Although American culture has a persistent tendency to perceive religion and science as opposites, geneticist Francis Collins writes that humans can discern the truth about life “from both of God’s books — the book of God’s words (the Scriptures) and the book of God’s works (nature).”
Lutheran scientists grapple with the implications of both faith and science every day. How do their professional lives intersect with their broader vocations as Christians? How does Martin Luther’s charge to use both faith and reason apply to the scientific realm?
Here are several Lutherans who share a deep commitment to explore “both of God’s books” toward understanding the beautiful mysteries of creation.
“Ever since I can remember I’ve been fascinated by how things work,” said Andy Byerley, a teacher-leader for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the Newberg, Ore., public schools.
The member of Joyful Servant Lutheran Church in Newberg sees God’s faithfulness when a student finally grasps a tricky concept. Byerley also has seen it outside the classroom while coaching a Lego robotics team. “Being part of a larger team working on an engaging and relevant problem planted seeds in these students that God will germinate in his perfect timing,” he said.
Byerley finds the call “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God” in Micah 6:8 especially relevant. “I am able to work through this lens and model these actions to my students,” he said.
And acquiring the broad knowledge he needs to teach enriches his spiritual journey. “My awe at God’s amazing power to create physical and natural systems that we even can attempt to explain with logic, reasoning and mathematics is central to my personal faith,” he said.
Charles Austerberry’s experiences indicate that Byerley’s work can bear much fruit. Austerberry, a member of Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Neb., serves as an assistant biology professor and teaches a “Science and Religion” course at Creighton University.
Growing up, Austerberry first saw faith and science interact in the life of his public school biology teacher, a member of his congregation. He still remembers an early research experience of being “the first person to ever know some — very little — truth about the natural world that my experiments had revealed.”
He added, “One of the feelings is tremendous humility. No human created the microbe I was studying. That microbe is part of an evolutionary lineage tracing back to the beginnings of life on planet Earth. All humans are intimately connected, evolutionarily and ecologically, with all of creation. We humans also bear God’s ‘image.’ Perhaps part of what that image means is to know things about the natural world and recognize, as Genesis 1 says, that God’s creation is good.”
A scientific world
Geologist Karl Evans helps lead discussions of faith and science at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, Colo. He is also active in the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology.
“The church doesn’t have the option of living in or not living in a scientific world,” he observed. “It already is a scientific world — we are all geeks! The question is how the church will live in a scientific world.”
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© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers