When I was training to be a Prepared Childbirth Educator, I attended an annual conference of the International Childbirth Education Association. During the conference, I attended a session about best practices right after a baby is born. A wealth of scientific information was presented about the benefits of skin-to-skin contact, leaving the vernix on the baby for a few hours, and allowing the baby to nurse right away.
There was a woman in the session who had been a labor and delivery nurse for decades. Both she and I stayed around after the session for an ongoing discussion. I have no doubt that this woman truly cared for the well-being of mothers and newborn babies. Still, this woman became overwhelmed as she thought about all of the years she had spent doing what was thought to be best for newborns, only to now be considering that maybe what was done in the past was not actually the best care for a newborn.
I would not fault this woman for her actions at all, as of course, she was acting on what she thought was the best scientific information available at the time. Still, I have never forgotten the sound of her bitter tears as she left the room that day. There was a lesson for me to be very careful about how I base my actions on the latest scientific body of knowledge. I never want to weep bitter tears because I, in arrogance or carelessness, failed to question a set of so-called truths that were handed to me.
A family member once told me her story of giving birth in the 1960’s and immediately being given a treatment to dry up her milk supply. The latest science of the day assumed that manufactured formula was a superior option, and this woman was not even given the option to decide for herself how she would like to feed her newborn.
When I lived in Bolivia for a summer, my project team members and I received specific training on Bolivians’ mistrust of the scientific claims of “developed” countries. While the Nestlé Corporation can provide you with a very diplomatic explanation of their activities in Bolivia, the experience of the local people there was that they had been convinced that Nestlé baby formula was better for newborns than breastmilk. Wanting to give their babies the best, Bolivian mothers lost their own milk supply while struggling to purchase the formula. In addition, needing water to mix the formula, and trying to dilute the formula to make it last longer in the absence of other options proved problematic in an area where water contamination was known to be a huge public health issue. Hiding behind scientific claims, Nestlé increased its profits while many Bolivian babies died from malnutrition and diarrheal diseases.
From these stories and many more like them, I draw two conclusions that I will never apologize for or back down from, regardless of what labels some may assign to me.
1. No matter what information is presented to you as scientific truth, a pure scientific approach absolutely allows you both the right and the duty to ask probing questions.
After your search, you may certainly concur with the information presented. Let your agreement be because you reviewed a corresponding and cohesive data set for yourself, however, rather than blindly accepting what was handed to you. If the presenter of information does not want to be questioned, or even attacks you for asking honest questions about the claim, then beware. At best, he is a lazy scientist or knows that the data set is not completely coherent and/or reproducible. At worst, he is a liar.
2. Whenever you are asked or expected to accept a scientific claim, conduct a “motives” check.
Some may call you a cynic or a conspiracy theorist, but history has demonstrated that it is indeed a wise practice to consider who might stand to gain power, profit, or placation from a wide acceptance of a scientific claim. Again, you may find the claim to be logically consistent, empirically adequate, and experientially relevant (Ravi Zacharias). Doing the motives check, however, can help to guard you against being someone’s fool.
One of the things that I loved about being a science teacher was that students’ questions would ultimately lead to a question that science cannot answer. It is a part of our human experience, and when we arrive at that point, we must turn from science to theology. In my position as a public school teacher, I maintained my professionalism by just always encouraging students to keep asking questions. I assured them that a journey for truth is an important journey, and I stand by that.
Now, I can try to give you multiple Bible verses written hundreds of years ago that reveal an understanding of the universe and the human body that no scientific discoveries could have matched during that time. The only explanation can be that the men who wrote the words were instructed by the Creator. I do not believe that I am supposed to do that in this letter, however. Ask me, and I will give you examples.
More importantly, however, is that you live in a unprecedented time where you have Hebrew and Greek word translations and the largest set of empirical data ever compiled, all at your fingertips through high-speed internet service and an expensive cellular device. You need to do this work for yourself. Contrary to the spirit of the day, I do not want you to believe what I say just because I said it. I want you to engage in your own study. Of course, it can be difficult to sift through material and determine what is factual. Still, I am reminding myself as well when I say to you that when we stand before God, we cannot say we did not have the means to search for truth.
Because I do not fear or avoid the ideas of people who do not believe as I do, I would like to offer you these thoughts from the brilliant mind of David Berlinski, a self-proclaimed agnostic:
“Has anyone provided proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close. Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close. Have our sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close. Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough. Has rationalism and moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not close enough. Has secularism in the terrible 20th century been a force for good? Not even close, to being close. Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy in the sciences? Close enough. Does anything in the sciences or their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Not even in the ball park. Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.”
I share these profound words with you to point out that even as you strive to be a pure scientist in your beliefs and actions, be warned that science can never answer the question of your purpose on this planet. If you sincerely seek God on this matter, you will find your answer. Also be warned that those who only hold to atheistic evolution and a refusal to accept any moral absolutes are in danger of quickly finding a license to hurt others. If they choose not to hurt others, they still find themselves impotent to tell others that their harmful actions are wrong. On this note, some would argue back that religion has also been used as a license to hurt others. I would agree, and this is where I would differentiate between false religion and a true faith in and obedience to the Creator who loves His creation…. but that’s for another letter.
I am amazed at all that humans have achieved through scientific advancements. I am personally so thankful for CT scans, ultrasounds, prenatal vitamins, the combustion engine, EpiPens, and air conditioning technology… amen! Part of my satisfaction with teaching Math to middle school students is in appreciating the role of mathematics in our ongoing pursuit of scientific truth. What a gift we have in the improvement of our quality of life through science.
When I worked with a surgeon in the Dominican Republic one summer, I once observed a Cesarean delivery where I saw a look of alarm on the surgeon’s face just after she delivered the baby. She handed the silent bundle to another doctor, and I was ordered to go with him. In the next room, I looked on in fear as the doctor worked on this baby who was not breathing. After what seemed like about ten minutes, but was probably only one or two minutes, the baby started crying.
That is another cry that I have never forgotten. When I processed the terrifying incident later, I reflected that had the baby needed a pediatric cardiac surgeon or a helicopter to get it to that surgeon, there was no such resource to be found in that mountainous location. In the United States, we have so many gifts of science for the preservation of life.
I believe in continuing our pursuit of scientific advancements. Because of what is at stake, the pursuit must remain pure in its motives and its methods. Never apologize for being a man who questions motives and methods. Make sure that your questioning is not from a place of arrogance or belligerence, but rather is grounded in a sincere desire for humans to be helped and not hurt.
The picture that accompanies this letter is one of my favorite pictures from your youth. You are sitting at the glass of the Chimpanzee Exhibit at the NC Zoo, hanging out with Jonathan. The One who made Jonathan also made you. Do not blindly accept any theory about the relationship between Jonathan and you. Seek the truth. The Creator will make it clear.
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: Colossians 1:15-16
For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me. John 5:46
I love you forever,
Your truth-seeking mama