Can a scientist produce intellectually honest work that contradicts deeply held religious beliefs?
The above was the question asked to the reader at the end of an article which appeared in the New York Times.
The article tells of a man who recently completed a doctoral degree in geosciences, and is also a “young earth creationist.” His subject was the abundance and spread of mosasaurs, marine reptiles that, as he wrote, vanished at about 65 million years ago. But as a young earth creationist, he also believes that the earth is at most 10,000 years old. To me, his view is quite perplexing, for according to him, the methods and theories of paleontology are one “paradigm” for studying the past, and Scripture is another. In the paleontological paradigm, he said, the dates in his dissertation are entirely appropriate. The fact that as a young earth creationist he has a different view just means, he said, “that I am separating the different paradigms.”
Reading the readers’ comments, I found them quite diverse. I guess every major view on the relation between science and religion is represented, ranging from those who are hostile towards religion or the other way round; those who adopt the public/private split, i.e. science and religion each belongs to non-overlapping domains or they can be viewed by multiple paradigms, just as the man in the article adopts; to those with whom I share my view.
I have no time to read all of the comments, but two of them caught my attention, and I can concur with them.
One of the comments reads:
When science acquired its “secular mantle” America became less free. Furthermore, if holding religious beliefs-Christian beliefs, in this case- inherently conflicts with a person’s ability to study science objectively and honestly, then we would not have much of the foundation of science that we still use today, which was primarily laid by the creative, pioneering work done by men of faith who happened to be scientists. Men like Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Faraday, Maxwell, Stokes, Kelvin, and Thomson were all Christians.
A modern example of a man of science and faith is Dr. Henry Schaefer, professor at the University of Georgia, formerly at Berkley, Doctorate from Stanford, 6 times Nobel nominee (to use and abuse his “secular” credentials). Dr. Schaefer has not had to function in two paradigms like Mr. Ross (whose strictly literal interpretation of Genesis necessitates that separation of his academic discipline and religious belief) but who has, in an intellectually honest way, by digging into both science and scripture, found that neither contradicts but bolsters the veracity of the other and in doing so, a Christian/scientific perspective becomes the Only paradigm- that is as worthy of application to science as it is to the rest of life and worth suffering the ridicule and dismissal of his peers in the scientific community- peers who wear the secular mantle of science with an air of suspicion and snobbery toward legitimate scientists who are Christians . In finding science and Christianity not only scientifically plausible but inextricably intertwined, Schaefer and believer-scientists like him are able to rationally reconcile Christianity/belief in Scripture with their entire worldview including their scientific field of study. If university science programs begin to actively weed out Christians and the religious, not only will the scientific community suffer the loss of much intellectual capital, but humanity will stand less chance of coming to know the God who is capable of smashing to bits any and all paradigms thrust onto the world that exclude the obvious reality of a massive intellect with a massive creative streak out there shaking His head at our efforts to construct a scientific reality without Him in it. Fortunately, He loves us even in our obtuseness and despite our pitiful attempts to explain the nature of the world while wearing the shrunken and narrow “secular mantle of science.”
And the other reads:
Let the Creator of the Sciences determine which tenets ‘support,’ and which tenets ‘contradict’ His existence. Ours is but to discover with open eyes and thankful hearts.