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New Copernican Dialogues Create Safe Place for Unsafe Questions

     What do you do when you find yourself questioning your faith? How do you respond to doubts about your core beliefs? Mike McHargue, known by his moniker “Science Mike,” has wrestled intensely with these questions. Raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, Science Mike gradually lost his faith. Unexpectedly, however, after a mystical experience and a lot of scientific study, Mike found his faith once again. This journey from faith, to doubt, to unbelief, to faith again is explored in Mike’s new book “Finding God in the Waves,” in which he not only shares his story, but also his latest findings in neuroscience, physics and biology, which he believes can help us make sense of God and ourselves.

     Science Mike spoke about his journey and his new book on Eastern’s St. Davids campus on Sept. 27. He was hosted by the New Copernican Dialogues, a recently formed initiative of Palmer Seminary’s Sider Center. According to Palmer Seminary’s website, “the Sider Center of Palmer Seminary, named after Ronald J. Sider, promotes peaceful coexistence and social justice through theological reflection, academic programs, rigorous scholarship and convening of timely conversations.”

     I recently met with John Seel, the director of the New Copernican initiative. Seel’s academic background is in cultural sociology, which allowed him to work in the field of cultural engagement for the John Templeton Foundation. In Seel’s words, the goal for the New Copernican Dialogues is to offer “a safe place for unsafe questions.” Seel says that many evangelical churches and schools “don’t give a voice to doubt,” and as a result, many Christians don’t realize that “faith and doubt are [often] infused with each other.” For Seel, this initiative gives space for Christians who value faith as a way of understanding the world but who are reluctant to embrace dogmatic propositions of belief.

     When I ask Science Mike why he was excited about this event and why he wrote his book (which was published on Sept. 13 and is already trending on the top of Amazon categories like Science/Religion and Church History), he says that he wants to encourage those who feel alone and isolated in their doubts. He mentions that young adults in particular have shifted in their thinking, moving away from binaries like faith or doubt and instead making room for tension and ambiguity, saying yes to faith and doubt.

     “I think for a lot of people this change in view is isolating and stressful, especially with friends and family. Atheism seems dry but religious traditions seem too restricted,” Mike says.

     Science Mike wants to affirm those Christians who wrestle at the edges of faith and wants to encourage more empathetic understanding on the part of Christians who are confident in their beliefs. Mike clarifies that he is not here to “tear anyone’s faith system down,” but rather that his work is “for people whose relationship with God is starting to fade. If you’re confident with where you are in God, I don’t want to deconstruct. But I do want to give you empathy for those who are struggling.”

     The Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor once wrote that “if you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it and leave the rest to God. ” The New Copernican initiative provides students with the crucial space needed to keep wanting, asking and growing in their faith by confronting, instead of burying, their doubts.

     Sources: Flannery O’Connor, “The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor”; palmerseminary.edu

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