The Faith and Science Collective Faith & Science

Author: Thomas Johnston ___ Date: May 5, 2021

Copernicus and Luther

Thomas Johnston is a seminarian entering his Middler Year at Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University. Thomas is fascinated by the relationship between science and faith and is also interested in looking at this relationship through the lens of Lutheran Theology. He enjoys reading books and articles on cosmology and considers himself an amateur astronomer.

On May 24, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commemorates Polish Astronomer, Nicolas Copernicus, on their Calendar of Lesser Festivals and Commemorations. Copernicus is famously, or infamously, remembered as the physicist who revolutionized Western Europe’s understanding of the cosmos. And while his initial theory did not have as much conflict as it did with the church, his later scientific successors ran into conflict with the church. There were some within Christendom(1) who took issue with the Copernican heliocentric theory, which will be explored below. I will not go into a full-length analysis of the relationship between Luther and Copernicus, as others have made note of such contact.(2) This brief reflection will provide an overview of the heliocentric theory, Luther’s response to the heliocentric theory, and lastly, a Lutheran approach to the conversation between science and faith.

The Heliocentric Theory

The Heliocentric Theory revolutionized Western Europe’s understanding of the cosmos, but it slowly countered one of the prevailing understandings of the universe: the geocentric theory. Geo-centrism, or an earth-centered universe, had been the dominant understanding of the cosmos. Ptolemy, an Egyptian mathematician, formulated the geo-centric theory in the 2nd Century C.E.(3), and the church and society writ large had accepted this model as the understanding of the universe; however, this model was challenged by Nicolas Copernicus in the 16th Century C.E. Copernicus’s model of the universe is considered the shift in astronomy, but it also laid the foundation for the \Scientific Revolution that was to follow in the subsequent decades

Before Copernicus made progress on his heliocentric theory, the groundwork had been laid before him. In addition to Ptolemy, the Greek philosopher Aristotle provided his own model of the universe. (4) Aristotle’s model of the universe is one where the heavenly bodies are in circular motion, which is later expounded upon as a spherical motion if these bodies are going in the same direction. (5) Aristotle also argued that the heavenly bodies were fixed in motion, and that the heavenly bodies also moved in the same direction of the starts in the background.(6) However, there are two problems with Aristotle’s model of the universe: one from a scientific perspective, and the other from a biblical account.(7) On the first problem, Mars’ retrograde had been well documented by the time of Aristotle.(8) As the heavenly bodies were further observed, Aristotle’s model of the universe would come into question. Ptolemy built upon and expanded Aristotle’s model of the universe, and it was Ptolemy’s model is what Copernicus challenged.

As stated above, Copernicus was not building his model from scratch, but he had a foundation on which he could build his model. Copernicus also learned tricks of the astronomical trade from Persian scientists, but how he learned the trick of observing the “wobbling planets” is still being determined.(9) Copernicus managed to learn this trick, and by learning this trick, he also brought together the different models as an attempt to reconcile the different placements of the planets.(10) Copernicus struggled to find placements of the planets closet to the Sun, and he hesitated on releasing the work. However, his work was released early, by a Lutheran from Wittenberg who studied under Copernicus. This Lutheran, by the name of Georg Rheticus, originally penned the first work, Narratio Prima, under his name, and this work had the basic outlines of Copernicus’s model. As this work made its way to Wittenberg, it slowly caught hold of the faculty there, and it later caught the attention of Martin Luther, whose views will be explored.

Luther’s view on Copernicus

By the time Copernicus’s publication, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, had been released, Luther had gone past his prime as a Reformer and slowly became jaded with the world around him. However, Luther’s first encounter with Copernicus (albeit indirectly) was in 1539 when one of Luther’s colleagues had brought back Narratio Prima, and that the heliocentric theory had been circulating around the university. However, Luther never actually engaged with Copernicus’ theory; he merely critiqued what he had heard. Luther, in one of his Table Talks, is quoted with critiquing Copernicus:

There was mention of a certain new astrologer who wanted to prove that the earth moves and not the sky, the sun, and the moon. This would be as if somebody were riding on a cart or in a ship and imagined he was standing still while the earth and the trees were moving. [Luther remarked,] So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing that others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the Earth [Josh. 10:12].(11)

Luther had a medieval understanding of science, and Schroeder expands upon this in her chapter on Luther and Science. Schroder also mentions that “neither Luther nor his colleagues had read the scientific principles and mathematical details of the argument,” which should not be considered “a biblical-based attack on science.” Luther’s understanding of the universe was couched in Holy Scripture, but he did not reject scientific methods all together. Luther acknowledged that the biblical text “took into account the readers’ perspectives or limitations,” and that the context of the text was implied.(12) Luther’s scientific context was extremely limited, especially when taking into the account of the age of the Earth. In his opening lectures on Genesis, he describes that the age of the Earth “can be no less than 6000 years old,” and “that Moses wrote in simplest terms what we could understand.” (13) Luther’s understanding of science is simplistic but that is only because he was not a scientist but a pastor and professor in biblical studies. Luther’s main concern in terms of creation, as evidenced in his explanation on the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, is that God created the world and everything in it. (14) Luther was not concerned with the “how” of the creation of the cosmos, but more concerned with how God interacted with the world through creation.

A Lutheran Approach

The reason as to why this section is titled “A Lutheran Approach” is that my approach does not speak for all of Lutheranism; however, it uses a Lutheran theological framework that is rooted in the Lutheran Confessions. The first interpretive tool is that God revealed Godself through Jesus Christ, the Living Word, and that God also revealed Godself through Sacred Scripture. This means that we have a foundational understanding of who God is through Christ. Second, and this is probably the more contentious of my presuppositions, but that the Bible was written in a particular context; however, as we see from Luther’s Works, that even Luther admitted to the limitations the biblical authors had in their respective contexts. (15) Luther’s primary interpretative tool was the plain meaning of the text, yet he also did not fully explore the wider world beyond the bounds of Sacred Scripture. Lutheran theology, especially the understanding of seeing the world through a Christ-centered lens, allows us to fully engage with the scientific world around us. “All things came into being through [Christ] and not one thing came into being through [Christ],” says the opening chapter to the Gospel of John. By acknowledging the why behind creation, which in the Christian tradition, God is ultimate Creator, then science can guide us towards explaining the how. This is the tension in which our society, especially in our churches, now. There is a wide spectrum of understanding the relationship between science and faith. American Christianity, and I am speaking in broad strokes here, has had a tenuous and combative relationship with science. This tension, overall, has manifested itself over the last year during the Coronavirus pandemic. However, as the season of Pentecost is upon us, the Holy Spirit breathes new life and understanding on the church. So, the Spirit is always guiding us into new conversations and relationships, and following a year of pandemic, the Spirit will hopefully guide us into a deeper and richer conversation between communities of science and communities of faith.

