Former Gov. Jim Martin Advocates For Science And Religion

Apr 26, 2017

Science, and religion. Are they mutually exclusive? Former North Carolina governor Jim Martin doesn't think so. 

"It's a new interpretation that science and religion are not only different domains of truth, but they...harmonize."

Martin is a preacher's son and lifelong Presbyterian. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from Princeton, and taught the subject at Davidson College for a dozen years. Martin describes himself as a "theistic scientist."  And, like a seemingly-growing number of thinkers, he believes in God, the Big Bang, and evolution. The 81-year old Martin's first book - published last November - is titled, "Revelation Through Science: Evolution in the Harmony of Science and Religion."

He spoke to WFAE's Mark Rumsey about what he sees as a "shift toward reconciliation" between science and religion. The following is a transcript of that segment:

Jim Martin: "Well, there were two opposing points of view that came out at the same place.  You had prominent atheists saying that if you believe in evolution, you don't need God. And to counter that, the Christian Creationists, they often call themselves, with the literal interpretation of the Bible said well, if you believe in God you don't need evolution - and you can't believe in both.  And I'm saying, yes, you can - evolution is the best understanding we have from science as to how God did it."

Beginning a couple of decades ago, says Martin, religion and science began to find more common ground, through the work and writings of scientists such as British physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne, and American researcher Francis Collins.  He headed the international Human Genome Project and wrote the widely-discussed book, The Language of God- a Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. The language that resonates with Martin:

"What we're beginning to show is if you look deeply enough, look deeper into these various sciences -  That nature, since the moment of creation, is finely-tuned for success - for life.  And I thought there were some things you'll find in organic chemistry that make it, as far as I can see, very difficult to believe that we got here without guidance."

Martin's book is part history, part theology, and part science textbook. Readers who wish may tackle sections with titles like, "Right-handed DNA," "Protein Folding," and "Abiogenesis and Molecular Evolution."  

Like others who believe in a Creator-God, Martin poses questions of complexity, and chance. For example: could "random chemical errors" have converged, to hit what he calls "the jackpot of life?" Martin thinks not. But at the same time, you won't hear him bashing evolution theory, as laid out by Charles Darwin more than a century-and-a-half ago:

Jim Martin: "He drew the correct conclusion that there was some common ancestry going back, you know, billions of years ago on this earth; and yet, DNA, when it's structure was figured out by Watson and Crick in 1953... when they reported that and how it can hold this enormous code because of the cross-links in that double helix, it proved Darwin's theory because it showed the mechanism for how the changes could happen; something goes wrong in the code, the protein gets wired incorrectly, and it's either an advantage or disadvantage, and so that helped to confirm Darwin's theory; but it also showed that it's so complex that it could not happen by chance."

Mark Rumsey: And yet, some contend that it did happen by chance.

Jim Martin: "Yeah, but they've got as big a leap of faith as any of us have. We're not talking about a conclusion that I reach on the basis of what we don't know -that's called the 'God of the gaps' - you can say well, we don't know how this works out, and you can just attribute that to God. The problem with that is, some scientist comes along and fills in the 'gap'. No, this is based on what we do know.  And the deeper we go into the molecular structure of life, the more difficult it is to say that this could ever happen by chance."

Jim Martin embraces scientific evidence for a 'Big Bang' event - exploding our universe into existence some 13.7 billion years ago. He understands the earth to be about 4.5 billion years old. These positions - mainstream science today - put Martin clearly at odds with some conservative Christians -- "young earth" Creationists who believe that the Bible describes a literal,and complete, 6-day creation no more than 10,000 years ago.

Mark Rumsey: What's at stake there, in your opinion - some would say this is where faith comes in - taking what they see as the Bible at its literal word?

Jim Martin: My purpose is not to abuse anybody's faith - atheist, or the creationist - a literal interpretation of the Bible. My purpose is to show what the science has to say about it. If a literal interpretation is helpful to somebody's faith, I have no problem with that. I just say, don't confuse it with science, because the bible is not a science textbook - doesn't pretend to be.

Mark Rumsey: What kind of reactions have you had? I would guess you're kind of putting yourself in a position to get it from both ends of the spectrum.

Jim Martin: Well, indeed I have!  I've spoken to groups, and I'm willing to talk to groups about this. I spoke with faculty at one major educational institution in this community -  not one of them was willing to admit belief in God. They may, but it's sort of the standard in academic circles that you can't admit belief unless you're an atheist. I think it's just because of that  long history of  people perceiving that if you believe in science, you don't have to believe in God. That has permeated society, and has caused  many young people to choose science and move away from God, rather than the other direction. I think that's an error on part of those who deny the science in order to support their faith; that's why I wanted to show you don't have to deny science.

Martin says the target audience for his book is what he calls the "educated non-scientist."  And while his nearly 400-page volume may not be everyone's choice for a summer 'beach read,' Martin has included some literary relief from the more-technical portions of his book. There are, for example, brief biographies of Darwin, and Galileo. And, Martin includes a chapter on the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee. It's a reminder that a good debate on science and religion is always in style.