Believing Scripture but Playing by Science’s Rules

Religion / Science

One of our parishioners at the Cathedral here in Phoenix pointed out this article to me this afternoon (Thanks Michael):

Link: Believing Scripture but Playing by Science’s Rules – New York Times.

[Marcus Ross’] subject was the abundance and spread of mosasaurs, marine reptiles that, as he wrote, vanished at the end of the Cretaceous era about 65 million years ago. The work is “impeccable,” said David E. Fastovsky, a paleontologist and professor of geosciences at the university who was Dr. Ross’s dissertation adviser. “He was working within a strictly scientific framework, a conventional scientific framework.”

But Dr. Ross is hardly a conventional paleontologist. He is a “young earth creationist” — he believes that the Bible is a literally true account of the creation of the universe, and that the earth is at most 10,000 years old.

For him, Dr. Ross said, 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.”

He likened his situation to that of a socialist studying economics in a department with a supply-side bent. “People hold all sorts of opinions different from the department in which they graduate,” he said. “What’s that to anybody else?”

I resonate with what soon to be Dr. Ross is saying here. I used to try to do the same thing… keeping my science mind and religious mind separate. It worked okay for years, though it was a little schizophrenic

But I kept remembering a conversation I’d had over toast and coffee following with the morning Eucharist at Yale Divinity School with Rowan Greer, one of my professors. Rowan asked me about what it was like making the transition from one discipline to the other. I confidently told him that since the two used different epistemologies, I just kept them separate in my intellectual life. I used the appropriate tools for the appropriate subject.

He looked at me and said something to the effect of “One day perhaps you’ll have found a way to integrate both in your own life. When you do that, you’ll have something to tell the rest of us. I hope that comes soon.”

I never forgot him saying that. But the day didn’t come soon. It has come gradually over the past eight years or so while I taught physics and astronomy at Lehigh and served full time as a priest. I’ve written in other places about what it came to feel like as I integrated the two.

I’ve not yet written out how I’ve managed to integrate the two – mostly because I’m still in the process of figuring out how it’s happened. But it has happened. I’m learning to use the rigorous intellectual pursuit of science and it’s insistence that statements be testable and falsifiable and applied the same ideas to any theological statements I read. If a theology doesn’t make concrete connection with reality in people’s lives, it isn’t really worth following through with it.

But that’s really for another post at another time. In the meantime, I’m late with my Lenten reflection for the Cathedral’s Lenten prayer calendar…

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

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