This page started as an answer to the weirdly common question: what do you believe? Among science communicators, theists are rare. And I am a Christian.
Below is the essay that got this all started. I also include links to essays I’ve written since then.
- Invited Essay “Thy Power Throughout the Universe Displayed” in Robots and Rituals: Reflections on Faith in the Era of Science and AI
There is an NPR series called “This I Believe” which I truly adore. The people who submit their words are able to somehow tie their core beliefs into a minute or so of audio that can somehow describe a lifetime of truth.
I haven’t submitted an essay to that series because my beliefs don’t compress down to a minute of just-so audio. And for me, stating my beliefs feels like standing naked.
And yet, what I believe effects my every action, and what I believe is always there in my actions for the discerning observer to guess. Perhaps this means I am always naked?
I am a Christian. I don’t believe in the literal truth of the entire Bible, especially the early chapters of the Old Testament, but I believe in the theological framework that it outlines. All men are sinners. All men can be saved. I personally believe in the salvation of Jesus Christ, but I also believe there are those who are saved without ever knowing Jesus Christ in their heart because they see in the Universe certain self-evident moral truths which we as humans must struggle to live by. There is room for this belief in the epistles, and given time, and the pile of comments I’m sure this entry will draw, I’m certain I will annotate these words with Biblical passages. And in my heart of hearts, I am always a bit afraid God isn’t as narrow as the Bible would teach.
I am a scientist. I don’t believe science offers the answers to everything, especially questions of the soul and morality, but I believe in the theoretical framework that is defined through scientific observations. The Universe is old (billions of years old) and has evolved from a singularity to today’s world of stars, planets, and life. I believe that to be educated is to understand there are certain self-evident scientific truths that we as humans must struggle to try and understand. There is nothing I have found in the Bible to deny room for this belief, and I am interested in the pile of comments I’m sure this statement will draw. And in my heart of hearts, I have never been afraid scientific observations are completely wrong.
In considering the juxtaposition of these two sets of statements I find a weak heart, but no contradictions.
People who know me in real life, know that while I am a loud advocate of science, I am a very quiet voice in Christianity. While at Urbana in December of ’93, I heard a talk on tent making that made a lasting impression. There is a quiet strength in actions. There is something that appeals to me in living a Christian life and when asked, “Why do you do this [kindness of some unrequired sort]?” to respond that it is the correct thing to do, and then, when asked, to bring in my religious beliefs. When asked what I believe, I tell the truth.
But I have to admit that while I am never afraid to say I am an astronomer, I am always afraid to say I am a Christian.
Scientists and Christians are both humans and given to passions. They are fallible as individuals, and given to agendas that go beyond the narrow confines of what science or the Bible says. As humans, they can yell, and avoiding people who yell is one of my (not necessarily low down the list) goals in life.
But I think I’m going to have to get over my fear, because I’m discovering I’m passionate about calling attention to the narrow-mindedness of people believing all or most Christians are anti-science and of people believing all or most scientists are anti-Christian. And I’m really tired of the name calling that originates from both sides.
I am a Christian. And I am a scientist. And I find no internal contradictions.
How do you explain Genesis?
How does one explain the Big Bang to a non-literate society? The book of Genesis is an excellent picture that leaves out the math and still can be loosely fit on the story of science.
How do you explain Miracles?
I can’t. I don’t try. I only need to explain with logic things that can be reproduced, measured, and observed. Everything else I leave to the part of my brain that believes sometimes one monkey typing on one type writer can create Hamlet in one glorious initial set of magically improbable key strokes.
Where is evolution happening today?
Evolution has been shown to occur most often when populations are forced to fill new ecological niches. We can watch the populations of animals on isolated mountain tops genetically diverge. We can watch new strains of plants emerge in the face of disease. Currently we are in the midst of a period of extinctions. With the total biodiversity of the planet going down, we are in the accidental process of making room for a new burst of niche filling evolution.