Reconciling the Conflicts between Science and Religion

[ 14 ] Comments

by Emily

(CC) Lachlan Hardy

I grew up with a father who loved science, religion, and history.  Believe me, the home office was (and still is) covered from wall to wall with books on the topics.  Was my dad a scientist or a historian?  No, not officially.  He was a bank examiner for the state, but he filled lots of his spare time with the study that he loved.

When I was a teenager, he used our oversized dot matrix printer to make a very large Bible chronology chart that included names, dates, and major events like Noah’s Flood.  Sometimes Biblical history lined up with secular history, and sometimes it didn’t.  This bothered my father very much, as it challenged his testimony because he takes the scriptures generally quite literally.  He wanted to learn the truth, or at least come closer to it.

My dad delved into the study of less common scientific theories to see if he could find ideas that  better fit with descriptions in the Bible, and sometimes he found them!  He saved his findings, created an informative community education class, and then wrote a book:  Science and Religion:  Reconciling the Conflicts, by David Barker, which will be published sometime in 2013.  In it, he shares weaknesses of some popular theories as well as some alternative theories that happen to fit better with teachings in the scriptures.

During the formation of this blog, a few people expressed interest in addressing the topic of science and religion, and I knew my dad would love to share his thoughts.  I sent him a few questions about his experiences and his book to share with our readers.

***

1.  How can better understanding scientific theory help a person reconcile the conflicts between science and religion?   When we realize that much of what is labeled “science,” or “scientific,” although based on fact, is inference, theory, surmise, and best-guess, we can be comforted when we know that these findings are not necessarily proven. There may be weaknesses in the theories, which is why they don’t line up. When scientific pronouncements are made contradicting our understanding of the scriptures, for some of us, it is very helpful to know why. I like my faith to be consistent with truth gleaned from any source. For now, our knowledge is limited, and some answers just aren’t yet within reach. I am relieved to know that someday it will all be sorted out:  “Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things— Things which have passed and hidden things which no man knew, thing of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof— Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven” (D&C 101:32-34).

2. Inconsistencies between the Bible, science, and history don’t bother everyone.  What would you say to them? Great! They must have unshakable faith, and information contrary to their faith is simply dismissed. Should it bother them? I can’t say what should or shouldn’t bother people. I just know that it really annoys me to read, hear, and see scientific and historical presentations that totally disregard what is taught in the scriptures–often in directly contradiction–and some even ridicule belief in the scriptures.

3.  What are some of the topics you discuss in your book? Noah’s Flood is one.  The scriptures give no hint that the story of Noah and the ark was anything other than an account of real events. Yet, geologists generally ignore it. Histories written in modern times don’t mention it, and I think I’ve found out why, which I share in summary form in my book. I also cover tree-ring dating, Carbon 14 dating, and more briefly, other scientific dating techniques–like geological dating of rocks. Why do you discuss dating techniques? Because so many of the date estimates they produce are in direct opposition to the chronologies derived from the scriptures, and I want people to be aware of dating weaknesses.

4.  Briefly describe the uses and faults of radiocarbon dating. Carbon 14 (C14) dating is used to try to estimate the dates of once-living things, to help scientists and historians piece together a view of the past. It seems like everybody who has taken a science class in the past 30 years or so has learned about half-lives and radioactive decay. They are taught that the age of a specimen can be calculated using the difference between its current C14 content and what it had when it died. What is less understood is the fact that estimating the original content is an assumption (that what is seen now is what was seen when the thing died). The current content can be measured, but not with exact precision. The decay rate of C14 is often thought to be an unchanging, spontaneous certainty. A number of scientists are now starting to question whether this is really true. Some experiments have recently shown that certain physical conditions can affect that “spontaneous” decay rate. Another challenge for scientists is in trying to determine if any other factors have affected a specimen’s C14 content since it died.

5.  What is your hope in sharing your book? I am very tired of hearing of people who claim to have lost their faith in God because of the conflicts. I like to share information which opens people’s minds to alternatives to popular theories and conclusions so common in science that conflict with religion.

***

Whether or not you agree with my dad and his findings, I think he is a good example of one who seeks for truth with real intent.  Rather than falling away from the gospel when he had questions, he used his questions as a stepping stone which propelled him to find answers that strengthened his faith.

3/24/13 Update:  The book, Science & Religion: Reconciling the Conflicts is now available for pre-order, if you’re interested.

 

  • What questions do you have about science and religion?  How have you been able to resolve them?  

About Emily

I'm a busy mom of 4 living in Utah and have been married for 14 years. I went to Ricks & BYU and have a BS in Health Science and minors in History and International Development. I did my student teaching in Western Samoa. If I ever have time, I enjoy blogging and sewing (especially re-enactment sewing), but usually I'm just trying to make time to exercise and clean the house. I hope to someday remodel and get more into historical research.

