Side Comments on Christians in Science

Continuing the discussion from Christians in Science: Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility

Great starting post, @swamidass, and I think this could be a good gateway for people to engage with our community. I will think carefully before I write my own contribution about our purpose as scientists and divine action.


The argument between @eddie and @Chris_Falter is about BioLogos and ID. With which of these groups should I start?

  • Biologos/TE/EC
  • Discovery Institute/ID
  • Reasons to Believe/OEC
  • Answers in Genesis/YEC
  • Other (what?)

0 voters

@swamidass It might be a good idea to start systematically collecting responses from various Christian scientists about their views on divine action and living in the world as a Christian and scientist - short essays instead of scattered forum posts. We might then have a better view of what all these “silent Christians” are thinking.


I think this is a great topic and I am looking forward to reading everyone’s responses. I agree that there is a real need for a sensible framework to talk about these issues. My situation is likely different from other members here. I spent over 25 years as a research scientist, but four years ago I made a career change and now I teach at a small Christian university. As the only science professor, I am THE voice of science on campus (a terrifying responsibility). Thinking back to my research days, I didn’t think much about the integration of science and faith because it just didn’t come up. Contrary to what I’ve heard some science educators say, it is perfectly possible to do scientific research and even get a PhD in Molecular Biology without thinking much about evolution. Most of my research career was spent in cancer research and I was far too busy doing that to get involved in discussions of science and faith. I was also busy raising my son - my husband died when our son was 12, so on top of working 60 hours a week I had to raise a teenage boy by myself. It’s only since my son left home and I started teaching at Christian university that I’ve had the time or interest to think about these things. I’ll ponder the other questions and write more later.


Hate to have you call someone out, but any specific examples? Before I respond, want to be sure I understand the question.

Seems some Christians in biology–I have talked to at least one on my podcast–seem to think that God’s action was limited to creating the universe (the watchmaker winding the watch), and then really only acting again in relationship with humans. To them, life and the evolution of life were things that naturally flowed out of His initial, perfect creation, needing no additional, direct action by God.

But this doesn’t sound like the crowd you are referencing? Seems you are saying there are some who believe God intervened in the creation of life and/or in guiding evolution, but they are silent about this belief? But, if they are silent, how do we know what they believe?

I think a larger issue, which may encompass your question, is Christians in science who are silent about their faith. Period.

For that issue, I have found a high correlation between when they more fully “come out” as Christians, linked to when then achieve full tenure in a faculty teaching position. Some exceptions to this, including on this board, but seems fairly common to keep your head down until you feel more “safe,” and many have confirmed this with me.

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@eddie was pointing to TE/EC, where there are many among them come close to denying God’s action altogether, and others affirm it privately but don’t talk about it much.

This would be an example of what critics call a “deistic” understanding of origins and reality. It is what @eddie (and DI, and RTB, and TEC) are specifically riled about and oppose.

I’m going bigger than the original question, to hit on the bigger themes.

Exactly. That is the bigger issue. We can critique the handful (less than 100?) scientists that are doing public engagement about these issues. The more looming question is untangling what is going on with the 10s of thousands of Christians in science that are entirely silent. Why are they silent? I’m suggesting that the frameworks out there (by the handful doing public engagement) are not sensible. Most of us know it, and we keep our mouths shut.

I break the pattern. I came out years before tenure, and was still granted tenure. There is a different reality I found.

Those that “come out” after tenure are still the minority. The most common pattern is to keep your head down till you are safe, and then continue to keep your head down. This is a symptom of the tragic irony of the existing frameworks.

A better model would see more and more scientists, for example, like @Zachary_Ardern and @dga471, who are public as trainees. I would suggest that theses two found a different and better way forward than those that wait till tenure to be open about their faith.


When you say “come out” do you mean on the public stage or among your co-workers? There were over 40 scientists in the lab I was in and there was a range of faiths. We all knew where we went to church, or didn’t go to church, and we celebrated each other’s holidays. My religion wasn’t a secret. We just didn’t really talk about our faith differences because we were too busy working.


