Monday, November 09, 2015

Sensing Conflict, Seeking Collaboration: Emerging Adults' Attitudes on Science and Religion

As I've mentioned several times on this blog, I’ve been directing a grant project that investigates emerging adults’ attitudes on science and religion (SEYA, Science for Students and Emerging Adults). As a part of that work, I’ve studied national surveys and conducted two dozen qualitative interviews. Many of the latter are with Chico State students, often from my Science and Religion class. Sometimes the findings of researchers appear to head in opposite directions.
Consider two national surveys. In one, conducted by Kyle Longest and Christian Smith (link behind paywall), with almost 2,400 18-23 year olds, 70% stated that they “agree” or “strongly agree” that religion and science conflict. Similarly one my students, Ericka, commented, 
I think that science and religion will always be in conflict because science and religion will never be able to agree, and there are such contradicting views.”
There is, however, competing data. Another survey from Christopher Scheitle (link also behind paywall--sorry!) of over 11,000 undergraduates came to an opposite conclusion:
“despite the seeming predominance of a conflict-oriented narrative, the majority of undergraduates do not view the relationship between these two institutions [religion and science] as one of conflict.” 
That majority was 69% of those surveyed and reminded me of Daniel, who had this advice for people discussing science and religion, 
“Be more friendly and open. Less conflict and more dialogue.”
How do we make sense of these competing claims? 

It’s a function of the question. The first survey asked about the culture at large: “The teachings of science and religion often ultimately conflict with each other. (Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree)?” The second about views personally held: “For me, the relationship of science and religion is one of…”
Simply put, the majority of emerging adults (in this case, 18-23 years old) sense that there is conflict out there, but they personally seek another way. They sense conflict, but seek collaboration or independence.
And that’s just one reason it's energizing to find out what emerging adults think and, in the process, begin to discern the the contours of future discussions of science and religion. 

I'd also be interested to hear what you think.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


As September comes to a close, two significant dates converge for me: September 26 marked the one-year anniversary of the publication of my book, C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian, and today (September 30) signifies the completion of the 16-month grant project I've been directing, SEYA (Science for Students and Emerging, Young Adults). In my previous post, I offered an overview of SEYA's findings, and here I'd like to ask one more time: What did I learn, and does "St. Clive" (aka C. S. Lewis) have anything to add?

With one long (perhaps even run-on) sentence, I'll summarize the strategy that emerged from this project: 
As a result of SEYA, I’ve discovered that there  is interest among emerging adults (ages 18-30) on how to integrate mere Christianity with mainstream science, and the strategy for this integration is to connect it with pressing life issues through a robust biblical hermeneutic, through relationships of trust, through skilled communicators, and through the use of high-quality and high-impact resources.
How do I evaluate the current "state of the question," as academics like to say? Is the integration of mere Christianity and mainstream science happening? Certainly, if we listen to Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins, it's all for naught. But they may not have the full story. As Elaine Ecklund has discovered in her research--some of the most comprehensive to date:
"76 percent of scientists in the general population identify with a religious tradition" and "85 percent of Americans and 84 percent of evangelicals say modern science is doing good in the world." 
Both the qualitative analysis of our SEYA surveys with target groups of approximately 100 emerging adults, as well as the two-dozen in-depth interviews I conducted, indicate that there is interest among 18-30 year olds and that high-quality resources makes a significant difference in emerging adults' attitudes toward integrating Christian faith and mainstream science. (For you statisticians out there, the p-value on this sample group was .001.)

I think we still need more skilled communicators who, first of all, employ a robust (and thus not literalistic) biblical hermeneutic. For one engaging example, see Dave Navarra (from the SEYA team) and Scott Farmer take on the topic, "Hasn't Science Disproved God?" 

Of course, we could simply go back to Augustine who insisted that Christians shouldn't ignorantly talk nonsense about astronomy and other fields in their exposition of the Bible. "Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn." (The longer quote is in the Endnote.

It's true--we can't be stuck in a biblical approach that ignores scientific insights. Though John Calvin could be about as hard-headed as they come, he never tired of learning from secular (i.e., non-Christian and non-biblical) writers, and he wrote quite pointedly on this all the way back in 1559,
“If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God."
We know that God created the world--and we properly worship our Creator as a result--but we can't be sure how God did it from Scripture, because, for one thing, the Bible doesn't address that issue.

