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Scientist finds oceans of faith

When a personal crisis led Gary Lagerloef to reconsider spirituality, he had to reconcile his profession with his profession of faith.

Lagerloef, an oceanographer, works for Earth and Space Research, a nonprofit research organization that conducts studies related to oceans and climate. He uses satellite data to study ocean currents and “El Nino.”

Data also has its place in his interpretation of the Bible.

“I’m a staunch evolutionist,” Lagerloef said. “My interpretation of the Book of Genesis is a mythological, not a literal, one. My concern is: What faith do we build in a scientific age?”

Lagerloef, who shares his insights into this question in an upcoming lecture, viewed religion with skepticism for two and a half decades.

After what he calls a “conventional Christian upbringing” in a Congregational church setting, Lagerloef spent his middle years focused on family and professional research.

The birth of their children led his wife to become more active in the Episcopal Church and Lagerloef followed.

But he did not revisit the question of his own faith, Lagerloef says, until about six years ago, when he began to come to grips with tragedies that had occurred decades earlier.

“It’s been that process that has opened me to the notion of faith,” Lagerloef said, “grieving those early losses.”

Blending science with his developing religious belief has not been simple, said Lagerloef. The cognitive dissonance created by trying to hold to religious and scientific paradigms simultaneously is exacerbated, Lagerloef says, by the misapplication of scientific method to the question of faith itself.

“You can’t apply scientific principles to faith,” Lagerloef said. “They just don’t work there. Science works on the system of proof and evidence – and faith requires believing something without proof.”

Lagerloef became interested in integrating what has been learned about cosmology and the structure of the universe into his personal faith system.

Lagerloef read Stephen Jay Gould’s “Rocks of Ages,” an argument for letting religion and science stand side by side, and found it worthwhile – but not quite on the mark.

“He equates religion with ethics and moral character,” Lagerloef said, “but what’s missing is a personal relationship with God.”

Lagerloef believes faith comes down to a choice each person must make.

“Do you believe in a Creator or not? One way to live in the world is to live with that belief – or you can live without it.”

Living with faith, for Lagerloef, means that he views his scientific work in the context of belief.

“I see the natural world as its own form of revelation,” Lagerloef said, “and understanding the natural world is a form of revelation.”

Lagerloef’s journey into faith has been a personal odyssey that may apply to others.

“I would hesitate to say that I am speaking from a Christian perspective,” Lagerloef said, “but more from a personal perspective.

“However, I know that reconciling science and faith is a dilemma for many people.”

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