Category: Faith

I should have posted this a month ago when our first episode came out, but now that the second one is now available, why not now?  Our plans earlier this year to develop a podcast within The Christian Humanist Network ( have finally come to fruition, and I’m truly excited about where things are heading.Galileo_facing_the_Roman_Inquisition

Our first episode sets the stage, explaining our backgrounds, how we got into this project, and what we see as our vision for the podcast.  You can listen to it here: Book of Nature 1: Opening the Book

Our second episode gets into some real meat about the differences between science and scientism: Book of Nature 2: Science vs. Scientism

So, please subscribe to us on iTunes, leave a review there if you are so inclined, and send feedback to  Or, if you prefer, head over to the show notes page and leave a comment there!

We plan to set up a Facebook page in the very near future, as well.

The good folks at The Christian Humanist have interviewed me again, this time about meteorology. View the show notes here, and find their feed on iTunes to listen to it! We had a far-ranging discussion about Aristotle, storms in the Bible, the long and cold winter in the eastern U.S., the Polar Vortex, and the supposed dichotomy between scientific and teleological/theological descriptions of weather events. These guys (all three are Ph.D. English professors) are great podcasters (is that a word?) and talk about a lot of interesting stuff that scientists like myself otherwise would rarely think about, and I highly recommend subscribing to their podcast on iTunes.

I had a great time in this interview, but I was a little nervous. This had the effect of causing me to lapse into inanity and general inarticulation from time to time. I obviously need more practice. Specifically, regarding the discussion of the dichotomy between scientific and theological descriptions, I didn’t feel that I explained my point of view very well. When describing the formation of hail from a scientific perspective, and then pointing out that this didn’t preclude the use of hail as punishment on God’s part, I didn’t mean to imply that God used hail for punishment all the time, or that bad weather in general is always punishment by God (I actually don’t think that this is the case). My point was rather that a thoroughgoing scientific explanation does not preclude such a possibility, as these different types of descriptions are looking at the same problem from a different angle. In my view, God is just as much responsible for the everyday natural happenings of the Universe–those very things that are amenable to scientific investigation–as he is for any sort of “true supernatural” miracle. Clearly there is lots more to say on this latter point, which brings me to my big announcement.

The Christian Humanists are enlarging their project, having recently added a new podcast to their repertoire, The Christian Feminist Podcast. Recently, they approached me and two other scientists who are long-time listeners if we would be interested in hosting our own separate podcast discussing all manner of issues of science as it pertains to the Christian faith. We all enthusiastically accepted. The podcast will be called “The Book of Nature“, and will debut sometime this fall. My hope is that being in verbal conversation with other Christian scientists (no, not those kind), will help crystallize my own thinking on this area of inquiry and my writing about such things on this blog. So, stay tuned! I’ll have more information as the debut date nears.

I awoke Sunday morning, April 24th, to the sound of thunder and rain, something that had not been heard in Norman since January.  Indeed, we had had no precipitation of any consequence since a snowstorm in February, only a few fitful sprinkles and a couple passing showers that barely wet the ground.  But this!  This was a real deluge!  For practically the entire day, several thunderstorms with torrential downpours trained over the town, dumping over 2 inches of sorely needed rain (I had never seen the grass and trees look so anemic in the Spring since I moved down here in 2002, and the sense of patient anticipation on their part was almost palpable).  When the rain finally came,  I could practically feel the stressed and dormant vegetation rejoicing in the life-giving deluge, and I felt like laughing and singing.  I drove to church with a huge smile on my face.  The confluence of the promise of new and awakening life that came with the rain, and the connection to the significance of Easter was not lost on me.

About halfway through the service, I received the news: my paternal grandmother, Jytte Dawson, had passed away, aged 70 years.  She was survived by her husband of 53 years, Thomas; her sister Irene Gillespie; her son Daniel Thomas Dawson (my father), her daughter Jayne “Tuffy” Meyer, and two grandsons: myself, and my brother Grant.  Even though I knew it was coming, the news still struck me like the lightning in the thunderstorm outside.  My father choked up as he told me that she had passed away with the rising of the sun.  Again, the significance of this was not lost on me.  Even as her old life ebbed away, the sun rose with the promise of a new day, and in my belief, a new life to come at the end of days, when all is finally made new — of which the life of the land awakened by the rain drumming outside, as beautiful and glorious as it was, is a mere shadow.  For several moments, I stood and watched the rain pour down outside, listening to the sound of thunder, a similar cacaphony of emotions warring inside me: grief, anger, joy, hope.

