Friday, March 9, 2012

The Harmony Between Science and Faith

Dr. Karl Giberson, physicist and author of the recently published The Language of Science and Faith with NIH director Francis Collins, gave annual Crum Lecture, organized by the Center for Christian Studies, at Gordon College yesterday afternoon. Provocatively titled, “Are Science and Religion at War?” Dr. Giberson’s lecture aimed to “dismantle the falsehoods” that reinforce the concept of a war between science and religion in our culture. “How does pop culture feed this concept?” he asked, clicking through examples from The Simpsons, Family Guy, and the Ken Ham book, Answers in Genesis. In all of these examples, he argued, we can see the juxtaposition of the two camps.

For a recent book project, Dr. Giberson profiled six of the most influential scientists of our time—including Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, and Stephen J. Gould. None of the scientists profiled have a particular religious conviction, which Giberson suggested feeds the misconception that science and religion are incompatible. “The public face of science is so different from the scientific community itself,” he remarked.

His lecture covered four key stories in the history of science that have been used to argue that there is a fundamental conflict between science and religious faith. The first was the Christian endorsement of the flat earth, followed by the story of Galileo and the inquisition, Darwin’s religious journey, and finally, the 1925 Scopes Trial in Tennessee.

In each example, Dr. Giberson pointed out that the historical evidence does not suggest there was a fundamental conflict between religious and scientific thinking. At the time of Christopher Columbus’ journey to the Americas, virtually no one believed in a flat earth—instead, they were concerned that the earth was much bigger than Columbus suggested. “In the time between Christ’s life and Christopher Columbus, we know of two minor people who genuinely believed the earth was flat,” said Giberson. Those two minor figures were used to stand in for the church in Andrew Dickson White’s book, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, published at the end of the 19th century to defend the secular charter of Cornell University. White popularized the notion that science and faith were fundamentally opposed using this and the other stories.

Dr. Giberson’s lecture revealed how historically nuanced each story is—from the papal politics surrounding Galileo’s inquisition to Darwin’s journey away from faith because of his daughter’s premature death. He noted that evolution during the Scopes Trial was closely associated with eugenics and the idea of categorizing people according to race in efforts to “improve” the human race. “It was not the theory of natural selection and mutation that was argued in the Scopes’ textbook.” In explaining the history of these stories, Dr. Giberson revealed many of our culture's misunderstandings about the relationship between science and faith. The speaker closed by urging the audience to see the absolute harmony between science and faith,
rather than thinking of the two in conflict

Dr. Giberson is currently teaching a course in science and writing at Gordon College, and his newest book, The Wonder of the Universe: Hints of God in Our Fine-Tuned World, has just been released from InterVarsity Press. 

Story by Gordon student Hillary Sherratt '12, a Pike Scholar from Rowley, Mass, and student writer for the Office of College Communications.

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