A Dialogue on Faith and Science
An Interview with Steve Krstulovich
by Steve Krstulovich Cecil Miller Christina M H Powell
- Read a recent article by Stephen Krstulovich: ‘God Particle’ discovery — cause for concern or celebration?
Christina M.H. Powell, Ph.D. is a biomedical consultant, bioinformaticist, and research scientist trained at Harvard Medical School. Her degree is in virology and she specializes in cancer studies. Christina speaks in churches nationwide on faith and science issues, and she is a regular contributor to Enrichment journal, addressing ministry and medical ethics issues.
Steve Krstulovich is an award-winning lead engineer at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago. Fermilab is a US Department of Energy national laboratory whose mission is to advance the understanding of the fundamental nature of matter and energy. Steve has been involved in Fermilab for over 25 years and shares on topics related to new discoveries of the laws of nature and the cosmos and their impact on faith and science.
Cecil Miller, Ph.D., is a professor of Biology at Vanguard University, Costa Mesa, California, a position he has held since 2000. Dr. Miller completed a 3-year post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Southern California Norris Cancer Center where he studied the genetic changes resulting in cell immortality and mechanisms of chemical carcinogenesis.
People often consider faith and science competitors. In today’s secular culture, Pentecostal ministers must engage rather than disengage in the ongoing faith and science dialogue if they are to equip, evangelize, and disciple an ever scientifically literate audience. This faith and science interview conducted by Enrichment journal’s Managing Editor Rick Knoth brings together three prominent scientists who are also Assemblies of God ministers. These faithful scientists pursue research because of their belief in God, not in spite of it. Their scientific and theological expertise provides a much-needed perspective to help Pentecostal ministers more competently engage their churches in the ongoing faith and science dialogue. The three participants in this faith and science dialogue are: Christina M.H. Powell, Steve Krstulovich, and Cecil Miller.
How did you come to faith in Christ? What motivated you to become a professional scientist? Did you feel called by God?
POWELL: My faith journey and my journey toward scientific research came around the same time. I was 8 years old when I made my commitment to follow Christ. I was exposed to two different books — the Bible and a book that explained how we could use knowledge of nutritional research to combat different diseases. I was drawn to wanting to make a difference in the world and improve the human condition. You can do that through the spiritual help that comes through the Bible, which also impacts emotional, mental, and physical reality, and you can also do this through scientific research to treat cancer and other diseases. I grew from that point — from 8 years old all the way through my Harvard Ph.D. with both of those areas growing in my life.
MILLER: My faith journey is a bit more traditional. I grew up in a Pentecostal pastor’s home in Canada. My dad was the pastor of the German Pentecostal church. I came to faith at a young age, grew up in church, and grew up in the traditions of the church. When I thought about career and ministry, I attended Bible school for 1 year. I felt very unsettled, even though my devotion and my learning about God were strong. So I talked with the dean and told him I wanted to study science. I trusted him; he was a friend of my father. He said, “Well, why don’t you pursue a career in science?” So I did undergraduate and graduate degrees in science. I gradually found my way in terms of using my interests, knowledge, and understanding to a career in science.
I definitely felt called. My first understanding was a call to ministry. God was leading me; I just did not understand where, because it did not fit my definition of ministry. As I continued along my career path and went one step at a time in science, looking back I see how the pieces fit together for the vibrant ministry I now have in the field of science. The call was clear. I kept pursuing by faith, even though I did not understand it and could not articulate it.
KRSTULOVICH: I have always loved science. I had an interest in God all my life, but I did not understand what it meant to have a relationship with God. I came to faith in God at Argon National Laboratory. I had been wrestling for some time about how a person could approach a Being like God. If God is this incredible Being of absolute perfection, how on earth could you approach Him?
I enjoyed being at Argon. I was enthralled with the beauty of science itself, the things we discover, the hidden beauties and symmetries.
With science you take apart the atom, and find it is quarks and gluons. Take that apart and it’s the nature of time and space itself. There is an endless progression of beauty and intricacy. Sometimes I get daily e-mails of latest discoveries. Sometimes a fear comes over me. I think, Who is this Person? God is so beyond what we think He can be.
