Worshipping God with science – The Test of FAITH US tour

I wrote this post for the BioLogos blog about our US tour that starts this week. If you live near Boston, Chicago, Washington, Minneapolis, San Diego or Los Angeles I hope you’re coming!

This summer I gave a series of talks at several youth festivals on the subject of ‘Why a Christian should be a scientist’. As someone who spends every day interacting with Christians working in science, I have no shortage of material to present on the topic, and it’s exciting to see the reaction of these young people when they are encouraged that science is a great career for a Christian.

The primary reason why a Christian should consider science as a career is because it offers unique opportunities to worship God. Exploring God’s creation, uncovering its secrets and marvelling at the vastness and intricacy of the universe is never a waste of time, and from the Psalms onwards, scientific information has informed the writers of worship songs. If worship is the chief end of man, then the further we explore using the tools of science the better.

The Test of FAITH documentary and study materials were developed at The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion to meet a demand from church leaders, student ministries and scientists for resources to help people understand and explore the relationship between science and faith. They profile a number of senior scientists who are also Christians. The names will be familiar – they include Francis Collins, Ard Louis, Deborah Haarsma, Rosalind Picard, John Polkinghorne, Jennifer Wiseman, Bill Newsome, Denis Alexander, Simon Conway Morris, John Houghton, and Alister McGrath.

Among the topics covered by these study materials are astronomy, the big bang, the creation of life on earth, the environment, bioethics and the brain. They were developed with an ethos that, where controversial issues are concerned, people should have the opportunity to consider different sides of the debate, explore the Bible, and make up their own minds.

At the deepest level the debate between science and religion is really a debate about how do I obtain reliable knowledge about the world? How do I know that something is true, or how do I know that something is false, or how do I know that something is reliable, something is unreliable, and that’s a terribly important question.

Dr Ard Louis, Oxford University, in Test of FAITH

Test of FAITH demonstrates that being a Christian and a scientist need not result in endless personal conflict. Of course there are difficult issues at times, but worshipping God through science, living a Christian life in the lab, and playing a part in developing new technologies are all satisfying ways of serving God.

I think it’s exciting as Christians to go exploring, because we’re never going to find anything that’s outside of God’s realm. Everything is part of this majestic creation, and the more you discover the more amazed you get by thinking about God, and so I think exploration is a divinely Christian activity and people should be excited about it.

Dr Jennifer Wiseman, Astronomer & Author, in Test of FAITH

Dr Alasdair Coles is a neurologist at Cambridge University. He was drawn to neurology as a teenager when he saw the potential to help patients understand their disease by simply talking to them and making a series of clinical deductions. He is now involved in developing drugs to treat multiple sclerosis. Interestingly, Coles has recently been ordained in the Church of England, and has gained unique insights from being part of both of these worlds.

For me theology and science, and neuroscience are going to achieve little unless they start talking to each other. There are fresh insights that theology has for science, and vice versa. And the great theological truths that humans are unique, that we are in some way god-like, that we are the only beasts that are moral, these are things that scientists have to somehow conjure with and study.

Revd Dr Alasdair Coles, Cambridge University, in Test of FAITH

Rosalind Picard is Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT, and has pioneered the field of emotive computing – developing computers that interpret and respond to human emotion. She has used her expertise to develop technology that helps autistic people to interact socially. Her explanations of how she, as an analytical scientific person, approaches faith are extremely helpful for those who are trying to figure out how science and faith relate.

As I’ve learned more, my scientific method has informed my faith because I’m very analytical, and I question things constantly. You have to be careful as a scientist, however, that you don’t fall into the trap that a lot of atheists fall into. They just assume that God must be provable or disprovable by science. In fact some of them assume that the only things that are true are things science shows. Ironically what they are doing is claiming (dogmatically) that they have the only way to truth: science. But science, within itself, cannot prove the correctness of its own methods. It cannot prove its claim to be the only way to know truth. Science cannot prove most events of history but does that mean they did not happen? To believe that God is explainable by science is to completely mischaracterise God.

