Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Musing... Is There Enduring Conflict Between Science and Religion?

A. N. Whitehead
When we consider what religion is for mankind and what science is, it is no exaggeration to say that the future course of history depends upon the decision of this generation as to the relations between them. Alfred North Whitehead

I'm going to indulge in some random musings...

Despite the fact that most scholars generally find the “warfare” model of science and religion historically untenable, currently about 70% of young adults believe that religion and science are incompatible. (On the inadequacy and even fallacy of the war between science and religion, see, for example, the fascinating book edited by Ron Numbers--which I'm currently reading and enjoying--Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion.)

So why is this the case? Why is it that most scholars don't see a need for, or even a history of, a war between science and religion, and yet the majority think that's how it is? Since I'd like to bring faith together with science--and in fact, represent those who believe that science can enhance our faith--these questions are particularly poignant for me.

This issues comes to mind:

  • Since young adulthood is a time to decide on career paths, if religious belief reduces the likelihood of becoming a scientist, this could pose a problem for our country (which tends to have a widespread faith in God) as we compete in the world.
I'll hazard two guesses for why the warfare model endures in popular culture:

  1. We have a sense that science works with theories that have testable claims, and that these claims are settled to some degree by imagination and the way the answers conform to beauty (beautiful mathematical equations, that type of thing), but ultimately science depends on reason. Religious faith possesses an added ingredient, which at its best, does, not deny reason, but knows when to transcend reason alone. With Blaise Pascal, I affirm that reason knows when to submit to truths beyond it.
  2. Secondly, the ongoing dispute between conservative Christians and evolutionary science reinforces the warfare thesis. According to a recent Pew poll, 64% of evangelical Christians reject evolution. The fact is that there are few--very few--scientists that reject evolution as a guiding scientific theory. So it's not unreasonable  for the public to see religion and science at odds.
What am I trying to do about changing these perceptions and seeing science and religion and mutually enhancing--and challenging ways--that we understand God. The Scientists in Congregations website tells one story. And I hope in future posts to say more. Who knows? There might even be a future book on the topic...

Friday, August 08, 2014

Five Controversial Things I’ve Learned From C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis remains unbelievably popular, selling more books today than when he was alive (1898-1963). Time even named him today's "hottest theologian" a few years ago. And yet, as I've done research for my upcoming book, I've discovered that he is often misread and, if he's properly understood, he could be amazingly controversial.

Here's a sketch of five of those topics, written in lapidary form, which I hope to expand to a full-on post some day soon.

1.     I’ve learned from Lewis that that materialism is an ongoing, ancient threat to good philosophy and human flourishing. It is nothing new. It also needs to be continually resisted.

2.     Lewis did not read the Bible as an evangelical. For him, the Bible did not equal the Word of God; it “carried” the word of God.

3.     Lewis was very clear about the danger of feelings, which we often associated with the “heart.” To split the “heart” and the “head” is contrary to good spiritual practice and Jesus’s teachings. It is also dangerous to be guided by our emotions.

4.     Lewis taught me that there is a common stock of ethics for all humankind.

5.     Suffering is a tremendous problem for the believer, but it is only faith in God that offers suffering a purpose.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

20 Tips on Saying Yes to No

Last night I came across a list of twenty tips on how to say yes to no (which, of course, is form the book of the same name). 
I thought it was worth posting...

  1. Always say No mindful of a clearer Yes 
  2. Say No with compassion
  3. Say No with conviction
  4. When someone asks for a task you can't do, say No and find a substitute for yourself
  5. Remember Nos sometimes take courage to carry out
  6. True success means being on the right path and saying No to the wrong ones
  7. Recall that No = focus
  8. The art of negation: For Michelangelo to sculpt the David he had to chisel away at the raw marble. We need to chisel away with Nos to find the hidden masterpiece 
  9. Keep your Nos in front of you
  10. Keep Nos strategic
  11. Be open when life says No
  12. Use the power of No to restrict technology's reach
  13. Say No to work and obligations 30 minutes/day and one day a week (breakouts or mini-Sabbaths)
  14. Say No to control (or pray "let it be")
  15. No who you are: live with integrity
  16. Say yes to No lies to yourself or anyone else
  17. Say yes to No toxic relationships
  18. In order to know your spouse you've got to say No to infidelity
  19. Keep in mind you're always saying No to something
  20. Beyond saying the right Nos lies God's Yes for you 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

