How a Climatologist Integrates Science and Faith

This summer climatologist Kevin Birdwell returned to RTB headquarters for his third stint as a visiting scholar. RTB editor Maureen Moser sat down for a chat with Kevin about the role science plays in his faith and his experiences as a Christian apologist.

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Sun-clouds

What piece of evidence do you view as the most powerful in support of Christianity’s truth?

I’ve never tried to narrow it down to just one—it’s a compiled case of many evidences. One of the reasons I got into Christian apologetics is because I wanted to find out how all the evidence fit together.

However, I believe there’s always a measure of faith involved. It is informed faith, not blind, but it’s also not just a bunch of facts.

Now, you study meteorology, climatology, and earth science. Where do you see evidence for design in those fields?

I certainly see it in the earth itself. Our planet possesses so many unique and fine-tuned features. We hear a lot about discoveries of “Earth-like” planets. These exoplanets might have one or two characteristics similar to Earth’s, but many others must be considered—from plate tectonics to the Moon impact to the nature of the atmosphere.

Obviously, the Moon impact had an influence on Earth’s atmosphere, so that affects meteorology. Without this event happening just the way it did, we would have a planet like Venus. It really is miraculous. I’ve seen it described as a 1 in the 1022 chance.

How does your research impact your faith?

Very positively! In my early college days, I was threatened by my science studies—mainly because I didn’t understand the difference between science and the philosophy of science. People will often impose the philosophy of naturalism onto science, but naturalism is not the same thing as science. As I started developing a better understanding of science and science philosophy I found, in conversations with nonbelievers, that I could discuss my view from a position of strength, rather than weakness.

What I’ve also found is that there are a lot of things that point back to design. The atmosphere, for example, is on a knife’s edge in terms of its design and its ability to support us. If Earth’s gravity were just a little bit stronger, then it would likely hang on to too many substances like ammonia; but if gravity were just a little bit weaker, it wouldn’t hang on to enough water.

Who were the critical mentors in the development of your faith?

Certainly my parents were a big factor. No family is perfect, but they had a genuine Christian faith—it wasn’t just something they did on Sunday. That made a huge difference.

I would also have to include people like Dr. Ross, C. S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, and Michael Brown on the list.

What has been the greatest challenge to your faith?

I think we sometimes get the wrong idea that we can answer every question that ever pops into our heads. Sometimes we might read something in the Bible or something happens in life that makes us think, “This doesn’t make sense, God.” He will give us some answers right away, but others we have to wait for.

There were times, particularly in college, where I felt I had wasted my time on this or that, but later on (even as much as a decade) I’d look back and realize why God had me go through something. Again, Christianity is not a blind faith, but it is still a walk by faith. God gives us enough; He gives what we need to know.

Let’s talk about creation views. What convinced you that old-earth creationism (OEC) is the best explanation for the relationship between nature and Scripture?

There’s no question that the scientific evidence was a strong factor. In college, when I was searching these things out, I joined a YEC society and tried to be open to the ideas presented there. But when someone explained “flood geology” to me I gave up because I knew enough about geology already to make me doubt YEC’s validity. (Even in my home state of Tennessee we have thousands of feet of limestone that can’t be explained by flood geology.)

As the years have passed, I’ve seen a lot of evidence from the Bible itself that supports an OEC reading of Scripture. All the creation passages are consistent with each other when viewed in an OEC context, but this becomes questionable when viewed in a YEC context. I understand that people are trying to interpret the Bible in a way that they believe is consistent. But when you look at something like flood geology, you don’t find a lot of support from Scripture. It seems to be more of a speculation that’s imposed onto the text.

You’ve been telling me about a conference series that you’ve been involved with. How did that get started?

In the Knoxville area where I live we’ve been doing these God’s Not Dead conferences. It started in July. We’ve done two events already and we’ve been invited to do a third.

Now are these events associated with the recent film God’s Not Dead or just named in honor of it?

More the latter. Our local Ratio Christi chapter organized the events and our RTB chapter and the local Reasonable Faith chapter participated. Basically, we expand on topics that were presented in the movie and invite students to come listen to our talks. For example, I’ve been doing a talk on cosmology. One of our other speakers did a talk on the evidence for the Resurrection. Another did an introduction to apologetics.

How have audiences responded?

I think the response has been very positive. A lot of feedback has expressed appreciation for the information we presented and told us that people are looking for this type of information.

What advice would you offer to someone wanting to engage a scientist in a discussion about faith?

This would be true for most situations, but it would help tremendously if people took the time to understand the culture of science and where the scientist is coming from. This includes actually learning some science. You don’t need a PhD to evangelize to scientists, but you do need to know some of the basics.

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You can also listen to my interview with Kevin on Straight Thinking.

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