Science and the Sacred

Science and the Sacred


Finding Common Ground

The Fossil Hunter.jpg

Every Friday, “Science and the Sacred” features an essay
from a guest voice in the science and religion dialogue. This week’s
guest entry was written by Shelley Emling. Emling is a freelance writer for the International Herald Tribune and a former foreign correspondent based in London. Her new book The Fossil Hunter
— which goes on sale today — tells the real-life story of Mary Anning, a poor 19th century girl whose fossil discoveries helped change our view of the Earth’s history.

Exiting the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History last weekend, I found myself caught in a science-religion crossfire.

Across Independence Avenue stood a handful of Christians carrying placards encouraging the museum’s visitors to forego the evolutionary leanings of Darwin. On the steps of the museum stood an increasingly vocal crowd chanting Darwin’s name over and over.

For several minutes, the two sides traded insults and it wasn’t long before the hoots and hollers reached a frightening crescendo.

The incident – also witnessed by my 11-year-old son – raised the following question in my mind for the umpteenth time: are Christianity and Darwinism mutually exclusive? Fortunately, as I’ve come to find out, there’s a growing movement between the two fronts that says one can have faith in both religion and science.

I began reading up on the subject after recently writing a nonfiction book titled The Fossil Hunter
on the life of Mary Anning. Anning was a dirt-poor girl who exhumed one never-before-seen prehistoric monster after another from its Jurassic tomb in the cliffs along England’s southern coast in the early 1800s.

Darwin and others pointed to her fossil finds — including many of the world’s first ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and pterosaurs — as proof that new ideas about Earth’s history were inevitable.

According to most accounts, Anning remained a deeply religious woman her entire life, one who could often be found praying or reading the Bible and who almost never missed a Sunday service. Apparently she saw the beauty of God’s handiwork in the coastline she knew so intimately even while others were using her fossils to raise questions about the biblical account of scientific history.

Anning’s close friend, Anna Maria Pinney, wrote of how the two often talked of the idea of creation and other spiritual topics. “To think that life shall never have an end quite fills the mind, but to think of God without a beginning is more than a created being can comprehend,” she wrote.

As Anning aged, and began working alongside Britain’s clique of British male geologists — most of them Anglican clergymen — there were countless attempts to use biblical stories to explain the new knowledge about the natural world that was resulting from Anning’s fossil discoveries.

For example, the fact that fossils sometimes were found at high altitudes was taken as proof that the global flood had been so overwhelming it had reached to the tops of the highest mountains.

No doubt Anning would have been bowled over to learn that – some 200 years later – many are still seeking ways in which to reconcile religion with science.

But Simon Conway-Morris, the renowned paleontologist at Cambridge University, is just one scientist who argues that religion and science are completely compatible.

The British professor believes evolution isn’t as accidental or random as one might suspect. In his opinion, if evolution began all over again, human intelligence would develop pretty much in the same way as it has. Conway-Morris emphasizes that developments happen as a result of pre-existing conditions, such as the need for blood cells to have hemoglobin in order to transport oxygen. Evolution, therefore, works only because it plays out within a certain set of rules.

Evolution “is after all only a mechanism, but if evolution is predictive, indeed possesses a logic, then evidently it is being governed by deeper principles,” he recently wrote. “Come to think about it so are all sciences; why should Darwinism be any exception?”

Peter Hess, the Faith Project director at the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., also believes that scientific inquiry and religious belief are not mutually exclusive.

“Because the evidence for evolution is so overwhelming, we must consider it to be a truth about the natural world — the world which we as people of faith believe was created by God, and the world made understandable by the reason and natural senses given to us by God,” he recently wrote. “Denying science is a profoundly unsound theological position. Science and faith are but two ways of searching for the same truths.”

Most telling is that the proportion of Christians among the science faculty in certain departments at Oxford and Cambridge universities — such as the Earth Sciences Department in Cambridge or the Physics Department in Oxford — appears higher than the national average, says Denis Alexander, director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, an academic research enterprise based at Cambridge.

“There are generally more Christians in the sciences than in the humanities,” he said.

And what about the clergy? Michael Zimmerman, a biology professor at Butler University in Indianapolis, said his work with the Clergy Letter Project has led him to believe that a vast number of religious leaders of all denominations are fully comfortable with science. He argues that religious fundamentalists are the exception, and that they tend to assert themselves “more aggressively” to maintain their waning influence.

