Scientists reflect on their faith (XII)

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‘In a word, dinosaurs were the jewels of God’s creation.
By no means failures, they graced the planet for 160 million years.
Like all of His Creation, they gave Him praise. God loved dinosaurs.’ [1]

Peter Dodson was born on 20 August 1946 – happy birthday!

An accomplished paleontologist and a committed Catholic, Dodson is a professor of vertebrate paleontology and veterinary anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on dinosaurs.

He describes the confrontation with materialistic scienticism in words that some of us may relate to in some way or the other:

‘I grew up in a Catholic household, attended Catholic high school and Catholic university. At Yale during my Ph.D. program my friends were for the most part Catholic. To be candid, I led a sheltered existence and was never seriously challenged in my faith. I never went through a period of doubt.

‘My bubble was burst in 1988 when I attended a seminar at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. The topic was “The Evolution of Human Morality” and the speaker was the late Will Provine, an evolutionary biologist and evangelical atheist from Cornell University. His message was that we should face up to the consequences of what evolutionary biology teaches: “There is no God; there is no soul; there is no life after death; there is no such thing as free will. A scientist who professes to believe in God is a hypocrite. You MUST check your brains at the back of the church. Not more than a handful of evolutionary biologists believe in God.”

As I sensed the tacit or vocal approval of this message by the assembled scientists, I slouched deep into my seat, feeling most decidedly alone. I had never before heard such a crude expression of scientific naturalism, the gratuitous philosophy of materialism that science does not require. I of course knew that there are atheists in science but nobody before had tried to tell me I could not believe. [2]

He then continues to outline our mission to be witnesses as Christian scientists:

‘For a number of years I thought my mission was to combat the errors and calumnies perpetrated by Dawkins and his legions. I no longer think that. Rather I believe it is much more important to make the case for our views and not against his. And here is the important part. We discuss our beliefs in the compatibility of science and faith because of the faith that we hold dear and cherish. We must be firm and bold in this faith. We must be willing to confess our faith and trust in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Harvard astrochemist and Catholic convert Karin Oberg  stated that she expected “a little martyrdom” when she arrived at Harvard. I find her courageous witness inspiring and worthy of emulation. Dare I say that we must be evangelical? By this I mean that we must encounter Jesus in the Scriptures and share what we learn.’ [2]

Does the extinction of dinosaurs contradict our faith in Omnibenevolent God? Here is his take:

‘… [P]ursuing the data and “tracks” they [the dinosaur] have left enhances my belief in God, as when I entertain the idea that His creative fiat brought them into existence as an enhancement to His Creation, and as a revelation of His expansive love.

One of those questions centers on what led to the extinction of dinosaurs? Near the end of my book [God and the Dinosaurs], I take up the matter, “And then there were none.” Now extinction was once a serious theological problem. It was once believed that extinction was theologically impossible, because it would seem to imply the imperfection of Creation, and thus the imperfection of the Creator. Several centuries of exploration of the Earth have made it clear that not only are dinosaurs extinct, so are 99 percent of the organisms that have ever lived on Earth. It is necessary for theology to take this fact into account. The Earth is round, the Earth revolves around the Sun, and extinction must be part of the divine plan. The fossil record demonstrates that evolution is the process by which God creates, and extinction is an intrinsic part of Creation. Had dinosaurs not become extinct, the Earth would not have become hospitable for human beings.’ [3]

[1] Dodson, Peter (2010), “God and the Dinosaurs Revisited”, in Stewart, Melville Y. (ed.), Science and Religion in Dialogue, 2, Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, p. 250

[2] Stephen J. Godfrey, Christopher R. Smith: Paleontologist Peter Dodson on science and faith

[3] see [1], p. 247

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