By JONATHAN BALMER
Georgetown College students gathered in John L. Hill Chapel last Wednesday evening for the “Creation of Atom,” a panel discussion on the relationship of science and religion. The panelists included Dr. Jonathan Sands-Wise (philosophy), Dr. Terry Clark (religion), Dr. Homer White (mathematics) and Dr. Tracy Livingston (biology).
Dr. Jonathan Sands-Wise began the discussion, joking, “They made the mistake of inviting a philosopher” and said that, as a philosopher, he believed knowing the relationship of science and religion really depends on the definition of science and our definition of religion. Sands-Wise framed the discussion by introducing four relationship models: science and religion in conflict (citing logical positivists like Dawkins and biblical literalists), in independence from one another (including neo-Orthodox like Barth or Existentialists), in complementarity dialogue (Reformed or Kuyperian thinkers) and as intellectual explorations which ought to be integrated (Natural theology or Systematic synthesis).
After his breakneck introduction to these four different schools of thought, Dr. Sands-Wise left due to familial obligations.
The remaining faculty members also answered student questions texted in during the event. Each faculty member stated they did not know where, exactly, they fit in the paradigms provided by Sands-Wise. However, Dr. White specifically questioned that Science assumes a Judeo-Christian Worldview (a claim by the “Complementarity” model) calling it “self-serving” and claiming it ignored the great religious diversity of the world—many of which share some common assumptions.
While the faculty comments claimed no specific camp, many student questions centered around contradiction between biblical interpretation and modern scientific knowledge. Many questions sounded similar to what Sands-Wise described as part of the “Conflict” paradigm of science and religion.
Particularly, when asked about how one reconciles Humanity being created “apart” from the rest of creation while Evolutionary thought suggested a more continuous relationship, Dr. White suggested that the Genesis story also provides a cause for human humility as humans were created last in the Judeo-Christian creation story. Dr. Clark spoke personally of his own journey from “being indoctrinated with certain expectations of these scriptural texts” to taking a more anthropological approach and “advocating [the] scientific method in both fields [science and religion],” asking “are we just dealing with a different world view [in Genesis 1]?” Dr. Livingston spoke more personally, seeing the Genesis creation story as having more to say about the spiritual status of humanity than a literal physical difference.
Another student question concerned the good religion can do and its specific role. All three panelists pointed to a sense of wonder or rapture. Dr. Livingston pointed to the embryo as an object of religious-influenced awe which is heightened, not lessened, when it is naturally explicable. Dr. Clark posited his belief that the purpose of religion is to “make sense of reality” and could also act as a humbling force.
After several questions, the panel came to a close with Dr. Livingston quickly answering a question of where DNA came from from a student whom had difficulty understanding how the process worked scientifically and the hour-and-fifteen minute discussion on the leviathan topic ended.
The STEM fellows sponsored the CEP/NEXUS event to educate and open discussions related to science on campus.