Yet the public remains sharply divided.

A Gallup poll released this year found that 39 percent of Americans “believe in the theory of evolution,” while a quarter said they do not believe in the theory, and another 36 percent said they don’t have an opinion either way.

Even in Anning’s native and more secular Britain, less than half — or 48 percent — of citizens said in a 2006 survey that they adhere to the theory of evolution. And about three-fourths of British respondents to a recent survey said that science is unable to explain everything.

Today many people would love to believe that science has all the answers. But people say there are plenty of mysteries that have yet to be explained.

Despite centuries of astronomical observations and decades of space exploration, it is thought that more than 90 percent of the mass in the universe still hasn’t been detected.

Scientists can’t explain a human being’s free will, which may or may not be just an illusion, and there’s still no rock-solid scientific reason as to why everyone must die.

In the end, as in Anning’s time, there are still many who have absolute faith in the fact that species never evolve or become extinct.

Many others believe that neither evolution nor extinction denies the hand of God.

Still others don’t believe in God at all.

So, in this year of Darwin anniversaries, can science and religion ever be fully reconciled? For the first time in a long time, I am hopeful. As more scientists come out in favor of faith, and more clergy accept the teachings of science, perhaps reconciliation is inevitable.

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Mere_Christian

posted October 16, 2009 at 8:37 am


In the beginning was Evolution and . . .
Or is it, Evolution was the beginning . . .
Since evolution has been elevated to a doctrine of salvation by the Evolutionary Christians, when do we get a new rewrite of the Bible?
Will we now spell Evangel, Evongel?



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Mere_Christian

posted October 16, 2009 at 8:40 am


Evolutionarians?
A new denomination on the way?



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Knockgoats

posted October 16, 2009 at 9:37 am


From Nature Vol. 394, No. 6691, p. 313 (full article available at http://freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/Scientists_and_atheism:
Our chosen group of “greater” scientists were members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Our survey found near universal rejection of the transcendent by NAS natural scientists. Disbelief in God and immortality among NAS biological scientists was 65.2% and 69.0%, respectively, and among NAS physical scientists it was 79.0% and 76.3%. Most of the rest were agnostics on both issues, with few believers. We found the highest percentage of belief among NAS mathematicians (14.3% in God, 15.0% in immortality). Biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief (5.5% in God, 7.1% in immortality), with physicists and astronomers slightly higher (7.5% in God, 7.5% in immortality). Overall comparison figures for the 1914, 1933 and 1998 surveys appear here:
Comparison of survey answers among “greater” scientists
Belief in personal God 1914 1933 1998
Personal belief 27.7 15.0 7.0
Personal disbelief 52.7 68.0 72.2
Doubt or agnosticism 20.9 17.0 20.8

Belief in human immortality 1914 1933 1998
Personal belief 35.2 18.0 7.9
Personal disbelief 25.4 53.0 76.7
Doubt or agnosticism 43.7 29.0 23.3
Figures are percentages.
This, be it noted, in the most religious scientifically advanced country. Reconciliation inevitable? In your dreams!



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Arni Zachariassen

posted October 16, 2009 at 10:24 am


Very intriguing story, Shelley. Your book is going on my wish list.
And Mere_Christian, get over it. No, and I repeat NO, Chistian evolutionist elevates their particular understanding of the doctrine of creation to the importance of the doctrine of salvation. Show me one source that does that. You can’t. You saying that is just dishonest and an attempt, probably for your own sake, to portray us evolutionists as evil heretics. Maybe it’s also an attempt to justify your own hatred of our understanding of creation. Whatever the case, it has no basis in reality.



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Knockgoats

posted October 16, 2009 at 11:01 am


BTW, Shelley, your book sounds fascinating – I think I saw it (favourably) reviewed in the UK press. However, I think the description of the impact of Anning’s discoveries by the side of the illustration of the cover here is inaccurate (I’d guess it’s not yours): they were far more relevant to the earlier dispute about whether extinction and change in faunas over time occurred than to evolution as such (the religious conservative of the day insisted that God would never have allowed any of his creations to become extinct). Cuvier had presented good evidence of extinction in his 1796 paper on living and fossil elephants, but the discoveries of Anning and others confirmed his speculation that there had been an “age of reptiles” before the dominance of mammals. Cuvier believed in “successive creation”, as did many pre-Origin biologists.



