Friday, January 30, 2015

My Intellectual History, Part Deux

My first specifically academic training in the particulars of science and theology transpired in the classroom of Diogenes Allen when I took his Introduction to Philosophy at Princeton Seminary. (Incidentally, these lectures later became his book, Christian Belief in a Postmodern World: The Full Wealth of Conviction.) Dr. Allen (to this day, I would never call him “Diogenes”) started with the need to integrate theological insights with science, especially those of scientific methodology. It was intriguing, but I wasn’t quite sure what he was doing. In fact, I recall a conversation with a co-seminarian, John, where I presented him with the question, “Why is Dr. Allen so into science? I’m not sure I understand.” John’s response: “Because science has a certain precision” (and therefore astonishing success). Though I was later to labor in the fields of the historical, even “scientific,” study of the Bible at Princeton, the specific work in which I’m now engaged, bringing together science and theology, was for me embryonic at best. 
      After my Master of Divinity at Princeton, I received a fellowship and a grant for a year’s study in Heidelberg and Tübingen, Germany—with renowned minds like Jürgen Moltmann and Hans Kung, and especially the then up-and-coming light, Michael Welker. Welker guided my inquiry into the concept of the world (and how it relates to God) by guiding me toward the thought the mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead. (Incidentally, Whitehead’s intricate and complex theory language—though putatively English—proved to be often more difficult than learning German.) It was a glorious year. Studying under the shadow of the Heidelberg Castle with this brilliant scholar and his double PhDs (one in philosophy, one in theology) constitutes, in my book, inspiration. 
      After that superb year away, I returned to California and started my PhD at the
Graduate Theological Union (GTU), where theology and science represented the best game in town (or at least on GTU’s Holy Hill). I began to set Whitehead’s thought in conversation with the theology of Karl Barth, that is, to compare a scientist with a theologian. I remember encountering my two mentors there, Ted Peters and Bob Russell. (This eventually became my book, God and the World.) In experiencing Bob in the classroom—lecturing, for example, on the relation of quantum theory to divine action—I encountered someone brilliant in three fields: theology, science, and philosophy (which are themselves really each sets of disciplines). There I observed Bob doing the work he loves so well: bringing together this sometimes messy, and often electrifying, combination
of theology and science with his characteristic wit, brilliance, and profound kindness. Ted, my dissertation advisor (or Doktorvater, as he and the Germans would call it), could as easily unveil the insights of genetics, Trinitarian theology, and the mythology of the Egyptian god Ra. Both Ted and Bob fully convinced me, as a student of theology, of the imperative to take in the importance of science. Actually, they also made the bridging of theology and science both enjoyable and compelling.

      It’s something I’m even more convinced of almost twenty years later.

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