In fact, the Bible is concerned with something else entirely: our transformation as followers of Christ. As Lewis phrased it in Reflections on the Psalms, God's revelation in Scripture is not "something we could have tabulated and memorised and relied on like the multiplication table," as convenient as that would seem. This approach, however, is misguided. Instead Lewis presented one central component of a more robust, biblical hermeneutic: 
Follow the intent of the text. Read what it says, not what you want it to say.  
Instead of imbedding a math table in our brains, Lewis wrote, we take Jesus seriously and discover something unexpected:

"He will always prove the most elusive of teachers. Systems cannot keep up with that darting illumination. No net less wide than a man's whole heart, nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred fish."
And so, with Lewis in mind, I arrive at two elements of the strategy SEYA identified that we are still lacking: skilled communicators who present a sound approach to science and Scripture. I realize, of course, that Lewis wasn't perfect nor was he a scientist, but he did grasp the effects of science on the wider culture and expertly articulated mere Christianity in that cultural context. And so we could certainly use more of his ilk. He called it "translating" and left us with a question that has not been satisfactorily answered: 
"People praise me for being a translator. But where are the others? I wanted to start a school of translation."
Where indeed are these translators who understand the glories, challenges, and intricacies of science and bring mere Christianity to a scientifically and technologically saturated age? Part of the work I've been about with SEYA is to identify these translators--and perhaps to become one myself--but there's much more left to do.

Endnote: Here's the full citation from Augustine's Literal Meaning of Genesis (Bk. 1, ch. 19): "Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field in which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although "they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion."

Friday, September 04, 2015

Emerging Adults, Christian Faith, and Science : Problems and Strategies

In this post, I offer a brief sketch of the analysis provided by the white paper currently in process from the planning grant, Science for Students & Emerging, Young Adults (SEYA).

      Here's the main question? What's the best way to engage emerging adults (approximately age 18-30) in the integration of science and faith? (By faith we mean both the content of faith or theology and the practice of Christian faith, or Christian life. When faith is used here, it is intended to mean Christian faith. Sometimes the authors quoted will use religion, which for the purposes of this section, is essentially equivalent)
      The method used for this analysis of emerging adults’ attitudes on faith and science is fourfold: we first reviewed the influential literature in the field (e.g., Jeffrey Arnett, Jonathan Hill, David Kinnaman, Christian Smith, Robert Wuthnow—see references at the end). Second, our SEYA team members talked about the integration of science and faith in various venues with approximately 300 emerging adults in targeted contexts, during which we engaged in informal conversations with the participants. Third, we surveyed targeted focus groups to gather statistical data and analysis on these emerging adults’ attitudes on faith and science. Fourth, Greg Cootsona filled out this research with in-depth, one-hour qualitative interviews with eighteen emerging adults. (And a note on style: This post will use “we” when referring the SEYA team will employ “I” when it reflects the particular views of none other than Greg Cootsona.) In what follows, we excerpt (and abbreviate) two key sections from the SEYA white paper: the analysis of problems and the strategy for addressing these problems.
      There are at least four main problems (or sets of problems) facing the integration of science and faith for emerging adults.
      Perception of conflict: Young adults perceive that Christian faith is in conflict with science (and vice versa, to some degree). They may not actually believe in this conflict themselves, but they hear about it through various media. According Smith and Longest, 70% of 18-23 year olds “agree” or “strongly agree” that the statement that the teachings of religion and science conflict (Longest and Smith 2011, 846-69, especially 854). In addition, the discussion on the Internet is largely critical and hostile toward religious faith. E.g., as one post stated: “The Internet will kill religion.” And another opined: “Jesus will soon go the way of Zeus and Osiris.” Another key problem here is that emerging adults don’t seem to be aware of the key voices for integration, such as Francis Collins or Alister McGrath.
      A great deal of this discussion centers around the epistemologies of these two ways of knowing: in the polemics, science deals with facts and evidence; religion with inner feelings, but nothing that can be tested. Important to add here is that this is often more a perception of conflict based on an older, positivist view of science. Contemporary philosophy of science often builds on nuanced sources, two of the most persuasive are Imre Lakatos’s model or “research programmes” (Lakatos 1970, 91-106) and Peter Lipton’s “inference to the best explanation” (Lipton 2004). In addition, Jonathan Hill in BigQuestions online (Hill 2015) has demonstrated that some perceive conflict because some they see religion and science in different domains that shouldn’t overlap, or for various specific domains and not issues of general epistemological conflict, and only about one-third of this “conflict” group, because they side with either religion or with science and see no ultimate integration. In sum, although a conflict may be perceived—which is certainly a challenge for integration—there are various reasons.           
      Disconnection from lived experience: The topic of science and religion seems disconnected from pressing life issues and therefore appears heady, perhaps taking too much effort. When asked about science and religion, there’s often a sense of “How does this relate to my life?” Or “That’s a topic for thinkers, not for me.” The American context places an enormous weight on how we feel and what we’ve experienced. In some ways, this is a part of our marketing-advertising culture. In another, it’s a legacy of religious revivalism, which privileged “heart” (emotions) over “head” (thinking). It is also evidenced today in the “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” noted by Smith in Souls in Transition (Smith 2009, 154-6 and here when commenting on teens). “Science,” as a topic is often perceived as more abstract than technology (e.g., smart phones, social media).
      Ancient faith, modern problems: Speaking specifically of relating Christian faith and science, the Bible seems outdated and unscientific. This problem partly stems from emerging adults’ decreasing engagement with books generally and any ancient text specifically. More importantly, ancient religious texts seem outdated and unscientific because religious knowledge seems to always look back and therefore stagnates. In contrast, scientific knowledge and technology looks forward; they advance and improve. Any beta-tested software pales in comparison to version 2.0 or beyond.
      Pluralism and decisions: Today’s emerging adults encounter a dizzying array of voices. This makes it difficult to make decisions. One such decision is where to look to integrate faith and science. This changes the locus for the discussion. Many emerging adults would rather do a Google search than go than go to a congregation in pursuing of answers about science and religion. With the panoply of options on the Internet and the contemporary world, there are so many decisions for emerging adults that they become “choice phobic” (according to SEYA’s panel of experts in the field) and are unable to make a decision about how to integrate science and faith. Similarly, it’s hard to decide on one form of faith in light of all the possibilities even for Christian spirituality and theology, which makes it difficult to know what form of faith to bring to science. This fact is partly the simple problem of pluralism, which has become exacerbated by the explosion of knowledge on the Internet. But it is also a broadening cultural pluralism that also affects the Church.

