Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Final Thoughts on the Problems for the Science-Religion Dialogue with a Concluding, Largely Unscientific Postscript

I’m concluding my reflections on the predicated future state of the dialogue of science and religion based on my research with emerging adults (18-30). It’s probably worth emphasizing that I am primarily outlining problems that have come to me. I am seeking first to understand, then to be understood (to quote both Stephen Covey and the famous St. Francis prayer). The next task will be to formulate responses.

These recent posts have also been sketches for something more substantial. Being sketches, I now realize something: the six main problems facing the integration of science and faith for emerging adults, which I've outlined in these posts, can be grouped into four main areas--perception of conflict; resistance to intellectual work; ancient faith, modern problems; and pluralism and decisions. (If you read the previous posts, you'll see how these categories fit.) 

Accordingly, I now move to one final problem in the third category, two problems in the fourth category, and a concluding postscript.

Ancient faith, modern problems
In terms of the church’s often not embracing the lesbian-bisexual-gay-transgendered community, religious communities often seem to the wider public uninformed by science.  
The majority of emerging adults support same-sex marriage. A 2013 Pew Research Center poll states, “The new survey finds 67% of ‘Millennials’ – born since 1980 and age 18-32 today – are in favor of same-sex marriage.” And though some denominations (e.g., Episcopalian, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ) solemnize same-sex ceremonies, the strong majority of Christian churches today is, and its historical consensus has been, marriage is a covenant between one man and one women. The church’s stance on this and the related set of issues does set it in conflict with mainstream culture.

Partly, this question relates to how science relates to ethical questions, let alone what the science is that helps us understand same-sex attraction. Certainly, science can inform, but not entirely decide ethics. Indeed, ethical deliberations can stand on their own without needing science as the final arbiter of truth. Nonetheless, science can help us understand to some level the genetics and psychology of same sex attraction. And it’s fairly clear whether mainstream science is on same-sex attraction: For example, the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1973 from its DSM II. Less conclusively, there appears to be some genetic predisposition toward same-sex attraction, but in this and other areas, no one can demonstrate a direct link between certain genes and specific behaviors. My reading, nonetheless, is that most young adults believe that science supports the equivalence of heterosexual and homosexual attraction.

Thus, this problem relates to the previous post (on how to interpret and live by an ancient text, namely the Bible) since the means by which the church uses its key Scripture will determine how it makes decision about its ethics, and particularly how it changes its views.

Pluralism and decisions
Many emerging adults would rather Google than go than go to a congregation in pursuing of answers about science and religion. For the people who come from faith to this question, Jonathan Hill’s in his forthcoming Emerging Adulthood and Faith indicates that a pastor’s voice is probably more important than the Internet or the college classroom: “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” (p. 71). In contrast, for religious seekers (in all varieties), there needs to be further work here in bringing out integrationist views of science and religion, and they are often distrustful of the church as a place to seek out answers about science and religion. Partly, this reflects a distrust in the institutional church as a repository for truth-seeking. Faith in the Internet (as it were) also returns me to earlier reflections about the general tone about the Internet and religion—that it’s largely negative. For those outside, the Internet appears to neutral, perhaps even objective.  In addition, the conflict model seems to predominate in its ability to provide “click bait.” We are naturally, neurologically stimulated by threat and thus by conflict.

It’s hard to decide on one religion in light of all the possibilities for spirituality, which makes it difficult to know what religion to bring to science. This is partly the simple problem of pluralism, which has become exacerbated by the explosion of knowledge on the Internet, which is approaching a trillion websites (a number that can even be monitored on http://www.internetlivestats.com/total-number-of-websites). But I don’t think we can evade the issue simply by asserting that this problem has been in play for a long time; it certainly continues.

Concluding, largely unscientific postscript
Overall, the integration of faith with scientific insight becomes best resolved by employing good rhetoric for mature, thoughtful religious faith—in other words, making its truth interesting and beautiful. I don’t think this task is any different for emerging adults than any other generation. Truth must become beautiful. And by that sentence I mean that rhetoric—as the engagement with beauty—should be used in concert with philosophy—as the pursuit of truth. Truth is only worth engaging if it’s beautiful, and beauty is that which allures us. By this, I mean a particular beauty, the beauty of life making sense, of satisfying needs we have for deep abiding happiness or Aristotle’s “human flourishing.”
I concur here with the great French physicist Henri Poincaré, who commented, 
“The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it; and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing and life would not be worth living….”
I join hands with the ancient Eastern church's view of theology as philokalia, the love of beauty. In fact, my goal is to join these two disciplines so that science and faith can together lead to a thoughtful life that is both truly beautiful and beautifully true. 

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