Have you hugged a molecular biologist today?

I have a few things I would like to say to the community that is Christianity, and these things are about science.

I’ll bring the Sexy Scientist back, to get us in the mooooooooood.

Ready? Here we go!

Point # 1 – We, as Christians, do not have to be afraid of science.

Despite how I (strongly) suspect some people feel on the subject, science is not “the study of making Christians look stupid and prove that God is no more real than the Tooth Fairy.” Not to say some scientists don’t feel that way – I’ve met a few who do – but there is nothing inherently wrong with the scientific method, even when adopted by people of faith. Take, for example, evolutionary creationists.

Evolutionary creationists (like the fine folks at the BioLogos Foundation) are people who believe that the evidence supporting the theory of evolution is irrefutable – but that doesn’t mean, in any way, that God did not create the universe, the world, and all of us. They just believe that God used natural selection and mutation as vehicles for the creation of all the living organisms we see today. To quote directly from their website:

The BioLogos view holds that both Scripture and modern science reveal God’s truth, and that these truths are not in competition with one another. While there are varying views within the BioLogos community of how to reconcile the truths of science and Scripture on particular issues (for example with regards to a historical Adam1), we believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired and authoritative Word of God. BioLogos accepts the modern scientific consensus on the age of the earth and common ancestry, including the common ancestry of humans.

 

Why should these people accept the evidence for evolution? Because, as I said before, it’s fucking overwhelming. And I’m not saying we should adopt Intelligent Design, either. Intelligent Design is, when you get right down to it, an idea put forth by shady quasi-scientists who want to find verifiable proof of God in the laboratory. The “scientists” who are proponents of I.D. and their works are not subjected to peer reviews, and their theories can’t be published by independent scientific journals because they aren’t falsifiable, predictive, or parsimonious. Intelligent design, in other words, isn’t science. And that’s okay. Science is science. It is very good at doing what it does. We don’t need to create theories like Intelligent Design – we can just read a book on evolutionary biology. It’s cool.

Rest easy, humanity – the nerds have us covered.

This isn’t to say that scientists don’t have faith in God. Some do – check out that link to the BioLogos foundation if you want to see how very easy it is to reconcile faith in Jesus with the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution – and it works just fine if you’re not afraid to try it. The way I see it, the universe is a wonderfully complex creation, made by the capable hands of an infinitely wise God. The thing basically runs itself! Looking at it from this perspective, if God needed to directly intervene in various stages of evolution (as Intelligent Design proponents believe) that would infer that God was not infallible – that God has, at some point, looked at creation, said, “Oh, shit” under his breath, and then stepped in to make a change to the way an organism was evolving. Wouldn’t an omniscient God create a system and let itself play out, knowing that the end result would reflect His plan?

“Seriously guys, I got this.”

I think that many people feel that science is a threat to faith – that the more one learns about the world, the less one believes in God. This is a mindset that we must, as a culture, overcome and discard if we intend to continue to be relevant to the wider world.

Point # 2 – The Bible is not a book about science, and anyone who uses it as one is missing the whole damn point.

 

Man, I don’t even have to write this section. Author Jon Henry already wrote it for me in his recent article for Internet Monk. Before going any further in reading my blog post, take a moment to read Jon’s (far superior) article. It’s so incredible that you’ll thank me for, like, five years for making you read it.

It might help if you set an alarm on your phone. You can just text your thanks.

Did you read it?

. . . . .

How awesome was that?!?!

I think the opening lines of this piece really sum it up.

 

Bible believers must defend the truth that the moon emanates its own light.

Contrary to the revelation of the Bible, modern science wants people to believe that the moon does not have the ability to generate light. Instead,they want us to believe that the moon merely reflects the light of the sun.

 Not only is it ridiculous to believe that a rock could reflect the light of a sun millions of miles away, but it’s also unbiblical!

Now, this is satire, but as one commenter mentioned, it’s satire that has the potential to backfire on the author – the article is so well-written that it very well could make its way around the internet as a legitimate argument, forwarded by people who don’t “get it”. If this happens, it’s inevitably going to be quoted by the secular community as one more example of how Christians cannot accept scientific evidence that runs contrary to the “truths” of our world as presented in the Bible.

They won’t be surprised. We do this all the time. 

Ah, the scientific method. . .

Point #3 – Science is awesome, because God is awesome.

 Check this out.

