Thursday, May 29, 2014

Two Men Whose Lives Exploded Stereotypes About Science and Religion

Christopher M. Rios

On March 9, 2014, the world lost V. Elving Anderson (b. 1921), a geneticist at the University of Minnesota for more than three decades. Six months earlier we lost Oliver R. Barclay (1919-2013), one of the most influential evangelical leaders in Britain of the 20th century. In a century when science and religion too often appeared as antagonistic, these men showed that another path is possible.

V. Elving Anderson
Anderson studied genetic disorders, especially breast cancer and epilepsy, and served as assistant director and then director of the Dwight Institute for Human Genetics. He was also a devout Baptist who dedicated considerable time and energy in service to the church.

Anderson was the co-author of a 1995 book, “On Behalf of God: A Christian Ethic for Biology,” which explored two of the subjects closest to his heart.

“His idea was always that there’s no inherent contradiction between the two,” said his son, Dr. Carl Anderson, a psychiatrist in New York.

Oliver Barclay spent thirty-five years with the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF, formerly Inter-Varsity Fellowship), serving as General Secretary of from 1964 to 1980. Before then he had earned a PhD in zoology from Cambridge University, and in 1944, shortly before finishing his degree, founded a group today called Christians in Science.

Despite professional and geographic distance, these men shared an appreciation for both science and religion, rejecting the claim that affirmation of one meant rejection of the other. Together they helped redefine the evangelical engagement with science.

Oliver R. Barclay

When Anderson and Barclay first turned their attention to questions of science and faith, the outlook for a positive relationship between the two fields seemed bleak. During the opening decades of the century, notable figures in both science and theology sought reconciliation between discoveries about the natural world and traditional Christian doctrines. Soon after World War I these efforts virtually ceased and were overshadowed by the antievolutionary crusades of the 1920s. From the 1930s to the 1950s, while most trained scientists and theologians were ignoring each other, antievolutionism was incubated in America’s fundamentalist subculture, and by the 1960s began reemerging as “modern creationism.”

During the last third of the century, public figures such as Henry Morris and Ken Ham and groups such as the Creation Research Society and Answers in Genesis helped antievolutionary creationism become a movement within conservative Christianity and America culture more broadly. By the 1980s, church leaders, educational administrators, and local and national politicians were often heard questioning the validity of mainstream science. As a result, the assumption of many was that Christianity entailed a rejection of ideas fundamental to modern science, especially regarding evolution and the age of the universe.

Read it all here.

Both of these prominent scientists were members of the American Scientific Affiliation. If you are a Christian in STEM, consider joining ASA. The link to the website is here. Women who join are also added as members of Christian Women in Science (CWIS).

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Talking Science and the Bible with Prisoners

Multiple security doors separate prisoners from the outside world.

"I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."--Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:37)

Alice C. Linsley

There are 14 women in the Saturday afternoon Bible study at the local prison. This isn’t a Bible study in the traditional sense. Only a few even bring a Bible. Instead we discuss what the Bible has to say about life issues. The women want to talk about anger, forgiveness, addiction, abuse, and guilt. They also want to hear about salvation, healing, God’s provision and the gift of eternal life.

As a Biblical Anthropologist, I tend to be scholarly in my approach to the Biblical text. Maybe that is why God opened this prison ministry to me. It brings me balance. The women in prison want something to carry them through the week; something to remind them that God cares about them and can be trusted.

We keep it basic. We keep it real. They share their experiences of God’s presence in tragic circumstances and in emergency rooms where they were taken when they overdosed on drugs. They understand that the Bible is not the only way that God communicates. Many have never read the Bible and some have had bad experiences in churches. We are learning to hear God’s voice in non-Biblical terms, but always in terms consistent with Biblical revelation and doctrine.

None of the women has ever asked about Darwin or the age of the Earth. None has asked about the extent of Noah’s flood and the geological record. These issues don’t seem to matter. Their need for God is basic to being human. They want to know why God seems to delay answering their prayers. They want to hear about something good and hopeful in the midst of their suffering. Why didn’t God stop my father from abusing me? Why couldn’t I say goodbye to my mother before she died? Where was God when my boyfriend attacked me? Can I trust God to take care of me when I get out of prison?

Sometimes I share a tidbit from science. Once it was about how Nineveh was discovered and found to be as great a city as described in the book of Jonah. Another time I shared how analysis of the Biblical kinship records show that Jesus was a descendant of Ruth, a near-homeless woman who loved her aging mother-in-law so much she stayed by her side. The African American women are interested in knowing about Abraham’s Kushite ancestors. A few have asked whether or not God made some people homosexual.

Each time I go to the prison I learn about the Bible from these women and I realize that the big debates that take place in scientific circles really are not big in the grander scope of things. For a person serving time, billions of years or 10,000 years are far less important that the number of days they have left to serve their prison term. Whether God created in six 24-hour days or through a long gradual process of evolution means little to someone yearning for God to create in them a new and contrite heart.

Please pray for this prison ministry which meets on the third Saturday of each month.