Friday, November 11, 2022

Why I Wrote Science Religions: A New Look

 The first thing to tell you is why I wrote this book

You see, I’ve been unsatisfied with what I’ve found in “science and religion” books. They strike me as incomplete because they are essentially “monotheism and science” or “Christianity and science.” At some level, this is understandable and perhaps pardonable, given that the science commonly practiced derives from the European Scientific Revolution— which I’ll call in these pages “modern science”—and that this European context was predominantly Christian. Nevertheless, as I’ve taught hundreds of students and lectured to as many over the past two decades, I keep getting asked for a truly multi-religious approach to science. Why? There are, as I read in the National Congregations Study: “about as many synagogues, mosques and Buddhist or Hindu temples in the U.S. (9% of all congregations) as there are Catholic parishes (6% of all congregations)."

We need to take in this religious diversity and its impact. Toni Morrison once wrote, 

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

 And so, I’m writing this book because it doesn’t exist yet, at least for use in my undergraduate courses at Chico State.

But it’s not just for my students, and this leads to a relevant question, Is this topic important to you too? Not surprisingly, my answer is Yes, but it might not be evident why—almost all other vital cultural topics find their way through science and religions. When we look, for example, at the COVID-19 pandemic, discussions about race, or the contentiousness of evolution and climate change in the United States, we need to understand the cultural history of science and religion—and how the two are still intertwined.

This brings me to three phases of books written on science and religion.3

The first phase focused on science and religion largely through western monotheism—and frankly, as I’ve mentioned, primarily through Christianity and science. Ian Barbour’s iconic game-changing 1966 book Issues in Science and Religion4 set this agenda.

Then, a second phase appeared, as in Alister McGrath’s 2010 Science and Religion: A New Introduction (in its second edition, to be precise), which I’ve used as textbook. This and other texts take up science and its relationship with western monotheism and then add a chapter or two on “other religions.” Tipping their hats toward religious diversity, they still center on Christianity.

In my teaching, this seems inadequate, and my concerns are echoed in this summary from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

“For the past fifty years, science and religion has been de facto Western science and Christianity—to what extent can Christian beliefs be brought in line with the results of Western science? The field of science and religion has only recently turned to an examination of non-Christian traditions, such as Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, providing a richer picture of interaction.”

I’d like to think this book is part of a third phase, exemplified by Science and Religion Around the World, edited by John Hedley Brooke and Ronald L. Numbers, a truly decentered and pluralistic approach to religions and science. Like the authors in this collection, I am not assuming monotheism, morality, and metaphysics (though, as an American scholar, that bias is always close at hand). The book I’ve written is also a bit different in that it’s for those who aren’t specialists in the field of religion and science.

And this brings me back to my students and what they need and are asking for, as well as those readers who aren’t college students in my Science and Religion course. I think you’ll understand American life and better through studying science and religions (in the plural). The payoff here is that we gain insight into so many other topics.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Reflections on Studying Science and Religions in a Pluralistic World

This is a mini excerpt from my upcoming book, Science and Religions in America: A New Look. Feel free to pre-order!

If there's a way I lean, it's toward a collaboration between science and religion.

Nevertheless, out of a commitment to honestly, I've also learned that there are some major differences between the two. I’ve mentioned in various places "New Atheists" scientists like Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins. They see a very deep chasm between religion and science, and they assert that they, as scientists, rely on experimentation and rationality, an approach that just doesn't connect with many people who fit into a religious mindset. At the same time, many influential religious voices in our country are not particularly supportive of modern science, like thought leaders of the conservative Christian movement, such as Jerry Falwell, Jr. or Franklin Graham, who yet command the attention of millions while standing against much of the consensus of science.      

There is no one relationship of science and religions that could categorize and summarize all people. 


In the search for collaboration, it would also be convenient to find a universal common thread of wisdom that all the greatest minds in science and religion seek. For my part, I'd like to fully concur with the philosopher and scholar of mystical thinking Ken Wilbur, who commented when on the founders of quantum mechanics, “they investigated the physical realm so intensely looking for answers, and when they didn’t find these answers, they became metaphysical.” Even more, he added, “These physicists became deep mystics not because of physics but because of the limitations of physics” (quoted in Steve Paulsen, Atoms and Eden: Conversations on Religion and Science.)


I am drawn to with what astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser wrote, 

Scientists should engage with the mystery of existence, inspired by a deep sense of awe and filled with humility. If science is seen this way, many more will be ready to embrace it as one of the highest expressions of the human spirit.

But frankly, I do struggle with how widespread this sentiment is. And I'll leave it there for this post... 

What do you think? (Hint: there's also more in the final chapter of the book.)

Thursday, March 31, 2022

A Great Conversation on Science and the Church

Every time I talk with Brent Roam, lead pastor of One Family Church in Saint Louis, I come away inspired. This was absolutely the case when I met with him recently (via Zoom), and we discussed how he integrates science into his church's ministries. 

There's a video of the full interview--with an abbreviated version here. This is just a taste of our conversation, on the topic of "mutual curiosity."

(Me) When churches are working out how to connect science and faith, relationships with scientists are key. In the process, it also validates their call to science.

(Brent) I’m definitely always curious about what scientists are thinking and what they’re doing. I want to learn from them and grow by listening. As a result, scientists seem to be interested in what I’m doing as a pastor, like teaching theological ideas—that’s just my normal thing. But it’s interesting because there’s a mutual curiosity there. When we’re genuinely interested and not intimidated, we reap the rewards, not only in the relationships, but also in the sermons and the quality of what we can present to our congregations.

I love that phrase: "mutual curiosity." I find far too many people in our polarized world that find comfort and identity in their "tribe." They stay there and listen to those who create easy and safe boundaries. But how much more we can learn in life when we're curious. How much more when we engage with others in mutual curiosity.