Faith and science: a personal story

As a scientist, I do research in the area of radiometric dating and the directly associated earth science concepts of plate tectonics2 and magma cooling rates.3 I am also a person of faith and a strong believer in the importance of Genesis 1-11, but I work daily with data that I don't know how to fit into a short time frame. I would like to find convincing evidence confirming the literalness of the Genesis record, but in my area of research I usually find that the data fits better with a long-age model. Nevertheless, though I may appear to some to bow to the god of evolution in my research, just as Naaman told Elisha, I also declare, "[Y]our servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord."

Ben Clausen, Ph.D., is a scientist at the Geoscience Research Institute, Loma Linda California, United States.

After being miraculously cured of leprosy, Naaman professed faith in the God of Israel. “ ‘Now I know,’ ” he said to Elisha, “ ‘that there is no God in all the world except in Israel’ ” (2 Kings 5:15).1 Naaman said, too, that he would never again give sacrifices or offerings to any God “ ‘but the LORD’ ” (v. 17).

There was, however, one problem. Naaman said to Elisha, “ ‘But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this’ ” (2 Kings 5:18).

What did Elisha say to Naaman, who expressed concern about a part of his job that required him to go to a heathen temple and bow there with his master? To this concern, Elisha responded “ ‘Go in peace.’ ”

As a scientist, I do research in the area of radiometric dating and the directly associated earth science concepts of plate tectonics2 and magma cooling rates.3 I am also a person of faith and a strong believer in the importance of Genesis 1–11, but I work daily with data that I don’t know how to fit into a short time frame. I would like to find convincing evidence confirming the literalness of the Genesis record, but in my area of research I usually find that the data fits better with a long-age model. Nevertheless, though I may appear to some to bow to the god of evolution in my research, just as Naaman told Elisha, I also declare, “[Y]our servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord.”

 

The finitude of mankind

Yes, I am sympathetic to church members who would like defi nitive answers about the issues regarding the age of the earth. I don’t want the church to change its beliefs. In return, I would hope for sympathy and understanding from leaders and members of the diffi cult position that, as a scientist, I am in. Many have exhibited sympathy, understanding, and trust. And I really do appreciate the leaders who, sympathetic with my concerns, have said to me, “Go in peace.” Indeed, I appreciate the patience of the church as I try to understand these two apparently discordant sets of data—nature and revelation—both of which I hold in high regard.

No doubt the discordance comes from my fi nite understanding, but I am encouraged by seeing other areas where apparently discordant sets of data must be accepted. Church history suggests to me two areas that have been under discussion for a long time: (1) How can Christ be both Creator and created at the same time? (2) How can I have free will to choose, but God still has foreknowledge? And as a physicist, I ask, How it is possible that light behaves both as a wave and a particle? Each of these three examples has been discussed at length, with many helpful explanations, but ultimately, it seems that the problem comes from our own limitations. I believe the same limitation causes our trouble in explaining the apparently discordant sets of data from nature and inspiration.

 

What the Lord has done

With that lead in, let’s reflect on Mark 5:19, and specifically Jesus’ words to the Gadarene demoniac. After restoring him, Jesus said, “ ‘Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you’ ” (Mark 5:19). Although the demoniac did not understand all that happened, he could tell what Jesus had done in his life.

In many ways, the demoniac reflects my situation. As with him, I don’t understand many things. Nevertheless, I still can witness to my professional colleagues about the wonderful things God has done for me. I do have something to say about Jesus, who has answered my most important questions.

I have had some wonderful opportunities to witness, sometimes with apparent success and other times with apparent failure. Either way, I have tried to tell people about how much the Lord has done for me.

• While a student at University of Colorado, I helped with a Bible study for a geologist who found that the scientific arguments I had learned for a worldwide flood were quite unconvincing.

• In my dissertation acknowledgements I included an appreciation for the natural world that God created for us to enjoy studying; someone who read that later asked me for more details about what I had meant.

• I lent one of the missionary books of the year to my major professor. The book had been especially meaningful to me, but it ended up on my desk a couple days later as though he had no interest in having anything to do with it. On the other hand, he went out of his way to make sure that I had no Sabbath problems. He even offered me his rental car so I could attend church when we were away from home working together.

• While working at an accelerator’s facility, the schedule was 24/7. I would ask that I not be scheduled to work on the Sabbath. That meant that fellow physicists might have to take a 24-hour shift. This special request often resulted in questions about my beliefs. The first few times I was caught off guard and would just give a list of doctrines, but later I learned to give a story or share the great controversy theme.

• On another occasion a colleague in Moscow asked about the problem of evil; she had heard the story of the fallen angel and found it unsatisfying. We continue to correspond.

• I had an opportunity to help another Russian colleague come to the United States to do research at a major university. After I left that institution, he started attending church.

One of the things I do at Geoscience Research Institute is respond to questions that come to our Web site. I have had interesting exchanges with various individuals. Probably the longest-lasting exchange has been with an atheist who sent a scathing letter to us outlining what he saw to be the stupidity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. After giving a pleasant response and an acknowledgement of fallibility, I have had an extremely pleasant interchange with him. He continues communicating with me several times each month.

When I first started taking geology classes at a nearby state university a few years ago, I asked about making up the four Sabbath field trips. I was told that if I didn’t go on the field trips, I wouldn’t pass the class. As time went along I did well in the class and tried to find ways of making up the field trips, and I did get a passing grade in the class. The second quarter the issue of field trips came up again. By then the students knew me, as did the teaching assistant. I had no interest in asking for any favors but, on their own accord, the students and teaching assistant said that having Sunday field trips was fine with them. By the end of the second quarter I had developed a good enough relationship with the professor that he gave me a large data set to analyze on his computer.

Finally, my wife—who manages the diabetes treatment center at Loma Linda—went out to eat with a representative of a pharmaceutical company and another co-worker. During lunch the representative surprised them by stating that he and his family were interested in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They had enjoyed working with various Adventist medical personnel.

Over the next few months this family started attending the local Seventh-day Adventist church, studied with one of the pastors, and decided that they wanted to be baptized. This man’s wife, who grew up in a country that was controlled by communists, was a chemist and in a doctoral program in psychology. For a while she had studied Buddhism. Because of her early education in communism, she once asked me about Creation, and I made a few comments. One Sabbath the whole family came to an open house at Geoscience Research Institute, and later she told me she had listened to a radio broadcast about intelligent design. It really took no convincing on origins issues because the mind-set was fertile and ready for a change.

Several years ago this couple moved to a new location. When we visited them the week they moved in, we noticed that the house next door was for sale. We are now next-door neighbors.

 

Lessons learned

During the years these experiences have taught me many things about how to witness to people. One of the best examples comes from Ellen White’s The Desire of Ages when she wrote about how Jesus dealt with doubting Thomas.

“In His treatment of Thomas, Jesus gave a lesson for His followers. His example shows how we should treat those whose faith is weak, and who make their doubts prominent. Jesus did not overwhelm Thomas with reproach, nor did He enter into controversy with him. He revealed Himself. . . . Unbelief is seldom overcome by controversy. It is rather put upon self-defense, and finds new support and excuse. But let Jesus, in His love and mercy, be revealed.”4

I have learned the truth of Ellen White’s words, “Our influence upon others depends not so much upon what we say as upon what we are. Men may combat and defy our logic, they may resist our appeals; but a life of disinterested love is an argument they cannot gainsay.”5 Or as Madeleine L’Engle says, “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”6

The point of these accounts is simple—just as the Gadarene demoniac, I may not have all the answers, but I do have something to say about my experience with Jesus.

 

 

1 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.


2 Plate tectonics is the comprehensive geology theory of how the earth’s present mountain
ranges, ocean basins, earthquakes, and volcanoes are due to the long distance movement of the continents through time.


3 Magma is hot liquid rock that can cool underground to form granitic-type mountains such as the Sierra Nevadas in California. It takes some time for this large a volume of liquid to cool to a solid.


4 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press® Publishing Association, 1940), 808.


5 Ibid. 142.


6 Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (Wheaton, IL: Shaw Publishers, 1980), 122.

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Ben Clausen, Ph.D., is a scientist at the Geoscience Research Institute, Loma Linda California, United States.

February 2007

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