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Dr. Sharon Dirckx: LCU 2022 Lanier Lecture Dinner

Thursday, Nov 10th, 2022
Author : Dr. Sharon Dirckx
Podcast image for Dr. Sharon Dirckx: LCU 2022 Lanier Lecture Dinner

Dr. Sharon Dirckx joined us from the UK for the eleventh annual Lanier Theological Library Lecture.
Her deep neuroscience background incorporated with her unwavering faith provided numerous fascinating takeaways. In this episode, you’ll hear the thoughts she shared at the 2022 Lanier Lecture Dinner. "

Episode length 30:44 minutes
00:00 30:44


Beta Transcript

Dr. Scott McDowell : Well, as you finish up your dinner, I'm going to go ahead and help us transition. My name is Scott McDowell on the seventh president of Lubbock Christian University. We are glad to host you on campus this evening for the 11th Annual Lanier Lecture. And we express gratitude to Mark and Becky Lanier for their funding of this lecture.
Over the years. They've just done a fantastic job, been very generous to us. Mark is, as you well know, a world renowned lawyer, but he is really passionate about his faith and he's passionate about scholarship. And so he has been a delight. I see my friend Marvin Krasnow out here. We were talking a little bit, having a little fun talking about racquetball.
Mark Mark is a big racquetball player. He has a racquetball court in his house. And it's kind of like I talk a lot of trash to get an invitation, go play racquetball with him. And the lesson learned is never play against a guy that has his own racquetball court. But he's very generous in a lot of ways. And we're so thrilled for Mark and Becky's generosity making this evening possible.
We've got special guest, Charles Mickey, who's the director emeritus of the Lanier library. He is got some Lubbock roots and has been part of this in the past. His wife, Kay is with him. Would you waive at them folks there thank let's recognize them and Charles has coordinated our speaker for this evening. And in a moment, Dr. Jeff Cary will introduce her.
One of the things that really thrilled me when I got into this role was to be able to participate in an evening like this and to see the level of dialog and discourse that happens on our campus. It's just a magnificent thing. You're going to get a taste of that. Just a moment. Genuine university dialog. But in the first evening we had Mark Lanier and Charles and a couple other guys from the Lanier library here.
And one of the most enjoyable parts of that evening was me getting to spend time with them and see their love for each other and the community that they have created within that Lanier Theological Library family and Charles, it's winsome and it is a testimony to the goodness of God. So we're grateful for you and all the good work that you all do.
And for the Lanier's and Dr. Cary will now come and introduce our speaker for the evening.
Dr. Jeff Cary : All right. Good evening. I didn't introduce myself before. I think there's some people in the corner I can't see. I'm sorry. My name is Jeff Cary I serve as the dean of the College of Biblical Studies, and it is always the College of Biblical Studies honor to get to host these lectures here. So we're very glad you're here.
And I'm super delighted to introduce our guests to you. This is Dr. Sharon Dirckx Now you can see her name at the bottom of the screen. Over there it is d i r c k x. Now, how do you say this? So all summer when we were interacting in my mind, I was saying. DIRKS And so the first thing I did was ask her, how do you say this?
And she said, Derek's tonight. I was asking her where that comes from. Her husband comes from Danish roots. Dutch, Dutch, sorry, Dutch roots. And there is a day in where they're from, where they have Dirckx’s day. That's pretty amazing. So we're happy to have her here with us. We're going to have a much fuller introduction of Dr. Dirckx at the evening lecture.
I'm just going to tell you enough to set the table for our conversation. She began as a scientist, she got a biochemistry degree and then a Ph.D. in brain imaging from Cambridge. Maybe. Maybe you've heard of it, right? After practicing in that field for 11 years and doing seven years of postdoc research, she went to Oxford to receive training in Christian apologetics and so forth.
For the last 15 years, she's been working at this intersection of science and Christian faith. She writes books, she researches, she she’s on the road all of the time speaking. So it's an honor for her, honor for us to have her here. On a personal note, what I want to share with you is that the brief amount of time that I've been able to spend with her.
What I've seen is a person of just beautiful humility, even though she has really impressive academic credentials. I watched that today in Chapel as she spoke about the hope that we have in Christ. It was a beautiful message of the gospel. I watched her as she dealt with students this afternoon in a student lecture and fielded their questions how she handled some potentially sensitive questions with such care and grace.
