Science professors say research, religion don’t conflict

Bryan Wroten

When Bob Heath is doing research from his boat on Lake Erie, he said feels at awe at the massiveness of it all and the smallness of humanity’s existence.

“My world becomes the ship, the water and the horizon,” he said.

Heath is a biology professor and biochemical limnologist, but science does not negate his faith as a Presbyterian, or vice versa.

“Matters of the spirit are not in conflict with science,” he said. “Spirituality covers a much broader area, and science is knowable through scientific procedures.”

Heath is not alone, as other Kent State science professors have found a way to balance their work and their spirituality.

“The argument is almost moot,” biology professor Bob Carlson said of the science and religion debate. “Science has nothing to say about faith.”

Carlson, a practicing Congregationalist, said this is because science deals with the natural world, not the spiritual. But the issue is not this cut and dry.

“You can’t deal with the subject that I deal with and not be consistently challenged,” he said. “And I see nothing wrong with that. I sometimes wonder about those who say they never have a problem with their faith.”

Heath said he shares the same viewpoint on the science and faith.

“Things of the spirit cannot be measured or manipulated,” he said. “If I could manipulate God for an experiment, I would be God. Science has its limits ƒ_” limited by what can be measured and reproduced.”

Carlson said faith and science need to remain separate in order to avoid conflict. Religion, he said, should be the center of your life. They become incompatible when the physical world becomes the center of your religion.

While matters of the spirit can have evidence, they just aren’t measurable, Heath said. Science and his faith help him understand the other better.

“This is the system through which I can address higher matters of greater importance to me,” he said. “Science is also a search. That’s why we call it research, we see we need to search again.”

There are different sets of truths, said John Watson, interim dean of Arts and Sciences and retired physics professor.

“There’s what we know spiritually and what we know in the laboratory,” he said.

In his case, he said the key issue for him is to acknowledge that people don’t know everything there is to know.

The scientific and spiritual worlds don’t clash at Kent State, Watson said. He finds the university to be a very tolerant place.

In fact, he said when he and his wife started a Vineyard Church in the area, others were curious about it. A Vineyard Church, Watson said, is an association of more than 800 churches nationwide which focuses on the gifts of the spirit, healing and concern for the poor.

Watson and Heath belonged to the same faculty Bible study group at one point. Heath said he had to leave the group after a few years because he moved farther away from the university, making it harder to attend meetings. He said Watson has asked him to come back because he had a different view point than other members of the group.

Watson said he refuses to get into arguments about whether the Bible is literally true or allegorically true.

“To make a proclamation that the Bible is incompatible with science is to say we understand everything that the Bible is trying to tell us and we understand everything about nature, and that’s not true,” he said. “It’s important to show humility in our understandings of spiritual truths and what we know of nature.”

David Odell-Scott, chairman of the philosophy department and religious studies coordinator, said Jewish and Christian scholars never maintained the Bible as literally true.

For example, he said there are five creation stories within the Jewish text. The pluralism is intentional.

“The purpose of the text is to provide guidance on moral behavior instead of data,” he said.

Heath said through such creation mythology he is able to see the complexities of life and its realities. Myths are fictional stories that are true in their subject matter, he said, and being a scientist helped him see such complexities of life more clearly.

Contact religion and minority affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].