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Couple urges truce in war between faith and science

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The poster in Deborah Haarsma’s office at Calvin College bears the bold title, “Long, long ago in galaxies far, far away” _ appropriate “Star Wars” jargon for an astronomy professor. It shows photos of galaxy clusters spied by Haarsma and two of her students using one of the world’s […]

c. 2008 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) The poster in Deborah Haarsma’s office at Calvin College bears the bold title, “Long, long ago in galaxies far, far away” _ appropriate “Star Wars” jargon for an astronomy professor.

It shows photos of galaxy clusters spied by Haarsma and two of her students using one of the world’s largest telescopes last summer.

“We were hoping to find about half a dozen galaxy clusters, but the universe told us that’s not what we’re seeing,” Haarsma says. “We found one galaxy cluster, which is pretty cool in itself.”

When Haarsma says the universe told her what they were seeing, she’s not exaggerating. She believes God speaks through the Bible and through the far-flung reaches of space _ God’s Word and God’s world.

For her, science and Scripture do not conflict, but together point toward the creator of both.

“Seeing the beautiful things of the universe reminds me of God’s beauty,” she said. “Seeing the powerful things reminds me of God’s power.”

Her husband, Calvin physics professor Loren Haarsma, nods in agreement. While she sees God’s wonders in a vast sea of stars, he detects God’s design in atoms flowing in and out of cells.

Both are awed not only by the intricacies of God’s creation, but also by the fact that they, as scientists, are able to understand much of how it works.

“We have the privilege of thinking God’s thoughts after him,” Deborah says.

In the noisy debate among biblical creationists, intelligent-design lobbyists and religiously skeptical scientists, consider Loren and Deborah Haarsma missionaries for peaceful dialogue.

Calvin professors since 1999, they share a passion for faith and science and would like to make peace among factions warring over how life was created and by whom.

Stop firing and consider this possibility, the Haarsmas say: Both the Bible and science are true if we interpret them correctly.

“Science and Christianity are not at war,” they write in “Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design and Evolution,” published last fall by Faith Alive Christian Resources. “In fact, scientifically studying God’s creation is one way we can joyfully explore creation and fulfill our mandate to be caretakers.”

Theirs is a refreshing voice in a debate dominated by nonbelieving scientists on one side and biblical literalists on the other who both insist science and Scripture are incompatible, says Douglas Kindschi, director of the Grand Dialogue in Science and Religion.

The Haarsmas reject both extremes and speak for “a lot of closet Christians who are scientists,” Kindschi says.

“They are part of a growing movement of people who very competently articulate the relationship and compatibility between good science and good theology,” says Kindschi, professor of math and philosophy at Grand Valley State University.

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Katie Shomsky, a sophomore physics major at Calvin, appreciates that wider view. She worked with Deborah Haarsma on the galaxy-cluster study, using a telescope in Hawaii that sent images to a Calvin computer.

Shomsky also has taken a physics lab with Loren, who opened each class with a devotion. She likes how the Haarsmas integrate faith and science, though she admits she’s not all the way there.

“I believe God created the universe and, yes, he caused everything. But, in some ways, my belief and the scientific evidence don’t seem to match,” says Shomsky, 20. “I believe they match up _ just exactly how I haven’t seen yet.”

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The Haarsmas both grew up learning a literal Genesis creation account, he in a Christian Reformed Church in Iowa, she in an Evangelical Free Church in Minnesota.

They met at a Bible fellowship as doctoral students in physics. As their relationship grew, so did their interest in exploring apparent conflicts between their faith and their research.

“I would say it was God’s spirit prompting me and telling me, yes, I should study this, I should work at this,” says Loren, 44.

“It was an issue I had to work through,” added Deborah, 38, “sort of a moment of realization that these two different areas of thinking in my brain are based on different assumptions. I have to figure out how to reconcile them.”

She insists she did not water down her beliefs to fit the science. It was a matter of understanding how to best interpret Scripture and science, then seeing how the two fit together.

“I wanted to promote Christian unity by showing Christians, `here’s where you agree on issues’ … and try to get people to see where the essence of the disagreement is.”

In fact, there is more agreement than conflict among Christian views of science, the Haarsmas say. Christians agree God created everything but disagree on how, the couple contends. The disagreements flare over the most controversial concepts: creationism, intelligent design and evolution.

In their book, the Haarsmas argue that answers can be found by careful study of the Bible and the book of nature.

For instance, young-Earth creationists reject evolution, believe God created the world as described in Genesis and that the Earth is only a few thousand years old.

“Evolutionism” holds that evolution doesn’t need God or a purpose for human existence. Intelligent design argues life is too complex to be explained by evolution alone, so a creator must have intervened.

The Haarsmas lay out these and other theories in their book. Only when asked do they advance their view: that the Earth is about 4.6 billion years old, the universe about 13.7 billion and evolution is God’s program for creating life.

“Scripture doesn’t teach against evolution,” Loren says. “There’s good scientific evidence for Darwin’s theory of evolution, and there’s no reason to say God couldn’t use those natural processes to do the job.”

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Theological study shows the Book of Genesis was not meant to teach science but about God’s relationship to people, the couple says. It uses poetic images and concepts of the Earth’s structure that people of the time would have understood.

“God wanted to correct their mistaken beliefs that there were many gods,” Loren says. “God didn’t bother to teach them modern big-bang cosmology first.”

(Charles Honey writes for The Grand Rapids Press in Grand Rapids, Mich.)

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A photo of Deborah and Loren Haarsma is available via https://religionnews.com.