  1. Christendom is the political term that described Western Europe as the union between church and state. However, by the time of Nicolas Copernicus, nation-states were gradually being formed, and regions were also developing their national identity.
  2. Roger E. Timm, “Luther on Copernicus and models for faith and science dialogue,” Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science, and Technology, (May 16,2016), accessed May 17, 2021.
  3. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, “Geocentric Model,” Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed May 19, 2021.
  4. Aristotle laid out a more sophisticated understanding of the Universe than what will be described here. He includes descriptors of a prime mover, which Thomas Aquinas will expand upon centuries later as a description of God. For now, this reflection will only focus on the basics of the model.
  5. “The Aristotelian Universe Emerges,” University of Oregon, accessed May 19, 2021. LINK. Ibid.
  6. The Biblical account will be addressed later below, so I will not explore it in depth here.
  7. The Aristotelian Universe Emerges,” University of Oregon, accessed May 19, 2021. LINK
  8. The Persian scientists were called the Maragheh, and their scientific method was “combining two uniformly revolving epicycles to generate an oscillating point that would account for variations in distance, they would devise a model that produced the equalized motion without referring to an equant point.” The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, “Nicolas Copernicus,” Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed May 19, 2021.
  9. Ibid. Oxford University Press, forthcoming). The Dr. Joy Schroeder is Professor of Church History at Trinity
  10. Lutheran Seminary and the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Capital University. She holds the Trinity Chair in Lutheran Heritage.
  11. Schroeder, The Bible and the Lutheran Tradition, 2.
  12. Schroeder, The Bible and the Lutheran Tradition, 3.
  13. Luther, Luther’s Works: Lectures on Genesis 1, 1; Schroeder, The Bible and the Lutheran Tradition, 4.
  14. Martin Luther, The Large Catechism: 9-24, in Timothy Wengert and Robert Kolb’s The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2000), 432-434.
  15. Schroeder, The Bible and the Lutheran Tradition, 3-4.

Author: Thomas Johnston ___ Date: March 26, 2020

Book Review: Love and Quasars; by Thomas Johnston

This blog post is submitted by Thomas Johnston, a graduating senior at Lenior-Rhyne University and majoring in Religious Studies. Thomas is currently discerning called ministry in the Lutheran Church and is interested by the conversation between faith and science because, "both disciplines have a direct affect on our lives, whether we know it or not." This blog post is a book review of "Love and Quasars; an Astrophysicist reconciles faith and science" by Paul Wallace. If you are interested in joining us for a discussion about this book, or the topic of faith and science, please contact Will Rose at

Much like his first work, Stars Beneath Us: Finding God in the Evolving Cosmos, Paul Wallace captures our attention with an explosive view of not only the cosmos, but his life. This quasi-autobiographical narrative details Wallace’s own conviction of science and faith, but more importantly, why having this conversation is necessary. Wallace walks the readers through his own faith journey from a young child, his initial struggles at reconciling the two disciplines, to his eventual reconciliation of science and faith. Wallace provides a modern approach to the religion-science conversation by building on the model used by Ian Barbour. Barbour, in one of his most famous works When Science Meets Religion, uses a four-fold approach model: conflict, independence, conversation, and convergence. Wallace makes his more approach relational (enemies, strangers, friends, marriage). Wallace notes the problems with each of these positions; for example, one approach within the marriage position is process theology, and this does not bode well within orthodox Christianity. Wallace provides a thorough exposition on the relationship between science and faith and fully articulates the importance of both disciplines. Wallace does not diminish the importance and even necessity of science, but he invites us into the larger narrative of the cosmos through the expansiveness of God.

Wallace addresses the conversation between faith and science in two reasons; however, before he states his thesis, he acknowledges the small box the church occupies when it thinks of God. Wallace references the Barna Study “6 reasons why young people are leaving the church,” and one of the reasons the study found is that young-adult Christians find the church to be agnostic and antagonistic towards science. The surveyors classified not only the church but Christianity to be antagonistic towards science. The study described it as “Christianity is anti-science” or “I am tired of the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Wallace then describes the intention of his work: “First, I demonstrate the ways science is limited. Second, I outline some features of a faith large enough to encompass both love and the cosmos—a faith that might know and love God by knowing and loving what is next to God.” Wallace first introduces the reader to a discussion of the sun; but more specifically, how the sun is perceived by people of science and faith. It is this very example that Paul begins his journey of science and faith. He recounts a family trip out west, and Wallace at a young age, comments the sunrise demonstrated the glory of God; this innocuous comment drew a small chuckle from his dad, and the story would live with Paul until his adult life.

Throughout each chapter, Wallace outlines his position that faith and science are not at odds with one another, but in fact, represent two important pieces of knowledge. He walks through each chapter methodically of different scientific theories or facts, and then he integrates a faith perspective through each scientific area, but Wallace focuses mainly on cosmology and astrophysics. Throughout his life journey, Wallace struggled with and even embraced the conflict narrative between science and faith. As he entered college, he slowly discovered that science and faith are not in conflict with each other. Wallace’s primary claim, and his overall position, is that science can’t envelop faith, but faith can envelop science. I agree with this claim because science is limited to the concrete and empirical, but faith transcends the physical realm. Science can be interpreted through a faith perspective because it reflects something higher.

Nothing in this work I disagreed with; in fact, Wallace and I agree regarding the conversation between science and faith. Wallace only has the language and expertise to attach with his argument. Wallace guides those who have questions on the conversation that God is bigger than science. Wallace does not hold any punches back from when discussing the nature of the Bible between atheists and biblical literalists; Wallace essentially argues with fundamentalists. He attempts to show an alternative that science and faith are not at odds with each other, but they are reconcilable. In the end, Wallace fully articulates his position, and this position I agree with. Like his first book, Wallace returns to the story of Job’s cosmic encounter with God, and I think this drives Wallace’s point home. There are simply things beyond our comprehension, especially those within the divine realm. We are to simply awe at the majesty and beauty of God’s creation, regardless of how it was done. We stand in humility before the Almighty.

Author: Will Rose ___ Date: January 5, 2020

Sermon on the 12 day of Christmas, January 5, 2020

Now, I know there is a STAR in our gospel lesson and it appears there is a small band of rebels who resist against an Empire by "going home by another road", but I'm not going to do a deep dive on Star Wars today.

I do want to go down the road of faith and science. Around four years ago, long time Holy Trinity member and Professor Emeritus of Physics at Duke, Dr. Al Goshaw, heard an interview with Jesuit Brother and Astronomer Guy Consolmagno on NPR Podcast "On Being" LINK>>> where he talked about the qustions at the crossroads of Faith and Science in Brother Guy's Book, "Would you Baptize an Extraterrestial?" LINK>>>

Al, shared this interview and book with me and other members of our congregation and we thought it would be a good book study to do here at HTLC. This book indeed inspired us to go deeper into the topic of Faith and Science the eventually lead us to recieve a grant from Fuller Seminary and their STEAM (Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries) Project to explore and break down the myth that one must pick one OR the other.

