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Science in Focus: John Wilson


What I Wish I Had Known, Part 4

God works in mysterious ways.

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If you've followed the first three installments of this month's Science in Focus series, you'll have noticed certain recurring themes. It's noteworthy, to begin with, that all three writers—Abby M. Hodges of Azusa Pacific University; Dorothy Boorse of Gordon College; and Jennifer Hampton of Hope College—are women. Not so long ago, if you had canvassed a random sampling of scientists (they would have all have been male), you'd have been given to understand that women simply aren't cut out for doing science. These writers, by contrast, take their full participation in science as a matter of course.

Another recurring theme is the misperception that science is largely a solitary pursuit. I remember my first extended conversation, many years ago, with Catherine Crouch, now a physicist at Swarthmore. That was one point she wanted to make in writing for a general audience (in the pages of Books & Culture, for instance): that today especially, collaboration is the rule in science. (We can acknowledge this truth without falling into the currently fashionable counter-error of dismissing genius as a myth.)

Then there's the emphasis on interdisciplinary work, echoed this week in a Chicago Tribune story about changes afoot in K-12 science education in Illinois.

All three writers look back to reflect on what they wished they had known about science (and the particular demands and rewards of their fields of study). My own backward look is from a very different perspective, not that of a scientist. In fact, not only am I not a scientist—in some basic ways, I lack a feel for the physical world, in the way that many individuals on the autism spectrum are said to lack a feel for aspects of human interaction that most of us take for granted. Fortunately, I am at home with words, and we live in a golden age of science writing, so that even though I will never have science in my bones, I have some understanding of how scientists talk about the world. I love to listen to them, mostly via the pages of books and magazines but also via lectures and videos. Their words buzz in my head; their concepts dazzle me; their discoveries never cease. They help me see that all too often, our God is too small. The Creator of the universe always has more tricks up his sleeve. At the same time, I am reminded that science is a human enterprise, all too human.

What do I wish I had known? When I was in high school, well-meaning adults in church warned against the insidious theory of evolution. Knowing I was a reader, some grown-ups gave me pamphlets and such. When I went away to college, I was warned, godless professors would seek to undermine my faith.

I could wish that someone I greatly respected had offered a different perspective, suggesting that we weren't in fact faced with a stark choice between "evolution" and "creation." And yet, by the time I actually started college, I was already estranged from my faith. What led me back to it, in part, was precisely the arrogant secularism I had been warned about: the assumption that, OF COURSE, no intelligent, well-educated person could believe all that religious rubbish. God works in mysterious ways.

John Wilson is the editor of Books & Culture.

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