Sunday, July 31, 2011

An Interlude on "Lectio Divina"

This entry accompanies my July 31 message at Bidwell Presbyterian Church, "The Savor of Scripture." (Click here to hear the message.) It's an entirely brief overview of the ancient spiritual disciple of lectio divina or “divine reading” of the Bible. 

As writer and Presbyterian pastor Marjorie Thompson presents in her fabulous book on the spiritual life, Soul Feast, reading the Bible is like savoring a letter from a good friend. (There was a time when we used to write letters instead of whip off an email?) And in this case, our friend is God, who wants our best. It is therefore reading for formation over information. (By the way, a good form of literature for this practice is poetry, which forces us to slow down.)
The Benedictines (a monastic movement that began in the early 500s) have developed a four-step spiritual reading called lectio divina that works well for those who want to practice biblical meditation.
  •  lectio (reading): Start with silence. Quiet yourself. Then read the passage several times, being careful to read slowly. Using other translations is helpful in this step.
  • meditatio (meditation): Think hard about the passage. Ask questions. Look up difficult words in an English or Bible dictionary. Mull over a verse or phrase that has arisen from the first step. Let it percolate.
  •  oratio (prayer): Pray through the themes that God is bringing to your attention. This step may engage a wide range of emotions.
  • contemplatio (contemplation): Simply enjoy the place that God has led you through this reading, perhaps even simply being in God’s presence. You may also want to think through the action to which God is leading you.
Try this and see how it transforms your life.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

C. S. Lewis on “the Scientific Outlook” and its Contrast with Science

(This is the next installment of the chapter I'm working....)
Ultimately, C. S. Lewis was a professor of literature and therefore in the humanities and not the sciences. Most of his arguments for faith take place in philosophy or the arts. Yet, this may be a strength because many arguments against Christian faith are presented by scientists as scientific, but are really philosophical in character.
We come then to a confusion—or maybe the shell game—that exists, as well as a nexus for misunderstanding. Science commits itself to methodological naturalism quite rightly. Science, at its core, looks for the interactions, interrelations, and thus cause and effect in the natural world. It does not ask the question, “What is the boiling point of water?” Science keeps testing, hypothesizing, testing, and hypothesizing, until the conclusion is made that, when water at sea level is heated to 100 Celsius, it begins to boil. No god or spirit is needed for that specific phenomenon of nature (other than that a Creator God who put together nature itself, by I will return to that theme below).
The issue is when this method of looking for natural causes elides into philosophical naturalism—that all there exists is nature. Just because science cannot test or number something does not mean it does not exist. It is here—not as a field of study, but as an understanding of the world or sense-of-life, where science often intersects--or even collides with--theology. Many evolutionists see a mindless, “pitiless indifference” (to quote Richard Dawkins) against the entirely purposeful creation by the hand of God. “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted,” as Albert Einstein once quipped. Though many scientists, and atheistic philosophers, link methodological naturalism with philosophical atheism, there is no sound reason to do so.
At this point, it might be worthwhile to delineate the difference between theology, which is the study of God, and science, which is the study of the natural world based on the distinction between primary and secondary causation. God is the primary cause—God undergirds and establishes all being. As the great medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas taught, the nature of God as Creator is that being is always flowing from God. That fact defines primary causation. God is the Cause that undergirds all other causes. Secondary causation is what human beings, and all other agents in the natural world, are given to do. Shakespeare created Hamlet and Ophelia—that is the nature of authorship. They would not exist without him, but within the story they have real interaction. The analogy is not perfect because once the book is written, the real interactions between Hamlet and Ophelia are fixed in a way that ours is not. Nonetheless the central point of the analogy lies here: if Shakespeare were to have stopped writing Hamlet in the midst of its creation, the entire story would have ceased. And so too it is with God. God is the primary cause, but we are the real secondary causes. If God were to stop creating, we would no longer exist.
Returning to our text at hand: “Is Theology Poetry?” is a fascinating lecture—as Lewis is wont to create—not on science per se, or even strictly evolutionary science, but on the use of evolution to create a worldview, one that challenges orthodox Christian accounts of the world. To repeat: This atheistic challenge confuses methodological naturalism (tbe basis of evolution) with philosophical naturalism. Or, in this essay, Lewis juxtaposes science and the Scientific Outlook. Therefore, when scientists grasp this distinction, no conflict between science and God need arise prematurely. Now there may be discoveries about creation and raise questions about the Creator, but science by its nature does not have the power and right to say that all that exists is what it studies. It is as if sculptors were to assert that painting does not exist because they have never touched paint.
Therefore, Lewis held out great hope for science and faith. As he puts in the mouth of the devil, Screwtape, in the first letter of the Screwtape Letters, the imagined correspondence between a senior devil and a junior devil, Wormwood, on how to tempt a human soul.
Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defense against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can't touch and see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists (Letter One).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Notes Toward a Future Post

I'm working on an article--as preparation for a class on the same topic I'm teaching this winter--of C. S. Lewis and Science. I'll simply put three key citations in juxtaposition on the way to a future post.

The prominent Harvard neuroscientist Stephen Pinker has laid down the gauntlet in this way:
The neuroscientific worldview—the idea that the mind is what the brain does—has kicked away one of the intuitive supports of religion. So even if you accepted all of the previous scientific challenges to religion—the Earth revolving around the sun, animals evolving, and son on—the immaterial soul was always one last thing that you could keep as being in the province of religion. With the advance of neuroscience, that idea has been challenged.
It seems that materialism has won the day with scientists and that, according to many, it represents the crucial argument against religious faith today.

Then from the famous mid-20th century geneticist and evolutionary biologist--and atheist--John Scott Haldane, 
It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.
And then finally from C. S. Lewis (who was a contemporary of Haldane's), as he presents why Christian theology, reason, and science all come together.
Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific view [such as in H. G. Wells or Pinker] cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
Any thoughts? (This is especially helpful as I pursue this topic further.)