I’m an oceanographer and a volcanologist. I am also a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). As such, I have spent a lot of time in discussion of science and religion. I have many friends and colleagues that are atheists with low opinions of religion in general. Most of them have freely expressed to me their belief that, to sum it up with a direct quote by one of them, “Anyone who is religious believes in foolish superstitions.” Despite that, I am thankful to say, none of them have ever questioned my scientific ability based on my religious beliefs. They understand, as I do, that science and religion are looking for different answers in different places. All that matters is whether I do good science or not. At the same time, I do not think that the two areas have to be mutually exclusive.
My religious belief has been a tremendous asset to me as a scientist. It gives me a purpose greater than simply figuring out how the Earth or the universe works. One of my atheist friends once asked me what my religion did for me. At the time I was living overseas, and being a dedicated college football fan I would watch the highlights from games in the U.S. over the internet. I told him that life without my faith was like watching those video highlights—little 10×6 cm highlight clips. I could still see the great passes or touchdowns and I enjoyed the clips. But my belief in a loving Heavenly Father and that life has a real purpose is the equivalent of seeing the same clips on a large-screen in high definition. I see the same thing, but with much more clarity and sharpness.
There have been times in my studies and research in which the wonder of the natural world, the depth in both time and space of its living and nonliving parts, has affected me in a profoundly spiritual way. Why should it not? I have a hard time rationalizing that the human capacity to appreciate something as beautiful as a South Pacific sunset, as powerful as a volcanic eruption, or as simple as a raindrop, is not rooted in a spiritual sense.
Because of my belief in and acceptance of both religion and science, I recognize that I am a son of God and I have the potential to figure out how the universe works. I really enjoy teaching a class for LDS students in which I discuss the three great controversial subjects of science and religion: the Big Bang, the Age of the Earth, and Biological Evolution. For each section I lay out not just what science has discovered, but reasons those discoveries are interpreted the way that they are. Then, at the end of each section, I ask the students the same simple question: “Does anything that you have just learned change the fact that God exists or that Jesus Christ was the savior of the world?” The students come to understand that, for members of the LDS Church, the answer is always “no.”
I do not believe in a “small” God whose characteristics and abilities are limited to what my current religious or scientific understanding is, but rather in One who can be both the Author of the vastness of the universe as well as a personal Father who loves me. He is the source of all truth, scientific and religious. He gave me the intellectual and spiritual capabilities to use both. It would be a waste of my ability and talent not to do so. If there is an apparent conflict between science and religion I see no reason for concern. Since, as a fundamental rule of science, we can never be absolute about our interpretations of the universe and since all believers accept that there are “mysteries of God,” why should anyone expect the two areas to always be in harmony?
I believe there are those in both science and religion who are actively promoting the contention that exists between the two realms today—individuals who feel threatened by the other side. But in both cases they are practicing neither true science nor religion. They have motivations beyond the explanation of physical processes or the worship of God. If God does not exist, then for the most part it should not matter whether people believe in religion or not. If God does exist, then we will be judged for our behavior toward our fellow man rather than our scientific views of the universe. In the end, rather than waste time contending over another person’s belief, I would rather spend my time and energies in seeking truth in the realms of both science and religion.
My academic background includes a B.S. in geology, with university honors, and a minor in physics from Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah) and a Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography (Narragansett, Rhode Island). While an undergraduate I was awarded a Link Foundation internship to Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution and served as president of the BYU Astronomical Society. I am a member of the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, and the Tsunami Society.
I am first or contributing author of several peer-reviewed articles and the author of two books. I have served as a reviewer for multiple academic journals and as a fieldtrip co-leader for field excursions to Oman and Hawaii. My research interests include (but are not limited to): general volcanic processes, correlation of volcanic deposits, lava-water interactions, underwater exploration, and maritime history. I have field and research experience in thirteen countries and seventeen states, including work in the South Pacific mapping and sampling underwater volcanoes and collecting and analyzing field and volcanic rock data in Nicaragua and Honduras.
I am an avid scuba diver with 100+ dives and 40+ hours of bottom time. I also enjoy the outdoors, classical music, classic and alternative rock music, history, archaeology, art and architecture, new cultural experiences, and books of all kinds.
Posted February 2010