Donald H. Kobe

Dr. Donald H. Kobe    1934 – 2013

I have always had a love for science and learning. My father was a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Texas. As a child I remember going into his lab and seeing all the equipment he and his students were using to perform experiments. As I was growing up he would sometimes invite me to help him with some consulting work.

Even though I had loving parents, as a teenager I felt very lonely. I stuttered and that exacerbated the problem. I began to wonder whether life had a purpose and even whether it was worth living. In order to seek an answer I began in my junior year of high school to read the Bible that my grandmother had given me.

I was very impressed with what Jesus said and did. One night, after reading what Jesus said about himself, I decided to put my trust in Him. I accepted his promise of forgiveness and eternal life. That gave a meaning and purpose to my life. It was the best decision I ever made!

However, I found that it also created a problem because of my love for science. At first I was able to compartmentalize my faith from science. Later, at the University of Texas I took a course in philosophy that challenged my faith. A book by the English philosopher Bertrand Russell convinced me that I could not be intellectually honest and still believe in God. To my consternation I felt that I must become an agnostic.

I was desperate to read more and pursue the question of whether or not God exists. Fortunately, my philosophy professor gave very balanced lectures, and I began to realize that there were many compelling reasons to believe in God. I regained my faith, which was made stronger by my intellectual struggles. Later the writings of the English scholar C. S. Lewis further strengthened my faith.

However, I still had many questions about the relationship between the Bible and science. As a graduate student in physics at the University of Minnesota I felt that if I could only understand the atomic nucleus, I would find the secret of life. After taking a course in nuclear physics, I was disappointed to find that it did not hold the secret of life. I began to realize that science cannot answer this question, but the Bible can. I also began to realize that the Bible and science can be reconciled. One of the writers who influenced me was Galileo.

Galileo’s observations of the night skies with the telescope in 1609 convinced him of the truth of the Copernican heliocentric solar system. The scholars and clerics of his day accused him of heresy because the idea that the Earth rotated about the sun apparently conflicted with some passages in the Bible about the earth being the center of the universe.

It also conflicted with the Ptolemaic view of astronomy based on Aristotle’s philosophy and on which the theology of that time was also based. The Grand Duchess Christine of Tuscany asked Galileo about this conflict. In his letter to her, he answers his critics in detail. His view of the relationship between astronomy and the Bible can be summarized by his statement:

‘The Bible tells us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go.’

Some people have thought that Galileo was a martyr for science in a war between science and religion. Galileo was not executed nor was he put in a dungeon or tortured. The Inquisition did not convict him of heresy, but only of ‘vehement suspicion of heresy.’ They sentenced him to house arrest in his own home in Arcetri, near Florence, and ordered him not to teach the Copernican theory. During this time he finished his book on mechanics entitled ‘Dialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences.’ Galileo never gave up his acceptance of the Copernican theory nor his faith in Christ.

Because of the many references in astronomy textbooks criticizing Martin Luther for his attitude toward Copernicus, I decided several years ago to investigate the issue. Martin Luther made an off-hand critical remark about Copernicus in 1539, four years before Copernicus had published his On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.

Nevertheless, Luther’s view of science was not negative. He had a high regard for the sciences and was personally involved in horticulture. He thought that each discipline, including each science, should be autonomous, and have its own language and procedures. He wrote:

”¦ [in Biblical studies] one must accustom oneself to the Holy Spirit’s way of expression. With the other sciences, too, no one is successful unless he has first duly learned their technical language. Thus lawyers have their terminology, which is unfamiliar to physicians and philosophers. On the other hand, these also have their own sort of language, which is unfamiliar to the other professions. Now no science should stand in the way of another science, but each should continue to have its own mode of procedures and its own terms.’

This quotation sounds very modern and gives the sciences freedom to develop their own approaches. My paper was published in the American Journal of Physics (Vol. 64, 190-196 (1998)). The implication of the above quotation is that the Bible is not a scientific textbook. The Bible is a book about God, man, and their relationship.

There is a simple method for deciding if a question is a scientific one or a theological one. A scientific question asks: How? or When? A theological question is one that asks: Why? or Who? Science investigates the mechanisms of nature. Theology investigates the purpose of nature. Most of the present controversy between science and Christianity is a failure to recognize these distinctions.

The Christian faith is not a leap in the dark, but a decision that is based on historical and other evidence. The Christian faith goes beyond reason, but is not unreasonable or contrary to reason. To be a Christian you don’t have to commit intellectual suicide. Intellectual difficulties can be resolved. After intellectual barriers are broken down, it is still necessary for an act of the will to trust in Jesus Christ.

Life is a journey. We can take the wide road that leads to a hopeless end, or we can take the narrow road that leads to an endless hope. My hope is that you will examine the evidence for yourselves and take the right road.

My Life

  • Friends describe me
    friendly, but reserved
  • Hobbies
    travel, reading, photography
  • Fantasy dinner guests
    Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, James Clerk Maxwell, Isaac Newton
  • In college I drove
    old Chevy
  • Worst school subject
    English
  • College for undergrad degree
    University of Texas at Austin
  • Best advice I ever got
    Don, be responsible for your own situation.
  • Favorite books
    Language of God, Making of the Atomic Bomb
  • Favorite movies
    Luther, Amazing Grace
  • Favorite city
    Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Favorite coffee
    Pilao - Brazilian
  • Nobody knows I
    worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon when I was 17
  • If I were not a professor, I would
    be an ecologist
  • Latest accomplishment
    Learning more Portuguese
  • Quote

    Don't let anyone tell you that there are no absolutes.

Department
Physics
University
University of North Texas
State
Texas
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