Thursday, July 19, 2018

Fully Alive

I’ve been musing about a new book. It builds off this conviction: In order to become fully alive, we need to reconcile the inputs of our heart and mind. Then we become whole. Or as Jesus phrased it, 
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22: 37
This is happiness. 

This is the essence of Christian spirituality. This is life fully alive.

You may know this already, but the idea of being “fully alive” comes from Irenaeus’s words that 
“The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” 
To my mind, it’s a fully integrated life that pulls together all of who we are. We live into the purpose for which God created us.

It’s also in the Apostle Paul’s words, 
"So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush." Philippians 1:9, The Message

In this book (at least the one that's in my head at the moment), I’d like to integrate the insights from science that I’ve studied over the past few decades to help Christians take in what it means to be fully alive in a scientific and technological world. To give one example, this would naturally engage positive psychology's insights on gratitude and happiness. It would interact with the realities of the human being that emerges from reading both the books of nature and Scripture.

What do you think? What are some elements you’d add?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Dialogue on the Soul Continues

(I return to the dialogue on the soul with my philosopher friend from the post two weeks ago...)

Me: Wow, it seems like this conversation has gone on for awhile, but we're still strolling around Oxford! And since we're now in the library at Magdalen College looking at the "New Building," let me pause for a moment. I'll lay out four steps on how the concept of the soul developed in Christian thought, especially as we think about this in light of contemporary science, which has a great deal of trouble with a disembodied soul.

Philosopher: That sounds good. At least I'll be clear on what I'm disagreeing with!

Me: First of all, the Hebrew Bible (for example, Genesis 1-2) presents the human being as a unity of body-soul Generally, this is referred to as a “psychosomatic unity.” The natural state of human beings is thus to be in this unity. (By the way, some see a tripartite breakdown of body-soul-spirit, but I think they're mistaken, and the difference isn't essential to our conversation. It's the unity that's critical.)

Philosopher: I already see some issues, but I'll let you keep going and simply pose questions from time to time...

Me: Second, As the Jewish people became more interested in eschatology and thus resurrection, the teaching of the resurrection of the body became increasingly important. This is a bit more complicated because it implies a correlate A. Jewish psychosomatic unity needs to be distinguished from the immortality of the soul of some Hellenistic thought, most notably in Plato (but not restricted to him), where the soul fits more or less uncomfortably in the body, and the point is to release the soul from its prison. Nonetheless, I do admit Plato's dualism--and the many other similar forms-- is the perspective taken by many Christians today.

Philosopher: This is a dumpster fire--not just your ideas, but a real dumpster fire right
there. At  any rate, I think you're blaming a lot on Plato. Isn't he just a representative of that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all?

Me: There you go, you sly, sagacious, philosophical dog, throwing in an allusion to Vincent of Lerins! At any rate, I'll give a direct answer to your question: No. And this brings me to correlate B: There is no widespread unity of perspectives on soul in religions and philosophies throughout history. Something close to substance dualism—where there are two entities, “body” and “soul” that together make the human being, but that are, in principle separable—may be the majority opinion, but I’m not sure how one could know, and it is by no means universal. For example, Hindu substance dualism holds that the soul transmigrates through different lives into the different bodies (not all of which are human). In contrast, Siddartha Gautama (aka the Buddha) and many Buddhists do not hold this view.

Philosopher: Before we go any further, I have to ask you for a definition. We philosophers don't travel very far without defining terms.

Me: We have indeed now traveled to a pub that has the same name as one of my favorite taprooms in my hometown, Chico! How cool is that! Let's grab a pint and on the way inside, I'll offer a common definition of substance dualism
A form of dualism in the philosophy of mind that states two types of substances exist: the mental and the physical. It is a fundamentally ontological position: it states that the mental and the physical are separate substances with independent existence. (adapted from 
How does that work? I'm taking this to represent a commonly held view. In it, I want to emphasize the independence and separability of these two substances. This is inconsistent with biblical teaching and most Christian theology throughout history, despite whatever else you philosophers might conjure up. (Did I really just say that?)

Philosopher: That's a great idea--the pint that is--but I'm not sure why substance dualism is incompatible with Christianity.