One afternoon alone in my office I was convinced there was no way I would ever make myself good enough to face such a Being. That is when the truth of the gospel hit me: God has to reach me. It has to be on His terms. That afternoon I got on my knees and said, “God, I don’t understand it all. I feel all mixed up like a scrambled egg. I don’t know all the answers, but I know this for sure; I’m not going to get there on my own.” And I put my faith in Christ. God has been answering those questions all along. It’s a beautiful journey.
How has your faith shaped the way you do your science? Conversely, how has science shaped your faith?
POWELL: My faith has enhanced my drive for compassion. Compassion in the medical field is the desire to make a difference in patients’ lives by making basic scientific discoveries that can find new treatments for disease. My faith is very much tied into the compassion that is underneath my research. My faith has also tied into a pursuit for excellence in what I do. When you feel your faith is an outgrowth of wanting to do your best for the God who gave you your gifts and abilities, it causes you to want to work even harder and do an even better job.
MILLER: My faith has influenced the science I do by giving me an appreciation that, in the work I am doing in science, I am worshipping and serving God. It has opened my eyes to what it means to worship. Studying about His creation is studying about Him and what He created. It has opened my eyes to give relevance, importance, and passion for understanding, rather than fearing and being concerned about what I might find and how it might affect me in terms of my belief system.
In terms of faith, the more I discover, the more I learn. The more I think — my primary field is physiology — the more I think about the Psalmist in Psalm 139:13,14 who talked about the wonderful works of God, that we are knit together in our mother’s womb. It’s beyond explanation. I get to see that at a deeper and deeper level as I study and learn more. As I do my work, I become smaller and smaller and see myself as much less significant. Who God is becomes greater and greater. It gives me an adoration and real privilege to serve a God who has an interest in humans.
KRSTULOVICH: Faith is the energizer, and it makes science thrilling. When you think you are unwrapping something that is not just some random mess, but that there are intricate, beautiful things you are going to find, it is exciting. The strangest thing is when men refuse to acknowledge God. They will say, “Well, it just seems like the more we learn, the more pointless it all is.” It’s like a sunset. Some people can look at it and say how beautiful, what a wonderful creation, how gorgeous. Others look at it and say it’s going to be dark soon. What God does — what your faith does — is a vital part of how you do your work.
Why do people think faith and science conflict?
MILLER: Historically the church has initiated a lot of this conflict. Back to the Copernican revolution, Galileo, and in those cases the church was dogmatic and adamant; and, in time, those views were proven wrong. This sets up a rift. Dogmatism causes people on either side to not think about alternatives.
POWELL: I agree. There is a historical basis to this conflict. One persistent myth in American education is that theologians opposed Christopher Columbus’ trip to the New World; when truly, during that time, no educated person thought the earth was flat. There is excitement in the media when you set up conflict, but I prefer an integration model and compatibility model.
KRSTULOVICH: Part of this conflict comes from the way people present this argument, especially in the media. People on both sides of the discussion can be very dogmatic. We should be looking for truth.
Faith and science is really a partnership. In my work, science enhances faith. It blows me away to appreciate who this Being is whom we call our Father.
What are the big questions at the core of the debate between faith and science?
POWELL: Whether there’s purpose in the universe? Whether the laws of nature allow for the possibility of miracles? Whether science can explain morality in our religious beliefs? Whether science can exclude the possibility of free will? Whether science allows for the possibility of divine action?
KRSTULOVICH: One other question is the limits to knowledge itself. We are seeing in science that our analogies, our concepts, even our use of mathematics are limits in the way we perceive science. This can give us a false sense of what we think we know. This is how scientists make discoveries. Many times we come to appreciate our limitations. This is what drives science. Another question is the relationship between science and philosophy. This is huge. For the last 20 or 30 years, scientists have thrown down the gauntlet that philosophy is too important to leave to the philosophers.
MILLER: The age of the earth or the age of the universe is a huge area of contention among some people on both sides. Also origins — where did the beginning happen and how did it happen? And finally, how did creation occur? How did the world come to be? In biology, especially, there are huge differences of opinion about the actual existence and sustenance of the earth and the universe.
Has science made belief in God obsolete?
KRSTULOVICH: Quite the opposite. What we are seeing in science — what we are discovering from microbiology to the universe itself — is almost backing science into a corner; science is putting God right in front of us. Much of the virile reaction against this is coming from those who do not want to engage in that particular discussion. God is doing pretty well.
MILLER: We cannot use a scientific method to prove the existence of God and many of the works of God. So we have to be careful from a systemological perspective not to try to make science answer questions it is not equipped to do. Learn from the Scriptures about God, the incarnation of Christ, and the Resurrection. We will not discover those from science, but science can give us answers about majesty and wonderful works of God in nature.
POWELL: The fishing-net illustration by Sir Abbington, an astronomer, puts this in perspective. Imagine you had a fishing net with a 3-inch mesh. You went fishing in the ocean week after week, and you came back and looked at the sea creatures you captured. You realized there were no fish smaller than 3 inches. If you concluded there could not possibly be 1-inch fish in the ocean, this would not be accurate. This is what happens when we fish for supernatural realities with scientific methods.
What diversity of opinion exists among scientists on issues that have a religious component?
KRSTULOVICH: Back in the ’80s, God was pretty much left out of the discussion. But as we began to discover new things, we have entire colloquia and lectures that touch on this issue. It appears to me, there are not that many scientists you would call hardened atheists. Most tend to be fence sitters.
There is a wide acceptance of pantheism. Not looking at Jehovah as a personality, but perhaps looking at some sort of a spirit that motivates the universe, spelling Chance with a capital C. Those who are strongly atheistic are extremely vocal and popular. We really see there is a softer side. Physics, in particular — the branch I get involved in — is notorious in scientific circles for being open to God.
POWELL: The scientific opinion is probably as diverse as the general population, and perhaps not all that different from it in terms of different religious beliefs. I was surprised when I entered Harvard to find the diversity of religious practices of scientists. Scientists were in the lab during the week and in church on Sunday. Part of it, as Steve said, is moving past the popular image of the vocal atheist speaking for all of science. It is just not true.
What can Christians do if they feel science is challenging their faith at a fundamental level? How can they meet that challenge?
MILLER: Religious beliefs have survived since the beginning of time. Specifically in science, there were big challenges we had to overcome in terms of our understanding of the universe. The first was the Copernican Revolution. We survived that.
There have also been disagreements about the calendar. During the Maccabees this was most debated. Is it a lunar calendar? Is it a solar calendar? The Scripture talks about the “greater light,” so many believed it was a solar calendar, but others believed it was a lunar calendar. After we had satellites, we discovered it’s 365 ¼ days. I heard recently that we have a quarter second — a quarter leap second. That’s how precise we are.
When we get more precision that cannot be denied scientifically, then adjustments are made. We think about Scripture in a different way, but it does not alter our view about God and His influence in our lives and overall plan of salvation. That is fundamental and will not change as scientists make more discoveries.
We need to study Scripture and become informed with science and find truth. If some things we believe are not true, then we need to alter them. Maybe some science, once you study it, shows misconceptions or misinterpretations. But the Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth.
KRSTULOVICH: The prophets tell us we should love justice and mercy and walk humbly with our God. Every age faces challenges, but God is able to manage. We need to learn patience. There is a tendency to become dogmatic where we don’t need to be. We do want to be firm, but we need to realize that our understanding, especially of the Scriptures, needs to be well grounded. Challenges move us to dig deeper. We need to realize that God is at work. How many times in the past has God intervened just when it looked like archaeology or other sciences were about to overthrow things. What we are beginning to understand is we do not understand a lot. We are privileged to live in an amazing time.
POWELL: Integrating faith is a discipleship issue, and we could probably handle it in the same way we handle any discipleship issue. If a person is struggling with a question about faith and science, he should seek someone who is further down the road in both scientific knowledge and Christian maturity to guide him. We are living in an era where scientists are more willing to integrate faith; and, as a result, there are resources to put the two together. The Association for the Advancement of Science now has a committee to deal with dialogue of science, ethics, and religion. And in your church, seek out others who have dealt with these issues and resolved them successfully.
What is the biggest challenge to our faith from a scientific point of view?
KRSTULOVICH: It’s important to realize that many reputable scientists are as upset by Dawkins, Hitchens, and Shermers for their dogmatism. What they are talking about is not science. They are trying to use science as a foil to advance a social agenda. If you read their works, they are pretty blatant about promoting their social agenda. We need to take an opposite attitude. Do not take this dogmatic type of unreasonable attack and use the same tactics. The apostle Peter says, show our reasonableness in these things.
POWELL: It comes down to a philosophy of whether or not everything can always have a naturalistic explanation. If you cut off reality to only be explained by something that we can test in the laboratory, then you are removing the possibility for the supernatural. It’s back to the fishnet. Are there other realities than what are caught in the scientific net? If we answer yes to that, it makes it easier to answer other questions.
Are there any science-based arguments for God?
MILLER: Most arguments for God fit into the teleological realm, where you cannot take God into a laboratory and prove His existence. When you look at the complexity, randomness is becoming less and less of a viable explanation of how things came to be and how things continue to operate. We understand at a genetic level the complexities to such a high degree now. You do not hear people argue statistics anymore, because those arguments are not relevant. There are other questions. When scientists think about the complexity and detail of the universe — the whole concept of design — it causes them to pause and think about some other force that is involved. It just does not seem feasible to an intelligent thinking person who understands the complexity that it is random.
I was talking to a molecular biologist about this topic. I asked, “How can you still think that these are random processes?”
She gave an insightful answer: “It depends what you accept as evidence. What’s there is sufficient evidence for me.”
As we parted, I said, “Well, it’s not sufficient evidence for me. It just doesn’t add up.”
In 100 years, we will not be talking about this. The evidence will be so overwhelming that there will have to be something other than just random naturalistic forces that caused it to be and to sustain it.
KRSTULOVICH: Yes, there are science-based arguments for God. I did a paper for the Faith and Science conference for the Assemblies of God in June. One of my main citations was Leonard Susskind in a book, The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design.Susskind was intent on trying to counteract the need for God, but he was trying to be open at the same time. He would say, “Well, we just can’t explain many things.” The cosmological constant is tuned to 120 orders of magnitude. How can that possibly be? So this landscape idea, which is simply dogmatism of its own nature, is the only way out. The only other explanation is supernatural agents. It was interesting to see the conundrum that people who have that position are going through. They are not sitting as comfortably as many of us might think, even though PBS likes to display it as sort of a unified front.
In fact, when you see scientists let down their hair — as I normally get to do every week at colloquiums and lectures — you will see they are very insightful. They have a lot of interest in this question. We really need to appreciate that.
Cecil, many worry that not enough American college students study science, technology, engineering, or mathematics as major disciplines. Why is the study of science important? Why should Christians pursue it as a vocation?
MILLER: In general, I feel Christians should study every field. Every professional field is a different mission field. By neglecting that area, you are neglecting an opportunity to shine the light of Christ in a dark place.
Second, from a national standpoint, there is a huge dearth of competent scientists working in the sciences. We estimate that less than 50 percent of people who graduate with science degrees work in science. With a science degree, there are so many options open. By making great discoveries in science, you have a platform that many people would listen to because of the greatness of the discoveries.
The more of us who are in science, the more opportunity we will have to share Christ with people who are often neglected and do not have access to the gospel.
Christina, as a Pentecostal, how do you integrate prayer for miraculous healing with research for medical healing?
POWELL: Science does not disprove miracles. Yet we know that miracles, by their nature, are rare. We pray for miracles because medicine does not always produce a cure. Also, sometimes people need healing on a spiritual level or healing in a relationship with another person.
It comes down to a question of whether or not science allows miracles. If you believe science and miracles are not mutually exclusive, it makes sense to do the best you can with science to seek a medical answer for diseases.
So when you go into the laboratory to find a cure for a disease, you are doing the best with what God has given you in terms of resources to try to cure diseases. This is not incompatible with praying for a miraculous intervention for a person. As we know, not everyone is cured through science, and not everyone receives a miracle, so it makes sense to do both.
Steve, Fermilab performs research on the cutting edge of particle physics. What has your work on the very small things of nature taught you about God and the universe?
KRSTULOVICH: My work at Fermilab has shown the interrelatedness of things, the intricacy of things. The very smallest scales influence the very largest scales, apparently. Things at the fundamental Planck scale of reality affect things of a cosmic nature. It’s like one giant, intricate web. The subject we are taking into consideration here is something far beyond our traditional thinking, our ways of looking at things, even from a scientific perspective. We need to be open in the science, as well as in the faith to see the reality, the truth of what’s behind it. Of course, the advantage of faith is we have a lot of things outside of just physical realities to help us understand what the truth is.
Christina, what advice do you have for pastors who are being asked increasingly to address the uses of science and technology that are fraught with moral implications, such as reproductive technologies, stem-cell therapies, end-of-life issues, etc.?
POWELL: First, they should read the Ministry & Medical Ethics column in Enrichmentwhere I discuss these issues. They can also read material being put out by Christian scientists on these issues, and figure out how they can speak to them within their congregations and maybe even within counseling sessions. Parishioners really do want faith-based input on these issues. They look to their pastor for guidance.
Each of you holds ministerial credentials with the Assemblies of God. What advice do you have for your fellow ministers about how to evangelize scientifically literate nonbelievers and disciple scientifically literate believers?
MILLER: Unless you are trained as a scientist, do not try to evangelize or help scientists who are Christians from a scientific perspective. You do not have the tools to do that, and you will lose credibility within the first 30 seconds of a conversation. Accept who you are and what you know, and inform yourself as much as you can so you can have a good conversation. But as a minister, you are dealing with things on the spiritual level and things of the heart and possibly personal things. In that vein, you have expertise. You know the Scriptures; you have the training; you have the experience with being led by the Spirit. These are places scientists do not understand well. Concentrate your efforts there. You cannot argue anybody into the kingdom of God. It comes down, ultimately, to faith. You can guide anybody, as a minister, no matter what his or her faith is.
I have had to deal with pastors who have been excited in this mission field. They are going to evangelize the scientific world. I remember one person who made a video using science as a way to encourage people to come to faith. The video had so many mistakes that were scientifically incorrect. I pleaded with him not to show this. He would have been a laughingstock. Think of scientists as people who need to encounter the love of God and approach it that way. Then you will have access to their hearts, and you will be able to, through the work of the Holy Spirit, help them come to know the Lord and grow in faith.
KRSTULOVICH: We need to show a reasonable attitude and a teachable attitude. We do have truth, but we do not have all truth. The way we look at the truth we do have at times is colored by our preconceptions. Science does not prove anything; all its arguments are based on the fact they have to be disprovable. The fact is the evidence we see for God, for a Creator, is so great. Take our everyday life. If we had that much evidence on something, the decision about what steps to take would be made a long time ago. We are seeing more and more hoops science has to go through to keep pushing God further and further back, and it’s becoming embarrassing. Many scientists who are naturalistic, materialist, acknowledge the embarrassment. It seems unreasonable to deny it. Yet it’s like, well, we have to stick with this naturalistic explanation of things to the end. We need to realize we are on the right side of the argument. We may not understand all the technological intricacies of the argument, but it is the same thing with our faith. There is more eyewitness testimony for the resurrection of Jesus Christ than any other fact in ancient history. What are you going to do? Throw away all ancient history? Then what do you have to do about Jesus? We have a reasonable faith. We can be reasonable people, and we need to show that reasonable and humble attitude.
POWELL: With unbelievers, use accurate information or state you do not know the answer. Scientists appreciate integrity. They will be wary of overly simplistic answers to difficult questions. Scientists want evidence. One of the most powerful apologetics is how Christians live their lives. How do we show love for one another in the body of Christ? Are we seeking to make the world a better place?
Disciple believers. Point them in the direction of resources to explore. Emphasize the importance of reading the Bible to verify what they hear in sermons and classes. Recognize that scientists, by virtue of their training and abilities, tend to be discerning. Be honest in all your dealings. Pursue excellence in your ministry.
Scientists are seeking evidence of all kinds. It’s part of what scientific training does. One of the most powerful apologetics available is Christians showing love for one another. If we provide the evidence and fruits of our faith in how we interact with the scientists we want to reach and with one another, and they see something real, then that will begin the pursuit. From there you can guide them toward resources for the more scientific answers.
