Harmony of Science and Faith
Throughout his career, Ken Touryan has been deeply involved in the physical sciences, Bible study and explaining his conviction that the two are not mutually exclusive.
A Fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation, Dr. Touryan has a PhD in Aerospace and Mechanical Science from Princeton University. He recently retired from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Golden, CO where he managed U.S. Department of Energy projects between American industry and former Soviet block countries. He received a number of awards for his work.
He holds a number of patents for his work in photovoltaics and has published more than 90 papers in scientific journals. Along the way he served on the Boards of Colorado Christian University and World Vision. For more than more than 20 years he served as an elder in his church, Evergreen Fellowship, Evergreen, CO. After retirement from NREL, Ken served as Vice President for Research and Development at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan, Armenia for seven years.
He is now involved in trying to traverse the sometimes contentious border between the secular naturalists and those who believe in a Creator God. Along with his wife Cheryl, and daughter Lara, they are developing materials for parents and teachers centering on the theme “Wonders in our World” which develops points of harmony between science and Christian faith.
Now that you are retired from full-time scientific work you are shifting your focus to helping Christian groups understand more about the life view of scientists.
Our research shows that Evangelical Christians in the United States have an unwarranted fear of science. As a result parents are discouraging their young people from looking seriously at science. There’s a fear that they are going to lose their young people to the secular viewpoint because they will learn things like evolution and will say, “There’s no such thing as creation.” As a result, young Christians are not well represented in most of the sciences, particularly the biological sciences, which means that we are losing our place in the public arena when it comes to discussing serious philosophical and ethical issues.
In reality, there’s nothing to be afraid of. We want to help Christians overcome insecurity and apprehension in dealing with scientific matters. In general our society has moved so far toward looking at everything through a scientific, technological lens that we have lost a sense of wonder and this affects one’s spiritual life. I think this does our kids a great disservice, as well as the scientific community. There is magic and mystery in so many things. The beauty. The poetry. We can appreciate the meaning and purpose of life from two perspectives – science and faith. We need to foster a non-controversial, awe-inspiring appreciation of both.
And scientists, are they reluctant to engage in discussions about Christianity?
When you ask a scientist, “What is the purpose of your life, who are you, what comes after death, you raise philosophical questions which science is not even allowed to talk about. Science is a very well-defined system that is empirically based on testing and measurement. But, the minute you raise questions of origin, meaning, or purpose, it crosses outside those boundaries into philosophy and religion. The ultimate question is the purpose and meaning of life. These issues go beyond the purview of science and science draws the line here and says, “It is not for us to determine.” You can give technical answers but then you come to a point where it becomes philosophical. You can’t measure it. You can’t count it. Science often can only provide partial answers.
Where have you found common ground?
Christians are afraid science will contradict the Bible, or that our reliance on technology and science is becoming society’s new faith and the belief in God is becoming irrelevant. We can harmonize science and faith. One is not to the elimination of the other. Good science honors God. Believers are enlightened by scientific explanation. This is where I see the two being complimentary rather than one opposing the other.Einstein was full of awe when his equations matched what was in the universe. “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind,” he said.
Is that the basis for your book A Cord of Multiple Strands?
Yes. The issue is very sensitive in both the science and faith communities. One bashes the other as nonsense when it is not. Or they recognize these are two circles that should stay apart. Don’t mess them up. In reality science raises religious questions and religion raises scientific questions so they cross each other. Both are afraid of each other. A better approach would be to explore the boundary where they crossover to see if we can harmonize things. They do cross over and there is a point of harmony that you have to consider. We appreciate the fact that scientists are passionate. They are enthusiastic about their work. Scientists in general are there because they love their work and the expectation of discovery. On the other hand, there is the ego side. Many won’t throw their theories away. They hang on to them tightly. They fight for then. Only the true scientists recognize there is ego involved in even the most objective physics.
Was there a point in your career where you were more scientist than Christian or, saw things in science that made you questions your Christian beliefs?
Oh yeah, especially in the discussion between evolution and creation. I grew up in a home where six-day creation was accepted. But science showed us that the age of the universe is in billions of years so I started questioning this difference. In time I realized this, and many others issues, can be resolved. And I realized both have their inaccuracies and overstatements.
I watched The Decalogue* as you suggested. The first episode representing the first of the Ten Commandments (I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me) depicts a scientist who calculates the thickness of the ice in a neighborhood pond and reassures his son it is safe to go skating. The ice breaks and the boy dies. I guess the point is: that ponds are not predictable and that the reliance on the computer, which did the calculations, is a false God? Or, that the Ten Commandments are not black and white rules but cautions about living in a complex world. Is that the point, that while science and technology are helpful, they alone are not enough for the moral and ethical struggles we face?
You are right. This movie depicts a man who based his life’s meaning on scientific inquiry. He did not believe in life after death and had no room for religious questions. His young son however kept asking those questions. Ultimately, after his son’s death by drowning, the father’s eyes were opened and he realized that there is more to life than simply the naturalistic, secular search for truth. It is often in these crisis moments of life that we realize who or what we have been worshipping.
Your wife Cheryl is an accomplished writer and editor and Lara Touryan-Whelan has a doctorate in Material Science. They have collaborated on a new publication on these issues.
Yes, it is called Wonders in our World: Insights from God’s Two Books. It is a book for curious minds that weaves together wonders in nature and Scripture, complementing answers from the physical world with answers which Scripture provides.For more information on this subject try these links:God and ScienceThe Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science Realism and Antirealism*The Decalogue is a 1989 Polish television drama series directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski and co-written by Kieślowski with Krzysztof Piesiewicz. It consists of ten one-hour films, each of which represents one of the Ten Commandments (Decalogue) and explores possible meanings of the commandment—often ambiguous or contradictory—within a fictional story set in modern Poland.
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