I'm a member of an organization called the Planetary Society. If you haven't heard of us, we are a group of nerds who are deeply passionate about space exploration. We believe so deeply in the exploration of other worlds that we pay annual dues and organize fundraisers to pick up the slack left by governmental and commercial space programs. In addition to expansive efforts toward public education, we fund experimental approaches to space exploration and engineering. Spacecraft propelled by solar wind, or little robots that can move asteroids with laser beams are a couple of examples. Our CEO is Bill Nye. You may know him as "The Science Guy" from children's television.
Lately, Bill has been in the news cycle because of a video he made about creationism. In this video, Bill argues that the religions that teach stories of creation that oppose a contemporary scientific understanding are dangerous to public education.
This puts me in an awkward position. I'm not only a card-carrying member of the Planetary Society, but a devoted follower of Jesus as well. I'm a guy who spends Saturday night standing in a field with fellow astronomers gazing at distant objects, who then also spends Sunday morning in church worshipping the one who created those objects. I have found that my science friends tend to be skeptical toward religion, and my religious friends tend to be skeptical of science. Bill Nye's press appearances have highlighted this tension.
The vast majority of scientists, Bill Nye included, assert that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old. They assert that the earth is several billion years old, and that life appeared here by a process called evolution. They say we are made from the dust of exploded stars, and that our lineage can be traced back through less macro-complex organisms, primarily via the fossil record.
Most Christians believe the universe was created in six days, and that a careful examination of Biblical lineages tell you that Adam and Eve were around between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. That's a pretty big spread.
This tension is a big problem. Somehow, we Christians have allowed ourselves to become the anti-fact people. Church history has favored a literal interpretation of most of scripture for quite a long time, and this has repeatedly put the church in opposition to the advancing frontier of empirical knowledge that comes from applying the scientific method. This has not gone well for us. When science said the Earth was round, the church held that it was flat. When science asserted that the Earth orbited the sun, the church found it blasphemous.
We, as in our species, have more evidence for the Big Bang and the age of the universe than we do for gravity. The WMAP probe offers us a microwave photo of the universe, as it existed when it first emitted light about 13.67 billion years ago. We have a picture of the early universe. The same holds for the Theory of Evolution. Radiometric dating helps us place fossils on a timeline. Older fossils are more and more primitive, and mankind arrived very late. There were no people in the time of the dinosaurs, just as there are no dinosaurs in the very early fossil record. We're at a point where there isn't much room left for a reasonable debate about the Big Bang or evolution. Science has learned more on these topics in the last 30 years than in all of human history.
Science is not infallible, and it does not claim to be. But the scientific method is the best tool humans have to gather insight into the physical world. It's the most effective way to work around all our flawed senses, fractured mental processing, and cognitive biases. Science says, "let us check the data" and when there is too little it says, "let us experiment and observe the results." From this we have modern medicine, engineering, and communications. Science gives us vaccines, cars, spaceships, cell phones, and the Internet.
If science is an organized pursuit of fact, why do we as the church so often oppose it? Aren't we here to study and proclaim God's truth? Shouldn't we be the most passionate learners of all? Shouldn't we be the most interested in the truly wonderful works of His hands? Christ exhorts us to feed the hungry, and science shows us a way to feed the entire world via modern agriculture and logistics. Jesus tells us about the destructive power of lust, and neuroscience lends to us an incredible understanding of how pornography rewires our brains and bypasses our will.
I believe absolute Biblical literalism is an idol, and a dangerous one. It's dangerous that we live in an era of unprecedented access to information. As more of the evidence for the Big Bang and evolution can be directly examined by more people, a six-day creation story becomes much less compelling. As we trench in more and more, we ask people to choose between scientific fact and the life-changing story of Jesus. Is it any wonder that most of them choose fact? We create a false dichotomy, and in doing so we drive people away from the person of Jesus Christ.
Neurology has a great deal to tell us about how people experience God, and what sin really does to our minds. Astrophysics provides beautiful insight into what "Let there be light" means. Perhaps most profound of all is what evolutionary biology can tell us about Genesis 2.
So, may we become students of science as we are disciples of Christ, and may we stop asking people to choose between Truth and God.
Mike McHargue is the CTO at the/zimmerman/agency and a member of the Planetary Society.
Photo: Universe, ©