Me: I arrive then at my third step: As the Christian church developed its ideas of the resurrection of the body after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It distinguished itself in some ways from a Jewish conception in which once the Messiah arrived the general resurrection would occur tout de suite. Christians realized that there was some intermediate state in between our death and the general resurrection, but that this was unnatural for human beings. This would be an unclothed soul (2 Corinthians 5). The texts are notably sketchy on what this is and point toward the mystery of what is to be revealed (1 Corinthians 15). Jesus’s resurrected body, however, allowed him to eat (Luke 24), which contradicts an assertion that he was pure spirit after the Resurrection.

Philosopher: Hmm... I can see we need to take some time to work out these ideas. But we've got time and wow, we've also got a really nice view! It's almost like we were transported from the Handle Bar, which has no view, to a rooftop bar on High Street. 

Me: You're right--it's almost like a foretaste of God will bring, in the twinkling of an eye, something unexpected, a whole new, higher view. At any rate, let me close with this, step four: Our ultimate hope is to be fully restored and unified human beings that are a unity of both bodies and souls. In the new heavens and the new earth described in Revelation 21, there are many activities that imply and require a body. That's what we long for: a new body-soul for the new creation.

Philosopher: I definitely see that there are several distinctions left to be drawn and a number of points of disagreement. No worries. I hope this is some ways a literal foretaste of our future hope and that our resurrected bodies will allow us to share a pint together in the life to come.

Me: We can definitely toast to that!

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Citizens of Heaven and Earth: Reflecting on the 4th of July

(A note: I generally post on faith and science issues. This week, because it's the week of July 4th, I decided to look at how faith intersects with civic life. It's not too much of a stretch to see how these reflections can also be an analogy for any encounter of Christian faith with culture. By the way, Blogger and I are fighting over getting the font size and style correct. I'm currently losing. So I'm posting as is.)

The Fourth of July might make us think of one of three things. 

The first is this: “Why does the 4th of July have to happen this year on a Wednesday?”

Second is this: "What does this mean for our country?" Most of us know that this is the day on which our great country signed its independence from England. On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, and two days later delegates from the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson.

And finally, we might go even deeper and ask, 
“What does it make to be a good citizen?” “What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus and to celebrate this day as an American Christian?”
The answer that I’m offering here is that our calling is to know the one true God revealed in Jesus Christ and to follow this God in mission in the world. This call brings us freedom and joy.

And I want to look at through this topic through the eyes of the Apostle Paul. In his words from the book of Philippians, we find freedom and service that we might never have imagined. 

Two texts from Philippians on citizenship
I’m going to take up two texts from this Pauline letter that may at first be contradictory. He affirms two things:
1.   In chapter one: “Let your manner of civic, public life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ…” (And in this passage he uses the Greek word politeuomai, which more literally signifies “be a citizen.”)
And then in chapter three: “Our citizenship is in heaven…”
How can we be both citizens of heaven and earth? What does that mean?

To answer those questions, we need to step back for a moment and note a paradox: when Paul writes this letter, he’s a prison seeking and he’s working to inspire this group of Christians. From this man in chains we learn about freedom. 

And then there’s the historical context: In order to understand these words, we have to grasp the context in Philippians. This city in Europe, though about 800 miles from Rome, was a colony of the Roman Empire. Why? In 42 BC, there was a huge battle by Octavian (later the Emperor Augustus) and Mark Anthony and the leaders of Julius Caesar’s assassination, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. The conquering general and later emperor Octavian had to figure out what to do with all these Roman soldiers in Philippi. So he made this part of Europe a Roman colony. This meant that, though they did not live in Rome, they were Roman citizens, which signified, among other things, freedom from taxation. And they were very proud of their citizenship and their city of Philippi, which Acts 16:12 calls “a leading city of Macedonia.” 

OK to these two passages…

We are citizens on earth.
NIV, Philippians 1:27-28 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner (lives as citizens) worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit,striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.
Or as paraphrased in The Message
Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance. 
We are even more citizens of heaven.
NIV, Philippians 3:18-21 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
And again, those key verses paraphrased in The MessageThere are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.  But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! 
In a word, we—like the Philippians—are citizens of earth, and citizens of heaven. Because we are citizens of God’s country (as it were), we are free to serve this country we love.

