Being A Science Ambassador (Part One) - John Mark Kuhns - Anabaptist Perspectives Ep. 121

Mar 25, 2021 10:30 · 4413 words · 21 minute read

Well, hello again, and welcome to this episode of Anabaptist Perspectives. I’m here again with John Mark Kuhns at Faith Builders Christian School, and John Mark, I want to talk to you today about science, and being Christians and science and scientists, and a lot of people don’t think those two things go together, so I want to talk to you about that today, but before we do that can you just give us a little bit of your background with science? One of my earliest memories related to science is in grade school.

I don’t remember what grade I was in, but I had to do this experiment where I took two balloons and put them on a balance beam scale. Measured. Showed that they were the same weight, and then I was supposed to predict what happens if I blow one of the balloons up, and then compare the weights, and I thought, well, obviously they’re still going to be the same weight. I mean yeah, I put air in it, but it’s just air. Air is nothing. And so I blew the balloon up, and put it on the balance beam, and wouldn’t you know, the one with air in it went down, and I was like, what in the world? I’d like to say that that sparked my interest in science, and then I was always a scientist ever after that.

I don’t know that that’s the case. I don’t remember the surrounding context, but I remember that discrepant event as the kind of thing that science can do for you is just shatter your expectations, and so anyway, I decided to pursue medicine when I was in high school. My goal was to be I think first a heart surgeon, and then I found out that being a heart surgeon was really hard, and so I decided to be a brain surgeon instead which was worse. By the time I went to college, I had switched to pediatrics as my target, and so I went to college.

Got a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor of arts in biomedical humanities which is basically a pre-med degree. I took some time off of school, and fell into teaching, and have been pursuing the sciences since then just kind of an informal way. Reading whatever comes to hand, and staying up to date on medical news, and such, but yeah, science has been a growing passion for me over time.

02:39 - And a lot of the science that you read - you know scientific magazines and all of that - are coming at science from the worldview of evolution, and you’re coming at it from the worldview of being a Christian. How do you see that working together? Or how do those things coexist? Because a lot of people would say - maybe especially outside our circles would say the Christians are over here and science is over here. How do you bring those together? I think that the mistake that Christians made during the scientific revolution was that they kept retreating behind a lack of knowledge.

They said, well, but God still exists because you see you can’t explain this phenomenon, and then science would explain that phenomenon, and then Christians would retreat. Say, but you still can’t explain this, so God must still exist. They were arguing for the existence of God based on the lack of knowledge in science. That was a huge mistake that Christians made during the scientific revolution, and one of the last places that they have kind of stood their ground was in relation to life - the life sciences, and you still actually hear Christians saying, but God must exist because science can’t explain where life came from.

How did life start? I want to say, no, that’s a mistake. Because what that does is it puts God off to the side, and He only works through miracles with that viewpoint. Instead I want to say that what science does is demonstrates to us or shows - reveals to us - how God works in normal times. Jesus made wine at Cana, and it was a miracle, and it was an incredible miracle. You know there’s a lot going on there. Vintners make wine all the time, and we don’t raise an eyebrow about that.

That doesn’t make any news because they do it over a long period of time, but they do it with natural processes. Jesus did it by a miracle. We see those as two separate things. God is working in the one, and He’s not working the other one, and that’s a huge mistake. We have to see that - we see science as revealing things about how the Creator works right now in the here and now outside of miracles. I mean He works in miracles. I don’t want to deny that, but He also works through natural processes.

He also works in natural law, so coming back to evolution. One of the things that people really misunderstand about evolution is they think that Charles Darwin is the guy who came up with the idea, and that he did it to disprove God. That’s not quite how it happened. There were many theories of evolution before Darwin, and in fact some of them were pretty close to what he said. What Darwin did is came up for a mechanism for things to evolve over time that does not require an outside influence, and so descent with modification, or we call it natural selection.

It’s actually a really simple idea, and to a large extent, it’s accurate. It works. Over time you see populations changing to fit the environment that they’re in. Christians thought that by coming up with a mechanism where God wasn’t required for things to evolve that Darwin was denying God. That’s not necessarily the case. Just having a mechanism for populations to change over time that doesn’t require God’s miraculous intervention does not actually remove God from the process.

It’s a natural process that He has set up. Now that sounds as though I’m defending evolution right? It sounds a bit like theistic evolution at least. Yeah.

07:13 - Yeah, and so I want to back up and say we don’t have to deny every tenet of evolution to maintain a Christian and even a straightforward reading of the Bible, Christian approach to science. We do have to recognize that the mechanisms of the natural world were written into the universe by God, and that they’re gifts from Him.

07:51 - So let me just clarify that a little bit for myself and for our audience. So you’re saying - and I think a lot of Christians would agree that since the time of the flood there have been you know what we would call micro-evolution where species do just - they do slowly adapt and there are more breeds of dogs and things like that, and you’re saying God is working through that? He’s still part of that process. It’s not devoid of God.

08:27 - Well, it’s actually a gift from God to populations, and here’s what I mean. During the industrial revolution, there was a lot of particulate matter put into the air that killed lichen on trees. When they put particulate matter into the atmosphere the lichen on trees died and the spotted pepper moth went from being a light color - mostly light-colored species to being mostly dark-colored. In the light-colored population, there were a few dark-colored individuals who were able then to reproduce more quickly than the light-colored ones once the lichen was gone, so the population had some variability in it, and then the percent of the population that was dark changed over time to fit the changing environment.

This is the process of evolution in a nutshell. Microevolution is that populations adapt to the environment that they are a part of. The environment is always going to be changing, and so it’s a gift from God to the population to let it change. In contrast the cavendish banana is basically a genetic clone. All the bananas we eat here in America are cavendish bananas except for the little dinky ones. They are genetic clones of each other, and what that means is that if the environment changes those bananas will no longer be viable in the place in which they are.

If you taste banana flavored candy, it doesn’t taste like bananas, and that’s because banana flavored candy was actually made off the big mike banana - the perfect banana. Okay. It was big. It was tasty. It shipped well. It produced well. It was the perfect banana until a tropical fungus developed the ability to attack that variety of banana, and since there was no variation in the population (they were all genetic clones of each other) as soon as one was vulnerable to that new disease all of them were vulnerable to the new disease, so it wiped them all out.

There wasn’t the variation because people took the variation out. That’s what happens when you have a strictly static kind of population, but God’s gift is that we have a variety in the population, and the population can shift its frequency - the frequency of certain types of individuals - over time to fit the changing environmental surroundings.

11:22 - Let’s circle back just a little bit then. I like what you said about how for a lot of Christians the lack of scientific explanation for something was really their proof for God. Because science couldn’t explain it, God exists here at least, and then as science debunked that, and there was scientific evidence then maybe that was an area where God wasn’t at work. Going to the miracles and God and what we’re just talking about with evolution - are you saying that -because my mind it still hasn’t answered where you’re coming out on with macro evolution.

I don’t feel like you’ve really defined that part yet, so I want to just push in a little bit more on that. Are you saying that God created the world in six literal days as a miracle, and then we’ve had microevolution since that time? Or can you just expand a little bit where you’re coming at with the macro evolution side? So Genesis clearly indicates God’s involvement in creation, and I would say His miraculous involvement. The natural laws that we’re familiar with now were clearly not at play in the description of God’s creation.

There are obviously lots of different ways that people read Genesis, and I tend to think that when God says He did something I should believe that He did it that way. I also have to recognize that I may have misunderstood what He’s saying with His account in Genesis, so I’m not going to attack or disfellowship somebody who reads Genesis differently from how I do. I think that if God wanted to, he could have created the world last Thursday and given me all the memories that I have and everything, and He has the right to do that.

I don’t think He did. He said He did it a certain way, and I take it as a matter of faith that He did it that way. That being said, I don’t think that’s actually the most important way in which science and Christianity interplay with each other. One of the first things that God did after He created man in His image was that He said to dress and keep the garden, and that task has not been eliminated. It’s still our task, and so I don’t like to get into extended arguments about exactly how it started.

I’m not going to stand up to God and say, no, You couldn’t have created it that way. You couldn’t have done it that way because it doesn’t make sense to me. That’s hubris on my part, and so I have to take the humble approach to recognize that I may not know everything.

14:48 - You’ve talked about this interplay of science and faith a little bit. Can you speak a little bit more to that? How does our faith as Christians and science and new discoveries - can you just speak a little bit more to that interplay, and how we can reconcile the two or or marry the two? I know that there are probably problems with the quote “all truth is God’s truth. ” I don’t know what those problems are, but I’m sure somebody has an issue with that. I kind of take that approach that all truth is God’s truth, and so I see the scripture as telling me things about God that I couldn’t know otherwise.

I would not know about God’s trinitarian nature without reading the scriptures. I wouldn’t know about Jesus without reading the scripture or the whole plan around Jesus. At the same time I wouldn’t know the expanse of the heavens without science. I wouldn’t know the size of the earth without science. I wouldn’t know so much about what the universe is actually like if all I did was read the Bible. Many of those misstatements that atheists like to throw at scripture are not misstatements at all.

They’re metaphorical language and clearly metaphorical in the context, but if you don’t have science and don’t have any way of studying the physical world, you don’t have any other description of what the universe is like, and so you’re going to get a very, very skewed picture. I see both as being ways that God reveals Himself. Creativity, and the power and complexity of God shows up in creation, and His love and His grace and His jealousy - these other characteristics show up in scripture.

If I reject either one of those, I’m going to miss something about Who God is. Clearly for salvation purposes scripture is primary, but as a Christian who wants to be fully formed into God’s image, I ought to be studying what the world is like. I think everyone ought to be interested in science because it’s a powerful tool for getting to know something about what the universe is like.

17:37 - And really doesn’t it give us a deeper picture of just the awesomeness of God? You know you really can’t help, but look at something from the Hubble telescope or even look through a normal telescope from down here or read about these just intriguing scientific facts, or how this animal does this under these circumstances or as a matter of fight or flight. There’s so many things that’s it’s just like, wow, isn’t God good? Like that’s just kind of my response sometimes when I look at things, and I think having a fascination with science really can point us to God more, and help us worship Him in deeper ways.

18:25 - One of the ways that this should work out in us as Christians is that we ought to be taking a creation care approach to the whole environmental question. So I grew up as an anti-environmentalist. I thought that tree huggers were stupid and misinformed and clearly didn’t care about people because why would you stop a development because of a moth? I mean who cares about a moth, right? We’re people, and people clearly trump any kind of animal that’s out there or plant or what have you.

I’ve come to recognize that the anti-environmental movement I could say is every bit as dangerous as the environmental movement for our Christian witness, and so I’ve started using the term creation care because when we go out and just wantonly destroy what God has made, we trample on things - on beauty that He has put there for us to take care of, but how do you develop human ingenuity or allow human ingenuity to flourish - allow human populations to grow without destroying the environment? I mean there are Christians who are starting to work on this, and unfortunately far too often the loudest voices among Christians are those who are arguing about how we got here, and very few people - very few Christians are taking seriously our task to take care of the earth that God has given us, and there are lots and lots of reasons for that.

Among them being that we don’t trust science very much. We don’t trust scientists because of the whole evolution question. That’s one of them. As conservative Anabaptists we have often aligned ourselves with certain political movements that have set themselves up against environmentalism, and again, environmentalism can go way too far, but as Christians we need to take seriously our creation care responsibility. That’s actually where my passion lies. That we don’t get so caught up in the question of evolution that we forget to do what we ought to be doing right now.

I said earlier there are certain things I know to be true. I know God was involved in the process. I know that He upholds the universe. These are among the things I know, but the most important thing I know is what I ought to be doing now which is to be learning what I can about the universe so that I can act responsibly. Just one example of thoughtless irresponsibility that led to significant damage. The Atlantic used to have a lot of salmon - Atlantic salmon - and they would go up the eastern rivers and spawn just like they do in the west now.

When settlers came from Europe they put in water wheels on these rivers and accidentally blocked the salmon from coming up the river, so without meaning to they collapsed the Atlantic salmon population. They didn’t overfish them. They were doing what made sense, right? You need power. You’ve got power right here. You build a water wheel. You build a dam and a water wheel, and in so doing you have this huge chain of effects that leads to really a beautiful fish and productive fish - one that could have fed lots of people - collapsing in its population.

My point is that it was a lack of knowledge on their part. They didn’t mean to. They didn’t want to do this, right? They just didn’t know, and had they known I think they would have taken appropriate precautions. Early settlers cared, right? but they had other things. I mean they didn’t know enough on the one hand, and they also had certain needs, right then. I mean they needed power, so they did the sensible thing, and in so doing did tremendous damage.

We can tend to do that if we ignore what science is telling us.

23:49 - Let me just pick your brain a little bit on that last point. So if we have often done things out of ignorance or maybe scorned or ignored science and gone ahead with a housing development or whatever that endangers some plant or animal in some way. If a Christian is truly caring about caring for God’s world, what should that look like? And maybe let’s just use the example of the power for the early settlers and the salmon. If we were just coming to America, we knew that the salmon go upstream to spawn, and we needed power on an east coast river, what should the Christian’s thought process be in creating a sustainable solution for both human and animal? That’s where I can diverge from a lot of environmentalists.

You know the really extreme environmentalists would say, well, you don’t develop that river, right? It’s important for those salmons, so you don’t develop the river. There are design solutions that can allow the salmon to spawn while still giving you the power you need in the west coast that dammed some of those rivers, and they built a series of steps that salmon could still get up past the dam to get to their spawning beds, but you have to think about how you can get what you want while still allowing for the things to take place that are taking place or that need to take place.

If we don’t, there are always these unintended consequences, and even if we do - even when we take things seriously and try to do it in an environmentally responsible manner, we are going to have - sorry - downstream effects that we don’t intend. That’s just the nature of life, okay, but as we learn more, we ought to be changing our behavior based on that. So as an example for me right now: roundup is a wonderful invention, but more recently we’re learning about the ways that roundup actually damages the soil, and so I’ve stopped using it at my house which makes things harder.

So I have weeds growing in my driveway. How do I kill my weeds without roundup? Well, I tried pulling them. Too many. I’m not going to do that, but I discovered that if I take a blowtorch and blowtorch them, they die, and so I can still kill my weeds while not destroying the soil with roundup. Now that may not be - there might be a better solution yet, and I’m going to keep iterating until I find a solution that works well for me. You know that solution for example doesn’t work under my spruce trees because I’ll set all the spruce needles on fire, and that would be a bad thing, so I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to kill the weeds under my spruce trees, but just knowing that glyphosate is off the table means that I have to get creative with my other solutions.

27:29 - And I wonder sometimes if maybe what’s happened is - and I think this is true for pretty much everybody in western civilization - maybe that’s a little too broad of a stroke, but we’re capitalists. You know we live in a capitalistic society, and efficiency and time are just really, really high priorities. Designing a dam that has a fish ladder in place is not the cheapest way to do things. It’s not the shortest, most efficient way to do things, but I think as Christians, we need to check ourselves on those capitalistic pressures that we grow up in, and we’re surrounded by.

Somewhere we need to find the balance of stewarding the earth and stewarding the other resources, and we really need to take into account all the resources God has given to us not just the ones that society says matters such as time and money, but that the earth also matters. And I think that’s a really good balanced approach where you are caring for the environment, but you’re not the one out there hugging the tree so the bulldozer doesn’t push it over either.

28:49 - Right. Another big mistake that I think a lot of environmentalists make is that they see business as a problem with this. I mean the ways that some businesses approach the environment are problematic. That’s undeniable, but that doesn’t mean that business itself or capitalism itself is necessarily going to be the problem. The Clean Air Act in the early 90s worked phenomenally well at motivating businesses to clean up the air. The program worked better than predicted.

It was cheaper than predicted, and it worked faster than predicted simply because businesses got on board with it, and said, we’re going to do this. They gave a business incentive for power plants to clean up their power stacks, and then you got all the creativity of - I mean you got the money obviously, but you got the creativity that people put forth when there’s money at stake. Like when you can make money at this you tend to get more creative. You don’t give up as quickly.

Now that’s not to say the Clean Air Act was perfect, but it gives us an indication at least that if you get businesses motivated, they can do phenomenal things, and now I don’t actually think that the best approach is to have government legislate that businesses do this. The Clean Air Act gave a motivation for businesses - kind of a business motivation. I don’t think it would work with other challenges that face us right now, but I think that there are other ways to get businesses motivated to clean up their act.

30:52 - You mentioned money as being a motivator, and I agree with that wholeheartedly. Should we as Christians and especially as Christian business owners who care about caring for God’s world should the motivation to be a good steward of God’s earth - is that a good enough motivation instead of money? You know secular society says, okay, you throw enough money at the problem. We’ll come up with a solution somehow, and should Christians be more self-motivated? maybe is the question.

31:33 - I think we should, but we have to recognize that we still have to put food on the table, and our daily interactions are often around acquiring money in order to survive, and as a business you are competing with other businesses so you can’t just care about the environment because it’s God’s creation, and that’s going to be enough. It ought to be the thing that motivates us. It ought to be an extra incentive for us, but the truth is that no matter how much I care about something, if it isn’t sustainable for me, I’m not going to do it.

I’ve talked to many teachers who love teaching, but they’re quitting because they’re not getting paid well enough. They care about it tremendously, but it’s not sustainable, so they can’t do it. In the same way you know, I can care as much as I want about plastics, but it’s not sustainable to live a plastic free life, so I’m not going to do it, and yeah, you’re right that Christians and Christian business owners ought to have as part of their motivation to take care of creation, but that’s not going to be enough to actually change practices in a sustainable way, and what I mean by sustainable is sustainable for you as a person or as a business owner. .