Responding to Possibilianism & Dr. David Eagleman: Knowing & Authority Beyond Science

As I’m continuing to teach and lead the class, “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science” this year, I’m enjoying the YouTube recommendation engine (in moderation, of course) to help me discover other videos I can share and use in class as well as outside of class as ‘extra recommended media / videos.’ This morning YouTube helped me find Dr. David Eagleman’s (@davideagleman) 2016 presentation from PopTech, “GOD vs NO GOD – And the Winner Is?” It’s 20 minutes long. In the presentation, David makes some excellent observations about the awe and wonder with which we can (and perhaps should) regard our universe and our amazing human bodies, especially the human brain. He misses, however, some key perspectives about “knowing and authority beyond science,” however, and it is to those topics I want to turn in this post. Before going further, however, I recommend you watch his talk:

It’s good to be reminded of The Hubble Deep Field photograph, which is staggeringly beautiful and mind blowing in its implications for not only astronomy and science but also cosmology and faith. Created in 1995 as a composite image from a very small portion of the night sky using the Hubble Space Telescope, the Deep Field image powerfully conveys how vast our universe is, and how little we can literally glimpse of it from our position on earth on the outer rim of the Milky Way galaxy. It’s truly an awe-inspiring image that can be a catalyst for wonderful conversations about the origins of our universe and BIG questions of faith as well as science. How did we get here? Did God create all of this? How can we know about things like “Who created the universe” or “Why are we here?” “Are we alone in the vastness of space?” Science can encourage and provoke us to dive into these questions, but ultimately, there are a number of questions “modern science” (as we’ve learned to understand it the past 400 years of human history) can’t answer.

One of the lessons I’ve enjoyed sharing with my 5th and 6th grade students this year involves creating and sharing InfoPics. One of my 5th graders, Masha, commented to me last week how looking at images of the universe and our galaxy “makes her feel so small.” This is one of Masha’s InfoPics she shared on our class Seesaw blog. Her expressed sentiment is laden with cosmological and theological questions. It is to these questions as well I’d like to turn now.

In his video, ““GOD vs NO GOD – And the Winner Is?”, David Eagleman correctly points out the folly in dogmatically claiming that a creation story from any culture fully apprehends and describes the processes and observations of cosmology. Here are a few important elements he either omits or gets wrong in his talk about beliefs, science and the origins of our universe.

Creation Stories Were Not Crafted to Compete with a Scientific Worldview

David Eagleman conflates the Biblical creation story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the Kuba Kingdom’s Creation story in the Congo. and his connections elicit laughter from his audience. The paraphrase of his message here is, “How can any rational human in the 21st century actually subscribe to such a patently incomplete and false story of cosmology?” Eagleman fails to grasp, or at least communicate to his audience in this 2016 presentation, that the Jewish creation stories (because remember, there are two of them in Genesis) were not formulated and should not be interpreted today to be comprehensive texts summarizing all that is known and needs to be known about cosmology (the origins of the universe). The Bible as a whole, and the Pentateuch specifically, are not “books of science.” Portraying Biblical cosmology as a “fail” because we have learned so much observationally about our universe in the past 400 years risks misunderstanding the value and purpose of these stories and literature. For more on these perspectives, I commend “The Bible Project” videos to you and specifically the six minute video, “The Book of Genesis – Part 1 of 2.”

Not All Faith Derives from Predominant Culture

David Eagleman misses another extremely important point about faith and belief in this talk, when he tries to explain to his audience how we understand where religion comes from. Eagleman asserts that predominant cultures imbue faith and belief, and this cultural transfer of cosmological perspectives is understandable from an anthropological / scientific perspective but not valid from the viewpoint of scientific truth. Eagleman’s observation can be more accurately stated this way: MANY people DO adopt their beliefs and faith perspectives from their parents, family, and predominant community culture. HOWEVER, some people “break” with their family and culture, and take on beliefs which are different and even bear a huge physical cost. The testimony of our former pastor, Mateen Elass, who grew up as a Muslim in Saudi Arabia and eventually came to faith at Stanford University after traveling to India and studying Buddhism intensely is a case that comes to mind. The faith of C.S. Lewis, who documented his journey from atheism to Christianity as a follower of Jesus in his book, “Mere Christianity,” also provides a counterpoint to Eagleman’s assertions about the origins of faith. Francis Collins, the leader of the Human Genome Project and author of “The Language of God,” grew up an agnostic but came to faith in Jesus. Orthopedic surgeon Curt Gruel, who spoke to our class on September 15, 2019, has a similar story of “being a disciple of science” but through his lived experiences coming to know and follow Jesus Christ. A couple weeks ago we heard from a Christian missionary working in Iran about the ways God is revealing himself to Muslims through visions and dreams today. Here’s the point Eagleman misses, and it’s very important when we discuss faith and cosmology. Not all faith and beliefs about God derive from a predominant culture / environmental pressures.