So I want to not only recommend her to you as a scholar, but as a just a fine human being. So we're honored to have you here. Well, we're going to do for just a few moments is have a very warm and friendly conversation. This isn't an academic gotcha session. So we're going to start with something really easy.
I would like Dr. Dirckx for you to think of the most controversial topic that you can think of and tell us what you think about that. I'm going to stop you before you get going. Tell us something. Just tell us who you are. Where do you live? Tell us about your family. What some of your hobbies are and what you're doing these days.
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : Yeah. Thank you. Is it. Shall I call you Jeff or Dr. Cary, Jeff. Thank you, Jeff. And it's a pleasure to be here. It's an honor to be here, actually, and to spend this evening with with you. Thank you for coming. And I so I live in Oxford. I've lived there for the last 18 years. My husband and I have lived there for 18 years.
And we've had two children there. We have a daughter, Abby, who is 15 and a son, Ethan, who is 13. As I was listening to you, Jeff, I remembered that. So my husband and I, we met in a brain imaging lab. So how romantic is that? And I remember one of the first things I said to Conrad when I saw his name, because the lab kind of had all the members of the faculty and students names and photos on the wall.
And I looked as, there are not enough vowels in your last name. Little did I know that I would end up inheriting it myself. Anyway, so we live in Oxford with our two children. We've lived there for 18 years and yeah, we love, we love being there.
Dr. Jeff Cary : So you just kind of let that roll off. We live in Oxford. What's it like living in Oxford?
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : Yeah, it's. It's wonderful. I mean, we don't live in the old part. Don't don't get the wrong impression. But we can. I can cycle into the can of all the sites that you would that's perhaps some of you have seen in about 15 minutes on my bike. And it is quite normal to cycle around. There's lots of lots of people with very big brains not wearing cycle helmets.
That doesn't really make any sense. But yeah, so people cycle around a lot. This is incredible architecture around that. Obviously it's very expensive place to live. So, you know, not everything is great, but it's it's a wonderful place to to raise children. There's lots going on. And and I used to work at Ocker there as well. So, you know, there's a lot going on in apologetics and Christian theology is very rich in Oxford.
It's got this extraordinary history of, you know, the martyrs in the time of reformation that were burned at the stake on this may major street in the center of Oxford. So there's such a rich Christian heritage.
Dr. Jeff Cary : So you told me last night we're going off script here a little bit. You told me you grew up in Durham. Yes. Which is another beautiful place. Rodney Thomas, where are you? This fellow over here. We went to the University of Durham. Oh. And so he was telling me just this evening how beautiful Durham is as well. So you've you've been blessed to live in some really wonderful places?
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : Yes, I have. Yes.
Dr. Jeff Cary : All right. Let's get down to something that more may more relate to why you're here. I'm going to ask you these as we agreed on them. So there's no curveballs here.
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : You can ask me other things. I really don't.
Dr. Jeff Cary : Mind. Well, I tried starting with one, and you weren't very responsive to that.
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : Well, I can tell you a bit more about Durham. I mean, it's got yeah, it's got a if I have any. Has anyone been to Durham in the UK. Well I highly recommend it. If you get as far as Oxford, it's worth jumping on a train and going to Durham as well. The Cathedral is 900 years old and St Cuthbert was buried there, a kind of one of the people that brought the gospel to the British Isles.
Yeah. Again, a rich a rich Christian heritage there and thinking about kind of Celtic Christianity and how that kind of kind of meshed with Roman Christianity and the impact in Britain. So yeah, Durham is beautiful.
Dr. Jeff Cary : So what drew you to the study to study and work in the sciences and how did you end up in Christian apologetics after that?
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : Thank you. Yes. So my journey in the sciences started probably as a teenager. I, I remember kind of as I was getting into high school and the amount of homework started to increase. I loved my science and math homework. I always did that. First, I got quite stressed about English essays and anything that required ambiguity. And yeah, I just I wasn't so into that and, and so, and I remember a friend saying, Oh yeah, I think I'm going to would like to do a PhD.
And I was thinking, well, that sounds quite cool and I'd maybe I'd like to do that as well, you know, drill down into a particular area and really get to grips with it. And that was it about the age of 14. So I guess from quite early on I knew that I was a scientist and from in my kind of later school years when you specialize for A-levels and A-levels get you into university, I, I was doing biology, chemistry and math and yeah, I just, I loved the I the idea of being able to study the natural world.