Free to love God as citizens of heaven
We are free for God: that’s where our citizenship lies.

This implies that we worship God with our entire lives, our everyday, ordinary life, our sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life” a la Romans 12:1-2 and The Message, and this is our “living sacrifice.” 

Getting our identity straight
This implies that we are free from being defined by any label such as “American Christian,” “Republican Christians” or “Democratic Christians” or even “Presbyterian Christian.” The adjective always has to inhabit a priority entirely secondary to the noun.
This can get so confused. I’m told that a few years back the Church of England and the Church of Scotland were in talks to have a merger, and a pastor in Scotland was having conversations in his town with various people. This Scottish pastor met a man man told him, “I’m totally opposed to this.” 
And the pastor responded, “That surprises me a bit. I always thought you were an atheist.”  
The man shot back, “Aye, that I am, but I’m a Presbyterian atheist.”
Having a standard outside our culture
And this takes us to the power of being citizens of heaven. Unless you have something outside the culture, you can’t speak into the culture. As I mentioned in another post, during the years leading up to World War II, the Nazi regime had very few resisters. One of the few was the small Confessing Church in Germany led by the theologian Karl Barth. In 1934 they said a distinct No to Hitler’s treatment of the Jews because—as they put it—Jesus Christ is the “One Word we have to hear and to obey in life and in death.” They could state a word that was angular to the way that the Nazis asserted that God, through the Weltgeist (the world Spirit or Mind) was speaking through the achievements of the German Volk. 

That’s what it means to be free to serve our country.

And there’s also the personal angle
As citizens, we are free to serve God.

And here it’s important to realize the difference between freedom from and freedom for. I’m beginning to think that the main reason to be free from entanglements that hold us back—even sin—is to be free for serving God.
This week, there’s been a lot of interest in LeBron James and where he’s headed. We now know it’s the Lakers. (Good luck in the Western Conference with my mighty Warriors.) Lebron is a uniquely talented player, but this talent leverages some significant natural physical qualities. And this makes me realize that no one will be as interested in me if I were to declare my intention to play for the NBA. Despite that fact that I’m free from any hindrances to play basketball, I’m not free for this. 

As Paul says, 
“Let your manner of civic, public life—your citizenship—be worthy of the Gospel of Christ.”
Here I’ll just close a few questions directed at you and at me:
  • Do we live representing the kingdom of God?
  • When we look at the Gospel of Christ—his care for the hurting, the outcast, those damaged by religion and society—do we live up to that standard?
  • Do our lives reflect Jesus? Are we his hands and feet today?
As we reflect on these questions, my prayer is that they will that, that we may we know that kind of freedom, the freedom as we celebrate the birthday of the United States of America, but even more the freedom, by the power of  the Holy Spirit, to let our manner of civic life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ.

That’s the way I want to celebrate the Fourth of July this year and every year. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

On the Soul: A Dialogue with a Philosopher on Addison’s Walk in Oxford

But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
The Apostle Paul, Philippians 3:20-21
I’m currently in a conversation, perhaps even a debate, with a top notch philosopher about the nature of the soul and particularly some comments about “substance dualism” and the soul in Mere Science and Christian Faith

Since I like the idea of having this conversation along Magdalen College’s Addison’s walk where C.S. Lewis used to stroll and where I just paid a visit (thus the picture), I’ve decided to set the conversation there. (This dialogue is abstracted from an email exchange, but I hope, represents the spirit of the conversation.) And by the way, forgive me for taking the majority of the verbiage—I’m simply trying to clarify my ideas in light of some excellent and spirited challenges.  

A philosopher: As we walk along this beautiful path that has been trod by thinkers like Lewis and Tolkien, I have to let you know that I think you’re vague about the nature of the soul. If you mean what the Bible teaches about the soul, then we will have to respectfully disagree. Not because I believe the Bible teaches that there is a substantial soul, but because I believe it doesn't teach anything about the existence or nonexistence of the soul. The Bible isn't a philosophical text, and so, it seems to me, it simply assumes common sense, that is, what ordinary people believe.

Magdalen College, Oxford from High Street
Greg: I know that you’re really convinced of this point because you’ve repeated it on various occasions. I'm surprised that you don't think the Bible teaches anything about the nature of the human person and thus the reality of the soul or not. As just one resource, I'd highly recommend Hans Walter Wolff's Anthropology of the Old Testament (he has an entry on "soul" on pages 17-18), but he demonstrates (broadly speaking) that the human person is a unity that can't easily be divided into substantial parts, whether we call those "throat," "neck," "desire," "soul," "life," or "person." The New Testament similarly describes human beings with one  word "body," as Rudolf Bultmann unfolds expertly in his Theology of the New Testament. (And it's not difficult to find other scholars who agree.) Our soul then is one aspect of the entirety of the human person and not separable. (I will bracket for a moment the intermediate state while we await our bodies.) This conviction of the unity of the human person--and an unwillingness to define us as "souls" and material "bodies"--is clearly in several passages from Paul such as Philippians 3:21: Christ "will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself." To put a fine point on it, I don't see any separation implied there where our "soul" neatly leaves our body. And what I'm saying implies the broader point that the Old and New Testaments certainly teach about the human person even if they are not philosophical texts in the sense that we describe those today. Teaching about any particular subject can be done directly or indirectly, narratively or expositionally, or in a variety of means. It would be a sad day for humanity if all our teaching had to come through rational philosophical expositions. Jesus and his parables would certainly be in trouble!

A philosopher: Greg, I want to return to what you wrote, 

“Floating around many Christian circles are the dualistic versions of the soul—that there is an entirely separable substance within our bodies—something like air inside a tire, or more philosophically what Gilbert Ryle called the 'ghost in the machine.' This owes much more to Plato than the Hebrew Bible, which begins by describing that God created the first man to be found its pages, adam, from the dust, adamah, by breathing in his breath (Genesis 2:7). We like Adam and Eve are a psychosomatic unity of body and spirit. In this case, engaging cognitive science can help us correct our doctrine of the soul by reminding ourselves of the Scripture, which sees human beings as body/soul, a psychosomatic unity.”(Mere Science and Christian Faith)
      I do think you’re correct on this point: most Christians are right: the soul is a substance that is separate and separable from its physical body.

GSC: Wow! You philosophers have amazing memories! 
If by "substance dualism," we mean that there are two separable and reasonably independent substances, and that the soul is the “real me,” then I must demur. That is, however, what most Christians believe in my experience and so to that degree you're correct. But it's not good Christian teaching. And here we arrive at that critical difference between the immortality of the soul (via platonic thought and the Hellenism that took over Judaism after Alexander’s conquests in the 4thcentury BC) and the resurrection of the body (which is older and gradually formed and which the Pharisees stoutly held to). This is where Jesus and the Pharisees (with whom he agreed on most theological points) substantially agreed and confessed the resurrection of the body. What survives death? It appears, from the biblical texts, that it’s a bit mysterious because it’s of the new creation, but it’s certainly not to be a disembodied spirit. Instead it’s an embodied unity of our selves, which is fit for the new heavens and the new earth. We know for example, that Jesus ate after the resurrection, which spirits cannot do. And Paul, like Jesus, was dead set (as it were) on the resurrection of the body. 

The New Buildings at Magdalen College
A philosopher: Hey, there’re the “New Buildings” at Magdalen where C. S. Lewis’s office was, near staircase three. 

GSC: Those buildings look fairly old for "new" buildings.

A philosopher: Actually, those buildings date to the 1730s and a “new” in relation to the older ones that are on High Street, which are centuries older.
      Back to a more philosophical note, the claim (which you seemingly accept) that the belief in substance dualism has its roots in Plato is a canard. Jesse Bering, Nicholas Humphrey, Paul Bloom, Alfred Gell, etc. all know that human beings are natural-born substance dualists.

