Monday, January 10, 2011

Here We Go Again...

I am a Christian, and I am a scientist.  But mostly, I am just bored out of my mind.  Which is why I have decided to start this blog, featuring my half-coherent ramblings on the intersection between science and faith. 

There are a surprisingly large number of evangelical Christians out there who already do this.  I won’t tell you their names, because I don’t want you to find their more insightful blogs.  But I will argue for what makes my blog, if not superior, at least worth the occasional perusal:

1. I am not some random guy writing down my thoughts on things for which I have no training.  I once sat through a presentation on evolution (and its apparent evils – did you know that Dahmer was an evolutionist?) by a guy who, it turns out, was a satellite repair man.  Alright, to be fair, we’re talking about the satellites you put out in space, not the ones in your backyard, and I would assume it would take some brains to do that, but the guy’s only experience with evolutionary theory was what he read in Creationist newsletters.  His science was atrocious.  Just atrocious.  I am not an expert in evolutionary biology, but at least I have lived it.  I have a B.Sc. in marine biology from Dalhousie University.  I did an undergrad experiment where I examined some of the issues that result when farmed salmon hybridize with wild salmon (this was published in the scientific journal Evolutionary Applications).  I was (and still am) amazed and intrigued by how rapidly Atlantic salmon (and other creatures) change in the farmed environment, and how amazingly adapted each salmon population is to the river in which it was born.  My supervisor, Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings, is one of Canada’s foremost experts on the rapidity of evolution among fish: as we pull large fish out of the ocean, the fish populations respond by producing smaller fish – ‘survival of the weakest’, as one recent newspaper article put it.  This rapid evolutionary response is beginning to affect the biology of the ocean in surprising ways.

I’ll probably talk about this later, but I went to Dalhousie a Creationist, and I left a full-blown evolutionist, whose very work is steeped in evolutionary theory.  I saw scientists doing amazing work in evolutionary biology, and am myself in the process of joining their ranks.

I am currently a Master’s student at the University of Calgary, working with a researcher who just recently discovered one of the most rapid evolutionary responses ever documented in a wild vertebrate population.  I am not doing anything quite so newsworthy, but it still requires an evolutionary paradigm to even ask the question.  I won’t bore you with the details of my work (my friends eyes’ have glazed over enough for me to know that that is exactly what it would do), but it involves some cool genetics work, lots of expensive equipment, and another species of fish, the threespine stickleback, a creature quickly becoming known as ‘Darwin’s fish’ due to its amazing utility as an evolutionary study organism.

So I may not be an expert, not like Ernst Mayr or Dolph Schluter or the other big names in evolutionary biology.  But at least it is something that I am living out, and I feel that makes me at least semi-qualified to discuss evolution intelligently.

2. As I said, I am also a Christian.  I was a born into an evangelical family.  My father’s side has deep Catholic roots (but my dad himself is evangelical), my mother’s side practically began the Church of Christ in southern Ontario in the 1800s, and my maternal grandfather was a long-standing pastor in the Disciples of Christ.  Being a fairly conservative family, I was raised to believe in a literal 7-day period of creation, and attended numerous youth rallies in which we were taught the evils of evolution.  This is not the place for me to tell my entire life story, but needless to say my thoughts changed as I grew, such that I read about and embraced at one time or another each of the major positions on evolution that the church has, including Young Earth and Old Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design, and theistic evolution.  I think one of the big problems in the science/religion debate is that people have a difficult time understanding the thought processes of those they are debating with.  I approach the discussion as one who has been an adherent to all of the major positions (except atheistic evolution), and I know the arguments people use and why they find them so convincing.  I think this gives me a leg-up on some of the ‘competition’.

3. Finally, I don’t just write as someone with training in evolutionary biology, who can empathize with viewpoints I don’t agree with; I can also write from a biblical perspective.  It is a true and lamentable fact that the church does not teach people how to read the Bible.  For that, I had to go to Alberta Bible College, where I earned my Bachelor’s of Religious Education.  The tools that I learned there completely revolutionized how I approach Genesis; I think the reason so many Christians have such a difficult time with evolution is simply because they approach Genesis with the wrong interpretative lens.

So that’s it.  That’s my pitch.  I’m writing this blog because I can, and because I think it will be fun.  I have no particular audience in mind – sometimes it will appeal more to the scientific, sometimes it will appeal more to the religious, sometimes it will appeal only to me, and sometimes it won’t even do that.  I intend to link to interesting articles and raise questions that I find interesting, and from time to time treat it as my soapbox.  What I do not intend to do is mock anyone’s belief system.  It can be very easy (and cheap) to do so, and I will do my best to resist.  I really do respect all people who participate in this discussion, no matter what their perspective.  (You’re wrong, but I still respect you for trying).  In fact, from time to time, I might even come to the defence of a position I don’t agree with. 

The above comic is from

1 comment:

Jordan said...

"I am not an expert in evolutionary biology, but at least I have lived it."
As evidenced by this photo of the author at 16 years of age:
And this photo at four years of age: