Having explored some of the ways we deal with conflicts between faith and science, or between doctrine and personal beliefs, let’s turn now to some of my favorite “conflict” questions. I’m interested to see what you have to say.
A few months ago, my graduate school advisor was in town and we had dinner together. He is a paleontologist, highly intelligent and highly enthusiastic. He reads widely and voraciously, and one of his favorite topics is Darwin and the history of evolutionary thought. His research and professional writings deal with evolutionary biology as a science, but he is also personally interested in how people engage with the implications of evolutionary theory in their real lives. In particular, he is interested in how people reconcile belief in God, and current scientific thinking about the origin of the universe and of life (or, alternatively, how they can’t reconcile the two and instead choose one to the exclusion of the other). During our dinner, we began talking about how students (and others) inevitably bring up the question of how scientists, particularly evolutionary biologists, can maintain a belief in God. Without getting into the specific arguments, suffice it to say that there are contradictions between the current interpretations of LDS doctrine about the creation and the current interpretations of evolutionary biologists about the origin of the earth and Homo sapiens. It is easy enough to cover most of the questions that students pose by simply stating that a liberal interpretation of scripture, combined with the many unknowns in science, leaves plenty of room for a peaceful co-existence. And this answer is truthful, but ultimately unsatisfying.
Getting back to dinner with my advisor, I ended up telling him that frankly I am lazy when it comes to generating more satisfying answers. Here are some of his questions, paraphrased and with a dose of my own musings thrown in.
Given the scientific explanations of how the world operates (which you are clearly convinced of), why do you believe in God?
What evidence do you have that causes you to believe in God?
How do you conceive of God in relation to scientific explanations of how the world works? Did he just set everything in motion and then let it go according to natural laws? Can he intervene in contradiction to natural laws?
And particularly interesting: When you pray for something and God answers, can he somehow intervene and change what would have happened if you hadn’t prayed? And if so, does this invalidate a materialistic explanation of the events that unfold?
Parenthetically, my former advisor doesn’t believe in God. (It took me several years to find this out about him, although the topic came up frequently. I think he was thinking it over himself for quite a long time.) Many other scientists are atheistic. But there are quite a few, including many well-respected evolutionary biologists, who do believe in God. My colleague told me some of their responses to the questions above. Some were general answers and some were really detailed, but the bottom line of the conversation was this: If you are a scientist and a believer, then it is incumbent upon you to devote considerable thought to answering these questions. I would add that whether or not you are a believer, every scientist needs to come up with their honest opinions on the subject and some solid reasoning to back them up. I would also add that this applies to everyone, not just scientists. We all live in a world and a society that tends very strongly toward rational, materialistic explanations of our observations. All of us subscribe to at least most of the scientific explanations for the realities of the physical world, and at the same time, all of us (at least most of us reading this blog) also subscribe to a belief in God that at least occasionally presents us with contradictions of the scientific explanations. So for all of us, some kind of reconciliation is necessary. So, what kinds of answers have you come up with to these or similar questions?