Science and Spirituality: Is Harmony Possible?

Deborah and Loren Haarsma
Spring 1999

GreenTree, a student organization at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges, has invited us to give this series of 10 seminars, sharing our perspective on science and Christianity. All seminars were held on Fridays evenings, alternating between Haverford and Bryn Mawr campuses.

Science and faith web sitesof other organizations

Loren Haarsma's science-and-Christianity website with links to articles on other topics besides those listed below.

Week 1: Who owns science?
January 29 at HC, Gest 101, 9-10 pm
You don't have to be a "practical atheist" to do science. The philosophical assumptions necessary to do science work within multiple worldviews, not just the atheistic perspective. In fact, the Christian worldview contributed to the philosophical framework for the scientific revolution in Europe. We will introduce the concepts of Creation, Providence, and Stewardship, and demonstrate the harmony between science and the Christian worldview.
Week 1 Handout

Week 2: Are science and religion at war?
February 5 at BMC, Taylor D, 8:45-9:45 pm
The claim that science and religion are incompatible relies on a misunderstanding of science, of religion, or both. That doesn't mean there haven't been some nasty skirmishes in the past. Indeed, we will discuss some of these. Understanding past conflicts will help us resolve present and future disputes.
Week 2 Handout

Week 3: Is the Creator infinitely lazy?
February 12 at HC, Gest 101, 9-10 pm
Some say God's activity in the universe is limited to performing a few miracles. If science can disprove the need for any miracles, then there is no longer anything for God to do. Right? Wrong. As we will discuss, whether something happens by "chance" or by deterministic "natural law," it stands within what theists call "Providence" -- the Creator's personal and ongoing interaction with the Creation.
Week 3 Handout

Week 4: Are humans insignificant in the vast cosmos?
February 26 at BMC, Taylor D, 8:45-9:45 pm
Is human existence pointless in a universe apparently destined for gravitational annihilation or heat death? Good question. But if the universe was personally created, and if the Creator of this vast cosmos has acted, and is still acting, in human lives and human history, we are very significant indeed.
Week 4 Handout

Week 5: If science is right, is Genesis wrong?
March 19 at HC, Gest 101, 9-10 pm
The original audience for Genesis lived in the Ancient Near East, and surely understood Genesis according to their picture of the cosmos -- a picture which was very different from the modern scientific picture. When we understand the context of Genesis, and the purpose for which it was written, we find that it is teaching truths considerably more important than scientific chronologies.
Week 5 Outline and "Hermenutics in Everyday Life" (humor)

Week 6: Are creation AND evolution both right?
March 26 at BMC, Taylor D, 8:45-9:45 pm
When the American press reports on origins, they usually cast it as a debate with two sides: atheistic evolution vs. young-earth creationism. These are hardly the only choices. We will examine a whole spectrum of positions and consider, in light of the current scientific data, the theological and scientific merits and problems of several positions.
Week 6 Handout

Week 7: If evolution is messy, can creation be good?
April 2 at BMC, Taylor D, 8:45-9:45 pm
Evolution is often caricatured as being nasty, brutish, and selfish. The Christian view of human origins is often caricatured as a fall from a pain-free, work-free, problem-free Eden. We will look at what the Christian Scriptures actually teach about human uniqueness, human behavior, and human suffering, and compare this with what science actually says about biological history.
Week 7 Handout

Week 8: Is sin just brain biochemistry? Is the soul just brain activity?
April 9 at HC, Gest 101, 9-10 pm
Brain damage and chemical imbalances can negatively influence personality and behavior. Brain-function studies are challenging the "dualist" picture of human nature that the soul/mind is an entity metaphysically distinct from the body/brain. However, concepts such as "sin" and "soul" are still relevant, and their essential truths can be clarified by the discoveries of neuroscience.
Week 8 Handout

Week 9: The environment and bioethics: Does science or religion have the answers?
April 16 at BMC, Taylor D, 8:45-9:45 pm
Science, religion, morality, and public policy converge in issues of the environment and bioethics. The theistic concepts of "stewardship" and "made in God's image" offer powerful and positive frameworks for wrestling with these issues, which science can illuminate with empirical knowledge. Much hard work -- both scientific and theological -- lies ahead on these issues.
Week 9 Handout

Week 10: Do you need a split personality to be a Christian and a scientist?
April 23 at HC, Gest 101, 9-10 pm
Finally, we address the everyday issues of living as both a Christian and a scientist. The scientific meritocracy values impartiality, but also rewards workaholism. Christian values such as servanthood (valuing others before oneself) and grace (valuing others apart from merit) are essential counterbalances. On the other hand, fellow Christians share our love of the Creator, but often forget the importance of scientifically studying the Creation. We will share our personal struggles and successes in living unified, joyful lives.
Week 10 Handout, "Doing Science and Loving the Needy", "Parables for Modern Academia"(humor)

About us:

Deborah Haarsma graduated from Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota with degrees in physics and music, and received a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She worked as a post-doctoral scientist and visiting assistant professor at Haverford College, studying galaxy formation in the early universe. She is currently an assistant professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department at Calvin College.

Loren Haarsma graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with degrees in physics and math, and received a Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University. He worked as a postdoctoral research associate in the Neuroscience Department of the University of Pennsylvania, studying the functional organization of the retina. He is currently an assistant professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department at Calvin College.

We are members of Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI.

Copyright 1999 Loren and Deborah Haarsma (see our explanation), Last updated August 30, 2004