At that point, I wasn't a Christian. My A-level biology teacher handed me a book by Richard Dawkins, and so I was reading The Selfish Gene just a few years after it had come out about how we are essentially gene machines and material beings and that there isn't terribly much more to it than that. And I realized that over time I absorbed a belief system, you know, kind of subconsciously, because nobody wakes up one day and decides they're going to decide to be an agnostic or an atheist.
You kind of gradually absorb it from media, from books, from magazines, from radio, from TV. And that was what happened to me on that journey. And so I arrived at Bristol agnostic and assuming that science and God were in conflict because I was reading from brilliant scientists who didn't believe in God. And so, yeah, it does. That doesn't answer your question, does it?
Dr. Jeff Cary : It does answers the first part. Okay. I'm confused, though, that you didn't like ambiguity. So how did you get to Christian apologetics of all things?
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : Well, so the long story short I became a Christian at university studying biochemistry. But then interesting is the a key part to my journey was that I had lots of questions and I began to ask them starting from week one as a student and I began to receive credible answers that made sense to me. And so I spent the next year and a half grilling more Christians and asking questions.
And it's really important to do that. And, you know, if something is true, then we can ask the very hardest questions that we have. It's not going to collapse. It's going to be able to hold the way. And that was what was shown to be true of Christianity. You know, we don't we can't answer all of our questions, but we can ask them the very hardest questions that we have.
And we shouldn't be afraid of doing that, because if it's true that Jesus rose from the dead, he can hold the weight of the questions that we have. And so really important for me, I believe, really important for young people today to have a place to ask their questions and for that to be okay in the church to do that as well.
And still answering your questions, I'm going to get to apologetics. So Christian apologetics was something that came in. Well, apart from my journey to faith, as as I became a Christian and was disciples and moved into move to the states actually to take up a post-doc, I am I met somebody who was an extraordinary evangelist and was leading people to Christ, kind of just as a matter of course, as part of her life through these investigator Bible studies, six week studies that she would do with people.
And I really was drawn to this. I really just I'm at the same time in my brain imaging lab in Milwaukee at the Medical College of Wisconsin. I was being I was having all kinds of opportunities to discuss the Christian faith, help people with their questions. And I even did some of these investigator Bible studies, so that began to stir me.
Maybe there's more to here than just the fact that I'm a scientist. And that sent me kind of looking and we were feeling called back to the UK. So I was thinking, what next? And these same friends told us about what has become OCCA, the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics, and I essentially went there to study, and that was the beginning of the pivot for me from being a full time scientist to being an apologist.
So that was in 2004. And then I, over the course of the next five years, kind of shifted to being kind of a full time apologist. Yeah.
Dr. Jeff Cary : Again, off script, a little bit like everyone. Everyone who comes to faith has different reasons for doing so. Yeah. And there's usually more than one. There's a host of them. Yeah. What were a couple of the things that for you were centrally significant to embracing Christian faith?
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : Well, again, this area of apologetics. So the science and God question was was really instrumental for me because I was a scientist. I loved science, and I had assumed they were in conflicts and so for someone to say to me, no, they're not and you can do both, that was a game changer. And it opened up a whole new horizon for me.
And then the other the other one, which ties into a later question. So I read a book that the name of which I can't even remember anymore, but it was, it was before I knew about things, at least Robles case for Christ. It was talking about the reliability of the Bible and the historicity of the manuscripts. And I remember thinking, you know, reading this and thinking, why didn't someone tell me this earlier?
So there were these matters of the kind of intellectual questions and the fact that there were credible answers to show that I could trust the Bible, I could trust my love of science. It wasn't in conflict. And so there was a point to a credible faith. And but there were also moments where it was really engaging on a whole different level.
So I was involved in music at the time. I played in an orchestra and my friends invited me along to the Carol service. I don't know if you know in the U.K. we at Christmas time, we have these extra church services with loads of singing of Christmas carols. And they're an amazing opportunity because culturally, people that don't go to church still come to these.
And I was one of those as a student. I went with my friends and I remember sitting there thinking, I'm very used to being moved by music, but there's something more happening here. And of course, I didn't know it at the time, but I was kind of getting a taste of the presence of God and the Holy Spirit.