Almost all scientists I know care about the pursuit of excellence. To the degree you pursue excellence in your ministry, you are going to draw the educated scientists, because they will respect and honor you doing well in what you do. Do not step into things that are not your area of expertise, because scientists really do care about accurate information. They will look to see what you do, so do it with integrity. And above all, love your people.
What can ministers do to increase their scientific literacy?
MILLER: Be lifelong learners. Resources are available for the public, because the scientific community is concerned about making sure the public understands what they do and the importance of what they do. The scientific meetings I am affiliated with always have a session for the general public. You do not have to have a scientific background; it’s made for the nonscientist, and they have fabulous speakers.
Be an avid reader. It does not matter which newspaper or magazine you read; all have a science section. You can get scientific information from the Web. Reading books is important.
Finally, be open minded. We know some answers, but we do not know it all. If you come with an open mind and want to learn something, you may have people in your church who can teach you. Be willing to let them speak freely and not be condemned for it. You can learn from those you encounter on a regular basis.
KRSTULOVICH: I understand pastors need to be abreast of the issues, so they can respond to people like the Dawkins and Hitchens. But do not let that color your view of science. Be enamored with the wonder and beauty of science. Science is revealing things about God, about existence, even about the beauty of the Bible and the way it is written — things we never would have imagined. Every 2 to 4 years, knowledge grows in various fields of science. That means if you left school several years ago, you know half as much as people who graduate today. How could anybody keep up with this? Do not feel intimidated by it; enjoy the wonder of it. Yes, you need to read some things. You must be aware of the twisting and turning that is being done to use science as a club. But if you want to get into science, get into something that is going to help inspire you, something that is going to help you see the beauty in it. Read books that share the wonder of creation that we are seeing. You can approach it then with love, rather than a fear or phobia.
POWELL: Take a scientist to lunch. If you have people in your congregation who work within these fields, get to know them. Part of pastoring is relationships. Think of faith and science as something that is going to happen in the context of relationships instead of thinking of it in terms of information that you have to take in and learn and process. If you have fears or misconceptions about science, they may go away when you get to know a scientist. A scientist’s misconceptions about a pastor may go away when he or she gets to know you. Try to do this in the context of relationships. That is the best continuing education on this topic.
Share a concluding thought or challenge to our readers as it relates to the faith and science dialogue.
MILLER: Be humble. Love all people. Learn what you can. Try not to be too opinionated and judgmental. If you come to the person with your heart, it will be reciprocated, and you will be able to advance the kingdom of God in a spiritual level, even though it may not be in terms of contributing a lot of new information. If you deal with the person and his heart and his relationship with God, that is ultimately most important — that is eternal. What we do in science will pass, as the whole earth will pass. The higher priority is building the Kingdom through your ministry to us as scientists in a spiritual realm.
POWELL: Respect the limits of both science and theology. As a pastor, teach your congregation to use science wisely without dismissing the supernatural. Show respect for the contributions of science, while leading your people to deepen their faith. Become comfortable living with unanswered questions as you journey through this life seeing “but a poor reflection as in a mirror” until you see Christ face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12).
We have to be prepared to live with unanswered questions, not only in the area of faith and science, but just as believers in our faith journeys in general. We know we are going to see through the glass darkly on this side. So whenever you are encountering places with science and faith, whenever you are struggling to see them integrate, realize it is okay to say, “I don’t know.” It is okay to live with the unanswered questions for a while; that is part of the faith journey. Get to know scientists and start establishing those relationships where knowledge can flow — both knowledge of faith and knowledge of science.
KRSTULOVICH: Do not feel you must answer all the questions. God is in this game too, and He is going to answer it in a loud and resounding way, as He always and eventually does. We need to realize that science in itself is not an answer. What has our technology given us? It has given us a world where we are fearful of nuclear weapons and pollutions, superbugs, and all kinds of things. Science by itself, without a moral foundation, without God, is like throwing the keys of a Maserati to a kid and saying, “Here, have fun.” It only makes the problems of humanity more acute. Yes, 100 years ago, people dreamed that science was going to change the world and answer all our problems. But as a whole, the world is a lot more mature now, and we realize the limitations of science. I say, “Get in the fight. Rejoice. This is a wonderful time. There has never been anything like this before. What a wonderful time to be alive and to see what God is going to do.”