We recommended the following strategy for addressing these problems.
  1. Significant Interest: The good news, and the central opportunity, for emerging adults’ integrating faith and science is that there is interest. The work that has been done with Scientists in Congregations (SinC) and with SEYA indicates that there are real opportunities for this integration. In qualitative interviews, we’ve found remarkable curiosity in how to bring these together. Put another way, positivistic science has not entirely won the day, and few people adhere to such a position. (Jonathan Hill, in a personal conversation, estimates this constituency at around one-sixth.) In addition, In the first set of study data collected in spring 2015, a total p-value of .001 was given to a greater appreciate for the integration of science and religion based on an intervention of listening to speakers and engaging intellectually rich content on science and religion.
  2. Pressing life issues will have to be a part of this dialogue because emerging adults today tend toward pragmatism over theoretical speculation. This fact may speak to a focus on technology and ethics over issues of pure science. E.g., does being “wired in” to my smart phone bring anxiety? More speculative and theoretical is this:  “Does quantum physics offers a place for divine action? In addition, one implication is that we will have to broaden the discussion. As important as “evolution and creation” has been, is, and will continue to be, we need to expand the conversation to include, for example, the love for the natural world that Christian faith gives us (e.g., Psalm 19, 104; Romans 1:1920), which is the basis for the scientific endeavor. Most scientists have enjoyed some life-changing encounter with the natural world that led them into their vocation. Belief in the God who creates the natural world leads Christians to observe and enjoy nature. (Incidentally, other topics of relevance include neuroscience and the soul, global climate change and sustainability more broadly, and the calling of Christians in the sciences.)
  3. A more robust biblical hermeneutic: In order to respond to the issue of ancient texts and their contemporary relevance, a great deal depends on how one looks at the Bible. To paraphrase a popular creationist ministry, what “answers” are in Genesis? John Calvin commented in his Institutes 2.2.15, “If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God.” One reason for teaching on science and its relation to Christian faith is that we need to learn natural science and follow it. For this reason, a creation in six twenty-four hour days is untenable if Christians want to take on mainstream science. Indeed and paradoxically, it probably requires a conviction that science is not the sole arbiter of truth, and that our biblical interpretation is about learning to live within the narrative of the Scripture, to let God’s story become our story, as it were. We don’t memorize the Bible as we do the Periodic Table, but “by steeping ourselves in its tone and temper and so learning its overall message” (Lewis 1958, 112).
  4. Relationships and group identity make the interaction about religion and science possible. As a collaborator on this project once told me, “We engage people with arguments, not arguments in abstraction.” Setting up programs, like SinC, that bring scientists who are part of a community in contact with emerging adults is critical. Here I return to Jonathan Hill’s work, who noted that friends and family (and pastors for Christians) are critical for opening oneself to explore mainstream science. The importance of trust (which arose during the April 2015 Fuller Convening of SEYA emerging adult thought leaders) also highlights the need for “the endorser”: a trusted voice in one’s key group that affirms the need and promise for integrating religion and science. This is related to finding skilled communicators below, but may not be the skilled communicators themselves. For example, endorsement of science by a senior pastor’s or a trusted scientist’s positive comments on integrating science with Christian faith can have an extremely positive effect. They may make the integration of Christian faith with evolution a viable endeavor. One related problem, however, is that emerging adults do not have many ready-made structures that can be found with other demographics, such as youth. So it will take effort to locate these trusted voices.
  5. Cultivate more high-quality and high-impact resources: Books are not entirely dead, but online video and an engaging website are essential. The emerging adult culture, nurtured on rich video content, needs visual media for communication. In addition, the importance of scaling any work done in this context so that any resources can be expanded and well-utilized. This ability to scale will naturally involve the best minds and practices that have worked in similar arenas. Accordingly—and as a complement to the importance of trusted Christian leaders—we recommend the continued development of a robust website for faith and science (e.g., BioLogos) that will speak to emerging adults, which is maintained regularly and which is marketed through social media channels.
  6. Finds ways to resource religious communities—and particularly skilled communicators—whether in congregations or parachurch organizations, who are effective in reaching 18-30 year olds and who are interested in bringing science to faith and who know both theology and science.  Find locations where these their effects will multiply such as key churches and/or campus ministries, academic or cultural centers. Ideally, this would mean that we could find communicators that possessed degrees in science, or were even themselves, working scientist. This ideal, however is not the reality. Most of those who lead emerging adult ministries will be learning science as an avocation and as a component of their wider ministry skills. Here we follow Andrew Root and Erik Leafblad’s “Teaching at the Intersection of Faith and Science” (Root and Leafblad 2015): First of all, become knowledgeable about the ways that science creates emerging adults’ reality. Second, get to know local scientists—in this case, at local universities. Finally, realize, that some answers lie beyond the reach of science. At some point, this integration with science may lead to a realization that there are limits to scientific insight and discovery and faith and wonder in the God beyond the natural world is the only reasonable conclusion.