She hailed from Denmark, a fact which I always found enormously cool growing up.  My brother and I affectionately called her “farmor” after the Danish word for “father’s mother”.  My parent’s relationship with her wasn’t always the best, for various reasons which I won’t get into, but suffice it to say that in the last decade or so of her life, both parties made great strides to patch up the hurts.   Watching this happen has implanted me with an unflagging optimism for the power of love and forgiveness, which I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

For at least a year, she had been dealing with the horrible mental decline that is dementia.  I won’t get into the details, but it was a very trying time for all of us, most especially my grandfather, who patiently stood by her side during all her episodes of delusional anger and paranoia wrought by her condition.  My grandfather is one who took the “in sickness and in health” part of his marriage vows completely to heart, for which I deeply respect and look up to him for.  Partly due to his example, I am emboldened to show the very same level of devotion in my own marriage, no matter what the cost or what trials may come.  So, I guess that this post is partly a tribute to him as well.

A couple weeks ago, after a routine checkup on her knee, the doctors discovered something else was very wrong.  It turned out she had late stage cancer, which had spread from her lungs throughout her body, and had completely ravaged her liver.  There was no possibility of treatment.  My wife and I rushed out to visit her on Tuesday.  The cancer was so fast acting that by the time we arrived,  she was so far gone she barely recognized me. But before we left, I gave her a kiss and a hug.  I’ll never forget her kissing me back, and saying my name: “Danny”, which was all the energy and mental coherence she could muster.  It was enough.  I loved her, and I knew that she loved me, and knew it at that moment.

I finally went back inside the church sanctuary.  The pastor finished up his sermon, and we ended with a song that lanced me to my soul like few songs have.  I felt the Holy Spirit upon me like few other times in my life, speaking through the song and comforting me, and I’m not afraid to share it.  Some folks may scoff, or claim that I was emotionally vulnerable due to the news I had just heard.  Nevertheless, I had just encountered three events, juxtaposed with the Easter holiday, that each hammered home a different aspect of this day’s significance that had never before come together so powerfully for me in my 18 years of following Christ: the harsh reality of death, the hope of new and eternal life, and the empowering of the Spirit to begin to act out that new life, here and now on this planet.  Not just in some future state; we can only hope for that now, since we do not yet have it, to paraphrase the apostle Paul.  But I can choose right now, at this moment, to live out heaven on Earth in my relationships, my career, and my personal life.  It’s not as if I didn’t know or believe these things before: I did!  But never have they so powerfully come together in one moment in time, in a manner that I simply cannot deny, but only bow my head in reverence.  This is the stuff of the ineffable and transcendent, and I came away from it changed.  Time will tell if I can remain faithful to it.  For those who are inclined to, pray that I do so!

I do not claim to completely understand why my grandmother had to suffer the way she did, or why a good and loving God would allow her to do so.  I have become increasingly convinced that such a matter is so weighty as to resist any attempt at explaining it (or rebutting it) in mere words, which theologians and skeptics alike have debated and wrestled with for so many centuries.  I do not mean to imply that such discussion cannot be fruitful, but my Christian faith, however, tells me that God provided a very different and surprising answer: not one of mere words or formulas, but his very essence!  That is the significance of Easter to me, at least in this context.  God himself suffered and died, and in so doing, identified forever and inextricably with his finite and mortal creation, and in that lies the essence of goodness and love that we are seeking.  That is something that my mind and heart can both rest in, and is ultimately (to me at least) more satisfying than any theological argument.

On Easter, he rose again from the grave, leading the way for us. Even now I believe that my grandmother awaits that day when the dead will hear the sound of his voice, and awaken from the grave to a life beyond imagining.  I want to be there to greet her.

Thank you, Farmor, for your love and devotion to my brother and I, your loving grandchildren.  I will never forget you, nor what God has taught me through both your life and death.