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Your Name

posted October 16, 2009 at 11:03 am


Mere_Christian obviously hasn’t read anything written or heard anything spoken by any evangelical Christian who happens to believe (reluctantly in some cases) that evolution happened to be one of the the processes that God used to create the universe and everything in it. Most, if not all, evolutionary creationists (a.k.a. theistic evolutionists) make a specific point that their belief in evolution has NO effect on their belief in the historical events recorded in the New Testament or their faith in a personal God and savior.
Actually, it is the Young Earth Creationists who elevate their particular rigid interpretation of Genesis 1-11 to the level of a doctrine, and that can be documented: consider for example the title of the Bonus chapter in Ken Ham’s book “The New Answers Book,” (Master Books, 2006) p. 348, which is “How Can We Use Dinosaurs to Spread the Creation GOSPEL Message?” (emphasis mine).



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Paul Bruggink

posted October 16, 2009 at 11:08 am


I am the author of the previous comment. I unintentionally neglected to re-enter my name when my time expired.
Suggestion to the webmaster: Keep the name as well as the email address and the comment when refreshing to a new text to type.



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Beaglelady

posted October 16, 2009 at 1:39 pm


Great post, and yes, that does looks like a great book. I have added it to my amazon.com cart. Will you be appearing on any talk shows to promote it?



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Ray Ingles

posted October 16, 2009 at 2:47 pm


Today many people would love to believe that science has all the answers.
People here say Mere_Christian is misrepresenting the oppostion; I say that phrase right there does the same thing. I’ve never run into anybody who “would love to believe that science has all the answers”. I, along with others, think that science is probably the best way to find answers, but that’s hardly the same thing as thinking all the answers are presently in hand.



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Mere_Christian

posted October 16, 2009 at 4:07 pm


Knockgoats,
Jesus knew those figures well.
Look up seperating the wheat from the chaff.
Lots of plant stuff compared to the kernals.



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Knockgoats

posted October 16, 2009 at 4:26 pm


Mere_Christian,
No, he didn’t. Assuming he was real, he’s been dead nearly 2000 years, and he knew absolutely nothing about science or scientists.



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RBH

posted October 16, 2009 at 4:58 pm


From the article:

Despite centuries of astronomical observations and decades of space exploration, it is thought that more than 90 percent of the mass in the universe still hasn’t been detected.

Um, it has been “detected” via several indirect interactions with the matter and energy we can directly observe. It’s not (yet) understood, but it’s been detected.
Emling’s article is in large part a litany of God of the gaps arguments, something at least one evangelical scientists (Francis Collins) argues against in his The Language of God.



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Charlie

posted October 16, 2009 at 5:25 pm


I keep hearing people say how faith can lead to truth. I have yet to get an explanation from anyone as to how this is possible. What are the definitions of faith and truth to make that statement accurate? If faith is believing in something regardless of evidence, it cannot lead to truth (considering truth is an accepted conclusion supported by sufficient evidence).



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Mere_Christian

posted October 16, 2009 at 5:39 pm


Faith is a word used in the english language.
Trust is the better definition of what is intended.
And as we can see, science is leading us to Biblical truth.
Evidence of things unseen and uncovered right on mark.



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Carl F. Welser

posted October 16, 2009 at 5:46 pm


Thinking that “one can have faith in both religion and science” sounds like a risky proposition.
Religion, by definition, means “to bind,” while faith intends to liberate. Therefore, having faith in bondage will distort the faith.
Furthermore, having faith in science will eventually be disappointing, because the science of today will not (exactly) be the science of tomorrow, and the essential changes will only lead to even further controversy if a particular scientific viewpoint is held sacrosanct and later becomes outmoded.
In the end, it is necessary that both faith and science be liberating.



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Beaglelady

posted October 16, 2009 at 10:08 pm


I just wanted to mention that this book received a favorable review in today’s Wall Street Journal.



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Dan

posted October 17, 2009 at 4:20 am


Mere_Christian,
I see you are still making things up. Your false accusation that we theistic evolutionists elevate evolution to a doctrine of salvation was been repeatedly shown to be categorically false, yet you continue to use it. Bearing false witness is considered to be a sin in all the Christian circles I have been in.
You are the one elevating NON-belief in evolution to a doctrine of salvation. You are guilty of the very thing that you falsely and dishonestly accuse us of doing. Oh, the irony!



