Science and faith discussion evolving to a place of harmony

Can faith, scientific progress coexist? They can

Published: Friday, Sept. 30 2011 6:00 p.m. MDT

PROVO — As a young boy, Dixon Woodbury remembers catching giant bugs in the Seattle woods with his friends, eagerly bringing them home so his mother could tell him what they were, what they ate and what ate them. Growing up with an entomologist mother and a physiologist father, Woodbury peppered them with questions at the dinner table, always curious about the world around him.

When the topic of evolution came up, Woodbury remembers his father scratching his head then saying, "I believe that is how God did it."

"It made a lot of sense to me and I never really needed to ask again," said Woodbury who now teaches physiology and developmental biology at Brigham Young University. "I didn't understand the details of it, but that idea fit right into other things I was learning at church and school."

Over the years, Woodbury's beliefs in religion and science have remained harmonious, helping to break the stereotype that scientists are hardened atheists or anti-religion advocates.

In fact, researchers at Rice University and Baylor recently released a study that showed 85 percent of the 275 scientists they interviewed believe that science and religion never or only occasionally conflict, and that spirituality is personally important to them.

"They cover different things," Woodbury said of faith and science. "I have no trouble believing in a God, a benevolent being who takes care of us ... and expects us to learn what in the world he's doing here and how the Earth works. He's given us senses to do that."

The warfare mentality

Centuries ago, men sucha as Johannes Kepler, Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton studied the movement of the planets, geometry and laws of motion as natural philosophers — what we would now call scientists, said Charles Carrigan, a geology professor at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois.

"Science was, and still is, a branch of philosophy that focuses on what can be learned from the study of the natural world," said Carrigan, who is also the president of the Affiliation of Christian Geologists.

For these natural philosophers, studying nature was one way to understand God, and studying scripture was the other way. Both were important for different reasons, and the two were compatible because they were both created by God.

Yet, two books published in the late 1800s — the "History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science," and "History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom" — were instrumental in pushing the idea that the Bible and biology could never be compatible.

People began to take sides, and today, far too many scientists, politicians and average Americans wield their position like a battle ax.

"If there is a war between science and religion, it's gone on long enough and for what purpose?" asked religious scholar and BYU law professor John Welch during a recent lecture discussing faith and science.

"The purpose of this certainly cannot be to annihilate the opponent. They both have need of the other," Welch said.

Yet for some, that symbiosis is unsettling, even threatening to their way of thinking.

During a recent Republican primary debate, presidential hopeful Texas Gov. Rick Perry expressed skepticism for manmade climate change — "the science is not settled on this" — and for evolution, calling it a "theory out there."

Anti-science comments from conservative, religious individuals such as Perry do little to help heal the perceived rift or win support, pointed out Jon M. Huntsman Jr., who is also running for president.

"In order for the Republican Party to win," he told his fellow candidates, "we can't run from science."

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