GSC: This assertion is the easiest to disprove, despite the merits and acumen of Bering, Humphrey, Bloom, and Gell. For one thing, the concept of what “we all know”—i.e., “common sense”—needs to be scrutinized. There are at least three separate historical versions of non-dualistic and/or materialist of the soul. Of course, Lucretius (with whom I’m sure you’re familiar) brought a stunning non-materialist. In the 6thcentury and in a different part of the word (i.e., Arabia), Muhammad was laughed at because he proclaimed resurrection from the dead and the Arab world of his time (a religious world at that) had no sense that anything lasted past the body. And I’m going to assume your comment about Buddhist belief in a disembodied spirit was a slip because Siddartha Gautama certainly didn’t teach it (he felt it was an unimportant doctrine), and the Buddhist concept of anattais often translated “no soul.” What goes from one life to the next is like a flame being passed from one candle to the next, it is not a thing or a substance. (As I might have mentioned, I teach religious studies at Chico State, and so I’ve had to reorient myself with these teachings in the past few years.) 
      Let us continue walking as we ponder these things…

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Souls Old and New

My brother (a philosophical sort, to be sure) came to me many years ago in a bit of consternation and announced, 
“I’m not sure I believe human beings have a soul. But, if I don’t have an enduring soul, in what sense am I the same person in the past, as I am today and will in the future?”
This is what I grew up with.

At the time, I have to admit that, I didn’t have a readymade answer. (To be honest, I was somewhere in my teens probably trying to figure out other weighty questions like who my prom date would be.) Nonetheless, the subject of soul endures through time, and is the topic of this week’s post. Why? 

First of all, I’ve been in Oxford, England the past few days talking with two philosophers and a pastor (this sounds like the lead up to a joke) about various philosophical topics. (The central theme has been the meaning of life, but I’ll leave that for another time.) In our time together, I’ve realized again how important the soul is. 

First of all—and this brings me into my usual realm for this blog, that of science and religion—it seems to me that the current trend of many scientific worldviews is toward a materialist conception of human life in which our selves are a constantly changing, thus non-enduring, collection of molecules. (As a scholar of religion, I’d have to add that this sounds a great deal like the Buddhist teaching of anatta,or “no soul.”) And this materialist version of science takes us away from an enduring, persisting soul. Another way to put this is that our souls are really simply our minds and our mind is, to quote Marvin Minsky, 
“The mind is what the brain does.” Marvin Minsky
Secondly, what is it?
If we were to rely on Webster’s dictionary for the its definition, the soulis this: “the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life.” Webster’s dictionary
Fair enough, maybe not sufficiently theologically nuanced, but the definition will work as long we don’t fall into the “substance dualism”—that body and soul are two distinct entities and that the soul fills the body in some way similar to air filling a bike tire. The biblical texts teach us that we are much more interconnected in a body-soul unity. 

Christians, it seems to me, are convinced that there’s something more than just the material body, something that God has given us. If we’re created by the God who loves us then we need to have some way to relate to our Creator, and the soul provides us a way to do just that. It is also who we are. We talk about the soul as “the embodiment of some quality.” “She is the soul of this institution.” That’s the sense I’m talking about.

So how am I the same person as in 1978 (see the picture) as I am today? In some ways, I hope not. But at the same time, I’m thankful that the core of whom I am endures, repents and thus changes. And through it all, there’s a God who loves me.

P.S. If you want to go a bit further with the question of "What is the soul?" try this lecture from psychiatrist Iain McGilchrest.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Sage Advice

Here’s a piece of sage advice:
“The easiest thing to create is a pile of garbage. Just throw a piece of paper in the corner of a room, and watch what happens in just a few minutes.”
Think about it—when some expresses an attitude that brings down an organization or a community, it doesn’t take long for others to follow. When you, as one particular example, create garbage discussions of faith and science, almost anyone can come along
and thrown in a piece of garbage advice.

Incidentally, I like this proverb better than the better known, “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch” (despite of course the Jackson Five’s contributions), which is essentially a more passive image. A garbage pile elicits active, if at times unconscious, contributions, but it demonstrates that we indeed play a part with our actions.

And that’s the problem with any number of societal ills and our discussion of them. Today, it often involves assuming a victim’s role in. And I’m tired of that. Because frankly, there are some true victims in the United States (which I know, to some degree, because my wife Laura directs our local ministry for the homeless in Chico). The true victims rarely get the mic, as it were. So if you hear victimization loud and clear, be forewarned.

