This week I had the distinct pleasure to attend the annual three day conference of Biologos. If you're not familiar with Biologos, I encourage you to take a closer look. On its website, it describes itself as "invit[ing] the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God's creation." Biologos was founded about ten years ago by the eminent scientist Francis Collins. Collins is currently the head of the National Institutes of Health, but is probably best known as the head of the Human Genome Project, which sequenced the entire human genome. He was appointed to head the NIH by Barack Obama, and has been asked to continue to head the NIH, at least for now, by Donald Trump. The organization literally began as a website dedicated to the "science versus faith" issue, but has since grown into a funded organization, currently headquartered in Grand Rapids, MI, and a worldwide following.
While the mission of Biologos is multi-faceted, I believe its most fundamental one is to overturn the commonly held notion that there is some type of a religion versus science tradeoff and, more particularly, that there is some type of a tradeoff between the Christian Bible and science. It's clear that certain groups want to promote in the public consciousness the notion that there is such dichotomy. At one extreme, a small group of atheist scientist writers, most notably Richard Dawkins, evangelize the idea that if one believes in modern science, one can't possibly believe the Bible. While coming from the entirely opposite end of the spectrum, certain evangelical Christians seem to promote the very same idea: if you believe the Christian Bible, you can't possibly accept the conclusions of modern science concerning evolution and the Big Bang Theory. While many Christians, particularly evangelical ones, subscribe to this idea, perhaps the best known proponent is a group called Answers in Genesis. This group emphasizes a literal interpretation of the Bible: that the Earth is no more than about 6,000 years old, and that the story of the Garden of Eden, recounted in Genesis 2 – 3, happened exactly as reported.
In contrast, Biologos emphasizes the idea that the Christian Bible is not, and never has been, a science textbook, so it should never be used to draw scientific conclusions. While some might think this is a new idea, it clearly isn't. In fact, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and even St. Augustine all believed that one should never try to read the Bible as some sort of science textbook. From that starting point, the organization promotes a concept called evolutionary creationism. This is the idea that one can accept the very same findings of modern science to which people like Richard Dawkins subscribe, but that behind all of that one will find the same loving God portrayed in the Christian Bible. Once one stops thinking of the Bible as some type of science textbook, it becomes very easy to embrace modern science as well as the Christian message of a loving God who is ultimately in control.
Biologos has attracted both very serious scientists and very well known theologians. For example, Deborah Haarsma, the current president of the organization, has a PhD in Astronomy from MIT. Her husband has a PhD in Physics from Harvard. Collins, of course, has impeccable scientific credentials. Among theological scholars associated with the organization is Nicholas T. Wright, a British New Testament scholar and author, as well as John Walton, an Old Testament scholar from Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. In short, there is clear intellectual "heft" behind the organization, both in science and theology; but equally, there is fervor to embrace the Bible and the love of God.
While there were many interesting presentations at the three day conference, let me point out two in particular. First, Francis Collins gave a keynote address to the gathering. As part of his presentation, he noted three things that are of particular concern to him:
#1: the perception by many that science and faith are incompatible (he definitely disagrees with the perception);
#2: the observation that Christian scientists so often feel they must hide their views about faith while at work; and then feeling the need to hide their work when they go to church;
#3: many new scientific developments bring tremendous promise, but equally they bring ethical challenges; and the Christian church needs to be a participant when these ethical issues are discussed, but won't be so long as the "faith versus science" debate continues to rage.
The second very interesting presentation to note was one given by Elaine Ecklund, a sociologist at Rice University in Houston (and my alma mater). Ecklund specializes her research on the subject of attitudes about religion and science, especially as they relate to how Christians and scientists interact. She has published a number of books and papers on the subject. Ecklund reported that about 36% of evangelical Christians believe that science is hostile to religion. Her conclusion is that evangelicals as a whole don't seem to have problem with science, and aren't hostile to science, just that they perceive scientists to be hostile to Christianity.
Quite a number of those in attendance echoed the point made by both Collins and Ecklund, that too many Christian scientists feel they must hide their faith at work, and hide their work in their place of worship, for fear of a very hostile reaction. One other speaker, a biologist, gave a particularly moving testimony about her personal experience with this "need to hide", both at work and at church.
I look forward to attending next year's conference but, in the meantime, certainly look forward to following the Biologos website, as well as corresponding with those associated with the organization. If you're interested in questions of science and faith, I doubt you'll go wrong by keeping track of this group.