See that? God did that. Science took the picture. If it weren’t for the Hubble telescope, we would never see that image of what astronomers call the “Mystic Mountain.” You can search the Bible, front to back – even the ones with the pictures in them – and you’ll never see the scripture express the incomprehensible beauty of God’s work as well as that picture does it.

The universe and everything in it are surprisingly cool. I could list a bunch of awesome science facts, but you can do the same – just Google “awesome science facts”.  Even if you completely ignored the spiritual world (which, as a faith blogger, I recommend against) there is more jaw-dropping stuff to be seen, felt, visited, or experienced on our own little planet than we’ll ever be able to quantify. But we try to quantify it, to understand it – and when people do that more than a little, we call those people “scientists”. They aren’t out to hurt us, they just want to understand God’s world a little better. . . even if they don’t know that God made it. And considering how awesome the world is, who wouldn’t want to understand it a little better?

Because God makes the coolest stuff.

Final Note – God is not “in the gaps”.  

Wikipedia (great source, I know) defines the term “God of the gaps” as, “a type of theological perspective in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of God’s existence.” In other words, when we don’t understand how something happens, we attribute it to God. In early human history, our gaps in knowledge were very large, so we attributed quite a bit to God (or the gods) that we now understand on a scientific level. Nobody thinks that lightning comes from Thor, or that the sun is a fiery golden chariot racing across the sky. We also know – come on guys, let’s face it together – that the earth is billions of years old, as opposed to thousands.

And that’s okay. God is still God. I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, but I don’t believe that the Bible is supposed to be a document that tells us how the physical universe works. It’s okay for us to not understand every single event that can happen in our universe. It’s even okay for us to guess that those events that we don’t understand come from God – because, in a philosophical sense, all things happen because of God. What is not okay is for us to deny ourselves the opportunity to learn more about all things that happen in God’s universe from a scientific perspective. Nor is it okay to deny overwhelming evidence about the physical world just because contradicts a book that is not, in any way, a book about science. You wouldn’t open a copy of Popular Science to find out what the meaning of life is, would you?

“I don’t get it. Is it a. . . a metaphor, or. . . something?”

In conclusion, let’s all chill out, alright? God loves you no matter how many years ago the earth was created. It’s possible that you, the person reading this post, are both a) descended from monkeys, and b) personally cherished by the intelligence that made the universe. In fact, I believe that both things are true. And let’s not forget that God loves scientists, too, and has blessed them so profoundly that they get to give us normal folks a glimpse into the awe-inspiring totality of His creation, whether they know it or not. We shouldn’t hate them for that – we should thank them for sharing it with us. 

About Daniel Mitchell

50% of "What the Faith?!?!", a blog about two skeptics who turned to God for no apparent reason. View all posts by Daniel Mitchell

11 responses to “Have you hugged a molecular biologist today?

  • Veronica M. Surges (@jurisdoctorette)

    I have (quite literally) no knowledge of how sciencey stuff works. I failed my high school science courses and took only “Current Environmental Topics” (also known as “Science For Idiots And Hockey Players, Sorry – That’s Redundant”) in college. For that reason, I’ve tried not to let scientific discoveries bug me too much. My mom always says, “does it affect my salvation? No? Well then, I’m not going to worry about it.” That has more or less been my outlook, especially growing up in a theologically conservative home.

    As I think I mentioned at some point, though, I’ve been dating a smart dude for a little while now. He’s a chemist at NASA and his ideas of science and the universe – and how, in his mind, the two prove the existence of some sort of creator – have been very eye-opening. Subjects I avoided thinking about in the past (either because I considered them unimportant to my personal faith or was scared of the answers) have suddenly seemed a lot more interesting because I’m approaching it from a perspective of “look how awesome God is” instead of “uh oh, we’re starting to figure out how God works, guess he’s not that awesome after all…”

    Apropos of your line of “doubting” posts recently, I’ve been going through a rough time in my life and have started to entertain quite a few spiritual doubts that I’d hidden away. I’ve waxed poetic about how good doubts can be and how they lead to fuller faith but it’s a little more difficult to believe that when you’re actually living out those doubts. Your posts have been really encouraging and perfectly timed!

    • Daniel Mitchell

      Hey V! I’m going to reply to both of your comments separately, just to make it simple to follow.

      I think that because of my secular background, as well as my obsession with “Nova” on PBS, science was more present in my childhood than religion. Well, science, and sci-fi/fantasy. :) I always thought it was silly to see how far people of faith would go to deny things that the scientific community considered to be a given. I think that science can only be a threat to do the “God of the gaps”, which is why I feel so strongly that we need to make sure that’s NOT the God we worship.