References and Selected Bibliography
Arnett, Jeffrey. 2000. “Emerging Adulthood: A Theory of Development From the Late Teens Through the Twenties.” American Psychologist 55: 469-480.
Hill, Jonathan. 2014. “National Study of Religion & Human Origins.” Retrieved August 1, 2015, from
___. 2015a. Emerging Adulthood and Faith. Grand Rapids: Calvin College Press.
___. 2015b. “Do Americans Believe Science and Religion Are in Conflict?”
Kinnaman, David with Aly Hawkins. 2011. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church… and Rethinking Faith. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.
Lewis, Clive Staples. 1958. Reflections on the Psalms. London: Geoffrey Bles.
Lipton, Peter. 2004. Inference to the Best Explanation. International Library of Philosophy. New York: Routledge.
Longest, Kyle and Christian Smith. 2011. “Conflicting or Compatible: Beliefs About Religion and Science Among Emerging Adults in the United States.” Sociological Forum 26: 846-69.
Root, Andrew and Erik Leafblad. 2015. “Teaching at the Intersection of Faith and Science.” Retrieved August 24, 2015 from, July 1, 2015.
Setran, David P. and Chris A. Kiesling. 2013. Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Smith, Christian with Patricia Snell. 2009. Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. Oxford: Oxford University.
Smith, Christian, Kari Christoffersen, and Hillary Davidson. 2011. Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood. Oxford: Oxford University.
Wuthnow, Robert. 2007. After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Bible: Outdated in Light of Science?

