Trained astronaut and research scientist Leslie Wickman, Ph.D. explores the harmony and reconciliation between faith and science.
As an avid researcher and scientist, Dr. Leslie Wickman began her exploration of the sky as a kid when her father offered her a first glance into a telescope. Her father was an engineer and her mother a practicing dietician. Both influenced Wickman’s fascination for astronomy and aerospace. Yet, she wasn’t only influenced by science and technology—Wickman also grew up with a spiritual side.
“Even at a young age, I learned that God was the source of all of this wonder in the universe,” Wickman said. “That sparked my interest, also, to learn more about His creations.”
She soon carried on into an education to encounter her first critic, a biology teacher in junior high, who Wickham said had a very different worldview than she was familiar with.
“He would say things like, ‘You might as well leave your faith at the door because what you are going to learn in science classes is going to conflict with your faith,’” she said. “Since that seed was planted, I’ve been trying to address how God and science could fit together.”
Wickman later immersed herself in this exploration and thesis in graduate school, pursuing both a master’s in aero-astro engineering and a doctorate in biomechanics from Stanford University. But the research was just the beginning phase of Wickman’s development into cosmic understanding. Her first job after grad school was working for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope Program and the International Space Station. It was during this time that she encountered more scholars and scientists who felt that science and faith should not collide.
“Even at a young age, I knew that if God was who He claimed to be as the Creator of all of this, the truth about God couldn’t logically contradict the truth about His creation,” she said.
Wickman admits not knowing how to have that productive dialogue early on in her career due to her entry-level experience on the matter. After all, most of the scholars had years of research that seemed to trump her background. But this encouraged even more research, leading her to pick up books by Francis Collins, Hugh Ross, Gerald Schroeder and other authors who dissected this daunting topic.
Some of the earliest philosophers have claimed that God reveals Himself in two books: the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. They spoke of topics like special (spiritual) and general (nature-based) revelations. Understanding both of these notions, it soon became essential for Wickman to study Biblical interpretation as well as science and the revelations from nature.
Currently teaching at Azusa Pacific University, Dr. Wickman also informs her students to study and research how, in fact, nature and theology can inform one another on the evidence of God’s existence.
“It’s okay to take one step forward and a couple steps backward to try to correct what you think you know,” she said. “And that’s exactly how science works. The same thing can be said about our understanding of who God is. We might occasionally have to go back and revise our paradigm.”
Wickman believes that even Jesus represented a paradigm shift for the faithful of his day and how they understood God. She also said there is a widespread misconception that science proves theories to be true when, in actuality, science is simply looking for the best explanation given the existing evidence through the inductive process of the scientific method.
As noted in Wickman’s recent book God of the Big Bang: How Modern Science Affirms the Creator, she notes that someone might avoid jumping to premature conclusions by engaging in a studious journey to clarify the unification of the two popular ideologies of science and faith.
Subsequently, Wickman dissects the idea that the Bible is a theological resource more than it is a scientific one. She argues the sentiment that reading the Scriptures to understand the author’s intent is hard work, but she encourages it wholeheartedly.
She’s gotten many reactions from book reviewers, radio shows and news interviews on the subject. She’s encountered many viewpoints from the atheist to the strongest theologian. Responses to the book’s early preview have prompted Wickman to respond in many outlets. She recently gave a TEDx Talk, encouraging the audience to consider whether or not a conflict even exists between science and religion.
“Finding the reconciliation has been a freeing experience for me,” Wickman said. “As a young person, I would freeze up on the topic because I didn’t know what to say. And I used to feel as if I was letting God down by not having an answer. But science has expanded my view of God, and now I can explain this in a non-threatening way.”
She hopes to reach the minds of young people with this book and remind them that science and faith are not in competition. Compromising either perspective should not be the premise for anyone’s belief in God, she believes. Wickman is sure that, as the book and her research penetrate the market, more responses will come. But you can count on her sticking to the facts of both science and faith.