Below is a video of the song (by Matt Maher) we sang at the end of Easter service.  My prayer is that it will edify you as it did me:


“How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.” ? — Carl Sagan

Sagan was one of my favorite public figures when I was younger.  I remember watching his science TV episodes on PBS with rapt attention.  In particular, I loved the scene where he took an apple and cut it in half to show how thin the skin really was, and then compared that to the thickness of Earth’s crust.  I was also entranced by his vision of what life in the atmosphere of Jupiter might look like (big floating gas bags, with no solid surface to ever rest on).

I’ll be honest, I miss Carl Sagan.  He was one of the best science communicators of the modern age, and while he often had rather harsh criticisms of religious beliefs and institutions, some of which I think were justified, others not so much, he did so in a mostly civil and respectful manner.  Contrast this with the angry, spiteful, ugly, and sometimes hate-filled rhetoric of certain prominent scientific atheists today.

Speaking of atheists, I recognize that Sagan could be considered an atheist of sorts (he himself shirked the label, and called himself an agnostic), and I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon among many of my atheist friends: like Sagan, they share an almost transcendent sense of awe and wonder of the natural world that amounts to, for all practical purposes, a religious one.  I find that as I grow as a scientist, I increasingly share this impulse, but from the perspective of a Christian theist.  It’s this remarkable point of confluence that I wish to elaborate on in this post.

I chose the above quote because I think it highlights one of the biggest points of disconnect that many theists have with the natural world (and thus that which falls under the purview of science).  The thing that sticks out at me most is that Sagan, an avowed nontheist, in my view has captured a profound truth about God that escapes too many Christians (not to mention other theists) today.  Namely, that he cannot be limited, boxed in, or ever completely fathomed by anything we think about him, or any theology we come up with.  (Note, this does not mean that we cannot know *anything* about God, or that there are no proper responses to God, but that’s for another post).  One needn’t go far to find Scriptural support for this: consider Isaiah 55:9 as a starting point.  The Psalmist, I think, understood that the unbelievable grandeur of the natural world pointed in turn to the ineffable grandeur of the Creator: see Psalm 8:3-4.  As far as I’m concerned, the new vistas we are opening up in science, in which so many wonders are being uncovered day by day, is about as powerful a testimony as I can think of for a faith in an even more awesome Creator God.

Now, before I give Sagan too much credit, I want to point out that I actually disagree with his assessment of modern religion, particularly when it comes to Christianity.  Christianity, at various times and places through the ages, has in fact looked at science in exactly the manner that Sagan laments that it hasn’t.  One only needs to look at any list of historic figures in science, and one will find numerous devout Christians among them: Isaac Newton, Gottfried Leibniz, Blaise Pascal, and Michael Faraday are only a few that come immediately to mind.  These and other figures, to varying degrees, all shared the conviction that God’s nature was reflected in the wonders of the natural world, and indeed, that scientific discovery was in a very real sense, a way of revealing an even grander God than the prophets revealed, to paraphrase Sagan.

Unfortunately, these times, places, and people are fewer and farther between these days.  I will elaborate on this state of affairs in future posts, but for now, suffice it to say that I think that many modern Western Christians (of whom I am naturally most familiar with, being one myself) are at the very least missing a huge opportunity to grow deeper in their knowledge and relationship with God by meditating on the wonders of nature as revealed by science, and at worst, are actively spurning such endeavors.  Let me be clear, not everyone has to be a scientist; not everyone is called by God to serve him in such a regard.  But all members of the body of Christ should rejoice together when one part rejoices, and I’d like to see a bit more of that when it comes to the “science parts”.  Some of the reason for this, I believe, is a latent Gnosticism that the Church has seemingly never shaken completely in its 2000 years of existence, but I digress.

I’ll be frank: I have become increasingly convinced that in this particular area many atheists or other nontheists (at least those of the scientific persuasion, again of whom I am most familiar) actually have a better visceral understanding of the immanence of God in Creation than many theists, because of their willingness to be open to what our ever-increasing knowledge of nature has to offer.

For my part, when I stumble across something new during the course of my own research, I sometimes am overcome with a sense of awe.  Here I am, privileged to see something that perhaps no one else has noticed before, and yet, I get the feeling that it was here all along, and I just happened across it.  I indeed imagine that I feel like Johannes Kepler when he declared that he was merely “thinking God’s thought’s after him”.

And then I imagine I perceive a voice, saying “There’s more where that came from.  Keep going, keep looking, keep digging!”