Thursday, May 03, 2018

A Parable That Arrived A Bit Too Late

I have to admit that not every great idea in my head made its way into Mere Science and Christian Faith. (And I'm sure some bad one inserted themselves. I just don't know which ones they are!) 

There’s a parable that arrived after the book was published, but that's found its way into almost every talk I’ve done since its publication. (For example, you can find it in this interview.) In this “laying alongside of two things”--the technical definition of a parable--I draw from my experience in two academic institutions: a marvelously secular ivory tower, the University of California at Berkeley, and an icon of rigorous theological scholarship, Princeton Theological Seminary.

The comment below from Mere Science and Christian Faith presents a convenient springboard for my parable:
“I’ve discovered, for the Christian message to have any impact today, it must engage science. To appropriate the term Lewis made famous, mere Christianity needs to meet mainstream science. That’s why I’ve focused much of my life’s work on science and faith. Moreover, since I’m trained in theology and biblical studies, I can help sort out whether scientific insights and assertions are neutral, helpful, or antithetical to our faith.”
But why “mainstream science”? 
And--with a quick glance at last week's topic--why not take alternatives to the mainstream like the research programs of Intelligent Design or Creation Science, paths which some Christians follow?

Here’s why. 

At Berkeley, when, as an undergrad, I first start studying the history of ideas and the great questions that literature and philosophy have presented, I decided to be sure I learned ancient Greek, and more specifically Attic Greek (around the 4thcentury BC), namely the language that was spoken in Athens around the time of Aristotle and Plato, and the sort that encompassed koine Greek, the language of the New Testament. I wanted to read the sacred scripture of Christianity in its original language. And I can tell you that by my senior year of college, I found myself in an independent study with two other students and a professor, sitting together in a dusty room in Dwinelle Hall on Cal’s campus, reading the Gospels in the original. It was profound. It was intellectually challenging. And it was an almost overwhelming gift.

The next four years I owned and managed a small business (and tried to keep my Greek active). At the end of that life chapter, Laura and I sensed that it was time for me to pursue a dream of studying theology, the Bible, and a host of other things for a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary. And so we got our U-Haul, and with some friends, moved across country. I found myself almost immediately in biblical studies.

Here’s the thing: When I started investigating the New Testament at Princeton, the Greek I learned at UC Berkeley—this glorious cathedral to liberal secular thought—the Greek (its grammar, vocabulary, syntax, et al.) was exactly the same. In fact, I carried the same Nestle-Aland Greek-English Bible that I used at Cal. There were no concerns that now I had to learn some new “heavenly” Greek in my divinity studies. Princeton trusted the education at Cal in a critical tool for understanding our most sacred writings.

And so I look at the grand consensus that mainstream science has forged—a consensus built on great theories like special and general relativity, and the related theories of gravity, as well as the weird world of quantum mechanics, and the theory of evolution, all of which have been around for at least 100-150 years, and I ask myself, 
“Why is it that people go to seminaries or to churches and learn a different form of thought from mainstream science? Why don’t our theological voices trust the sciences to offer an accurate picture of the world when we trust the science of classical Greek studies to offer us the tools to study the most sacred texts, the words that bring us to the knowledge of Jesus Christ?”
I’m not sure I can answer my own rhetorical question except to affirm that’s why I seek to engage mainstream science with mere Christianity.

P.S. I've switched the date for my posts to Thursdays instead of Mondays.

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