And and so I would say there were matters of the head and the heart that were important in my journey to faith.
Dr. Jeff Cary : Thank you for sharing that. How do you account for the current tensions that we're experiencing, perhaps especially in the Western world, but really globally, the current tensions between science and faith?
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : Yeah, I think that I think there are a number of different factors. One is that there are a number of very vocal naturalists or atheists who are brilliant scientists, and we're not going to detract from that. And obviously, you know, they have said, you know, things and written things in the academy that over time filter down into popular level culture.
And we don't need to go further than Barnes and Noble to pick up a book in the science section. And of course, the backdrop, the presumed backdrop is naturalism or atheism. And that is that is what we're working with. And I think, you know, I think that is that is a big part of it. There are all kinds of kind of faulty dilemmas that this whole conversation is littered with.
One is that I can either be a thinker or a person of faith, because somewhere along the line, they've they've got the message that faith is blind. Faith does not require you to think. Faith doesn't require you to evaluate anything. But, of course, if we take a look at the life of Jesus in the New Testament, we see that when people put their faith in him, it wasn't blind.
It was actually on the basis of the evidence. He was a man who lived like no one else, who treated people with dignity, who brought people back from the margins, who spoke with extraordinary authority, who never whose followers never had anything bad to say about him in three years of close contacts, and who had these capacity to heal people and raise them from the dead?
It was on the basis of all of that evidence that when Jesus said, Come follow me, they leave their nets and follow him, or they leave their tax booth and follow him. Faith is not blind. And so somehow people have got the idea that to be a if I want to be a thinker, I need to say, well, away from the Christian faith, it's the opposite.
And I will say later, the very fact that you can think the most persuasive reason for that is because God exists, because God is a thinker and He has a mind. And so I think that this idea that faith is irrational, but science is rational and fact based and of course, that's not the whole case either. Science doesn't offer infallible proof.
It offers you levels of certainty. You know anyone here that's in the sciences will know that when you conduct a study and you write it up, you're not saying we have proven conclusively that you're actually saying this data suggests it's and you're offering the best explanation you have based on the current data and technology. And and so there is actually even a level of faith involved in the scientific method, faith that there's order in nature and that we can think rationally.
Yeah, but somehow for these reasons, people have got the impression that science and belief in God are incompatible. But it's not the case.
Dr. Jeff Cary : This is one of the reasons we have students at LCU. You take a course in the Christian heritage, among many reasons that we do it. One is we want them to know that over the centuries there is a rich intellectual tradition and that faith is not blind and they don't stand alone. Yes, in this world that they're not reduced just to an internal experience that they're having.
This turns out to be tremendously encouraging.
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : And there are some historical situations. It's, you know, really helpful for students to know about things like, you know, the Galileo debate and that people assume is kind of, you know, Galileo, the scientist against the church and the tour and conflict. Actually, Galileo was a man of faith. And the thought that the church was believing the secular perspective of the day.
But Galileo saw his faith as being integral in in his discoveries, in science, you know, all kinds of historical things and how they're reported on today, how the written about the there have been some key works that have contributed to the conflict thesis and it's helpful for us to unpack those.
Dr. Jeff Cary : So as you look into your crystal ball, your scientific crystal ball, where do you see this tension going in the near future, this conflict between the supposed conflict between science of faith? And as you project further out, where do you see this going in the distant future?
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : Yeah, thank you. Well, I think the conversation around artificial intelligence is not going away any time soon. I recommend my colleague, Professor John Lennox, his book, 2084, which is out with Zondervan, which is a really great kind of just analysis of where we're at with artificial intelligence. And I suppose the whole conversation around what people believe will one day be possible and will there one day be, you know, say this in the talk later, conscious androids, you know, walking the streets of Lubbock?
Or is that more of a philosophical question rather than something that the data can can show us? So AI would would be one and another would be I think this you know, this is an interesting area known as neuro theology, where neuroscience intersects theological belief, religious belief, and there may be kind of more to come in that area as well.
Dr. Jeff Cary : Good. Thank you. What part of your work, either as a scientist or an apologist, has brought you the most satisfaction?
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : Yeah. Thank you for that. You know, my Ph.D. was really hard, and I almost gave up many times. But coming to the coming to the realization that the creator of the universe cares about me sitting typing numbers into this Excel spreadsheet, you know, saw me, you know, talks about he's made us a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned us with glory and honor.
