing differences in thought to exist. Take any subject from global warming, alternative lifestyles, or politics and immediately the demand is there can be no difference in opinion.
I belong to several Facebook groups and some computer game forums. I have seen this attitude extend into the virtual world. In one forum, I have seen people mention they actively participate in religious activities treated with contempt by those who do not. Claiming to be the defenders of tolerance, they become the very thing they claim they are fighting against. They are fighting against the concept of personal liberty to be exercised in the lives of others. They are fighting the same liberty they personally enjoy. It is personal liberty that allows the dictates of one’s own heart to determine what is best for them. This is far from live and let live. It is tyranny.
My approach to science and faith
I have discovered science and faith are complementary of one another. While pursuing my Bachelors and Masters degree, I learned the importance of skepticism and of stoicism within philosophy. Even though both are ancient, they still influence modern thinking. While working on my Ph.D., I was told to use those and the Greek style of inquiry to be what framed my research. I figured if it was good enough for what I was doing in class, it should work well with studying the Bible. And when I applied those methods to my personal study of the Bible, not only did it begin to affect my faith, but it also began impacting how I viewed and researched history and science.
Much of what is regarded as philosophically opposed within the academics and in faith are actually complementary. Faith provides the guidance science needs. Science provides the definition and skepticism faith needs. It is through skepticism where faith becomes tried and tested. What stands strong and remains is what is real. And with that, it becomes obvious, in the case of Christianity, most of what passes as “Christian” is really far from it. Within the study of history, faith has served as a guide to look deeper than the actual events studied. And it is the scientific method of inquiry that provides the framework for the inquiry into history that keeps that allows for meaningful discovery.