14 Responses to Reconciling the Conflicts between Science and Religion

  1. Jennifer Thomas says:

    I am also a scientist and when science doesn’t line up with my faith, I assume the science is wrong or I don’t have a full enough understanding of how Heavenly Father accomplished things. It’s never made me question my faith though.

  2. Lisa says:

    When things don’t line up I always assume man is wrong. Man is fallible. Heavenly Father accomplished things in his time frame and his measure of time. I can never even being to understand that but still believe. That is why faith is so important.

  3. Great post. I too find great comfort in the words of our scriptures knowing that someday God will reveal all things. It makes me so excited to think about all that we will know in the next life.

    Your Dad is a great example of seeking truth. Instead of complaining or doubting he did what we all should do…seek truth, ask God and study. I love that.

  4. Paul says:

    Lovely post, Emily. And thanks to your dad for participating in the discussion. I agree, he does represent a way people can search with real intent to understand and reconcile apparently disparate points of view.

    Of course, there are other approaches that others use, and each approach comes with its limitations.

    Your dad, for instance, seems to take the biblical timeline literally. Another approach is to accept the bibilical timeline as a figurative framework (and the Pearl of Great Price in which a day of the Lord is defined as 1,000 years — similarly in 2 Peter and in Psalms — suggests that approach might also be acceptable). We have other sources that refer to periods of creation, rather than days.

    I don’t mean to argue the validity of your dad’s or my interpretation, but to suggest that searching with real intent may allow for both (or perhaps some middle ground). It may, in fact, not require that a person who does so has greater faith, but that he may not see quite the same conflict as one with a more literal approach might see.

    In any case, I am reluctant to define clear conflicts because in the first place I am not a scientist (I could not begin to explain Carbon dating, let alone critique it), and I do not know all there is to know about the gospel.

    When I see what I perceive to be a paradox or a conflict, I note it and move on.

    In the end, my faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ, not in the creation story or the flood or in Jonah and the great fish. My faith is linked closely to priesthood ordinances through which the power of godliness is made manifest unto men and women and to the restoration that makes those ordinances possible.

    At the same time, I am thrilled by scientific discovery; I benefit from it every day in my life, and I’m grateful for those who excel in those disciplines and can harness the organizing principles of science to allow us to make medical and technological and agricultural and other advances in our world today.

  5. Hedgehog says:

    This: “I like my faith to be consistent with truth gleaned from any source.”

    I’m science educated, and now sahm. At the moment I’m finding scripture study so frustrating because I feel a real deep-down need to see it in context with everything else happening in the world at the times of the events described. How it all fits together, and the OT is very difficult for that. I’d love to see his chronology.

    I don’t see science and religion (or history either) as being in conflict, just that we don’t have enough information to put the whole picture of truth together.

  6. Tiffany W. says:

    Love this! My husband is a physicist and finds that studying the workings of the universe only serves to strengthen his testimony in God. I think that it is very possible to find peace and correlation between religion and science.

  7. I would also love to see his book, especially his answer for the flood. I admit I am skeptical that he can answer religious/scientific questions that thousands and thousands of educated Christian scientists haven’t been able to satisfactorily answer.

    • David Barker says:

      To each of you who have commented on my daughter Emily’s post, thanks. I have enjoyed reading them. Emily said i could go ahead and respond (though I’ve never done any blogging before, so I hope I’m not out of order.) Some specific comments on your comments:

      Paul, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I feel, like you seem to, that the days of creation were not just 24-hour periods like some literalists teach, but I do take a rather literal approach to the scriptures. I like what you said about the 1000-year “days” or creation periods, but who knows? In addition to the scriptures you mentioned, I like to remember Gen 1:14-29 that indicates that, although in the beginning He said “Let there be Light,” it wasn’t until the 4th day of creation that He said: “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night: and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and for years….
      And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night….” (Gen 1:14-29) So, what was the source of light before the 4th day? I want to know, and I want it now (just kidding-I’m willing to wait until the Lord reveals the details).
      I’ll share a bit of what I’ve written in the LDS version of my book (I haven’t yet secured a publisher for that version, just trying to get the general Christian version ready):
      The Book of Abraham provides another important clue. Speaking of the “days” of creation: “Now I, Abraham, saw that it was after the Lord’s time, which was after the time of Kolob; for as yet the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning” (Abraham 5:13). This scripture seems to clearly indicate that the units of time as now known on Earth were not given until after Adam had been placed in the Garden of Eden.
      What is time to the Lord anyway? Whatever turns out to be the reality, for now, it appears that the “days” of creation were not the same twenty-four hour periods so precisely measured with modern technology, but they might very well have been at least a thousand years long.
      What is time? It seems to move forward at a continuous rate, indeed, time is as natural to mortals as breathing. It is taken for granted and assumed to be a uniform process. Yet, certain scriptures suggest there is more to it. “All things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord” (D&C 130:7).
      “And all things are present with me, for I know them all” (Moses 1:6). Speaking of the end time: “The Lord hath redeemed his people; And Satan is bound and time is no longer” (D&C 84:100). How can these things be? It seems these references are far beyond mortals’ ability to comprehend. In this case, it will likely not be understood until it is experienced. Yet, even in scientific circles, unusual ideas about time are being contemplated. The title to a recent article is revealing: “Could Time End? Yes, and No: For time to end seems both impossible and inevitable.”
      I enjoyed, your comments, thanks for sharing them.