Take our consistent cavils by our President about the “mainstream media” as if his cozy relationship with Fox and Friendsisn’t an alliance with a wildly popular news program. How can we, except by a certain perverse logic, describe this top-rated TV show as anything but mainstream? And then of course, the media outlets that dislike President Trump return the favor by ready themselves to spin everything to the negative and pronouncing a daily dose of everything dire.

Ah, it’s tiring…

That’s also the problem with the "conflict thesis" as the most accurate relationship of science and religion (first promoted by Andrew Dickson White and William Draper in the 19th century, and that still lives on today in Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins). When we start throwing garbage out there, it attracts other pieces of similarly useless opinion to be thrown in the garbage corner. 

That’s why I found this radio interview last week about my book, Mere Science and Christian Faith to be some needed oxygen. Al Kresta is a Catholic thinker who grasps the topic of science and faith with sensitivity and insight, which meant of course that he knows how to ask questions that push the conversation forward. Instead of into the garbage pile. If you want to here it, start at about 22:40 here.

Can we make a pact? Let’s be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Let’s not create garbage.

(And, by the way, it was my father—a true sound lay philosopher—who gave me this advice, and though he’s gone, who’s insights I still treasure.)

Thursday, June 07, 2018

“Let Others Wrangle, I Will Wonder,” A Travelogue

Since the last post, I’ve participated in some truly invigorating conversations about faith and science, especially as they transpire in Christian congregations. These discussions raised various thoughts in my brain—conclusions, questions, and a few big insights.
Last week, I and my colleague on the STEAM project, Drew Rick-Miller, invited ten Christian thought leaders to Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena last week. Our task was to evaluate the 2011-14 Scientists in Congregations project, which paired a scientist and a pastor in 37 congregation in the U.S., Canada, and even Paris, France for purpose of integrating bring faith and science in the form of classes, conferences, sermons, small group discussions, and whatever other creative and productive formats they created. 
Among I heard many insights worthy of recording (though I won’t do that here), the resounding answer was that it—this integration—has to feel like it’s vital. I really mean vital, as in its root, the Latin vitalis “of or belonging to life.” Does this make a difference to my life, especially my life with Christ?

Sure, the ten core thought leaders we invited didn’t need to be convinced, but as a result one wondered if we were simply hearing ourselves in an echo chamber. If we let the echoes fade away, a lingering question speaks in the silence, Why would anybody else find this interesting?I used to denigrate this approach, but in order for this conversation to take place, it has to attach to some conviction, some interest, some need that’s deeply felt. 

More recently—in fact, Tuesday—the leading sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund curated a conversation at Rice University Religion and Public Life Project and brought together various thought leaders (including several pastors) to discuss her recent research and book on the topic of “what Christians think about science.” But it was much more. In the discussion, we considered why indeed this might be a topic of consideration for the church, which it isn’t entirely self-evident.

Again, there were so many notable insights, but I will only note my favorite quote from the day together:
 “Let others wrangle, I will wonder” (Augustine). 
I love that. Because there is a great deal of fairly loud static, whether it’s the shrill cries of Richard Dawkins “Belief in God is a delusion,” or the equally disturbing declaration of Ray Comfort that greeted me as I thumbed through pages a Santa Ana Airport store on my way to Houston and thus Rice University: “If evolution is true, then the Bible is false.” Just to emphasize the obvious--this was inside a public place not within the walls of a fundamentalist church. (See the pics.) 

At the heart of the church’s enterprise is to help us wonder at the mystery of God and at the beauty of creation. Let's not lose that in the midst of din of media voices.

Augustine of Hippo
And it was this great intellectual voice from antiquity, Augustine from the African city of Hippo, that carried our conversation toward something that we in fact needed: to move past the “conflict thesis”—the idea, promoted by Cornell founder Andrew Dickson White in the late nineteenth century, that religion and science have been, and will always be, in conflict. This was Fox News vs. CNN before television existed (which, by the way, I watched on the plane home). 

Certainly, some feel the conflict—and it needs to be addressed—but that’s not going to sustain the inherent question of wonder that drives science and interests those who don’t practice science.

“Let others wrangle, I will wonder.” 

That’s something worth remembering.