      I’m glad that I was able to help you through a time of doubt! Believe me, I’m familiar with those. I truly believe that doubt is fertile soil for faith, as long as you’re willing to share those doubts – mostly with God, but sometimes people can be a big help, too. We’re often taught to fear doubts, as if our faith is bubble-delicate, and the slightest prick will pop it. It shouldn’t be – we have the Spirit to show us crazy crap that validates all the rest. :)

  • Veronica M. Surges (@jurisdoctorette)

    More thoughts: I’m having a long conversation with said boyfriend about creation, evolution and the origin of human life (I sent him this post, which he loved). Thinking about science and how we don’t have to fear it has gotten me in a tizzy about how awesome God really is even when things are shitty, and I remembered that last night I was reading the Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning and came across these quotes:

    “Several years before his death, a remarkable rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, suffered a near-fatal heart attack. His closest male friend was at his bedside. Heschel was so weak he was only able to whisper. ‘Sam,’ he said, ‘I feel only gratitude for my life, for every moment I have lived. I am ready to go. I have seen so many miracles during my lifetime.’ The old rabbi was exhausted by his effort to speak. After a long pause, he said, ‘Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power of fame. I asked for wonder, and He gave it to me.’”

    The chapter goes on to say, “our world is saturated with grace, and the lurking presence of God is revealed not only in spirit but in matter…
    the gospel of Jesus and grace is brutally devaluated when Christians maintain that the transcendent God can only be properly honored and respected by denying the goodness and the truth and the beauty of the things of this world.”

    After reading this last night, I sent up a little pleading prayer for wonder because it seems in awfully short supply these days. Lo and behold, you post this, and spark a great conversation that leads to…wonder. Cool!

    • Daniel Mitchell

      What an awesome quote. I really need to read that.

      I think it’s amazingly cool that God answered your prayer, and I’m crazy psyched that I got to be a part of that. I think it’s excellent that you and your boyfriend are able to have conversations that inspire you. Brandi and I still have conversations (usually around 2 in the morning) that keep us wide-eyed and wide awake with that same sense of wonder. God provides the wonder, but sometimes it takes a reminder from people that we can stop and look any time we want. You might enjoy searching YouTube for a talk called “Indescribable”, by a big-named church dude whose name escapes me right now. It’s a 40-minute talk, so it might be broken up into several pieces on YouTube. It basically talks about who awesome our universe is, focusing mostly on pictures taken by the Hubble (like the one I included in my post) and linking that back to God. It’s really cool, and I think both you and your boyfriend might dig it. You should check it out!

  • Meg

    Agreed! I have never understood secular and non-secular position that science disproves (or wants to disprove) God. Proof to me that science is God’s idea: Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.
    “Kings” may as well read “people.” It is actually our glory (a : praise, honor, or distinction extended by common consent, b : worshipful praise, honor, and thanksgiving, synonym: magnificence) to discover what God has hidden! So go on, you scientists, discover that the world is actually billions of years old! Discover bosons that hold all the matter in the universe together! Discover the way the earth revolves around the sun!

    It is all glorious.

    Though I still have some difficulty with evolution ;)

    • Daniel Mitchell

      That’s a great proverb – thanks for pointing that out. I’m curious about your comment. You said that you’re okay with the discovery that the earth is billions of years old, but you have some difficulty with evolution. Is that because it contradicts the biblical story of Adam and Eve? I ask because that’s something that even some people in the BioLogos Foundation struggle with – you can check them out with my link in the article.

      In this, I think I have an advantage coming to Christ from a background of skepticism and reason. I came to God because of a personal experience, and my faith isn’t really tied with the “historical” ideas of the bible. Some people believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, which is an idea that can be threatened by science – but I’m not sure where I fall on that subject.

      • Meg

        My issue with evolution mainly falls with the idea that living things can change into a whole new species. This is based on the assumption that the Bible is correct when it says we were created in God’s image. I don’t believe for a second that God made a monkey and thought, “eventually this will be something resembling me, and eventually it will have a conscience and self-awareness and the ability to choose right from wrong, and when that happens I will look at what I have created and say, ‘it is good.’ Until then it’s just monkeys.” (this theory completely falls apart if God, in fact, looks like a monkey). I do, however, believe in small evolutionary changes, such as the fact that humans are taller than we used to be (after we stopped being monkeys, of course).