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Mere_Christian

posted October 17, 2009 at 7:58 am


Dan, I should add astronomy too? I’ve read the articles over at biologos.org, and I do not see an Apostolic message, I see evolution as being necessary to ones belief in Christ. Otherwise you’re a bumbling ignorant that refused “the tuth.” It seems the very ministry, if one could call it that, of BioLogos, is to preach Christ darwinized. Dan, I am only reacting to the evidence biologos is standing in. Where is this outreach organization’s Apostolic message of salvation in none other than the crucified and ressurected man Christ Jesus, The Son of God, the Savior? I see “compatibility,” with a scientific view, that doesn’t necessarily preclude belief in a Christian prespective, but, which Christian perspective? There ARE many expressions of the New Testament writings MISapplied into heresy and false teachings. Again, as is shown with the elevation of evolution as a doctrine neccessary for a modern-day belief in Christ, what comes along with that is the ranters and chanters of a “different Gospel,” One that licenses all kinds of abominations and evil. Now, you present yourself as bright, you must at least be able to see that there are words and actions that CONTRADICT the message in the New Testament? Of course you do, you apply a measurement of this to me. Interesting that you ignore so much in my replies that show I do agree with a tiny bit of your product. Evolution as creating human man and woman? Yeah, OK. Now move on. Move on to preaching Christ the way His Apostles did. 21st century men and women, boys and girls are being destroyed NOT by anti-evolutionary forces, but good old fashion evil beought to them as liberal civil rights. Evil cloaked often in evolutionary force. If that doesn’t add up, it is you Evolutionarians that have things wrong. And I assert you do on many things. Not those of us that can accept evolution in its proper place.Dan,
I should add astronomy too?
I’ve read the articles over at biologos.org, and I do not see an Apostolic message, I see evolution as being necessary to ones belief in Christ. Otherwise you’re a bumbling ignorant that refused “the tuth.”
It seems the very ministry, if one could call it that, of BioLogos, is to preach Christ darwinized.
Dan, I am only reacting to the evidence biologos is standing in. Where is this outreach organization’s Apostolic message of salvation in none other than the crucified and ressurected man Christ Jesus, The Son of God, the Savior?
I see “compatibility,” with a scientific view, that doesn’t necessarily preclude belief in a Christian prespective, but, which Christian perspective? There ARE many expressions of the New Testament writings MISapplied into heresy and false teachings.
Again, as is shown with the elevation of evolution as a doctrine neccessary for a modern-day belief in Christ, what comes along with that is the ranters and chanters of a “different Gospel,” One that licenses all kinds of abominations and evil. Now, you present yourself as bright, you must at least be able to see that there are words and actions that CONTRADICT the message in the New Testament? Of course you do, you apply a measurement of this to me.
Interesting that you ignore so much in my replies that show I do agree with a tiny bit of your product.
Evolution as creating human man and woman? Yeah, OK. Now move on. Move on to preaching Christ the way His Apostles did. 21st century men and women, boys and girls are being destroyed NOT by anti-evolutionary forces, but good old fashion evil beought to them as liberal civil rights. Evil cloaked often in evolutionary force.
If that doesn’t add up, it is you Evolutionarians that have things wrong. And I assert you do on many things. Not those of us that can accept evolution in its proper place.



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Bruce Sheiman

posted October 17, 2009 at 5:08 pm


Shelly:
I have to say that your suggested “reconciliation” is really no such thing. In every instance you mention, it is a case of evolution being subsumed under a God-created universe, which is not something that an atheist can ever accept. Thus, “theistic evolution” is not a real reconciliation because it assumes that in the “debate” God wins (i.e., the universe is still given a divine origin). This is better than a fundamentalist perspective that repudiates evolution altogether, but it is certainly not a “reconciliation” in the sense that both sides are equally affirmed.
Bruce Sheiman
P.S. For a more nuanced analysis of the religion-science debate, please see Chapter 9 of my new book, “An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off with Religion than without It.”
r



