Fides scientia

I have been, for as long as I can remember, a science geek.

I don't know if I was born that way, or if I am just the product of  some unique environmental factors but I am certain it was a tendency encouraged by my parents. One of my earliest memories is of my father calling excitedly for my mother so she could hear me spell zoology. Another time, when I was still quite young, our wonderful neighbor Mrs. Schaeffer had a party for the neighborhood kids (she was known for having fun little parties for no particular reason) where kids could come dressed according to what they wanted to be when they grew up. I came as a pterodactyl.

Of particular interest to me was paleontology and biology; I was an avid reader early on, and my parents fed my habit with sets of encyclopedias – first the popular World Book Encyclopedia, then later a 20 volume set of the Encyclopedia of Animal life (written, interestingly, in the King's english – which to this day will still occasionally causes me to give certain words their British spelling, like colour and labour), as well as the entire Time-Life Nature library. 

One of my particular favorites in the Time-Life set was the volume Early Man. The volume included the obligatory multi-page centerfold timeline of the march of human evolution from a small ape-like ancestor to modern humans, as well as numerous illustrations of the same ancestors struggling for survival against hyenas, other proto-humans, and starvation, causing them to develop tools to hunt mammoths and protect themselves against predators. It was all so convincing.

I think it was around that time science, in particular, the study of evolution, became something more to me than a science theory; it became a faith. By faith, I mean it became something that I held to be true about life, something more than just a process, but rather something that explained why mankind was here, and where we might be going.

As I got older, and increasingly discouraged about the state of humanity – the desruction of the environment, the potential for cataclysmic war, the greed and hatred I saw around me, evolution also gave me hope. Bouyed by science popularizers like SaganAsimov and Clarke, as well as the science fiction they wrote, like Childhood's End and the movie that shared it's themes, 2001 a Space Odyssey, I began to see evolutionary theory as the great hope of mankind. Just as we were once primordial ooze, and became human, so to we might overcome our earthly troubles and inherit the stars.

As a result, what little faith I might have had in God was relegated to agnosticism; I wasn't particularly hostile to the idea a god might exist, it just didn't seem to matter all that much.

Occasionally I would run into a backward thinking person who still held to the idea that God created the world and that some evidence for this existed; if I didn't automatically dismiss the person as uneducated or hopelessly wedded to some outlandish religious notions, I might attempt to dialogue. It usually wasn't long before it became a debate – and I loved to debate; particularly when my faith was being called into question. I rarely found it difficult however to knock down most of their ideas.

In 1982 I began my University career as a biology major, with plans to go on to veterinary school. It just so happened that around the same time a rather radical proposal had been made on campus; a professor of engineering, Dr. John Patterson, had proposed at a department meeting that any student who proclaimed a belief that God created the world should be denied a science degree. In addition to his teaching job, Prof. Patterson was also a widely known and very outspoken atheist – and his proposal was made in response to what he saw as the threat of creationism invading campus. Of course the proposal, once made public, created a furor on campus, with debates going on in the student paper and among the faculty and staff. I was rather amazed that even at the University level some still questioned evolution; indeed, I was becoming friends with someone who did, a fact I attributed to his small town upbringing.

But something else was happening that year; I was beginning to realize that whatever faith I had in nature, it wasn't sufficient to satisfy deep personal longings for meaning and purpose and change. While evolution might hold out some hope for the future of mankind, it held little hope for me personally; we might grow as a species, but I continued to fail even my own standards and expectations. I was as greedy and selfish as anyone else, and change seemed beyond me.

The same friend whose science I dismissed had an answer when it came to purpose and change, and that answer was Jesus Christ. Though I had early on dismissed Christianity, I couldn't deny my friend's life – or the joy and love and peace I saw in it. After nearly a year of wrangling with myself, and with a growing understanding of who Christ was and the reality of His existence, I surrendered my life to Christ, transferring my faith from a belief in the power of nature and myself to a faith in Christ.

That surrender, while it brought about dramatic changes in me, didn't alleviate all the questions I had. I still had a niggling feeling about the accuracy of Scripture, at least as much as it seemed to contradict my understanding of science. Thus, a lot of my twenty-plus years as Christian has been involved with considering the intersection of science and Scripture, and as a result, a lot of what I will consider here will concern that as well – my science geekdom remains unabated, so my apologies ahead of time to those whose interests lie elsewhere; you will have to endure the occasional technical discussion.  

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3 Responses to Fides scientia

  1. […] I mentioned in an earlier post that I had long been interested in the science of life and its origins, and I have spent a number of years exploring the intersection between science and faith. In recent years, the conversation has centered primarily on Intelligent Design, a theory much talked about in the media, courts, schools, and scientific circles. To that end, I wanted to give those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the issue an overview of the discussion to date. […]

  2. […] Evolutionary Horse Tale As I have chronicled elsewhere that my interest in science and evolution came early. In fact, one of my earliest ‘Christmas […]

  3. […] I was raised by a free-thinking father and a mildly religious mother. As I have detailed elsewhere I was immersed in a very secular upbringing – from the earliest age I was not only taught about the natural history of life and the earth […]

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