Must one choose Faith OR Science?

Or perhaps, there are plenty of scientists and people of faith, and people of faith who are scientists who believe that it can be Faith AND Science working together to explore the mysteries of life and our existence in this cosmos. We sought to build upon what others have done in creating a healthier conversation between the work of faith and the work of science and bring to light the many resources out there that contribute to a healthy conversation between the two. We plan to keep this conversation going in 2020 and in the years ahead. Faith and Science Website LINK>>>

Upon reflecting on Christmas, Epiphany, and todays gospal lesson (Matthew 2:1-12) from Matthew, I was drawn again to Chapter Four in "Would you Baptize an Extraterrestial?,"What was the star of Bethehem?". Brother Guy shares that since they oversee the Vatican's Observatory, and look at the stars and the cosmos all the time, this is one of the top email's and questions they get on a daily basis. He and his colleagues at the Vatican Observatory, Father Paul Mueller share that this short story in the Gospel of Matthew is a great icon of the dialogue between faith and science because it has elements of both.

In this chapter they lift up the important questions of... Was it really a star? Was it a miracle, or some natural phenomena? Or both? More importantly, why did Matthew choose to place this story in his story about Jesus?

The top candidates for what the star of Bethlehem could be are... A star went supernova (this is a star that gets super bright right before it explodes) these events can even be seen during the daytime, but they are super rare. Stars tend to be orderly and predictable and their evidence can be traced and examined thousands of years after an event like this takes place. Most astronomers, including Brother Guy and Father Paul rule this one out.

Well maybe it was a Comet? They share that comets are very predicatable and findable as well. It is easy to find evidence of comets. We know when and where they are coming from, so it was most likely not a comet.

What about an unusual configuration or alignment of planets; that when stacked near each other they look like a bright star? This could be the case, this is a strong candidate for the Star of Bethlehem. Kepler even noted that in 7BC Jupiter and Saturn aligned with each other that made a pretty bright light in the sky that most people noticed.

There is still the question of Why were the Magi/Wisemen the only ones who noticed it? Brother Guy likes the theory that connects the Magi with the "Star". The Magi were not necessarily "we three kings from orient are", they were pagan astrologers who studied the stars so they could make predictions (horoscopes) for Kings and rulers. They were the ones looking at the stars and the configurations of the planets and doing their best to make meaning, and a vocation from those alignments.

It was widely known that Ceasar Augustus claimed that a certain planetary alignment with the sun predicted and confirmed his rule. Around the time of Jesus' birth (give or take a few years we don't really know the exact time and date. Jesus was born, the church set the celebration around the Winter Solstice to make a point that Jesus is the light of the world) there was a particular configuration and alignment of planets; Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn all had this particular alignment with the sund at the time of a new moon. This is very similar to Ceasar Augustus claim and an alignment that the Magi would have noticed.

This 12 verse story, only found in the gospel of Matthew, is it a scientifically provable story - OR - a theological point Matthew wanted to make for his audience and readers? The answer is Yes. Does it have to be either, or? Maybe it was a configuration of planets, or some object in space that shined a great light just at the right time. Whether the "star" can be scientifically proven or not, here's the radical move Matthew makes by hanging a star in the sky and bringing the Magi into Jesus' story.

The first people in the gospel of Matthew who recognize Jesus for who he is were pagan foreigners who used astrology to find him. Horoscopes and Astrology are frowned upon in the Hebrew scriptures and in Jewish culture because its seen as breaking the first commandment and we agree with them. The stars do not control or direct our destiny, only God does. Yet, in this "so strange it just might be true" story, Matthew sets up the premise that perhaps God moved and revealed what the Divine was up to through the tools the Magi worked with to share with his readers and congregation that Jesus is Lord and King, not just of Isreal, but for all nations.

People then and now, look to the stars to be inspired for hope and to wonder about signs of life. God knows this. The common ground of faith and science is the human ability of wonder and awe; searching out meaning and purpose. I believe God uses this all the time to reach out to us, to let us know there is a bigger story we are a part of.

Advent is a time when we wait and long for a savior. A Christmas we celebrate the gift that God is with us, in the flesh and blood and breath od Jesus born in Bethlehem. Epiphany is a time when God shines a spotlight on Jesus and reveals to us what kind of savoir and king this Messiah is.

I know it is a scary time right now. All of my social media feeds on New Years Eve were like, "Oh Yea, 2020 y'all, this year is going to be awesome!" Then two days later, Australia is on fire, there is a new renewed conflicts in the Middle East and with Iran, the record needle scratches and stops. "Uh oh, party over,"

What is our posture to be in all of this? Panic? Set the Doomsday clock? Declare WWIII on Twiter?

Or can we take the posture of the Magi? The Magi who look to the heavens and with an awe inspired vision of the stars and the cosmos. They then come to understand that there is something larger and a grander story of love and grace we are a part of. The Magi, who go outside their comfort zone and territory search and seek out the Messiah, the Christ, a new and different kind of King and Lord. They did not listen to the powers that be with their political self-serving agendas but rather once they encounter Christ they travel a different road than what people expect.

Perhaps our posture can be that we love even harder, and like the Magi we bear and give our gifts to a world that is hurting, by continuing to pray and work for peace. We put put into practice what we sing in the liturgy,"that we live out our impassioned response to the hungry and the poor, that we live out truth, justice, and grace." In this new year and new liturgical season What is God revealing to us? Where is God showing up in the unlikely places? Where can we, as a congregation, your discipleship, create better and healthier conversations in the areas we inhabit. Wow do I love this story from Matthew and this verse, "and having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they leff for their own country by another road."

A different road.

Peace, Will Rose

Author: Will Rose ___ Date: April 26, 2019

I haven't been reading as many books on Faith and Science lately but I have been listening to a handful of podcasts on the subject. Some of these names have been on the "faith and science" scene for a while but they are new to me so I have been soaking up their very articulate words on the subject. Check these out and let us know what you think.

Bethany Sollereder | Lion Tennis in Heaven

Who's Afraid of Evolutionary Psychology?

Two interviews I really enjoyed were with Dr. Bethany Sollereder on Dan Koch's podcast You Have Permission (You have Permission to Believe in a God who suffers) and her appearance on the new Biologos podcast. She is super smart and sharp and I look forward to checking out her book "God, Evolution, and Animal Suffering: Theodicy without the Fall."

Another great conversation was on Homebrewed Christianity with Dr. Kenneth R. Miller... Listen Here>>> I plan to check out his book "Finding Darwin's God" as well.

Peace, Will Rose

Author: Will Rose ___ Date: April 26, 2019

Dr. Tripp Fuller has recently hosted a series of conversations revolving around faith and science on the Homebrewed Christianity podcast. They are great conversations with amazing scholars and thinkers. If you feel like you are alone in your big questions there are a lot of smart people who have not only been wrestling with them for a long time, but who have also formulated some articulate words around them.