As I’ve been interviewing emerging adults (age 18-30) about their views on science and religion, here’s one key discovery: Ancient religious texts seem outdated and therefore unscientific. Why? Scientific knowledge and technology looks forward; it advances and improves. Religious knowledge seems to always look in the rearview mirror, and therefore religion stagnates.
      And though I try assiduously not to invoke “Saint Clive” (aka Clive Staples, or C. S., Lewis) at every turn, with angels singing in the background, thereby invoking putative infallibility, I can’t deny that Lewis both addressed this question and presented a thoughtful and entirely defensible answer.
      In his 1955 paper delivered at Oxford’s Socratic Club, “On the Obstinacy of Belief,” Lewis presented the contention (which he then sought to disprove) that scientists give up their beliefs in proportion to contrary evidence; believers cling to their beliefs despite evidence to the contrary. How can that be justified?
      Lewis resolved this problem by distinguishing between the “logic of speculative thought” (which dominates science) and the “logic of personal relations” (which is essential to belief in, and relationship with, God). But here I want to change the focus not to belief in God, but in the veracity of the Bible. I return to Lewis on this particular task in a moment (and more generally, I discuss it in chapter 6 of my book on St. Clive, which you can find here.) Shouldn’t we give up the Bible in light of science? 
      Certainly, the Bible does need to be updated and correlated with good science. Frankly, there are some notions that may appear “biblical,” which have to be jettisoned. When I’ve read various accounts of the Galileo trial—which, incidentally was not primarily about “science versus religion” since both Galileo and his adversaries were believing Catholics—there was considerable dispute about how to interpret the Bible’s assertion that the sun circled the earth (as in Psalm 19). Today, I doubt many Christians would conclude that the Bible teaches geocentricism. Instead the image of the sun’s running its “circuit” around the sky doesn’t teach that it revolves around the earth, but it metaphorically depicts what we actually see every day. In the same way, Galileo, along with Augustine over 1200 years before, concluded that if scriptural interpretation disagreed with known science, we should revise our interpretation.
      And so we should. Today, 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, a “ghost in the machine.” This owes much more to Plato than the Hebrew Bible. Accordingly, we can update and correct our doctrine of the soul by looking at the Scripture, which sees human beings as body/soul, a psychosomatic unity. We can also learn this from contemporary neuroscience, which certainly cannot find an immaterial soul. Or we can remember that a sharp tap on the head with a hammer will probably interrupt our prayer life.
      All this means we need to follow the truth wherever it leads and, whenever appropriate, update our biblical interpretation. As John Calvin rightly commented in his 1559 Institutes of the Christian Religion,
If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God.
If the truth appears in natural science, we need to learn and follow it. For this reason, a six twenty-four hour day creation is untenable if Christians want to take on mainstream science. But this is not a new idea. Back now to Lewis who pointed out that Genesis 1-2 probably “derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical,” or as the church Father Jerome put it, was written “after the manner of a popular poet” (thus a myth).  Put another way, the Bible is not a scientific textbook and doesn’t claim to be.
      Indeed and paradoxically, there is a grand positive here: science is not the sole arbiter of truth, and that our biblical interpretation is about learning to live within the narrative of the Scripture, to let God’s story become our story, as it were. We don’t memorize the Bible as we do the Periodic Table. Again to cite Lewis: the Bible
carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone and temper and so learning its overall message.

So, no, Lewis wasn’t infallible, nor does he have an answer for everything we face today. But he did get some things right, and we do well to listen and learn.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Notes on How Pluralism Challenges the Integration of Religion and Science with Emerging Adults

Here's a current excerpt from an academic article I'm writing on the problems facing the integration of science and religion, especially in light of the attitudes of 18-30 year olds. 

In discussing the relation between religion and science, it sounds like a conversation about two things (and may imply, to many) a conversation between Christian faith and science). And that fact may deceive us in understanding the attitudes of 18-30 year olds on the topic. Emerging adults have grown up in an environment saturated with options and possibilities. This experience has become increased through the explosion of knowledge on the Internet, with the number of websites fast approaching one trillion (a number that can be monitored here). 

