By Jan Worth-Nelson
Longway Planetarium manager Buddy Stark is a scientist with a degree in science education who routinely describes to students how evidence from dendritic tree rings to stalactites suggest the world is millions of years old.
He also is a Nazarene preacher’s son who still attends a Nazarene church, an evangelical Protestant denomination, where a literal take on the Bible tells believers the world is 6,000 years old.
In both his worlds, the gap between those two perspectives and the severe misconceptions of the latter view is for Stark a continuing source of exasperation and concern.
“People have this weird view that science and religion are opposed to one another,” says Stark, 28, in a recent interview in the planetarium on Kearsley he’s managed for two years.
“It drives me crazy that the people I align myself with” – he and his wife Hannah, 26, are in church every Sunday, he said, – “are building this reputation of burying their heads in the sand and being completely against science.
“I in my field struggle to tell my colleagues that I’m a Christian — because there’s so much baggage that comes with it. There’s a very close knit group among the planetarium folk.
“The reality is,” Stark said, “There is nothing in the Christian faith that goes against science, Christianity itself, but because of the evangelical movement and the Protestant movement, it’s been difficult.”
Stark says the insistence on scientifically unfounded beliefs in the evangelical movement is one reason young Christians are leaving the church.
He points to the travails of Galileo 400 years ago, who was convicted of heresy during the Inquisition and died under house arrest. The Italian astronomer’s crime was insisting from evidence that the sun was the center of the universe, not the earth – a direct opposition to literal interpretations of the Bible.
“That was 400 years ago,” Stark lamented, “and yet we’re doing the same thing. We haven’t learned our lesson. It’s as if, if you don’t believe one certain thing your whole faith collapses.”
Some of his denominational colleagues, weary of controversy, shrug their shoulders and say, “What does it matter? You have your opinion and I have mine.”
But if you take that point of view, you are effectively just ignoring evidence, and saying it’s acceptable to ignore evidence in general, Stark said.
“If that’s the point of view you take, you’re making it harder for young evangelical Christians, who have to choose one or another,” and that’s embarrassing for intelligent young people – not to mention scientists who are Christian, he said, when they know what the evidence shows.
“The only way for Christianity to move forward, in an evidence-based scientific world, is to accept that evidence and be okay with the fact that it doesn’t damage your faith. If you have to have all the answers, then you don’t have faith. What I care about as a scientist is what I can measure, and those bounds are continually changing. I don’t have to know everything.”
Stark is working on a master’s degree in science education from Western Michigan University and also writing a book exploring the conflicts between evangelical Christianity and science.
He came to Flint from the Dassault Systemes Planetarium at the Michigan Science Center. He and his wife Hannah bought a home in the College Cultural neighborhood and he said they’re delighted with their move to Flint. Hannah also works at the Cultural Center as administrative assistant to the director of the FIA’s art school. After experiencing long commutes to their jobs in Detroit, he said they are happy they can now walk or bike to work.
EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.