C. S. Lewis, Scripture, and Science

Here's and excerpt of something I just wrote for The Thoughtful Christian blog...
There are two things I’ve been doing the past few years. First of all, I’ve been reading a lot by C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), especially his take on scientific materialism, human suffering, the nature of Jesus, and the Bible. The primary reason for this is writing, and recently finishing, my new book C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian. Besides that, November 22, 2013 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’s death—and on that day, a memorial was dedicated in his honor in the Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey, where he joined Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and the like. This honor for a scholar of the Middle Ages and Renaissance literature who dubbed himself a “dinosaur” and yet whose books still sell millions of copies, whose children’s fiction, The Chronicles of Narnia, has its fourth feature film in process, and who was dubbed today’s “hottest theologian” just a few years ago by Time.
I’ve also been wrapping up a project, Scientists in Congregations, which funded congregations to develop programs that engage science. These churches and their seventeen thousand members ran the gamut along the theological spectrum, but all find scientific insights fascinating, powerful, and important for faith.
Can these two projects could speak to one another. More specifically, can Lewis’s words offer insight for Christians living in a world saturated by science?
- See more at: http://blog.thethoughtfulchristian.com/2014/07/c-s-lewis-scripture-and-science.html#sthash.nMlGoHxd.dpuf

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Jesus and TED: A Musing…

Who is Jesus, and what has he done for us and our world? These are questions I’ve been
 pondering this summer. What does he mean for us as 21st century believers who live in a technological and scientific age? I mean, especially about salvation. If there’s anything I’ve learned by watching and listening to TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) talks—which is one of my favorite past times—is that these erudite, hype, and compelling TED speakers preach that salvation comes through technology. I even heard a TED talk employ the theologically tinged phrase, “resurrection biology,” to describe a process in which DNA from extinct species (like carrier pigeons) could be manipulated and placed into similar living species to bring this extinct bird species “bring them back to life.” If that’s true—and a host of other problems technology will fix—then who needs Jesus’s resurrection? And do we even know if he’s planning to bring back birds from their graves? 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Darwin, Adam, and the Fall: My Contribution to the Historical Adam Debate

The third grade Sunday School teacher is stumped as his student distills the problem Charles Darwin laid at our feet: “Who came first, Adam or the dinosaurs?” 
Neo-Darwinian evolution raises the question of how the narratives of archaeology and the Bible interrelate, if at all. And for the purposes of this post, it poses the question of whether Adam was a single, historical human being or not. And if not—if Adam was not uniquely fashioned by the Creator’s hand—what then do we make of his fall from grace?
And we know that this question is not confined to third graders. Many of us saw the recent news from BryanCollege in Dayton, Tennessee about the statement of belief for faculty. It includes explicit affirmation that Adam and Eve “are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life-forms,” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/21/education/christian-college-faces-uproar-after-bolstering-its-view-on-evolution.html.
This, and much more in the news, certainly makes this question of Adam—and Eve—pertinent. Were they historical?         
There are two poles on a spectrum of Christian responses for relating Adam and Eve to the theory of evolution. On the one hand, there is the approach of the literal Adam: Although many do not hold to this view, I want to make room for this perspective. It has an entirely respectable history, and many thoughtful Christians today hold this view. I hope not to forfeit their good will if I, in the end, offer differing conclusions. We cannot completely discount the possibility that God specially created the literal Adam and Eve. God can do unusual acts. In this view, Genesis 1 and 2 present an historical description of the first human beings. God specially created the first human beings, Adam and Eve. They initially lived in perfect relationship with God and their environment. By an abuse of free will—eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—they severed these relationships. Human beings lives under the curse of their sin but can be redeemed through the obedience of one “new Adam,” Jesus Christ. Though even earlier theological heavy weights like Augustine and Origen represented contrasting interpretations, this view has garnered strong support over the centuries. It offers a relatively straightforward reading of Genesis 1-3, and makes sense of God’s making creation originally “good,” and then falling to its current state. It also offers a space-time fall from grace, and the response of a space-time redemption in Jesus Christ.
To be honest, it also has considerable difficulties: for example, the word adam is simply a generic name for “the human being.” The texts themselves slide between adam as a generic “human being” (Genesis 1:26; 4:25) and as “the adam” (1:27; 2:7-8, 15-16, 18-23, 25; 3:8-9, 12, 20, 22, 24). Theologically and ethically, it’s also hard for many to understand that by this one man’s sin, all subsequent human beings are cursed to death and separation from God. It is difficult to reconcile with the macroevolution of human beings from earlier life forms, especially the recent discovery that the smallest grouping of early humanoids was about 1500. For this and other reasons, it is an uphill push against the weight of scientific evidence.
The other alternative might be called the typological Adam. Many today read Genesis as a representation of human existence, in which Adam represents a type of human being. Many Christians believe that to be thoughtful believers in an age of science means accepting macroevolution. Today’s homo sapiens evolved from earlier primates. This view understands Adam as a type or representative for our existence as human beings who struggle to use or freedom responsibly. In this view, hominoid evolution involves the dawning of self- and God-consciousness. As one of the leading commentators on religion and science, Cambridge professor John Polkinghorne, has written:
At some stage, the lure of self and the lure of the divine came into competition and there was a turning away from the pole of the divine Other and a turning into the pole of the human ego. Our ancestors became, in Luther’s phrase, “curved in upon themselves.” We are heirs of that culturally transmitted orientation. One does not need to suppose that this happened in a single decisive act; it would have been a stance that formed and reinforced itself through a succession of choices and actions. Death did not come into the world for the first time but rather mortality, the sad recognition of human finitude.
Thus Adam’s creation and subsequent fall are what we all face—a creation in God’s image toward freedom as well as the pull to use that freedom destructively. Like Adam, we are glorious and horrible. And though we are currently in this state of fallenness, the historical life and work of Jesus of Nazareth redeems us.
And I don’t want to miss this affirmation: The key for Christians is Christ and his salvation. For that salvation, we need to be in state of need. It doesn’t really matter whether Adam was a representative type or an historical person, it matters that we are fallen and that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are redeemed.
Therefore, although I affirm a commitment to creation by God over evolution, fortunately I am not compelled to choose between the two. In fact, the doctrine of creation makes two primary affirmations: we are created in God’s image, and the world is not fully consistent with God’s intentions. We can also be open to reading the Bible and seeing Adam as a type and representative for all humanity. Put another way,