In some ways, this is essentially the reality of pluralism, and we could argue that this not really a new problem. But that notion strikes me as a bit na├»ve. Pluralism is not entirely novel, to be sure, but it will certainly continue to increase. And for the focus of this article—namely, emerging adults—the panoply of options available makes it difficult to decide about science and religion. In a recent article (behind paywall), “The ‘Relation’ between Science and Religion in the Pluralistic Landscape of Today’s World,” Zainal Abidin Bagir rightly notes that this simple “and” between “science and religion” obscures a mass of complications, for one thing, that both are primarily about ideas. And there are other concerns: Emerging adults are not only facing the situation of religion (in the singular) and the way it interacts with science, they are coming to grips with the variety of religions that can be brought to bear on scientific insights, and not only the five classic world religions of Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, which leaves out religious traditions with rather large numbers of adherents such as Sikhism, but also indigenous traditions as well. Bagir rightly highlights these concerns and concludes that
The intention to expand the discourse by taking into account the pluralistic landscape that we know and experience today requires not simply inviting more participants from different religious traditions but also demands the expansion of the conceptions of “science” and “religion.” (p. 406)
But I think we need to go further.
Emerging adults are experimenting with various religious inputs and therefore not subscribing to one single religious tradition. Put a slightly different way, emerging adults I have interviewed find it hard to decide on one religion in light of all the possibilities for spirituality, which makes it difficult to know which religion to bring to science. “I can’t commit to any religion until I know more” was a common refrain, which may reflect “choice phobia,” but may also be a statement of supreme humility. And this pluralism is not simply moving beyond religion and Christianity to any number of other religions, whether “world religions” or indigenous ones. It is about dividing religious practice in various slices. Analogically, this is an iPod playlist approach to religion instead of an LP one in which the listener makes the choices from a variety of artists, and is not bound by the sequence that the artists themselves assemble. If it sounds like we have arrived back at Wuthnow’s theme of emerging adults as bricoleurs (or "those who tinker"), then I have made my point. Thus many voices exist, and many students blend a variety of spiritual insights, certainly not simply Christian, but other religious traditions, such as Buddhism and Wiccan practices, as well. In addition, there are those who synthesize belief with materialism, such as the hard-core biochemistry student who could not deny that he prayed and the request seem to be granted. He remains unsure that this is not simply coincidence, and yet, continues to pray. The blend of various beliefs—and even unbelief—confuses the theoretician who seeks pure types, but that is the reality of emerging adult culture. Ultimately, the choice may be based on an inherent pragmatism, and not on what is theoretically true. All this makes twenty-first century pluralism, as practiced by 18-30 year olds, complicated and dizzying to grasp. We have left the world of two-dimensional “science and religion” to something much more multi-dimensional for which I frankly have no substitute term.
Finally, in this search for religious answers, one result is that many emerging adults would rather Google than go to a congregation in pursuing answers about science and religion. One of the questions I posed in the interviews was this: “Where would you go to look for answers about science and religion?” A large majority responded: “the Internet.” As I mentioned above, the conflict model seems to predominate on the Internet in its craving to provide “click bait” for its users, provocative snippets of articles that demand our attention by their outrageous or adversarial claims. (We are naturally, neurologically stimulated by threat, novelty, and conflict.) These emerging adults find faith in the Internet (as it were) because of its putative neutrality, openness, and objectivity. Here I have to offer a further differentiation for who curates this conversation. My research suggests that, in addition to the Internet, academic voices have some air of neutrality for those outside faith communities. In contrast, for the 18-30 year olds who approach this question as Christians, for example, Jonathan Hill’s research indicates that a pastor’s voice, because it defines a social world, of what can be thought or not, is probably more important than the Internet or the college classroom. Hill writes, “For most students, then, it matters little what their professor teaches… What their friends, parents, and pastor thinks is going to be far more important, because their social world is inextricably tied up with these significant others" (Emerging Adulthood and Faith56). In contrast, for religious seekers (in all varieties) outside of religious communities, they are often distrustful of the church, synagogue, or mosque as a place to seek out answers about science and religion. Partly, this reflects distrust in institutional religious traditions as repositories for truth seeking. Partly, whether this is accurate or not, imams, pastors, and rabbis are seen as “hired guns,” who give answers that always reinforce their respective traditions because they are hired to do so. 

The net result is this: in order to make sense of diversity of options, emerging adults increasingly look to the Internet, which means the locus of their pluralistic search for relating—and perhaps integrating—science and religion will continue to migrate to a diversity of locations, but especially virtual ones.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Review of Oliver Crisp's "Divinity and Humanity"

This is a review of Oliver Crisp, Divinity and Humanity: The Incarnation Reconsidered, Current Issues in Theology (Cambridge, 2007) and continues my summer series of serious books I am reading seriously. Advisory: This book--and thus my review--engages intricate and potentially arcane theological topics. 