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Richard

posted October 17, 2009 at 5:37 pm


Dear Friends, The conversation with rancor enlightens few. Romans 1:20 expresses that God’s divine nature can be seen in all things made. It seems to me that from this principle one can derive a broad view that encompasses scientific evidence. There is development and progression in the history of both religion and science, with new truths, insights and revelations being persecuted by old truths and having to withstand repeated testing, i.e. Galileo, Jesus Christ. I think that one has to focus on the spirit of lovingkindness and humility rather than thinking oneself to be right. Being right is a hollow victory as one gets older, a victory with little satisfaction. The fixation with “being right” may also be a cultural or groupthink phenomena. Serving in love brings satisfaction to everyone, regardless of their beliefs or convictions. A person must stand against immorality and violence but differences of belief may actually be attempts to describe the same reality from different viewpoints and in the end be superfluous, compared to the great reality of lovingkindness. God sends sunshine and rain on the wicked and the good. God is not a respecter of persons (or denominations or other groups). God will not fit within the box of our preconceptions nor work with only a certain group of people. Sometimes this spirit of freedom, independent of human organizations can only be represented by the glory of mountains, trees, sunsets and fresh waters and air. I suggest a trip to the mountains, grand canyon, the oceans, or a local park. thanks for the forum, belief.net and to all who are kind. –Richard



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Albert the Abstainer

posted October 17, 2009 at 7:41 pm


To Richard:
Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God – Matthew 5:9
Whether you are formally a Quaker, you express their ways very well.
I know enough to know that what I do not know dwarfs my knowledge. The day shines light upon all manner of creature, it reveals and it teaches. The shadows add texture, and create distinction, enabling differentiation, contrast, and tone. Flowers reveal what lays hidden in the seed, which when nurtured by sun and rain, rise out of the old, deep, fecund earth. We exist for a brief span of time, to see, to experience, to learn. It is too short a span to waste in useless tittering. The beauty of today commands my attention. The music of life and death calls me to dance. The ney breathes me, and my emotions sweep me from state to state, in ecstasy and sorrow.
Hear then the song, and dance while you may,
for long the night, and short the day.
Let no imaginings to a prison of the spirit bind,
But with passionate embodiment be open heart and mind.
In the twilight time which soon enough will come,
Have lived a life reflective as moon to sun.
And when the gloaming finally descends,
Remembering beauty in the fellowship of friends.
Do not waste it, death is always but a heartbeat away.



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beaglelady

posted October 17, 2009 at 9:04 pm


Thank you Richard; very well said. The smiters are going to smite us no matter what we say, but we can at least try to stay on topic! And I am still looking forward to reading this book.



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Knockgoats

posted October 18, 2009 at 9:26 am


Bruce Sheiman,
Thanks for plugging your book. The evidence does not support your contention. Among rich countries, the lowest levels of religious belief are found in Scandinavia and Japan. These also have high life expectancy and educational achievement, but low infant mortality, rates of imprisonment, murder, teenage pregnancy, obesity and psychiatric illness. The USA, the most religious rich country, has the opposite. Of course correlation does not imply causation, and a likely underlying causal factor is differences in levels of socio-economic inequality (http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/). Levels of religious belief have declined in western Europe with the development of the welfare state, but far less in the USA with its much weaker welfare provision. The religious right are correct, from a strategic point of view, to oppose universal health care: it would decrease their appeal.



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Jason

posted October 23, 2009 at 9:46 am


More people would believe in “evolution of the species” if your examples were more than Peppered Moths and Fish Scales. Then say “because of these, it is a “simple” expansion to “all other life”. You just show your COMPLETE AND UTTER IGNORANCE of DNA.
Where is all of this “Overwhelming Evidence”?
Will you EVER be able to put out ANY books that show anything REAL? (Besides Smoke and Mirrors?)
(P.S. Stop TRASHING other ideas which you _don’t_truly_investigate_fully. That makes you Jerks and Hippocrites)



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Your Name

posted November 8, 2009 at 10:45 am


Dear Knockgoats:
What you say about Scandinavia and Japan is true. But as you say, correlation is not causation. In the case of comparing the U.S. to Japan and Scandinavia: the former is a multi-diverse nation of 310 million people and the latter are highly, highly homogeneous. The comparison is the proverbial apples and oranges. In Japan, the homogeneity is such that the population is actually declining, so inhospitable to foreigners is Japan. And Scandinavia, depending on how you define the geo-parameters, is small and far-removed from the interactions of true diversity. The trends in these nations are virtually irrelevant.
Bruce



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