Monday, April 13, 2015

Another Problem for the Future of Science and Religion

(I'm continuing this series on the future of the dialogue of science and religion by citing the problems I've observed in emerging adults' engagement with this topic.)

For many young adults, the topic of science and religion seems too heady, takes too much effort, and is not connected with pressing life issues.


This is a problem that is not too different from the general cultural trend away from intellectual engagement. When I look over the U. S. cultural context, I see a nation that doesn’t spend excessive time in working its brains. Thinking does in fact involve work--if nothing else, the use of glucose in brain activity. It may also disturb formerly held patterns of thought. 

I have also mentioned in other contexts (e.g., chapter 7 of C. S. Lewis and theCrisis of a Christian) that 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. What I emphasize in Lewis's writing is his conviction that letting emotions serve as the sole arbiter of truth isn't beneficial, but neither is entirely detached intellectual speculation. The resolution is to bring together feelings and thoughts. I'll insert an excerpt below:
Lewis was not given over simply to intellectual abstraction either. He believed that what we know must affect our lives. In this way, he mirrors the biblical emphasis on the heart not as the arbiter of emotions but as the center of action. So it’s neither feelings nor abstract cognition that matters. Eugene Peterson, when he paraphrases the Bible in The Message, gets it exactly right in his rendering of Galatians 5:25: “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives” (italics are mine).  Mere ideas and changeable feelings do not themselves lead to action. Or as Lewis put in the mouth of Screwtape, his nephew Wormwood must “prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it . . . Let him do anything but act.” (C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian, pages 112-2).
A strategy for responding might also imply an angle of approach. It is also an issue of strategy for any number of topics—how do we help young adults want to engage intellectual issues, to bring thought to life? Generally, a key method is to demonstrate how the intellectual issue is not simply detached, but has practical relevance. In this case, it could be tapping into the topic of technology. 18-30 year olds seems more connected with how their iPhone might affect their happiness than whether the quantum theory supports belief in God. Minimally, it’s going to require engaging communicators who in many ways, want to reanimate intellectual work as a good human endeavor. Besides that, I have to admit we are swimming here against a strong cultural current.

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