Dr Rosalind Picard, MIT, in Test of Faith: Spiritual Journeys with Scientists

Test of FAITH will be presented at a series of events across the US this Fall. A film showing will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A. Locations include Cambridge, MA; Wheaton, IL; Fairfax, VA; St Paul, MN; and Point Loma, CA. Details can be found here. Our aim is to equip people to start the conversation, and help them to grow in their relationship with God.

There are ways of finding truth. You can read the book of the Bible, you can read the book of nature and you can find truth in both ways. You need to be careful of course about what kind of question you’re asking, and which tools are appropriate for that question, but to be able to be a fully formed human being, it seems to me, to put either of those kinds of investigations off to the side and say, ‘That’s inappropriate,’ or, ‘That’s dangerous,’ is to be impoverished, to miss out on the experience of what one can do on this brief glimpse of time while we’re living here on this amazing planet, having the chance to search in all kinds of directions for the truth.

Dr Francis Collins, Former Director of the Human Genome Project. In Test of FAITH

Bethlehem star

I watched the film The Nativity Story a few weeks ago. I picked it up at a well-known supermarket for just £3 so I was a bit dubious about what it would be like, but I was pleasantly surprised. The production values are great and the story is told well. Of course a lot of detail was added to the gospel accounts but the extra content was – as far as I can judge – pretty much in keeping with what we know of the period historically, and the original message was faithfully preserved. I thought the film makers did well in creating the atmosphere of an occupied country, showing Mary and Joseph’s developing relationship and, though everyone knows the story (?),  introducing some suspense. I objected to the very cheesy birth tableau, but perhaps that was to be expected…

There is a definite science and faith link in the story of the birth of Jesus. Colin Humphreys is Professor of Materials Science at Cambridge University, and is one of the people who has helped to date the birth of Jesus more accurately in recent years. I’ve heard him tell the story of how he saw in his daughter’s ‘Great Men of History’ book that the dates of Jesus’ birth and death were not known very accurately. Being a Christian, he thought it was important to know a bit more about such momentous happenings as the nativity and crucifixion of Christ.  He got together with an astrophysicist from Oxford University, WG Waddington, to work out the most likely dates of both events. The Nature paper that he and Waddington then wrote on the date of the crucifixion is his most cited scientific paper – a somewhat unusual thing for someone whose stock-in-trade is electron microscopy.

There’s a good summary of Humphrey and Waddington’s work on the date of the birth of Christ in the journal Science and Christian Belief.  There are debates about what the ‘star of Bethlehem‘ might be, so it’s harder to pin down the date of Jesus’ birth. But Humphreys says that ‘The evidence points to Jesus being born in the period 9 March-4 May, 5 BC, probably around Passover time: 13-27 April, 5 BC’. Happy Easter?

And finally, a Christmas cracker joke to finish the year off in style. Q: Why did the Rooster crow before daybreak? A: His cluck was too fast.

What a star is

As the film of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about to grace our screens perhaps it’s good to point out the science-faith questions raised by this, the fifth book in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series. Eustace spends much of his time at sea looking at only the scientific explanation for events, and I’m sure a slightly more thorough study of the book would be interesting from a science-faith point of view. But this quote has been burning a hole in my pocket since I heard it mentioned on a BBC programme about ‘The Narnia Code‘ in 2009.

Here, Eustace is reminded of a great truth by Ramandu, the keeper of Aslan’s Table at the world’s end.

‘I am Ramandu. But I see that you stare at one another and have not heard this name. And no wonder, for the days when I was a star had ceased long before any of you knew this world, and all the constellations have changed.’

‘Golly,’ said Edmund under his breath. ‘He’s a retired star.’

…’In our world,’ said Eustace, ‘a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.’

‘Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of…’

CS Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn treader, 1955.

From chapter 14: The beginning of the end of the world