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updated: 7/30/2011 7:39 AM

Wheaton, North Central colleges tackle science vs. faith debate

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Wheaton College biology professor Rodney Scott says he takes grief from both sides of the science-versus-faith debate.

From devout Christians with an "innate problem" with science to scientists who believe Christianity clashes with their work, Scott says he has heard it all. But he says that the battle is unnecessary.

"For years and years, we have been battling against the idea that there is a war going on between science and faith," said Scott, one of the program chairmen for the American Scientific Affiliation's four-day annual meeting. "That is an invented concept. We're trying to regain the heritage from before the Enlightenment period, which included many scientists who didn't think in those terms."

The faith-based scientists group's meeting is co-hosted by Wheaton College and North Central College with seminars that started Friday and run through Monday, primarily in North Central's Wentz Hall. Among the affiliation's core beliefs is that God created the world and, within it, created the basis for scientific investigation. Also, members believe that they have a responsibility to use science and technology for the good of humanity in God's name.

The meeting includes seminars and speeches discussing, among many other topics, stem cell research, climate change, conservationism and several about the relationship between the Christian God and science. For a full program, visit the American Scientific Affiliation's website.

About 250 of the group's members are expected at the meeting.

For Ray Lewis, an associate professor at Wheaton College, Christianity and science are perfectly compatible.

"We believe God has made the world work in a rational way and that we can discern orderliness," he said. "That is what science is all about."

Like Scott, he said each of the disciplines can help the other and said he has seen a shift in his 20 years with the affiliation toward a more accepting view of the largest topics of debate.

"I am seeing more of a willingness to look at different ways instead of just creationism or evolution," he said. "I am seeing more of a willingness to consider ways in between."

Lewis said the annual meeting helps him meet others with his same beliefs but, more importantly, provides an outlet for differing opinions on science.

"It helps raise the conversation, the scholarship, to a new level, a more effective level," he said.

But if pre-Enlightenment scientists did not doubt the compatibility of the two approaches, where did that doubt come from?

Scott says the "misconception" most likely comes from the title of a book written in 1896, called "A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology and Christendom."

"It's just unfortunate that for the longest time that story has been put out there," he said. "Sadly, the Christian church does not do an awful lot to rectify that situation. A lot of Christians hear messages that suggest they should be afraid of science or that it will mislead them."

Instead, Scott champions a more inclusive and open-minded approach.

"Our goal is to reasonably persuade, to the extent that we can, some of the folks from both of those camps that there is the possibility of reconciling both beliefs," Scott said. "You don't necessarily have to have all of the answers. But it's not as if the only way to look at the world is through a very narrow interpretation of Scripture or, on the other hand, a narrow interpretation of science."