March 27, 2009

Introducing "Faith for Thinkers"

“Make a choice. You can believe the claims of science. Or you can believe the Bible. But you can’t have it both ways.”

No matter which side of the wall you’re on, you’ve probably heard those, or similar words. Maybe even from your own lips.

When spoken by a believer, the implication is that the claims of science are nothing but godless speculation. Science is fundamentally flawed, and has deluded the world into believing a system of lies in a desperate attempt to explain away anything supernatural.

When the same words are uttered by a scientist, the implication is that Christians have been deluded into believing a fairy tale, for which there is absolutely no evidence. Science deals with observable, provable facts, while Christianity is founded on make-believe.

One can go back through history and discover how the battle lines were drawn, and how the war has intensified. Today, the conflict between science and religion seems irreconcilable. Committing to one means recognizing the other as “the enemy”. But it’s a contention that doesn't need to exist.

How do I know? Because I stand in the crossfire, straddling those lines of battle.

On the one hand, I am a Christian. I have attended conservative, evangelical churches my entire life. I’ve had a “born again” experience, gone on missions trips, taught in bible schools, preached, and experienced miraculous gifts of emotional and physical healing in my life. My wife has been a licensed Assemblies of God minister, and is a licensed marriage and family therapist at a Christian counseling clinic. In 2003, having been disabled by four years of aggressively advancing (and incurable) Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, she was instantly and completely healed of every symptom after being prayed for at a so-called “healing service”, and remains 100% symptom-free to this day. I believe in God and prayer, and I’ve witnessed miracles first hand.

On the other hand, I am also a scientist. After earning an award as the top science student in my high school class of nearly 1000, I attended Michigan State University on a National Merit Scholarship, earning a degree in Electrical Engineering. After being awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship, I went on to graduate school at Stanford University, where I earned my Masters and Doctorate degrees in Engineering. I continue to work as a wireless communications research scientist, have earned over 30 patents, and enjoy reading and hearing about the latest scientific research, whether it’s biology, astronomy, or particle physics.

As a scientist and a Christian, I was subject to voices from both sides: scientists mocking my faith, and believers warning me to be wary of science. But I was too committed to each to give up either one. So I continued to simultaneously grow in both my faith and my knowledge of science. And you know what? I found that not only could faith and science “peacefully coexist”, but that I didn’t have to compromise either one, and that they actually complement, strengthen, and where necessary, provide a gentle correcting influence on one another.

For a culture that has been programmed to assume “irreconcilable differences”, harmony between the evangelical church and the scientifically educated community seems impossible. But if I can at least lower the level of hostilities enough to encourage people to stop fearing what is on the other side of the wall, and maybe even help a few step over and begin exploring what they once feared, then I’ve done my job.

So my message to the church is: please, stop defining everything in terms of a wall with a “biblical worldview” on one side, and a “scientific worldview” on the other. Learn to recognize that scientists are reading a record of God’s truth just as you are, and if it disagrees with your theological interpretation, be humble enough to admit that maybe your interpretation needs correcting, rather than trying to bend the truth to fit your theology. If you do that, I promise you’ll end up with a view of God that expands and grows more awesome with each new discovery. And if you have no interest in pursuing science yourself, at least check your attitude, message, curricula and literature you leave at the front door of your churches, to be sure you’re being an encouragement, rather than a roadblock, to those who do have such an interest.

And my message to the educated scientific community is: please understand that there are those of us in the church who are truly sorry that, going back to the days of Copernicus and Galileo, you’ve been needlessly pushed away from God. We’re sorry for all the strident voices proclaiming your discoveries as “godless”, and for the church’s fear of scientific knowledge. The church needs you, and you need to find a church community that welcomes you, and doesn’t require you to check your brain at the door.

Future editions of this blog will address issues such as:
▪ Truth, modernism and postmodernism
▪ What astronomy tells us about the nature of the universe
▪ What biology tells us about the origins of life
▪ Can a Christian believe in evolution?
▪ Concordism, Accommodation and Kenosis
▪ Who were Adam and Eve?
▪ Multiple dimensions and the nature of God
▪ Is God a Republican?

OK, maybe that last one is a bit too sensitive. We’ll see.

In any event, I invite you to subscribe, offer your comments, and come with me on a journey of discovery.

- Phil


  1. I like it. Looking forward to more discussion

  2. I have a slightly different view of religion and science, but certainly do appreciate your view, especially the "thinking " part. I have gone through the belief, faith, trust sequence and find none of them as satisfactory as the Relationship to God concept which Marcus Borg espouses in his "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time". I am especially impressed with his view of Jesus as the wisdom of God. I go even further in being basically non-trinitarian.
    - Gerald

  3. Gerald,

    I couldn't agree with you more: nothing is more important and satisfying than relationship with God. There's a child-like simplicity to that message that makes it accessible to everyone, regardless of intellect. But saying that intellect isn't necessary to faith should never be twisted to imply that it is an enemy of faith.

    Dr. Michael Guillen (professor of math and physics at Harvard, and science editor for ABC News), in his book Can a Smart Person Believe in God?, argues that those who are able to see with both their "spiritual eye" and their "intellectual eye" can perceive a depth to the nature of God that can't be perceived with one "eye" alone. The lie I'm trying to refute is that we can only open one eye at a time. We don't have to choose which eye to open. We can open both eyes, and when we do, we experience a new dimension of relationship that really embodies what it means to "love God with our whole heart, soul and mind".

    I like your comment on Jesus as the "wisdom" of God. Try reading Proverbs chapter 8, substituting the word "Jesus" for "wisdom".

    I may get more deeply into the concept of the "trinity" if I ever tackle the topic of multiple dimensions. The basic understanding is that our human perception of "reality" is limited to three space dimensions and time. However, if one considers a "transcendent reality" encompassing additional dimensions (which our minds aren't equipped to grasp), it allows for a God who is one in His "transcendent reality", yet appears as three in our "human reality". In fact, if someone asked if I were trinitarian or non-trinitarian, I might just respond by asking "In which reality?". This is definitely a topic for another time.

  4. Phil
    Our definition of faith seems the problem. To me faith is simply the decision as to what you believe, and that differs among individuals. When faith becomes encoded wars result. Borg has a very complex view of faith, including trust. I have found in relationship an overriding view of both.

    As to the idea of two eyes, I tend to believe in the reality of God as superior to the reality of men.Thus I find your severe dichotomy as unpersuasive perhaps. I also find the objectivity of science as suspect for the same reason.

    As to reading Proverbs 8,9 substituting "Jesus for Wisdom", I find reading John:1,6 substituting "wisdom for word"equally intriguing.

    As to your last paragraph, there is much to discuss. I hope we will find time at another time.


  5. Hey Uncle!
    Looking forward to more on these topics. I have really enjoyed our talks on these subjects in the past (rare as it is that we are able to get together) and I have found a stronger faith and trust in God when I see scientific discovery in a non-combative light.


  6. Still in learning curve about blogging. Think I'm ready now. I have printed about 30 pages of your past blogs and articles, and have started to go through them. Would it be simplest to address my responses in your newest blog, even though I may be responding to an older one? I did not include the date of the blog when I printed it, but I can probably find the appropriate place if you would like.

    I hope to share this journey as someone who cares little about defending the "faith", cares little about making nice with the science community, and is perfectly content to let atheists be respected just as they are. So I'm a bit of a curmudgeon. The fire in my belly comes when there are cheap shots and when the truth is disrespected. Check me out. I have no horse in the race other than that.

  7. What is it about the genome project that excites you about the possibilities for belief in evolution?

    Does it demonstrate a consistent pattern of mutation as the driving force to greater genetic complexity?

  8. Sorry for the delay in responding, and welcome to the world of blogging, Wes! In answer to your question, these blog posts don’t “expire” – they can each be looked at as separate, ongoing discussions. Therefore, all comments should be submitted in response to a specific post, as a contribution to the particular discussion topic raised in that post, no matter how old the post may be.

    Everyone is welcome to join in the discussion (even curmudgeons!) as long as the discussion remains respectful. I share your disdain for cheap shots and disrespect of truth. Unfortunately, that kind of inflammatory rhetoric, usually between those who take an oppositional stance (anti-Christian scientists or anti-science Christians) is what usually catches our attention, to the point where we thinks it’s representative of the entire community.

    Meanwhile, those of us in the scientific community who are believers (poll estimates range from 40% to two-thirds, depending on how the question is phrased), are worshipfully integrating our scientific knowledge and Christian faith at depths that make me hunger for more of both, and wonder how we ever allowed ourselves to swallow the lie that either one was a threat to the other.

    My passion, as someone who sometimes feels caught in the crossfire, is to draw people in that same depth of experience – encouraging believers to embrace the wonders of science that can inform, enhance, and invigorate their knowledge of God, and encouraging scientists to embrace the step of faith that gives meaning to the understanding of the universe by getting to know the One who created it.

    I look forward to hearing more from you.

  9. In response to 8/26 comment:

    From what I have seen of the genomic evidence, it pretty much settles the issue of common descent. Darrell Falk, a Christian biologist, does a pretty convincing job of describing this evidence in laymen’s terms in Coming to Peace with Science (InterVarsity Press, 2004), so I’d suggest that as a good reference.

    Basically, it comes down to billions of base pairs in each species’ genome containing a written record of ancestry by displaying traceable remnants of sometimes partially overwritten sequences that line up perfectly (in both content and location) as predicted by common ancestral branches. These remnants, sometimes called “junk DNA” often perform new and useful functions, but it’s hard for me to imagine why they would have to take the specific form and location of ancestral patterns unless they were left there by God for us to discover.

    While the genome provides a record of the incremental changes that relate species to species, it doesn’t really have much to say about the driving force behind these changes. That’s why intelligent design advocates such as Michael Behe can fully accept the evidence for common descent while questioning natural selection as a sufficient driving force. [“I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it.” (Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, p5.)] The issue of complexity would be one of the topics Behe would have issue with, but the genomic evidence itself wouldn’t be expected to address that.

    The usual argument about complexity is that a system driven by random processes would not be expected to become increasingly complex on its own (sometimes this is coupled to a misinterpretation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics). If anything, I would argue that a totally random system would be completely neutral – some changes would result in simpler structures, and others more complex – and there would be no specific preference for or against increasing complexity, other than that which best survives. There seems to be substantial evidence for adaptation taking place in both directions. Parasitic organisms, for example, become dependent on other organisms for survival when they decrease in complexity, and thereby lose their ability to survive independently. Likewise, other organisms may prosper when an element of complexity is inserted. We tend to focus on the more complex organisms, but if you look at the total number of bacteria, etc. in the world, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that increasing complexity is the exception, rather than the rule.

    When you look at the amazing complexity of the human body, I agree that it’s hard to imagine how that level of complexity could have resulted from a series of incremental changes. The genomic record seems to indicate that it did, but the question remains, in my mind, as to what extent the process God designed was constrained to move in the direction it did. My faith-based conjecture at this point is that a universe that may be totally random at the moment of creation would, by the very presence of God, be constrained to develop in a direction that enabled some part of it to enter into relationship with its Creator. Just speculation, but perhaps something to think about.

  10. I understand how you can find the meta narrative compelling. It makes me wonder whether there is any room for worldview discussion. Is it always to be presumed to be a matter of observational scientific conjecture versus dogmatic orthodoxy, that lies at the core of the science/faith conflict? Funny I used the word presumed !!!

    I'm wondering if there is any current day laboratory evidence outside of the fossil record for permanent species differentiation through increased complexity. Surely the thousands of observed drosophila friutfly generations would provide such evidence?

    The Chimpanzee shares a common ancestor with humans doesn't it? I have some interesting stats by David Dewitt, D.A. concerning the Chimp genome project that I would like to submit for comment. It is about a paragraph long and speaks to the point I am making above. Would you mind if I presented it?

    I lost my Google ID so I'm anonymous today- but this is Wes.