Speaker Q&A with Bill Basener: True Science Points to God
Bill Basener* is one of our returning Think Well speakers; he spoke in 2016 on science and faith and will do so again in 2018. We recently conducted a little Q&A with him so you can get to know him better (and hear some of the cool things he's been up to) before this summer. Enjoy!
You will speak on science and faith at Think Well 2018. What are some specific things you’ll discuss? And why is this topic important?
Bill Basener (BB): The most important thing for the Christian to understand about science is that science and faith are not just compatible, but profoundly supportive of each other. There is a misconception in our current society that science and faith are at odds, but this is completely not true. Most of the greatest scientists held deep biblical views of our world—Isaac Newton, for example, said, “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God's existence.” Louis Pasteur (who developed vaccinations and pasteurization) said, “A little science estranges men from God, but much science leads them back to Him.” The scientific revolution was driven by people like Francis Bacon who developed the scientific method exactly because of their biblical worldview.
True science points us toward God. We will discuss the reasons why there is a current trend to say that science has replaced the need for God today. We will break down the logic behind these ideas, and behind some of the current hot issues like Darwinian evolution. We will see that science should increase our faith, and a biblical worldview supports science.
You wrote a significant paper last year that called into question one of the most important parts of Darwinian evolution. Without spoiling too much of your Think Well talk, tell us a little about that, why it’s significant, and the debate that you and your coauthor have sparked in the scientific world?
BB: Current biology textbooks explain that Darwinian evolution proceeds by mutations causing genetic variety, and then natural selection (through survival of the fittest), causing evolutionary progress. There is a philosophical argument that this process has created all variety of life that we see today, and thus there is no need for a Creator God. The recent paper, which I coauthored with Cornell geneticist John Sanford (inventor of the gene gun), shows that the process of mutation and selection does not necessarily cause evolutionary progress, and in fact mutations are so harmful to real biological populations that they can undergo fitness decline instead of improvement.
[Editor's Note: For more, here's a summary article from World Magazine.]
What’s one of the most interesting things you do (or have done) in your daily work?
BB: Much of what I do in my primary job is find new ways to use math to get information from data. I have been part of research teams that searched for lost cities in Mexico from NASA satellite imagery, tracked damage and displaced people in Haiti after the earthquake, and worked on a new type of imagery called hyperspectral imagery that can be used to detect chemicals on the ground from aircraft or satellites.
On your web page at RIT (where you're an emeritus professor), you have this quote: "As God calculates, so the world is made.” Why do you have it on your page?
BB: This quote is form Leibniz, a mathematician-scientist from the scientific revolution who co-founded calculus. This quote captures the thinking involved in the founding of science; that there is an orderly God, and faith in this orderly God gives us an expectation of an orderly (i.e. scientific) world. In a worldview without God, there is no reason to expect mathematical laws for science ... one just has to accept that they exist.
Tell us one fun fact about you that is unrelated to science or math.
BB: My family and I have two dogs and six ducks. The ducks make me laugh, and their eggs taste great.
Anything else you’d like to add?
BB: Here is the best advice that I wish someone told me earlier in life: Do not get your value from what you do; you are valuable just because God made you valuable, and because of His love for you.
*Bill Basener is a local entrepreneur who founded two software companies. He is also on the engineering faculty at the University of Virginia, where he teaches about one class per year. He holds a PhD in math from Boston University and is an emeritus faculty member at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology). He and his wife, Amber, have five kids—two of whom will attend Think Well; as a family, they attend Blue Ridge Community Church in the Charlottesville area.