What is mankind that you are mindful of here in the son of man that you care for him? You know, just I think I know it's not quite maybe not. So the answer that I was even thinking of giving earlier, but just the fact that I can study these things and go about my daily life knowing that the creator of the cosmos cares and sees the details, that that was very, very satisfying, actually.
And and actually for the Christian, I've heard people even say that God has enabled them to uncover areas. He has actually blessed their research and has enabled them. I feel like he did do that for me. I actually even and this is highly unusual and it's never happened since. But in this difficult time of my PhD, I had a dream about to graph it with some data points on it and I did actually end up collecting a graph like that.
And that was really interesting to me that the you know, Galileo talked about the scientist thinking God's thoughts after him. And you know what? What a privilege to be able to do that as an apologist evangelist. It's a real it's such a privilege to see the penny drop for somebody or to see someone further away from God move a bit closer.
To have had one roadblock cleared out of the way. You know, I often think of apologetics as it's giving reasons, you know, from the verse in first Peter to always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you for the reason, for the hope that you have. And the Greek word for answer is apologia. And it's like clearing away roadblocks so that people can see Jesus and just that privilege of seeing one more roadblock be cleared or even see someone, see Jesus and go, Oh, really?
That's that's what it's about, that obviously there's no greater privilege than doing that.
Dr. Jeff Cary : We may have to agree to disagree about Excel spreadsheets. I think they're from the devil. Every time I have to open one, I die a little bit inside.
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : We can pray for you in this day, and I.
Dr. Jeff Cary : Sure don't want to have dreams about graphs.
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : I didn't ask for it. Yeah.
Dr. Jeff Cary : Well, we have to wonder whether God gave it to you.
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : Yes, yes.
Dr. Jeff Cary : Tell us about two or three books that have been especially important for your faith formation.
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : Thank you. Yes. You know, I was thinking about this and think trying to think. Are there any kind of really, really kind of significant, meaty, like academic books? And actually but actually, the two that I want to share with you, the first one I've already shared is this book. I can't even remember the title, but it dismantled the assumption that I had that the Bible couldn't be trusted and it was offering apologetics, you know, for like the number of manuscripts, the distance of time from the oldest manuscript that we have from the events themselves and how, yes, if you want to throw out the New Testament as being unreliable, you have to throw out every
historical document that there is. And that blew me away. It just blew me away. I've never read anything like that. I've never heard anyone say anything like that. And I know that that kind of material is available in all kinds of books today. The second book that was really important for me, I believe, was a book by Philip Yancy.
What's so amazing about Grace? Because.
What's so amazing about Grace? Because, you know, there's always more to discover the gospel as this beautiful diamond with so many different edges and you shine the light on one angle and you see it from from that perspective, and then you shine it from another and you see it from another perspective. And I just I read this book about grace and just extravagant generosity and just how Philip managed to do that through stories and and beauty.
And and it just opened my eyes to grace, you know, and I think I can't remember who it was that said it, but it's like if you start to ask the question, is it really that good? Then you're close to the kingdom, you're close to the gospel. And I think that book helped me to grasp grace because in our natural bent we become legalistic, right?
We feel like I can earn this. I've got the brownie points, I'm doing this, and God ought to reward me. It's like God loves us. God loves me. Regardless, despite my efforts that that was extraordinary to discover and that that's the foundation of when I think of God, I think, yeah, sacrificial love and extraordinary generosity to pour out the riches of heaven while we were still sinners.
While we were walking away. While we want nothing to do with him, Christ died for us. Yeah, yeah.
Dr. Jeff Cary : You know, what's really inspiring is those of us who are not scientists sometimes work with a stereotype that scientists are just data crunchers. You know, the computer punks sell.
Dr. Sharon Dirckx : Spreadsheets.
Dr. Jeff Cary : Right? Oh, it is. It's inspiring to hear a Christian scientist talk about faith in the terms that you do. I wish you could have heard her talk to our students that Grace just came out as she looked at them and said so persuasively, God sees you. God knows you, God loves you, Grace just emanates from you. That's a beautiful thing to see how you've wedded that to science.
So thank you for being here and sitting for this conversation. Then I invite her to go ahead and exit. So would you help me thank her for the conversation and to
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