I particularly like this conversation with Dr. Karl Giberson... LISTEN HERE>>>

Dr. Giberson shares openly his own personal story and journey with faith and science and how they can work together. He also sheds light on the complicated relationship science and faith have with Evangelicalism. He gives great book recommendations towards the end of the podcast and you can find them in the link I shared.

We would love to hear what you think about the conversations and if it stirs up any epiphany's or questions for you.

Author: Will Rose ___ Date: November 27, 2018


This is a short blog post to lift up this great little book on the basic history and issues that orbit around the gravitational pull of Science and Religion. This book is really well done and gives a great introduction to the names, faces and ideas in faith and science.

The chapters include...

  • 1 - What are science-religion debates really about?
  • 2 - Galileo and the philosophy of science
  • 3 - Does God act in nature?
  • 4 - Darwin and evolution
  • 5 - Creationism and Intelligent Design
  • 6 - Mind and morality

The book also has a six page "further reading" section that lists more resources if you want to go deeper in any or all of the topics discussed.

As we have shared before, there are a lot of resources in the realm of Faith and Science. Keep asking questions and keep exploring because someone has written a book about it.

Author: Dr. Karin Pfennig ___ Date: October 28, 2018

This reflection was given by Dr. Karin Pfennig at a Midweek Lenten worship service at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Chapel Hill.

Genesis 32: 24-29

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said “let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said “I will not let you go , unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said “ Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and humans and have prevailed.

John 4: 7-15

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan women said to him: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Tonight, I want to describe how we might approach the intersection of Faith and Science with a sense of perspective and humility.

Like it or not, we live in a world dominated by science. It touches every aspect of our lives in ways that was simply not the case 20 (or even 10!) years ago. It is amazing to think that the watch on my wrist and even the key fob in your pocket has more advanced computing power than what was launched on the Voyager space probe 40 years ago.

Science seems to have usurped religion’s hold on people’s imaginations, identity, and place in the world. For example, according to the “Ancestry” or “23 and me” ads, your genes––and therefore your need to sequence them––are far more important to who you are and where you come from than your actual relationships and life experiences.

In our Bible readings tonight, we see two situations: Jacob wrestling with God and a Samaritan woman peppering Jesus with questions. In both cases, the response of God and Jesus is not condemnation, but the offering of a blessing and eternal life in response to their requests (if not demands). That is not to say that Jacob or the woman came away unscathed from their interactions—but their lives and love for God and Jesus were transformed, changed, and even evolved as a result of these interactions.For me, our conversations on Faith and Science here at HTLC have been a means of wrestling with, and understanding more about, the intersections of faith and science. I have come to better appreciate the different ways that people hold on to their faith in a world obsessed by science and technology. And my faith has been transformed, even if I am not always comfortable or “unscathed” as a result.

One of the themes that emerges in asking questions about faith and science is the issue of “Truth”. Both science and religion make claims to have insights into Truth with a capital T and so the fighting begins where the contradictions start—evolution versus Genesis for example.And yet, although science and religion might contradict one another, science and religion (Christianity) see eye to eye on the same thing: that truth exists. Both outright reject the notion that each of us gets to decide on a personal truth (aka alternative facts do not exist). So how do we resolve the paradox that science and religion can be at odds over the truth while agreeing that a single truth exists? Heidi Russell, one of our visitors here to HTLC as part of the STEAM grant activities highlights that there is a difference between each person having their own truth versus each person having their own perspective on a single truth.

Perspective differs. Where you sit in this room might alter your perception of how high my hand is lifted or even the color of my eyes. Perspective does not simply differ for each of us. Perspective also limits our awareness of the world around us—someone on the street does not even know I am in here, let alone what I am doing with my hands or my eye color. Imagine this: other animals do not perceive the world the way we do and so they’re perspective of the world is entirely different from ours. For example, bees do not see flowers the way we do—they can see in UV light and that reveals patterns on flowers and plants that are completely invisible to us.

As a scientist, I must remain keenly aware of this issue. Let me give you an example from my own work. I study two species of toad that are estimated to be about 25 Million years old. For scale, our species is estimated to be about 200,000 years old. So, my toads have been hopping around on the planet over 100X longer than we have been around! I study the evolution and origin of these species—I’ve been doing so for about 20 years. 20 years out of 25 million is about .00008% of the time toads have been on earth. If you imagine reducing the light in this room to .00008% of the light available, this room would seem pitch black and we would see nothing!

Keep in mind that scientists are good at expanding our perspective through instrumentation and patterns of inference. For example, I can use genomes as “time machines” to expand my perspective beyond my mere 20 years of study. But even then, these instruments are the products of a mind (as good as it is) that is limited in what it can perceive and process. And as products of a finite mind, they have the potential to exaggerate our own biases and limits.

What does all of this mean? Appreciating perspective should cause us to approach our questions, each other, and God with humility.

How might we do this in science?

It is often assumed that what defines an expert scientist is their vast and detailed knowledge of a subject. While this is true at one level, what really defines an expert—and the best scientists—is their capacity to know what they do not know. That might sound absurd, but I can attest that it is easy to state what is known. It is NOT easy for someone to ask questions that define the unknown. We can take this one step further: scientists should appreciate that some of what we do not know might be unknowable through science. Science’s perspective is to describe the material world but this perspective cannot address non-material questions. Science cannot say if Van Gough was the greatest painter who ever lived for example.

So, if God is not of the material world, the perspective of science on God is completely blind.

As Eric Hall wrote in his book “God: everything you ever needed to know about the almighty”: “Any affirmation or rejection of the possibility of God from the standpoint of the sciences simply misses the point of the sciences altogether.” (p. 143)

But what about perspective and humility in our lives of Faith?

Well, as people of God, we should ask: do we know what we do not know of God? Do we understand that perspectives on God might differ, and indeed, that our perspective on God might be so limited as to not fully realize God’s nature? An appreciation of perspective and humility seems to break down however when scientific facts are denied out of fear that science will disprove our notions of God.

Heidi Russell puts it this way:

“When people close themselves off from the world and associate only with people who think as they do out of fear…we end up with a … self-made system—no exchange of energy or ideas, no openness to new information... Peace that comes from…a lack of engaged interaction with others in a “flee the world” mentality is a false peace.” (excerpted from Quantum Shift, p. 106)

This passage suggests that denying scientific truths also denies us an opportunity to broaden our faith perspective and therefore knowledge of God. What does this mean practically? It means letting go of the need for science to fail in order to keep something of God. Last Friday, for example, our visitor, Tripp Fuller stated that science cannot explain why he looks into his wife’s eyes or his feeling when holding his baby. While I understood his desire to preserve those feelings as inexplicable, the reality is that science actually can explain them: gazing into the eyes of our partners or children releases a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone generates feelings of warmth and affection—it is a hormone that causes bonding. In fact, you even get a surge when you stare into your dog’s eyes (and he does too—from a hormone point of view, yes, your dog really does love you).

