Science-based Religion Blog

Science and religion are not intrinsic enemies. Science strives for revelation. It is the revelation of the universe as we find it. The current picture of the universe is in perfect harmony with many religious perspectives and in stark contrast to others. This blog intends to explore these harmonies and conflicts of Science and Religion. Keep an open mind and a gentle heart please.

Location: Richmond, Virginia, United States

My family background is third generation German-American. I was the younger of two sons. My father was an English professor who had also served a Protestant minister and missionary to China. My mother was a nurse and social worker. I went to Purdue University, where I earned a B.S. degree in the Honors Physics program. I got a masters degree in Physics from the University of Southern California and also a masters and Ph.D. in Religion and Social Ethics from the USC school of religion. I have worked as a teacher and as an IT professional. I am married, with no children but two cats.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Soft Tissue, Dinosaur Bones, and Faith

I've been catching up on my reading of Discover magazine, which is an excellent resource for keeping up with what science and scientists are doing. In the April 2006 issue, there is an article called Schweitzer's Dangerous Discovery. This article illustrates the proper separation of science and religion, as well as an example of a scientist who is also religious and how science intersects with religion for her.

The scientist is Mary Higby Schweitzer, a paleontologist, and her discovery is what appears to be soft tissue preserved in dinosaur bones. She announced her discovery in the standard scientific way, by submitting articles for publication in scientific journals. Before a science article can be published, it is reviewed for evidence that the ideas are well thought out, that it is supported with evidence, and that the evidence was collected according to scientific standards. The article was published, because she did her science well, even though the idea of soft tissue surviving more than a few tens of thousands of years, not millions of years is widely assumed to be impossible. Science does not censor people whose ideas run counter to conventional wisdom.

Right away the idea was seized on by creationists and intelligent design proponents, who have jumped to the convenient, but as yet unfounded, conclusion that the dinosaur bones cannot be millions of years old, supporting, so they think, their religiously based ideas that the earth was created some six thousand years ago.

On the other side, there are scientists who refuse to believe she really found soft tissue. Schweitzer is quoted as saying, "I had one reviewer tell me that he didn't care what the data said, he knew that what I was finding wasn't possible. I wrote back and said, 'Well, what data would convince you?' And he said, 'None.'" That kind of close-mindedness is not good science. Many things that are commonplace in science today were thought absolutely impossible a generation or two ago.

Some people take the same attitude toward religious ideas, claiming there is no possible evidence for the existence of God or for the assertion that Jesus was God incarnate. The fundamentalists take the same attitude toward evolution and, implicitly, a host of other sciences whose findings fit in with evolution, such as geology, astronomy, and biochemistry. The mark of a true scientific attitude is to be able to imagine how some supposed truth could be disproved. Toward the beginning of the scientific exploration of evolution, one could imagine all sorts of things that could turn up in the earth or in the living animal and plant species, which would invalidate the hypothesis. Over time, nothing of the sort has been found. If one wants to believe God does not exist, he should be able to imagine what might shake his belief in this idea.

Schweitzer's attitude toward these things is admirable. As an evangelical Christian, she has felt pressure from creationists to promote their cause. She rejects this. Barry Yeoman, the article's author, describes it this way. "In her religious life, Schweitzer is no more of an ideologue than she is in her scientific career. In both realms, she operates with a simple but powerful consistency: The best way to understand the glory of the world is to open your eyes and take an honest look at what is out there."

When she talks about her faith, she says, "God is so multidimensional. I see a sense of humor. I see His compassion in the world around me. It makes me curious, because the creator is revealed in the creation." Regarding the idea that the world has evolved over billions of years, she finds this theologically exhilarating: "That makes God a lot bigger than thinking of Him as a magician that pulled everything out in one fell swoop."

Later in the article, Yeoman writes, "To Schweitzer, trying to prove your religious beliefs through empirical evidence is absurd, if not sacrilegious. 'If God is who He says He is, He doesn't need us to twist and contort scientific data,' she says. 'The thing that's most important to God is our faith. Therefore, he's not going to allow Himself to be proven by scientific methodologies.'"

Her discovery has only deepened her faith. She says, "My God has gotten so much bigger since I've been a scientist. He doesn't stay in my boxes."

This is someone who, in her scientific ideas and her religious faith, is willing to adjust her ideas as she learns more. Many scientists and religious leaders would do better to follow her example.


Post a Comment

<< Home