Richard Feynman, one of the most influential people in the history of physics, once said, “Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.” As someone who would consider himself both a man of faith and science, I could not agree more with Dr. Feynman’s summary. Growing up in a Pentecostal Christian home, I had the full Spirit-filled upbringing experience: laying on of hands, speaking in tongues, the prophetic, all of the elements typically associated with the charismatic movement. I attended a charismatic Christian university and obtained a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics after which I transitioned to pure physics and obtained a Masters and PhD in particle accelerator physics from the University of Tennessee. Now, I work as a research scientist developing cancer treatment technology at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

I have seen the positives and negatives associated with the charismatic movement as well as the progressively hostile divide between science and religion. I do not claim to have all of the answers, as a scientist or as a Christian, but I do hope that my personal experiences may shed some light on the intersection between a culture of faith and a culture of doubt.

Two-layered Paradox

The challenge of being Pentecostal in the sciences is a two-layered paradox. The first paradox is that of holding a worldview based on belief in an unprovable supernatural existence while simultaneously holding a worldview based on questioning the unknown. The scientific mind is inherently questioning and it is through the process of asking “why” and “how” that humanity has progressed in knowledge and technology. It is not that science is inherently anti-faith, as a matter of fact, scientists often put faith in theories until they have been proven or disproven, and this faith in the scientific process allows the scientist to be at peace with those aspects of the universe that have yet to be explained. Without an objective metric with which to quantify a phenomena, it is impossible to truly define it, and definition, whether we realize it or not, is crucial to our interaction with the world. As humans we fear what we do not understand and cannot control.

This is where science and religion come into conflict. In science, faith is a vanishing return; the more you know the less faith you need with the goal being an understanding so complete it renders faith obsolete. Christianity, on the other hand, requires a faith that continuously grows.

Pentecostalism takes the idea of belief even a further; no longer are we just acknowledging a being who exists outside of our ability to define, but we are going to double down by acting on the guidance and authority of a divine being whose primary method of communication is through my own subjective experience. As a matter of fact, the more I relinquish authority and control to this divine being through obedience to His written word and supernatural personal communication, the more I come into contact with His presence  at work in my life and the lives of those around me. Pentecostalism is anathema to the very core of the scientific mentality. This is the second paradox.

Humility

How do I walk between believing in what I cannot prove and the pursuit of proof for all that I believe? How do I navigate the paradoxes of science and Pentecostalism? It starts with a heavy dose of humility. From the very beginning of Genesis, the story of humankind is the story of humanity’s pursuit to be equal to God. Even if we were to understand all the physical laws that govern this universe, many of the fundamental physical processes we do understand exist as continuums of probability which inherently limits our pursuit of omniscience.

I believe this universe is designed to reveal God to those who are willing to remove themselves from His position.

Bridging the gap between faith and science also means understanding that people are God’s primary interest and source of interaction with the world. This means that there is no objective metric to quantify the experiences He bestows such as love, hope, peace, and joy. This makes charismatic experiences very subjective in nature giving rise to questions of authenticity by those seeking definitive proof. Would a crazy man know he was crazy?

“Proof” for God

My experiences have led me to the conclusion that the absence of evidence of the supernatural is not evidence of its absence, and by embracing it, it proves itself true. When I feel God has spoken to me about situations in my life, my decision on where to go to college, graduate school, or who was to be my wife, I have always found myself right where I felt I should be. That doesn’t mean that each decision leads to a painless easy life, as a matter of fact some of those decisions lead to the opposite, but it does mean each one led me to a place of peace.

How do I know I am not a crazy man hearing voices? The voice of God I hear has only led to places of personal growth, inner healing, peace, and a moral compass that urges me to love my neighbor. When I accept what I cannot explain, I just know, in a part of myself that I can never define with an equation, that there is more than what I see with my physical eyes. It is the Pentecostal nature of my Christianity that makes my faith more than just a collection of beliefs. I have walked through this life in a culture of doubt and a culture of faith and, at times, am torn between the two. However, I feel that it is only through both that I can truly see the world for what it is.


Note from the Editorial Team:
Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.


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Dirk Bartkoski

Author: Dirk Bartkoski

I grew up in a charismatic Christian home while being homeschooled with my two brothers and three sisters from the first grade to the end of high school. I went on to pursue a bachelor's degree at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK after which I went on to graduate school at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. While in Tennessee I finished a master's and doctoral degrees in physics while doing research on particle accelerators at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well as meeting my wonderful wife Kerri. Together we moved to Houston, Texas where I finished a postdoctoral position and now work as a research scientist in the division of Radiation Oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center developing novel methods for external beam radiation cancer therapy. My relationship with Jesus has been the primary guiding source in my life, Pentecostalism the lens through which I have viewed it, and science the mechanism by which I have come to understand it.

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[…] Earlier this week, Dr. Bartkoski wrote a fantastic article explaining how he navigates the often tumultuous waters of faith and science. I encourage you to read it and our ongoing exchange on the topic as it develops. Also, always feel free to join the discussion by emailing questions or thoughts! […]

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[…] I wrote an article about the intersection of Pentecostalism and science to which the illustrious Joel Daniels wrote an […]