Reconciling the Conflicts between Science and Religion
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?