        Another question I have regarding evolution is this: If evolution is all about developing helpful attributes over time, why doesn’t everything have opposable thumbs?

      • Daniel Mitchell

        First off – “(this theory completely falls apart if God, in fact, looks like a monkey)” had me actually laughing at my desk at work. That line is the bees knees.

        Before I get into this – please forgive me if I say something that is incorrect. I am not an expert on evolutionary theory, just a lay person who finds it interesting. Please don’t accept anything I say about science OR theology as coming from the mouth of an expert in either or both, because I am an expert in neither of those things. :)

        So, your conflict, if I understand correctly, is essentially that an evolution that allows one species to change into another (in this case, monkeys to humans) contradicts the Biblical understanding that we are made in God’s image. In fact, it gets worse than that! Our understanding of the world is that all life originally came from single-celled organisms – basically, bacteria. From that perspective, it isn’t even that human beings came from monkeys, so much as monkeys represent a relatively recent shared stage of evolution with humans. In that sense, I can completely see your point.

        My view on this is, understandably I hope, coming from a viewpoint that interprets Genesis in broad strokes, where the story being told is philosophically true without being historically or scientifically accurate. So that I’m being completely clear, I don’t believe that Genesis is telling a historically true account of our, well, genesis. I believe, however, that the themes in the Genesis creation narrative are true. Specifically, I see two very true themes in chapters 1 and 2.

        1) God CREATES things from primordial void.
        2) God CHANGES things that He has created.

        The first time that God is mentioned creating humanity is in Gen 1:27, which is the quicker recounting of human creation.

        “So God created mankind in his own image,
        in the image of God he created them;
        male and female he created them.”

        But then the humans kind of get a “zoom in” approach in chapter 2, specifically in verse 7 which records the creation of Adam.

        “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

        To me, that says that while God DID create humanity in His image, there was a point in creation where a) stuff existed, and b) humanity did not exist. In other words, there was dirt before God formed a man OUT OF that dirt and breathed life into him.

        This viewpoint, this theme, helps reconcile my view of evolution to the idea that God made us in His image. If God can raise the dirt into a man just by shaping and breathing it, I think it’s just as plausible for him to turn a single-celled bacterium into the human race that He made in His image.

        Now, in your comment, you said, “I don’t believe for a second that God made a monkey and thought, “eventually this will be something resembling me, and eventually it will have a conscience and self-awareness and the ability to choose right from wrong, and when that happens I will look at what I have created and say, ‘it is good.’ Until then it’s just monkeys.”

        Well, if Genesis 2:7 is to be believed (again, I’m speaking in broad, philosophical terms, as opposed to literal history) God made a decision at some point to turn something that was lowly (dirt) into something that resembled Him (people). I think that God had a plan for humans, a plan that had them designed to represent Him, and that plan took time. Perhaps to God’s perception that time passed by at such speeds as to seem instantaneous – bacteria to human being, ZOOOOOOM! But to our perception, gained through the scientific method, that process took millions of years.

        In short, I don’t think that God thought that the dirt was in His image, but when he made that dirt into Adam, he said, “Yeah, this is good.” Why not thus with monkeys?

      • Daniel Mitchell

        Also, I forgot to address the opposable thumbs thingy! The thing about evolution is that it consists of two different parts – mutation (random changes to a species caused by a third-party factor, like radiation) and natural selection (the process by which the subjects that best fit the restrictions of a given environment are more successful at passing on their genetic material than subjects who do not deal as well with the same restrictions). As such, evolution is typically reactive, not active.

        In other words, maybe people think that evolution goes something like this –

        The world presents a box with a hole in it, and this hole is in a certain shape – say, a triangle. In order to adapt to this situation, and get through the hole in the box to the food held within the box, an organism will adapt to be triangle-shaped, so that they can fit through.

        That’s not true. What actually happens is –

        The world presents a box with a triangle-shaped hole within it, and the box is filled with food. Many organisms will try to get into his box to get the food, but only those that are ALREADY TRIANGLE-SHAPED will get through. Over time, only the creatures shaped like triangles will remain in this system, assuming the box holds the only food source, because the other creatures could not fit, and therefore didn’t survive as well.

        That’s the natural selection part of it, anyway. The random mutation happens like this –

        The world presents a box with a triangle-shaped hole within it, and the box is filled with food. None of the nearby creatures are shaped like a triangle, so none fit through the hole in the box. However, one of these organisms experiences a random misparing of nucleotides in the course of replicating proteins, and it develops a triangle shape as a result of this random change. This triangle shape lets it get into the box with the food within it, which gives it a survival edge that it passes on to its offspring when it mates.