We Have Sources of “Knowing” Outside of Science

Another vital point which David Eagleman missed in his 2016 talk is the idea that as human beings, we have sources of “knowing” outside of science. Certainly science has tremendous value to us as a systematic way to not only understand our world but also creatively project our own ideas into it. Engineering is the application of scientific principles to design and build structures as well as solve problems. Your reading of this blog post right now is the result of technological innovation built on scientific principles and understanding. Yet the replicability of experimental conditions in a controlled setting / laboratory only provides PART of the ways we know and understand reality as human beings. Our ‘lived experiences’ can inform us and also reveal to us fundamental truths about our world, ultimate reality, and God. My own journey of faith, which included a dramatic ‘near death experience’ in undergraduate pilot training in the US Air Force, is a part of my own story and powerfully shaped my acknowledgement of and understanding of God’s reality in our world. Curt Gruel shared a similar “journey of faith” story with our Sunday School class in September. These experiences are not scientifically replicable in a lab setting where variables are tightly controlled. They are still, however, valid “ways of knowing” and point to the importance of understanding that “scientific knowledge is not the only type of knowledge which exists or points us to truth.”

Our Faith in God and Jesus is More than a “God of the Gaps” Understanding

One of the important points author and scientist Francis Collins makes in Chapter 4 of his book, “The Language of God,” is that Christian faith or any other faith in God as the creator of the universe should not hinge on a “God of the Gaps” understanding. In other words, we certainly DO regard the universe with awe. Our world IS still filled with mysteries which we do not understand, to the extent that we don’t have comprehensive or even “good” insights into the processes which define and explain phenomena we observe.

I’m not sure if there is a more generally acknowledged term for this, but it seems this dynamic throughout history has gone like this: “The more things we can NAME scientifically, the less space we have in our minds for God, his active role in our lives and world, and even His very existence.” In other words, as “the gaps” in our understanding of our world and universe have started to “fill in” through scientific inquiry and discovery in the past 400 years, we’ve (naively) convinced ourselves that we no longer need God. That God is a human, psychological and cultural creation. As Nietzsche said, “God is dead.” The Enlightenment and the scientific revolution which followed it have provided “science” as a replacement for religion and faith.

Thankfully, the God of our universe is not dead, and our perception of Him, our understanding of Him, and our faith in Him and his goodness need not hinge on a “God of the Gaps” understanding. Charles Darwin himself alluded to this in his concluding sentences in “The Origin of the Species,” when he observed:


“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

Charles Darwin, concluding The Origin of Species, as quoted by Francis Collins in “The Language of God,” pp. 98-99.

In his 2016 PopTech talk about God and science, David Eagleman omits this important perspective that acknowledgement and understanding of, and faith in God, can be compatible with the rhetorical answer to scientific questions, “I don’t know.” One does not have to be a “Possibilianism,” to have and regularly express this kind of humility in the face of the universe’s mysteries. One can, in fact, be a Christian and follower of Jesus. Humility and acknowledging our inability to ever fully apprehend the fullness of God’s reality is, in fact, an essential in the Christian life.

‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ‘

Micah 6:8 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/MIC.6.8

Scientific Uncertainties and Discoveries Need Not Threaten Our Faith in God

Finally and importantly, David Eagleman omits the idea in his talk that scientific uncertainties and discoveries need not threaten our faith in God. This perspective was summarized well by Saint Augustine, who lived from 354 to 430 AD. He wrote:

“In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on the one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we to fall with it. “

Saint Augustine, “The Literal Meaning of Genesis,” translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor. Quoted by Francis Collins in “The Language of God,” page 83.

As David Eagleman encourages us in this 2016 video, we can and SHOULD be in awe of our universe and the mysteries it holds. We need not abandon faith and our belief in God, however, because we realize religious texts and Biblical stories fail to fully capture scientifically understood observations of and theories about our cosmology.

For more thoughts and resources related to these topics, I encourage you to check out the public website for our Sunday School class, “Curiosity and Questions: Faith and Science.” If you have feedback about this post or that site, you can leave a comment for me below, reach out on Twitter to @wfryer or @pocketshare, or use my online contact form.

Takeaways from Curt Gruel’s Presentation about Christian Faith from a Surgeon’s Perspective

Last Sunday during our “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science” Sunday School class, Curt Gruel was our guest speaker. Curt is a very unique Christ follower. He was an orthopedic surgeon and the doctor in charge of the medical residents at OU Medical Center for years, and then went to seminary to (eventually) lead the “Heartpaths Spiritual Direction” program here in the Oklajoma City area. Curt has been my personal “spiritual director” for the past five or so years (at least since I was teaching STEM in Yukon Public Schools, before coming to Casady School) and is someone I deeply respect. Curt is also an artist, and has about 50 of his prints on virtual display at The Studio Gallery OKC. This Sunday (tomorrow) our class will be recapping Curt’s inspiring and theologically deep presentation from last week, so I thought I’d share the “tweeted takeaways” I shared during his presentation from my Christian Twitter channel (@pocketshare) and also provide a little summary analysis of ideas he shared or referenced in this post.