But here’s the point: does that fact that science can explain those feelings lessen the awe and joy we have in response to those feelings? Does it diminish the entirety of relationships that transcend simple affection to make us something more together than we would be if we were alone?

As a biologist, I can explain a lot about living things, but none of that diminishes my awe, astonishment and gratitude for our world. And I do not feel lessened by the vastness of the universe—instead, I think how extraordinary it is that a relatively new mammal on this small little planet can actually explain what we see, figure out how to measure what we cannot see, and all the while contemplate our role in this vast universe.

I’ll end with a quote by George Coyne, a former director of the Vatican Observatory. He sums all of this up by saying:

“We do not need God to explain the universe as we see it today. But once I believe in God, the universe as I see it today says a great deal about the God in whom I believe.” (quoted in Quantum Shift, by Heidi Russell, p. 104) .

Author: Will Rose ___ Date: October 4, 2018

A faith and science "unity candle"

As Holy Trinity Lutheran in Chapel Hill, NC wraps up our grant from STEAM (science and theology for emerging adult ministries), we are reflecting on and brainstorming ways we can stay engaged with the conversation between faith AND science. (I feel like I have to emphasize "and" because of the ongoing stereotype of faith "or" science)

As we commit to move forward with this important conversation we are reflecting on integration, cooperation, and ways to find common ground in which both science and faith can explore together. In our recent discussions we reflected on how both faith and science need to have their own identity and autonomy while at the same time continuing to build on a healthy relationship between the two. We continue to ask and explore where faith and science can work together, explore the common ground of mystery and curiosity, dance to the tune of life with one another, challenge one another along the way, and have a healthy fight every now and then just to hold one another accountable and to keep them honest. This sounds similar to a marriage, or at least a committed relationship. While some would say science and faith should in no way be in a "covenantal relationship" with one another, I disagree and at the least I believe both faith and science come from the same family tree of asking big questions about life and being captured by the mystery and awe of the universe we live in.

As we discussed and explored the depth of the relationship of science and faith, the image of the use of a "unity candle" during a wedding ceremony came to mind. This is the practice where two candles are lit, usually at the beginning of the ceremony by the parents, or the family, of the bride and groom. Then, usually after the vows have been promised, the bride and groom take the lit candles and light a third middle candle as a sign of their unity and new life together as a married couple. Over the years I have seen this practice during the rite of marriage wane for a number of reasons that I will not go in detail here. One use of the "unity candle" that has for the most part been banished is the practice of blowing out the bride and groom candles so that the only candle lit is the middle "unity" candle. The reason this practice is discouraged is because it's not a good sign, nor a healthy symbol, to extinguish the identity of the bride or groom. They still remain their own person in the bond of marriage, both have their own feelings and their own gifts for life and in their relationship with one another. The acceptable (and most true practice in my humble opinion) is to light the middle unity candle and leave the original two candles lit, to represent that a new unified relationship has begun but the original two people are still there own persons with a history and autonomy moving forward in their journey together.

Could this be a useful image for the relationship between faith and science?

Both science and faith have their own personal gifts and history, they carry their own selves and autonomy, and neither should be extinguished. But they can also be in relationship with one another in shining a brighter light on the truths of our existence in our cosmos. Perhaps both science and faith can work together in exploring the big questions we all ask with it comes to the mystery and curiosity we feel when we gaze at the stars and the diversity of life around us. Perhaps both faith and science can light a unifying candle to help guide us in discovering truth and meaning in our lives and our relationship to the world we live in.

My challenge to you is to find ways to break the stereotype that faith and science are diametrically opposed to one another. Yes science and faith and exist on their own, they are not codependent on one another, but they can also work together to shine a brighter light in an often dark and chaotic world. In a world of stress and conflict, perhaps science and faith could light a unity candle to make the world a brighter place for us to live in.

I also want to challenge preachers and theological teachers to find ways to shine the light on the common ground of faith and science. When you are preaching and teaching use the scientific vernacular of our present day in the images and words you use. For example, when speaking of God, speak of God as the "God of an evolving universe". When you speak of God of the scripture and universe, speak of God as the "God of the atom and the quantum-verse." I feel using the scientific vernacular of our day can give you a level of "street cred" with those who either study science or have their own vocation in the sciences. Of course don't do this to pander or be unauthentic, but do it in a way that expands God's presence in all aspects of life.

So don't run from this issue. Embrace it. Find and discern ways faith AND science can work together. Shine the light of unity and allow others to warm up to its glow.

Author: Will Rose ___ Date: June 6, 2018

The Holy Trinity and the conversation between Faith and Science

A sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and Lutheran Campus Ministry, Chapel Hill NC, May 27th 2018 Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17, Psalm 29, John 3:1-17

This past week Dr. Josh Beaver (a member of our Church Council and Chemistry professor at UNC) and I attended our closing conference for our Faith and Science Grant we received from STEAM (Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries) and Fuller Seminary in California.Fuller Seminary has recognized the alarming statistics that show a large number of young adults are leaving the church because there is this perception and narrative that the Church is anti-science and anti-intellectual. There is this perceived narrative in culture that it’s either Faith OR Science, you have to choose one OR the other..

As an example, last year I took Dr. Matt Goodson surfing at my childhood home, Wrightsville Beach. While we were out surfing my parent’s neighbor was out in the ocean catching waves with us. He asked, “Hey Will, introduce me to your friend.” I shared that Matt was a member of my church and is getting his doctorate in Astrophysics. Our neighbor looked at us with a puzzled look saying, “I thought those didn’t go together… I mean church and science.” I looked at Matt and said, “We have some work to do.” .

STEAM awarded 32 young adult and congregational ministries a grant to go deeper into issues of Faith and Science. These projects ranged from people creating videos, books, curriculum, and events to help create a better conversation around Faith AND Science and to help change the stereotype that they are in a battle to the death. That you don’t have to choose one or the other, that Faith and Science can go hand in hand like two dance partners dancing to the tune of the mystery of life. Our project at Holy Trinity didn’t seek out to create a viral video series or a new book on the subject, rather we wanted to help people know just how many great resources are already out there and to focus on a pastoral approach, to build relationships and connections. We wanted to let students (and people of all ages and stages in faith) to know that they are not alone in their questions. We wanted to let them know that they are not the first person who asked whatever question they have and they will not be the last person to ask that question.

The name of our project was “reconciling the tension between Faith and Science in a university community” and to be honest I was pretty proud of that title.Our project had and still has (it’s not over yet and we hope to keep it going in the future) 3 parts…

  • - Find out and discern what the main questions are between Faith and Science. Where is the main tension?
  • - Address the questions/tension in a healthy way with experts in the field, authors who have studied the subject, and with panels with people of faith and in the sciences with different perspectives.
  • - Create ongoing connections and relationships that can help move healthy conversations moving forward.

