Science Corner — 2014 in Science & Faith

Photo of Georges Lemaître

Georges Lemaître, a Catholic priest, pioneered Big Bang cosmology, although you’d never know it the way we reacted to Pope Francis’ thoughts on the topic.

The public conversation between science and Christian teaching made big headlines in 2014, so it seemed fitting to revisit some of them.

  • Picking a winner in the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate seemed to depend on one’s prior approach to the topic. Personally, I was surprised to learn how much speciation needs to have occurred in ~4,000 years in Ken Ham’s current model.
  • While Cosmos did not explicitly bill itself as anti-religion, I felt there was a strong subtext of science as an alternative to religion, rather than a complement. Certainly the first episode’s treatment of Giordano Bruno inspired much discussion about the Christian church’s history with scientific paradigm shifts.
  • Polls on Americans’ beliefs about human origins, such as this Gallup report, were treated as news every time they surfaced. Yet what strikes me is how little they have changed over the years; perhaps instead of being surprised that the status is still quo, we need to find new ways to talk about these topics?
  • Some quotes from Pope Francis about evolutionary biology and Big Bang cosmology created quite a stir. Yet as noted in this essay, his statements were consistent with decades of Catholic teaching, not a radical departure as some of the coverage made them seem.
  • A conference at creationism was one of Science‘s most popular news items of the year. A primary concern was the way in which the event was organized and promoted — a reminder that as followers of Christ we should be forthright and transparent in our actions and intentions.

This is a highly unscientific sample of the stories that stood out most in my memory, at least in terms of the amount of coverage and discussion they garnered in the public sphere. It feels that there is a bit too much emphasis on a conflict model of how science and religion relate; perhaps that accurately reflects the way that the public conversation is framed, or perhaps my perception of what were the big stories is biased by cynicism. Of course we here know other models exist, as discussed here by Tom Ingebritsen or demonstrated by AAAS’s own Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion. May 2015 bring broader awareness of the full breadth of the conversation, that God may be glorified through the study of his handiwork.

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Andy Walsh

Andy has worn many hats in his life. He knows this is a dreadfully clichéd notion, but since it is also literally true he uses it anyway. Among his current metaphorical hats: husband of one wife, father of two elementary school students, reader of science fiction and science fact, enthusiast of contemporary symphonic music, and chief science officer. Previous metaphorical hats include: comp bio postdoc, molecular biology grad student, InterVarsity chapter president (that one came with a literal hat), music store clerk, house painter, and mosquito trapper. Among his more unique literal hats: British bobby, captain's hats (of varying levels of authenticity) of several specific vessels, a deerstalker from 221B Baker St, and a railroad engineer's cap. His monthly Science in Review is drawn from his weekly Science Corner posts -- Wednesdays, 8am (Eastern) on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog.

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