Colin Humphreys: religion and science

Colin Humphreys discusses the interaction between science and his Christian beliefs.

Well I think many people say science and religion aren’t compatible, you know, particularly Richard Dawkins who is very successfully saying science and religion aren’t compatible. I found they are compatible. So I am a scientist and a Christian and I find that my science and religion are compatible. And one helps the other actually. So for example, if you look at the early chapters of Genesis and the Creation story, and if you read that I think with an open mind, it’s not clear if it’s meant to be taken literally or not because there are, you know, symbolic things in it, there’s a serpent that talks, and there’s a tree called the Tree of Life. But if you’re a scientist and you come along, and you know from science the earth, you know, is really quite old, it wasn’t sort of created 6,000 years ago, so the science actually helps the interpretation of the Bible there. So I find that they’re perfectly compatible. I got interested in this. One, it’s an illustration from the Old Testament, it’s in the Book of Exodus, you read that over 600,000 men aged over twenty were in Egypt, the Israelites were in Egypt, over 600,000 of them, and they’re then left. And if you include women and children that’s over two million people. And a lot of people for a long time have thought this number’s far too big. You know, populations, we’re talking about something like 2000 BC, populations were a lot smaller then, and also from the numbers you’re given then you can work out the average size of a family. And if there really were all these people then the average mother must have had over 100 children, which is highly unlikely, right (laughs). So people have said these figures are a myth, and some people have said they’re literal. And I just got involved and there was one figure which stood out on the page to me. And that was there were 273 more first-born children Israelites than there were the Levites. The Levites were a priestly family. And so I wrote an equation, I just put number of first-born Israelites minus number of Levites is 273. And I wrote down a couple of other equations from the text, and you can solve how many Israelites there were from these equations. And there are about 20,000, not two million. And I then published this in the leading Old Testament journal, and it’s the first time they’d ever had mathematical equations in any paper in this journal. But that’s another example of how science can inform your interpretation of the Bible. And I got involved in other things in Exodus, so I wrote this book called The Miracles of Exodus, where I say a lot of the miracles in the Book of Exodus modern science can now explain. So if you're Christian or Jew you believe that God is working in with them through nature to perform these miracles, but they have scientific mechanisms. And the miracle is in the timing, just at the right time, these events occurred. My views on science and religion have changed. I was brought up in a household where both parents were Creationists, so believed in special creation, and so I did as well, being brought up in the household I guess. And at school there was another person in the class who also did, so our biology lessons were really interesting because we’d argue with the biology teacher and actually we used to win the arguments. And I noted there a lot of people say, you know, you shouldn’t mention Creationism in schools, but the fact was in our class biology was incredibly popular because it was the only class in science in which we actually had discussions, and so biology was the most popular science in my school [laughs]. But then when I went to university I realised that carbon dating for example, radioactive carbon dating which is pretty reliable, and then there’s other forms of radioactive dating, the earth really is very old and there’s no doubt about that. You can walk down the Grand Canyon and as you walk down, you get to older and older rocks, then you get more and more primitive life forms and so on. And so in the end I thought I’ll write a book about this, so I wrote a small booklet which was published by Oxford University Press and it was for use in schools, in Sixth Form in schools. I tried to set out both sides of the argument, you know, as what are the facts and set it out. So that’s one way in which my thinking has changed as I developed. This frontispiece in the book is of an ant holding a silicon chip. And this picture was taken in an electron microscope. And what I say here is, I say, ‘The silicon chip was clearly designed by man, you know, with the aid of electron microscopes [laughs], but was the ant designed by evolution or what was expressly created.’ And at first sight you think it’s so complicated, I mean the ant is actually more complicated than the silicone chip, and so the ant’s really complicated. And at first sight you’ll say it must be designed by God, but I say okay, it’s really came about by evolution, but if you believe in a God then God chose evolution as the mechanism by which he created the ants. So that’s why the illustration is there. Well I’m not as high profile as Richard Dawkins, but I think someone has to stand up to Richard Dawkins because I think what he says is basically wrong. Because basically what Richard Dawkins is saying is very effective and he speaks very well, but he’s saying that the scientific view of life is the only view of life, and a scientific truth is the only truth. And I think that’s a bit like looking through the world with one eye, just the eye of science. And there are people on the other side, religious people, who say, ‘Oh but we must only look through the religious view of truth, that’s the only truth there is.’ But I think you should try and look at the world through two eyes, you know, through the science eye and the religion eye, and then you see a more three dimensional view of the world, and that’s what I’m trying to promote. 

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