Faith and Science at Colorado State University

This is a story I wrote for my magazine writing class…

“I don’t feel like I’m in any way worried about my stance.”

Justin Marks, mathematics graduate student at Colorado State University, is a Christian who has a strong belief in creationism.

Although creationism is not often welcome in science classrooms, this is of little deterrent to the beliefs of many Christians since not all Christians are on fire for intelligent design – a movement within science attempting to objectively find evidence for a creator.  

Marks sees his decision to believe in creation as something that is not based solely on a scientific argument.  Although he finds scientific arguments in support of creationism intriguing, his decision is based mostly on faith.

Creationists subscribe to the view of a young earth where humans were created by God in their present form.  Some Christians believe in theistic evolution, which is consistent with most of the basics of evolution, including an old earth. 

While both of these views may seem rare among graduate students and professors at public intuitions, there are, surprisingly, a good number in the CSU community – in science and non-science fields.  A common stereotype of scientists is that they are either atheist or agnostic.  However, over 40-percent of American scientists believe in an active deity.  

Bryan Dik, associate professor of Psychology at CSU, identifies as Christian.  In addition to psychology, he has also studied religion and theology.

“My faith is very important to me…It serves as the lens through which I view the world. I’m also a scientist and I think the methods of science provide very important – certainly not perfect or comprehensive – but an important way to know things also,” said Dik.

Science has a complex relationship with faith.  For many Christians, science can contradict their faith.  For the intelligent design community, science can be used to support faith.  For theistic evolutionists, science neither conflicts with nor proves faith to any substantial degree.

At CSU, a group, called the Christian Faculty Network (CFN), holds meetings on mostly science-related topics, but faculty from all departments are welcome.  The group also discusses issues of faith since all of its members believe strongly in a creator, whether that be through evolution or creation.

In addition to the CFN, there are a number of smaller Christian groups at CSU including a group of math students, a group of women faculty who meet for prayer and a Christianity-psychology reading group.  In all these groups, what holds them together is their faith, not necessarily their views on science.

“I enjoy the conversations that come out of [CFN], and it helps me to think more deeply about why and what I believe,” said Marks.

The CFN has about 20 members, most of whom believe in theistic evolution as opposed to creationism.  There are a number of possible reasons for this.  To begin with, evolution is seen as very well-supported.

The theory of evolution – as in biological evolution – is widely accepted among the scientific community and among the public in general. The publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859, cemented this stance in many.  It wasn’t until the 1970s that the teaching of evolution in public schools was formally challenged.

Initially, many school boards were persuaded to include creation science texts in science curriculum, but this decision was overturned by a 1982 court ruling, McLean v. Arkansas, stating that creationism was not technically a science.

“[Science] is a series of facts that you see, that you can quantify, that you can count, that you can measure, and you can replicate that over and over,” said Dr. Ann Magennis, associate professor in Anthropology at CSU.

Magennis has accepted the theory of evolution for as long as she can remember.  Not only was she taught this in school, but she also has sufficient scientific training from receiving a Ph.D. in anthropology with a concentration in biological anthropology.  Her study of evolution has shown her no indication that there is a creator behind the process.

Not only creationists but also theistic evolutionists have a hard time convincing school systems to consider their framework as true science. 

“Science is a method of finding out about your physical world.  Science asks questions about how – how does something work, how does something come about. Science cannot really effectively answer questions about why.  It just can’t because the why opens it all up to hypotheses that cannot be reviewed,” said Magennis.

According to a 2004 poll by CBS, 65-percent of Americans would like creation and evolution taught in concordance.  This seems to indicate that the majority of Americans are willing to entertain the idea of creationism as a science – or perhaps they are just proponents of a healthy skepticism toward any claims of truth, evolution included.

Whatever the case, statistics have shown that less than half of Americans have actually thought about the dilemma a “great deal.”  Does where we come from really matter?  To many people it does, especially in the light of science and the pursuit of truth.

“You put together all of the data, all of the facts.  There’s a lot of unknowns.  You just keep going after trying to answer it,” said Magennis.

Despite a general consensus among scientists as to the definition of science, it seems to be a term that is open to some interpretation.  To many scientists, this ambiguity isn’t necessarily a bad thing since ruling out supernatural explanations can be seen as close-minded and science shouldn’t be based on prior assumptions.

“A lot of people believe [creationism] is not compatible with science, as they see science.  I don’t believe that’s true.  There’s a lot of science that supports the creationist accounts of the world and I think that deserves a place in the classroom as well,” said Marks.

Neo-creationism, or intelligent design, which emerged in the 2000s, attempts to reframe theistic interpretations of science as non-religious.  In other words, neo-creationists’ intent behind investigation is not to arrive at any particular conclusion.  With this perspective in mind, a number of scientists have arrived at compelling case for a creator. 

Some intelligent design advocates refer to evidence that points toward the world being designed by some sort of intelligence based on the complexity of the universe, also known as “irreducible complexity.”

Without such evidence, however, most Christians are comfortable standing by their beliefs. Creationists arrive at these beliefs by adhering to a literal interpretation of the Bible.

“If I drop a literal interpretation at one point, then who knows where I stop doing that,” said Marks.

Theistic evolutionists, on the other hand, do not see every part of the Bible as literal, specifically Genesis.

“I believe in an old earth. I think it’s really difficult to look at the evidence in any other way.  You could take the position that God created the world with apparent age.  To me, I don’t see that as anything that’s required in Genies,” said Dik.

Dik arrived at this interpretation of scripture by analyzing the context, genre and original audience of each book in the Bible.  Luke, in contrast to Genesis, was written as an eyewitness account.  As a physician, Luke’s attention to detail and accuracy indicates that his writing was meant to be interpreted as a historical document, said Dik.

“I don’t think [Genesis] was written as a textbook about science. In fact, I think if you look at the context in which it was written – to Hebrew people in culture where they’re confronted with creation myths involving many gods existing in chaos…then you read Genesis as very enlightening because you read it in contrast to that,” said Dik.

Instead of solely relying on science for truth, Dik explored the Bible.  His exploration of Genesis, he says, is what sets him apart from the stereotype of the Christian who changes his beliefs after studying science at a public institution.  The Bible means no less to Dik now than it meant to him growing up.

The idea of theistic evolution is sufficient for him, not because it proves anything about the existence of God, but because he believes it does not conflict with scripture.

The debate on how to interpret scripture is what separates the creationists from the theistic evolutionists.  However, the similarities they share seem to unite them more than their differences divide them.  The Christian Faculty Network at CSU is proof that God as creator is generally of more importance to Christians than the mechanisms He used to create.

“Despite all the evidence on either side, it hasn’t been resolved in one way, and I don’t feel like it needs to be necessarily,” said Marks.

Most Christians would rather not stay up at night pondering “irreducible complexity” and the apparent age of fossil evidence anyway.  Grad students and professors at CSU are certainly well-educated enough to defend their beliefs, but their main focus is on faith since relying on science alone will never fully convince us of what is true.  Science, though enlightening, is not the only determining factor of truth. 

“I think that despite what happens, God’s word will stand true and I’m comfortable standing on that,” said Marks.

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