Here are some of the main questions that rose to the top…

  • How do we interpret Genesis in light of Evolution and the Big Bang?
  • How do we interpret the Bible as a whole in a scientific age?
  • Questions around the effects of Technology in our lives, AI and “smart” phones and algorithms.
  • And questions that range from Bio-ethics, to cognitive science, to what’s the deal with Dinosaurs, aliens in space and Mass Extinction?
    • We hosted panels, brought in speakers and did podcasts to address the questions but also to help model a healthy way to have conversations about Faith ad Science. In fact, when we brought in author and podcaster Mike McHargue (Ask Science Mike, The Liturgists) he even helped us change the name of our project. When we proudly shared the name of our project, he responded with an authentic question, “Why do you want to reconcile the tension? Why reconcile it?” (Well, because deep down I am conflict averse and I am normally uncomfortable with tension) Science Mike then said with pastoral care, “Think of the good music you hear, guitars and violins all have tension on their strings. Don’t take away the tension, just create better music.” (Mind blown!)

      So we pivoted. We re-formed the name and direction of our project. We don’t want to do away with the tension, but sit with it, let the tension create a beautiful song that draws us into the mystery of life. To allow these questions and tension to pull us into a deeper place in life and faith. An out of tune guitar and violin sound horrible, who wants to listen to that! Often the YouTube debates and vapid message boards that wage the battle of Faith vs. Science sound like horrible out of tune instruments.

      Perhaps we are called to create better music.

      Here are a few harmonious tunes I was able to grove to over the last few years… At one panel we hosted members of Holy Trinity who happen to be scientists shared with our campus ministry students how their vocations intersect with their faith. When Dr. David Pfennig shared how he views the overlap of his work as an evolutionary biologist and his faith, Katie Elkin, a member of our Lutheran Campus Ministry, exclaimed, “What? I just read your paper yesterday for class, I didn’t know you were a member of Holy Trinity!” The connection blew her mind and they were able to talk after the event about his paper and their mutual faith.

      At another “What are your Questions?” event one of our Lutheran Campus Ministry students leaned over to Matt Goodson and says, “This is so good, I thought I was the only one with these questions.”

      We had people from all over the Southeast gather for our Ask Science Mike Live event, one person who travelled all the way from Alabama to hear Mike shared with me, “Thanks for being such a hospitable community and for being a safe place to ask and wrestle with our questions.”

      At the STEAM grant conference this past week we heard lots of experiences and stories like this. Despite the million views and hits the heated debates on YouTube get and the terrible conversations on witnesses on the message boards… there is a lot of good work being done. There are better songs out there! Within the tension and questions of faith and science, there are so many captivated by the mystery and awe of life, science and faith.

      Which brings us to today on the Liturgical Church Calendar, Holy Trinity Sunday. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the foundation of how we understand God, it’s the name of our community of faith “Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.” It’s pretty important. But any doctrine (or understanding) of God can certainly turn into a static, unmovable idea that one can be tempted to be keep in a nice and neat box or glass case we observe from a distance. But in reality the fabric of the Trinity has a lot in common with what we are learning in physics on the Macro and Micro levels of fluidity, relationality and connectivity. And I will add, how we understand God as Trinity is intimately connected to how we understand Jesus.

      On the yearly Church Liturgical Calendar we have moved from Advent through the day of Pentecost. We have moved through….

      • Advent – the season of preparing and waiting for the Christ.
      • Christmas – the birth of Christ, the God made flesh and human for the sake of the world.
      • Epiphany – the season of God “revealing” to us who this Christ really is and what his mission is in the world.
      • Lent – the season when we discover that Christ is on a journey to a cross.
      • Easter – the surprising good news that death does not have the final world. Christ is raised! Christ is the firstborn of a new creation. A new big bang that will bring new life to the universe.
      • Pentecost – The day and season where Christ sends his Holy Spirit upon his followers so that they can continue his mission and ministry in the world.

      And so now that we have moved through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the gift of the Holy Spirit empowering the Church (you and me)… This Sunday, Holy Trinity Sunday, is a very appropriate day to articulate that Jesus moves us to reflect on God in a different and new way… That we see God as Trinity, a rhythmic dancing and flow of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God as three persons inviting us into a living empowering loving relationship.

      Listen to the language Jesus uses in his conversation with Nicodemus in the third chapter of John’s gospel. Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, perhaps a little nervous about the questions he has, yet he sees something special and new going on with Jesus and he wants to know more. He is captivated by the mystery and awe. There is a new tune being played and he wants to dance with Jesus.

      Jesus starts to speak of the mystery of birth and life, the flow of the wind, of water and Spirit. God as loving parent, new birth, a gift of a Son and redemption through this loving relationship. Jesus alludes to this interconnectedness and relationality within God’s own self and with God and creation. A sort of quantum entanglement between all things. An entanglement and relationships grounded in love, which ultimately leads to the culminating and famous verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

      Dr. Heidi Russell (who we brought in as one of our speakers for Faith and Science), warns that we often reduce God to “2 men and a bird.” Instead of a stagnate noun, perhaps God is more like a verb. The verb of love flowing and being lived out relationally. Science continues to reveal that all things are interconnected on the atomic and subatomic level. And just perhaps the early church was ahead of its time when reflecting on God as trinity, when describing the communion of saints and expressing the Church as the Body of Christ in the world continuing the work of Christ bringing the Kingdom of God to a world hungry for it. Dr. Jeff Pugh, who helped lead our “Why God Loves Science” event said in his book Entertaining the Triune Mystery; God, Science and the Space Between, “The Trinity functions to prevent theological idolatry because we are always poised on the porch of mystery, contemplating the darkness in front of us and delighting in the small sparks of light whether they are fire-flies or stars.” (page 35) And Pope Francis tweeted this morning, “The mystery of the Blessed Trinity invites us to live in communion with one another, in love and in sharing… certain that wherever there is love, there is God.”

      How do we dance with this Triune God who invites us into a loving relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

      What tune are we creating in our faith, in our vocations, and in our explorations in science?

      So when we say the ecumenical creeds together...

      • When we do ministry together…
      • When we gather at the sacred table of bread and wine…
      • When we baptize new followers of Christ…
      • When we are honest with our questions…
      • When we come to terms with the tensions within us and outside of us…
      • When we tune the instruments of science and faith...
      • When we marvel at the mystery of the cosmos and our place in it…
      • May we dance with the God who comes to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God, as it was in the beginning, is now, and forever will be.


Author: Zach Boggs ___ Date: March 14, 2018

Prayers and Miracles, A Reflection on Faith and Science

Ephesians 5: 8-14 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Mark 8: 22-25 They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Hello, my name is Zach, and I am a 4th year medical student here at UNC. I have a unique perspective when it comes to the discussion between faith and science. In my workplace, most of my patients are quite religious and most of my colleagues are less so. Often, I am put in an interesting position, with patients hoping for miracles and emotional support and physicians striving for evidence-based and algorithmic treatment plans. Since college, I have come to terms with many perceived conflicts between faith and science. I am totally cool thinking that God created evolution. I am fine seeing many old testament stories as allegorical. I am definitely okay thinking there may be life in distant galaxies, and I don’t think the enormity of the cosmos makes us any less special. I love the fact that there is great mystery in life, some things we can discover and some things we can just never know. Tonight, I would like to talk about three things: prayer, miracles and healing.

Prayer. Does God react to our prayers? Can prayers be transformative? Prayer occurs constantly in the healthcare setting. In working closely with patients, palliative care, and chaplain services, prayer is a vital aspect of care for many patients. However, there is a large gap between patients who want to pray and physicians who really don’t. I know of surgeons who will avoid extensive communication with families prior to surgery so as to avoid prayer. In thinking about how I would integrate my faith life into my medical practice, I told myself that I would keep my lives separate in the public sense and tackle hard topics privately. We are told as students to not discuss our personal lives with our patients, to not disclose our political or religious affiliations to our patients, thereby focusing our attention toward the patient. I scoffed at the idea of praying with patients when I first began medical school, mostly in opposition to some students who think that spreading the gospel and saving patients is more important than patient care, which is a different conversation all together.

Then my view on prayer shifted one day on the family medicine service. A patient of mine was having a terrible day. She had been told by one treatment team that she was clear to be discharged home, and another team told her she had to stay another few days for an invasive diagnostic procedure. During morning rounds, she said with frustration, “Is anyone even on my team? Are any of you even Christian?” There was silence in the room, and the resident said, “we are all on your team,” continued speaking about the plan, and deflected the question of faith. Those words stuck with me the rest of the day, and I found myself standing outside her room in the afternoon, deciding that all she needed was a prayer, for someone to show her that we were on her team. She was shocked when I offered to pray. After we finished our prayer, she said that I had completely turned her day around and that she could no longer feel frustrated with her care, because she received everything she needed right then. It was that moment that I realized how important it is for patients to have spiritual healing, whether or not prayer is transformative and whether or not God reacts to our prayers. In fact, there is much research going into the use of mindfulness and meditative prayer in the healthcare setting. Other researchers are studying how spirituality affects epigenetics, hypothesizing that DNA methylation and histone modification can be affected by belief or community, thereby possibly altering health outcomes for yourself and future generations. Regardless of the science, I have seen first-hand that prayer and spirituality have a large place in the healing of our spirits and our bodies, and I will continue to make efforts to bring healing to my patients from various directions.

Miracles. I read the story of the blind man tonight, because I think that miracles are just hard for scientists and anyone to understand. Especially when the advancements of medicine have proven historical miracles. Cataract surgery is a common surgery now-a-days and would have been a miracle in years past. Penicillin was found on accident and has revolutionized modern medicine. I have seen deaf patients hear for the first time with cochlear implants. I have seen someone’s life be turned completely around with a liver transplant. We now do in-utero neurosurgery on fetuses with neural tube defects. I heard about a surgeon attempting a head transplant in Europe. Miraculous events occur daily in the hospital, but miraculous events are different than the miracles performed by Jesus. We still can’t turn water into wine or raise people from the dead, but modern medicine is progressing at a rapid rate. Is it possible that science is “winning” the fight over religion because modern science now has more shock and awe? Religion is up against head transplants today.

We also have to wonder when we reach the point of playing God in medicine. To make matters worse, many patients see physicians as demi-Gods, likely due to the vulnerable state they find themselves. Often times, patients expect miracles from physicians, a miracle drug or maneuver that heals them instantaneously. Historically, physicians were religious figures with divine authority, the ability to heal with powers given from God himself. Today, physicians are hardly religious figures, but sometimes subconsciously imagine that they possess some higher authority, because of the idea of medical miracles. I saw a patient in my outpatient clinic this summer with vertigo, and I appropriately decided he likely had benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, which is what Roy Williams supposedly has. In order to diagnose the disorder, I had to do a maneuver called the Dix-Hallpike Test. When I completed the maneuver, he became very dizzy and nauseous, a positive test. He looked at me after the maneuver with this look of amazement as if I had completed a miracle. I felt in that moment a sense of power, but I had in no way caused a miracle, but I can see how miracles could be misconstrued by people in positions of power. But changing lives is why I wanted to become a doctor in the first place. I’ll never forget what my dad told me when editing my application to medical school. I wrote that I wanted to “transform” lives as a future physician. My dad, who is a pastor, politely said, “You cannot transform lives, God does that. You can merely be the vehicle in which transformation occurs.”

The difficulty with miracles is that they hardly ever happen, especially in the way we read about them in the Bible. Not to mention, the miracles of Jesus are impossible by the natural laws we have all learned in basic physics. People sink in water, they don’t walk on it. However, I have read that Jesus’ miracles were not meant to be explained by science. Like the existence of God, it is a matter of belief not possibly proven or disproven by scientific evidence. However, if we as humans can complete modern-day miracles with the advancement of medicine, Jesus’ story of healing the blind man becomes less special in secular society. Do we need new miracles of Jesus in order for society to regain the faith? It has been argued that the miracles of Jesus were not meant to be methods for recruiting followers, but rather small glimpses of divine enlightenment, bits of light revealed. I think Jesus’ healing of the blind man is a story about how we all can open our eyes to the light, to awaken ourselves to the daily miracles that still exist today.

To dive a little deeper into the Light that Jesus brings to the world through miracles, let’s consider the role of Light in Genesis. There is a conflict in the creation story, which has also bothered me. Light was created on day one, plants on day three, but the sun and stars were created on day 4. How can light or plants be created without our sun? I think God’s light is something much more than our understanding of suns or stars. God’s “light” exists as the foundation of the divine, God’s “light” is how we feel when we help another in need, how we get lost in the music on Sunday morning, God’s “light” is felt and seen when patients hear for the first time or when a blind man has his sight restored. Light is what provided Jesus with his ability to perform miracles and it is the same light which creates modern-day miracles, and we are the vehicle through which that light radiates into the world.

Here are my big takeaways: We need to remember to open our eyes to daily miracles, because they exist through the Light that God shines on us each day. Medicine comes from the advancement of humankind, but healing consists of so much more. And keep praying, because spiritual healing brings us closer to that Light and it may just be good for your health. We will never understand all of the unnatural laws that are not written in science textbooks, so the best way to integrate Truth is to keep our eyes and ears open, to read and learn, and to share our daily miracles with each other in community.

