Science and Faith: Friend or Foe?

By Barbara Boatwright, Ph.D.

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” Psalm 8: 3-4

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The historic solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 was visible in all 50 states and a total eclipse was seen across the entire continent for the first time in 99 years. It is believed to be the most observed and photographed eclipse of all time, with tens of millions of people re-orienting their lives and schedules to participate in watching the event. During totality, it is possible to see the sun’s outer solar atmosphere (the corona and chromosphere), which makes solar flares (a sudden flash of brightness near the sun’s surface powered by a sudden release of magnetic energy) observable. What I did not know until I read Dr. Michael Guillen’s newest book, The Null Prophecy, is that space weather, particularly solar super storms, can hit and impact the earth. Solar flares are often accompanied by coronal mass ejections, when clouds of electrons, ions and atoms are ejected through the corona of the sun into space. These are huge explosions of plasma and the sun’s magnetic field that can travel almost at the speed of light, reach the earth in as little as 14 hours, and fill half of the volume of space between earth and the sun on their way.  A CME hitting the earth causes huge geomagnetic storms and disrupts telecommunications and technology grids.

The largest CME recorded to date is called The Carrington Event, named after amateur British scientist, Richard Carrington, who observed two massive solar flares of electrified gas and subatomic particles erupting from the sun on the night of September 1, 1859, just hours prior to the largest solar super storm in 500 years hit the earth. The energy of the two CME blasts has now been estimated to be equivalent to 10 billion atomic bombs. During that event, telegraph communications across the world went wild, with “streams of fire” pouring through circuits. The electrical currents pulsating through the earth were so charged that messages could be sent from Boston to Portland, Maine across unplugged circuits using only auroral current. Newspapers across the world reported that celestial lights turned night into day and could be seen in the Northern hemisphere as far south as Jamaica.

Our own Charleston Mercury newspaper recorded an eyewitness account from a woman living on Sullivan’s Island: “The eastern sky appeared of a blood red color. It seemed brightest exactly in the east, as though the full moon, or rather the sun, were about to rise. It extended almost to the zenith. The whole island was illuminated. The sea reflected the phenomenon, and no one could look at it without thinking of the passage in the Bible which says, ‘the sea was turned to blood.’ The shells on the beach, reflecting light, resembled coals of fire.”

Michael Guillen’s first fictional work, The Null Prophecy, uses the backdrop of a massive solar super storm hurtling toward earth in a fascinating exploration of the tension between what is within the purview of man’s control and the unintended consequences of scientific innovation. The primary protagonist is an autobiographically derived science reporter, Allie Armendariz, who is interviewing two very different, but equally driven men as they unveil their scientific innovations that they hope will bring about world change. Jared Kilroy is a technology guru, whose quantum computer chip is set to revolutionize the world of technology, while Calder Sinclair has created a clean form of energy production that will free the world from dependence on oil and other natural resources. 

Dr. Guillen’s vast knowledge of science (he is a theoretical physicist who holds doctoral degrees in math, astronomy, and physics) makes the book educational because it is current and scientifically plausible. Dr. Guillen also develops a deep discussion between science and faith- highlighting man’s tendency to play god, though blinded by unrecognized biases and lack of knowledge. Like all of us, both Jared and Calder are influenced by their own personal histories and resulting distorted belief systems that drive their respective motivations to change the world. As Allie observes, “There are forces we unleash through our ignorance, thorough our hubris- even through our good intentions- that influence the ultimate outcomes of our choices, of our behavior; forces only God fully understands.” (The Null Prophecy, p. 400).

In Allie’s view, “to explain the universe, you always need to start with something, and whatever that something is, that’s your god” (p 307). Jared is driven by his belief system around economic and political injustice and for Calder, science has become his religion. For both, “Their god is the human mind, which is only too happy to deify itself.” (p. 161).

Just last year, a report was released revealing that a solar super storm in 1967 nearly caused a nuclear war between the US and Soviet Union. US telecommunications at three ballistic missile detection sites had been jammed, causing our military to suspect tampering by the Soviet Union, and our nuclear equipped forces were placed on high alert. Fortunately, our solar forecasting technology picked up on a solar flare and explained that a geomagnetic storm caused the communication jam and reached our military commanders just in time to avert a US nuclear attack.

Science is a double edged sword and the Bible is anything but obsolete.” Michael Guillen, Ph.D.

Dr. Guillen’s novel helps “open our eyes to the unintended consequences of science and technology, to the dangers we are naively creating for ourselves in the name of progress. …it might even cause our cynical, secular society to stop and at least wonder if perhaps the Bible might be correct about who we are and what will happen to us in the end, both scary and joyful.” (p. 411).

The backdrop of the pending world disaster from a solar super storm reminds us that we are ultimately not in control, despite our best efforts to influence and change the world.

In the past month, two major hurricanes have devastated parts of our country and the Caribbean. Our advanced weather technology has allowed us to track the storms and have some ability to prepare and leave harms way. But we cannot still a storm or redirect it any more that we can redirect the next solar storm from impacting planet earth. In moments such as these, we become painfully aware of our vulnerability to events beyond our control. As much as we want to believe we are masters of our own destiny, at the end of the day, we must recognize that we are dependent and fragile creatures- even on the very air we breathe and the gravity that holds us in place.

Rather than respond in fear to events beyond our control, we can experience freedom when we place our trust in the only One who holds the universe in His hands- for in truth, our very lives are in His hands. Guillen writes, “For Christians, this life is not the end of the story- it’s only the beginning.” (p. 161). This means that the worst that can happen to us this side of Heaven cannot take away Whose we are. In that, we do have our most important life choice- to accept the offer to gratefully trust in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and thereby rest in His security.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3: 5-6

 

Article previously published in the October 2017 edition of The Carolina Compass.