        Obviously, these are extremely simple, relatively unrealistic examples, but they show the principles involved. So that’s the longer answer to “why don’t all creatures have opposable thumbs?” The short answer would be, they didn’t go through the specific environmental conditions and/or random mutations necessary for them to develop opposable thumbs. If evolution were ACTIVE instead of REACTIVE, then all creatures would have opposable thumbs – after all, they’re so good for some many reasons! Who WOULDN’T want thumbs? :)

  • Camo

    This was a good post. That link in point 2 is a prime example of Poe’s Law: It’s impossible to distinguish religious extremism and a parody of religious extremism. That being said, it’s also good that the Bible is not a mathematical text. 1 Kings 7:23 says “He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it.” In other words, pi is 3.

    On point 1, I’m sort of out to lunch on the topic. As a microbiologist, I recognize that evolution and theism can coexist. However, there are quite a few problems that are left unanswered, such as why we have a appendix and wisdom teeth, and why there are so many other things in nature outside of the human world that you would have thought would have made God say ‘Oh, shit’ more often in the last 4 billion years. But maybe he did and we just see the things now he didn’t care to fix. Of course, that statement is patently unverifiable and therefore unscientific.

    Perhaps a bigger issue is that, when doing science, one can’t consider that God has anything done anything in the course of one’s experiment or theory. Suppose that my cell culture and I decide that the best explanation is that angel of death visited the lab during the night, since I did everything right that I can think of. My advisory probably wouldn’t be very satisfied with this explanation, and neither would I. On the larger scale, the theory of evolution works without considering that God fiddled with things all along the way.

    The point I’m making is that, though I can be a scientist and a theist, these often are separate aspects of my life. There is a limit to how much of a theist I can be while I am working on science. And the opposite is painfully true at times. Many of the theological things that are important to me are unverifiable, and the best I can do is to dismiss my scientific side when I would like to experience God. All this to say that I’m probably not the poster child for the theistic scientist. But I’m always growing and learning.

    Oh, and by the way, I’m so glad I went to BioLogos at work. I’ll probably get fired now, or at least blacklisted from any self respecting journal. (sarcasm)

    • Daniel Mitchell

      Hey – let’s not judge. I PREFER this version of pi. It doesn’t make my head spin. ;)

      I think the biggest difference between science and theism is that theism is a philosophy, and science is, well, science. Let’s reference part of your comment:

      “However, there are quite a few problems that are left unanswered, such as why we have a appendix and wisdom teeth, and why there are so many other things in nature outside of the human world that you would have thought would have made God say ‘Oh, shit’ more often in the last 4 billion years. But maybe he did and we just see the things now he didn’t care to fix. Of course, that statement is patently unverifiable and therefore unscientific.”

      Let me start at the end – Yes. That statement IS patently unverifiable, and yes, it IS unscientific. That’s okay. Science can be science and philosophy can be philosophy. I am not espousing Intelligent Design – I am NOT of the belief that God has occasionally poked a life form to change its evolutionary course. So while I could philosophize (or, as I like to say, “mentally masticate”) that God has, at times, poked evolution to change it, I highly doubt it. As God once said to Bender on Futurama, “If you’re doing it right, people won’t think you’re doing anything at all.”

      As for the appendix and wisdom teeth, who is to say that they didn’t once serve a purpose? I don’t believe that humans were spontaneously created six thousand years ago – so I’m sure that at one point we needed those things. This isn’t a problem for MY brand of theism.

      You said, “On the larger scale, the theory of evolution works without considering that God fiddled with things all along the way.”

      I agree. Evolutionary creationism doesn’t imply that God fiddled with things. It’s a philosophy that says, basically, that the overwhelming weight of evidence supporting evolution does not in any way mean that God didn’t set evolution in motion as a way to enact His purposes. The people at BioLogos do not expect to find some sort of “smoking gun” of evolution that points to God’s intervention, like proponents of Intelligent Design do.

      I think your conflict with BioLogos in this comes from an incomplete understanding of evolutionary creationism, because it seems like you’re expecting them to be yet another I.D. think-tank. They aren’t. Evolutionary creationism is, when you get right down to it, a philosophy about how you can view the bible as it relates to science. It is not, unlike I.D., an attempt to change science.

      Last note – I’m thrilled to have a scientist weighing in on this conversation. Can’t thank you enough for joining the chat. :)

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