Author: Dr. Al Goshaw ___ Date: March 21, 2018

A Journey of Faith and Science
My journey to faith and science

This all started gradually in high school in a small town in Wisconsin (West Bend) in the 1950’s. My interest in science developed from just playing around with random parts I scavenged from a local factory dumps and abandoned pin-ball machines. I made quite a lab in our basement, built from scratch voltmeters and oscilloscopes, other electronic gadgets, high-fi systems, and made a dark room for photo development. My activities were all do-it-yourself science with little academic or book guidance.

My mother and father had no regular ties to any church. There were only two choices in our town – Catholic and Lutheran. I do not remember exactly why but I started going to church – and chose Lutheran. Every Sunday morning I would get up, walk across town and sit in the back row of Trinity Lutheran Church. From there I got inducted into a confirmation class, with a group of friends, some of whom I know to this day. This was my do-it-yourself introduction to faith.

When I was about to graduate from high school, I took the usual vocational tests. I can still remember the guidance councilor commenting, that my results were unusual – they implied I should study to be either a scientist or a minister. Somehow my interest in faith and science were incubated early on even if I did not realize it. They continued as an engineering major at the University of Wisconsin in Madison where I dabbled in theology courses. It never occurred to me that there was a conflict between these two pursuits. In fact my research mentor was a devote Christian, and spoke freely of his faith – a rarity in the community of people doing basic physics research. This provided me with a comfortable environment for my latent faith and science inclinations

However, I went with the science path, graduated in physics at the University of Wisconsin, spent time at Princeton and CERN in Geneva Switzerland before migrating with my family to North Carolina in 1973, where I took up a faculty position at Duke. While doing research at Duke I was fortunate to be involved with the discovery of Nature’s two most massive elementary particles, given the unusual names the top quark and the Higgs boson. These observations clarified our understanding of Nature’s behavior in micro-world and completed one of our most successful science theories, called the Standard Model (small advertisement, wait for the book version if you want details). The “faith” part of my faith and science development sort of went on hold during this period.

Fast forward to more recent times. A few years ago when I was dealing with a very difficult event in my life I started meeting with Pastor Will to clarify some of my bible readings. These conversations lead me to find a book1 written by two Catholic scholars who are also scientists in the Vatican Astronomy Observatory. This book included wonderful discussions of the beautiful harmony between science and religion.

My studies contributed to our forming a Sunday morning Holy Trinity reading group that stimulated broader discussions of faith and science within our congregation. This lead to the Holy Trinity submission of a proposal for a STEAM (Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries) funding grant, focused on outreach faith and science activities. These have flourished under the leadership and encouragement provided by Pastor Will and others in our congregation some of whom you have heard from here in recent weeks. My interest in science and religion has been further stimulated by contacts with colleagues at Duke interested in these topics, both Christians and a Muslim who is teaching a Religion and Science course.

Why am I comfortable with the compatibility of science and religion?

Scientists have the privilege of learning how nature operates, whether it is the evolution of 25-million old frogs or studies of the 14-billion year evolution of stars. This is the world God created and I have confidence that he/she would be delighted in our developing an understanding of these phenomena.

I am amused that some my science colleagues get carried away with these science discoveries and are tempted to make the unreasonable jump to claim, “ by the way we now have all the laws of nature — there is no need for a God”. Some examples from history show that we should be more humble:

  • in the late 1800’s there were claims from scientists that we had all the rules of nature using Newtonian mechanics and Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory, and it was just a matter of working out the details (… no need for a God)
  • then, whoops, in the early 1900’s a new theory was proposed, by Einstein (relativity) that overturned the predictions of classical mechanics in certain domains of nature (e.g. mass = energy). And then, whoops again, in the mid 1900’s the weird quantum nature of the micro-world was discovered. Now there certainly is no need to invoke a God!
  • Then a more recent whoops. In the past few decades we have discovered that the matter we are made of and describe with our beautiful theories, makes up only 5% of the mass-energy content of the universe. The bulk of the universe is made up of dark matter and dark energy, for which we have no current scientific explanation.

This is a track record that shows science discoveries are work in progress. I see no conflict with truths we are discovering about the operation of the natural world with the truths we learn from the teaching’s of Jesus about how we should live our lives.

Why are conversations about faith and science important?

There are abrasive voices in both the science and religious communities that seem to delight in ridiculing the other, whether it is a conservative Christian or Muslim at one end of the spectrum, or a cosmologist or evolutionary biologist at the other end. These people tend to inflame conflicts between faith and science that both history and common sense show should not exist, and are detrimental to society at large. It is important for scientists and ministers to speak out to remove these artificial barriers.Some examples of efforts to do this:

The HTLC STEAM grant we are currently implementing is a local step in this direction. I quote from the stated goal of this proposal:

“The stakes for cultivating engagement between science and faith are high. Young adults are at vulnerable and transformative period in their lives; the false choice of “Faith OR Science” could cause the lifelong abandonment of either. Moreover, by transforming the conversation for young adults from “Faith OR Science” to “Faith AND Science”, they will become more effective policy-makers, community leaders, and informed citizens in all their future endeavors.”

There are also efforts I am familiar with at Duke. I have been fortunate to have conversation with my faculty colleagues Ray Barfield (a Christian and professor in the Divinity School), and Mohsen Kadivar (a Muslim and professor in the Department of Religious Studies). Mohhsen is teaching a course this semester “Religion and Science”. He starts the introduction to his course with:

“Religion and Science are arguably the two most powerful social forces in the world today, however they are often perceived to be irreconcilable concepts.” His course is designed to dispel this misconception by surveying modern scientific discoveries and discussing them in the context of Christian and Muslim teachings highlighting their complementary.

Finally I want to refer to an article2 recently published in a journal called “Physics Today” which focuses entirely on advances in basic science. The author of the article, Tom McLeish, makes a clear and articulate case for “Thinking differently about science and religion”. The fact that this commentary appeared as the lead article in a very secular physics journal shows awareness in the science community of the importance of promoting a civil dialogue between science and religion

I end with a few quotes from this article: “Maintaining the “alternate fact” that science and religion, and in particular Christianity, are in conflict is hurting science.”

“Newton himself is testimony to the deep formative role of Christian theology in the rise of experimental and mathematical science. … The writings of early modern scientists such as Newton and Robert Boyle make it clear they were motivated by theological philosophy.”

And in conclusion McLeish says: “Driving an unhistorical and unrealistic wedge between science and religion has got to stop. It leads, in part, to the optionalism that we see in some public and political attitudes toward science from climate change to vaccinations. It damages the educational experience of our children, and impoverishes our understanding of science’s historical context

We continue to pursue many exciting questions about the universe God created. Let’s not burden the task of making scientific discoveries by making spurious claims that they are in conflict with the faith we have about the existence of a God who created it all. Amen

Would You Baptize and Extraterrestrial? By Guy Consolmagno and Paul Mueller

Physics Today, February 2018 issue, Commentary by Tom McLeish