Oliver Crisp teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary and is a self-described proponent of “analytic theology,” which brings the tools of analytic philosophy to the practice of theology. Analytic philosophy seeks clarity of thought and language. So it’s no surprise that Crisp begins clearly and crisply (could not avoid that pun!) by describing the intent of Divinity and Humanity
"This book is a small contribution to the doctrine of the person of Christ" (ix) 
and that it will have three chapters expounding issues in Chalcedonian Christology and three that defend it against the same number of modifications. The six chapters address perichoresis as a christological category, the anhypostasia-enhypostasia distinction, whether Christ had a fallen nature, kenosis, and non-incarnational Christology.
      Divinity and Humanity is an intricate and, at times, quite difficult, collection of chapters. Therefore I’ve decided to eschew any attempt at a comprehensive review and critique. Instead I’ll offer a sketch of the total work with a few more specific reflections.
      The first chapter analyzes (let us never forget this is “analytical theology”) the distinction between two types of perichoresis: nature-perichoresis (NP here, which is applicable to Christology) and person-perichoresis (PP here, useful for Trinitarian formulations). For those unfamiliar with the term, perichoresis has the literal meaning in Greek of “dancing around.” It is therefore the co-inherence of two natures in Christ or of three persons in the Godhead, and tenders a way of maintaining the unity of Christ, though he is both human and divine (thus NP) or the unity of God, while being three persons in the Trinity (PP). Crisp assesses its helpfulness as a category for Christology and Trinity, and also does not take long before the reader (at least this one) realizes that NP will fare better in Crisp’s analysis. It seems to me that Crisp is trying to avoid the rather squishy way (if I may use a technical term here) that many theologians use perichoresis in the hopes of solving  problems with formulations of the Trinity and Christology.
      So Crisp wants to avoid theological (or philosophical) squishiness. And since he is an analytical theologian—who thus looks for clarity of language and analysis—I wondered about how univocally Crisp believes he can speak about God. Is there essentially a one-to-one correspondence between what we say about God and God’s true reality? Analytical tools may promise too much. My vote is that theological language is most often analogical (that any language about God’s reality is an analogy—i.e., God is not exactly a father, but God is like a human father in some ways). So here’s the kind of example from Crisp which provokes a question: “But the divine nature cannot be omnipresent and powerless without ceasing to be divine, because this entails that the divine nature is both omnipotent and limited in power, which is contradictory” (13-14). How do we know this contraction in human terms is also directly applicable to God?  Maybe such formulations are “too human—far too human” (to cite Karl Barth from Church Dogmatics IV/1, 186), and such analysis simply makes little sense. Can God both be described as omnipotent, but in that power decide to limit it? In private conversation, I know he is aware of the issues of univocal or analogical language (and the attendant theme of mystery), but I find quibbles in places with his willingness to stick to the power of human philosophical analysis where a certain ambiguity is left in the biblical witness.
      The second and third chapters address the human nature of Christ. Chapter Two is the longest of the book (at just under forty pages) and looks at “several longstanding theological problems for the Incarnation” (35) such as whether Christ had one will (monothelitism) or two (dyothelitism). Incidentally, one byproduct of such discussions in this book is that the reader quickly learns some unknown theological vocabulary and territory. Since I have an ongoing debate with a philosopher and friend about divine simplicity (that God is “simple,” or entirely unified, and thus without parts), I was particularly intrigued to read that we can look at Christologies according to their “parts.” Two-part Christologies assert a human body and the Word, while three-part ones present the Word, and a human nature with body and soul, distinct from the Word (41-2). At the end of a lengthy historical and analytical (but to me, too rarely biblical) tour, Crisp concludes “there is a strong case for dyothelitism” (49), where divine and human wills worked in perfect consonance
      The anhypostasia-enhypostasia distinction is the topic of Chapter Three. I’ll allow Ivor Davidson (in his article, “Theologizing the human Jesus,” IJST 3 (2001): 135) to offer the pertinent clarification: “the human nature of Jesus has not hypostasis of its own (it is ‘anhypostatic’), but subsists only and always as the human nature of the Son of God…. Negatively, the humanity of Jesus has not independent reality of its own; positively, it is hypostatized in union with, or in (en-hypostasis), the person of the Logos” (cited by Crisp, 74). A three-part Christology “entails that there are properties that the human nature of Christ exemplifies. It also means that the human nature of Christ is ‘part’ of the person of the Word, who assumes this human nature at the Incarnation” (89). Ultimately, Crisp leans toward a three-part Christology, which also makes the best sense to me in order to sustain the Chalcedonian declaration that Christ is fully human and fully divine.
      Chapter Four rejects Christ’s having taken on a fallen nature and represents a revision of what Crips first articulated in a 2004 article, “Did Christ have a Fallen Human Nature?” [IJST 6.3, 170-88]).  His answer is No, and, on the face of it, this contradicts key biblical texts such as John 1:14, which states “the word became flesh (sarx),” a word that consistently in the New Testament means fallen nature. (It also contradicts Barth’s work, which both he and I admire.) Crisp, who loves to use terms to make distinctions (another characteristic of analytic philosophers and theologians) presents a “fallenness” view (that Christ’s human nature has property of being fallen) in contrast to a “sinlessness” one (Christ’s nature was unfallen and therefore sinless). Crisp argues for the latter (91). There are several ins and outs to his argument, but the essence of it is quite simple: to be fallen means to be sinful (106). And, according to classical theology, in order to be the Redeemer, Christ was not sinful. Therefore this position is contradictory and incoherent (111-2). (In some ways, it would be entirely consistent to contend for the Immaculate Concept of Mary after this—since Jesus Christ’s humanity would have to be untainted by sin.) One other key point is that Crisp works at this topic through analyzing the meaning of original sin—he argues that humankind can have original corruption without original guilt (e.g., 104). As a critique on this chapter, I’ll cite David W. Congdon’s blog:
