Hi, I’m Kris. Rusty and I have been in the same ward for over four years and since he found out that I’m a regular lurker/non-commenter on his blog he’s been asking me to write something for it (it’s only been a couple years, did I cave too soon?). By way of background I’m from upstate New York and have been a member of the church all my life. I’m a scientist, and I study evolution in ammonites, which were similar to squid but with a much more interesting design sense. When I’m not doing research, I teach biology to students who are mostly planning to be wealthy doctors, provided they can pass remedial math. I love my job and I love living in Brooklyn.
Part I (I will post Part II tomorrow and Part III on Friday)
I’m a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist. I love my research and am also fascinated by the different ways people understand and reconcile their religious beliefs with established scientific theories. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on that process of reconciliation. Don’t worry, this is (hopefully) not going to be the same old re-hashing of how the creation story is compatible with evolutionary theory if you understand Hebrew allegory properly.
It was musing on the possibilities of scientific and religious reconciliation that first got me interested in evolutionary biology. When I was in 4th or 5th grade, I remember standing in the library at my elementary school and suddenly realizing that there was a conflict between the story I had learned about the biblical creation, and the information I had learned about the existence of dinosaurs. If the creation had only taken one week, then how could the dinosaurs have lived and died so many millions of years ago? Now, I was only 9 or 10 years old, so I hadn’t yet heard any of the arguments and alternative interpretations that people use to explain the apparent contradictions in these two narratives. At that age, I didn’t have a nuanced view of the issue, but I understood intuitively (and immediately) that an explanation must exist that would allow me to reconcile the religious view with the scientific view, and I felt sure that this explanation, whatever it was, would require me to sacrifice neither rationality nor faith.
I still feel that way, but the question at hand is, have I found that explanation? Let me emphasize at the outset, this post is not meant to deal explicitly with explanations of how science and religion can be reconciled (see post #2 for some of that). It is more about how we deal with the specific questions that bother each of us as we attempt to strengthen our faith in the face of challenges. For example, for me, one of those challenges is explaining how a doctrine such as the Fall fits in with what we know about physiology, developmental biology, and human evolution. Another recent example of such a challenge came a year or so ago when church members were asked to write to their senators about a proposed amendment to the US Constitution, defining marriage as a an institution between one man and one woman. Everyone has their own questions—yours may be the same or different from mine—but I think everyone at one time or another comes up against issues where the doctrines or the leaders of the church are saying something that seems to run contrary to what science, trusted experts, or the inclination of our own hearts tells us is right or true.
The question I want to pose here is, what do we do about those challenges? And whatever we choose to do, what is our motivation for that particular choice?