I think this will be more clear as this progresses. Not everyone is meant to be on the the public platform.

That is better than some Christians in science I know, perhaps better than the bulk of them.

This is getting to the part I’d focus in on. Though I would not dump on you (or anyone for this), there is a real possibility for a better way.

Thanks, got it, this helps.

Issue #2 (in addition to tenure) that I’ve found in conversation, is that many of them, and all of us to some extent, are not yet confident in their faith. Many are still trying to figure things out. So like good scientists, they don’t come forward with a “hunch,” they wait until they have a strong base of understanding and are able to defend what they believe, not just affirm what they believe. So, it is just easier for them to talk about the science, for fear they cannot eloquently defend the faith parts.


That is better than some Christians in science I know, perhaps better than the bulk of them.

It’s probably because my PI was a devout Christian and really nice guy. He set the tone for the lab.


Good, important questions.
I see my purpose within science as to try to do excellent science which probes fundamental biological questions. Within the Church I want to promote the life of the mind in the context of evangelism and discipleship.

  1. I think the most important messages to take forward in public are the compatibility between science and faith at multiple levels, including philosophical, historical, and motivational.

  2. I encourage younger scientists by seeking them out, being available, and involving them in faith-science events/discussions and discussions about scientific/academic vocation, as appropriate.

  3. I try not to see people as opponents. I think the main opposition in my context is naturalism, especially when it is seen as unquestionable or true by default. On the other side, there is some vicious unfortunate opposition from Christians who oppose any kind of evolutionary history to life.

  4. I tend to talk about the inference to divine action as a matter for philosophical assessment rather than empirical science, but this doesn’t make it less important or less rational, e.g. as there is a lot of philosophy implicit in science itself. I find that doing so helps ease some anxiety that secular people have that Christians might do bad science or pseudoscience by mixing religion in with their science. I think there is room for this kind of inference given evolutionary data as well as the more usual sphere of cosmology, but I won’t say more on that here as it is work in development. :slight_smile:

[The numbers above should be 4,5,7,8 but they get reformatted after posting]


Here’s a quote from Prof. Steven Barr, PhD (physicist) on my podcast, episode #12:

“I think part of the problem is that believers, not just in science but in the academic world tend to play their cards close to their vest. They’re not very vocal and open and there’s some survival reasons but that’s because in the academic world there are a certain small but not zero percentage of people who are prejudiced against religion. And so a lot of young people especially in the sciences they don’t want their careers snuff. They don’t want some person who’s looking at their job application for example to find out that they’re religious and then they don’t get the job and their careers cut short. A lot of religious people are sort of quiet about their faith. As you said there’s a person in my department who I was a colleague of work for 20 years before I found out that he also was a practicing Catholic. That just shows you how how people keep it to themselves. And as a result, scientists who are religious often feel isolated because they don’t know anyone else or they only know a few people in the sciences who are in their own field who are really also religious when there might in fact be large numbers of. But they don’t know that. And I think this is one of the things also not just with professors but with grad students and undergrads. When I was an undergrad or grad school I didn’t know the name of any big scientist who was religious or any of my professors. And very few of my fellow students. So I felt this terrible sense of isolation and being out of step which it could be very psychologically trying for people.”


Yes. This is the precise problem (or at least one) that I am pointing to here, and will be reworked with a better framework.


Wow. I can’t imagine having to keep my faith a secret like that. For me that was never an option because before becoming a Christian I was an Orthodox Jew (long story) and there is no way to live as an Orthodox Jew in secret. I had to explain about needing Saturdays and Jewish holidays off, about not being able to go out for lunch with everyone, even the way I dressed was different. When I became a Christian and was suddenly wearing jeans and joining everyone at lunch I got a few puzzled looks, but no one ever asked.

ETA: I wonder if scientists of faiths with visible markers (Islam, Hindu) have the same experience as Christians.


I guess it still seems like two groups to me:

1). Christians in science who actually don’t believe in God’s action in life/evolution (beyond initial creation and then interaction with us)
and 2). those who believe in God’s action in life/evolution, but who are mostly silent about that belief.

For group #1, if that’s what they believe, while I don’t fault them for expressing what they believe, I personally may not agree. But that seems to be more of a matter of debating the theology and science vs. them being more open about belief?

For group #2, yes, agree, this is a group that we could help to be more vocal.

Seems like two different approaches are needed for #1 vs. #2.

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Perhaps, but underlying it is mainly commonality and that is why they are usually happy to play with each other under the TE/EC banner. @eddie (and most the church) is opposed to #1, are confused to why #2 is not appalled by #1, and cannot trust an organization built around an alliance between #1 and #2. @eddie hypothesizes cowardice, but if you listen to closely he is just grasping at straws. It doesn’t make sense to him why it is playing out this way. It is not sensible to him.

I’m suggesting we can understand this by way of understanding the common framework that #1 and #2 have adopted together. We can change it (if we want to) be putting forward into practice a better framework.

I am trying to become a public “scientist in the Church and a Christian in science”. I am someone who is a scientist at a Christian university. My department rarely, if ever, talks about Divine Action. We were all trained in secular/public universities and perhaps that’s some of it. We don’t really have the language or experience in discussing these topics.

I think it is often overlooked that Christian scientists have a very lopsided education when it comes to addressing these issues. I have 11 years of training in science and not even a single course in Theology. I had one history and philosophy of science class (taught by a chemist) and just an introductory general education class in philosophy, but that’s more than what most scientists get. I think it’s perfectly natural for scientists to be very wary of making statements about God’s action in the world, we have neither the training nor the experience to defend our beliefs. We are used to methodological naturalism (i.e. the research done by a Christian is identical to that done by a Hindu or an atheist) and even outside the lab most people stick with “you never talk about politics or religion”.


By the way, I reject this dichotomy, which is problematic both in the terms used and the underlying philosophical assumptions. I will explain later.


That is a great observation. I often feel out of my depth at my university because I am the lone scientist in a sea of MDivs and DMins. I am working on a Masters in Theology to try and get up to speed, but I’ve studying science since I was 10 and I will never be as comfortable in Theology as I am in science.


I agree with much of what you say, Joshua, in your post above, where you accurately characterize some TE/EC proponents and why ID and other people oppose them. I agree that the frameworks provided in much of the public debate are not sensible, and I am not blaming Christian scientists for wanting to avoid aligning with any particular “camp.” I can see why a Christian scientist might find none of the current public, popular options very satisfying.

Jon Garvey and I have suggested for years now that one way of improving this situation would be for Christians – scientists and others – to spend a lot more time familiarizing themselves with the history of Christian thought, and the history of science, and the history of ideas generally. The majority of statements I see about Christian theology, the nature of science, etc. in these public debates show a lack of deep knowledge in these areas. How can one even begin to talk about whether Christian theology is compatible with evolution, if one has only a very shallow and derivative knowledge of what Christian theology says? How can one begin to talk about what “science” is, if one has zero knowledge of what “science” has been in various periods of Western and knows only technical journal articles in one’s field that are no more than 20 years old? For the discussion to improve, for people to come to deeper understanding, more education is needed. Yet I see no inclination of educators in charge of university training in science, or of seminary training in theology, to ensure that both scientists and theologians practice their specialties within the context of a broad background in history and philosophy. We worship extreme specialization as the only valid principle of education, and then we wonder why our discussions of broad general matters are so impoverished and shallow.

One point you made needs to be qualified, in the interests of clarity. You imply that you would like to see people “come out” with their origins views before obtaining the safety of tenure, and give examples of people who have done. But all three of those people accept evolution as a fact, so in “coming out” they were not taking anywhere near the risk that would go with “coming out” if one did not believe that evolution was a fact. In fact, for a biology student to say to his supervisors that he doesn’t believe evolution is a fact, that he thinks there are serious scientific problems with the theory, is to sign his own academic death warrant – with only very rare exceptions. It is much easier for Christians who accept evolution to come out as Christians, then for Christians who don’t accept evolution to come out as biologists. This should be plainly acknowledged.