Put simply, Christians believe God created us and our world. We can remain open as to how this was accomplished it and avoid dictating the best way for God to create. Instead we are to look concretely and openly at the evidence as to how God has created (in this case, largely through the evolutionary processes). And we confess as Christians that, like Adam, we are created good, but we have chosen to be separated from God, and therefore we have responded to redemption in Jesus Christ.

(Adapted and updated from my book, Creation and Last Things)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

C. S Lewis and Science: A Sktech and a Blog Entry

I continue to work on this theme of how C. S. Lewis interacted with science... maybe it'll grow up to become an e-book someday. In any event, here's a sketch of the major ideas.

The first thing we have to say on the topic of C. S. Lewis and science is that Lewis was no scientist. He did not hold a degree in science, and even famously had troubles with mathematics—so significant in fact that these deficiencies almost prevented his entrance into Oxford. (This fact is something of a surprise considering his mother held a masters degree in math.)
We might conclude concede that there is nothing to say specifically on the topic of C. S. Lewis and Science.
Nonetheless, Lewis did discern a rising tide of scientific thought that set itself against Christian belief and that sought to remake western civilization. Here science did not promote its findings per se, but offered them as the basis for a philosophical change… or put differently, a transformation of worldviews. This worldview would be mechanistic, thus materialistic, and therefore implicitly atheistic. It would not only destroy the basis for Christian belief, it would also implicitly deny the need for literature (which, of course, was Lewis’s great passion and his professional discipline).
So, in this sense—of science as the basis for a worldview—Lewis had plenty to say, and the topic winds its way into a considerable percentage of what he wrote.
I would therefore like to unfold the topic of C. S. Lewis and science more systematically.
  • First of all, using Lewis’s 1954 inaugural address at Cambridge, Lewis summarized decades of reflection and expressed grave concerns about the growth of the Machine, especially man as a Machine, and the way it set a new course in the West for intellectual development, or really in his view, degradation.
  • This realization, which had been building for decades, led him to make three interlocking moves in his apologetic work, that is, in his defense of Christianity, and more broadly, his defense of the humanities as the basis for a sound worldview. The first of these moves was to argue that the materialistic philosophy was self-defeating. Materialism, according to Lewis, left no place for true thought, or put another way, thought that led to truth.
  • The next move was to demonstrate that this materialist philosophy was existentially unsatisfying. Materialism left no place for joy, for what Aristotle called human flourishing.
  • He then continued by arguing that all human cultures implicitly hold to an objective standard of right and wrong. This Lewis took as a sign of God’s character and of the way God created this world.
  • Lewis concluded that science had a rightful place in intellectual work and in the development of the West, but had no right to determine all truth and knowledge. Scientific materialism diminishes our humanity and distances us from the earth. Instead, Lewis argued that belief in a Creator God offered the best alternative, which also left a substantial place for the humanities in Western culture.      
In sum, Lewis’s thoughts on science interest me as a scholar of Lewis and therefore have considerable relevance for his vast readership. Though formulated over fifty years ago, they also have some considerable contemporary relevance as we continue to face onslaughts from those who promote scientific materialism as the final arbiter of truth and rationality.