Are science and Christianity more compatible than we might realize? We’ll investigate two values supposedly shared by both: curiosity and a comprehensible Nature.

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A Christian scientist says that science and faith aren’t that far apart—indeed, that important traits of science are found within Christianity.

This is a response to an article by Dr. Deborah Haarsma titled, “I am an astrophysicist. I am also a Christian.” Formerly a professor at a Christian college, Haarsma has for ten years been the president of BioLogos, a Christian advocacy group founded by Francis Collins that tries to coax Christians to accept science. Part 1 summarized the problem the article is trying to address, that conservative U.S. Christians are wrongly pushing back against science’s conclusions about covid, evolution, climate change, and more.

Haarsma has promised to show both skeptics and science-hesitant Christians that Christianity has guided modern science with four values common to science and Christianity.

Here’s the first shared value, curiosity.

1: Curiosity

“People of all beliefs can be curious, and Christians are no exception.”

And you think Christianity encourages people to be more curious? Do Christians demand answers to puzzling things within Christianity, from Bible contradictions to God’s violent Old Testament outbursts to church scandals? Instead, I see Christians burdened by doubts and not eager to rock the boat by asking more questions. Many conservative congregations have a small selection of one-size-fits-all answers to these questions that presuppose God. These might be “God is smarter than us and can be trusted to have a good answer to that question even if we don’t” or even just “God did it.”

“Scripture encourages and models curiosity about the natural world, in stories such as Adam naming the animals and Solomon cataloging plants.”

Adam assigned the animals their names, and God filled Solomon with wisdom about the natural world, but neither showed curiosity. If you want ancient role models, you won’t find them in the Bible. Look instead to scientists like Aristotle or Archimedes. Aristotle wrote about many subjects including logic, biology, and physics, and Archimedes discovered the properties of many mathematical figures and pioneered the application of mathematics to natural phenomena. That’s curiosity.

Yes, Christians can be curious, and they can be scientists, but Christianity does not have some unique fuel to drive the engine of curiosity.

Where’s the real problem?

“God commissioned humanity to tend and care for the Earth.”

If you see Christians as nature’s stewards, you haven’t been paying attention. Are Christians today leading the charge for environmental protection, pollution control, and reversal of climate change? Look at government and you find that those politicians who are the most overt about their Christianity are the least likely to push for laws to benefit nature.

You’re making up Christianity to suit your argument. I’ll admit that I like your version better than what I see in the news, but Christianity is flexible. You point to a generous, loving Christianity, but other Christians have cobbled together their own. These versions support homophobia, home schooling, and the husband as the head of the household. In part 1, you wanted to imagine atheists as part of the problem, but you’ll make more progress if you first admit the actual problem, conservative politics. A large segment of U.S. Christianity has been zombified and listens to little more than conspiracy theories and Donald Trump.

2: Belief that nature is comprehensible

No, we didn’t need the Bronze Age storm god Yahweh to inform us that nature is comprehensible. Ask a paleolithic hunter-gatherer about the seasons, when the rains come, edible and medicinal plants, hunting techniques, how best to make clothing from available materials, and a hundred other survival topics. Yes, nature is comprehensible without any need of Christianity.

See also: An Understandable Universe May Point to God, but How Understandable Is the Universe?

But wait—is Nature comprehensible? How many billions of person-years has it taken to develop the science we benefit from today? God didn’t program us with this knowledge, create libraries for us to consult, or in any way get off the couch to make life easier for us with science.

Dr. Haarsma pointed to “Nature’s regularity.” She compared Christianity favorably against those religions with a pantheon of gods, “[the whims of whom] determined the weather, planetary motion, illness, and other phenomena. One could only guess what the gods might do next.”

As if the Christian god were predictable. Even today, his apologists must explain away the natural disasters, disease, and more that happen on his watch, with his approval. Yahweh was as capricious as Zeus, and Zeus didn’t demand human sacrifice and genocide.

And why do we need God to make nature comprehensible or regular? Show me that the natural world doesn’t look like a god-less world. There’s much more evidence that evolution tuned us to understand our natural world than that God tweaked the natural world to best suit us.

The “nature is comprehensible” test

Let me assign homework to anyone who thinks God made the world to be comprehensible. Think of the periodic table of elements. Its very name, “periodic,” points to some of nature’s regularity. Atoms are simple—protons and neutrons in the nucleus and electrons outside.

Here’s your assignment: give a simple equation or algorithm that, when given the atomic number of an element, will report the melting and boiling point of that element. These values are known for the naturally occurring elements, of course, but they’re measured, not computed.

How hard can this be when God made nature comprehensible and regular?

When you’ve finished that one, try this. Elements have isotopes, which differ in the number of neutrons in the nucleus. For each atomic number—say, 6 for carbon—predict all possible isotopes and give a good approximation of their half-lives.

For carbon, there are three naturally occurring isotopes, carbon-12, carbon-13, and carbon-14. The first two are stable, and carbon-14 is well-known as a radioactive clock (with a half-life of 5,730 years) that can tell how old some carbon-bearing materials are.

There are twelve more isotopes of carbon that are manmade. And so on, for all the elements.

The answers have been determined experimentally, and a chart of all known isotopes is here. That chart gives the correct answers. Now recreate it algorithmically.

You wanted to imagine atheists as part of the problem, but you’ll make more progress if you first admit the actual problem, conservative politics.

Yes, the part of nature that’s comprehensible is comprehensible, but what about the rest? How big is the rest, the part that will always be beyond us? Do we understand ninety percent of all science? Or is it closer to 0.01 percent?

We just don’t know. Our knowledge of nature is very hard won, with no indication that God made the job easier.

“Scientists of all faiths and no faith hold this modern scientific view, but they hold it for a variety of reasons. For a Christian, the regularity and understandability of nature is due to the intelligent faithfulness of a sovereign God.”

Of what value has Christianity been to scientists? Were humans stymied when trying to do science before Christianity came along? Aristotle and Archimedes did fine without it, and Christianity has no track record for giving us new knowledge about the natural world.

Concluded in part 3.

It would disturb me if there was a wedding
between the religious fundamentalists
and the political right.
The hard right has no interest in religion
except to manipulate it.
— Billy Graham

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CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...