      Hedgehog (I hope it isn’t inappropriate to use your blogger name in a case like this?).
      I wholeheartedly endorse your comment “I like my faith to be consistent with truth gleaned from any source.” Don’t give up on the scriptures, it is frustrating as you get into things, and even after much study, there are still some parts that leave me “lost in the wilderness.” But, the more you learn, the more it comes together. If you are interested in OT chronology, the book that really got me interested in the subject and a foundation on which to build was Cleon Skousen’s old book The First 2,000 Years. (It can be found at many used book stores). Some people are critical of Skousen, but I found his writing very interesting.

      Samuel
      You expressed an interest on my views on Noah’s Flood. I think if I tried to give you a quick response–right to the punch-line–it wouldn’t make a lot of sense. As one who has reviewed my book mentioned, in order to really understand the Flood chapter, one needs to read the chapters leading up to it and even chapters afterwards. Let me share this from my book:
      Years ago, I asked an acquaintance who was completing his PhD in geology if he had seen any geological evidence for Noah’s Flood. He answered that he had not. And added that geologists don’t see a “flood layer” like they do the iridium layer all over the world. Since then, after much study and reflection, I have come to the conclusion that if the descriptions of the Flood in the scriptures and related sources are reasonably accurate, geologists have been ignoring what is right before their eyes. No surface feature on Earth would have escaped significant alteration, and in many places the changes would have been extreme! There would be no “flood layer,” but there would be many diverse strata and features providing clues.
      I appreciate your being skeptical that I can answer religious/scientific questions that thousands and thousands of educated Christian scientists haven’t been able to satisfactorily answer. I don’t claim to be able to do so. But, I’ve found some very interesting theories and concepts that seem good to me, and are much more consistent with the scriptures that many of the more popular theories. Many of those who have read my manuscript or attended my community education classes have commented that what I shared opened up some new possibilities to their minds. I repeat the thought that we don’t have all the answers and won’t until the Lord comes and reveals all things. In the meantime, I enjoy learning and searching and sharing.

      • Ray says:

        “In the meantime, I enjoy learning and searching and sharing.”

        This, exactly.

      • David Barker says:

        Since I posted the my reply above, I’ve put some details on my website (www.davidmckaybarker.com). Hedgehog had said she’d like to see my chronology. I have a rough version of it in the Ancient History section of my site. Also the section from my book on Tree-ring Dating (the bulk of chapter 4).

  8. Emily says:

    I was just looking over my dad’s site and thought I’d post the direct link to the chronologies he made: http://davidmckaybarker.com/ancient-history/

  9. Alan says:

    When I started reading this post I thought “hey, that sounds like my Dad.”

    Looks like it was my Dad, as Emily is my sister. Now obviously I have a different perspective from most people because I grew up with an awareness of biblical/scientific theories that most never hear.

    My personal opinion, especially after reading the book, is that much of the science taught in schools has become the “religion” of the secular world. The theories used for evolution, geology, and dating are built on a very sandy foundation, yet in schools they are taught as almost fact.

    The world clings to these scientific theories because it provides a way to explain things without God. If there is not God, there is now sin and no consequence of sin. Much of “science” is merely a way to deny the existence of God.

  10. Emily says:

    FYI: The book, Science & Religion: Reconciling the Conflicts is now available for pre-order, if you’re interested (even at a discount!). http://davidmckaybarker.com/science-and-religion/science-and-religion-reconciling-the-conflicts/order-the-book/

  11. David Barker says:

    Yay! I finally received the first shipment of books (after delays due to proof-corrections, and index generation), so they are available now, though they won’t be available to order thru bookstores until 10/22/13 (the official release date). If anyone wants a copy they can go to my publisher’s website (http://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=978-1-62510-379-6) and purchase it at the retail price ($29.99), or you can go to my website and order it at a 25% discount ($22.50) (http://davidmckaybarker.com/2013/07/science-and-religion-reconciling-the-conflict/).

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