"Crisp misunderstands Barth and Torrance (among others) in their affirmation of the fallen human nature of Christ. The conflict rests, I believe, in radically different ontologies, such that Barth has an actualized-historicized account of what “nature” means, while Crisp works with a traditional, essentialist account. While this by no means exhausts the issues at stake, I believe this is where one must begin in order to unpack the christological ramifications."
Additionally, Crisp tends to generalize positions and then dissect these general arguments, but does not really engage in a point-by-point critique with his interlocutors. These are criticisms, yes, but let them not take away from a careful presentation of his theological conclusions.
      Chapter Five addresses the topic of divine kenosis, which builds from the Greek verb “to empty” (ekenosen) in Philippians 2:7 as a critical description of Christ’s work. Crisp decides to leave out the strong ontological approach to kenosis (that Christ was fully emptied of divinity) and therefore to deal with the weak ontological and functionalist ones (119-20). One of his key interlocutors on weak ontological kenotic Christology is Stephen Davis (and his book, Logic and the Nature of God), who presents the idea that omniscience is not an essential divine attribute and therefore Christ could have emptied himself of knowing all in the Incarnation (123ff.). In my view, Crisp’s most telling and essential (as it were) criticism on this view of the essence of Christ is this: “it is very difficult indeed to know where to draw the line demarcating contingent and essential divine properties” (132). Next he takes on functionalist kenosis. These argue that the second person did not abdicate divine attributes, but during the Incarnation, he did not exercise them (140). All have weaknesses, and he believes a kryptic Christology is most worthy of consideration (121), in which Christ’s divinity has an aspect of hiddenness, even while he retains his divine nature.
      The final chapter was to me the clearest. Here he takes on, and ultimately argues against, “non-incarnational” (read non-Chalcedonian) Christology. John Hick’s version is the exemplar, which presents six key claims: Jesus did not teach that he was God Incarnate, the Chalcedonian definition cannot be expressed adequately, the two-natures doctrine has led to justify enormous evil, Incarnation is better understood as a metaphor, Christians are best to focus on the life and teaching of Jesus, and the metaphorical approach to the Incarnation fits best with religious pluralism (155-6). To these points then: Crisp disputes Hick’s presentation of the consensus of historical-critical scholars that Jesus did not have a divine self-concept. Instead, as Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado (and others) have argued, Jesus was worshiped as God from the very beginning of the Christian movement (164-5). (Incidentally, Crisp regularly employs “Christ” in this chapter, which is a title, i.e., the Messiah or Israel’s King. This confused me because Jesus as Christ or Messiah is not really a component of his argument in this chapter.) The problems with the intelligibility of the Chalcedonian definition are what Hick calls a meaningless paradox, but Christian tradition has seen this as a mystery beyond human comprehension (169-70). The third claim (that two-natures doctrine leads to evil) takes Crisp just over a page to reject since the connection between the misuse of a doctrine and its truth or falsity are separate issues. As he puts in a footnote (171, n. 29)—but would have been better in the text because of its persuasive value—liberal theology also has many evils associated with it, e.g., liberal German theologians’ support for the First World War. Crisp criticizes Hick’s understanding of myth as expressing a truth that can also be fully translated into literal language (175ff.). I hardly need to mention that Crisp is not impressed with Hick’s concerns about a Christology that makes sense in a religious pluralistic world (178-81). In a word, Crisp doesn’t find too much to commend Hick’s Christology, saying that “Removal of the heart of the Incarnation from Christology is like removal of the heart from a living human being” (xii), and even more, Hick’s view “holds no terror for the Christian committed to incarnational Christology, for whom it is either a diverting but false report of who Christ is, or a dangerous heresy that should be resisted” (184).
      What about this text as an exemplar of analytical theology? In addition to my comments above, the essential question remains—Are the tools of analytical philosophy, formed to expunge metaphysical assertions from philosophy, appropriate for theology? Yes and no. Yes—they offer clarity where it obviously lacks in discussions about God, and it is astounding to see what results. No, when it attempts to find “clear and distinct” language where analogical language is more appropriate. As I mentioned above, Crisp is certainly aware of this problem, but in my view, he falls prey nonetheless. For example, his discussion of divine omnipotence strikes me as overly optimistic—optimistic that categories useful for philosophical analysis of earthly reality work for God’s nature.
      In conclusion, Crisp is brilliant and exceedingly well-read. One cannot help but learn in reading this book. I applaud all this. For what it’s worth, I also agree with many of his conclusions. Still, Crisp’s style is, appropriate to the analytical tradition, somewhat dry. It is not, however, entirely detached because he obviously cares about the subject-matter. Or better, the Subject, God. Indeed there is doxology rumbling below the surface of this book. Nonetheless, as one who appreciates and is certainly engaged by the style of Karl Barth—which often resembles a rousing sermon—I wanted a bit more of Crisp’s theological passion to rise to the surface. But maybe that’s not the book he wanted to write! What he did create is a careful, thoughtful, faithful, and serious theology. Simply put, if you want to learn about Christology, you should read it.