I created a “Twitter Moment” of the 9 tweets I shared during and immediately after Curt’s Sunday School presentation on my primary / professional Twitter account (@wfryer):

Here are some of the important concepts and terms Curt mentioned, which I plan to explore in a bit more detail in tomorrow’s Sunday School class recap:

  1. Empiricism
  2. Process Theology
  3. Biblical Inerrancy
  4. Johannes Kepler (We should reference both Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei)
  5. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

To help us better understand the context and history of both theological and scientific thinkers as well as their ideas, I’ve started a timeline using the Knight Lab’s Timeline tool. I’ve titled it, “Faith and Science.” It is embedded below. I’ve started with five dates, the resurrection of Jesus Christ (33 AD), the fall of Jeruselem (70 AD), and the years of death for the three scientists mentioned above: Copernicus (1543), Kepler (1630), and Galileo (1642).

Responding to Stephen Fry’s Arguments Against God

Inspired by the sermon on September 1, 2019, at First United Methodist Church in Manhattan, Kansas, today our adult Sunday School class in Edmond, Oklahoma responded to a controversial and challenging video interview shared by Stephen Fry back in 2015. I recorded an 18.5 summary of our lesson today using Explain Everything on my iPad.

Here are the slides from today’s lesson, which include links to referenced videos and articles:

The video which we analyzed and responded to is, “Stephen Fry on God | The Meaning Of Life” from 2015:

Ian Paul points out in his article, “Stephen Fry and God,” that Fry was likely referencing a David Attenborough interview and video (“Sir David Attenborough’s view on Science & Religion – Life on Air“) from 2008 when he discussed the eye boring parasite.

Before closing our lesson today with “Joys and Concerns” and prayer, we watched Sean McDowell’s video, “How Do We Know God Is Good? 3 Reasons.” If you watch any of the videos linked and referenced in this post, this is the top one I recommend!

Thinking about Christian bumper stickers

So this is an unusual find this weekend. One of Alexander’s roommates shared this with me. You can ask for 10 random “Christian” bumper stickers from the website below, or select 10 that you want for free. I definitely do NOT agree with all the messages included in their bumper sticker menu, but I DO agree with many of them. In most cases, these short messages encourage some worthwhile, critical thinking. Some reference Bible verses, most do not.

As an example of a bumper sticker message with which I disagree: We don’t simply need to require / mandate prayer in public schools to remove all ills, like drug abuse or premarital sex from teen and adult culture. I happen to work at a school that mandates chapel for all students, and I can tell you this is not received well by many of the students. At some point I will write a blog post reflecting on mandatory chapel. I am definitely a fan, and I love having chapel services at our school, but it is recklessly naïve for people to think we simply need to mandate prayer and Bible reading in schools and this will heal all of our society’s ills like a magic wand. God has the power to heal any of us at any time, but the mechanism of his healing for our culture is not via a mandated school Bible curriculum in public or private schools. If you’re a little fuzzy on historic problems with mandated religion, refer to the English Wikipedia article for the “European Wars of Religion:”

It is true bumper stickers on our cars can provide an opportunity to encourage people to think about questions of faith, morality and propriety. I don’t think putting a bumper sticker on your car is going to realistically lead to immediate, life changing decisions for people to turn their lives over to God and reject evil, but it’s worth considering whether or not this is something you want to do. Check it out: www.christianbumpersticker.org

I think a more random selection of these bumper stickers could be used as a catalyst for excellent conversations in a Sunday school class, about our beliefs and the ways in which we are called to advocate for and work for God‘s kingdom on earth.

Biblical Interpretation and the Role of Women

For our “Gospel Encounters” adult Sunday School class on January 27, 2019, Pastor Dave Moore led us in a verse packed overview of Biblical Interpretation and specifically a deep dive into the roles of women in the church and society, as highlighted primarily in the New Testament. These are the whiteboard notes and Bible verses from which Dave taught:

A friend of mine on Facebook had asked me some excellent questions regarding the role of women, and specifically some of the verses from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians this past January. After seeking direction and counsel from both our lead pastor (Eric Laverentz@ericlav) as well as Dave, I recorded and shared a 10.5 minute video for him of my best understanding of these passages and the overall perspectives of Christians on the roles of women in the church.

Women have and continue to play extremely important roles of leadership, service, teaching, and prophesy in the Christian church. If you are seeking answers yourself to questions about this topic, I hope this video and the verses Dave Moore shared with our Sunday School class are helpful and instructive to you.

‘“ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. ‘

Acts 2:17-18 (NIV)