Stephen Godfrey, PhD, Museum Curator-Paleontologist
Curator of Paleontology, Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons, Maryland.
- 1981: B.Sc., Biology, Bishop’s University, Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada.
- 1986: Ph.D., Vertebrate Paleontology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
- 1988: Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Toronto, Erindale Campus, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
- 1990: Began my own art/sculpting and paleontology exhibits company (www.Skullptures.com), Drumheller, Alberta, Canada.Sculpted 95% of the Brachiosaurusskeleton that is on display outside the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois, USA.
What is one essential thing you would say to a high school or college student first considering a life in science or science-related field?
Are you passionate about science? You must not be in it for the money.
How might they find their calling?
Pursue what you are naturally good at; excellence will come much easier that way. Broaden your horizons; look for opportunities to learn new skills.
What is the best career-vocational advice you received?
I was fortunate that my parents allowed me to pursue my interests in biology and paleontology without interfering.
How do you sense God changing you and this world through your work?
I am satisfied to help one struggling student at a time.
As I research and publish scientific papers describing extinct animals or unusual fossils, I am amazed at the thought that I am helping expand the field of paleontology. I consider it a great honor and privilege to be able to contribute to our scientific understanding of the extraordinary evolutionary history of life on Earth. I love having the opportunity of being able to extract as much information as possible from a fossil. I help fossils tell their story. I ‘read’ fossils as a geologist ‘reads’ rocks, as a musician reads music, as a sculptor ‘reads’ the medium they are working in. In all of these endeavors, one must first master the basics, and then build from there.
How do you see your career as a Kingdom calling and what do you hope to achieve through it?
Nudge Christianity away from young-earth creationism. As I move in my professional circle, I am dismayed at how frequently and easily Christianity is mocked for its broad acceptance of young-earth creationism. I can’t blame my colleagues for their disdain because of Christianity’s lack of understanding and expertise in the field of paleontology. There seems to be an expectation that if you are a paleontologist, you will also be an atheist (or at the very least agnostic). There is usually palpable disappointment when church acquaintances learn that I am also an evolutionary biologist.
Has God done any surprising or unintended things through your calling?
Most days I marvel at the thought that I actually became a professional paleontologist. That in and of itself is nigh unto miraculous. Recently, as a contributor to a documentary on the extinct giant-toothed shark, megalodon, I was able to travel to the jungles of French Guiana and the fossil-rich coastal desert of Peru. I never expected to publish Paradigms on Pilgrimageas a help for those who were also struggling with how to navigate the pitfalls of young-earth creationism.
How has God shaped your character through this profession?
Heated discussions with young-earth creationists are not nearly as rewarding as a calm explanation of the nature of the fossil record. I have become more patient and compassionate in dealing with this sensitive issue.
How does your career in science motivate your faith? How does your faith energize and inform your career?As a paleontologist, my career was at odds with my early-on faith; I had to reconcile those differences.
Since evolution is so controversial within some church circles (it’s not controversial within the professional paleontological community, creationism is a non-starter and equivalent to the notion that the Earth is flat), for me having grown up within a family that was young-earth, the controversy was real and valid and it disturbed me greatly that there was no harmony between the biblical account of creation and what paleontologists had discovered. As my studies continued to deepen in paleontology, I became disillusioned with my faith as being incapable of resolving the creation/evolution controversy until I received help from by brother-in-law, the Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith. The creation accounts in Genesis were the Hebrew science-of-the-day, not a current scientific understanding of how life evolved on Earth. In order to maintain my faith, I had to change my understanding of what the opening chapters of Genesis are about. A more complete description of this new understanding can be found at www.ParadigmsonPilgrimage.com
How did you prepare for and attain your current position?
As a teen, I started collecting skeletons and other objects from nature. I learned all about these and transformed my bedroom into my very own natural history museum. I had to work extra hard in college and university to make up for my lack of interest in education throughout grade school and high school. As a result of my efforts, I scored high enough during my undergraduate years to receive a graduate scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to pursue my doctoral degree in vertebrate paleontology at McGill University. There, I continued to have to work hard to achieve academically. Following my postdoctoral fellowship, I took a contract position as a consultant on a team assembling dinosaurs for the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta. There I learned all about how to make molds and casts, mount skeletons and sculpt recreations of extinct animals. As a result of my natural inclination towards art and working with my hands, I began my own business doing this kind of work for far-flung museums. Being proficient in both paleontology and art/exhibit fabrication enabled me to become the successful candidate for the position of Curator of Paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum, a position that I have held since 1998. I don’t believe that my life-experience trajectory has been accidental.
What can you see in your background that “divine” preparation for your path? Was your path planned or unexpected?
When I was born, my maternal Grandfather is said to have told my mother, “We’ll make a scientist out of this one.” I certainly had no expectation of ever becoming a paleontologist; I just loved nature and art. But I was also raised in a family that had adopted the young-earth creationist world view. And so I went into paleontology on a mission, I had to find out for myself whether fossils were a reliable record of an evolutionary history of life on Earth or the result of Noah’s Flood; the former won out.
How were your specific research or study topics chosen in school and profession?
I have published scientific papers on modern insects, Paleozoic fish and tetrapods, Mesozoic dinosaurs and pterosaurs (the flying reptiles), and Cenozoic fish, dolphins (Figure 3), and coprolites (fossilized poop). Many of these fossils were collected and donated to museums by amateur/avocational paleontologists, thank you! I am fortunate to be able to conduct research on new or any fossil that piques my interest!
Line-drawing restorations of the Miocene platanistid dolphin, Araeodelphis natatorin 1) dorsal, and 2) left lateral views. An example of the kind of extinct dolphin that I have been able to study. Scale bar is 10 cm.
What are the greatest challenges as a believer in your discipline and career?
Doing paleontology in spite of church expectations that are at odds with the Universe being of great age and life having an evolutionary history. I don’t expect to receive affirmation for being a methodological naturalist from large swaths of Protestant Christianity.
Describe any favorite-influential passages or theological themes influencing your career.
I thrill at the grandeur and majesty of Isaiah 40:12–31 (below, New American Standard Bible). I was given the gift of being able to study when, where, and what kinds of animals have graced this planet.
12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
13 Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
14 With whom did He consult and whogave Him understanding?
And whotaught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales;
Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.
16 Even Lebanon is not enough to burn,
Nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before Him,
They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.
18 To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare with Him?
19 As forthe idol, a craftsman casts it,
A goldsmith plates it with gold,
And a silversmith fashionschains of silver.
20 He who is too impoverished for suchan offering
Selects a tree that does not rot;
He seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman
To prepare an idol that will not totter.
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
23 He it iswho reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
24 Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
25 To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be hisequal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of Hispower,
Not one of themis missing.
27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
29 He gives strength to the weary,
And to him wholacks might He increases power.
30 Though youths grow weary and tired,And vigorous young men stumble badly,
31 Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up withwings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary